2018 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst, Grand Totals

Hello!

Wow!  Here we go into our year EIGHT of The MN Movie Man.  I can’t believe it! 

Below I’ve compiled my list of the best and worst of 2018.  As is typically the case, by the time it came to make this list things became a bit of a jumble and I decided to choose the movies that I had the strongest reaction to when I saw them.  I don’t revisit movies often but anything in the Top 5 are films that I’d add to my collection.  I also cheated a little bit…but it’s my blog so I can do what I want 🙂

As always, I’ve appreciated your feedback, your patronage, and your general presence in my blog. Even if you read this everyday but have never commented or made contact I can still tell you’ve been here and that means a lot.  

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Best Wishes to you and yours for a most Happy New Year!

~Joe (The MN Movie Man)

5. A Quiet Place – John Krasinski always felt like he’d best be remembered for playing Jim on NBC’s The Office but after writing/directing this spine-chilling genre film I’d be willing to bet they’ll also mention A Quiet Place in a list of his major accomplishments.  Turning a horror film on its ear and making it a metaphor about parenting was a smart move in keeping things in unfamiliar territory to audiences.  With his wife in the leading role and two dynamite child actors as their children, Krasinksi assembled a perfect roster across the board.  It was scary, it was emotional, and it was fantastically well made with a high re-watchability factor.  Super.

4. A Star is Born (2018) – After three previous versions of A Star is Born the question everyone wanted to know was if the story of a fading rock star falling in love with a pop star as she rises to fame would work in a modern setting.  Coupled with a stellar soundtrack and the kind of movie star chemistry you rarely see in these days, Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut was a knockout.  The first hour is better than most entire films released in 2018 and even if the second half can’t quite reach those same heights the work done by Lady Gaga and Cooper (not to mention Sam Elliott) is remarkable.  It’s even better on repeat viewings.

3. If Beale Street Could Talk – when the screening of this one was over I wasn’t quite sure what I thought about it, it’s one that will stick to your bones for many days to come.  In the days and weeks that have followed since I saw this Barry Jenkins adaptation of James Baldwin’s short novel, I’ve found it hard to get it out of my mind or shake it’s unforgettable imagery.  The performances are phenomenal and haunting – the way Jenkins has many of the actors deliver their lines directly to camera has a chilling effect you won’t soon forget.  A lyrical and beautifully constructed work of art.

2. Love Simon / Crazy Rich Asians – hooray for the return of the romantic comedy!  2018 had two shining examples of excellent romantic comedies and I couldn’t be happier to have them on my best of the year list.  Though it may teeter on the side of comedic drama, Love Simon is a sweet tale of a high schooler coming to terms with his sexuality and learning to be OK with it.  Crazy Rich Asians is the mega hit that heralded the return of the outright rom-com to cinemas that wasn’t afraid to be big and bold.  Often with these movies the main characters get overshadowed by showier supporting characters and it’s true that both of these offerings have memorable supporting players – but the difference is that the lead characters are written well enough that they remain as interesting as everyone else on screen.  More of these movies, please and thank you!

1. The Favourite – To be honest, I’m surprised this one found its way to the top of my list, but in looking at the movies I saw last year none struck the same clarion chord of expertise in quite the way that The Favourite did.  It’s absolutely not going to be everyone’s cup of English Breakfast tea but for those that are willing to tilt their head slightly to the side and see things askew, they’ll get a kick of this bawdy trip to Queen Anne’s court.  Everything about the production is sublime, from the costumes to the set dressings all the way up to the leading performances of a trio of excellent ladies.  I still think Rachel Weisz gave one of my favorite performances of the year in a very tricky role that could have gone into high camp.

Honorable Mentions: Mary Queen of Scots, Paddington 2, A Simple Favor, Roma, Overlord, Widows, Mary Poppins Returns, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Revenge

 

5. Book Club – a movie featuring talented actors Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, Candice Bergen, and Diane Keaton should be smart, finely tuned, and relevant.  Book Club is none of these things.  A lame-brained comedy that feels like it came out 20 years too late puts the four women in numerous embarrassing situations and asks them to recite godawful dialogue.  I took my mom to see this on Mother’s Day and felt like I had to ask for a do over the next weekend.

4. The Happytime Murders – I’ll admit it: I laughed at this movie…because there are a few jokes so repulsively blunt that you can’t help but stammer out a guffaw at what you just heard a blue felt puppet say to similarly pilling creation from the son of Jim Henson.  Having seen the foul-mouthed musical Avenue Q on Broadway, which gleefully advertises “Full Puppet Nudity” I get that there are jokes to be made as a commentary but the difference between that Tony winning show and this future Razzie winner, is that this movie has no creative bone in its body.  It’s just a series of sex jokes that are only funny because a puppet is saying them.

