Halfway There: 2019 Mid-Year Review

It’s the midway point of 2019, which means It’s that time of the year again. Time for some of us to sink into a depression due to the realization that our New Year’s resolution to lose weight was broken six months ago and that our “summer bodies” are, and will always be, indistinguishable from a sentient pile of lard. No, I’m not speaking from experience. Shut up.

It’s the time of year when movie websites compile their “best of the year (so far)” lists; which are almost always comprised of artsy fartsy foreign films no one has ever heard of and art-house critical darlings that are just pretentious enough to make the critic seem like an intellectual. Because heaven forbid a best of the year list include shit people have actually seen. No, I’m not salty because a group of kids threw sharp sticks at me in a game of “harpoon the whale”, I’m mad because they knocked my ice cream out of my hand and now I have the taste of dirt in my mouth from eating it off the ground.

This is not a best of the year list. This is just a catalogue of every film I’ve seen so far this year. The good, the bad and the Escape Room. Enjoy.


 

15. Escape Room

George Romero didn’t just create zombies with his landmark film Night of the living dead, he also gave birth to the single location horror movie; the single biggest gift to low budget directors. Having one location is an easy way for a director to not only save money (which is essential for independent filmmaking) but having all of the characters in one location immediately creates tension and suspense. The audience will think to themselves “how are they going to escape?” or worse, “is the thing preventing them from escaping going to get IN?” Movies like Cube, Evil Dead, Paranormal Activity, Saw and Pontypool—just to name a few—all used one location to great effect. The Escape Room however, does not. The characters are unlikable, the dialogue is ridiculous, the acting is subpar, the puzzles are either retarded baby easy or impossible to solve, the ending is forehead slappingly stupid and it doesn’t do a single fun or original thing. It’s a colossal waste of time.


14. Velvet Buzzsaw

Few directors hit a a homerun with their first movie and while I wouldn’t consider Nightcrawler a masterpiece, it’s certainly one of the best debuts of the 00’s. Roman J. Israel, Esq. and Velvet Buzzsaw lead me to believe Nightcrawler was an accident. Say what you will about the forgettable Roman J. Blah Blah Blah but at least that film had an amazing performance by Denzel Washington. Its not much but Velvet Buzzsaw doesn’t even have that. The biggest problem with this film (besides it’s criminal wasting of an amazing cast) is the fact that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a comedy? A horror film? A biting satire of the pretentious art scene? I have no idea. It feels like an entire season of American Horror Story condensed into one incoherent film.


13. Pet Semetary

You know those bowls of fake fruit companies use to make a whatever table their selling look more appealing? Other than being a tangible thing you can touch and look at, they serve no purpose other than to confuse people into believing they’re the real thing. That’s this movie. At first glance, it’s a movie. It’s got a pretty solid cast of actors and its got a nice shine to it but on closer inspection, it’s fool’s gold. It’s a cardboard cutout. There’s nothing to it. It’s boring as hell, it’s not scary in the least and not a single interesting thing happens the entire runtime. Skip it and watch the original instead because even though it’s also pretty bad, it at least has a theme song by the Ramones. Which automatically makes it a billion times better than the remake.


12. Captain Marvel

If it wasn’t for Samuel l. Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn, this movie would be completely unwatchable. The plot is heavily reliant on flashbacks, which would work if this film was a mystery the audience was supposed to unravel but they’re given all of the information a good 40 minutes before the main character, which defeats the purpose and makes the structure needlessly convoluted. The villain is boring, their evil plan is lame and the action is stale. On top of all of this, Brie Larson gives a lifeless performance. This is almost as bad as the worst of DC.


11. Pokemon: Detective Pikachu

The mountain of obstacles this movie had to overcome to work were so innumerable, the fact that it only makes it about half way is still an amazing accomplishment. It’s not only based on a video game, which automatically doomed it from the start, but it was the first live action movie to adapt the most beloved property in existence. In terms of sheer numbers, Pokemon is the most popular and successful thing in the history of entertainment, so bringing that world to life was a huge undertaking. And for the most part, the film succeeds. It’s got an ok mystery plot, a whole bunch of pokemon action, and Deadpool voicing Pikachu. It’s not as successful as say, an Iron Man, but as video game adaptations go, it’s probably the best.


