Cinema Dispatch: Top 5 Best Movies of 2020

Now that we’ve got the bad movies out of the way, it’s time for us to focus on what was good because despite EVERYTHING that went oh so wrong this year, there were more than enough highlights to help us get through it all.  With hope (and a lot of hard work) on the horizon, we’ll take one last look at the films that made 2020 more than just a dumpster fire before jumping into 2021 with renewed vigor and a spring in our step (and a few prosecutions against the outgoing administration wouldn’t go amiss either)!  Let’s get started!!

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Honorable Mention: MOVIES IN THEATERS

In the US we got about three months of movies before everything shut down, and while there were some absolutely DREADFUL ones (particularly in January), it was actually shaping up to be a pretty darn good year!  There were movies that looked good and lived up to those expectations like The Gentlemen and Birds of Prey, but we had a LOT of surprises; not in terms of movies that turned out to be five star classics, but movies that SHOULD have been terrible but were actually pretty decent!  I mean think about it, can you imagine a world prior to 2020 where a Sonic the Hedgehog movie WASN’T going to be in everyone’s worst list or that a Vin Diesel vehicle would have decent writing?  Sadly the COVID pandemic cut everything short; not just the big blockbusters we know about like No Time to Die, Black Widow, or Dune, but all the other movies that don’t get months of buildup and turn out to be great regardless.  For years I had been seeing two to three movies a week and while a lot of them weren’t great there were more than enough to make it all worthwhile.  Now that everything is either streaming or pushed back, it’s difficult for me to find that passion to just try and watch everything when I could just as easily watch reruns of It’s Always Sunny or The Simpsons with just as much effort and without spending an extra penny.  Maybe the days of rushing to the theater every other day are gone for good and I won’t be returning to it even after this is all over, but that’s how I saw a lot of the movies I still love to this day and that’s how I saw some pretty darn good movies this year!

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Cinema Dispatch: Top 5 films of 2020 That Need Improvement

It’s certainly been one heck of a year, hasn’t it?  Well it’s finally about to end so you can stop hearing me prattle on about it (we’ll see how 2021 goes), and before we end any year we must take one look back to reflect and see what we can learn.  This year more than most, there’s SO many important lessons to take away, but in my little sphere of film criticism it’s feeling less and less important to rage against the disappointments that were had; especially considering the circumstances that everyone was trying to work around at every turn.  Like last year this will hopefully be more of a CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM list than a merciless spanking of movies I didn’t like, and I decided to post this one first because I’d rather end this year on a good note with the BEST OF list instead and using this space to scream one more time at everything that went wrong in 2020.  Let’s get started!!

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Honorable Mention: ALMOST ALL THE COVID ERA RELEASES

Yeah, let’s just head butt the elephant in the room right off the bat!  With COVID shutting down theaters it was one big game of chicken as studios with more to lose tried to hedge their bets on later releases while those with less confidence were more apt to let them go on streaming services.  Because of that, a lot of the mediocre movies we would have gotten parceled out throughout the year were frontloaded in the summer and a lot of the movies we were most looking forward still haven’t come out yet.  We still haven’t seen the new James Bond movie or Black Widow, but Scoob and Trolls World Tour?  Sure, why not give them twenty bucks to rent it?  Even the bigger movies that eventually limped their way to the home market like Mulan were hardly worth all the fuss, and even the one movie I saw this year with the nerve to sneak out to theaters (I saw it at a drive thru) was New Mutants; a movie destined to fail whenever it came out so why not make it an even bigger joke by releasing it when it’d be dangerous to do so?  We have the vaccine now, but it’s looking like it will be almost another year before things get back to normal, and with Warner Bros getting into fights with production studios over releasing movies on HBO Max it’s not clear if everyone will be on board with calling 2020 films a wash and just letting them come out so the next slate of movies can have their time shine.  There were a few highlights here and there but 2020 was pretty much a nightmare across the board, and while 2021 seems like it will be no less… interesting, hopefully it will be the start of something better for everyone.

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Cinema Dispatch: Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman 1984 and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures

Directed by Patty Jenkins

It’s been a WILD year that is thankfully coming to a close, but one of the big stories that will be with us throughout all of 2021 is going to be the distribution of films and what industries are going to survive this extended break from theaters.  Everyone’s made concessions here and there, but Warner Bros recently took charge of the conversation (wisely or not) by announcing that all of their delayed 2020 films will be available on HBO Max at no additional charge.  This has certainly angered a lot of filmmakers and production companies who were banking on the eventual box office offset costs so we’ll see if Warner Bros relents at some point in the future, but for now their first offering to the service is this movie; the sequel to Wonder Woman that was one of the most anticipated films of the year that time forgot!  Was it worth waiting for it to finally come to the small screen, or is this something they should have delayed indefinitely?  Let’s find out!!

