Thursday, January 31, 2019

My Top Ten Films of 2018

            At last.  At long last, we can put 2018 to bed.  We've talked about the worst of the year.  We've talked about the music.  We’ve rued grave errors in judgment.  Now we finally come to the end game; what were my absolute favorite films of the year?  Let's find out together. 

            Standard rules, as always- any film that got its first theatrical OR festival release in either Germany or the US over the course of 2018 is eligible for consideration.  It was a great, great year, so my list is by no means definitive.  There was a lot of stuff worth seeing I just couldn't fit here.  I gave it my all though. 

Honorable Mentions:

Komunia, Tully, Widows, Passage of Life, The Favourite, Utoya: July 22

10. Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley)

            Boots Riley's directorial debut was about as splashy, aggressive, and in-your-face as it gets, and I loved it.  I will ruin none of the film's utterly bonkers twists, but suffice it to say that Riley held nothing back, and the film is better off because of it.  Every performance across the board is staggeringly good; Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson continue to take the world by storm, we’re treated to a smorgasbord of great Afro-American acting; Donny Glover and Terry Crews and Rosario Dawson and Omari Hardwick and more and more.  And to top it all off, oh my God, I am so happy to have Arnie Hammer back in my life.   

            David Cross is ridiculously perfect as Stanfield's "white voice;" in a just world, the simple fact of how well they mesh with each other would lay to rest any lingering notions that voice-acting is not a craft as worthy of recognition as "on-screen" performances.  As you will soon see, it was just one of many of the year's great films that earned the moniker of being "topical," but no others took quite the angle this film did.  In a year full of challenging films, Sorry To Bother You dared more than most even dreamed. 

9. Bad Times at the El Royale (Drew Goddard)

            This remains the biggest surprise of the year for me.  I had no idea what to expect going in, at most hoping for a fun, pulpy two hours at the movies.  What I got was a masterfully atmospheric rocket-launch into the color-pallete of the 60's that threw mystery yarns and parlor dramas together with gleeful abandon, and that also brought Cynthia Erivo into my world.  I love films that tell me just a little bit about their worlds, then leave me grasping for more; the El Royale might be the most interesting original settings for a film since the haunted mansion from Crimson Peak.  Like most of the films on this list, the ensemble cast is an absolute treat, from Erivo's hardtack singer, to Chris Hemsworth trying his damndest to make the camera cum, to Jeff Bridges being, well, Jeff Bridges.  It's slick, it's steamy, it's bloody, and it's damn good. 

8. BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee)

            Spike Lee is back, and seems determined to make a fool out of those in the Academy who figured he was at “Honorary Lifetime Achievement” stage just a few short years ago.  His latest joint, like Chi-Raq before it, is a hard-hitting look at the ugliness of American racial politics, but ultimately ends up stronger for being more focused in its storytelling.  I could watch John David Washington and Adam Driver team up forever, given that they are able to make something as banal as turning around in a chair one of the funniest things I’ve seen in years.  Topher Grace is absurdly perfect as David Duke, in one of the year’s best bits of stunt-casting.  As funny as the film is, though, it knows how to hit hard where needed, including a remarkably edited scene splicing together a speech by an actual Civil Rights veteran and a Klan viewing of Birth of a Nation, and a final sequence that gave us one of 2018’s most essential gut punches. 

7. Foxtrot (Samuel Maoz)

            This Israeli film about a soldier, his family, and a tragic case of mistaken identities, is one of the most precisely and thoroughly shot movies of the year, with Roma being one of the few that can match it.  Every movement, every setup, every step of the characters, is so carefully measured.  And for a film that only has a few settings, and very little in the way of “action,” it packs in an incredible amount of commentary on father/son dynamics, the legacies of generational trauma, the absurdities of modern bureaucracy, the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and so, so much more.  Rarely has a simple dance managed to contain so much symbolic power. 