10. Alita: Battle Angel

Alita: Battle Angel is a very hard film to review. It’s neither bad enough to elicit anger or incompetent enough to be memorable. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a Kanye shrug. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. The CGI is pretty good for the most part; as is the action. The scenes between Waltz and Salazar are fantastic but everything involving the “boyfriend” was either cringe worthy or extraneous. In fact, you could’ve removed him and Jennifer Connelly and the plot wouldn’t have been effected in any significant way. It could’ve been better but it also could’ve been a lot worse.


09. Triple Frontier

This film was in development hell for so long that: Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, Denzel Washington, Sean Penn, Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Smith, Mahershala Ali, and lastly Tom Hardy and Channing Tatum, were all at attached to star at one point or another. Which begs the question, what the fuck was the film before the rewrite that attracted so many talented actors to it? Because as it is now, the film is not much more than a watered down version of the Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The cast is all good but it’s overlong and lacks urgency. There’s nothing moving the plot along. The film goes from scene to scene without any dramatic tension to propel the plot or emotional stakes to keep me invested. Triple Frontier is a fine film but it’s damn near impossible to give a shit once you know it almost starred Hanks and Depp as government assassins. I would pay anything to see that gonzo ass version of this movie.


08. The Perfection

There seems to be a trend that if social media becomes obsessed with a Netflix movie or show, it never lives up to the hype. Now, The Perfection isn’t the disaster Bird Box was but it’s nowhere near as over the top gruesome as its reputation suggests. If you are going to see it, I suggest going in cold because the film’s fun is built around its shocking revelations. It doesn’t always work, but it throws so many schlocky twists at you, that you’ll never be bored.


07. Childs Play

The horror community automatically dismissing remakes before they’ve been released, is a hill I truly don’t understand why anyone chooses to die on. They’ll gladly watch numerous cashgrab sequels of a beloved property but the second a remake or reboot is announced, only then is Hollywood out of ideas. And furthermore, a good chunk of the best horror movies ever made are remakes, which baffles me more that a vast majority of fans poo-poo the mere idea of a remake. Which brings me to Child’s Play. A film guaranteed to polarize due to the fact that it’s completely different in almost every conceivable way than the original, which will lead to the inevitable criticism “then why not just call it something else?”, and the fact that it’s not as good as the first but markedly better than most of the sequels. The kills are appropriately gory, the humor lands for the most part and introduces a lot of ideas that could be really fun in future installments. If you can mentally separate it from the rest of the franchise and judge as just a killer doll movie, I guarantee you’ll like it more than half of the franchise.


06. Us

Despite the fact that James Wan might’ve been the first director of the new millennium to earn the title of “master of horror” (a distinction he’s rightfully earned with his ambitious MCU-esque Conjuring universe), none of his films hit quite as hard as Get Out. A rare horror that critics and audiences loved, Get Out was a cultural phenomenon, that turned its director, Jordan Peele into the most interesting voice in horror. But that instant acclaim was a double edged sword—it provided him the freedom to do whatever he wanted for his follow up but it also put an insane amount of hype on whatever he did next. And for the most part, it delivers. Peele’s attention to detail, as well as his impeccable directing, definitely put him in the upper echelon of the horror directors working today and Nyong’o‘s performance alone makes Us a worthy follow up but if Peele wants to be known as a master of horror, his next film needs to more than just good. It needs to be scary.