3. Breaking In – I’ve been a fan of Gabrielle Union for a while now and she deserves better than bargain-basement projects like Breaking In.  A basic cable style movie that somehow was picked up by a major studio and released to unsuspecting audiences paying full price, this was a brainless effort from all that touted a poster image of Union looking ready to kick butt but instead featured her as a character that made a series of totally idiotic moves.  Worst of all was Breaking In’s arrival in the midst of the #TimesUp movement because it features horrific treatment of women and one totally unnecessary death that I’m guessing will be enough for some viewers to turn it off when watching.

2. Holmes & Watson / Tag – I’m including Holmes & Watson and Tag together on this list because both feature stupid guys doing stupid things.  Holmes & Watson is yet another opportunity for Will Ferrell to cash a check for doing the same old schtick while Tag is an exhausting exercise in toxic masculinity run amok.  Chuck both of these in the trash bin and call it a day.

1. Welcome to Marwen – It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen Welcome to Marwen and I’m still seething mad at how bad it was.  Director Robert Zemeckis wastes a great cast in his misguided exercise bringing the documentary Marwencol to life as a feature film.  What made sense in a documentary setting completely fails to translate to a narrative feature and audiences are left to white-knuckle it through very disconcerting scenes of exploitation of women and those suffering from mental health issues.  Universal Pictures should be ashamed of themselves for distributing this one.  Total garbage.

Dis(Honorable) Mentions: Mortal Engines, Solo: A Star Wars Story, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Christopher Robin, Fifty Shades Freed, Night School, Pacific Rim: Uprising, First Man, Red Sparrow, Tomb Raider (2018)

Most Misunderstood: Suspiria – Oh boy this was a divisive movie!  Fans of Dario Argento’s classic original were aghast at what director Luca Guadagnino did to the relatively simple outline of the original.  I, for one, was happy to see that Guadagnino dug a little deeper than Argento did and brought out even darker elements to an already pitch black tale of witchcraft running rampant at a Germany dance academy.  This was a long movie with several horrifying sequences but I found it a thrilling and exciting undertaking.  More risks like this need to be taken, even if they don’t fully succeed or, in this case, make any money.
Honorable Mention: The Meg

Joe’s Humble Pie Award of 2018 (movies that turned out differently than I expected going in): Game Night – I fully expected Game Night to be another one of Jason Bateman’s smug comedies with him rolling his eyes and having some snarky comment at every turn.  Actually, there’s a lot of that going on here but it works to Bateman’s advantage because it fits in perfectly with the tone of the film.  Buoyed by a strong supporting cast, including Rachel McAdams in a delightful turn and Jesse Plemons as a deadpan dud, and some genuine twists that keep the film from getting too far ahead of its audience, this was a more than pleasant surprise.  Several points off for spoiling one of the best jokes in the trailer, though.  Tsk Tsk.
Honorable Mention: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen But Should

A Star is Born (1937)
A Star is Born (1954)
Alpha 
Apostle
BlacKkKlansman 
Can You Ever Forgive Me? 
Eighth Grade
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool 
Ghost Stories
Grand Canyon
Lean on Pete
Pick of the Litter
Rocky
Rocky II
Rocky Balboa
Searching 
Strong Island
The Harvey Girls

Click HERE for a full listing of films seen in 2018
Total Movies Seen in the Theater: 128
Total Movies Seen at Home: 184
Grand Total for 2018 (not counting films seen multiple times): 309
Where I Saw the Most Movies – AMC Southdale (35!)

Movie Review ~ Solo: A Star Wars Story


The Facts
:

Synopsis: During an adventure into a dark criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future copilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion.

Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, Michael K. Williams, Ian Kenny, Warwick Davis, Clint Howard, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau

Director: Ron Howard

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 135 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review: I was one of the few people that didn’t latch on to 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Most thought it was one of the best (!!) entries in the Star Wars universe but I found it to be a cash-grabbing, gap-filling, problematic undertaking that brought to lax life characters and situations we had heard about in the original trilogy of films. It just didn’t go anywhere for me because it had nowhere to go. We knew what was going to happen so, like Titanic, audiences were waiting around for a couple of hours for the ship to sink.

