The Death of Stalin, 2017 – ★★★★½

Pitch black satire that might surprise those coming from the relatively light Veep…but probably not. This is brutal (and brutally funny) stuff, as the struggle to find a successor to Stalin travels similar territory to Veep and The Thick of It, but with 1000 percent more fear and firing squads. But if you’ve been watching Iannucci all this time, he’s always been pointing in this direction.
Everybody is perfect, but man, Steve Buscemi’s Nikita Khrushchev is amazing, and Simon Russell Beale is an evil bureaucratic monster playing Lavrentiy Beria.
It warms me ol’ cockles that this is banned in Russia…because you know the underground DVD/file market on this is exploding.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Logan Lucky, 2017 – ★★★½ (contains spoilers)

This review may contain spoilers.

Because SS has made so many heist movies, I wonder what he’s trying out in this new one. I feel mayyyybe he’s seeing what elements he can leave out and still make the film work. Because it’s at a racetrack (albeit a NASCAR one) I couldn’t help but think of The Killing, but there’s very little indulgence in the planning–we barely see them even discuss it–and there’s very little investigation and (spoiler) very little punishment. There are no weak links in the crew though everybody is presented as a potential weak link. In the end, there’s a sort of proletarian support of the crime by everybody save the Feds, and an ending that suggests that while justice might be just around the corner, the film could care less. Great frikkin’ soundtrack, btw.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Annihilation, 2018 – ★★★½

Bits of Arrival, Stalker, J.G. Ballard novels, Possession, and yes, a bit of Monsters and Predator. Natalie Portman leads a group of doomed women into a “forbidden zone” where alien life is replicating and copying life at a mutated pace. At the same time, as some have pointed out, a metaphor about depression, where all the characters are manifestations of dealing with trauma. Understandably not a favorite with the crowds because the execution and the metaphor begin to peel away from one another. However, very enjoyable in a headtrip way on the big screen with amazing sound design and soundtrack. Deep Dream meets Rousseau.

Also: nobody seems to care this is a “doomed army mission” sub-genre piece with a fully female cast.

Also: Actually a bit too straightforward and on-the-nose, which puts it at odds with its preceding film, Ex Machina.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Paddington, 2014 – ★★★½

Very, very adorable and cute, with plenty of great Brit actors, a perfect CG bear, moments of sadness and pathos along with smart British TV humor: I went in skeptical but came out with the warm fuzzies. Plus it has a lovely inclusive message without being didactic. Last third does bow to “action movie finale” conventions, but nothing too offensive.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Phantom Thread, 2017 – ★★★½

PTA never disappoints, does he? To go from Inherent Vice to this gothic romance shows his range; to get these performances (and collaboration) out of DDL and Vicky Krieps shows his skill and talent; and to make the audience increasingly uncomfortable as the film nears its end shows the magician in him. I was entranced the whole way through. Beautiful score too, whether it be Greenwood’s originals or the Debussy/Ravel pieces.

This was the final Oscar-nominated film I saw this year, the first time in some time (maybe ever?) where I’ve seen all Best Pic noms before the big night. Wheeeee.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Call Me by Your Name, 2017 – ★★★½

As an evocation of a first love during a summer vacation, the film is perfect: vignettes take precedent over plot. As for the romance itself, well, it’s not very romantic and surprisingly chaste, and wouldn’t make too many blush.
Michael Stuhlbarg’s monologue at the end is great (as is Chalamet’s final scene, up there with the ending of Tsai Ming-Liang’s “Vive l’amour” for embracing heartbreak.) But, as Ian McDonald once pointed out about Sgt. Pepper’s, the album would just be good-not-great if it wasn’t for “A Day in the Life,” and Stuhlbarg’s speech is just that. The film rests on those moments, and without it…well, your mileage may vary.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Black Panther, 2018 – ★★★★

Sure this has its problems like any Marvel movie–fight scenes have no weight, powers seem to vary scene to scene, etc.–but have you ever read a Marvel comic? The MCU movies suffer from the same problems in all their comics. BUT! What an amazing world this creates, from the black sand based tech to the sci-fi world building, from the all the bad-ass female fighters to the amazing costume and production design. Many parents are going to have to explain to their kids that Wakanda is not a real place, btw.
A cultural event in the middle of the most racist administration we’ve had since…well, make your choice and discuss among yourselves.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

The Passionate Friends, 1949 – ★★★★

Quite a superb romantic film from David Lean that is also a lesson in old school directing that younger filmmakers could steal whole-heartedly from. Even though Mary and Steven (Ann Todd and Trevor Howard) are the focus, some of the best moments are when Lean settles on Howard’s discovery of the affair. It’s all very Hitchcockian! There are many sublime moments in the film–the gondola ride into the clouds; Mary behind a lace curtain, her face hidden to Howard; the evocation of the rush of air before the Underground train arrives; the flashbacks within flashbacks, along with fantasies and daydreams.

Watched on FilmStruck channel after reading how Paul Thomas Anderson borrowed several elements (including the New Year’s Eve scene) for Phantom Thread.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Ingrid Goes West, 2017 – ★★★½

The first half of this film, a social satire about mental illness crashing into the self-involved world of social media (esp. Instagram, and the worlds we construct therein) is so spot-on that the second half, where the plot chugs in unannounced, can only disappoint. Aubrey Plaza has this character, Ingrid, down perfectly, as we spend most of the film wondering if we should laugh with or at her as she inveigles her way into the world of a Instagram marketer/shallow twee person played by Elizabeth Olsen. Nobody seems to have an actual job; avocado toast is eaten; there’s vaping (O’Shea Jackson, the voice of reason in this film); and all the locations you expect to see (or be referenced) in Joshua Tree are there. As I said, spot on.
It almost craps out near the end too, but the final scene saves it and shows that Matt Spicer knows what he’s doing in his first feature.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills