The House With a Clock in its Walls

I know this movie is based on a book, but I am not familiar with that book. So fans forgive me when I say that The House with a Clock in its Walls is better than it has any right to be. The movie doesn’t really look like anything great; it mostly looks like a second rate Harry Potter knock-off. Luckily, watching it I realized that it is much more than that; The House with a Clock in its Walls feels like nothing less than an update on the Amblin movies of the 80’s and early 90’s that have been largely absent for the last decade and a half (I know Super 8 exists).

After the death of his parents, young Lewis Barnavelt has to move in with his eccentric uncle. His uncle soon reveals himself to be a warlock, or as Lewis repeatedly calls him a boy witch. By some accounts he is a good warlock, in the sense that he is not evil, though he is not particularly adept at magic. However, his neighbor, Mrs. Zimmerman, is a strong sorceress. Uncle Jonathan starts to teach the awkward Lewis to do magic, while searching his odd house for the clock the previous owner left there somewhere that is counting down to something ominous. Soon, Lewis joins the efforts to stop the clock from triggering its cataclysmic countdown.

The performances are kind of uneven. Cate Blanchett is delightful as Mrs. Zimmerman, though way overqualified for this movie. The same goes for Kyle MacLachlan, who is bother overqualified and underused as the undead villain. Jack Black is near perfect as Uncle Jonathan. He brings a sense of wonderfully playful weirdness; it makes him perfectly believable as the slightly incompetent Jonathan. Then there are the kids. I don’t want to crap on young actors, but Owen Vaccaro has some rough moments as Lewis. He’s not really bad, but he isn’t quite up to shouldering all that the movie puts on him. Sunny Suljic, playing his new friend Tarby, is likewise nothing more than fine. This is a movie where kids have to do a lot of the heavy lifting and the kid actors are merely adequate, especially compared to the adults.

The film isn’t perfect. While it does a lot of good work with practical effects, or at least digital effects good enough to appear to be practical, there are some really dodgy shots in the last act that seem out of place. Some of the character beats don’t quite land, and some seem like the meat of them got left on the cutting room floor.

Altogether, the movie is interesting. It is not afraid to leave the sadness and loss in there that a lot of children’s movies don’t really dwell on. Lewis has lost his parents and is having trouble dealing with that trauma. As well meaning as Uncle Jonathan is, he is still kind of bumbling and not really prepared to help this kid through his problems. Mrs. Zimmerman is similarly broken over the loss of her family. That loss plays into the the villain’s plan, whose losses in life have broken him and now he has embraced nihilism.

The House With a Clock in its Walls feels like a throwback to movies that came out when I was a youngster. Movies like The Goonies or Gremlins or *batteries not included. This isn’t quite as good as those movies, but it is certainly fine kids movie.

***1/2

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Suikoden V Sialeeds

To me the most interesting character in Suikoden V is easily Sialeeds. She is in many ways a unique figure in a game with a cast deliberately designed to evoke the past. For one thing, she is the aunt of the protagonist. I can’t say I recall any other JRPG characters with that sort of family relationship with the protagonist. She comes along with the player for much of the first half or so of the game, as an integral part of the hero’s team. She is the one with the knowledge of the political situation and the country’s history that has been kept from the younger characters, like the Prince and Lyon, and unknown to newcomer Georg.

Sialeeds is also just a vibrant character, with an interesting design that says a lot about her. Like the fact that she dyes her hair. Many members of the royal family have silver hair (the Prince, Arshtat, Haswar, though notably not Lymsleia who takes after her father); Sialeeds does as well, though she dyes hers blond as an outward indicator of her estrangement from the royal line. She clearly cares deeply about her family, but in order to keep the peace she has deliberately allowed herself to be sidelined. That makes her an interesting companion for the Prince, who as a male is not in line for the throne and suffers from a similar irrelevance.

Sialeeds puts up this disinterested front. She sleeps late and takes a back seat on all diplomatic missions she goes on with the Prince. She is the fun aunt, but even early on there is an undercurrent of sadness there. Arshtat is clearly losing it, and there is nothing she can do. She has been completely and deliberately removed from any place of power.

