The Top 20 Best Movies of 2019

I know it’s late but I realized I never posted my list of the best movies of 2019, so here it is, with a blurb for each movie!

20. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Story: I have a weird appreciation for a creator like Vince Gilligan who’s willing to go back to his masterpiece and tinker with it. We didn’t need to see what happened to Jesse Pinkman after Breaking Bad but the character deserved more than he got over the course of that show, and I’m happy Gilligan decided to show that to us. It’s the kind of thing that’s only possible in this modern age of television and filmmaking.

19. Dolemite Is My Name: The biggest Oscar snub this year may have been Uncut Gems, but Eddie Murphy is a close second for his wonderful performance in this great, funny, entertaining retelling of the life of Rudy Ray Moore and the making of the blacksploitation film Dolemite in the 70s.

18. Ford V Ferrari: If you’re doing a period piece about a car race, you already have my curiosity. Cast Matt Damon and Christian Bale as competing Car Dudes who inevitably become best friends and you catch my attention.

17. The Two Popes: This could have been ostensibly a stage play of Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce sitting in a Vatican room debating ecclesiastical affairs and it would have still wound up on my list. In actuality, it’s so much more. Perhaps bordering a little on propaganda for the Catholic church, but still refreshingly honest and even a little raw.

16. Booksmart: It’s almost unbelievable that this is Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut. The film is so well-made, the cast is fantastic and the story feels very modern but accessible. Probably the best pure comedy of the year!

15. Ad Astra: The film’s glacial pace might turn you off but I really appreciate James Gray refusing to sacrifice his vision of a single man’s personal journey throughout the vast expanse of the solar system to make a more marketable sci fi action film. And yet this isn’t just Brad Pitt’s space daddy issues, it’s also a really cool vision of a near-future human race that has finally embraced (and commercialized) space travel. There’s a Subway on the moon! How can you eat fresh where there’s no atmosphere!?

14. American Factory: Mark my words – documentaries exposing Chinese culture to Western audiences are going to dominate this decade. For a variety of reasons, films that show us what life for two billion people on the other side of the globe is like is essential, and American factory shows us how that culture is on a collision course with our own so well. This is easily the one documentary of 2019 that’s a must watch.

13. 1917: While I don’t agree with the criticisms of 1917 that paint its storytelling and character development as thin or vapid, it’s undeniable that what really sells the story that Sam Mendes inherited from his grandfather is the marvel of how it was made, from the cinematography to the production design to the music and everything in between. People have unfairly compared this to Call of Duty, when more fitting, narrative driven video game comparisons such as Uncharted and God of War exist.

12. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: With this and Can You Ever Forgive me?, Marielle Heller is quickly becoming one of my favourite directors, able to see past the flashy nature of the headline of a story and get to the nitty gritty of what makes the people it’s about tick. ABDITN could have easily been a shallow retelling of the life of Fred Rogers. Instead it’s a deeply moving story about the struggles of a man who happened to come across him in a time of crisis to interview him, and how his life was affected by their interactions. And what better movie about Mr. Rogers could there be than one where the effect he had on people is on prominent display, rather than the man himself?

11. Little Women: I experienced reticence going in to Little Women because Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird didn’t have the effect on me that it did on most. But her skill as a writer and filmmaker finally clicked with me about halfway through this film, at which point it becomes crystal clear how she’s able to bring characters and their motivations and struggles to life. Little Women has a brilliant, unique screenplay (for a film based on a book that’s been adapted countless times already) and a phenomenal cast that make it memorable and modernizes its message for present day.

10. Knives Out: I’ve been watching a lot of old movies lately, including noir films and murder mysteries, so Knives Out really hit the spot. I already liked Rian Johnson’s work, but any writer/director who recognizes an under-appreciated genre and decides to revitalize it (and also modernize it in fun ways) gets bonus points from me.

9. The Farewell: I feel like I have the same points to make about The Farewell as I had about American Factory, as it goes to great lengths to expose its audience to Chinese cultures and traditions (albeit in this case about family rather than work ethic). But this is also a phenomenal movie about family that anyone can relate to even if they can’t wrap their heads around the idea of keeping an illness from a loved one. In that sense The Farewell justifies itself really well and makes itself very accessible to audiences that might not share those customs, without sacrificing its uniqueness. Also, Awkwafina delivers one of the best performances of the year and should have been up for the Oscar.

