Stuber and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Fox
Directed by Michael Dowse
I don’t know about you, but if there’s ONE thing I’ve always wanted to see in a movie, its endless product placement for a company trying to corner the market on an industry through sheer financial force of will! Then again, I probably shouldn’t be sitting TOO pretty on my high horse considering I still review Disney films despite their vicious takeover of 20th Century Fox (coincidentally the studio who made this film), so I guess I’ll just have to judge this movie on its own merits instead of how blatantly EVIL it’s marketing is. Anyway! Does this Buddy Comedy manage to be the best of both their lead actors’ filmographies, or are you much better off watching Hotel Artemis and The Big Sick instead? Let’s find out!!
Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) is your average millennial stuck trying to make it in the gig economy and failing to earn the affections of his BFF (Betty Gilpin) who he’s been secretly in love with but decided to invest in her startup company instead of just telling her he likes her. We’ve all been there, am I right!? Well investing in other people’s ideas isn’t cheap, so along with his day job at a sporting goods store he drives with Uber (DOWNLOAD NOW FOR YOUR MOBILE DEVICES!!) and does his very best to be as accommodating as possible. This is 2019 though, and apparently being a massive jerk is in vogue now so despite his best efforts he’s barely hanging onto his current user score which is dangerously close to getting him kicked off the service entirely. Enough about that guy though! This is a movie with a famous wrestler, so let’s talk about that famous wrestler! Vic (Dave Bautista) is a cop who is obsessed with finding this drug trafficker named Oka Teijo (Iko Uwais) who he nearly caught a while back but managed to escape and also killed his partner in the process. After six months though, there hasn’t been a break in the case and so he takes a bit of time off to try and reconnect with his daughter (Natalie Morales ) and finally get that laser eye surgery he’s been meaning to get. He’s at home and waiting for his vision to return as well as running out the clock until the start of his daughter’s art show when he gets a call from one of his informants telling him that Teijo is gonna be at this big drug deal later tonight at some undisclosed location in town. Seeing his chance but not seeing much else, Vic is determined to take Teijo down once and for all… but he needs a ride. I THINK YOU SEE WHERE THIS IS GOING!! Can Stu provide wonderful ride sharing service to the antsy and determined Vic and maintain his unobtrusive existence with a slightly higher star rating? Can Vic solve this case without his vision, and can he convince Stu to help him beyond his duty of just getting him from one place to another? Seriously, does this dude not have even ONE cop friend or a super tough bro he could have called instead!?
“I tried to get someone else to pick me up, but he was too busy.” “Oh really?” “AND HIS NAME IS JOHN CENA!!” “I don’t need your life story, pal.”
The Dead Don’t Die and all the images you see in this review are owned by Focus Features
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Two things I’m not particularly well versed in are zombie movies and Jim Jarmusch movies; the former because I find many entries in the genre to be tedious and the latter because I haven’t gotten around to them yet. Good thing I get to kill two birds with one stone here as I guess even he couldn’t resist the allure of big box office gold with yet another zombie film! Then again, we’re kind of on the other side of the whole zombie craze, so maybe this is the PERFECT time for his indie sensibilities and surprisingly extensive connections to make the ultimate commentary on the modern interpretation of the genre! Or maybe it’s just a goofy comedy with the dude from Star Wars and Selena Gomez. The point is that you can never pin this guy down to just one thing, so it’s probably both at the same time. The REAL question though is whatever it ends up being, is it any good? Let’s find out!!
Police Chief Robertson (Bill Murray) and Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) are living out their lives patrolling the small town of Centerville without much to worry about other than Hermit Bob (Tom Wait’s) possibly stealing chickens and the dead body in their police station that someone from the big city promises to pick up real soon. The town is filled with lots of colorful characters like Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi) who’s a racist jerk, Hank Thompson (Danny Glover) who’s clearly getting too old for whatever it is that he does, and Bobby Wiggins (Caleb Landry Jones) who runs a really cool gas station filled with old school horror movie merchandise, and all of them certainly have their concerns about reports of the Earth being pushed off its orbit due to arctic fracking, but it’s not something they have much control over so they just keep doing what they’re doing. Sadly for the citizens of Centerville (except for Farmer Miller because screw that guy), the grave environmental catastrophes thousands of miles away seem to be having a global effect and the dead start to rise from their graves. Chief Robertson and Officer Peterson, along with the third and final cop in the town Officer Morrison (Chloë Sevigny) have to figure out the best course of action for dealing with this nonsense and they could use a little help from the new undertaker in town Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton) who seems to know her way around bladed weapons and might just have a plan for dealing with the undead rising from their graves. Can the cops as well as the rest of the citizens of Centerville survive this literal night of the living dead? What can be done even if they do survive it now that the Earth has changed its orbit and the moon is now glowing for some reason? What even was the last zombie movie I saw? Does Overlord count?
