Black Panther (Ryan Coogler – 2018) B+

Marvel surprises and delights again. This latest installment of the Marvel universe is very good. It’s almost independent of the rest of the movies and set primarily in the fictitious African country of Wakanda although a detour to South Korea is quiet a spectacular set piece. The characters are fun to watch and well-developed. With a mix of James Bond spy thriller, superhero film and fantasy it succeeds in delivering great entertainment. We also get an excellent and memorable villain who we can actually sympathize with. Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger really steals the show in every scene. The film is not short on excellent performances by the likes of Letitia Wright who plays the hero’s sister (and his Q) and¬†Danai Gurira as the awesome warrior Okoye.

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Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky – 1979) A

It’s funny writing about Stalker soon after writing about A Ghost Story. Tarkovsky would’ve made a movie like A Ghost Story I think if he wanted to make a movie about a ghost haunting. Stalker is billed as a scifi movie about a specific area in some unnamed place called the Zone. It appeared and within it lies danger but also there is a room that supposedly grants your heart’s desire if you make it in there and out. Stalkers are those who take people there. It’s a dangerous adventure since the military has the area cordoned off and is under armed guard. The film centers around three characters labeled Stalker, Professor and Writer. Professor and Writer enlist Stalker to take them to the Zone. Writer wants to gain inspiration, professor wants career success…There is no mincing words when it comes to Tarkovsky’s work. IT…IS…SLOW. Similar to Solaris, he uses science fiction as a device to explore deeply human stories, not action set pieces. He takes his time with long and extended shots until you are either on board for the ride and sucked in or you are out.

The three characters mostly walk, talk and argue. We are along for the ride and listen in as the film changes from sepia/black and white to full color when they are in the Zone in a lovely crazy long shot. It is beautifully shot film where each scene is controlled and constructed with amazing care. It is said that this was a very difficult film to shoot and you can see that throughout. For those with patience and maybe a Bourbon in hand this is a rewarding experience.

A Ghost Story (David Lowery – 2017) A-

This is a haunting film unlike any “ghost” movie I’ve ever seen. Before you think this is a horror or fantasy of some sort and head to your favorite streaming service, be forewarned this is a unique perspective on the whole haunting thing. The ghost is played by Casey Affleck who is killed in a car accident close to his house. He wakes up as a ghost literally with a bed sheet on and holes for eyes. Sounds like silly slapstick but it is a thoughtful and touching story told pretty much from the ghosts’s perspective as he tries to watch over his widow (Rooney Mara). Time passes, people move in and out of his house…he’s stuck there waiting for something. I don’t think he even knows what it is. We feel he is sad even if we cannot see his face. He gets mad and scares a family away…more people move in. The house is falling apart and much more time passes and loops back. It is weird and difficult to describe and framed in a way that makes it seem like a moving photograph. It’s not a film for everyone but it is a special piece of art that I am glad exists and will watch from time to time.

The Shape of Water (Guillermo Del Toro – 2018) A

In Pan’s Labyrinth we have an excellent graphic R-rated fairy tale. In Crimson Peak (a movie I am not a huge fan of) we have a love story that looks gorgeous and incorporates fantasy elements. Now, we have The Shape of Water, and this feels like the culmination of what he has been trying to do. It is a beautiful adult fairy tale that is above all a love story. Set in the 1960s it explores so many themes of taboo, forbidden love, giving voice to the voiceless and those who do not neatly fit in the perfect center of society. The performances by everyone from Richard Jenkins to Sally Hawkins and Michael Shannon are just perfect. It’s beautifully envisioned, told and rendered in spectacular period music and sets. Really loved this one in all it’s beautiful weirdness.

The Player (Robert Altman – 1992) B+

The trademark loose (I don’t know how better to describe it…maybe “fluid” is a better word) camera style of the late great Robert Altman is at excellent display here. The opening one long shot goes on for what seems like 10 minutes as it goes all around a studio, the offices, lots, producers, actors, random Japanese investors, peeks in on various conversations from different vantage points and then back to where we started with the Tim Robbins character, Griffin Mill. He’s a big shot movie producer who needs a hit. He’s not a good guy, more of a jerk really. He’s getting weird threatening post cards and starts trying to figure out which possible script writer whom he insulted might be the one sending them…It’s a Hollywood story about producers, writers, agents and greed told with Altman’s unique style and with his trademark huge cast of characters who seem to live in the picture and not just act in it.

Th Big Sick (Michael Showalter – 2017) A

This is a romantic comedy that really is the best of the genre. It’s a sweet real-life story how comedian Kumail Nanjiani met his girlfriend Emily. As the name suggests there is an actual sickness that is the catalyst for most of the story but it is more than just a love story with one of the pair falling ill. It’s very funny and deals with culture clashing as another major topic. The interactions of Kumail with Emily’s parents (played so damn well by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano)¬† are absolutely perfect and are my favorite scenes in the film. This is not to lessen how much the rest of the movie works from the relationship between the couple to Kumail and his parents and his friends at the comedy club. This is available on Amazon Prime now for streaming so it is easy to watch. Go for it.

The Dinner (Oren Moverman – 2017) D+

The book “The Dinner” is a very good novel about family dysfunction, class, politics and mental illness. All this is set to the backdrop of one dinner at a fancy Dutch restaurant. At the table are two couples, the men are brothers. One is a political riser and the other an out of work history teacher. The plot proceeds along with the courses from amuse bouche to first course and all through dessert. It’s a book I enjoyed very much….hold on though! This is not about the book but about this adaptation of it with Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, Rebecca Hall and Laura Linney. Well, that is not very good. It seems to miss the whole point of the book and just tries to be something more than a confusingly edited mess. The best part were the performances by Linney and Hall and that’s about it.