8. Marriage Story: Marriage Story has been memed to death at this point since everyone got to see it on Netflix in December, but I think that’s really taken away from all the great aspects of the movie. The performances are what shine, of course (in another year or perhaps a parallel dimension we’d be talking about Oscar Winners Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson on top of Laura Dern), but the film also features fantastic writing and direction from Noah Bombauch, who not only finds a way to tell a very difficult story in an entertaining and moving way, but also manages to sneak in an adaptation of Sondheim’s Company in the middle of the film.

7. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum: Instead of ranting and raving about all the reasons I loved the 3rd John Wick, how about we just watch the knife museum scene again?

6. Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood: Similarly, my appreciation for Quentin Tarantino’s latest film could probably be best expressed by the gif below. But to be honest, there’s so much more to love about OUATIH. It’s much more fun than Tarantino’s last few films without sacrificing his trademark violence or what he’s learned in this late stage of his career as a filmmaker. He gets some of the best performances of of the careers of his actors and Brad Pitt was entirely deserving of the Oscar he won. And the way he recreated this era of Hollywood is a marvel to witness. But also, the gif.


5. Uncut Gems: Objectively the Oscars’ worst snub of the year, perhaps of the decade. A performance of this caliber from Adam Sandler is as rare as the jewel he’s after in the movie, and the tension and realism crafted by the Safdie Brothers was unmatched this year.

4. Avengers: Endgame: Every year gives us a new reason to stop being pretentious about superhero movies. You can have a legitimately good scifi movie like Logan, socially evocative films like Black Panther and Wonder Woman, but it’s also nice when one of them doesn’t lose sight of what they are, and manages to bring comic books to life better than any movie before them. Endgame is that movie. I will never not nerd out watching any number of scenes from this film, notably when all the heroes return and gather around a battered and bruised Captain America. I’d say that we’ll never see anything like it again, but this is Marvel we’re talking about.

3. Rocketman: Everything the objectively terrible Bohemian Rhapsody did wrong last year, Rocketman did right. It involved the agenda-less artist to tell as accurate a story as possible but also gave the film the flair and panache that artist has always deserved. This isn’t a biopic, it’s a musical. They actually put effort into the music and making this movie fun, and it’s actually Taron Egerton singing the entire time. Why this movie got left by the wayside last year will leave me perplexed for a long time.

2. Midsommar: I saw Midsommar late in its theatrical run completely alone in a dingy local theater and it was perhaps the best cinematic experience I’ve had in a good long while. The film is unnerving and scary despite being super bright, the violence is well-timed and perfectly gory, and Florence Pugh delivers a pitch perfect performance in the most disconcerting breakup movie of all time.

1. Parasite: You don’t need me to tell you why Parasite is good at this point, just go watch it. Instead I’ll just marvel at the fact that the Academy managed the seemingly impossible feat of awarding best picture to the consensus best movie of the year. The fact that they did it with a South Korean movie entirely in a foreign language is even more impressive. Question is whether is this the exception to the rule or the start of a new era. Hopefully the latter!

Best of the Rest: A list of all the other movies I enjoyed to a certain extent or another in 2019 and want to shout out but naturally didn’t fit in my top 20!

Us, Jojo Rabbit, Yesterday, Always Be My Maybe, The Last Black Man in San Fransisco,  Late Night, Spider-Man: Far From Home, The Lighthouse, The Report, One Child Nation, Apollo 11, Glass,  Cold Pursuit, Pokemon Detective Pikachu, Shazam!, Long Shot, Rambo: Last Blood, Aladdin, Alita: Battle Angel, Between Two Ferns: The Movie, High Flying Bird, Fighting With My Family, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, Stuber 

‘Mandy’ Review [Fantasia Film Festival 2018]


Nicolas Cage is a good actor. This is an objective fact. I could point you to his 1995 Academy Award winning performance in Leaving Las Vegas, or the variety of great performances he’s put in over the years (Raising Arizona, Adaptation), or how he was able to transform himself into an action star in the late nineties with some legitimately great blockbusters (Face/Off, Con Air, The Rock). But you know and accept all of this deep in your heart. Sure, the list of bad Nicolas Cage movies is probably twice as long as the good ones, but, listen, I’m not going to be that chastises the guy for getting paid for his work., and I never really thought anything away from his good performances.

The thing about Nicolas Cage (and I swear I’m tying this with a serious face), is that he always brings the exact same 100% to every role. Good or bad, if you’re getting Cage, you’re always going to get every single bit of Cage, and that’s led to performances that, to put it lightly, some may deem to be over-the-top or ridiculous. Be it Moonstruck or The Croods, National Treasure or Knowing, you’re going to get the same Nicholas Cage every single time. His self-described acting style is “nouvea-shamanic” or “Western Kabuki.” That’s crazy, but it also makes him unique, and it’s a big part of why I tend seek out as many of his movies as possible.