That brings in her tragic backstory; really the tragedy of the entire Royal Family of Falena’s story. As the game eventually reveals, the generation before the present one in the game was marked by infighting among the various branches of the royal family. Queen Arshtat and Sialeeds’ mother was the younger sister and their cousin Haswar’s mother the older. Using ties to noble families, including the Barows and Godwins, and the assassins at Nether Gate, Arshtat’s mother schemed her way onto the throne. She left much destruction in her path, including Marscal Godwin’s wife. Arshtat, Sialeeds and Haswar were determined to not let history repeat, so when Arshtat took the throne, Haswar became the Oracle at Lunas, which meant that she would not be able to marry and have kids, so there would be no competing bloodline. Sialeeds broke off her engagement to Gizel Godwin, determining not to marry and create a possible rival royal line. By all indications, Sialeeds and Gizel were happily engaged, but Sialeeds sacrificed her happiness to try to keep peace.

So when civil war breaks out again, Sialeeds is understandably distraught. It also makes her eventual betrayal so surprising; though after the shock of the first time it makes more and more sense. The player knows how she feels about the politics and the nobility of Falena. If the Prince had managed to win when he did, the underlying problem would not have been fixed. Perhaps the Prince and new Queen could have fully defeated the Godwins, but they might have made peace and the plotting would begin all again. Sialeeds joins wanting to force this conflict to its final resolution. To her, Falena needed to be freed from the Barows and the Godwins so the country could move on. Her despair is disappointing and the betrayal shocking, but it is not hard to see her reasoning.

That makes her not unlike Jowy from Suikoden II, who prolongs the war after Luca Blight is defeated out of the belief that as long as both Highland and Jowston existed, there would be war between them. Unlike Jowy, though, there is no way to save Sialeeds in Suikoden V. She will die. Heroically, yes, but also tragically. There aren’t many characters in the series that get permanent deaths like this, outside of the opening hours of the games. At least not among characters that spent a good deal of time as a player character. The shocking death is usually the inciting incident, whether it is Odessa Silverberg in Suikoden 1 or Annabelle in Suikoden 2 or Lulu in Suikoden 3. Suikoden 1 does have the death of the protagonist’s father at about the same point in the game, and while it is tragic, he is mostly an absent figure in the game. The same goes for Suikoden 3’s Jimba. There are sometimes consequences when a player messes up, like with Pahn or Ridley in the first two games. Sialeeds death is inevitable, unavoidable and sadly permanent.

For all of her carefree attitude, her story is a tragic one, with the only silver lining that her plan apparently succeeded. She purposefully limited her life to try to keep the conflicts of the past from rising up again. Those conflicts came anyway, resulting the death of her sister. She deliberately betrayed everyone she loved to join people she hated just so that they could put a stop to the countries troubles once and for all and while she succeeded, it cost her her life.

Between her attitude and her role in the story, Sialeeds is not only the most interesting character in Suikoden V, but among my favorite characters from the PS2 generation of JRPGs.

A Simple Favor

For the vast majority of its runtime, A Simple Favor performs a wonderful balancing act with its tones. The film is a mystery/thriller in the vein of Gone Girl, but it is also a comedy. Those two things really should not mix, but somehow DIrector Paul Feig does it. There are genuine laughs throughout that don’t completely puncture the building tension of the mystery. Then it gets to the end and it all falls apart. Fortunately, the rest of the movie is so good that it is easy to forgive its disappointing ending.

A Simple Favor star Anna Kendrick as Stephanie Smothers, an overprotective single mother who runs a mommy vlog. She strikes up a friendship with Blake Lively’s Emily Nelson, a mother of friend of her child and a high powered executive. Their friendship grows, but soon Emily disappears. This sets off a mystery of what happened to Emily and who exactly Emily was. Both Stephanie and Emily’s husband are suspected.

Initially, the movie does an excellent job of balancing tones, setting up a thriller while also being very funny. That mix of tones also helps develop the friendship between Stephanie and Emily. Without the humor, Emily is an expressly terrible person. She is mean to her kid and husband, she drinks a lot and is frequently just awful. It is played as a joke, and it works, contrasting the uptight Kendrick with the relaxed Lively is delightful. You can see how the lonely Stephanie is taken in by the delightfully awful Emily. It keeps balancing the tones as Stephanie begins to investigate the disappearance. It manages to keep the humor present without completely puncturing the tension.

This sort of thriller, like Gone Girl, tends to not have a lot of place for humor. It naturally lessens the tension that the movie is trying to build. Here, largely by keeping the humor closely related to the characters and not the mystery itself, the movie manages to have its cake and eat it too. At least, it does until the final act. The tension builds through Stephanie’s searching and all the inconsistencies that she finds in Emily’s history and story. But the final revelations alternate between disappointing and laughable. It ends up in complete comedy territory, but it stops being funny. Instead of the character based humor from the start, it relies on slapstick and stupidities. It just doesn’t work.

