Thursday, July 12, 2018

2018 Halftime Film Report

For the first time in a long time I've done a better job of keeping track of what I'm watching during the year, so I've compiled this report breaking out lists of the best films I've seen from January 1 through June 30, 2018.  The exceptions: LEAN ON PETE and ON BODY AND SOUL, which I saw at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.  LEAN ON PETE wasn't commercially released in theaters until this year.  ON BODY AND SOUL debuted in the U.S. on Netflix this year.  So, both go on the Best of 2018 list. 

2018 Films

1. First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2017)
2. Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)
3. Lean On Pete (Andrew Haigh, 2017)
4. Paddington 2 (Paul King, 2017)
5. On Body and Soul (Teströl és lélekröl) (Ildikó Enyedi, 2017)
6. Set It Up (Claire Scanlon, 2018)
7. Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2017)
8. The Rider (Chloé Zhao, 2017)
9. Tully (Jason Reitman, 2018)
10. A Quiet Place (John Krasinski, 2018)

Because I find it annoying when critics post these sorts of lists and include a bunch of films not yet commercially available, I've split out films in consideration for my 2018 Top 10 and Honorable Mentions lists, assuming they are released this year.

Unreleased 2018 Films

1. Bisbee '17 (Robert Greene, 2018)
2. América (Erick Stoll and Chase Whiteside, 2018)
3. Let the Corpses Tan (Laissez bronzer les cadavres) (Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, 2017)
4. I Am Not a Witch (Rungano Nyoni, 2017)
5. Hale County This Morning, This Evening (RaMell Ross, 2018)
6. Shirkers (Sandi Tan, 2018)

As the Sam Green and Kronos Quartet collaboration defies categorization and isn't something that will ever have a normal release, it gets a spot all to its own.

Uncategorizable 2018 Film Event

-A Thousand Thoughts (Sam Green, 2018)

Things get a little more idiosyncratic when it comes to films I saw this year for the first time.  While these choices are guided to a degree by what I can see in theatrical repertory programs, some are just where curiosity took me.  The inclusions of PHANTOM THREAD and CALL ME BY YOUR NAME are somewhat antithetical to the idea of this list--they're "new" films that squeezed on by virtue of awards release patterns--but this is where they fit best.

Films New to Me

1. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017)
2. La belle noiseuse (Jacques Rivette, 1991)
3. Monkey Business (Howard Hawks, 1952)
4. Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017)
5. Rambling Rose (Martha Coolidge, 1991)
6. Tom Jones (Tony Richardson, 1963)
7. Memories of Murder (Salinui chueok) (Bong Joon-ho, 2003)
8. Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968)
9. Remember My Name (Alan Rudolph, 1978)
10. Lady on a Train (Charles David, 1945)

June 2018 Film Log

At the moment life is steamrolling me with everything that I need to do, so rather than extending the delay in getting this posted by searching for the time to write something more substantive to accompany the log, I'll leave it at that.

-2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968): A+ -- 70mm "unrestored" print; 3rd viewing

-Adrift (Baltasar Kormákur, 2018): B

-Beast (Michael Pearce, 2017): B

-Book Club (Bill Holderman, 2018): C+

-Choose Me (Alan Rudolph, 1984): B -- projected DVD

-Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach) (Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, 1968): B

-Filmworker (Tony Zierra, 2017): B

-First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2017): A -- second viewing

-Hereditary (Ari Aster, 2018): B

-Hotel Artemis (Drew Pearce, 2018): C-

-How to Talk to Girls at Parties (John Cameron Mitchell, 2017): D+

-Incredibles 2 (Brad Bird, 2018): B

-Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (J.A. Bayona, 2018): B-

-Let the Sunshine In (Un beau soleil intérieur) (Claire Denis, 2017): B

-Ocean's 8 (Gary Ross, 2018): B-

-Remember My Name (Alan Rudolph, 1978): B+ -- 35mm

-Set It Up (Claire Scanlon, 2018): A- -- HD stream

-Sollers Point (Matthew Porterfield, 2017): B

-Superfly (Director X, 2018): C

-Tag (Jeff Tomsic, 2018): C

-Uncle Drew (Charles Stone III, 2018): C

-Upgrade (Leigh Whannell, 2018): B

-The Year of Spectacular Men (Lea Thompson, 2017): C-

-Balloonfest (Nathan Truesdell, 2017): B+

-Bao (Domee Shi, 2018): B-

-Take What You Can Carry (Matthew Porterfield, 2015): B -- projected HD video

The top films new to me (current releases):

-Set It Up
-Let the Sunshine In (Un beau soleil intérieur)