I feel as if this preamble is necessary before talking about a movie like Mandy (screened at the 2018 Fantasia Film Festival), because, quite frankly, it might be the craziest Nicolas Cage movie yet. And I’m well-aware of how loaded a claim that may be, but take one look at the trailer and you’ll see what I mean. Mandy is a hazy, neon, fucking metal movie that is visceral, emotional, deliberately paced, insanely violent, and delightfully gory, and these are all things that a peak Cage performance slots into perfectly.

From director Panos Cosmatos (son of George, director of movies like Rambo and Tombstone) and set in the mysterious, mystical, slightly evil Shadow Mountains of the Mojave Desert in California, in the early eighties,  Mandy is very simply a movie about a man named Red (Cage) who must avenge his girlfriend, the titular Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), after she is captured by a cult led by the charismatic Jeremiah (Linus Roache). It’s a simple, familiar premise that, outside of the existence of relatively unexplained supernatural elements throughout the course of the film, plays out in a relatively straightforward fashion. The first act of the movie is all about Mandy, as the film digs deep into her and Red’s relationship, why it works, how much they love each other and why they’re so happy living alone in the woods, on the outskirts of society.  The second act introduces evil forces that quite easily and ferociously break their bond, sending Red on a downwards spiral, leading him into his quest for straight up, good old fashioned American revenge (the third act).

That probably isn’t far off from the plot of dozens of other films. What sets Mandy apart has to be seen to be believed, experienced rather than explained. The first half of the film is deliberately plodding, setting up the Nicolas Cage freakout scene to end all Nicolas Cage freakouts. The type of scene that could easily fit into that YouTube compilation we’ve all seen a hundred times. A scene that’s everything you want it to be and more, a tracking shot where Cage delivers the performance on his and only his terms, leading us into the final half of a movie that really follows through on every aspect of vengeance that it promises its lead character. There’s a scene where Red fashions a badass steel axe. Another where he visits his friend named Caruthers (Caruthers!!) played by Bill Duke to get back the crossbow he gave him when he decided to settle down and presumably stop murdering people with crossbows. There are wild supernatural creatures in insane armored outfits straight out of a death metal music video that Cage murders over the course of some elaborately choreographed fight scenes. There’s even a goddamn chainsaw fight. The first hour of Mandy may be slow and plodding almost to a fault, but the second hour delivers in every way imaginable. It’s a third act jam-packed with every cool old school action movie trope you could possibly think of, some of it going well beyond any recognizable border of sanity.

Mandy is a movie that is literally build for and around the Nicolas Cage freakout, a scene that presents itself (successfully, thanks to how seamlessly Cage’s performance blends with Cosmatos’ directing) as a pivotal moment, meant to sell you on Red’s grief and the rage he carries deep inside. The film never delves into Red’s past, but you can probably guess that no one moves to the woods to become a lumberjack that late in life if they’re not trying to escape some shadiness. They certainly don’t store crossbows at their friends house if they aren’t worried about what they might do with them. Red doesn’t need a backstory, because that one scene where he’s losing his shit in the bathroom is all you really need. It’s a ridiculous scene, don’t get me wrong, and if you see it with a big enough crowd, it will likely draw its fair share of snickering and laughing, but it still works, because it exists in a place where everything around it is equally ridiculous. It doesn’t really come out of nowhere – this isn’t Nicolas Cage screaming about bees or turning into a vampire – because it’s already been established that he’s grieving in and reacting to a world invested with evil Iron Maiden video extras and cult leaders who love The Carpenters and have elaborate rituals for revealing their penises. Cosmatos views the Nicolas Cage freakout through this hazy, neon lens with all of the sensibilities of the era that Mandy is set in, complete with beautiful, complimentary cinematography from Benjamin Loeb and the final score from the late great Johan Johansson.

Mandy works because it embraces the insanity of Nicolas Cage and builds around it. It’s a movie made specifically for him and what he’s capable of and wants to do. Cosmatos and his movie understand and embrace the kind of performance that Cage and only Cage can provide, and it makes them a match made in heaven. And if you like a good Nic Cage freakout, if you like gory, cathartic violence through straightforward, matter-of-fact storytelling, then Mandy is the movie for you, and it gets 7.5 Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit compilations out of 10.