6. The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci)

            The best comedy of the year, hands down, and one that packed in a hell of a lot of sociopolitical commentary to boot.  Of course, what else would you expect from the creator of In the Loop and Veep?  The cast list is practically an Avengers lineup of middle-aged British talent (plus Steve Buscemi and Jeffrey Tambor), and they hit every note.  What really got me, though, was just how much fine detail of the actual historical record surrounding Stalin’s death got worked into the film.  Seriously, check out History Buff’s breakdown of the film, it’s really amazing.  Brilliant parlor comedy, smartly-executed historical accuracy, and a wealth of relevant commentary on dictatorship and the circular, murderous logic of the cult?  Sign me up. 

            Japan can always be counted on to provide the world of animation with a reminder of just how boundless its possibilities are, and this year, that trip came courtesy of Masaaki Yuasa.  The film with a mouth-masher of a title about a hard-drinking girl, her admirer, and a whole city’s worth of utterly bonkers side characters was one of the year’s funnest rides, a world of random possibility contained within a night that never seemed to end.  I shall say nothing more, except that you owe it to yourself to see this gem if you like fun of any sort. 

4. Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)

            This was so much more than just a movie.  Yes, it’s easily the best film yet in the Marvel canon, and one of the best films of 2018.  Yes, it set box office records and was ground-breaking in being the first superhero movie nominated for Best Picture, the first blockbuster film helmed and casted by a predominantly black cast.  But it was even more than that.  This was a genuine cultural event, on par with Avatar, The Dark Knight, or Return of the King.  And it earned it: Ryan Coogler delivered us a massive, sprawling epic of a hero’s journey, a classic tale revitalized and reborn through fulcrum of Afrofuturism.  Amazing costumes, production designs, and music, great action, plus one of the year’s best powerhouse casts; you name it, this film had it. 

3. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)

            Cuarón- indeed, all of the Three Amigos- have staked a claim to being among the greatest living filmmakers, and Roma does nothing but add to that.  This is as close to perfect, whatever that is, as films get.  There is a reverence for the people we see that suffuses the entire film, and it is so beautiful to experience.  It’s been extremely refreshing to see the way black-and-white filmmaking has re-established itself over the past decade, as it provides a unique way to clarify the details of each and every shot.  Roma takes full advantage of that, bringing us into a fairy tale of nostalgia that is bitter, harsh, and painful, but still, somehow, hopeful. 

2. Taste of Cement (Ziad Kalthoum)

            It’s for experiences like this that I go to the movies.  For those times when something so profound, so utterly unique, hits me out of nowhere.  There is a special sort of appreciation for a film that you go into knowing nearly nothing about beyond, perhaps, one trailer, that turns out to be a true gem.  With the oversaturation of news, predictions, and analysis that has deluged the world of film criticism the past few decades, it’s become impossible to experience most films this way, but there are still a few out there, waiting to be discovered by the enterprising soul.  Taste of Cement, a quasi-documentary about refugee construction workers in Lebanon, is one such film. 

            The series of images the film uses to convey states of mind, dream sequences, moods, and ideas of societal alienation, is unlike anything else I can remember seeing.  Can a deconstruction of the senseless harm of war get any simpler than a shot of a refugee sleeping on a cot, overlaid on footage of falling bombs?  Or explosions on the news reflected on the scarred, hardened eyes those watching it?  There are no words that truly capture such horrors.  But there are images that can, to a degree. 

            And now, DRUMROLL PLEASE….

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, and Bob Persichetti)

            Yep.  No two ways about it, there was no other movie this year that hit every possible one of my sweet spots quite like this one.  Solid writing, amazing characters, slick action, a slew of jokes, the year’s best soundtrack, and to top it all off, gorgeous and groundbreaking animation; like Black Panther, this movie went beyond just being one of the best ever of its genre to being one of the best, period.  I could spend hours and pages going into what I love about this movie- and I already have- so in the interest of not being repetitive I will restrain myself here.  Put simply- there are so many reasons this film is my hands-down favorite of the year, I can’t even count them.  It’s just so damn good.  What a year it’s been. 

-Noah Franc

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Revisiting ‘Girl’

**the following article contains spoilers**

            Back in November, I watched and reviewed a Belgian film called Girl, which tells the story of a transgirl transitioning in the middle of high school, and her struggles as she grows increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of change she has to endure.  I gave the film 4 out of 4 stars in my review, lauding it as powerful, authentic, and deep.  And I was content to leave it at that.