“Look, all I’m saying is that Nazi Zombies are technically zombies if you want to get pedantic about it, but they never follow the traditional zombie formula.” “What about Dead Snow?” “That was INTENTIONALLY tongue in cheek about its premise! It doesn’t count!”
Late Night and all the images you see in this review are owned by Amazon Studios
Directed by Nisha Ganatra
I’m fairly certain that my usual theater had a poster for this and then just decided not to actually screen it so this is yet another trip to the far away theater (i.e. thirty minutes away) which honestly is usually a good sign. Not always, in fact this is the exact same story that preceded The Green Inferno, but the movies that aren’t wide enough for my local theater to get are usually have a lot more going for them; for good or ill. I hadn’t heard much about this movie and only have a vague idea of the premise, but the cast is very talented and I’m always intrigued by entertainment that’s ABOUT the making of entertainment which is always a journey in its own right. Does this glimpse into the world of late night television give us a funny and insightful look at the behind the scenes action, or will this end up being as boring as… I don’t know whichever one of those shows is the worst? Let’s find out!!
Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) is the host of a late night show that has been running for over twenty years, yet despite such a phenomenal legacy and a small army of Emmy awards behind her, the new network President Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan) tells her that the show will be cancelled in a few months and that she’ll be replaced with a hip young talent that gets those pesky millennials! With basically nothing left to lose, she starts to do the one thing she has come to fear in the last ten years; actually try. I know, truly a fate worse than death. Part of her initiate to revitalize the show includes hiring someone in the writers room whose only qualification is to NOT BE A WHITE GUY, and as luck would have it Molly (Mindy Kaling) is interviewing that day and meets those very stringent qualifications! Sure, she’s never written for a comedy show ever, but why should that stop her from filling up space and shielding the show from further criticisms of being too old and too white? AH HA! It’s not as simple as that however! For you see, Molly is not JUST a blatant diversity hire! She actually has good ideas, some decent writing chops, and may just be what this crusty old talk show needs in order to genuinely appeal to today’s audience instead of whatever crap Katherine and the other writers were gonna try to fake their way into relevance! Can Molly learn to thrive in this dinosaur of a work place and find the right balance between respecting its legacy and changing it for the better? Will Katherine realize what she’s been doing wrong all this time and genuinely change for the better before losing the best thing she has in her life? Well I mean she has her husband (John Lithgow), but is he paying the bills around here!? I DON’T THINK SO!!
Little and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures
Directed by Tina Gordon
I don’t know about this one. I got this trailer a few times and while it did have a few funny gags here and there, it seemed like only a step or two above Night School which I would conclusively say is damning with faint praise considering how I’m guessing only half of you even remember what that was. Still! It’s always a good idea to give a comedy NOT from a straight male perspective a chance because if nothing else it’s unlikely to be as toxic and mean spirited as say Daddy’s Home 2 or Fist Fight, and the LAST time we got a female centered update on a well-known comedy (this being a clear inversion of Tom Hank’s Big) was the eminently enjoyable What Men Want, so perhaps there’s something here that’s not shining through in the trailers! Could this be a comedy classic in the making, or am I expecting too much from yet another cash grab to soak up a few bucks between Shazam and Avengers? Let’s find out!!