‘Lifechanger’ Review [Fantasia Film Festival 2018]



A great idea for a science-fiction/horror movie will only go so far in and of itself. Execution is paramount, and executing on an indie film can be a near impossible task these days, even with the greatest of ideas, as indie filmmakers often face seemingly insurmountable odds. Between the sheer amount of movies out there, indie or otherwise, with expansive budgets and recognizable faces and names attached, it’s hard to skate by on merely just a great idea. A movie like Lifechanger, written and directed by prolific Toronto indie horror filmmaker Justin McConnell, and which had its world premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival last week, needs to find an edge and needs to be made competently to avoid being labeled as yet another supernatural slasher flick (of which there are a dime a dozen at a fest like Fantasia).

Luckily, Lifechanger more than delivers in this regard, presenting audiences with a well-written, sleekly-made film that supersedes the conceits of a premise which may have wound up overwrought or pedestrian in the hands of another filmmaker. You probably won’t recognize very many, if any of the actors, and you’ll have to adjust your expectations for the limited special effects and action sequences, but otherwise, this is a solid sci-fi/fantasy horror film with an original, well-executed premise.

Lifechanger follows a man simply known as Drew (voiced in narration by Bill Oberst Jr.) who, for decades, has had the ability to assume the form of any person he comes in contact with. To call it an ability might be over-selling it, as we quickly find out that it’s more of a curse. Drew “absorbs” the form of the people he interacts with, leaving behind empty, dead carcasses that he disposes of at a farm in the country. And he doesn’t have much of a choice, as eventually, his body begins to fall apart and he must move on to his next victim. On top of the regular, blasé instances of self-sustaining murder, Drew is also no stranger to killing people outside of when he does it for his metamorphosis, usually to cover his tracks when someone in the life of whoever identity he’s assumed gets an inkling that something’s wrong. So the viewer is presented with a bit of an internal struggle; Drew justifies his action because he deems it his only means of survival, uncertain of what might happen if he succumbs to the degenerative state of each new body he morphs into. Yet he also murders outside of this, and while he claims not to like it, a self-destructive pattern isn’t exactly a justification for serial murder. Drew is a flawed person and most certainly an antihero. He’s selfish, destructive, and has lost the ability to care about anything other than himself. He’s also an addict, barely trying to justify his substance abuse of cocaine and painkillers as things that will help sustain his current form longer. The film doesn’t try to hide this, as Oberst Jr.’s grim, self-loathing narration has more of a tinge of noir to it, reminiscent of all the Maltese Falcon style of films that inspired things like Max Payne.

In any case, we’re meant to empathize with Drew because he’s on what appears to be a final mission, at the end of his journey, as each body lasts him less time than the last, on a quest to make amends with Julia (Lora Burke), the only woman he ever loved, a girlfriend he was forced to abandon at the worst possible moment, when he had to swap bodies. Every new body he takes over, every move he makes is about making things right with her, but as he tries to get close to her with every new form, things get more and more dire and Drew get sloppier, leaving a trail of bodies and mistakes in his wake destined to catch up with him.

Lifechanger works because it’s more than its cool concept. It works because Justin McConnell has something to say through this character. He has a journey on which to take us, through him, a full-fledged story to tell. One that works outside of the parameters of a shapeshifting serial killer. The kind of thing that could work as a character study, as a story about regrets and fleeting love. This is a story as much about a not about a shapeshifter as it is about a flawed man willing to do anything for love, a man with at least a semblance of dimension to him; whereas other movies might make Drew the villain.

Drew has been shapeshifting and therefore murdering for a long time, unencumbered, seemingly, by the law, and relatively comfortable in every new body he comes across. Throughout the film we see him as several young women, a cop, a dentist, and much more, and he explains certain tips and tricks that allow him to stay in a body longer, such as cocaine and painkillers. Basically, the point is that Drew is an addict, be it to substances or his pattern of shapeshifting and murder. It has a kind of noir tinge to it, aided by Oberst Jr.’s grim, self-loathing narration.

What McConnell accomplishes is especially impressive considering a vast array of actors who have to play not only the characters that Drew murders, but eventually, Drew himself. Over the course of the film Drew is a cop, a dentist, several young women and much more, and the actors, despite being mostly unknowns (many of which have but a few credits on their IMDb), do a pretty good job of making you believe that they’re as much Drew as they are their original character. Barring any restrictions of whatever pool of actors McConnell would have had access to with his budget, this honestly feels like a deliberate choice. Drew is supposed to be good at what he does, with decades upon decades of experience as a shapeshifter and murderer. We’re supposed to believe that he can pass as a receptionist at a dentist’s office as much as we’re supposed to believe him as the dentist himself. Some of these actors do better than others, and getting over that hump might be the tallest task that McConnell asks of the viewer, but they mostly do a fine job under the circumstances.

