As with last year, I’m going to catch up here with a few capsule reviews of other movies I saw in 2018!
Black Panther – Marvel movies often have two fatal flaws: poor villains, and a lack of character growth. Black Panther had the most compelling villain of all the Marvel films to date (one that even engenders some philosophical quandaries), and the storyline sees T’Challa need to, at least superficially, confront some of his ideas and ideals. In addition, you have a cast of strong supporting characters, and a superhero whose strength comes from embracing those supporting characters of many different capabilities and genders. The big ass fight at the end felt more rote (it’s a superhero film, we need a big showdown) than organic (or exciting)… and the final encounter between T’challa and Killmonger was downright soulless. Nothing about T’Challa’s journey seemed to inform why he would be victorious now when he’d failed earlier. Still, the denouement and Killmonder’s final words were both a cut above the usual fare. Overall a solid movie.
Avengers Infinity War – Continuing with the theme here, Marvel surprised here by allowing/creating Thanos to be more than a “I want to destroy/control the world just ‘cuz” type villain and giving him a credo that, while somewhat illogical, felt personal and believed. Both narratively and storytelling wise it’s messier than Black Panther, and there’s a few too many contrivances, but that it still comes out mostly fine despite the four hundred different characters it needed to follow is a pretty good feat. However, that they reversed (or forgot) Rocket’s great character arc from GotG2 and reverted him (and other characters as well) to a simplified caricature was downright maddening. Give me back my proper Rocket! On the whole, though, this edges into solid/competent territory.
Solo – Errrrf. Flimsy, reliant on trying to explain, detail, fill in, or simply just point to minor details in Han’s backstory (which may have been ok if any of them were actually intriguing, engaging, character defining, or anything but utterly perfunctory), boring, and weakly told, punctuated by tensionless action scenes. Why was this movie made? The only thing that caught my attention was Lando’s droid, but we know up front it will only be used for humor and ultimately fruitless, and that she’s unceremoniously and callously degraded into nothing more a dataset to make some bullshit explanation for the 12 parsecs is just insulting (both to her and to us). And they wasted a Warwick Davis cameo. Poor. So darn poor. (And now it makes me want to see what Lord & Miller were creating before they were thrown off the job… at least to see if it was any better)
Mission Impossible: Fallout – The MI franchise has evolved to be one thing: unapologetically crazy action with spycrafting overtones. And it does so with panache, flair, gusto… and success. They aren’t making any bones about it and they run with it full tilt AND they do the work to craft the greatest expression of the story and genre they’re telling. While I found the last 20 minutes starting to edge over the line of ridiculous, given how overall crazy the whole movie is, to only have it become over the top near the end is saying something for the quality of the craft. Exciting and fun. Solid and competent.
Ant Man and the Wasp – I’ve very little to say about it… Innocuous, mildly amusing (if unevenly so), sentimental, and just kind of there. Fine enough, I guess? I’m going to no-rating this one.
BlackKKlansman – Oddly, this left me feeling somewhat nonplussed. It’s interesting, semi-historical (which doubles the interestingness), relevant, and both main actors did well (and boy Adam Driver has some on-screen presence). That said, the overly caricature nature of the antagonists, the lack of subtext (all text), some nice stylistic and cinematic choices that nonetheless felt hollow because they were entirely random and disconnected from any overall style or even tied to the narrative, and then a frying-pan montage of current events that I found detracted more than to render poignant. Bit of this, bit of that. Still enough to call it a solid.
Isle of Dogs – The only other Wes Anderson move I’ve seen was another one of his stop motion productions, Fantastic Mr Fox, and it left me feeling blasé and unroused. While Isle of Dogs did engage me more, it too left me, on the whole, unexicted. The stop motion is done very well and the set designs inventive and fun, so it’s a treat to watch. The premise itself is somewhat whimsical and perhaps even allegorical, but… it seems to want to straddle this line where it neither embraces the whimsy nor makes a strong enough case into the allegory to be meaningful. It feels instead like a mish mash of scenes and statements that don’t gel into anything. On top of that, this is a movie taking place in Japan where the grand savior of the main plot (such as it is) is an American exchange student. Oh white saviour trope, ye have not yet died. Poor.
2001 – Given its prominence in a lot of the film study/criticism work I’ve been watching of late, and that the last time I’d watched it was over 25 years ago, I figured I should watch it anew. And oh yeah. It is most worthy of the attention it gets. For sure it’s an “arthouse” style film: slow and plodding and odd, but all deliberately so. Even the feelings of unease and annoyance that arise while watching the methodical slowness is intentional to support the themes therein. And it’s the themes that ring strongest in the film, leaving the ultimate meaning open to interpretation and wonder. Absolutely good.
Jungle Book (2016) – Ouch. Oh gods ouch. It’s got a plot… but no story. It has personalities… but no characters. It’s got moments… but no narrative. And while I wouldn’t fault a young actor for having to emote to a nothing that will be filled in with CG later, it also wasn’t convincing. Ugh. Poor minus all around. (And while the recent trailer buoyed my spirits a bit, this is by the same director, and my concerns or how the Lion King remake will turn out are now in full alert mode)
Annihilation – Deliberate, misleading, unfolding, intricate, character driven, and one heck of a series of ick factors. A horror/sci-fi that works well enough, with a theme that presents itself in several ways and most definitively plays a role in the film’s conclusion. I think this slips into a good minus.