All the 2018 US-release films I've seen, from best to worst. Only films that have currently been released are here; films I've seen at fests will be added when released.
- Let the Corpses Tan
- Leave No Trace
- Ben Is Back
- Madeline's Madeline
- Infinite Football
- This Is Our Land
- The House That Jack Built
- Lean on Pete
...plus 90 more. View the full list on Letterboxd.
★★★½ Watched 08 Oct, 2017
LET THE SUNSHINE IN (Denis, France, 2017, 7)
Yeah, I don’t believe it either. For the first time I can recall, Denis displays a sense of humor, and for maybe only the second time, she has a coherent narrative with more events than ellipses — and those extras are like carbonation that turns heavy sickly syrup into a refreshing soda, albeit in this case a pungent one. Leaving the theater with Steve, I actually compared this film to THE RULES… more
Between this and THE BATTLE OF SAN PIETRO, John Huston may be the most "cynical" documentarian of the war era. It all ends well, of course, and some of the therapeutic-security-in-utero talk inevitably rubs me wrong. But the raw footage of some of these shell-shocked troops reliving their war experiences is too powerful and harrowing (and you get why the Army thought it might be embarrassing) is something you'll never forget, like scenes in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. Only this is real.
Once upon on a time way back in the last millennium, actor Kevin Sorbo visited many a living room weekly via his popular action-adventure series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. These days, though, he’s often in movies that focus on another kind of adventure—a spiritual one. Sorbo’s latest faith-based film, Let There Be Light, lands in […]
Faith based indie films may have noble intentions, but they can be stiff in places where it matters most.
A clunky laugh line here. An ill-advised supporting turn there.
The post Here’s How ‘Let There Be Light’ Shames Studio Dramas appeared first on Hollywood in Toto.
A good piece in the Village Voice (really)
Thanks, Phil (are you part of an Experiment by the way?) for pointing me to a piece by Jessica Winter on Mel Gibson’s filmography. As you said in the comment field, it’s kinda dumb when discussing THE PASSION OF CHRIST or religion as such. I had to grit my teeth through the nonsense phrase “fundamentalist Catholic” and the imputation of anti-Semitism on the “Traditionalist Catholic” movement (to which the relationship of Gibson himself, rather than his father, is not crystal-clear in any event. Certainly Mel has said some interesting things, but to my knowledge, he’s never publicly declared himself a Sedevacantist, called the Second Vatican Council invalid, or even spoken of his religious beliefs in detail at all).
But when Winter cuts the crap and gets down to discussing Gibson’s movies, she is quite intriguing. If it hadn’t been for SIGNS or BRAVEHEART, I would have been inclined to pooh-pooh the theory of Mel as Christ figure. After all, Jesus is only the most influential figure in Western history. The kinds of images of Christ that Winter analogizes to moments in Gibson’s filmography have centuries of Western iconography or language (“crucified” can now mean just “persecuted unjustly”) behind them, and moviemakers of every variety have drawn on various pieces of them to illustrate images of suffering or “holiness” (first example to pop into my head: Oliver Stone’s PLATOON). And to her credit, Winter recognizes that — there’s a tradition behind whatever gore will be in THE PASSION OF CHRIST that the LETHAL WEAPON movies don’t. But the very lack of context would push me toward the conclusion that it was just writers, directors and actors just using a quickly-available concept without thinking it through (like the superfluous “Death of Marat” shot in ROAD TO PERDITION).
But those two films do make it seem like Gibson’s been leading toward this. I liked SIGNS quite a bit (and a film about a priest regaining his faith fits my own life’s trajectory as a revert), though I preferred it more as a straightforward creepy Twilight Zone episode rather than as Christian theology. It’s pretty threadbare on those latter terms, basically a God of the Gaps. Nothing in SIGNS committed the film to any conception of metaphysical truth. But viewing it as religious psychology, as Winter does, makes it more about how “a man who’s lost his faith in God is as a petulant child who hasn’t gotten his way.”
The execution of Wallace in BRAVEHEART referenced the Crucifixion 100 ways to Sunday. Check out the first picture on the Voice article, which is as clear a Crucifixion reference as it gets, in contrast to say, the pictures from LETHAL WEAPON (which looks like an S&M club), from MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME (which looks more like a Hindu or Muslim funeral, than a Christian or Jewish one), or from PAYBACK (a reference to RAGING BULL or 1,001 other boxing movies). People who have seen THE PASSION OF CHRIST said the violence reminded them of BRAVEHEART, and certainly secular nationalisms, Scottish or otherwise, have tended to try to latch onto a martyr figure. When I was learning Scottish history as a boy, though, Robert the Bruce and his final victory at Bannockburn got a lot more press time than William Wallace and the defeat at Falkirk; Wallace’s execution was mentioned, but not gone into detail, though I was only a wee lad at the time. In other words, Gibson was pouring Scottish history into a Christian template with Wallace as Jesus.