I’d be curious to know what a movie like Lifechanger would look like with a huge budget, but in many ways that would defeat the purpose. The elevator pitch is that this is a movie about a shapeshifting serial killer, but in reality, it’s a little deeper than that. It’s a movie about the lengths that a flawed person would go to in order to feel the fleeting warmth of love, and how dangerous such a person can be in moments of pure selfishness. It’s about the characters, and that’s something that the filmmaker takes more seriously than you would expect from such such a film, all while being keenly aware of the limitations around him. This is probably the smartest way to make a microbudget indie movie. Lifechanger accomplishes a lot with the short amount of rope that it’s handed, and therefore it gets 7 lifeless carcasses out of 10.

‘Under The Silver Lake’ Review [Fantasia Film Festival 2018]

The word “homage” can often illicit negative reactions when it’s used to describe a movie or a filmmaker. Even masters of the style, such as Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, can often be accused of slipping over into something less celebratory when they employ it in their work. Yet I can think of no more appropriate word to describe David Robert Mitchell’s third feature film, Under The Silver Lake (screened last week at the 2018 Fantasia Film Festival). At the risk of sounding pretentious, it even feels like an homage to an homage, as it is a movie blending different genres and even different eras of  filmmaking, and chalk-full of references to as well as actual footage of existing work. Maybe it’s just as tacky to call Mitchell’s film a love lever, but that’s honestly what it feels like he’s going for, and, for the most part, it’s a style that mostly works.

Under The Silver Lake is a movie about a perennial slacker named Sam (Andrew Garfield) who doesn’t seem to have a clear line of work, constantly living within a few days of eviction and homelessness yet more concerned about scoring with every girl that crosses his path. The film’s plot kicks off when he meets Sarah (Riley Keough), a gorgeous Manic Pixie Dream Girl that catches his eye while he’s checking out the action in the pool area of his building between hook ups with another girl (played by Riki Lindhome but interestingly never named). His first interaction with Sarah ends too soon, but his quest to woo her is cut short when he discovers that her apartment has been emptied. Sam is further dismayed when he fears Sarah to be dead, launching him into a sweeping mystery as an increasingly ridiculous set of conspiracy theories unfold before him.

The film is officially described as a “neo-noir black comedy crime thriller”, and it probably deserves all of those qualifiers and more. Under The Silver Lake is about a lot of things on paper, as throughout its 140 minute run time Sam is tasked with unraveling a number of increasingly elaborate mysteries and taken on various side quests. Sam runs the gamut of Mitchell’s version of hipster LA, attending parties in the weirdest settings with the most ridiculous of entertainment, like a balloon dancer and a band that calls itself “Jesus and the Brides of Frankenstein” and movie screenings in cemeteries. Everyone he comes across is in every new location he visits, and everything is purposely interconnected. This is a movie that is made to feel small, close-knit, even though the supposed message it presents is grand and sweeping.

And that’s on purpose, as Mitchell sells us this homage full of homages with an eventual message that feels deep and personal and the main character and why he sets out on this quest. Honestly, without spoiling anything, it’s probably one of the only things about the movie that didn’t work for me, as it comes out of nowhere after most of the movie is spent completely unconcerned with who Sam really is or what he cares about. The end of the film, as it pertains to Sam’s arc and journey, it meant to convey that he’s learned something deep and meaningful about himself and why he would go to such lengths to find out what happened to some girl he met, why he would care more about her than himself, but it comes off as flat since this otherwise isn’t a character-driven story. I’m not sure if that ending was a last-ditched effort in the writing stage to salvage a sort of meaningless plot, or if it’s purposely meant as some sort of meta-narrative that went over my head, but I would have been just as happy if this was just a movie about a lazy dude going on a meaningless journey full of dead ends to solve a mystery that doesn’t really matter simply because it’s more interesting than facing his responsibilities. Instead, it’s something else, and it’s sort of tacky.