            And then a month later I found out just how sharply controversial the film has been since it started making the festival rounds.  This was already simmering around the time I wrote my review- the film won numerous awards at Cannes- but really got kicked up a gear when Netflix picked the film up for distribution and it was nominated for a Golden Globe, with a potential Oscar nomination around the corner (although the film later failed to make the Academy shortlist). 

            Since the heated debate surrounding the film centers around the very end, I will be up front about the main spoiler; the film ends with Lara committing self-castration.  This is the scene I was referring to in my original review when I said this film was the first in years to force me to look away from the screen.  What I failed to consider in my review is that, just because a movie is cinematically effective, this is not inherently good; something can, after all, be effective in both positive and negative ways. 

            This was thrown into sharp relief for me when I was made aware of just how strong the backlash towards the film had gotten, with one writer going so far as to call it “trans trauma porn.”  The multitude of shots that center around Lara’s genitals, the fact that both the director and lead actor were cisgender men, and accusations that trans critics were being ignored in the film’s press screenings and marketing efforts were all part of major pushback against the film’s handling of subject matter and the larger backdrop of its release and awards-season attention. 

            Obviously, though, the concerns that hit the hardest are those from actual trans writers and critics.  Trans activist Cathy Brennan said she felt “sickened” and “horrified” watching the film, and trans journalist Oliver Whitney called it “the most dangerous movie about a trans character in years.”  Another trans critic, Samantha Allen, wrote a powerful piece placing the film within a larger context of Hollywood’s tradition of elevating trans stories that center around suffering, as opposed to telling stories that are more joyous or life-affirming. 

            This is really, really heavy stuff, and I soon found myself deeply regretting my support for the film, wondering if I’d made a huge mistake.  I was very close to deleting the review and disavowing the film entirely.  Then, though, I found out that the real-life transperson who inspired the film, Nora Monsecour, supports the film; she’s friends with the director and was actively involved in its production.  While the director, of course, has pushed back against the criticism, I find his defense far less convincing than the one offered by Monsecour herself, who published her own rebuttal to the backlash in the Hollywood Reporter.  She defends the film as being an accurate representation of her struggles with transitioning, and criticized attacks on the film as an effort to silence her identity and her story. 

            This makes things a bit less black-and-white than I’d first assumed; Monsecour’s is the one defense of the film that, I feel, cannot be so readily dismissed.  However, I also realize that one op-ed from a particular film's subject is not in and of itself absolution from criticism or condemnation, especially from others within a community said film purports to represent. 

            That said, I myself am in no position to say where there is "wrong" or "right" here; it just isn't my place to offer final judgement when one transperson says a film represents them and another, or many others, say it misrepresents or even harms them.  What I can do is to admit my own mistakes with a heartfelt “mea culpa,” since it simply did not occur to me to do background research on the film or transpeople’s tractions to it before writing my review.  I did not consider that, as “effective” as the film’s ending might be, it has potentially harmful real-world consequences regardless of what the filmmakers intended.  That was a dumb mistake, plain and simple, and that is on me.   

            I will not delete or alter my original review, since I feel that would be disingenuous, but after reading through the critiques from trans writers, I decided I could not be silent and certainly could no longer vocally support the film as I otherwise might have done.  So the review and my rating stand, but with this attached disclaimer saying that I will no longer actively promote it. 

            Should you decide to see it, though- regardless of your identity- then make sure to inform yourself afterwards on what the trans-community has to say about it.  It's the very least we can all do. 

-Noah Franc

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

My Top Film Scores of 2018

            Now that we’ve taken care of the year’s worst, it’s time to get POSITIVE!  My overall Top Ten List will definitely be out by the end of the month, but before then, we return to one of my favorite topics in the world; music. 

            Music has always been crucial to the world of film, so when a film has a rocking score underneath it all, it makes the experience all the more sublime and enjoyable.  I am no expert in either music or sound design, so I can’t offer the most detailed and in-depth examination of these films.  I just know that these are the ones where I noticed and was affected by the music the most. 

8- Isle of Dogs (Alexandre Desplat)

            Isle of Dogs is by no means top-notch Wes Anderson, especially since the setting makes it a bit harder to ignore the more…racially-challenged…aspects of his filmmaking.  Despite its flaws, though, I couldn’t help but enjoy it, and a big part of that was an effectively thematic score by Alexandre Desplat, who has done a lot of great work for Wes Anderson before and continues his track record here. 

