Welcome back to my Mini Movie Review feature, where I write a short review of every movie I’ve seen for the first time (or have yet to review!)
You can see the full list of mini movie reviews HERE
And you can see my constantly updated “in progress” list of the most recent reviews HERE
With the links out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the new stuff I’ve watched in recent months:
- Onward (2020) – This new Pixar movie rather poignantly captures all the best parts of a role playing game experience, especially with the idea that it’s the journey where development happens, not the destination. Plenty of rote prestige animation tropes, but this is a winner if only because its heart is in the right place.
- Boss Baby (2017) – Someone had the idea of a baby in a suit talking wise in Alec Baldwin’s voice and then tried to reverse engineer a movie out of it. It ends up being a kind of unreliable narrator trying to describe the most convoluted kind of world-building imaginable to ho hum effect.
- Knives Out (2019) – The actors give it their all, and the baroque mansion filled with bizarre characters premise is good fun. Unfortunately, by the end, as is usually the case with this kind of whodunnit, it just feels like gears being turned without anything more than a few overwritten twists doing the turning.
- The Wizard of Oz (1939) – This largely deserves its classic status as even the ultra fake looking flowers of munchkin land evoke the proper aura of fantastical wonder. It’s just too bad they had to frame such heady images with the “just a dream” framework.
- El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019) – Jesse Pinkman gets to finish his redemption arc in this made for Netflix movie that picks up directly from the Breaking Bad finale. Good stuff, definitely up there with the quality of the TV series, though I’m not sure how well this would work without multiple seasons of prestige drama backstory to lean on.
- Frozen II (2019) – Elsa’s character gets fleshed out here, and if it’s not the lesbian coming out tale everyone was hoping for, at least they explain the magic stuff. Lots of cool fantasy elements, but it does get a little expositional in places (and lost me a few times towards the end).
- Bad Boys for Life (2020) – The Bad Boys are back, and I don’t know if I’m viewing the massively entertaining sequel with rose colored glasses, or if the 20 intervening years were more a sign of a dry well. Probably both as this only rarely comes to life, and even then fitfully–it’s bland enough that you almost forget that Martin Lawrence was a fun screen presence, and Will Smith can actually act–even with this script.
- Hotel Transylvania (2012) – Adam Sandler and friends portray Dracula and friends in this slight story of a vampire not wanting his daughter to get out in the world and fuck or something. It’s ok, but is mostly taken (and meant to be taken) about as seriously as any of Adam Sandler’s other non-prestige projects.
- Holiday in the Wild (2019) – Kristin Davis and Rob Lowe’s complete lack of chemistry sinks what could have otherwise been a perfectly fine D-list rom com/elephant sanctuary commercial. Straight to Netflix, and it shows.
- Before Sunset (2004) – In a kind of proof of concept for Boyhood (even if Bergman (and others) had done it first), Linklater revisits his characters 10 years later to find out what happened after the first. Every bit the masterpiece the first was, this one might even be better as the 10 years of growing up have created a lot of very complex emotions for the script to sink its teeth into–it’s just too bad Ethan Hawke’s character is such a douche.
- Before Sunrise (1995) – Linklater sets his sights on Rohmer and very nearly nails it with this story of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy talking for 2 hours. Even if it isn’t quite up there with the master of self-obsessed pretty people talking relationships, it’s still a modern masterpiece–it’s just too bad Ethan Hawke’s character is such a douche.
- Marriage Story (2019) – Noah Baumbach tries to go Scene from a Marriage in one of the “good” made for Netflix movies…and does an ok job at it. The acting is top notch, and it taps into some real emotion, but many of the scenes are either simplistic, or unnecessary–a heavy handed editor and a script that didn’t try so hard would have served this one well.
- Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) – I have no nostalgia for the Muppets (never having watched their show growing up), but this basically straight ahead adaptation was honestly pretty good. This is partly due to the admittedly adept puppet work, but I think most of the praise should go to Michael Caine for saying “fuck it, let’s try!” and turning in a tour de force performance for “just a silly muppet movie.”
- Monsters, Inc. (2001) – The premise (that monsters power their dimension with the screams of children) is a bit far fetched, but once this gets going it works well enough. There are some decent monster/kid bonding bits, though I found myself yawning for the final bit of chase mayhem.