It’s the mid-eighties and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) has a new life in Washington DC as an Anthropologist at the Smithsonian.  A bit unfair to crowd out the competition by LITERALLY BEING FROM ANCIENT TIMES, but she does her best to keep a low profile and does the occasional super hero save as her alter ego Wonder Woman wherever evil doers rear their ugly head.  As charmed as this life seems however, she still carries the weight of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) around her like an albatross around her neck.  One day at work, the nerdy girl at the office Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) is sent a bunch of reclaimed artifacts and one of them catches both her and Diana’s eye; some sort of wishing stone that looks like something you’d buy at Spencer’s Gifts.  They disregard it at first, but Barbara starts to get super strength and super charisma while Diana somehow runs into none other than Steve Trevor; risen from the dead but not in a creepy zombie way!  Seems a bit odd but she’s willing to roll with it!  However, a local businessman named Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) seems to know just what this stone is and needs it to save his failing business, but what no one seems to realize (or care about) is what the stone may be taking away from them as well.  Will Diana discover the hidden dangers of the stone and stop Maxwell before he does something TRULY evil with it?  What will Barbara learn about herself as she becomes more powerful and no longer has to be disrespected by others?  I wonder what would happen if Batman wished his parents back.  Is there any way we can add this thing to the Robert Pattinson film?

“‘When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are.’  Oh my god.  IT’S A TRAP FROM DISNEY!!”
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Cinema Dispatch: Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical and all the images you see in this review are owned by NBC

Directed by Julia Knowles and Max Webster

Being the world’s number one expert on Ron Howard’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, it was practically my DUTY to watch… whatever this is, as soon as I heard about it!  It seems like the big new thing to try and get people back to watching TV has been these lavish stage productions like Hairspray, Grease, and (checks notes)… A Christmas Story?  They did one based on that movie?  Well in any case, it’s no surprise that they eventually got around to Dr. Seuss and the Green Man himself to maximize not just nostalgia but good ol’ CHRISTMAS nostalgia!  Is there anything to this new version of the story, or is it a shameless cash grab to give us another reason to make 2020 the worst year ever?  Let’s find out!!

Up on Mt Crumpit, all covered in snow, lived a green jerk bag that all of us should know.  He was played by Boris Karloff, then Jim Carrey next.  Then was Benedict Cumberbatch!  Who else will they get?  Some guy named Matthew Morrison who’s from a show called Glee.  A show a lot of people like but I have never seen.   It’s the story we’ve seen but with more musical cues, and lots of choreography from those dancing Whos!  The Grinch wants to stop the holiday, the whole Christmas Season!  Makes sense for 2020 where a President committed treason.  Will he succeed in his plot to rob all those folks?  More important than that, is this a show worthy of boast?  Do they capture the magic of the Seussian tale, or is this a cavalcade of ridiculous fails?  Can Mr. Morrison capture the magic of his role, or will this new version swiftly get old?  Is it better than the one made by Illumination, or is it somehow worse and will receive more condemnation?  Would it be tiresome to read this review all in rhyme?  Well luckily for you I’m not about to try, because I’m already up WAY past my bedtime.

“It’s just like the movie, only cheaper to make!”     “I bet you’d like this more if you got REALLY baked!”
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Cinema Dispatch: Happiest Season

Happiest Season and all the images you see in this review are owned by Hulu

Directed by Clea DuVall

It’s been a while since I’ve sat down and watched a new movie, hasn’t it?  Okay, at THIS point it’s not exactly a new movie as it’s been out for over a week now, but it’s been harder to keep up with what’s coming out and which films are worth seeking which is a far cry from the very structured way I used to do them when they came out in theaters, but we ten months into this nightmare and we all need to find new ways to work with the new normal.  In any case, I heard murmurings about this about a week before it came out which is usually a good sign to check it out, and the premise at least looked like it had SOMETHING worth talking about to separate it from all the other Christmas movies that come out each year.  Now that I’ve finally seen it, does it live up to the modicum of hype it built for itself, or did Hulu trick me into watching something that otherwise should have been on the Hallmark channel sandwiched between A Shoe Addict’s Christmas and Fir Crazy?  Let’s find out!!