7- Das Schweigende Klassenzimmer (Christoph Kaiser and Julian Maas)

            A German film about the true story of a class of students in East Germany that, early in the Cold War, found out the hard way how easily authoritarian governments can misinterpret and twist the most innocent of actions into a conspiracy in need of harsh treatment.  The mixed use of the main theme touches on this repeatedly, starting as a soft, sweet melody that keeps sinking into a minor key to offer whispers and hints of the pains and torments to come.   

6- A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, and a host of collaborators)

            I do knock this film a lot- and no matter what, I stand by my assertion that it has zero business being anywhere near awards for Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Screenplay, as sadly inevitable as those nominations likely are- but I will admit, there is a lot of good stuff in it.  Chief among them being, of course, the music.  Original soundtracks, as opposed to just original scores, came back in a big way this year, with a number of Lady Gaga's collaborated works for this movie leading the pack.  "Shallows" and "Always Remember Us This Way" are genuine powerhouses, and I even found myself really digging "Maybe It's Time."  Maybe I'd like Bradley Cooper better if he stuck to making country-rock albums.  I'm not nearly as high on "I'll Never Love Again," but it serves its purpose as the closing anthem.  For my money, these songs deserve to be remembered, even if most of the rest of film around them doesn't.

5- Searching (Torin Borrowdale)

            The opening of Up is so perfect, so profound, and became so instantly iconic, it's easy to forget that the film isn’t even a full decade old.  Since then there have been plenty of attempts, both serious and comical, to get that particular lightning to strike twice, but for my money no film has come as close as Searching

            In terms of substance, the opening sequence of the film almost entirely apes Up, insofar as we are treated to a tableau of videos and images that tell the story of a growing, loving family, until tragedy forever alters their lives, set to a relentlessly emotional and catchy theme track.  What makes Searching stand out, though, is that it solely uses screens- mostly a single laptop, though a few other phones, tablets, and TVs are thrown in on occasion- to tell a complete narrative.  The opening sequence uses this to serve as a fascinatingly effective nostalgia-trip through the (so far) brief history of user interfaces that everyone’s used. 

            As great as that opening is, though, the rest of the score is just as excellent, utilizing rhythm and sound combinations to create the pulsing climate fear, apprehension, and uncertainty that dogs John Cho as a father searching for his missing daughter using any means available.  Every track is worth a listen. 

4- Werk Ohne Autor (Max Richter)

            Max Richter has, so far, not gotten nearly enough attention as a film composer as he deserves- his work on Waltz with Bashir ranks as one of the best original scores of the century to date- and I can't help but feel that a part of that lies in the fact that he tends to work on independent and foreign-language films, meaning that way, way too many in the English-speaking world simply don't know that he exist.  Which is a crying shame, because in von Donnersmarck’s massive historical drama, he turns in some of his best work yet, including a main theme that somehow manages to pack all the wonder, all the magic, and all the awe of the creative process into just a few short minutes.  It touches that deep, subconscious part of the human soul driven to creativity that can never be fully conveyed with words to others; like this music, it can only be experienced, deeply, personally, and profoundly.  

3- Annihilation (Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow)

            Alex Garland followed up Ex Machina in a big way with Annihilation, the thought-provoking, endlessly fascinating sci-fi movie no one saw, and Salisbury and Barrow came back as well with another score precisely tuned to enhance each and every scene of the movie.  The culmination of both the film and score in the final sequence of events at the lighthouse was, for me, one of the most visually and audibly arresting moments I experience all year; it’s still stuck in my head. 

2- Black Panther (Ludwig Görransson)

            Black Panther is one of the year’s most monumental cinematic achievements, and the film’s score is a huge part of that, creating its own auditory journey to match T’Challa’s.  Listen though it and hear how the main themes repeat and alter according to the rises and falls of the fortunes of our heroes.  Hear the sheer celebratory joy in Baaba Maal’s voice in one of the opening tracks when the ship returns home, and the world is introduced to Wakanda for the very first time.  Note the threatening, sinister undertones in Killmonger’s theme.  The variations in the music are every bit as colorful and lush as the film’s color pallet. 