The ending is undoubtedly disappointing, but that mostly serves to highlight how brightly the rest of the movie shines. Anna Kendrick is delightful as the perky and occasionally sad center of the movie. Blake Lively is perfect as Emily, the only problem is that the structure of the movie keeps her off screen for the bulk of the movie. There is good, real stuff with how the characters deal with loss. Ending notwithstanding, A Simple Favor is a fun, entertaining movie that is well worth seeing.

****

Operation Finale

I can’t help but feel like I should have liked this Operation Finale more than I did. At times it is a supremely moving and thought provoking film. Unfortunately, at other times it is just a second rate thriller. The latter portions drag down the former so the whole experience is merely very good rather than great.

Operation Finale is based on the true story of how Mossad agents located Nazi Adolf Eichmann, in Argentina in 1960 and extracted him to Israel to stand trial for war crimes. After being tipped off about Eichmann’s potential location in Argentina, a team is dispatched to confirm his presence and bring him back to Israel alive. The group includes Peter Malkin, played by Oscar Isaac, who has a reputation of being something of a loose cannon. They capture Eichmann with little difficulty, but then have to hold him until he signs to agree to be tried so they can arrange their flight back. This leads to several tense scenes between Malkin and Eichmann as he tries to convince him to sign. This is played against a backdrop of an increasingly anti-semitic Argentina, as the rhetoric of Fascism rises again.

The movie succeeds on strong performances. Ben Kingsley plays Eichmann, who inspired the phrase “the banality of evil.” He shows his complete justification of his actions; his belief that he can explain his actions in such a way that shows he was right. Oscar Isaac further cements himself as a star, playing the earnest agent who eventually gets to Eichmann. Also present and wonderful, if underused, is Melanie Laurent as an anesthesiologist who is there to help sedate Eichmann. Also shockingly good in a dramatic role is Nick Kroll as another agent present.

The problem is that it fills in the gaps with standard thriller stuff that never really pays off or adds anything. The movie makes a big deal about leaving characters behind during the escape, but nothing happens to those characters, they just have to take a later flight back to Israel. They all show up at the end just fine. The same goes for the thread that Malkin puts his own vengeance over the needs of the mission, an idea that is spoken about but only really portrayed in one scene. It plays his big decision at the end of the movie as something changing, but it literally has no consequences. The movie opens with a botched mission of his, but that had nothing to do with personal anger and was simply mistaken identity. The various threads never really get pulled together into a comprehensible theme.

Still, despite its scattered nature, the strong parts of the movie are definitely worthwhile. The movie ends up feeling like a well made missed opportunity. All the ingredients are there for something great, but somehow it just comes up short

****

Now Playing September 2018

Beaten

Yakuza 0 – read review here.

Yakuza Kiwami – review coming soon.  Shortly, this is a pretty great remake of a game I already really liked.  The Majima Everywhere sidequest stuff is fun on its own, but it doesn’t fit in all that well.

Ongoing

Yakuza Kiwami 2 – I am nearing the end of this. This game is built on a different engine than Yakuza 0 or Kiwami 1 and it took some getting used to. There are a lot of ways that it is an improvement, but I am not sure I actually like more. I was at time frustrated with how limited the usual Kiryu style was in Kiwami and Zero, but at least those games gave options. The fighting options here seems more limited. It might just be that I don’t like Yakuza 2 all that much; I think it may be my least favorite in the series.

Suikoden V – I am still making progress through this game. I didn’t make it quite as far as I had hoped, which was the pivotal moment of the Queen’s Campaign. But I made progress. I will finish this game before the end of the year. I am struggling more than I thought I would with technical limitations. Not the graphics or load times, but the awkward menus and other such similar frustrations. I’ve always known those were a problem with this game, but they have never bothered me as much as they have this time. Like a lot of PS2 games, Suikoden V could really use a remake, I guess.

Inazuma Eleven – I struggled through a bit more. The further I get into this game, the less like the gameplay. Fortunately, the story is increasingly nonsensical. I don’t think we missed much not getting these on the original DS, but I wouldn’t say no to more Inazuma Eleven.