Abbey Holland (Kristen Stewart) is in a wonderful relationship with her girlfriend Harper Caldwell (Mackenzie Davis) and after spending the better part of a year together she thinks she’s ready to ask her to marry her!  Fate has other ideas in mind however as it’s Christmas time and on a whim Harper asks her to join her family for Christmas which SEEMS innocuous enough… but just as they’re about to pull into the drive way Harper tells Abbey that her family has NO IDEA she’s a lesbian and that they have to pretend to just be friends.  Seems like a red flag big enough to see from space, but Harper assures her that she’ll tell her parents AFTER Christmas and so Abbey begrudgingly goes along with it.  From there it’s what you’d expect as the family members each have their own eccentricities and barely concealed hatreds for one another which Abbey just sits back and enjoys, but keeping this secret proves to be harder than it looks; especially when Harper’s mom (Mary Steenburgen) tries to set her up with an old boyfriend (Jake McDorman), and her dad (Victor Garber) is a politician which means they are under a microscope whenever they leave the house.  Fortunately there’s a ray of light in this town in the form of Riley (Aubrey Plaza) who was Harper’s first girlfriend and seems to know what Abbey is going through, and if all else fails Abbey’s got a Gay Best FriendTM back home named John (Dan Levy) who’s watching her pets and is always ready to dispense sassy advise when needed!  Can Abbey survive being in this awkward situation, and will her relationship with Harper fall apart in the process?  What is it about her family that has made Harper so paranoid about them finding out she’s a lesbian, and can any of justify what she’s having her girlfriend go through?  Then again, if it’s THIS easy to fool her parents, maybe this is just a warm up to some big heist or something!

“We’re friends!”     “JUST friends!”     “Which is obvious!”     “And a very normal thing to say!”     …     “I think they’re buying it!”
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Cinema Dispatch: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and all the images you see in this review are owned by Amazon Studios

Directed by Jason Woliner

Remember when Borat was a thing?  I mean EVERYTHING feels longer ago these days, but that movie was a genuine phenomenon for a while there and launched Sacha Baron Cohen into stardom.  Fourteen years later, he finally returns to the character and gives us the sequel that… well we REALLY haven’t been waiting for since Bruno was kind of the sequel already, but perhaps the sequel that we NEED right now considering everything that’s going on in the world.  Will this movie be VERY NICE like the first one, or will it get old faster than when everyone was doing Borat impressions?  Let’s find out!!

Fourteen years after the first film came out, we find Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) imprisoned in his country of Kazakhstan for bringing shame and ridicule to its people after being part of such a silly movie.  His chance at redemption comes however when the Kazakhstani government decides to send a gift to the Great Leader Donald Trump and gives Borat the opportunity to deliver it to his best buddy Michael Pence while recording his journey.  With his gray suit, well-trimmed mustache, and a heart full of dreams, he heads to America to await the President’s gift and then deliver it to DC.  However, things go awry when the box arrives and inside he finds NOT Kazakhastan’s prized monkey named Johnny to gift to The Donald, but instead his daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) and a bunch of monkey bones.  It seems that she wanted to join him on his journey and also got very hungry during the trip, so now Borat must find some other way to appease the Orange Leader.  Upon realizing that the Cheeto in Chief likes young women, he decides to clean Tutar up and give her as a gift so she can become a princess like Melania Trump which Tutar is all for considering the alternative is to live her life in a cage; as is the Kazakhstani custom for women who are not married yet, and at fifteen years old she’s already over the hill!  Will Borat make good on his promise to deliver his daughter to Mike Pence so his country can finally stop being the laughingstock of the world?  What will Tutar learn about herself now that she’s in the land of the free and the home of the Whopper?  Just how many douchebags did he beat off with a stick to get the shots he needed!?

“WAIT! YOU STILL NEED TO HEAR ABOUT ‘MY WIFE’!!”
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Cinema Dispatch: The Devil All the Time

The Devil All the Time and all the images you see in this review are owned by Netflix

Directed by Antonio Campos

It looks like Warner Bros non-stop protestations that movies and movie theaters are back has failed to materialize as the world is still ravaged by a pandemic and studios are still shy about putting anything out to overwhelmingly empty theaters.  I guess it means we’re going back to the Netflix well once again which is perfectly fine as we ALL need to do our part to keep people safe, and they’ve been putting out a steady stream of original movies so I’m pretty much spoiled for choice until the world decides to reopen again.  So with the breadth of Netflix’s catalog in front of me, which one do I choose?  Well it was either Cuties or the new movie with Robert Pattinson, and as much as I hear good things about Cuties (and hear bad things from the absolute WORST people about it), I had to stick with my main man Robbie P and see what he’s up to!  Does this movie satiate the listless masses for another week of perpetual lockdown, or does the dour tone of this movie hit a bit TOO close to home right now?  Let’s find out!!