            There’s so much here to pick out and enjoy, but my personal favorite has to be Okoye’s theme during her fight scenes in the casino and during the final clash; it’s fitting that one of the film’s standout women would get her own kickass theme to boot.  The fact that even side characters get their own parts of the music is just one of many testaments to the film’s amazing attention to detail.  Not to mention that there is an entire supplemental soundtrack led by Kendrick Lamar; although only part of that is in the film itself, it is a great hip-hop album and works as a perfect companion piece to the movie. 

1- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Daniel Pemberton)

            And finally, we’re here; Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, my absolute favorite score AND soundtrack of the year. 

            Brought to us by relative newcomer Daniel Pemberton, this score jumps right out with an opening that sets the vibe for the loud, colorful, and vibrantly fun adventure we’re about to experience.  That opening track is followed by “Visions Brooklyn 1, 2, 3,” easily the single catchiest track I’ve heard all year.  And it’s all uphill from there.  Though Kingpin is the main villain, for reasons I won’t spoil here it’s fitting that the Prowler gets an especially threatening theme of his own, a real pulse-pounder that forced me to the edge of my seat during my first viewing. 

            Like Black Panther, this film also has a companion soundtrack, but one that’s used to much better effect within the film itself.  Post Malone’s “Sunflower” is central to our introduction to Miles; the song is a clear favorite of his, one he sings along to with gusto, but doesn’t quite know the words to.  It’s a perfect example of how attention to such small, real details can take an already-great film and elevate to the level of a genuine masterpiece of filmmaking. 

            “Elevate” also deserves mention, as it is the perfect sendoff for the film as the credits start to roll.  My top prize for Best Song Use, though, is “What’s Up, Danger,” the downbeat of which basically functions as the film’s final mic drop.  It is in that moment that Miles takes control of his powers, set to a sequence of stunning visual beauty. 

            In short, Spider-Man was one of the year’s best films in no small part because it boasted the best music of them all.  So…what’s up, 2019?  Whatcha got? 

-Noah Franc

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Top 5 Worst Films (I Happened to See) of 2018

            The biggest frustration for amateur film critics like me is that, since doing reviews is just a side project for us as opposed to an actual paying job, we lack the access or means to see many of a given year's releases quickly enough to write about them.  We don't get invitations or special access to film festivals, and even with general releases, most of us don't have the income or time to afford to go out and see EVERY movie. 

            As a result, I have to be pretty ruthless in choosing which films to see or not see.  Much of the time, this is extremely aggravating. However, over the years I've come to appreciate a hidden side benefit from this; unlike most professional critics, who are obligated by either their affiliated publication/website or financial necessity to see every (or nearly every) major film that comes out each year and review them, be it good, bad, or ugly, I have the luxury of saving my time and money for the films that I am at least reasonably sure I will like. 

            This means that, no matter how many movies I see before making my year-end lists, most movies I've seen I find good, or at least not offensively bad.  Sure, a few stinkers always sneak by my sensors, and every so often I'll join in watching a particular bomb for the fun of it (like, say, every David Russell movie since The Fighter), but there have never been enough red marks on my film lists to justify making a whole "Worst of" listicle like a lot of other critics.  If it’s getting panned, I just won’t bother to go see it. 

            Until this year, that is. 

            Yes, it's finally happened.  This was the year I happened to see enough that bothered me to actually make a list, and here it is.  Keep in mind, though, that the overwhelming majority of what I saw this year was still fine, and at least most of the consensus "worst" of the year stuff I was still able to avoid, so this list carries the qualifier of being the worst movies of 2018....that I just happened to see.  Have one not on this list?  Well, too bad, because I assure you I will never see it.  Life's too short, even if these movies aren't. 

5. Happy as Lazzaro (Alice Rohrwacher)

            Yes, I know this film got rave reviews out of Cannes, and has continued to garner rave reviews as it’s made the festival circuit.  And you know what?  I don’t get it.  I really don’t. 