Upcoming

Yakuza 3 – I need a little break from Yakuza, but I’ve decided to turn playing 0-2 into a full series replay leading up to playing Yakuza 6. So that means playing through 3-4-5 on my PS3. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to get through them before the end of the year. 4 and 5 are still fairly fresh in my mind, but it has been a long time since I played Yakuza 3 and I’m eager to play it again. I know that Sega is planning HD re releases for these games, but I have them now and seen no reason to wait.

Final Fantasy XV – I got this for Christmas last year and have barely started on it. I want to play it. I have been hearing very good things from online friends, so if I can fit it in I am going try to put some hours into it.

Super Mario Galaxy – I started this a few months ago, but haven’t really made an effort to much time into it. I plan to get around to it during Fall break.

Etrian Odyssey V – I have never given this game a real chance. Once I finish a couple of books that have been my going to bed routine, a 20 minute dungeon foray will likely replace it.

BlacKkKlansman Review

Spike Lee comes in the with final great movie of the summer with BlacKkKlansman. It is an interesting mixture of tones and subjects that manages to be both entertaining and enlightening. The movie has powerful performances and still sadly relevant subject matter for a movie set 40+ years in the past. There is some unevenness, but the whole thing is an unforgettable experience.

John David Washington stars as Ron Stallworth, the first black cop in the Colorado Springs Police Department. He is at first relegated to the files room, but soon they need him to lead an undercover operation into a black student activist group. From there he gets promoted and ends up in the intelligence division. In his new job he cold calls the KKK to start looking into their activities. He is successful, but he used his real name. That starts a new undercover operation with Flip (Adam Driver) playing Stallworth in public while Ron keeps up his connection over the phone. They work together to infiltrate the group and stop a bombing the KKK has planned.

There is a lot more going on than just the plot. Lee sets up parallels between the black student union activities, and black power movement, and the KKK, showing the surface similarities and more crucially the deep differences. There are the comparisons between the two cops central to this investigation as Flip is Jewish and Ron black. It is also just delightfully entertaining, with some 70’s style on top of what is, outside of its heavy themes, as delightfully fun cop movie. Driver shows once again how great an actor he is. Topher Grace is good as a delightfully contemptible David Duke. John David Washington gives what should be a star making performance; we will see more of him. The movie also has one of the most powerful endings I’ve ever seen, as it punctures the fun the movie had built up and cements connections to the problems the country is currently facing. It ends the movie with a hammer blow that left me in tears.

The only note that rings sour in the film is the scene where all of the good cops catch the bad cop in a sting operation. It just doesn’t work, especially with the captain, who has shown himself in the movie to be at best a tentative ally of the protagonists participating. The scene doesn’t work in the context of the film; it comes out of nowhere and I don’t know why it is there, knowing that that sort of cop is even today rarely punished in any way for that sort of behavior. Still, that is one short scene in a movie that is otherwise excellent.

This year has had quite a run of racially conscious movies, from Black Panther to Sorry to Bother You to Blindspotting to BlacKkKlansman. Other than Black Panther, they are not movies that were on my radar coming into this year, but all of them have turned out to be some of the best I’ve seen this year. I hope this is not a blip but the start of a trend.

****1/2

What I Read in August 2018

I read three rather small books in August, then got sucked into a rather long biography about Napoleon that I still have not finished. Most of these books were bad. I picked up a handful of John MacDonald paperbacks at a library sale, mostly due to the mildly salacious covers some of them had, and finally got around to reading them. Turns out, that wasn’t a great decision; I mostly disliked them.

The Man in the Brown Suit

Agatha Christie

This is another of Christie’s works that doesn’t fit neatly into the mystery genre, like Destination Unknown or Passenger to Frankfurt. The Man in the Brown Suit is a thriller. There is a mystery at the heart of it, but it is mostly about the protagonist’s big adventure. That protagonist, Anne Beddingfield, is the strange mix of dippy and entirely competent. She witnesses a murder on the subway and tries to investigate it. That leads her to South Africa and mystery involving stolen diamonds. On the boat to South Africa, Anne meets a lot of interesting characters and has to try to discover who is the killer. While that sounds like a mystery set up, and that is there, it mostly is just an adventure story, with Anne getting into various scrapes and intrigues as she gets closer to finding everything out. Which she does through accident and persistence, not any understanding of the mystery. While the protagonist is an interesting point of view character for this kind of story, the rest of the book isn’t anything particularly memorable.