The top films new to me (repertory):

-Remember My Name
-Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach)
-Choose Me

Viewing locations & formats:

-Theatrical viewings: 22 (DCP: 19, 35mm: 1, 70mm: 1, projected DVD: 1) + 2 shorts
-Home viewings: 1  (HD stream: 1) + 1 short

June Totals:

-# of screenings: 23
-# of films seen: 23 
-# of feature films new to me: 21

Year-to-date Totals:

-Theatrical viewings: 127 (DCP: 117, 35mm: 6, 70mm: 3, projected DVD: 1) (includes one live performance)
-Home viewings: 12 (HD streams: 6, Blu-ray: 3, HD recordings: 2,  DVD: 1)

-# of screenings: 139
-Unique # of films seen: 134 features, 2 shorts compilation programs, and 7 shorts
-Unique # of feature films new to me: 121

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Filmbound - Episode 21: Life of the Party

Occasionally a tweet will pop up on my timeline that features a mixture of disbelief and amazement at the passage of time relative to pop culture products.  For example, the number of years separating the releases of SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY and STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE is equal to the number of years between the original STAR WARS film and Charlie Chaplin's MODERN TIMESJURASSIC PARK is now as old as 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was in 1993.

The brain-exploding reaction is the realization that comes when comparing something from your youth or young adulthood that doesn't seem particularly old with something that did seem old at that time.  The same effect can be achieved by seeing college students wearing vintage t-shirts of rock bands that were popular when you were their age.  The process is probably more accelerated in music, which can "date" faster.  We're as far removed from Radiohead's OK COMPUTER now as we were from Led Zeppelin's PRESENCE in 1997, which seemed old to me a decade prior. 

It didn't occur to me while watching LIFE OF THE PARTY or talking about it on episode 21 of FILMBOUND that Melissa McCarthy's frumpy character, styled as an early 1990s film mom stereotype than a contemporary woman, is supposed to be roughly the same age that I am.  Becoming aware of that is enough to feel like time is coming totally unglued.  The math adds up, but it feels like a significant miscalculation exists in there somewhere.

Maybe it's just as well that I didn't grasp this fact until afterwards.  It wouldn't really have any bearing on my assessment of this sluggish, disjointed comedy, even if I did nitpick it for seeming mostly out of touch with what college life is like today.  Plus, the last thing I need right now is an additional item in the existential crisis column.

In the recommendations segment I endorse the futuristic action-thriller UPGRADE, which provides a little food for thought about the convergence of human biology and technology but primarily delivers the simple pleasures of a genre film.

Upcoming episodes:

-June 20: DEADPOOL 2 and a discussion about film clichés we like and dislike
-June 27: SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY and our recommendations segment
-July 4: FIRST REFORMED and a discussion about the role of the film critic
-July 11: HEREDITARY and our recommendations segment

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Filmbound - Episode 20: Tully

Episode 20 of FILMBOUND features TULLY, which finds director Jason Reitman back to form after two fairly bad and misguided efforts in LABOR DAY and MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN.  As it is summer movie season, Paul Markoff and I also kick around some ideas for sequels, cinematic universes, and crossovers we'd be interested in seeing.

For the most part our conversation is an exercise in wishful thinking, but there might be an idea or two that a studio runs with eventually.  If my ideas seem limited to a particular type of film, chalk it up to my jet lag as I scrounged for ideas.  (In editing this show and the three preceding it, I've been pleasantly surprised that I don't sound fatigued because I certainly felt that way during the recording.)

It seems a little anachronistic to talk about summer movie season because the event films launched during that roughly three-month period are now dispersed throughout the calendar.  You don't have to wait until Memorial Day weekend for expensive, FX-focused entertainment.  Still, I think there's a tendency to perceive films released in late May, June, July, and early August to represent Hollywood's latest, greatest mass appeal movies, even if inevitably some fail to live up to studio or viewer expectations.  (In reality, the timeline has shifted up to late March.)

For whatever reason, the 2018 summer movie season looks lackluster.  Removing the actual quality of these films from the equation, I'm having difficulty finding big movies to be excited about.  That indifference applies to those I've already watched as well as those I've yet to see.  This season has already delivered AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, DEADPOOL 2, SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY, and OCEAN'S 8.  Through July the presumed biggest films of their weekends will be INCREDIBLES 2, JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM, SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO, ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, THE FIRST PURGE, HOTEL TRANSLYVANIA 3: SUMMER VACATION, MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN, THE EQUALIZER 2, and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT.  All of these are part of film franchises or new entries in series.  Out of all of those titles, I'm looking forward to the latest MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE the most, but with it being the sixth film in the series, it's not like I can't contain my anticipation for it.

