I watch a lot of movies every year and I try my best to make time to review all of them, not just because I like to write and to keep my blog running with relevant content but because it’s also just good practice.
I need to find creative ways to express myself and dissecting all the ways a movie does and doesn’t work is a great mental exercise for me. The great movies can be all about the complex writing highlighting the directorial shot design and thematic storytelling and vice versa while the bad films can be an autopsy of what exactly killed the whole production.
But there are some movies I just don’t get around to saying much of anything about because well…they evoke no strong feelings bad or good for me after watching them. They’re…fine for a lack of a better word and there’s nothing wrong with that; I’ve watched a ton of ok films that I forget about within days and I’m still pretty happy I got to see them.
I did want to talk a little about the ones I saw this year though because while I had no strong feelings about them I did have a few thoughts and I feel they are worth mentioning here. So, without further ado some “fine” films of 2019:
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
The first “Lego Movie” was a delightful smash hit back in 2014. A comedic meta-commentary on pop culture, Legos, and consumerism while a thoughtful look at family and imagination, the movie was better than it had any right to be and helped kickstart two more Lego film spinoffs before its eventual 2019 sequel.
Anchored again by its star-studded cast there’s a lot of good humor once again in this film and it’s a fun family comedy from start to finish. The thing is it doesn’t say anything particularly new and feels like a rehash of much of the same themes and closer to a “Direct to DVD” sequel in terms of imagination.
There’s a by the numbers feel to the plot compared to the more organically creative ideas that went into the first movie and it’s just not as fun of a ride this time around. This said it’s still a fun one and kids and families alike more than likely will and have enjoyed it.
All in all, not a bad movie and worth a watch if you liked the first, perhaps on a long flight back from Honolulu like I did this summer.
I love Shazam. I think he’s one of the most fun characters in the DC superhero gallery and a character more than worthy of a big-screen film. He finally got one back in April 2019 and it’s frankly, a perfect take on a classic comic book character fit for the whole family to enjoy.
So why was it just fine for me?
Well, while I do like Shazam and his movie quite a bit there really isn’t a whole lot there beyond it being just that. It’s a superhero film that doesn’t take itself too seriously and the story, for the most part, doesn’t do so either with nothing truly profound to say. There’s a nice found family theme going on in it and the cast of child actors are shockingly great and when they all (SPOILER) eventually transform into their adult counterparts they play up their silly child-like demeanor perfectly. Zachary Levi is of course perfect but it’s Jack Dylan-Grazer who steals the show as Billy Batson’s foster brother delivering plenty of great quips and good humor throughout. But again, there’s not much beyond that than just being a fun superhero romp.
This is a great movie to introduce small children to the genre of superheroes and if I had kids this would definitely be a movie I would take them to see. I’m sure children of all ages probably enjoyed the hell out of it and though it’s no “Dark Knight” or “Endgame,” of course, that’s apples to oranges and frankly who cares? It did what it was supposed to do, which was deliver a nice friendly alternative to the brooding darker superhero takes of Hollywood and frankly I’m more than interested in watching more of Shazam in the future.
John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum
The first two “John Wick” films are, for the most part, perfect action shoot’em ups. Stylish, creatively violent, and a perfect antithesis to the lazy, unimaginative, explosive-heavy movies that Hollywood normally churns out, the “John Wick” films are the smooth glass of chardonnay to other actions movie jitter-inducing Rockstar energy drink style of film-making.
Chapter 3 is still several notches higher than the average Hollywood action flick and Keanu Reeves is still delightfully dry and deadpan as the hyper-focused killer that is John Wick but as far as the bar set by the first two films “Parabellum” is a few steps below the standard they set.
For one, it’s more or less the same story as the last one. Wick breaks some law set by the underworld of crime and now every assassin, hitman/woman, thug, etc is out to kill him. There are still some fun as hell choreographed gun-kata sequences in this film and plenty of gnarly deaths but the story ultimately doesn’t advance much. Wick films aren’t known for their compelling narratives of course but Chapter 2 at least expanded upon what the first film started; Chapter 3 is content to keep much of the story arcs where they were before only seeming to go a new direction at the very, very end.
This said it’s still a fun movie and a worthy alternative to much of the action schlock Hollywood normally churns out but as far as a John Wick film goes it’s disappointing.
Always be my Maybe
Ali Wong has been on a comedic tear for a few years now. Her two Netflix stand-up specials are great where she talks about the realities of pregnancy, being Asian American, and of course “trappin’ his ass!” and she has even more on the way.