Arvin Russell (Tom Holland) is your typical sweet kid from the country with a definite chip on his shoulder.  He has a strong sense of right and wrong, but given enough of a push he can be convinced to take serious action against those who slighted him and his family.  Perhaps he got that mean streak in him when he was a kid (Michael Banks) and his father (Bill Skarsgård) used to do the same thing.  Perhaps it has to do with his mother (Haley Bennett) who died of cancer when he was young and the… interesting actions his father took during that time.  Still, he doesn’t have much to complain about considering he lives with his loving grandma (Kristin Griffith) and… let’s go with half-sister Lenora (Eliza Scanlen) and leave it at that.  To get into the specifics there is something I’ll leave the movie to explain, but needless to say that things are pretty good for him, and as long as they aren’t surrounded by a bunch of terrible people to set Arvin off, things will go just fine for them!  Well I hate to break it to you, but there are some bad people in this little town and Arvin is stuck right in the middle; between the devils all around him and the devils within himself.  Does the world push Arvin to take drastic measures to restore order in the face of injustice, and can one man survive in a world full of bad people?  What will Arvin lose of himself in this story of pain, loss, and vengeance, and is there any sort of light at the end of the tunnel once he’s found the justice he seeks?  This sounds like a superhero origin story, though PROBABLY not the one that Holland usually plays.

“I’M BATMAN!!”     “Wait, I thought I was Batman?”
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Cinema Dispatch: Mulan

Mulan and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Directed by Niki Caro

I’ll be honest, the animated Mulan wasn’t exactly one of my go to films when I was a kid.  I was more of an Aladdin/Pixar fan and while I remember Mulan being GOOD, it never really stuck with me like a lot of other films did.  But hey!  That’s why Disney is doing all these remakes in the first place, right?  To not only cash in on Nostalgia dollars for people who DO remember the original but to try and get the people who didn’t care for it the first time to invest in the property and maybe build a new theme park ride around it.  Does this remake of the 1998 classic hold up to and even SURPASS the original, or is this another live action remake from Disney that fails to bring anything new or interesting to the table?  Let’s find out!!

China is being attacked by the… Not Huns (Let’s get down to business!  To defeat… the Rouran Khaganate!) and it seems they have a witch on their side (Gong Li) that’s wreaking havoc on their outposts along the Silk Road.  In order to stop these invaders, the Emperor (Jet Li) orders the conscription of one man from every family in the country, and one of the villages they arrive at (which looks quite a bit like the slums from Kung Fu Hustle) is the home of Hua Mulan (Yifei Liu) and her family.  Her father (Tzi Ma) having no sons of his own volunteers to go despite having fought in a previous war and has a disabled leg because of it, but as you know this doesn’t sit well with Mulan and so she goes in her father’s stead; leaving the village in the dead of night and donning the identity of a man.  Mulan under the guise of Hua Jun must make it through the intense training of Commander Tung (Donnie Yen) while also keeping her identity as well as her overwhelming strength a secret; lest she bring shame on her family or even be executed by the very country she’s here to defend.  Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and the awesome witch lady might have the right idea, but Mulan is not about to let a little thing like impending death keep her from protecting her family and her homeland!  Will Mulan be able to successfully navigate the men’s world of warfare without her secret being discovered?  Who are these villainous rouges attacking China, and what’s driving them on their quest to conquer the country?  If they make a sequel to this, will it ALSO be about a feminist revolution in China or will they go in a different direction with it?

“My name is Hua Mulan.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.”
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Cinema Dispatch: Bill & Ted Face the Music

Bill & Ted Face the Music and all the images you see in this review are owned by United Artists Releasing

Directed by Dean Parisot

There haven’t been many rays of sunshine during the last few months of lock-down, but one of them was the first trailer for Bill & Ted Face the Music.  I remember hearing that Reeves and Winter were trying to make this movie back when I was in COLLEGE which at this point that was a depressingly long time ago, but after years of starts and stops, hype and silence, and Keanu Reeves regaining his A-List star clout (as well as becoming everyone’s Favorite Person Ever), the duo have finally returned to give us one more adventure with the Wyld Stallyns.  Is it a beautiful trip down memory lane for all the fans that loved this franchise, or is it too little too late for all the years of anticipation?  Let’s find out!!