The Dreadful Lemon Sky

John MacDonald

Travis McGee meets with an old friend on his boat, who offers him $10,000 to watch a suitcase full of money for her for two weeks. Before that time is up, she winds up dead and Travis sets out trying to find out what happened. Other than some problems on the periphery, this is a pretty solid mystery. Set in coastal Florida, it plays out like kind of sun bleached noir story. Honestly, it was pretty entertaining, easily the best of the three MacDonald books I read.

The problems, which were apparent in this book and cemented as more than an accident in the next two books, mostly have to do with how MacDonald deals with women. I shouldn’t have been surprised, again I bought the books after being intrigued by their slightly lurid covers (though not this one), but MacDonald does not write women well. Or at all, really. At least twice in this book the protagonist, who is otherwise portrayed as a good guy, witnesses first hand men beating women. His reaction both times is that he wished he wasn’t there, because he doesn’t want to get involved or start a fight. As if seeing a drunk man punch his wife shouldn’t already have him intervening. That is the most prominent example, but it is far from the only one. Every woman he meets during his investigation gets the same treatment. McGee also frequently sleeps with them; he is apparently irresistible to women. At least the mystery, having to do with smuggling drugs along the coast, is solid.

On the Run

John MacDonald

This reads essentially like the first half of a Bond story. An old man is dying and wants to see his two estranged grandchildren before he dies. One is a low level scumbag with ties to the mob. The other is on the run and in hiding from mobsters after some unpleasantness with his wife. Eventually, the younger grandson, the one in hiding, is found and convinced to return to see his grandfather. Along the way he falls in love with the nurse sent to track him down. Then tragedy strikes, setting up the main character to seek revenge on the people responsible. Except that is where the book ends, and there were no sequels. It is the first part of a Bond story, where he meets a girl and she dies. Spoilers, I guess. It is just a short novel about how the protagonist is motivated to get revenge on the men who have been trying to kill him for a decade because they killed the woman he loved. Everything else is misdirection and this book sucks.

Yakuza 0

After being one of the best video game series around for the last half decade or so, Yakuza finally got its big break with Yakuza 0, the first game to really explode in much deserved popularity. I have to assume this is mostly down to timing and platform, with Yakuza 0 being the first on the PS4 and access to it’s easy sharing functions, because while Yakuza 0 is a ton of fun ii primarily does the same things as the previous two games in the series. There is no great leap forward in presentation or play to explain this entry’s popularity. There is that it is a prequel, with the implied lack of series baggage. Knowing the series plot history has never been a true hurdle to playing this series; each game tends to knock down all of the dominoes it sets up leaving a clear playing field with the new status quo for the next one. But thinking you have 3 or 4 games worth of story to catch up on can definitely be a perceived hurdle.

The biggest change, gameplay wise, is going from having a handful of playable characters who each have different fighting styles to having just two playable characters who each have several fighting styles. In Yakuza 4 and 5, the game split the story up between 4 different characters who each fought in different ways. (Yakuza 5 also had playable Haruka, who didn’t fight except with dance.) Across the two games you had the familiar Kazuma Kiryu with his balanced style, the hulking Saejima who is slow but powerful, Akiyama with his quick kicks, Tanimura with his counter based style, and Shineda the former baseball player who incorporated his baseball skills into a fighting style. Those are condensed onto Yakuza 0’s two protagonists, Kiryu and new playable character and series mainstay Goro Majima. Kiryu has his own fighting style along with Brawler, a heavy style somewhat reminiscent of Saejima and Rush, a speedy style similar to Akiyama. Majima has his own unique style and a baseball influenced not unlike Shineda. It allows the game to simplify the story while not losing any complexity in the battle system.

The other change is the game’s time setting. Yakuza 0 is set during Japan’s 80’s bubble economy, so money plays a big part in this game. Money does everything. Gone are experience points from previous games, which have been replaced with money. The big sidequests for both Kiryu and Majima involve business ventures that make money hand over fist. You can also go disco dancing and have disco dance battles. For the most part the game retains everything that makes the series great, but it manages to fill in the edges with period detail to make the setting a big draw.

I am mixed on Yakuza 0’s plot. It is largely in line with the rest of the series, which means lots of fights and double crosses alongside long conversations about the nature of masculinity and honor. My problems come from the fact that young Kiryu doesn’t quite work and that the game focuses on him when this should be more fully Majima’s game. Majima, as he has frequently done as a bit player in the grand Yakuza tapestry, steals the show here. But he doesn’t get quite the opportunity he should have.