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Liberalism as product placement
(Putting on my best Anne Robinson voice…)
Actually, that’s a gross exaggeration. LEGALLY BLONDE 2 is a not politically radical at all (or even politically very deep, more anon), but that’s what makes it annoying. It’s just a not-very-successful retread of a concept that was a delightful comic gem when it was fresh a couple of years ago — innocently cartoonish kewpie doll shows how smart and effectual she really is when Harvard/Washington look down their noses at her. The half-life of this formula is pretty short — and BLONDE 2 lost two-year’s worth of energy and originality. Everything (with one exception) is a rehash. A genuinely great scene of Witherspoon’s innocently-truthful video application to Harvard Law gets put through the motions here as a Power Point presentation on the life of her pet chihuahua Bruiser that had material obviously calculated (in the character’s mind, I mean) to make a point.
The film wouldn’t be worth chewing over if it weren’t for that one new element — the switch in venue from Boston/Harvard to Washington/Congress. Now, I’m not one of those conspiracymongers who believe “Hollywood” is a singular noun that wakes up in the morning and asks itself over its first latte “what can we put into movies to help the left.” LEGALLY BLONDE 2, for all its surface political subject matter, is primarily a money-spinning frothy comedy — so featherweight that you can’t hold seriously against it the details it gets wrong. It concludes with a staff member giving a speech to a joint session of Congress; it occurs in that alternate political universe where Big Tobacco/Big Oil/Big Lipstick/Big Whatever, can defeat an incumbent congressman on demand merely by giving money to his opponent. That kinda stuff.
But this very fact about it (it’s neither a prestige, “adult” political film like THE CONTENDER nor an indie polemic like BOB ROBERTS) is precisely what makes LEGALLY BLONDE 2 revelatory. Just as “virtue is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking” or “a lord’s character is determined by how he deals with his slaves rather than his king,” the very fact that the film isn’t a seriously political film means that the unstated assumptions, the “of courses” of the world of entertainment show up in sharper relief. LEGALLY BLONDE 2’s understanding of political psychology says a great deal about the climate of political orthodoxy in the entertainment industry and the precise way that its liberal consensus finds its way into films. The film’s basic plot device is that Elle finds out about Bruiser’s mother being used for testing cosmetics. So, just like she went to Harvard Law just to be near her boyfriend, she goes to Washington to pass a law outlawing animal testing and free Bruiser’s mom. Once there, she undergoes the same “airhead fish out of water” humiliations she did at Harvard, but gradually wins everyone over to her team through her pluck and self-assurance and graduates/gets her bill passed.
OK, no problem in principle. But comically speaking, there is absolutely no reason why animal rights has to be the cause (a few easily rewriteable detail jokes aside) — all that’s necessary for the film is that Elle have one. It’s the comic version of a Hitchcockian MacGuffin — she could have gone to Washington to pass a bill to save her family from having to sell their homestead because of the estate tax (first example to pop into my head). Yet when the writers of this film needed a political MacGuffin, they (and, the key point, as in *every other recent commercial, apolitical Hollywood film*) came up with a liberal or left example. The last time I recall a conservative cause at the moral center of a Hollywood entertainment was the risible LISTEN TO ME, where Debate Stud Kirk Cameron persuades the Supreme Court to outlaw abortion. In 1989. But after all, as the head writer on MURPHY BROWN once said, “you write what you know.” And as has been copiously documented (and collected by Michael Medved), the entertainment industry is too well-marinated in liberal orthodoxy to “know” conservatives except as demon Other.
This shouldn’t be taken as too harsh a judgment on any individual film, except that since this sort of political product placement entirely goes one way, you can’t not notice it after a while. Apolitical films in Hollywood today will show only liberals or the left in this sort of neutral or indifferently-positive manner, as a way to fill out the movie. There’s no more reason, for a comedy like LB2, that the cause has to be animal rights rather than abortion, any more than a character has to drink Coke rather than Pepsi. At least with real product placement, the filmmakers are paid to make a choice that is dramatically indifferent. Liberalism gets it for free. And once you start to see it, it begins to work against the movie in question in precisely the same way product placement does — by calling attention to itself and highlighting its selectedness. You see Danny Glover’s daughter at the dinner table in a routine sequence in one of the LETHAL WEAPON sequels wearing a “Save the Whales” T-shirt and your mind wanders to think whose idea it was to pick *that* cause. And why it’s always Coke, Coke, Coke. It becomes the elephant … er, donkey, I guess … in the room.