            I found this film insufferably boring.  Its premise is solid and the first half was properly atmospheric; there is certainly nothing to be said against the film’s cinematography.  Sadly, the further and further the film receded into itself after its big halfway twist, the more and more frustrated I grew with how satisfied the film was to wave its “Symboliiiiiiiiiiiiiism” in my face in lieu of actually doing something with its premise, or to develop its “message” beyond “Inequality Bad, Innocence Good, Fuck the Banks.”  There were a solid half-dozen points where the film could have ended with at least some of my goodwill intact, but instead it just.  Kept.  Going.  And.  Going.  And by the time it finally, mercifully ended, I wished I, too, could turn into a wolf and disappear into the Italian hillside. 

4. Hold the Dark (Jeremy Saulnier)
            Why, hello there, Alexander Skarsgard.  Fancy seeing you here. 

            While the latest from Saulnier is certainly a nice-looking film, set within the backdrop of stunning Alaskan wilderness, the characters and screenplay just don’t measure up.  If anything, the gorgeous scenery just hammers in all the harder how far the story falls in justifying the setting.  What is supposed to be a tense, psychological thriller about a way-out-of-his-depth wilderness expert pulled into the drama of a rural, desperately poor native community turns into a drag run though how the town’s (apparently) lone white dude butchers natives and cops alike.  The absolute nadir of the entire process is a massive shootout sequence in the second act that, cinematically, is certainly well-made, but narratively serves no purpose and is such a massively jarring experience that the film never really recovers.  

            There are some well-enough performances around the edges- Jeffrey Wright as the wilderness expert and James Dale as the local police chief deserve mention- but Skarsgard is just plain terrible in the leading role, staring and skulking and daring anyone nearby to try and make him emote, and then horribly murdering those who do, all without breaking a sweat.  He’s proven himself to be a perfectly charismatic actor in other roles, so I can’t begin to imagine what sort of drugs he took to so completely repress it here.  I literally couldn’t believe that the film ended when it did, because I did not want to think it was going to stop on such an obviously contrived note, but given how padded the run time was already, it’s probably better that it did. 

**for a more complete version of my thoughts on this movie, check out our Cinema Joes episode on it**

3. Mute (Duncan Jones)

            Why, hello there, Alexander, Skarsgard.  Fancy seeing you here.  Again. 

            Yes, sadly, it was not the best of years for the son of one of Sweden’s finest.  Yet another Netflix original starring Skarsgard, this one was directed by Duncan Jones, whose 2009 film Moon is (rightfully) considered one of the best original sci-fi films to come out in the past decade.  Alas, this movie is not Moon, not even close; if Roma was Netflix’s Citizen Kane of 2018, Mute was its Batman v Superman, a project so poorly conceived and executed that it may never have been salvageable in the first place. 

            Again, much like with Hold the Dark, a lot of what doesn’t work centers around our Scandinavian lead.  Here, though, instead of playing a silent, stone-faced Alaskan wandering aimlessly through the film as the body count behind him piles up, he plays….a silent, stone-faced German Amish man wandering aimlessly through the film as the body count behind him piles up.  Huh.  Type-cast, much, Netflix? 

            I must be fair, though; Skarsgard bears a far lower proportion of the burden for this film failing, because so much else going on around him is just as bad.  There are reasons, after all- many, many reasons- why this film is higher up on this list than Hold the Dark.  Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux team up as a duo of villains clearly modeled on Hawkeye and Trapper from M.A.S.H., but with none of the wit and charm that made that show one of the staples of my childhood.  Given how Paul Rudd has done such a good job of establishing himself as a solidly funny and charismatic lead in the Ant-Man movies, it almost feels like Jones made it his personal goal to roll every bit of that back within the span of one movie.  Rudd’s trying so hard to be a big, scary, violent criminal, but oh baby, does it not work. 

            The film is riddled with terrible CGI, and of all the Blade Runner wannabes that have been made so far, this one is one of the most naked in its desire and the most depressing in its failure to live to up to its obvious inspiration.  The world-building is terrible, and the story has more loose threads than a rotting carpet, with character and narrative leads that are picked up and dropped seemingly at random.  All of this culminates in a climax so bewilderingly nonsensical, it would take home my condemnation as the year’s worst finale if it weren’t for a certain other film on this list.  Speaking of which….

