At the halfway point of the 2018 movie season, it’s a good time to check in and see which movies were on the top of their game this year. It’s unlikely we’ll be talking about any of them come Award season but there was plenty of cinematic success to recognize. Here’s the best films and performances according to Movie Hot Take for the first half of 2018 that will probably not even be thought of come Awards season:Read More →
Hot Take: The okay-est sequel to the okay-est superhero film in the MCU. But really, a light superhero flick haunted by a “villain” who is in constant physical and emotional agony desperately trying to survive? Maybe that wasn’t the best idea.
When Ant-Man came on the scene three years ago, it was noticeably lighter than any other superhero film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This came as no surprise considering Paul Rudd was cast as the diminutive superhero. Keeping the character fresh, Rudd as Ant-Man was a scene stealer in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War but was notably absent from Avengers: Infinity War. The follow-up, Ant-Man and the Wasp, picks up two years after Ant-Man/Scott Lang’s arrest for his role in the skirmish between Captain America and the Avengers keeping the thread that bonds the movies together in place. While never addressing the other happenings in the MCU (unless you hang around for the post-credits scene), the film stands on its own pretty well but lacks the gravitas of the other films in the MCU. It almost feels like a side show, albeit a mostly entertaining one, but also shows why Ant-Man works more effectively as a supporting character rather than the main one. The result is an adequate superhero flick in a climate susceptible to superhero fatigue with the frequency that superhero flicks are released these days. (Ant-Man and the Wasp marks the 5th superhero flick of 2018! FIFTH!!!)Read More →
Hot Take: It starts off strong but fizzles. The second half loses its footing. There’s also an incoherent xenophobic vibe the film gives off that’s hard to shake. Plus, that shadow of the original is impossible to escape. Even with all that, it’s still not terrible thanks to compelling performances from Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado sets the tone early. The sequel to 2015’s Sicario opens with a brutal, graphic suicide bombing in a Kansas City grocery store. It sets the tone for a grim follow up to an already dark original. While the film retained writer Taylor Sheridan, the sequel moved from director Denis Villeneuve to Stefano Sollima who makes his English language feature film debut. The film mimics many of the aspects of the original and brings back Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro who reprise their roles from the first film. Gone is Emily Blunt. The decision to not include her character in the follow up has met with great criticism and the film lacks a conscious that her character obviously brought to the original. The result is a film with uneven timing and a penchant to build to something that essentially turns out to be a set-up for a third installment to the Sicario story. That maneuver makes the sequel feel disingenuous and spoils what could have been a great follow up and results in what’s only a slightly above adequate movie.Read More →
Hot Take: Imagine if Weird Al went serious and decided to make a mainstream album. That’s basically what happens with The First Purge as the unsubtle, B-movie horror series goes serious… for a bit. The second half of the film proves a leopard can’t change its spots.
Was legitimizing The Purge films necessary? The first three films developed what could be considered an almost cultish following that resonated at the box office. The franchise managed to pull off the rare feat of growing at the box office as the series matured. Domestically, the first film in the series, The Purge, pulled in $64.5 million with a scant $3 million budget. The second film, The Purge: Anarchy increased its budget to $9 million and subsequently cashed in a slightly larger $71.6 million box office. In 2016, the third film, The Purge: Election Year, added a million to the budget at $10 million and reached the franchise’s highest box office numbers at $79.0 million. Considering the success of the franchise and its formulaic approach, it’s hard to wrap your head around the latest approach in telling the prequel story in The First Purge. The origin story makes a concerted effort to concoct a more substantial story than any of the previous films until ultimately abandoning the effort mid film and going back to what worked well in the previous films (for the audience). The second half of The First Purge plays the film series’s greatest hits with a surfeit of violence. The result is an underwhelming mess of a film that lacks a true identity and instead feels like a poser that ends up being a 97 minute commercial for the companion TV show set to launch in September.Read More →
Hot Take: The imperfect life of the perfect voice of my generation. It’s an inspiring, cautionary and tragic tale of the life and death of Whitney Houston.
If Movie Hot Take existed in 1992, you’d be judging me for my unhealthy love of The Bodyguard, Whitney Houston’s debut film. Admittedly, it was more about the incredible soundtrack than the more pedestrian film but if it popped on television right now, I’d watch it from beginning to end. One of the most talented performers of the ’80s and ’90s, Houston’s meteoric rise and tragic fall lends itself to cinematic interpretation. The Lifetime movie already exists. (2015’s Whitney starred Yaya DaCosta as the pop diva and was directed by Angela Bassett.) Since the Lifetime movie treatment isn’t always the most endearing, it’s exciting to see director Kevin Macdonald give the worthy subject a documentary. Macdonald is no stranger to documentaries about music legends. In 2001, Macdonald helmed Being Mick about Mick Jagger and in 2012 chronicled the life of Bob Marley in Marley. In Macdonald’s proven, capable hands, the documentary Whitney provides an insightful, haunting portrait of a tragic figure gone too soon at the age of 48. Read More →
Hot Take: First Reformed is a dying breed of film. It’s one that provides more questions than answers. It also lacks the broad appeal (read: superheroes) of what usually lands in cinemas but definitely worth the 2 hour commitment.
