Again, I’ll start with the caveat that I don’t see every movie that’s released, particularly those based on comic book characters or superheroes or costume-heavy period-piece epics. But of those I did see, here are capsule reviews of the ten I most regret watching on the big screen this year. Click on the titles to read my full reviews.
#1) “Welcome To Marwen.” The best word to describe it is “creepy.” Steve Carrell stars as a man struggling with PTSD after being severely beaten in a hate crime. Unable to remember his own life, Mark imagines one, made up of dolls he photographs in a fictional village in Belgium during World War II. We also see his mind running wild in hallucinations where he casts himself as the fighter pilot hero in stories where he’s constantly taking on Nazis while being protected and often rescued by women inspired by those in his real life. Because Mark is a fan of porn, the costumes he makes for his female dolls are right out of Slutty Stereotype Central, with each having their own custom-made pair of shoes with stiletto heels. Oddly, the actual women aren’t offended by the get-ups of their doll doppelgangers, whose shirts often pop open to reveal their breasts. I couldn’t have cared less. In fact, while it may have served as some sort of therapy for the traumatized Hogancamp, the whole “Welcome To Marwen” enterprise turned me off.
#2) “Boundaries.” Vera Farmiga plays a woman who has trouble saying no. Whenever she sees a stray dog or cat, she takes them in. That’s certainly compassionate, but there’s a limit — if Paula Poundstone would tell you there are too many animals living in your house, then you have issues. The antagonist is Farmiga’s father, Christoper Plummer, who is being kicked out of a senior citizen residence and has nowhere to go. Farmiga, who’s been estranged from him for years, won’t take Plummer in, but her sister (Kristen Schaal, typecast as a kooky free spirit) will, but only if Farmiga will drive him from Portland down to Los Angeles, where she lives. It’s at this point that I rolled my eyes at the thought of yet another middle-aged-person-on-a-road-trip-with-grouchy-elderly-parent movie. “Boundaries” does not fit in the quality end of that group.
#3) “Lean On Pete.” One day, Charley goes for a run through their new community in Oregon and discovers a horse racetrack. It’s nothing glamorous — not much about that sport is — but Charley’s attracted to the horses, particularly one named Lean On Pete, owned by Del (Steve Buscemi), who offers Charley a job helping care for that horse and a few others in his stable. When Lean On Pete can’t cut the mustard, Del deals him away to another owner, but Charley takes matters — and the horse — into his own hands. He steals one of Del’s trailers, puts the horse inside, and takes off. At this point, we’re steered away from the Steve Buscemi character’s world, which is a shame, because it’s the only interesting thing in the movie. Instead, we get a long road trip with this kid and the stolen horse and trailer. The latter eventually runs out of gas, and Charley hasn’t a penny to his name, so he walks Lean On Pete across some harsh landscape in a sequence that seems like it will never end. Perhaps we’re supposed to view him as a sensitive sort, but all I saw was a kid who makes one bad decision after another. By this point, I didn’t care one bit about this teenage boy — or the horse he rode in on.
#4) “First Reformed.” In “First Reformed,” Ethan Hawke plays Ernst Toller, minister of the titular small church in upstate New York. Among his small flock is Mary (Amanda Seyfried), a pregnant woman who is worried about her husband, Michael (Phillip Ettinger), an environmental activist who is not happy about bringing a new life into this world. He wants his wife to have an abortion, so she asks Toller to talk to him. In doing so, the minister is faced with a man with a fatalist view of the future and some major depression issues. As much as he’d like to help, Toller can’t find any words to soothe Michael’s pain, which leads the man of the cloth to review his own circumstances — lonely, childless, divorced, living a sparse life, and dealing with a serious health issue. “First Reformed” is a movie about Toller’s torment, and Hawke plays it brilliantly. It’s one of his best performances in years. The biggest problem is writer/director Paul Schrader. Other reviewers are swooning because they remember the legendary work he did with the scripts for “Taxi Driver,” “American Gigolo,” and “Raging Bull,” but this one isn’t even worthy of comparison to those. It’s slow and ponderous, with many of the shots going on too long.