Summer tends to lean on established properties, so this isn't out of the ordinary; however, last summer produced BABY DRIVER, DUNKIRK, ATOMIC BLONDE, 47 METERS DOWN, THE BIG SICK, GIRLS TRIP, and LOGAN LUCKY.  Whether I liked them or not, at least these were a break from franchise installments.  Granted, only one of these summer 2017 films likely had and fulfilled blockbuster ambitions, but unless I'm overlooking them, I don't necessarily see the non-franchise films in summer 2018 similar with the similar potential to surprise on a moderate scale.

Upcoming episodes:

-June 13: LIFE OF THE PARTY and our recommendations segment
-June 20: DEADPOOL 2 and a discussion about film clichés we like and dislike
-June 27: SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY and our recommendations segment

Friday, June 01, 2018

May 2018 Film Log

Being free of the viewing demands for a biweekly TV show, I don't have to see--or feel compelled to see--as many of the new mainstream films that make it into the nation's multiplexes.  Perhaps it was always this way, but so many of the wide releases this year look more disposable than ever and don't pique my interest.  I don't think that such an impression is necessarily a byproduct of being able to be more selective.  As the number of each week's new releases grows and the turnover of these titles increases, it stands to reason that there's a lower bar to clear to get screens.

During the most intense periods of producing NOW PLAYING, it wasn't unusual for me to look at multiplex listings and find little to nothing I hadn't already watched except for what just opened.  Now the listings are peppered with films I haven't seen, yet I can struggle to identify something that seems even mildly worth the time.  Sight unseen, films such as BAD SAMARITAN, OVERBOARD, SHOW DOGS, and TRAFFIK aren't exactly compelling choices even if I'm looking to go to the movies just for the sake of it.  (That's how BREAKING IN ended up on this month's log.  It was something to do while all of the windows were being replaced in my apartment.)  It's as though movie theaters are being infiltrated by the types of offerings that would have once been direct-to-video.  It's also probably never been easier to get an independent film in theaters, at least for the blink of an eye.  (Getting a full run is another matter.) 

While I would not argue that it should be harder for filmmakers to find screens for their works, the number of screens to fill and the ease of content delivery with digital distribution and exhibition has exploded the number of choices and diluted the perceived quality checks when access to consumers was tighter.  I'm not sure that I have a point other than to say I saw a fair number of mediocre and worse films this month while bypassing a bunch of others. 

-La belle noiseuse (Jacques Rivette, 1991): A- -- Blu-ray

-Breaking In (James McTeigue, 2018): D+

-The Color of Pomegranates (Sayat Nova) (Sergei Parajanov, 1969): B -- Blu-ray

-Deadpool 2 (David Leitch, 2018): C

-Disobedience (Sebastián Lelio, 2017): C-

-Double Lover (L'amant double) (François Ozon, 2017): B-

-The Endless (Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, 2017): C+

-Ghost Stories (Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, 2017): B-

-The Guardians (Les gardiennes) (Xavier Beauvois, 2017): B

-I Feel Pretty (Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, 2018): C

-Life of the Party (Ben Falcone, 2018): C-

-Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964): B

-Oh Lucy! (Atsuko Hirayanagi, 2017): C-

-Pope Francis: A Man of His Word (Wim Wenders, 2018): C+

-Psychokinesis (Yeom-lyeok) (Yeon Sang-Ho, 2018): B- -- HD stream

-RBG (Julie Cohen and Betsy West, 2018): B-

-Solo: A Star Wars Story (Ron Howard, 2018): B-

-Terminal (Vaughn Stein, 2018): D

-Tully (Jason Reitman, 2018): B+

The top films new to me (current releases):


The top films new to me (repertory):

-La belle noiseuse
-The Color of Pomegranates (Sayat Nova)

Viewing locations & formats:

-Theatrical viewings: 16 (DCP: 16)
-Home viewings: 3

May Totals:

-# of screenings: 19
-# of films seen: 19
-# of feature films new to me: 18

Year-to-date Totals:

-Theatrical viewings: 105 (DCP: 98, 35mm: 5, 70mm: 2) (includes one live performance)
-Home viewings: 11 (HD streams: 5, Blu-ray: 3, HD recordings: 2,  DVD: 1)

-# of screenings: 116
-Unique # of films seen: 111 features, 2 shorts compilation programs, and 4 shorts
-Unique # of feature films new to me: 100

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Filmbound - Episode 19: Avengers: Infinity War

In general I strive to keep extratextual information from being a significant factor in evaluating the movies I'm watching.  If it isn't on the screen, then it shouldn't be relevant in judging the work.  Ignore the marketing and publicity campaigns as well as reviews.  Focus less on what a filmmaker may claim he or she intended and just interpret what you see.  Sounds good, right?