05. Always Be My Maybe

It seems like, at least from my experience anyways, that men and women are more willing to accept cliches as long as they’re in films that they enjoy. It’s a bit of a generalization but it seems like men have no problem turning a blind eye to the ridiculous tropes of action movies, while women adore “chick flicks” that are little more than a checklist of genre staples. I’m trying to avoid regurgitating old hackneyed stand up bits (men do this, while women do this!) or the ridiculous “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” bullshit but it certainly seems true because whenever I’m forced to watch a romantic comedy, I immediately recognize the cliches and they infuriate me. The completely-out-of-nowhere third act conflict, which leads to a race against time with the main character having to head to an airport to catch the woman he loves before she leaves forever and yada yada yada you know the rest. Romantic comedies cliches are the worst, which makes Always Be My Maybe that much more refreshing. The two leads have a natural chemistry and play off each other nicely, the dialogue is witty and feels naturalistic, the celebrity cameo is hilarious and while it doesn’t manage to avoid every cliche, the ones that make it in, are a lot more tolerable due to the sharp writing and likable leads. If you’re a fan of romantic comedies, this one is a must watch.

Check out SAW writer Romona Comet’s review here.


04. Avengers: Endgame

It’s hard to talk about Endgame because the entire film, from frame one, is technically a spoiler. The trailers did an amazing job of creating hype without actually showing you anything. So I’ll only talk about it in the vaguest way possible. I liked it but much like Civil War, it’s a film that has a shit ton of great moments but has a story that’s extremely wobbly. Certain things could’ve been easily fixed and others you just have to accept in order to enjoy it and I get that but if this film nailed it’s premise and was air tight, I think it would’ve been better than Infinity War. It’s still an amazing experience that, in spite of its problems, gives closure to a decade long, 22 film series. The MCU is pretty much over as far as I’m concerned and I’m fine with that. It’s been a hell of a ride.

Check out SAW writer K. Alvarez’s review here.


03. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Few people could’ve predicted a film about a hitman getting revenge on the people who killed his dog would spawn one of the most action packed franchises in history, but here we are. I know the action is what brings the asses to the seats, but, personally, I’m far more interested in the comic book-esque mythology the series has slowly piecemealed out with each film. This film reveals a little bit more about the High Table and how they operate as well as glimpse into Wick’s past, but I’d like a bit more of the minutia of the inner workings of this world. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’d actually prefer if they scaled back the action. Much like The Raid 2, there might be too much action. Which is a weird criticism considering its an action movie but since each set piece is designed to one–up the last, they start to lose their impact after awhile. But having said that, it’s still a blast.


02. Shazam!

Who would’ve thought that all DC had to do to right the ship, was to make a film that was fun and not grim dark? Reminiscent in tone to the Raimi Spider-Man films, Shazam! is a big ol’ goofy comedy that fully embraces the inherent silliness of comics. Notice I said comedy and not superhero film because even though it’s a film about a man in tights with super powers, the film is at its best when it focuses on the funny and not the Bang! Pow! fighty scenes. That’s not to say the fight scenes detract from the film, it’s just that they’re a far weaker element than the human element and humor. Much like how no one could’ve predicted that Iron Man—a character nobody knew before the film—would go on to create the MCU, Shazam, not Batman or Superman, might be the character to save the DCEU. All because he’s fun and not dour. Who would’ve thought that’s what fans want?

*Cough* Marvel *cough*.


01. Toy Story 4

Before the release of the fourth entry, the Toy Story series had the distinction of being the only trilogy that didn’t eventually shit the bed. Godfather had two perfect films and then it ruined its streak with an abysmal third entry. The Lord of the Rings had three amazing films, each better than the last but then it became a sextet with the god awful Hobbit films. Star Wars stopped being a trilogy about 13 films ago and the Before Sunset series doesn’t count because not a single person on earth minus Ethan Hawke has seen those films. Toy Story technically won by default but with the release of 4, it’s lost the title of the perfect trilogy and now must live with the honor of being a near perfect quadrilogy. A bit of a downgrade but three gold medals and one silver medal is still pretty fucking impressive.

It’s a very good film and a worthy follow up to an excellent conclusion but it’s not without its flaws. The addition of Forky, while very funny, creates a whole can of logistical worms the film doesn’t even attempt to address, the film breaks preestablished rules quite often, the Buzz Lightyear subplot felt tacked on and it lacks the emotional core of previous films. Having said that, it’s still the funniest film in the franchise and has an ending that actually has me excited for future installments. It’s not a perfect film but that’s only because the bar was set so high with the previous films in the series. If this was a stand alone film from another studio, this would be their best film.