Anyway, that whole thing sort of had me leaving the theater on a sour note, but having had some time to thing about the movie as a while, I otherwise really enjoyed it. It’s fun, loose, rousingly funny and entertaining from beginning to end. For me, it plays its references and homages perfectly. While they may be too much for some, I thought the way they’re used so heavily and as such a breakneck pace really added something unique to the film. Because Under The Silver Lake manages to balance being a lot of things, thematically, in part by wearing its references and influences on its sleeve, with reckless abandon. It lays a lot of different roots of influence. The most overt as the classic pre-60s films that they literally watch at various points in the film. There’s a lot of Hitchcock in there too. The comparisons you’ll likely see the most are to Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye or David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. I think there’s a lot of early Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino in there too, since every post 1995 indie movie is in some way influenced by some combination of Mallrats/Clerks/Reservoir Dogs/Pulp Fiction. It’s certainly influenced by grunge and college rock (the soundtrack features multiple R.E.M. song, after all). And that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg.

I’m pretty keen of describing Under The Silver Lake as the anti-Wes Anderson film. There’s an attention to detail in Mitchell’s work, because the story demands it, but at the same time, it manages to be all over the place. It’s a movie about patterns that don’t seem to fit together but form a larger mosaic. It purposely borrows from other movies and filmmakers, and their idiosyncrasies, in order to make a point about pop culture as a whole. It’s a movie about a lot of things, but also kind of nothing at all at its core. In a sense, I couldn’t really tell you why this movie exists or why I liked it so much. It just sort of works, and it just manages to be incredibly entertaining.

Under The Silver Lake gets 8.5 movie references out of 10.


‘Blue My Mind’ Review [Fantasia Film Festival 2018]


As someone who has attended and covered Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival for the better part of a decade, I’ve come to expect the unexpected and anticipate the weird. As one of North America’s longest running genre film fests, Fantasia isn’t satisfied with merely presenting attendees with the kind of mainstream horror and science fiction that might get them more clicks and likes. Fantasia is purposely seedy. A good chunk of it wants to operate in the fringes of genre film, because while that kind of stuff might not be as polished or accessible as the kind of horror you can see at a theater chain, it’s the kind of movies that drives filmmaking forward.

Despite all of that, I was still managed to be surprised by one of the first films I managed to see at this year’s festival. I was somewhat late in joining the festivities this year, so Blue My Mind was a late addition to my coverage and went into the Swiss film sort of blind, other than taking a quick peek at the film’s synopsis. And, quite frankly, all that really told me was that this is a coming-of-age drama about a 15-year-old girl named Mia experiencing a transformation all while trying to fit in with the popular girls at school in a new town.

(If you’re a more adventurous filmgoer, and what I’ve said so far appeals to you, I’d suggest closing the window right now (or, you know, checking out some of my other posts) and do the same as I did. If the idea of weird, subversive Swiss filmmaking doesn’t appeal to you, then read on, but be warned that this is as vague as I can be without spoiling what should be a pretty obvious twist.)

But Mia’s transformation isn’t what you’d expect a 15-year-old girl to go through in a movie like this. Blue My Mind plays itself completely straight, almost entirely devoid of any irony or humour. Other than sporadic clues that it leaves in its wake, this is pretty much a straight-up drama about the struggles of being an angsty teenager, going through all the same kind of things any other angsty teenager would. The only difference is that on top of getting her period and facing peer pressure and exposure to alcohol and drugs and sex, Mia just so happens to be, well, turning into a mermaid.

I’m not sure if this kind of movie is common in Switzerland, but in North America, our mermaid films are mostly comedies. And our coming-of-age films tend to lean on the comedic side. Yet there is no comparison between Blue My Mind and, say, Splash, The Little Mermaid or Aquamarine. Nor is this Lady Bird or Boyhood. If anything, Lisa Brühlmann’s debut film seems to draw from things like Kafka’s The Metamorphosis or maybe even The Fly, if we’re pushing it. Brühlmann treats what happens to her main character like a serious thing. As a matter of fact, she treats is as one of many serious things that happen to Mia, as there are arguably worse, more jarring things that she goes through in the movie, and the changes to her body could even considered to be a beautiful thing.

With Blue My Mind, Brühlmann is delivering a message of empathy with the struggle of growing up. She’s presenting the coming-of-age story not with the kind of nostalgic, uplifting tone that we’ve become accustomed to even in the more serious American coming-of-age movies, but rather as dry and dark. The end result is a refreshing and unique movie that subverts expectations. Which is especially impressive when you consider that this is Brühlmann’s first movie out of film school, something which I would have never guessed, not with the finely crafted cinematography or crisp storytelling and fine young actors this movie has to offer.