Like Rogue One, Solo: A Star Wars Story reaches back into galactic history to the origins of Han Solo, the character first portrayed by Harrison Ford. Unfortunately, the same problems of storytelling and purpose existed for me while watching Solo, which, though a marked improvement in pace and plot over Rogue One, still had me struggling with the question of “Why?” Even for a slightly-more-than-casual-fan of the Star Wars series like myself, I kept wondering when the story would take a surprising turn or stake its claim as the original tale it claims to be. Despite some stray sparks of ingenuity, Solo winds up being another strange miss by Lucasfilm that finds itself yet again playing it safe with its cash cow franchise.

Bursting into action before the title is even on the screen, the problems I had with Solo also started pretty early on. For one thing, the cinematography by Bradford Young (A Most Violent Year) is so dark that I half-believed something to be wrong with the projection. Large stretches of the movie are so dim that facial features are fuzzy and action sequences feel like they were filmed inside a dank warehouse that forgot to pay their electric bill. Introduced to wannabe pilot Han (Alden Ehrenreich, Beautiful Creatures) as he wriggles out of a sticky situation with his band of criminals on Corellia, taking his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke, Terminator Genisys) along with him. In the first of several well-staged space chases, Han and Qi’ra attempt to evade capture with Han’s flying skills put to the test. Though Han escapes the planet, Qi’ra isn’t so lucky. Pledging to return to save her, Han joins the Imperial flight academy and gains his last name in the process. Flash forward three years to find Han has been kicked out of the academy and is now a grunt on the ground doing battle.

It’s in the wages of war that the resourceful Han buddies up with a cadre of thieves led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson, Now You See Me 2) and Val (Thandie Newton) but not before almost being torn apart by a muddy Wookie named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo, Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Befriending the hairy beast, Han and Chewie join Tobias and Val on a mission that sets the stage for a whole new world of trouble and adventure. Along the way Han plays cards with the charming Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover, The Martian) in the hopes of winning his prized ship the Millennium Falcon, avoids a band of mysterious space pirates, and runs afoul of Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany, Avengers: Infinity War) who has a familiar face from Han’s past in his employ. Then there’s Han’s first experience with the Kessel Run, a hyperspace route known for its treacherous tendencies that plays a factor in Han’s later years.

It’s well known that Solo had a bumpy go of it during its production. Original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired when filming was nearly complete and producers brought in Oscar winner Ron Howard (Splash!) to oversee the rest of the process and film additional scenes. There were also rumors certain stars had to work with an acting coach to beef up their likability factor. Strangely, this isn’t unusual for this franchise; in several of the recent Star Wars films (and Rogue One), the director was replaced at some point during filming or just prior to getting underway. Lord/Miller are known for their comedies (21 Jump Street) and Howard couldn’t be any different in style as a director – it’s a credit to the film that you can’t always tell where the Lord/Miller material ended and the Howard contributions began.

Where the film falls flat is in the dull script by Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan. Lawrence has a long history with this series, dating back to writing The Empire Strikes Back while Jon is the newbie yet neither bring the type of history or fresh voice that feels necessary. It’s the same dusty triple cross heist tale we’ve seen done before and far better. Only Glover’s memorable Lando and especially Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Goodbye Christopher Robin) as Lando’s wry droid L3 create any real excitement. Both Glover and Waller-Bridge are known for their writing so one wonders what this film could have been had producers colored outside the lines a bit more.

As he has shown in previous roles and especially in Hail, Caesar!, Ehrenreich is an easy-going presence and it’s not hard to see why he was sought out for the role. Strangely, it’s Ehrenreich that was supposed to have needed additional help to increase his matinee-idol appeal and I’m also guessing Clarke benefited greatly from Howard’s more nuanced work with actors. Harrelson is doing his usual grizzled shtick while Bettany feels like he’s played this role multiple times before. The less said about Jon Favreau (Iron Man) voicing a CGI member of Beckett’s group, the better. Bonus points if you spot other key figures from the Star Wars universe who aren’t always playing the characters they are most known for.

I’m sure hardcore fans will find a lot to enjoy here as there are many tidbits discussed in later films that are introduced (yes, you’ll find out how Han gets his blaster) and which likely will cause a ripple of knowing laugher in well-versed crowds. There is a strange abundance of annoying periphery players and it says something when the star of the movie isn’t even one of the Top 3 interesting characters of the film. Personally, I wish the film had reached a bit farther back in Han’s tale instead of starting so late in his game but that would likely be a whole movie unto itself. Aside from a scant few twists and one major head-scratching appearance near the end there’s little here in his first real adventure that hasn’t been seen before.