Writer/director Paul Schrader has an impressive resume. Dating back to 1974, Schrader’s screenwriting highlights include Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Mosquito Coast and The Last Temptation of Christ and was the writer and director of American Gigolo and Affliction amongst others. All told, Schrader has a writer and/or director credit on 31 films. While most of his best works have been tied to director Martin Scorsese, Schrader is no slouch on his own. This combined with the fact that A24, the most consistent studio in Hollywood, is the distributor of Schrader’s latest, First Reformed, was a good sign of things to come. In fairness, First Reformed isn’t for everyone. Even with Schrader as the creative talent behind the film and a cast featuring Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried, a film about a reverend questioning his faith as he silently battles symptoms of an unknown illness has almost not shot at big box office success. Then again, when you make a movie as heavy as this, it’s unlikely the motive behind it is to blow up the box office. Read More →
Hot Take: Mr. Rogers was a one of a kind, generational human being. This documentary pays him great respect. I dare you to watch it and not cry.
As a kid, I remember watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street. While my memories of Sesame Street are more vivid and detailed, I remember Mr. Rogers and his sweater, changing his shoes, Picture Picture, Trolley, the Neighborhood of Make Believe, the song “It’s Such A Good Feeling” and always being excited when Mr. Rogers would feed his fish. The documentary detailed Mr. Rogers’ life and career gave me new insight into the television show I grew up with and how often Rogers took on issues that most others skated around especially when it came to children. While there are plenty of moments where watching Rogers interact with the camera and children is just strange because he is truly unique, the heartfelt and genuine love and caring he felt toward educating and molding children was inspiring and his conviction and lack of compromise in his approach admirable. The way he reached his audience and addressed issues head on was uplifting and the message of Won’t You be My Neighbor? touched this viewer and, by the sounds of sniffling noses and wiping tissues, the rest of the audience in the theater I was in.Read More →
Hot Take: If I was a teenager again, I would have watched Uncle Drew 100 times once it ended up on cable… I still might watch it a few times once it hits the streaming services… or maybe go see it again.
I didn’t expect to care for Uncle Drew. Even with my sports movie bias that finds me liking sports movies more than I should, the buzz around Uncle Drew had me pessimistic on the chances of being entertained by the film featuring a bunch of old basketball players and Kyrie Irving in makeup to make them look even more senior than they are playing in the most famed street ball championship in the world. There were so many signs this film wouldn’t work. Unless your Will Smith, releasing this close to the 4th of July isn’t always a great idea. The film has more sponsors than a Nascar driver which isn’t surprising since the character Uncle Drew originated in advertisements for Pepsi Max. All that being said, Uncle Drew was a lot of fun. I had more fun watching Uncle Drew than I should have and the audience I saw it with seemed to have a similar experience.Read More →
Hot Take: A mix of crime drama and documentary with a whole lot of love for the heist movie sub-genre chock full of references to classic heist films or films featuring heists. Smart and fascinating with a combination of humor and suspense.
Mark Twain once assessed, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” American Animals is the latest evidence that Twain was spot on with his assessment. The docudrama about a group of college students who attempted to rip off the Transylvania University’s special collections library in 2004 blends a young, talented cast and their real-life counterparts who re-tell the story documentary style. It has a ring of I, Tonya to it, if I, Tonya were to actually feature the real Tonya Harding, Jeff Gillooly and LaVona Golden. American Animals also shows writer/director Bart Layton’s love of the heist sub-genre as the film is littered with homages and hat tips to some of the more iconic heist films over the years including The Thomas Crown Affair, Ocean’s 11, Reservoir Dogs and even the heist scene from The Dark Knight. It’s the stylistic choices by Layton that drives the film as we’ve seen so many heist movies in the past, even ones based on actual heists, so Layton’s blend of his own style with films that likely acted as inspiration for the criminals surprisingly makes it refreshing and fun to watch despite the film’s darker, more nihilistic overtones.Read More →
Hot Take: More excellent work from Pixar who hasn’t always come through on sequels but did so with this follow up to the 14 year old original. It’s not incredible but it’s pretty good.
The main question you end up asking when watching Incredibles 2 is, “What took so long?” The answer isn’t the storyline which is about as basic as it comes. Incredibles 2 picks up immediately where The Incredibles left off. Superheroes are still illegal. The Underminer is the villain de jour. The Parrs are still a crime fighting family. After a failed attempt at stopping the Underminer and extensive damage to the city, the Parrs are warned by authorities once again that being a superhero is illegal and they must stop. Immediately following the incident, Bob (Craig T. Nelson), Helen (Holly Hunter) and Lucius “Frozone” Best (Samuel L. Jackson) are contacted by the Deavors, owners of DEVTECH. Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn (Catherine Keener) want to orchestrate a publicity stunt using Helen’s Elastigirl as the face of superheroes to gain public support for the legalization of superheroes. This obviously requires Bob to stay home with the kids and take care of Dash (Huck Milner), Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile).Read More →