Not that LEGALLY BLONDE 2 is very much better when politics, primarily animal testing, is explicitly on its mind. Very early on, Elle finds out about Bruiser’s mom and so goes to her law firm and says they should crusade against animal testing because “it’s wrong to harm any living thing merely for profit,” and when the other members of the firm protest, she says “doing the right thing profits everybody in the long run.” As a former grader of undergraduate political philosophy essays filled with unwarranted leaps of reasoning, I just wanted to wince at the former … “and that is the moral standard because …?” and at the latter … “is that really so …?” It’s not that an animal-rights backer could not potentially answer these questions, it’s rather that the film doesn’t see that an animal-rights opponent potentially could deny them. But Elle states the insight as if it were self-evident and it’s never challenged in the movie, except on role-playing terms (“they’re our clients”), legislative flim-flam (Sally Field’s character), personal venality (the chief of staff). Never does the film think to ask why cosmetic firms test the safety of their products — is it really because executives get pleasure or profit *from* torturing bunnies? There’s a throwaway line where Elle says that banning animal testing would provide jobs for “thousands of scientists” to develop alternative methods of determining cosmetic safety. Does one laugh or cry? Do the letters o-p-p-o-r-t-u-n-i-t-y c-o-s-t-s spell anything meaningful? Yet LEGALLY BLONDE 2 continues to move blithely on ahead as if showing gory pictures of animals were some miraculous persuader, before which all opposition crumbles (why hasn’t PETA succeeded yet, if the matter were that simple). As the Washington City Paper complained, the film looks down on characters for treating Elle as a stereotype, but does so by turning everyone else into other sorts of cartoons. This betrays the film’s real conception — essentially it’s a form of wish-fulfillment for its makers and their animal-rights-backing soulmates in the audience. Which is everybody, right? After all, they write what they know.
What made LEGALLY BLONDE 2 especially sad is that the glorious Reese Witherspoon, one of the era’s best actresses, has made an infinitely better political movie. In fact ELECTION is just plain one of the best movies of recent years. After coming home from LB2, I popped in my DVD and watched some of its best scenes — the campaign speeches, Tracy Flick’s self-introduction, Mr. McAllister explaining democracy to Paul — just to reassure myself that smart, serious political satire with noncartoon characters really can be made in this day and age. There is hardly a topical reference in the film, but it explains, just to name one aside, the force behind Clinton’s driven personality in the look on Tracy’s face and her voiceover as she looks out the school bus window. And Paul’s foreshadowing of Dubya in some ways is so funny precisely because it couldn’t have been intentional — the film was released in spring 1999.
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I’m not sure any aspect of this film worked. It’s not good. The characters were either shallow or stereotypical. The story meandered and didn’t have a compelling point. The look of the cinematography is dated and ugly. The acting is actually bad at parts. Many scenes made me cringe, such as the scene where Ira lamely swings a chair around at some police officers in the middle of the street. Or any of the many scenes involving some variation of John Slattery saying “this will really get people to open their wallets” when the soldiers would try to sell war bonds.
It seems like Eastwood rushed through this. Like he didn’t want to do more than one take, ever, and didn’t want to spend too much time getting the script or editing right. Maybe he thought, “we have a story about the iconic flag at Iwo Jima and the soldiers who put it up. What could go wrong? People will love it. Let’s focus more instead on getting the Japenese side right in Letters from Iwo Jima.”
Letters is by far the better of the two films. The clear difference in quality is odd, since they were made concurrently and were meant to be seen as companion pieces. But Letters is just a more interesting, well-done narrative. Flags never convinces. Instead of helping us learn more about the soldiers involved in the events of Iwo Jima and the raising of the iconic flag, it leaves us feeling negatively toward them. Or are we supposed to feel negatively? What’s the moral again? All I got was that heroes aren’t real and that young soldiers like to go swimming when they get the chance.
Don’t judge the book by the auteur
I intend to see GRAN TORINO later tonight, after having prepared myself to take advantage of Mike D’Angelo’s suggestion that this movie, which he has dubbed LISTEN, EGGROLL, might be the funniest movie ever if you watched it drunk. Many are called, few are chosen …
But anyhoo, recently Clint went off in “Grumpy Old Man” mode (HT: Steve Skojec) that he’s apparently playing in GRAN TORINO, saying that America has gone to hell in a welter of psychologizing and sensitivity.