Of course, this is virtually impossible unless you can block out the media cacophony in a way that I can't comprehend.  Even then, I realize that I violate this rule of thumb all the time, especially when examining a new film in regard to how it fits in with a director's larger body of work.  Granted, recognizing patterns in a filmmaker's oeuvre is more valuable in reading a film's text than coming at it through the filters of trailers, talent interviews, box office receipts, and fan reactions.  The challenge is to make sure that the tools worth using don't become boilerplate supports.  In other words, just because there is a common theme running through a director's films doesn't mean that it makes them all good. 

Back to extratextual matters...they play a major role in how I experienced AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and are why I have a hard time buying what the film is selling.  If you've seen the film, you know what I'm talking about.  If you haven't and don't want the end of the movie revealed, then I suggest waiting until you watch it to listen to this episode.  A big part of the discussion is about our disagreement in whether or not to accept what happens in that part of the film.

In the recommendations segment I throw support to John Woo's MANHUNT.  I thought this was a lot of fun, especially if you're familiar with Woo's older and most popular films.  I also am not entirely sure that it's a good movie.  I realize that might seem like a contradiction in terms, but as I mention during the episode, seeing MANHUNT with a knowledgeable crowd numbering a couple thousand at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival heightened the experience even as I acknowledge that the film isn't as slick as his best work.  It's on Netflix if you're interested.

Upcoming episodes:

-June 13: LIFE OF THE PARTY and our recommendations segment
-June 20: DEADPOOL 2 and a discussion about film clichés we like and dislike
-June 27: SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY and our recommendations segment

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Filmbound - Episode 18: You Were Never Really Here

It's been my experience that most people have no idea how film critics do what they do, and the general public probably assumes critics' opinions are carved in stone rather than written in a material more amenable to revision.  When I started as a critic in the late 1990s, I probably would have held a similar view about the endurance of the first impressions captured in an initial review.  A verdict has been rendered, and that settles that.  The need to assert authority on a subject can manifest in the form of more definitive statements, especially as a nascent critic and young adult.

As I've accumulated experience, I've come to realize how much I don't know and how works of art can transform depending on a variety of factors.  My mood, age, fellow audience members, life circumstances, and foreknowledge, among a number of other things, can have a greater impact on how I evaluate a film than I may realize or want to admit as a measured, independent-minded person.  I'm not suggesting no review is fixed or that altering one's opinions mean they were objectively wrong before.  Rather, in developing our judgments critics should strive to account for the elements that become the filter through which we see what is on the screen.  A negative review that becomes positive upon reconsideration, or vice versa, isn't a sign of critical failure or inconsistency but is indicative of the willingness to engage with the film at whenever the moment in time with it occurs.

The main focus of episode 18 of FILMBOUND is YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE, the new film from writer-director Lynne Ramsay.  I enjoyed this dive into a grimy underworld--if enjoyed is the proper word for such an emotionally tough work--and left feeling as though perhaps I needed to reassess her previous feature, the 2011 drama WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN.  I had a strong negative reaction to that film, and while I don't have any reason to distrust those feelings, I am also curious if I approached it from the wrong angle.

This happens occasionally.  After being thoroughly surprised by how much I liked THE NEON DEMON, I questioned if my first assessment of Nicolas Winding Refn's ONLY GOD FORGIVES, which I thought was excruciating, needed to be challenged.  Maybe it's merely my auteurist inclinations, a prescriptive framework that wishes to integrate and resolve the unfavored works with the favored.

Setting aside everything above, revisiting a film doesn't usually result in drastic reappraisals for me.  Although I have made dramatic flips, it's more typical for me to feel mild shifts in degrees of enthusiasm than huge swings.

The discussion topic on this episode is an attempt to identify who are the biggest new movie stars to emerge in about the last twenty years and what even defines a star in today's Hollywood.  I'm satisfied with the top two or three performers I name, but after that the task gets exponentially harder.  I proposed the topic based on a prior conversation with my co-host in which he asserted that Chris Pratt belonged in that elite group, which I disagreed with.  Maybe I convinced Paul otherwise because he didn't end up naming Pratt, and the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY star didn't even get mentioned on the podcast.  My main reason for denying Pratt a spot among the biggest new movie stars is that he has yet to transcend franchise film roles.  In the contemporary industry, that quality is probably the biggest factor in determining who is new to the A list.