Bill S Preston Esq and Ted Theodore Logan (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves) have spent their entire lives trying to write the song that unites the world which apparently was NOT God Gave Rock And Roll To You.  Apparently someone else wrote that song and the Wyld Stallyns haven’t come up with a better one since then despite releasing several albums over the years; some of which were decent but they fell off the charts pretty quickly and have been scraping by for some time now.  At least they have loving families that support them as Bill is still married to Princess Joanna (Jayma Mays) and they have a daughter Thea (Samara Weaving) while Ted is still married to Princess Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes) and they have a daughter Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine), but the strain is starting to get to them and they might just give up music altogether.  Right as they’re discussing the end of their career, a time machine shows up in the driveway and out steps Kelly (Kristen Schaal) who is the daughter of Rufus from the previous films, and she takes them to the future where they high council of… I guess the ENTIRE EARTH informs them that their song to save the world is not only to usher in an enlightened age but to fix some horrific distortion in space and time that if they DON’T fix will end all of reality as they know it.  Oh, and they have less than two hours to do it, starting… now!  Without much time left to get their act together, Bill & Ted figure the best way to get the song that saves the future is to go INTO the future and the song after it’s already written by their future selves, and while that’s going on Billie & Thea are given a time machine from Kelly to try and muster up a band who will be talented enough to play the song once Bill & Ted get it.  Will these two loveable has-beens find a way to save the future before time and reality folds in on itself?  Will Billie & Thea turn out to be as good at traveling through space and time as their fathers were, and discover what destiny has in store for them as well?  You know, we could really use a Bill & Ted miracle right now, so what are the chances that this is the MOVIE that will unite the world and save reality as we know it?

“We humbly accept these seven Oscars, the Noble Peace Prize, and the Grammy for Best New Artist!”     “We had to go all the way back to 1977, but we got it!”     “Take THAT, Starland Vocal Band!”
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Cinema Dispatch: The New Mutants

The New Mutants and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Studios

Directed by Josh Boone

I was going to the movies multiple times a week for YEARS before this pandemic hit, and one of the things I kept seeing over and again was trailers for this movie. Every few months there’d be another one but with a different release date on it, and it got so ridiculously long that I vowed to be there opening day to see what kind of nonsense they were trying to cover up in post-production. Then the world came to an end and wouldn’t you know it? One of the first movies to go to theaters AND NOWHERE ELSE happened to be this one. All was not lost however as it turns out there’s a drive in theater nearby (the ONLY place I’ll go to see a movie right now) and they actually had this movie on their schedule, and so I was able to go out and keep that promise I made to myself all those years ago without having to take an unnecessary risk of CATCHING A POTENTIALLY LIFE THREATENING DISEASE in the process! So with all that buildup, with all the shakeups at the studio, and with all the world events that have broken the world between the first teaser trailer to now, does the movie manage to be any good? Did all the extra time working on it prove to be a fruitful endeavor, or are they hoping that the threat of getting sick would be enough for them to sneak this out without anybody noticing? Let’s find out!!

Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) finds herself stuck inside of a hospital of some sorts with a bunch of other young people under the watchful eyes of Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga) who informs her that her family is dead and that she’s here because she PROBABLY caused it. Why? Well because she’s a mutant of course, and so is everyone else here! We’ve got Sam (Charlie Heaton) who can go fast and make things explode, Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy) who… has some sort of teleportation and sword fighting powers, Roberto (Henry Zaga) who’s the most dudebro dude ever and also might have fire powers, and Rahne (Massie Williams) who is… well she’s just a werewolf. I didn’t realize that fell under MUTANT powers, but I guess you can call anything a mutant power if you try hard enough. In any case, they’re all stuck in here with the discount Nurse Ratched who’s trying to get them to learn to control their powers through… group therapy sessions I guess, and clearly has some sinister motivations for keeping them all there that they’re vaguely aware of but none too concerned about. Dani, still trying to figure out exactly what happened to her father and not even knowing what her own super power is, tries to make the most of this very bizarre situation which only gets more disturbing once everyone starts having terrifying dreams or something relating to their past traumas which is certainly not making the overall dingy atmosphere of this place any more cheery. What exactly are Dani’s powers and are they in any way connected to the strange goings on at the hospital? What does Dr. Reyes have planned for them once she’s deemed them to be “better”, and is it somehow worse than having stay here? Are they actually stuck in some sort of Groundhog’s Day time loop which is why it feels like this movie’s been around for a hundred years!?

Nope. Nope. There we go!
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