Monday, January 28, 2019

10 Movies I Liked a Lot from 2018

20. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The series is moving away from Michael Crichton and towards Lester Dent, but I'm totally okay with that. It's not about What If We Brought Dinosaurs Back? anymore. It's about What Kind of Crazy Stories Can We Tell in This World? I'm enjoying it.

I also enjoyed the changing locations in this one instead of just the island the entire time. From the trailers, I expected the whole movie to be about trying to get off the island before the volcano destroyed it. I was pleased to learn that that's only Act One. Fallen Kingdom keeps things interesting and the final location is especially relevant to my interests.

19. The Grinch

I went in prepared to dislike it, but laughed a lot throughout and came away charmed. My biggest fear was that it would repeat the mistake of the 2000 live-action film by turning the Whos into villains in order to give the Grinch a sympathetic backstory. This one does create empathy for the Grinch, but not at the expense of the heroes of the story: the villagers who actually do understand the value of the holiday they're so enthusiastic about.

18. Ready Player One

Much better than expected. I liked the puzzles and references in the book, but not so much the characters. In fact, the books' characters (especially the main one) made me like the references less just by being so insufferable about getting them all.

The film is packed with references, but doesn't care whether you spot them. It's more interested in telling a fun story with versions of the characters that I like much more than their literary counterparts.

17. Scorched Earth

A cheesy B-movie with a garbage script, but it's Gina Carano as a bounty hunter in a post-apocalyptic Western. Ryan Robbins does his best to steal the movie from Carano, but she's too badass to let him get away with it. He's shockingly charming as the villain though and way too good for this material. I liked him, her, and the movie very much.

16. Mortal Engines

It's based on a YA book, but I couldn't have told you that just from seeing the movie. I enjoy YA movie series like The Maze Runner and Hunger Games, but Mortal Engines feels like an all-ages scifi adventure in the tradition of Star Wars. I enjoyed the variety of characters on different (but connected) journeys. And I especially enjoyed what I thought was going to be a Terminator-like character, but turned out closer to Frankenstein's Creature.

15. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

The initial trailer didn't grab me. I've long ago given up Spider-Man comics precisely because of Marvel's desire to create a whole line of spider-powered characters around him. I didn't think I wanted a movie about how crowded Spider-Man's corner of of the Marvel Universe is, even though I like a lot of the concepts behind the characters individually. I mean, I think Miles Morales is an important character; I just didn't want to see a movie with him and Peter Parker both trying to be Spider-Man, if that makes sense. If this was going to be a Morales movie, my preference would be to leave Parker out of it.

But then I saw the poster above with Spider-Ham in it and realized the tone Into the Spider-Verse was going for. And Spider-Man Noir?! Are you kidding me? And Spider-Gwen (one of my favorite Spider-Man supporting characters in a really cool costume). And a little girl with a giant Spider-Bot. All this I could get behind.

And the movie turned out to be a ton of fun with a unique animation style and more comics Easter eggs than I'll ever be able to spot. Almost makes me want to buy a Spider-Gwen comic.

14. Wildling

A coming-of-age story disguised as a fantasy film, but with a horror premise. I want to compare it to Teen Wolf, but it's not silly like the Michael J Fox movie nor angst-filled like I imagine the TV series to be. For all its supernatural elements, Wildling is real and true in its presentation of teenagers. It's got Bel Powley (whom I also enjoyed in the Mary Shelley biopic with Elle Fanning), Brad Dourif being all creepy like he does, and a welcome performance by Liv Tyler who's been absent from my movies for too long.

13. Pacific Rim: Uprising

Even though I write a comic with giant monsters and giant robots (or maybe because of that), I was pretty critical of how Pacific Rim did some things. So I was also pretty interested in seeing the story continued by new writers and starring John Boyega.

And I had a really good time with it. I liked it better than the first one. The story and world move forward in a natural way with a couple of charming lead characters, lots of fun set pieces, and some surprising developments. It's a complete story, but also suggests further adventures and I'm more up for sequels now than I was after the first.

I saw it twice last year and noticed some flaws the second time around, but they don't bother me. They're not even really flaws; just some unanswered questions that I would've liked to see explored. Really strong sequel.

12. Ant-Man and the Wasp

More of what I liked about the first one without being a repeat of it. A nice change from the epic seriousness of Infinity War. We've been rewatching our way through the MCU films this year and that ability to change tone from film to film has stood out as a big strength of the series.

11. Game Night

The premise is similar to Bill Murray's The Man Who Knew Too Little, but a) that's a great premise and b) Game Night dresses it up in a story about a group of friends who get together regularly to eat food and play games. These are my people and this is my kind of movie. It's a trifle, but it's a very, very funny trifle.

1 comment:

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

This is where we seem to be parting ways in terms of opinion.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
I will praise this movie for taking risks by blowing up the park and embracing the new setting of an old dark house. The direction is also a significant improvement over the last film with much more dynamic and engaging images from the cinematography. However the characters still feel empty. When we were doing the meta commentary in the last film, the overly simplistic archetypes made some degree of sense, now that they're in a new situation their development feels like its just whatever we need them to be in the moment.

Also the tone seems indecisive as to how much is intentional comedy and how much is bad writing. The ineptitude of the whiny computer kid made me pine for Kelly to return with her gymkata. Its played for laughs at an inappropriate time were I can't sympathize with that character ever again. Likewise the notion of selling dinosaurs as weapons is so absurd but its played seriously right before they cut the SuperRaptor playing possum is played for laughs. It so has so many wires crossed that I can't take any of the drama seriously by the time we get the big ending.

How is it that this is the second time we've had "The Man" try and take the dinosaurs off the island and neither of them has thought to capture the dinos to open a "Brontosaurus Burgers" fast food franchise?!

Ready Player One:
I could complain about how this feels like a boilerplate story with pop culture stickers on top but hardly seems worth raising a fuss. Its cross the Ts, dot the Is kind of storytelling that gets the job but doesn't feel fulfilling.

The easter eggs feel like they're better suited for Blu Ray or YouTube compilation rather than theater viewing. I did find it disappointing that the pop culture references are just cameos. It felt like cosplay by committee with appearances by the icons who get the most media recognition and could have been easily interchanged with other similar characters. I would have been great to see these custom skins do something character specific to justify their inclusion.

The tests of character were a good addition to the plot because otherwise the leads don't have much substance to them and the ending only highlights how naive they are. I recognize that I am no longer in the Young Adult demographic this is geared toward but I also feel the audience in this target deserve better than just "okay".

Loved It, I'm eagerly anticipating the home release so I can soak this up some more. I was suspect from that first trailer which looked like it was Sony trying to milk some money by making their own Spider-Vengers and eschewing the typical Disney-Pixar style of animation put a lot of people off, but this was quite the pleasant surprise.

Ant-Man and the Wasp:
The first one was refreshingly small scale, no pun intended, this one tries to compete with the other films by taking on a lot all at once. I'll praise the ambition, even though I feel it results in just coming out okay.

Still need to see Game Night.


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