The “Fresh off the Boat” writer is quickly becoming more and more mainstream and her first major starring role came this summer in the form of Netflix’s “Always be my Maybe” alongside the highly underappreciated Randall Park. “Always be my Maybe” is a perfectly fine romantic comedy that fans of the genre will surely enjoy, with enough of a good sense of humor to keep even those who aren’t entertained from start to finish. Keanu Reeves’ cameo as an overly eccentric version of himself is of course the best part of the movie and worth the stream on that alone but the movie doesn’t lend much of anything truly memorable beyond that.
It’s a fairly by the numbers rom-com and offers few real surprises.
This said it does continue Hollywood’s new and long overdue upward trend of Asian American representation and certainly helped moved the needle in the right direction to make critical darlings such as “The Farewell” possible. In the past, a movie like this would need to be extraordinarily good to make Asian America feel relevant but if anything its greatest accomplishment is that it shows that Asian American can have a perfectly “fine,” average romantic comedy like any other white centric film in the genre before it and for that I’m grateful.
Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw
When the trailers came out for this I was really hoping this would be the kind of fun, over the top bad that films like “XXX” and other “Fast & Furious” films in the cool cars, hot chicks, and guns genre have been about for decades but instead, I got a mildly entertaining, decent dose of macho escapism for two hours with only some fun bad moments.
Many have discussed before how “The Rock” is in dire need of having his charismatic skills used alongside more talented directors and a film like this perfectly encapsulates how he has limited himself to these boring, one-dimensional, macho, stoic types over and over again. Jason Statham isn’t much better and frankly an actor who should do comedy more often as his early Guy Ritchie roles showed the guy can do a lot more than just scowl and throw some fancy martial arts at the screen over and over again.
My biggest problem though is the movie doesn’t go nearly far enough in being ridiculous and takes itself just seriously enough to make it a fairly mundane and uneventful action flick instead of being ridiculous, over the top schlock as it should be. This is a movie that features shirtless Samoans doing the Haka before fighting black suited, well-armed mercenaries using war clubs and yet still isn’t nearly as crazy as it should be.
This all said, it’s another “fine” movie for what it is and a decent escape from the doldrums of work life that you can turn your brain off to on a Friday night. You could do waaay worse than “Hobbs & Shaw” even if you’re only interested in the “so bad it’s good” camp of the genre but man, this could have been much more fun in the worst way.
This will probably be my most controversial choice on this list and perhaps it was my somewhat bloated expectations going in or maybe I’m just not too big of a fan of the “owe the mob money” genre but I just didn’t get a lot out of watching this movie.
For one there is not so much dialogue in this movie as there is just YELLING! So. Much. YELLING! Every line seems to be screeched at one another with a couple hundred expletives for good measure added for extra edge and its rather grating. A lot was made about it being a bareknuckle thriller that holds your captivation from start to finish but honestly, the best parts, for me at least, were when they slowed down and the characters spoke plainly without screaming at one another.
The film needed more moments where the story was allowed to stew and we got the characters to reflect on everything. These moments in the movie are more uncomfortable (in a good way) than the violence that chases the main characters around throughout the story. It just sprints from start to finish giving very little time to really understand the psyche behind Sandler’s character beyond he’s a fuck up who can’t stop making one more horrible mistake.
This said Sandler really is pretty sharp in this movie and showcases a bit of range that he’s been capable of for more than a while and the music in the film is great and plays greatly alongside each scene. A stylish 80s techno beat that highlights the criminal opulence of what’s going on around the characters, it’s almost hypnotic at times. The cinematography highlights this well with a great use of neon light and colors that make each scene truly pop in the best way.
It’s not a bad movie despite my issues, Sandler is, at worst, deserving of an acting nomination for this role and worth a watch if you get a chance to see it but “Best Picture” material as some viewers have stated? I don’t know about that.
So, there you have it some…fine movies of 2019 that are perfectly passable and worth at least one watch if you happen to enjoy any of these various genres. I think as audience members and people of an increasingly divisive society we like to see things in only two categories; very good or very bad. Explosive arguments seem to ensue anytime someone expresses an opinion that doesn’t fit neatly on one end of the spectrum or the other and it’s a shame because our digestion of art should be a lot more diverse than it being simply binary.
This isn’t to say you should be a centrist on everything or that every middling opinion is a good take (it definitely isn’t) but be open to the idea that some people are just not going to feel super strong about one thing or another sometimes.
Just because someone thinks a film you loved is just “ok” doesn’t mean they have no taste and certainly if someone thinks a movie you hated is “not that bad” doesn’t mean they have no standards either. Sometimes our pop culture yields no strong reactions and that’s ok. Fans, film-goers, and general people alike just need to be more ok with that because at the end of the day it’s not that big of a deal.
TL:DR be an adult. Just liking or being apathetic about a movie is fine and you should be fine with others feeling that way too.
Happy New Year, y’all!
Begins typing long-winded dissection of “Cats” (stay tuned)