#5) “Beautiful Boy.” You may not have heard this before, but drugs are bad. If someone is using drugs like meth, it can have a harmful effect on the whole family. There, now you don’t have to see “Beautiful Boy.” The movie is based on books published in 2008 by David Scheff (Steve Carrell) and his son, Nic (Timothée Chalamet), about the latter’s addiction to meth and other drugs and the former’s helplessness in trying to pull his kid out of his downward spiral. I didn’t care about either of them, didn’t need a reminder about the dangers of methamphetamines, and felt bored by the pace of this sad tale unspooling slowly on the screen. I’m sure the actual circumstances were pure hell for both of the Scheffs, but they don’t make for a good movie.
#6) “Widows.” When four thieves are killed while escaping a job gone wrong, their grieving wives get together to pull off a heist. Corrupt politicians in Chicago battle to win an aldermanic election and control of their ward. Gangsters give a woman two weeks to pay off her husband’s debts — or else. Those are all plots within “Widows,” and that’s the problem. It’s all over the place, trying to tell too many stories at once, telegraphing its supposed-to-be-surprises, and, in the process, blowing an opportunity to focus on one of them and tell it well. Director Steve McQueen (“12 Years A Slave”) and his co-writer Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”) spend too little time on the female protagonists and their plans for the heist — when details matter — and too much on the male antagonists and distractions. It’s a disappointment to see so many people whose work I respect (Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell) in a project which somehow never coalesces into a well-made piece of entertainment.
#7) “First Man.” Stoicism is not entertaining. Watching a man quietly endure pain from the deaths of his young daughter and several of his colleagues does not make for a feel-good movie. Yet that’s what you get from Damien Chazelle’s “First Man,” a biopic about Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon, played by Ryan Gosling. Somehow, Chazelle has taken the greatest scientific achievement in human history and turned it into a story with no climax, no personality, and no celebration. I don’t know much about the fortitude Neil Armstrong displayed throughout his life, but I do know that grief and forbearance and marital discord were not the ingredients I hoped to see in a movie about him and that great adventure.
#8) “Red Sparrow.” Well, the Russians are back — not just in news about corrupting our elections and social media, but as movie villains, too. “Red Sparrow” plays like an old Cold War movie, full of spies and secrets and seduction. Jennifer Lawrence stars as a prima ballerina with the Bolshoi Ballet. When her career is ended by what seems to be a freak accident, she’s recruited by her uncle (a higher-up in the Russian espionage world) to become a student at Sparrow School, where students learn how to seduce enemy agents to get information out of them. The scenes at the “whore school,” run by Charlotte Rampling, include nudity of both the male and female variety (including Lawrence), and some sexual situations that helped the movie earn its hard R rating. Perhaps the movie producers thought they were launching a new Jennifer Lawrence franchise here, but I don’t see that happening. In fact, the idea of Jennifer Lawrence anything may be in danger. Her previous three movies (“Joy,” “Passengers,” and “Mother!”) were not well-received, and I doubt this one will be. It certainly didn’t please me.
#9) “Hunter Killer.” In “Hunter Killer,” Joe Glass plays a first-time US submarine captain caught in the middle of an escalating conflict with Russia, and he’s going to fix the problem his way, dammit! Naturally, his second-in-command, the executive officer, abhors every decision Captain Joe makes and protests loudly — until, in the end, he’s learned a lesson in leadership he’ll never forget. That’s the kind of clichéd stuff going on throughout “Hunter Killer.”
#10) “The Equalizer 2.” This sequel is just as predictable as its predecessor. I won’t bother to reveal any plot points, but if you don’t know who the bad guy is after a mere twenty minutes, again, you haven’t seen enough action movies. Director Antoine Fuqua (who collaborated with Denzel on “Training Day” and their remake of “The Magnificent Seven”) returns to helm this one exactly as he did the original. There are too many edits in the fight scenes, which happen so quickly we often can’t see what’s going on. He over-uses slow-motion for dramatic effect. And the finale takes place in a hurricane for no reason (unless it’s to remind us of one of Denzel’s better roles).
Also see: My list of the Ten Best Movies Of 2018.
Also see: My list of the Next Ten Best Movies Of 2018.