Jordan Sanders (Regina Hall) is a hard as nails (i.e. abusive) owner of a tech company that believes time not spent crunching is time wasted, and no one at the office likes her; least of all her assistant April (Issa Rae) who puts up with it because… well that’s what we ALL have to do when we have crappy jobs. Jordan however messes with the wrong person one day as a young girl at the office calls her out for her attitude and uses her magic wand to put a curse on her. Now I’d have preferred if she went up to her face and whispered the word “littler” to her, but in any case the magic seems to have taken effect as she wakes up the next day as her thirteen year old self (Marsai Martin). Now fortunately for Jordan, April takes this whole situation rather well and agrees to help cover for her at work until they can get this fixed, but through a rather convoluted set of circumstances, Jordan has to be enrolled in school THAT VERY DAY OR ELSE APRIL WILL GET ARRESTED… for reasons. Oh, and on top of that there’s a big pitch scheduled at the office in two days to try and keep the company’s most valuable client and April is SO not ready for that which means she has to learn to be a leader as Jordan learns to be… less of a jerk I guess? Anyway, will Jordan find a way to return to her normal self before and even learn a valuable less at the same time? Will April become the active go getter who can get things done in an economy that will otherwise chew her up and spit her out? Wait, why does she need glasses when she’s little but not when she’s an adult? Does she have contacts that no longer fit, or did the laser eye surgery somehow reverse itself? DID HER BABY TEETH GROW BACK!?
I mean there’s no reason this CAN’T also be a live action Detective Conan movie, right?
At this point, the only thing more cliché than being thankful that the preceding year has finally come to a close is whiny Star Wars fans being wrong about The Last Jedi. Yes, I am in fact THANKFUL that we have finally gotten out of the horror show that was 2018, but 2019 looks to be a lot more of the same, albeit with a SLIGHTLY less destructive Congress and a lot more speculation on the 2020 election. Jeez, the idea is so deflating to me that I’m actually kind of glad to take one last look at the preceding year before charging face first into whatever nightmares 2019 will surely have for us. Anyway! Let’s take a look at the GOOD movies that came out and hope that the year ahead of us will bring us even more great films to love! ON WITH THE LIST!!
Honorable Mentions: Black Panther & Ant-Man and the Wasp
While Marvel’s usual output is at a consistently decent quality, this was a year of great highs and one PHENOMENAL low for the company which we’ll get to on the bad list. On the good side though, these are the first two movies they’ve released since I’ve started doing these lists that have come close to making it on the top ten, and frankly they are my favorite films that they’ve released in some time with the exception of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 which arguably should have been included on last year’s list. Black Panther, while still feeling a bit too conventional to the Marvel Formula and having a few oddly placed ideas here and there (how does a civilization THIS advanced still determine their leader through DEATH MATCHES!?) was quite the revelation and became something of a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the year which we’ll get to further down on this list, and while I’m not quite on board with it winning for Best Picture, I do see where a lot of people who are advocating for it are coming from. Ant-Man and the Wasp on the other hand felt like something new as well, albeit in a much less radical way as Black Panther, and is the template I’d like to see from Marvel films going forward; where there’s room for films that don’t take themselves QUITE as seriously and don’t hinge the fate of the world on the outcome of their adventure. Sony and WB might be gathering a bit of steam with their recent films, but this year showed once again that it’s gonna take a lot more to unseat Marvel and Disney from their well-deserved throne of money, and hopefully THESE are the kind of films we’ll be getting from them going forward instead of… well we’ll get to that one later.
Alright everyone! Now that we’ve had our fun with the GOOD list, it’s time to put on some work pants as we start wading through the unimaginable dreck that was yet another “fun” aspect of the abysmal year that we all had to suffer through. You know what though? Most of us made it through to the other side, so if looking back at the year that couldn’t beat us and having a laugh (or one last bitter tirade) at the pathetic excuses for entertainment that made daily life just a little bit worse, well I think we all deserved it, don’t you?
Anyway, let’s not beat around the bush any longer! WE’RE DIVING RIGHT IN!!