Kiryu is the stoic rock at the center of the series and this game, which usually works given the what goes on around him. Here, though, he comes off as slightly bland. Instead of being a quite badass, he comes off as something of a nothing. Part of the problem is that young Kiryu doesn’t work as well as the older version from the rest of the series. Even when we first meet him at the start Yakuza 1 Kiryu is a man entering his prime, ready to take full advantage of his abilities. Here he is young and green, his taciturn approach lacks the world weariness that is a huge part of his character in later games. It would have worked better, I think, to have him be a little more hot-blooded, a bit of trouble maker. Kiryu has never shied from using his fists to solve problems, this tale works better with him growing into the man he would become instead of just people realizing what a badass he is. What does work in Kiryu’s story is how it builds his relationship with Nishiki. That never quite worked in the original Yakuza, because the game didn’t really sell Nishiki as a friend before Kiryu went to jail. This game builds that relationship.

Kiryu’s story is kind of familiar; he is framed for murder and ends up expelled from the Dojima Family as he tries to figure out who framed him, eventually setting him against his former allies.

Majima is easily the more interesting character, and his arc could be more fully formed if he had the same story real estate as Kiryu had. At the start, Majima is disgraced, living out of Kamurocho and working running a cabaret club. He wants nothing more than return to his crew, but has no real avenue to do so. His story really gets going when he gets a way back with an order to commit a hit. Except the target turns out to be not what he expected and Majima ends up trying to protect a young blind girl from just about everybody.

The game kind of tracks Majima’s development into the Mad Dog Majima that we all know and love, but that throughline is kind of muddled. You can see the pieces that are supposed to be tied together to build that story, but they never really gel. I won’t lie about the relationship between Majima and Makoto really worked for me. Makoto, for much of the game, isn’t much of a character, but in the middle part of the game she really starts to be an actor in the goings on. The two of them have a kind of genuine romance like this series has never seen. So when it comes to the end [SPOILERS] and Kiryu is the one who is saving her while Majima is simply after revenge [/SPOILERS] it kind of hurts. Especially the last few scenes, where the two of them go their separate ways. The problem is that Majima’s threads seem to get a little short shrift when compared to Kiryu’s comparatively less engaging plotline.

Yakuza 0 is a very good game. It certainly deserves its success. I don’t know that I would put it above any of the PS3 games (I acknowledge Yakuza 3’s shortcomings while really liking its story), but there isn’t a lot of difference in quality between them. I am pumped to get the the other 3 Yakuza games I have on the PS4.

Summer Movie Round Up

Usually I do a wrap up of all the movies I watched during the summer, but this year I am doing a top 10 of the Summer. That is because this summer, thanks to MoviePass, I saw more than 20 films in theaters. It was a top heavy summer, so there are several movies I quite liked that didn’t make the top 10, a big change from years where I listed everything thing I saw and ran out of good movies by number four or five on the list. So just because a movie is not on the list doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. (I’m talking about Solo) I will call out three movies I saw this summer that I would call bad. The first is Sicario: Day of the Soldado, which was disappointing from a craft perspective, as it really wasn’t a good thriller, and also kind of gross in its politics. The next is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, a movie the further I get away from it the less I like it and I wasn’t a huge fan to begin with. And finally there is Skyscraper, which squandered so much potential and ended up being a cut rate Die Hard knock off. To the List:

10 – 3 Identical Strangers/Won’t You Be My Neighbor – I can’t really separate these two documentaries for the last spot. I thought about leaving them both off, and giving the slot to the next film down (Solo), but these two really were some of the better movies I saw. They are both just really good.

9 – Hotel Artemis – This movie didn’t quite capture me like I’d hoped it would, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t greatly enjoy it. I think it needed something more explosive in the final act to really put it over the top and I don’t think it quite got there. Still, I enjoyed every second of it, even if it left me wanting more in a somewhat bad way.

8 – Ant-Man and the Wasp – Delightful and forgettable. I really enjoyed this while watching it, but it didn’t really stick with me at all. That is mostly par for the course with Marvel movies. I am finding fewer and fewer reasons to return to this movies. Still, there is something to be said for nearly perfectly executed popcorn entertainment.

7 – Ocean’s 8 – Me feeling are pretty much the same as for Ant-Man above. This was fun and empty, just like a good summer movie should be. I hope it did well enough to get a sequel, because while I am a sucker for heists, this really could have done with fleshing out its cast a little more.

