January 2020 Movie Reviews
Looking Back At Some Films Released For Public Consumption In January 2020
We were so innocent when 2020 began, we knew we’d have a soul-sucking presidential election to follow and that there would be less popcorn flicks after a saturated 2019; but the pandemic and recession that would follow alongside a reeling film industry that would see major titles get delayed and theatres closed nationwide was something many of us weren’t predicting. However in January of 2020 we were still naïve to those coming troubles, and what we thought would be a normal year for Hollywood started out as any new movie season always begins - with a less than stellar lineup of films as the industry paid more attention to awards season. Here’s the 11 movies that I saw from the first month of the would be year from Hell and my quick thoughts on each of them. From dreadful cheap horror scares (If you choose to call them that) to one big standout from Amazon Studios.
But first, a reminder of what my grading system for movies works like:
- S Grade; 5.0 Stars: The Best Film I’ve Ever Seen, Everyone Has An S Graded Film
- A+/A- Grade; 4.0/4.5 Stars: One Of The Best Films Of The Year, If Not All-Time
- B+/B- Grade; 3.0/3.5 Stars: Worth A Trip To The Theatre For First Viewing
- C+/C- Grade; 2.0/2.5 Stars: Watch From Home For First Viewing
- D+/D- Grade; 1.0/1.5 Stars: Don’t Bother Watching This At All If You Can Help It
- F Grade; 0.5 Star: One Of The Worst Films Of All-Time
- Reminder: Reviews For These Films Can Change Over Time And Will Be Reflected Over At Our Letterboxd
With all that out of the way, lets get to those quickie reviews already…
- The Plot: After a young mother murders her family in her own house, a detective attempts to investigate the mysterious case, only to discover that the house is cursed by a vengeful ghost. Now targeted by the demonic spirits, the detective must do anything to protect herself and her family from harm.
- The Review: On paper an interesting concept of mixing different takes we’ve seen from this small horror franchise whether from here or in the land of the rising sun all into one film meant to reboot it. Unfortunately what we get is a sloppy mess with horribly paced flashbacks, head-scratching mail-in performances from actors and actresses that have otherwise been known to deliver, and a script that seemed to get away from itself with each new act - all capped off by an eye rolling and terribly predictable horror ending. Just skip this one unless you’re curious beyond belief to see it. 2020 movie season kicking off with this might have been a harbinger of the type of year we had ahead of us. D+ for THE GRUDGE.
- The Plot: After an earthquake destroys their underwater station, six researchers must navigate two miles along the dangerous, unknown depths of the ocean floor to make it to safety in a race against time.
- The Review: There’s a lot to like with this “ALIEN under the sea” concept - a slow buildup until the (great looking and well developed) creatures are revealed, characters we can care about whenever we learn more about them, and what could have been the beginning of an interesting new sci-fi horror franchise. Unfortunately what comes with it is a lot of potential that isn’t realized as the buildup to the creature reveals takes up a little too much time from the movie, the characters sometimes feel like they needed a little more development, a climax that can feel a bit underwhelming, and by the end you feel like you spent 90 minutes on a prologue rather than a first chapter to something. Ultimately this ends up feeling like a pretty standard average sci-fi monster flick that’s better for a movie night rental than a trip to the local theatre. C+ for UNDERWATER.
- The Plot: Two female friends with very different ideals decide to start a beauty company together. One is more practical, while the other wants to earn her fortune and live a lavish lifestyle.
- The Review: I’ll give this film props that as a straight guy who wasn’t the audience for this and who cringed at the trailers to this in the leadup to watching it, the characters and personalities in this elevated a pretty substandard “chick-flick” comedy. Billy Porter was the best part of the film, I bought into Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne’s characters’ friendship, and Selma Hayek seemed to me like she was having fun playing the villain. And I’ll also admit that this got some chuckles out of me even with some of the comedy clearly being more female oriented and going over my head a few times. That being said the movie is working with some pretty uninspired writing and at the end of the day this felt like a film best to rent at home for a girls night in than a girls night out at the movies - but I’m a dude so maybe I’m off-base there? C+ for LIKE A BOSS.
- The Plot: After losing his wife seven years earlier, the eccentric Dr. John Dolittle, famed doctor and veterinarian of Queen Victoria’s England, hermits himself away behind the high walls of Dolittle Manor with only his menagerie of exotic animals for company. But when the young queen falls gravely ill, a reluctant Dolittle is forced to set sail on an epic adventure to a mythical island in search of a cure, regaining his wit and courage as he crosses old adversaries and discovers wondrous creatures.
- The Review: This film had been hyped for years with Robert Downey Jr clearly all-in on making this something special. On top of that the incredibly impressive cast in this only makes one wonder even more how this ended up being such a flop. While its obvious the voice cast had fun doing these animals, and I think Downey was having fun with his own role as well, the story is just too much of a failure here. The movie’s decision to get “dumbed down for kids” especially hurts the quality - the number one example being a dragon fart joke at the climax that became the stuff of internet jokes. And to make things worse the editing and pacing here is among the worst I’ve seen from a major release from a big-time studio. There’s stories on the studio getting involved with this film a little too much and thus the choppiness of the material we got from this. That said I also don’t agree with the critics who have called this among the worst of the year. At the end of the day I consider this a movie you rent for the little ones to keep them preoccupied, but definitely not worth the trip (and money) to the big screen for a family movie night out. C+ for DOLITTLE.
- The Plot: Marcus and Mike are forced to confront new threats, career changes, and midlife crises as they join the newly created elite team AMMO of the Miami police department to take down the ruthless Armando Armas, the vicious leader of a Miami drug cartel.
