The Observer is a movie buff of some renown, even though the ticket prices and fees and concession prices and all the other stuff that pays for Brad Pitt and our local theater owner to live in the style he is accustomed to can really rack up. Every once in awhile, however, when finances will allow, the price is a burden we’re willing to bear for that experience we’ve loved since Yours Truly was a kid, seeing movies down at the ol’ Royal Theater in Benton: entering the silent, dimly lit, faintly popcorn-scented temple to dreams made of light, settling yourself in and getting lost in somebody else’s world for a while. Junior, who will somehow turn 20 years old this month, broad-shouldered and shot up taller than his Old Man seemingly overnight like Jack’s magic beanstalk, rarely has time to hang with dear ol’ Dad these days, what with his college studies and cram-packed social calendar. We can, however, still coax him out occasionally for a trip to the flickers, which has made The Observer treasure our time at the movie house even more.
We’ve seen quite a few flicks this year, which is odd for The Observer, given the factors we’ve outlined above. Back in the day, The Observer used to review movies for the mighty publication you are perusing right now, as well as spending almost a decade teaching young folks about the intricacies of cinema out at the college. We miss both those pursuits greatly, so here, at the tail end of 2019, we thought we might genuflect to the great God of journalists, Phil D. Hole, by doing some brief reviews of a few of the notable winners and stinkers we’ve seen this year.
“Terminator: Dark Fate”: When Hollywood spends $196 million making a movie about a 63-year-old grandmother launching shoulder-fired anti-tank grenades opposite a 72-year-old grandfather playing a cyborg just so they can cash in on your nostalgia rather than doing the harder work of cooking up a new idea for a movie franchise, the entire industry needs to be slowly lowered into the molten steel for a final thumbs-up. When they get around to digging up Christopher Lloyd and pair him with a CGI-youthized Michael J. Fox for “Back to the Future Part 4,” skip that, too. GRADE: C+
“The Lighthouse”: Bleak, beautiful and black-and-white. If history is any guide, the Three Bs would be a sure-fire formula for Oscar chum even if Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson — the latter having shed every crumb of the vampiric body glitter he displayed in those terrible “Twilight” movies — didn’t manage to turn in Oscar-caliber performances. “The Lighthouse” is an eerie movie that will make you feel like somebody laced your popcorn with angel dust, in all the right ways. Our money is on four-time nominee Dafoe to finally take home a statuette for this one, if Joaquin Phoenix (see below) doesn’t beat him to the microphone. GRADE: A
“Overlord”: Zombies? Nazis? G.I. Joes? “The Dirty Dozen” meets “Evil Dead,” we guess? We don’t remember a lot about this one, which is probably the gore-trauma and our brain’s bullshit detector working in tandem. GRADE: D-
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show”: We caught this one again for the umpteenth time just before Halloween, and we’ve got to say that, while we admit we thought of Tim Curry’s corseted, stiletto-heeled Dr. Frank N. Furter as some kind of dangerous weirdo when we first laid eyes on this movie years ago, the wisdom of age has brought us around to the truth: Nobody was ever more badass than Frank. Also, can you believe this movie came out while Gerald Ford was in office? GRADE: A+ with a cherry on top.
“Captain Marvel”: Editor’s note: The following is not a commentary on women, women in film, women in Hollywood, the power and/or resilience of women, superhero movies starring women, or the acting talents of Brie Larson, who knocked our socks off, and everyone else’s, in her Oscar-winning turn in 2015’s claustrophobic “Room”: Meh. Don’t @ me. GRADE: C-
“Doctor Sleep”: While Ewan McGregor does solid work as Danny Torrance (the all-grown-up kid from Stephen King’s “The Shining” who still sees dead people), a kinda dumb plot about a tribe of psychic vampires and an extended scene where a Little Leaguer gets gruesomely tortured to death kinda put a damper on this one. Until, that is, the third reel, when the action leads our heroes to return to the Overlook Hotel, abandoned after Jack Torrance went all axe-murdery, with the sets lovingly recreated to match those seen in Stanley Kubrick’s iconic “The Shining” down to the absolute smallest detail. Can’t we just, you know, spend two or three hours hanging out there with the ghosts? GRADE: B
“Joker”: Another super-bleak look at the human condition carried along by an epic performance, it’s our favorite film of the year. Engrave Joaquin Phoenix’s name on the Best Actor Oscar now. GRADE: A
“Us”: Once you manage to suspend your disbelief about a family attacked by their feral dopplegangers — with your belief-suspender forced to go all the way to 11 over the absurd, “exactly how would that work?” answer to where the doubles come from who are showcased in the last act — writer/director Jordan Peele manages to create one of the most unsettling flicks of the past few years while taking the next step toward his coronation as a 21st century master of auteur horror. GRADE: B+
Happy holidays, dear readers. The Observer will see you right back here next year. Here’s hoping 2020 will be a healthy, happy and prosperous one for you and yours. Us, too.