A listener who has already heard this episode suggested Bradley Cooper, who neither of us brought up.  As with a lot of the other names we kicked around, he probably merits consideration, but is he that big of a star?  I'm not sure.  In the time since recording this episode, I thought of a couple actors neither of us mentioned but probably should have:  Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg.  Notice that it's harder to identify the big stars since a little before the turn of the century than it would seem.  In terms of social media fan intensity, Kristen Stewart would surely be fighting for a place as the biggest star of today, but that rabid support hasn't translated to robust box office totals for her non-TWILIGHT films.  Are the stars just smaller but more numerous these days?

Upcoming episodes:

-May 30: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and our recommendations segment
-June 6: TULLY and a discussion about sequels, cinematic universes, and crossovers we'd like to see
-June 13: LIFE OF THE PARTY and our recommendations segment
-June 20: DEADPOOL 2 and a to be determined discussion
-June 27: SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY and our recommendations segment

Thursday, May 17, 2018

April 2018 Film Log

Another month attending a film festival provides a boost to the overall numbers, with nearly half of what I saw coming in a five-day period at Roger Ebert's Film Festival.  The end of the semester and other pressures on time put a pinch on the usual amount I'd devote to watching movies, but I recognize that I still see way more than most people.

Dario Argento is one of those directors who I'm aware of but largely unfamiliar with, so I made the effort to catch a couple of his earlier films when they played in Columbus as part of a month-long series.  I wanted to see SUSPIRIA the most, but the only time available to me was a 12:15 a.m. screening before I had a 7:00 a.m. flight to Denver.  I gave serious consideration to going, but physical fatigue persuaded me that it would be extremely foolish to drag myself to a screening that I'd probably fall asleep during.

One note on a grade: I left a placeholder question mark for the Japanese silent film A PAGE OF MADNESS because I have no idea what to make of it, especially as the late afternoon festival drowsiness made this dream-like (or nightmarish) film even hazier.

-13th (Ava DuVernay, 2016): B

-American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, 2003): B+ -- 35mm; 2nd viewing

-Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, 2018): C -- Cinemark XD

-Beirut (Brad Anderson, 2018): B

-Belle (Amma Asante, 2013): B -- 2nd viewing

-The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 1998): A -- 35mm; repeat viewing

-The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo) (Dario Argento, 1970): B- -- 4K restoration

-Blockers (Kay Cannon, 2018): B-

-Columbus (Kogonada, 2017): A -- 2nd viewing

-Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, 1991): B -- 2nd viewing

-Deep Red (Profondo rosso) (Dario Argento, 1975): B- -- 4K restoration

-The Fugitive (Andrew Davis, 1993): B -- repeat viewing

-Gemini (Aaron Katz, 2017): B

-Goldstone (Ivan Sen, 2016): C-

-Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014): A -- 70mm; 3rd viewing (2nd in 70mm)

-Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018): B-

-Loveless (Nelyubov) (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2017): B

-A Page of Madness (Kurutta ippêji) (Teinosuke Kinugasa, 1926): ? -- with Alloy Orchestra accompaniment

-A Quiet Place (John Krasinski, 2018): B+

-Rambling Rose (Martha Coolidge, 1991): B+ -- 35mm

-Rampage (Brad Peyton, 2018): C-

-Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World (Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana, 2017): B-

-Selena (Gregory Nava, 1997): C -- 35mm

-Truth or Dare (Jeff Wadlow, 2018): C-

-Where is Kyra? (Andrew Dosunmu, 2017): C

-You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay, 2017): B


-Aspirational (Matthew Frost, 2014): B

The top films new to me (current releases):

-A Quiet Place
-You Were Never Really Here
-Loveless (Nelyubov)

The top films new to me (repertory):

-Rambling Rose
-Deep Red (Profondo rosso)
-The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo)

Viewing locations & formats:

-Theatrical viewings: 26 (DCP: 21, 35mm: 4, 70mm: 1)
-Home viewings: 0

April Totals:

-# of screenings: 26
-# of films seen: 26 features and 1 short
-# of feature films new to me: 19

Year-to-date Totals:

-Theatrical viewings: 90 (DCP: 83, 35mm: 5, 70mm: 2) (includes one live performance)
-Home viewings: 8 (HD streams: 4, HD recordings: 2, Blu-ray: 1, DVD: 1)

-# of screenings: 98
-Unique # of films seen: 93 features, 2 shorts compilation programs, and 4 shorts
-Unique # of feature films new to me: 83