Movies

THE GOOD STUFF

To be honest, the most fun I had this year at the movies was introducing, and then watching, two screenings of “Yellow Submarine” at Cinemapolis in July. After a night spent seeing my favorite movie on the big screen in 5.1 stereo sound and a 4K hand-corrected print, everything else was gravy.

There’s something fitting about Stan Lee passing away the year that “Black Panther” made all that money, got all that deserved attention and brought new moviegoers into the Marvel Cinematic Universe—like your parents. It’s great that for the first time since “Blade,” people of color can have a sense of recognition of their culture at the movies, even in comic book form. It’s a measure of how entertaining Ryan Coogler’s movie is that many supporting characters in the “Black Panther” universe’s Wakanda could carry their own spin-off movies; the more the merrier.

And then came “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” I’m old school Golden Age Peter Parker, so the introduction of black teen Miles Morales and a host of other spider-spin-off characters was all new to me. (Next to Doctor Strange’s cape’s reaction to Peter Parker name-dropping “Aliens” in “Infinity War,” my new favorite thing may be Spider-Ham, a.k.a. Peter Porker.) The combination of CG and 2-D animation is perfect for Spider-Man stories, and the notion that the character is popular because he (or she) could be anyone inside that costume. In so many cool ways, this is the most inclusive and far-thinking Spidey film yet.

Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs” is the kind of thing only he could make: an epic about man and man’s best friend as a combination of Rankin-Bass holiday TV specials and the films of Akira Kurosawa. The tale of a boy stranded on an island of outcast canines, “Isle of Dogs” has that spiky Anderson unsentimental thing about it – even the fish don’t thrive here. The big joke is just how overwhelmed the pooches are by their need for human contact. And as you’d expect in an Anderson movie, the voice cast is eclectic and impeccable. 

There are days when I think “The Incredibles” isn’t just the best Pixar movie but the best superhero movie ever made. So it’s pretty amazing that Brad Bird’s “The Incredibles 2” stands head, shoulders and cowl with the original, which it picks up from the second the sequel begins. Bird flips the plot in just the right way, and 14 years later, the animation is even better.

In the enchanting “Mary and the Witch’s Flower,” a young girl is gifted with a flower that grants her magical powers, but only for one night. And in the energetic and cheeky “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies,” all the young DC heroes crack wise for 87 minutes in a story about—what else?—the proliferation of all these comic book movies.

I still don’t know why anyone would find “Solo: A Star Wars Story” lacking in any way. To my mind, this “When Han Met Chewie” prequel is the only good stand-alone Star Wars film and the most entertaining thing Ron Howard’s made since Apollo 13. Ditto Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One,” the “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” of pop-culture Easter eggs. I can’t wait to sit down with the Blu-Ray and spot every one in Spielberg’s loopy but fun mash-up of “Tron” and “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.”

Just when I thought I hadn’t seen a great puzzle movie in a while, along came Drew Goddard’s Bad Times at the El Royale. Set during one stormy night at a retro motor inn somewhere unnamed on the West Coast, Jon Hamm, Jeff Bridges and other strange characters show up, in a story loaded with flashbacks and scenes from different peoples’ points of view, it’s chock-a-block with genuine narrative surprises as Goddard’s previous film, “The Cabin in the Woods.”

I may be a cult of one on Brian Henson’s “The Happy Time Murders,” but anytime puppetry can escape from the straitjacket of kiddie entertainment, I’m all for it. Melissa McCarthy is down for anything in this seedy, L.A. story where humans and puppets co-exist. And it has the best puppet sex scene since “Team America World Police.”

At just 57 minutes, Barbara Kopple and Sara Dosa’s “Tricky Dick Meets The Man In Black” on Netflix may be too short to qualify as a feature, but this fascinating documentary details the story of Richard Nixon’s attempts to co-opt Johnny Cash for a White House concert, and Cash’s struggle not to be co-opted.

THE BAD STUFF

Netflix’s “A Futile and Stupid Gesture,” based on Josh Karp’s excellent biography of National Lampoon co-founder Doug Kenney (Will Forte) is a farrago of bio-pic clichés and meta gags about bio-pic clichés. Stick to Karp’s book and check out the National Lampoon documentary “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead,” also on Netflix. Shane Black’s “The Predator” goes off the narrative rails in the first five minutes with muddled tone and rumors of major reshoots. By the end it makes “Predator 2” look watchable.

DC’s “Aquaman” is the comic book movie equivalent of generic brand tuna. Glub, glub, meh. And you’d think that there’s no way Aardman Animation could make an unfunny movie, but their caveman sports comedy “Early Man” tested both my patience and my interest in English football. In Alex Garland’s “Annihilation,” the plot and the mood is that bad kind of murky as Natalie Portman searches for her husband on a secret mission with unpleasant sci-fi elements.

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