The Greatest Hits Album is sometimes considered the Gerber baby food of an artist's discography. Some of them are very good, like Sweet Potato Apple Carrot Cinnamon. Others are, frankly, Ham and Gravy. Yet even if a Greatest Hits album can reach the insane heights of S.P.A.C.C., it's still only an introduction to more complete meals. A 16 song playlist of Kendrick Lamar's best, most popular songs is certainly going to slap, but it will never carry the emotional, thoughtful impact of To Pimp a Butterfly. Some bands, like the almighty Queen, are singles-generating machines that can't drop a consistent album, but even their hits compilations can come off as "That's What I Call Music" CDs stocked in the back of an FYE. With less and less Greatest Hits and "Essential" albums being produced, there just doesn't seem to be a place left in this world for a 12-track chock full of a band's high points. However, one sacred temple of bangers and throwbacks remains standing: The All-American Road Trip.
We all make mistakes. Sometimes, we make large bets on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers making it to the playoffs. Other times, we decide to go see The Twilight Saga: Eclipse instead of Toy Story 3 so we can look "cool" in front of our older female cousins. We ALL do this. ALL OF US.
If you had asked me back in 2010 if Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson were destined to become wildly talented performers, I would've attempted to laugh in your face before the rubber bands attached to my braces stopped me in my tracks. Turns out, this would've been a mistake, too. While neither of these actors have donned any superhero capes or gone on to steal cars with Vin Diesel, they haven't faded to mediocre TV bits and straight-to-Redbox films, either. Instead, both K-Stew and R-Pat have carved out impressive indie careers with surprisingly powerful performances.
2018, what a number. It's even, not divisible by 9 (but close), and it only overshoots the big 2000 by 18 or so. 2018 was also a big year in movies. We had some icky goo thing take over Tom Hardy, a helicopter almost beat up Tom Cruise, and Thanos made the biggest on-screen snap since the Sharks and Jets took up group ballet. Every year feels like a big year for movies, but this one was THE year, you guys.
Like always, I loved my time at the theater, and even on streaming services. This past year saw a rise in the "at-home auteur" experience, with films like Roma becoming heavy hitters on the awards circuit, and movies like Bird Box ascending to mainstream memedom faster than Big Neck Guy meeting Long Neck Guy. How we take in art and entertainment is constantly changing, and now the way we watch movies is becoming exciting and scary, all at once. Thankfully, more and more people are getting access, and I can't be mad at that.
With more trips to the cineplex than ever before, I still missed out on some real gems. I tried my damnedest, but Cincinnati isn't exactly Sundance Film Festival. To be transparent, I did my best to write down every single movie I saw this year, and group them into 4 categories: Top Contender, Pretty Damn Good, Meh to Okay, and Garbage. So everyone can see for themselves, I'll expose my latter three in groups, before tackling the real deals of 2018. I've written reviews on a few of these, but those opinions might have changed since then. If my list poo-poos on your favorite, or elevated a gem to legend status, let's talk about it. If you pay for dinner, hell, we can talk in person! I love free meals and spirited debate too much to consider the risks of meeting people from the internet. With that in mind, let's go!
None of our pasts look darker than through the lens of childhood Halloween costumes. (unless you're a practiced serial killer, in which case, please turn yourself in after sharing this review with all of your friends, if you have any) I have masqueraded as a G.I. Joe, a hand-stitched T-Rex with lumps in all the wrong places, The Incredible Hulk, and, in terms of the most haunting: Winnie the Pooh. Never, despite what I'm certain was ungrateful insistence, did I get to go as my hero Spider-Man.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse felt like one of many cosmic events I've had the pleasure of enjoying at the theater. What feels so authentic and true to comic book crossovers of old is somehow also one of the freshest, most modern takes on superheroes to hit the silver screen. My tried and tested standards for the past 16 years of Sony's takes on the web-slinger have been surpassed on only a few occasions, but Spider-Verse finds its way above and beyond what I could even hope for.
Growing up with a parent from Texas comes with certain quirks. Everything needs to be cooked in cast iron, wooden planks with cutesy quotes must adorn the kitchen corner-to-corner, and Old Yeller is required viewing. The 1957 film follows some kid without any real friends who gets a dog to fill the human-shaped hole in his heart. The next hour is boring. Nothing notable happens until the freaking end, where the dog gets sick and the kid gets some pre-Vietnam PTSD when he sends Yeller to "a big ol' pupper farm in upstate New York." Still, at least the dog is good.