Blue My Mind is the weird, unique, well-made and the perfect kind of movie for Fantasia. 7.5 angsty sea creatures out of 10.



‘Justice League’ is a surprisingly enjoyable superhero movie, once divested of its own hype

This past November, I did something crazy. For the first time that I can remember, a major studio superhero movie based on beloved comic book characters came to theaters, and I didn’t go to see it on opening weekend. In fact, I wound up abstaining from seeing this particular film in theaters completely, opting instead to wait the better part of nine months for it to hit premium cable (one of the remaining benefits of a cable subscription). Anyone who knows me might ask me if something is wrong at this point, as this is unusual behaviour for me. Bad reviews generally don’t keep me away from these movies, and outside of the pitfalls of my own fandom and the frivolous nature of my entertainment spending, there’s actually a reason for that; there’s something about seeing this kind of movie just as it comes out with a revved up fan base. Something about being among the first people to see characters you’ve grown up with come to life, and doing it in a communal setting where it’s okay to get excited, to react.

As a result, even a bad comic book movie can be a good theater experienced. I’m sure we all remember some of these movies fondly after first seeing them, only to revisit them some time later to find they don’t hold up, quizzically pondering how you could have ever enjoyed, say, Thor: The Dark World in the first place.

But for some reason, I didn’t want to do that mental math in the run up to this particular November 2017 release, which, by now, you’ve probably guessed isn’t the excellent follow up to The Dark World, but instead a D.C. movie released a few weeks later called Justice League.

In retrospect, I can’t say exactly why I decided to draw the line here when it came to their movies. Sure, this post-Christopher Nolan DC Extended Universe had burned me more often than it didn’t, but even bad DC movies like Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad had moments that allowed them to fall firmly in that “theater experience” field, and Wonder Woman was a step up a few months earlier. With a potentially net positive director change during production in the form of one Joss Whedon, with the promise of uniting even more beloved DC characters, with the general hype that surrounds these movies, you’d think it’d be a can’t miss. And yet, here I am, having missed up.

Until this past weekend, when it debuted on my premium cable package and I decide to give it a whirl in the midst of a lazy Sunday, in a vacuum devoid of the initial hype and backlash that raged among fans, critics and general moviegoers. And despite the reticence that pushed me away back in November, despite every negative reviews and all the behind-the-scenes shake-ups that have occurred at DC Films ever since the supposedly modest $650 million worldwide gross of the film had executives at Warner Bros demanding heads on platters, I have to say that I had a pretty good time with this movie.

Maybe that’s not the ringing endorsement to be expected after that diatribe of a lead-up, but I went into this thing expecting the worst. I had psyched myself into believing that there’s no way this monstrosity of a superhero team-up movie could be any good, but in reality, I was just a victim of whatever reverse-hype voodoo has been cast upon these movies ever since Zack Snyder was brought on board. I suppose I feared that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy Justice League the way I wanted to. The added bonus of not having to pay $18 bucks to see it in 3D with assigned seating opening night, of not having to schlep out to the movie theater and coordinate plans with all my friends, to deal with the guy in front of me on his phone and the one beside me chewing his popcorn too loudly, it took the pressure off.

I’m not exactly sure what that means, or if I’m trying to get to some larger point about the state of the movie industry and how going to the theater has, more often than not, turned into a chore, which sucks as a lover of movies. I’m not sure if that counts as a silver lining for Warner Bros, which knew that this movie wouldn’t meet its expectations long before it subverted mine. I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that the movie culture we currently find ourselves in doesn’t allow for patience, and that’s beginning to be kind of a problem.  The way all of this works, with Rotten Tomatoes and opening weekend box offices and award ceremonies and year-end best of lists, it forces us into this very binary decision-making process that means we have to accept or reject something like a Justice League at first glance. The lion’s share of DCEU movies have been, to a certain extent, eyeroll enducing, so seeing what Justice League was shaping up to be made me check out before it even came out, and made me miss out on something that I could have enjoyed in the moment. And it’s at least the fourth time it’s happened to me in 2018 with a calendar 2017 movie that I chose to skip, after Roman J. Israel Esq., Logan Lucky and Kong: Skull Island were so good that I’m mulling redoing my list of best 2017 movies.