Tough guy Clint Eastwood believes America is getting soft around the middle – and the iconic Oscar winner thinks he knows when the problem began.
“Maybe when people started asking about the meaning of life,” Eastwood, 78, growls in the January issue of Esquire.
The actor/director recalls the deeper questions were rarely posed during his Depression-era California childhood – and says that wasn’t a bad thing.
“People barely got by,” Eastwood recounts. “People were tougher then.”
That mentality is gone, he laments.
“Everyone’s become used to saying, ‘Well, how do we handle it psychologically?'” Eastwood says. “In those days, you punched the bully back and duked it out.”
Now, I agree heartily with what Clint says … US foreign policy in particular, especially under liberal administration but also somewhat under conservative ones too, has become indistinguishable from therapy. (Or as Sicinski put it in his review of STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE: “But there is something to be said for Robert Frost’s old joke about liberals being too broad-minded to take their own side in an argument.” As if we think Hamas just needs to be understood and have its legitimate concerns addressed.)
But most of Eastwood’s last several movies, at least the ones I’ve seen, are exactly what Dirty Harry and The Man With No Name preaches against (at least in part; several are more complicated obviously).
What is UNFORGIVEN but a movie about the psychological burden of killing? What is FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS if not a film about how war and having to kill people screws people up in the head (oh … the strawberry sauce) … especially if you’re from an Official Oppressed Ethnicity? What is LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA but an attempt at psychological understanding of The Enemy, and a painting of Japan’s wartime army as Modern Asian-Americans? What is MILLION DOLLAR BABY but an apologia for euthanizing people who don’t think their lives have any more meaning? How is MYSTIC RIVER a tragedy, or indeed anything but a meaningless tale full of sound and fury signifying nothing, unless its audience is the introspective sort that frets over the meaning of life?
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I’m very close to you politically, but come on. Yes, UNFORGIVEN is about the psychological burden of killing. But no one, conservative or otherwise, can argue that there isn’t a heavy psychological burden that comes with such an act. UNFORGIVEN is about bad guys, not good guys. The characters in that movie often do the wrong thing, and they should be burdened with the guilt their actions come with. There is nothing soft or liberal about that movie, in my opinion. We’re not all created equally and some people can be deeply screwed up from war and having to kill people. It doesn’t take a member of the anti-war crowd to figure that out. We are all, even the pro-war people, anti-war. Ya know?
Comment by James | January 2, 2009 | Reply
Gran Torino’s a great flick. What strikes me again about Eastwood is how he confounds the viewer with his movies’ conclusion.
As for fighting and killing, self-preservation is the first instance of rationalism. Eastwood’s willing to put it on the screen. Even great directors like Spielberg have a hard time balancing moral clarity against “compassion” for the other.
Interesting debate, in any case.
WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS
What strikes me again about Eastwood is how he confounds the viewer with his movies’ conclusion.
Well, its being essentially an unarmed suicide mission to provide a murder the police could pin on the Hmong gang was surprising — you’re led to expect Dirty Harry. The previous scenes are (hamfistedly-obvious) preparations for death, sure, but a death with the guns blazing.
The problem is that the denouement (“they’ve got witnesses now, they’ll be in jail a long time”) makes no sense unless we’re supposed to believe that the Hmong neighbors will testify to this crime, against an outsider and stranger, but not crimes against one another (“the Hmong sure know how to keep their silence,” the priest says after the attack on the siblings).
But far more importantly, GRAN TORINO and Eastwood’s performance … rrrrr … are so (literally) laughably bad, camp-masterpiece bad (“get me some of that good gook food”), in every facet of execution … that an attempt at Christ-sacrifice profundity in the last scene can only appeal to my sense of irony. Plus it proves that the rest of the movie wasn’t an intentional parody (“Eastwood really takes this seriously,” you’re saying to yourself while clutching your head in disbelief).
V.J.: Yeah, well … much comes across pretty realistic, IMHO (especially the gangland culture), and K. Turan made the point that who else could have made made the grunts and snarls that menacingly realistic besides Clint…?
Enjoy the movies my friend…
[…] “But far more importantly, GRAN TORINO and Eastwood’s performance … rrrrr … are so (literally) laughably bad, camp-masterpiece bad (“get me some of that good gook food”), in every facet of execution … that an attempt at Christ-sacrifice profundity in the last scene can only appeal to my sense of irony. Plus it proves that the rest of the movie wasn’t an intentional parody (“Eastwood really takes this seriously,” you’re saying to yourself while clutching your head in disbelief).” (vjmorton) […]