Even the dog is perfectly cast in the tense 2018 heist film, Widows. Brought to the big screen by the other Steve McQueen, Widows makes the hits hard, the characters palpable, the action fast, and the local politics fun, somehow.
There are few films I loathe more than The Sound of Music. Is it a well-crafted, if overlong musical? Yeah, sure. It's got the goods. Julie Andrews kills it on every level, the kids are the perfect amount of adorable yet competent, and Christopher Plummer has never not been good. That's not the cause of my cinematic pain. As a kid, my mother, who is the most wonderful human being and loyal reader of my articles, hunted down every television broadcast of the 1965 masterpiece and made the whole family sit down for them. Several times a year, we'd be POW'd in the living room, praying for something more than just "limited commercial interruption." It's a good musical, but come on! An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but apples get old real quick.
I hope that I don't ever over-watch the musical A Star is Born, because this film deserves an older Joe looking back fondly on its emotive power. Bradley Cooper stars in and directs this adaptation of an adaptation of an adaptation, and yet the tone of this movie holds classical cinema and raw emotion in the warmest of bear hugs that doesn't smell of regurgitation. This combination feels both old and new in style, while only occasionally failing to blend the two seamlessly.
Bradley plays Jackson Mane, a big-time rock star who seems to be on the downturn. His problem with alcohol bring him to conveniently have a run-in with Ally, acted with absolute gusto by the surprise sensation Lady Gaga. I say surprise only because I was maybe one of only a few to be underwhelmed by her acting on the FX show American Horror Story. Despite my impression from the exceeding of expectations, Gaga is objectively impressive in her moving portrayal of an artist on the rise entangled with the embattled Cooper. If nothing else comes from this film, a rise in future creative castings for Gaga would be a welcome and worthy result.
Rounding out the cast of characters are surprise hits and old favorites. Sam Elliot is a steady bet for anyone wanting a good performance, and his command of the scene will bring tears for many, and maybe some soft hearts from the more senior members of the audience. Andrew Dice Clay and Dave Chappelle are not only highlights in creative, effective choices, but also examples of first-time director Bradley Cooper's greatest strength: Emotion via actors. There are both occasional lulls and clashes brought out by the introduction of modern music institutions and practices that feel less than authentic, and Cooper isn't positioning himself as the most innovative newbies behind the camera. That said, the man knows how to bring the best out of each character, whether it be in their performances or his framing of moments and faces. There is something intimate in the camera angles and movements that lends itself to the realness and power of these relationships, both with the people and with the bottle. The warmth is so tangible because it hones in on the tragedy of fade and failure instead of smothering it.
With the wealth of bland blockbusters meant to appeal to the greatest common denominator (many of which I love with a passion and a fistful of popcorn), A Star is Born manages to draw in the big crowds without dulling its senses. Cooper and his cast have pieced together an emotive, powerful narrative. It even left me a little misty, and not just because I was in one of those theaters with the full food menus.
I give this film a solid 8 out of 10.
The Autumn Bomb is a tradition that I just made up, and I have a strong feeling it's gonna sweep this nation by tropical storm (too soon?). It starts with shotgunning a hard cider. Then, you snort a line of pumpkin spice. Finally, you jump into your neighbor's leaf pile with a jar of peanut butter and packet of Oreos, all with the hope of a peaceful, three month hibernation.
Until the Autumn Bomb catches on, you're probably going to be tempted to see a movie. But which one? Here is an exhaustive, unreliable guide to everything coming out this fall.
There was a point in my childhood where every stuffed animal I had was also an imaginary friend. The polar bear, the frog, even the armadillo with a barbecue stain on the front-left paw. All of them. Unfortunately for "Real Friendless Joe", the collection got out of control and cuts had to be made. It was emotional, difficult, and provided such a feeling of raw power that never manifested into superpowers like they should've. I just wanted to shoot water out of my hands, dammit!