So, why should that idea of enjoying something in the moment matter? Well, the quickness at which these things move suggests that if we don’t support even a big tentpole like Justice League when it first comes out, the people that make it are going to treat that as a failure and move forward differently. My enjoyment of Justice League may not have been any different on Sunday, July 15th, 2018 than it would have on November 15th last year, but since Warner Bros didn’t see my money back then, they’ve gone through multiple shakeups behind the scenes and greenlit some bizarre shit, like multiple Joker movies (with different actors playing The Joker). There’s even talk of replacing Ben Affleck as Batman and lord knows what’s happening outside of the already-confirmed Wonder Woman sequel and December’s Aquaman.

And while Justice League is by no means a perfect movie, that’s kind of a shame. Because I would have been curious to see how the DCEU could have evolved if Joss Whedon had been handed the reigns, if they took Zack Snyder’s vision, as messy as it was, and steered it towards what Whedon had already done at Marvel and moved forward from there. The movie is kind of a Frankenstein’s Monster of both Snyder and Whedon’s styles, with Whedon’s wit, comedic chops and melodrama sticking out like a sore thumb in between Snyder’s juvenile, CGI-riddled explodathon sensibilities. But Whedon is a talented directed, and whatever he did to patch this thing together made it sort of work. You can see him applying what he did to Marvel here, and while Marvel has moved on to insane new heights in his absence, the foundation he laid is still very much visible. Whedon could have brought a lot to the DCEU, and it shows.

Whedon’s humour and snap is a welcome edition to a universe that had previously been the bud of many jokes about the unnecessary levels of grit and darkness. Inserting that into a movie like Justice League, which doesn’t have much of a point to it and where the stakes are questionable at best, makes it a sloppy endeavor where little makes sense and nothing really matters. Whedon likely came on board too late to have a true impact, so we don’t get his signature Death In The Family to build stakes maneuver, nor do we get any worthwhile twists and turns. This is a straightforward movie. The world is reeling following Superman’s death, open to otherworldly threats that Superman’s mere presence pushed away. Batman puts together a team to protect the planet, but they’re not strong enough without Superman to stop it, so they (checks notes) ah yes, bring him back from the dead and them easily take out the bad guy.

Listen, the plot is bad. The action is riddled with CGI, but most of it looks good and there are some good – if forgettable – action sequences. But I liked a lot of the humour, I liked most of the character development and I liked that the movie decided to have some fun with itself wherever Whedon was able to insert it. The jokes largely land, the characters that are supposed to be funny are enjoyable, and you can feel that, despite likely knowing what kind of a mess they had gotten themselves into, the cast had started to develop a comradery. Ezra Miller’s depiction of The Flash is completely different than the one we see in the TV show, and I want more of it. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is dumb and speaks in monosyllabic catchphrases, but Momoa is so charismatic that he makes the jocky surfer dude version of this character work. Ben Affleck, I maintain, is a underrated Batman, an older depiction of a Bruce Wayne done giving fucks and fully on board with using his billions to finance the most ridiculous gadgets and vehicles possible. It’s such a shame that it’s likely the last time we’ll see him portray the character, because I truly believe that a Batfleck solo movie could have been a different, special kind of Batman we had never seen on the big screen before, more comic-accurate than ever before.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the other three characters here, however. Henry Cavill’s Superman shows signs of growing a dimension but likely needed more screen time to make it work. Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is a plot device at best. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman talks about how much she misses Steve Trevor so much that it actually becomes a joke in the movie, likely added by Whedon when he realized he couldn’t make the dialog work if he removed the instances of it that were already filmed. But none of them are abjectly terrible, and while the movie could have been finer around the edges, more developed and meaningful for such an iconic team-up, it had enough moments and was occasionally gratifying and funny enough that it made for perfect Sunday afternoon viewing. As sloppy as it wound up being , I’m glad that it exists in this form.

It’s just such a shame that DC got this whole thing backwards. Josh Whedon took characters that Marvel had spent years making us care about and gave us something special when he teamed them up. DC took characters that they insist we’re supposed to care about, teamed them up with others that we don’t, and brought in the same guy to patch it together after it broke apart. And my dude did a fairly decent patchwork of it.

Maybe in a world devoid of all that pressure felt back in November, maybe in this post-Infinity War world (which I can’t believe I didn’t even really think about when watching the movie and then thinking about it), it’s easier to just sit back and enjoy something like Justice League for what it is, rather than what I expect it to be. And that’s fine, movies should stand the test of time, at least longer than their opening weekend. It just gives me a lot to think about as a moviegoer and raises interesting questions on the subject of being in the moment of a given film’s zeitgeist.

The moral here is, if you skipped out on Justice League last year, give it a shot outside of the context of how it was made and released, try to enjoy it for what it is and what it is only. It’s surprisingly worth the time.