- Candyman (1992) – Deserving of its reputation as an underrated horror gem, this really is quite well done. The deep voiced “villain” had a legitimately mesmerizing presence, and the social commentary was thankfully not so in your face that you couldn’t appreciate the movie as a simple horror film as well
- Us (2019) – This follow up to Get Out was a bit of a miss for me–the home invasion stuff was well done, but the story too nonsensical to ultimately enjoy. This film would have worked fine as allegory…but the amount of effort that was put into explaining HOW the doppelgangers came to be killed the allegory, along with my suspension of disbelief.
- Midsommar (2019) – This ultra-stylish take on The Wickerman is filmed entirely in bright midsummer daylight–to entrancing effect. Like Aster’s previous film Hereditary, I don’t think this has quite as much to say as Aster thinks it does, but there’s no denying the skill with which he mounted his “pagan shit” spectacle.
- The Dark Crystal (1982) – I had missed this as a child, but the appeal of the unique (and, of course, dark) atmosphere was not lost on me as an adult. The story is rather silly, and I’m not even sure I could tell you much about the plot anyway, but the imagery will stay with me at least.
- Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) – Beautiful kind of stop motion/traditional animation hybrid that tells the story of a young boy fighting spirits from his past with magical origami (and the help of a sassy baboon). Definitely good stuff here, though (and maybe this was just because I was dozing off towards the end) the ending kind of lost me.
- The Croods (2013) – Nicholas Cage as a caveman was an interesting choice, and it ended up working pretty well in this surreal story of a family of Cavemen running from some kind of all consuming earthquake in a weird world of hybrid animals. Ryan Reynolds does his thing to the usual affable results, and ultimately I have to admit I really kind of liked this one.
- Swiss Family Robinson (1960) – Classic story of a shipwrecked family that builds the world’s best treehouse and kicks the shit out of pirates and stuff. The film itself is nothing to write home about, but there’s no denying how powerful the imagery is, especially to the under 10 crowd.
- John Wick (2014) – This isn’t probably as good as you would think based on the current pop culture reverence for the franchise, but it’s still a pretty damn good “you fucked with the wrong man” story. Best part is definitely the unique, cool, and fucking brutal “gun fu” which looks both ridiculous, and absolutely brutal on screen.
- Life of the Party (2018) – Melissa McCarthy and husband wrote and directed this “old person goes back to college” romp, and I regret to inform you it is pretty goddamn unfunny. For the talent involved I was hoping for at least something to chuckle at, but the smiles are few and far between with this one.
- Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019) – I’m not quite sure where this one went wrong, The Rock bicep curls a helicopter out of the air after all, if that isn’t FF franchise level ridiculous, I don’t know what is. Maybe it is that Vin Deisel’s doofus ass actually was missed, or maybe it is just that the script fucking sucked, either way, this was a disappointment.
- 200 Cigarettes (1999) – Bizarre ensemble comedy about a bunch of the worst people you will ever meet. Supposedly the script won some kind of award (and the cast is top notch), but I fail to see what is so funny about Kate Hudson rolling around in dogshit because she slept with the dude who is CURSED to make every woman he sleeps with fall in love with him.
- The Sea Hawk (1940) – Superlative swashbuckling pirate romp, this is Hollywood firing on all cylinders. The ship battles never looked better, Flynn was never so rakish, and the dialog never so crisp as it was in this stone cold classic.
- Hatari! (1962) – John Wayne and company saunter through a series of set piece animal chases as they work to capture an assortment of African animals for an assortment of zoos. There is an inappropriately young love interest, a time out for baby elephant hijinx, some business with a rocket propelled monkey trap, and I’ll be goddamned if this isn’t one of Hawk’s best films anyway.
- Top Hat (1935) – Probably Fred and Ginger’s second best movie (after Swing Time), this one is built around a flimsy mistaken identity plot (and some business about Astaire building his career by pretending to be Russian?) and a shitload of jaw dropping dance sequences. Again, the story is nothing special, but everything else about this movie is something special.
- Deadwood: The Movie (2019) – This had a lot of good sections, but not a lot of internal coherence as a movie. Also, it’s been a while since I watched Deadwood, but I think they kind of push the affected dialog a bit farther than needed in this one–I swear it used to just be the mayor and the newspaper guy; now apparently the whole goddamn town talks like a fucking fancy Yoda.