**for a more complete version of my thoughts on this movie, check out our Cinema Joes episode on it**

2. Bamy (Jun Tanaka)

            It's been over half a year, and I'm still not convinced I didn't dream this sucker up in the midst of a massive mental fit.  Nor have I made any progress in determining whether or not this "horror" flick is, in fact, supposed to be satire.  As it stands, this remains one of the most baffling film experiences I have had in a long time, but at least, while viewing it, my sense of rage eventually morphed into a perverse determination to have fun with...whatever it was I was watching.  And thank God too, because the film's big third-act, supernatural bonanza actually managed to top Mute in being the most terrible and wholly unintelligible series of events I saw in a film this year, bar none.  If I hadn't found my spiritual Zen state by then, I would have hurt one of the people sitting next to me, and simply I can't go back to jail. 

            While nearly every choice in the casting, acting, writing, and effects departments are comically bad, the one that still stands out in my head is a scene where the main couple is arguing with each other from across a road.  That in and itself was bizarre, and the fight made no sense; for a couple ostensibly so in love they are ready to marry, there is not one second in the entire film where they create any sort of chemistry. But on top of that, for some reason the entire color scheme is completely washed out, as if a hapless intern had spilled a cup of bleach on the screen.  All the details blur, and I almost started rubbing my eyes to see if it was me.  But no, it wasn't; the color was just totally drained from the shot, until it suddenly all comes pouring back at the very end. 

            Why?  WHY?  It was by no means the most grating of the film's many flaws, but it may have been the most senseless of them in a film filled with utter nonsense, and for my sins I shall never be allowed to forget it.

1. Charming (Ross Venokur)

            You could be forgiven for assuming that the tired genre of the Disney Princess knock-off ended over a decade ago with the combined release of Shrek 2, the absolute peak of the Disney-knockoff-as-parody, and Enchanted, Disney's own dip into the pool.  Once the object of parody has started parodying the parodies of itself, there's nowhere left to go.  We've done the 360, and are back where we started.  Right?  Right. 

            Well, turns out you’d be wrong!  For lo and behold, in the year of our Lord 2018, Netflix started distributing Charming, a Canadian-American production that is, without a doubt, the cheapest, laziest, most paint-by-numbers Shrek wannabe I have ever seen.  Every single thing about the film- the songs, the characters, the dialogue, the droll plodding of the story from each painfully obvious beat to the next- is done in a manner so cold, calculating, and utterly without passion that I could almost feel my apartment lights dim as the film dragged on.  The only point I could ever give in the film's favor is that it cares so little, it doesn't even bother padding itself out; the whole affair barely scrapes over the hour-and-a-quarter mark.  It is one of the worst-looking animated films I've seen in ages; it's as if like very, very, VERY early test animation for the first Shrek film became sentient after sitting in the Dreamwork vaults for two decades, and resolved to haunt my nightmares forevermore.  Not one punch line lands, not one word uttered or sung is believable, and not one design has anything remotely approaching original, human thought in it. 

            It's bad enough that the film is a failed knock-off of knocked-off Disney knock-offs, but my horrified fascination with the film got kicked up a notch when I double-checked the cast, unsettled by how familiar some of the voices were....and promptly had to pick the pieces of my shattered jaw off the floor.  I mean, calling this burnt gumbo pot of a cast list bizarre is putting it mildly.  The three "classic" princesses are collectively voiced by G.E.M., Avril Lavigne, and Ashley Tisdale from High School Musical.  Demi Lovato is the female lead.  The male lead is...hang on, Wilder Valderrama??  FEZ AS PRINCE CHARMING????  You gotta be kidding me. 

            Oh, but it doesn't stop there!  The villain is voiced by Nia Vardalos, last seen in *checks IMDB*, um, My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  Sia cameos as a minor side antagonist.  Let's see, and then there's....wait, John Cleese?  JOHN?  How does That 70's Show, High School Musical, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Sia, Monty Python, and the last remnants of early-2000 teen pop end up in the same movie?  Well, I guess we know now what happens to Disney actors after the Mouse has decided it’s done weith them.  And by God, is it ugly.  Which means...quick!  Someone grab Lin-Manuel Miranda while there’s still time! 

-Noah Franc