6 – Avengers Infinity War – I can see where a lot of the complaints about this movie come from, as it is a sequel to at the very least 3 separate movies and it doesn’t do much to ease viewers in and it does kind of feel like half a story. That said, there is something amazing about how it well it works despite breaking all the rules, like how it is almost all high tension, with little down time to build. Not it is five or so mini-movies strapped together. It feels big. It perfectly translates the comic crossover to the screen, warts and all.

5 – BlacKkKlansman – This movie, as well as my number 1 and number 2, are not really what I am usually looking for in my summer movies. I thought about leaving them off the list and just focusing on the blockbusters, but these made up a significant portion of what I really enjoyed this summer, so they stayed. This is a little shaggy and messy, but it is also really thoughtful and engrossing. It is really good.

4 – The Incredibles 2 – I am on record as loving The Incredibles. While I am the tiniest smidge disappointed that the sequel is mostly just the same movie again, with the roles of the parents switched, I can’t say that I didn’t love this movie. It is great, if lacking a little of the spark of the original.

3 – Mission Impossible: Fallout – I am not prepared to call this the best movie in the series, it was the best blockbuster of the summer. Cruise and company have found a perfect niche and are mining it expertly. I hope they have at least one more in them.

2 – Blindspotting – This underseen drama is very, very good. It feels a little stagey at times, but it also presents some very compelling characters and the single tensest scene I’ve seen in a movie in years.

1 – Sorry To Bother You – This is probably my favorite movie of the year so far. It is a wild satire of the current state of our capitalist system. While it is a movie with a message, that doesn’t stop it from being incredibly funny and constantly surprising. I loved every second of it.

The Spy Who Dumped Me

I won’t lie, I didn’t walk into The Spy Who Dumped Me really expecting to enjoy it. I walked into that movie hoping to squeeze a little more value out of my MoviePass subscription before it disappeared. So I ended up being pleasantly surprised by this little action comedy that remains somewhat entertaining while largely flubbing one half of its formula.

The Spy Who Dumped Me stars Mila Kunis as Audrey, a woman who was recently dumped by her boyfriend over a text message. One day at work Audrey is abducted by two men who identify themselves as as Sebastian, from MI6, and Duffer from the CIA and inform her that her ex-boyfriend was a CIA agent who has disappeared. They think he left something with her and will return for it. He does, but is shot by an assassin. He tells her to go to Austria to deliver the item to his contact. So Audrey and her best friend Morgan, played by Kate McKinnon, go to Austria and get involved in a spy plot.

One half of The Spy Who Dumped Me’s action comedy mix is much stronger than the other. The movie is generally not funny. There are a few amusing lines or sequences, but it frequently alternates between gross out violence and stupidity that do not elicit much in the way of laughs. Fortunately, the action side of the movie is more than competent. It tries really hard to be funny, but it has that loose, improvisational style that is so popular but only rarely funny. This isn’t a movie where it really works. Only McKinnon seems adept at it, and everyone else is just trying to keep up. When the humor actually comes out of the plot, it actually tends to be funny. Another problem is that it leans hard on humor from over the top violence and it is largely not funny. The action, though, is pretty well staged. It is comprehensible, if not particularly ambitious. The shoot out in a Vienna restaurant is especially solid. Also the subsequent chase is good. The action scenes are solidly competent.

The performers do a lot of the work in making this movie worthwhile. Mila Kunis does good work as the straight woman in the formula, in over her head but without a better idea of what to do. She has good chemistry with both of her costars, McKinnon and Sam Heughan, who plays Sebastian. Kunis is underrated as a low key action star, or maybe I just like Jupiter Ascending more than most, and is generally a solid comedienne. The problem is that McKinnon is in a different movie than everyone else. That has worked for her in the past, like in Ghostbusters, but here it doesn’t quite work. Heughan, who is great in Outlander, shines here. He shows he can do the action scenes in the chances he gets and has a generally affable presence that helps sell the comedy.

The Spy Who Dumped me is not a movie that does anything particularly well. It doesn’t surprise or impress. You likely know every beat that is coming as soon as the movie starts. But it is competent. There is nothing about it that is egregiously bad. It is just kind of there. I enjoyed it, but I enjoy each of the three central performers on their own and enjoyed them here. It is just kind of middle of the road. I don’t regret seeing it, but I doubt I will remember it in two months.

**1/2