Dishonorable Mentions: Death Note & Bright
Since I didn’t even bother trying to watch another Adam Sandler movie this year, this dubious distinction goes to two OTHER Netflix features; albeit it for very different reasons. The truth of the matter is, I didn’t particularly mind either of these films as I think they had some good ideas buried within their mediocre (and cheap looking) execution with Death Note having an interestingly different take on its main character (a whiny little punk with issues of inadequacy instead a megalomaniacal genius) and Bright having an ALRIGHT set up for what is essentially a weaker version of 16 Blocks. That said… yeah, these films are REALLY flawed and in glaringly offensive ways. As much as I like the idea of taking some of the pomp and circumstance out of Death Note and reframing Light Yagami to be a less foreboding figure, I don’t see why that necessitated him to be white since they never play with that change in his identity within the text of the film. There could have been a component of White Privilege to the story (especially with L being black), but that seems to have never been the intent on the part of the filmmakers who simply seemed to associate AMERICAN REMAKE with WHITE AS DEFAULT. Similarly, the half-baked and ham fisted social commentary in the script for Bright creates one of the most cringe inducing screenplays of the year which has Orcs standing in for Black People in a world that still has Black People, and it even finds an excuse to get Will Smith to say “Fairy Lives Don’t Matter” before beating said fairy to death. Sure, the movie picks up once it gets away from its proudly ignorant views on race and becomes a straight up chase film with Will Smith and Joel Edgerton (who’s under a decent enough make up job), but that’s hardly enough to excuse everything that it gets wrong in the process. Now I don’t want this to come across as Netflix bashing because they DO put out quite a bit of decent content as I’ve heard good things about First They Killed My Father, Beast of No Nation, even The Babysitter, and while it wasn’t my favorite King Adaptation this year I thought Gerald’s Game was pretty good too. That said, they’ve had quite a few stumbles over the years, pretty much starting with their awful Adam Sandler deal, and these two movies are just further examples of their awkward steps towards becoming a media empire of their own; something they’ll need to keep working on now that Disney is gonna own everything else in the world and will eventually come out with their own streaming service to try and crush them. If Netflix wants a chance to survive the Disney/Fox merger, they’ll need to avoid having clunkers like this clogging up their service.
Hark! Is it that time of year again!? Yes, it is time for the film critics to have their yearly ritual of ranking the films we saw in order of how much (or how little) venom we can summon up for it, and while I would love NOTHING more than to get this crap-tastic year over with and race towards the future, we can at least afford one more look in the rear view mirror before leaving it all behind. Also, it’s worth pointing out that I didn’t get a chance to see all the movies that came out this year like The Florida Project, and there were films that I couldn’t have seen even if I wanted to like The Post, Phantom Thread, and I, Tonya, due to them getting extremely limited releases in the last weeks of the year. If the studios can’t be bothered to let me see the movie, then I can’t be bothered to wait several weeks to finish up this list. This is a 2017 list, so I’m finishing it in 2017!
Sure! Let’s start this off with a pairing so disparate that it’s likely to cause whiplash! Then again, it’s a probably a good indication of what to expect from the rest of the list as I try to find room for a little bit of everything… and by everything I mean legitimately good movies that everyone likes and amazing B movies that only I seem to like. The Big Sick was one of the better comedies of the year as I’m sure it’s been mentioned on several best of the year lists other than this one, and rightfully so! It didn’t quite make my top ten due to a bit of shaky structuring (time is a bit elusive in it) and the fact that it’s hard to overlook how much of this story is coming from only one viewpoint within it (being written by Nanjiani and Gordon who DID end up working out, it feels a BIT antagonist towards his parents who are drawn more broadly than hers are in the telling of this story), but there’s genuine heart in the way that Nanjiani is trying to navigate such an awkward situation where the right thing to do is kind of murky and his feelings about it all are even more so. It’s a situation, like many in life, that could have ended VERY badly for everyone involved but Nanjiani and Gordon’s script is smart enough to walk that line between genuinely trying to express one’s feelings for someone and having a character realize when that’s not enough and when they need to walk away. It ended up working out for these two but only after Nanjiani left her to live her life and to make her own choices which is certainly a worthwhile lesson for many of us to learn and for Hollywood to pick up on considering how much the BIG ROMANTIC GESTURE is still a staple in so many so called romance films. Kidnap on the other hand… look, I just really had a lot of fun in it, alright!? I know it’s not going to be to EVERYONE’S taste (hence why it didn’t make the list) but it’s damn near perfect in being exactly what it wants to be. Calling something a NON-STOP ACTION THRILLER is about the most hack bit of marketing imaginable, but in this case it’s quite literally true and the film’s greatest asset. Halle Berry is chasing after the people who have kidnapped her son and she can’t stop moving. She can’t lose focus, can’t lose momentum, otherwise she’ll lose everything; and she knows that. Yes it’s over the top and barely makes any sense (there’s maybe three cops in the ENTIRE state) but the tension is there and if you’re willing to get behind its rather ludicrous concept you’ll surely stay engaged all the way to the bloody end of her bloody quest to save her son. Yeah, it’s goofy and has a few less than stellar editing shortcuts (why do they keep reminding us how low on gas she is when she NEVER RUNS OUT OF GAS!?), but they did a lot with what they had to work with which is often the sign of a great film more so than a film with many more resources not taking full advantage of them. Not a bad double feature if you ask me!