When I pick and choose which movies to write a review for, so many others fall to the side. Between 50 hour weeks, the podcast, and gazing into the empty void that is time, I don't have the scheduling power to see and write a full piece on everything. That, and I really just didn't want to see The Nun. Still, I want to give quick reviews on all the movies I saw this year that didn't get the full review treatment. Behold, the shortened glory!
(Reviews are out of 10 possible points, with "soft", "steady", and "solid" acting as further definitions of my rating)
Growing up in a more sheltered environment, my first exposure to kick-ass, therapist-alarming violence was from one of the Turok games on my buddy's Gamecube. My parents thought we were playing jax or maybe Go Fish. The graphics were blocky, the controls as intuitive as the Icelandic language, and green blood squirted from every fleshy beasty you could aim a gun at. It was so alien to me, and pretty awesome.
Fast-forward 12 years, and now I have The Predator to scratch that itch, even if that itch probably shouldn't be there anymore. From writer and director Shane Black, this film is a semi-successor to the Predator franchise that sees Earth at the center of an intergalactic hunting trip. The Predators, themselves, are hyper-masculine aliens that look like a skinned Pomeranian and Killer Croc had a few too many cosmos at singles night and decided procreation was a better idea than going home and watching the news. When military sniper Quinn McKenna, played by Boyd Holbrook, stumbles upon a crashed ship of one of these Predators, the race is on to save humanity from the threat of bigger, beefier Predators. Assisted by a wily group of former soldiers and an evolutionary biologist, McKenna must fend off aliens and the government to save the world, and his family.
Shane Black aims for Spielberg vibes with his odd, R-rated The Predator, but can't help infecting most scenes with "Shane Black-ery". This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the cinematic tone is decidedly 80s, with cinematography and a score that wax nostalgic. This throwback is natural and not overly done, unlike some of Shane's dialogue. Known for his quick quips and flowing conversation, Black feels stuck between action-broisms and stinging wit. When this combination works, it feels like a fluid blend of kid-friendly sci-fi and eff bomb-fueled fist bumps. When it doesn't stick the landing, however, it comes off like the one 4th grader who knows "bitch" and says it way too often in gym class.
The cast is the real shine, here. Boyd proves himself as a solid, if replaceable action hero, but it's his newfound unit that gets all the good lines. Trevante Rhodes, Alfie Allen, and Augusto Aguilera help bring some levity as former soldiers with more than a few psycho-social quirks, and Rhodes stands out as the bro to end all bros. Baxley and Coyle, played by Thomas Jane and Keegan-Michael Key respectively, are a surprise delight in their display of an oddball male bond. Also,
FACT: Sterling K. Brown makes everything better.
Where the fun dries up is in the "science lady" character, Casey Bracket. Brought to the screen by Munn, Casey is kind of a letdown, with a complete lack of real charisma and only the occasional good line. Munn has to bear the weight of Black's lackluster female writing, and seems almost tired of underwritten characters by the end of this film. When her better protagonist roles have come from Aaron Sorkin, one can guess how fed up she's feeling.
Jacob Tremblay plays McKenna's son and plot instigator in the film, whose disability takes stake in the story's outcome. The focus on his gifts come off as surprisingly empowered, yet under-baked. It's one of the many times that feel like another look at the script could've elevated the fairly standard storyline. The themes are casual and not supported by their own creators. Then again, it's a bromance shoot-em-up. What should really be expected here?
The Predator is a sloppy, chummy action movie that is pretty damn funny. If you were hoping for better female representation or an evolution in artistry from Shane Black, this movie is going to be pretty disappointing. If you just want a fun, dumb time at the movies, then The Predator is a rowdy, rewatchable crowdpleaser that has as much of a good time as you will.
I give this film a soft 7 out of 10.
(This article is a follow-up to earlier entries I penned about the fan’s predicament and what the studio should do, which you can find right here and here.)
Serotonin is most often found in either the enteric nervous system or the central nervous system. It can also be discovered tucked away in blood platelets, and is often considered the primary cause for happiness. When a film writer’s serotonin levels are low, they write up dream lists of who they want to direct a movie that’ll include a green lady and super intelligent trash panda. I have hit rock bottom.
But that’s okay! Guardians 3 is going to need a director, and I am the unpaid, wannabe Disney intern who can totally make that decision. In no particular order, here are my dumbest, wisest, and weirdest choices for the job.