- The Review: Three installments separated by decades and yet both Will Smith and Martin Lawrence continue to have incredible chemistry with each other. These two are the highlights of the film and will give you plenty chuckles as you watch them play aging detectives at the tail end of their careers. That said all the great comedic jabs between the two isn’t enough for me to ignore the very messy plot in this or the laughable choices made with the story arc of the film’s major villain. Yeah I had some fun with and laughed with the dynamic between our two main protagonists, but I was also laughing at the plot I was being asked to take serious as the film went along. This is a film that wouldn’t be a bad movie night rental, but I wouldn’t personally recommend the prize to go see it on the big screen either. C+ for BAD BOYS FOR LIFE.
- The Plot : When a law-abiding woman gets indicted for murdering her husband, her lawyer soon realizes that a larger conspiracy may be at work.
- The Review: While Tyler Perry has never been a genius in my mind when it comes to storytelling, he has shown an ability to make passable entertaining films worthy of checking out every now and then. So even I’m stunned to see that he turned in this disaster which features laughable writing, horrible acting - save for maybe one or two performances that seem to be trying hard, and has so many technical mistakes that whole articles have been written on audiences finding these errors. Its claimed Perry shot this film in just a few days and quite frankly it shows. I can’t help but wonder if he was mailing it in on this one and why Netflix even bothered to accept such a pitiful final cut. Don’t bother watching this unless you want to rift on how bad it is as you do so. D+ for A FALL FROM GRACE.
- The Plot: In rural 1977 Georgia, a misfit girl dreams of life in outer space. When a national competition offers her a chance at her dream, to be recorded on NASA’s Golden Record, she recruits a makeshift troupe of Birdie Scouts, forging friendships that last a lifetime and beyond.
- The Review: In a month that featured a lot of downright bad to mediocre material, I was pleasantly surprised to discover this gem from Amazon Studios who are attempting to get serious about award winning films again after years of ceding that to rival streamer Netflix. This a fun, quirky, and inspiring coming of age film that features great performances from everyone from the top on down - even the kid actors! I defy anyone to finish this film washout any feel-good vibes coursing through them. This might just be one of the better films of the year. A- for TROOP ZERO.
- The Plot: American expat Mickey Pearson has built a highly profitable marijuana empire in London. When word gets out that he’s looking to cash out of the business forever it triggers plots, schemes, bribery and blackmail in an attempt to steal his domain out from under him.
- The Review: Its always good to see actors having fun with fun roles, and this film delivers that throughout. The characters and personalities in this are all top notch and each of them has their own moments as Director Guy Ritchie does a good job making everyone stand out even with such a big stellar cast. The only thing that keeps this film from being really highly rated is that it can be a tad too “macho” and the final act does start to get overly silly with the twists upon twists upon twists. But overall if you were curious to see this one, I thought it was worth the theatrical experience. B- for THE GENTLEMEN.
- The Plot: A young woman quits her teaching job to be a private tutor (governess) for a wealthy young heiress who witnessed her parent’s tragic death. Shortly after arriving, the girl’s degenerate brother is sent home from his boarding school. The tutor has some strange, unexplainable experiences in the house and begins to suspect there is more to their story.
- The Review: Its been almost a year since I’ve seen this one, and I’m still trying to figure out what was the point of even making this. This film relies too much on jump scares and uncomfortable child dialogue to get away with not much happening throughout the film. And then when something seems to finally start to happen - the film snaps you into the realization that it was all meaningless anyways. And it all ends with a scene that leaves you scratching your head, realizing it didn’t even make sense to begin with, and regretting wasting 90 minutes on this. Its a shame really as the actors in this actually try to put in some respectable performances and the atmosphere of the house our characters are stuck in is perfect for the tale they’re trying to tell. But still, I’d say skip this one no matter how curious you are to check it out for yourself. Its that bad. D- for THE TURNING.
- The Plot: After the death of her family in an airplane crash on a flight that she was meant to be on, Stephanie Patrick discovers the crash was not an accident. She then seeks to uncover the truth by adapting the identity of an assassin to track down those responsible.
- The Review: This in hindsight could be the biggest financial box office disaster of 2020, and frankly I sorta feel sorry for the filmmakers because I didn’t find this to be as bad as other critics seemed to. Up until a moment in the film where a car explosion occurs, this actually has a lot good going for it in my opinion. Blake Lively has a fine performance, transforming herself and making me buy she’s an amateur at this assassin gig, and we get some really great action and chase sequences to boot. Unfortunately as the film transitions from watching our protagonist learn and grow to the meat of the plot, the movie starts to collapse into a hole filled with the tropes these femme fatale movies get themselves into - and some major characters suddenly vanish until the finale! Again, I don’t think this is as bad as some critics gave it credit for, but I’d rent this for a movie night in before wasting time and money on seeing this on the big screen again. C+ for THE RHYTHM SECTION.
- The Plot: A long time ago in a distant fairy tale countryside, a young girl leads her little brother into a dark wood in desperate search of food and work, only to stumble upon a nexus of terrifying evil.
- The Review: Some of the reviews I’ve seen for this film are clearly from folks who thought they were getting a typical jump scare horror flick and ended up with something more artsy and worthy of an A24 release. If you don’t like slow buildup or a focus on dialogue, this ain’t the horror flick for you. This takes the tale of Hansel and Gretel and spins it around using the young girl as the take action protagonist of the two, and diving more into the witchcraft mythology not just with the main villain but even with Gretel’s character herself. The score is appropriately eerie in this, and the cinematography deliver some great haunting shots. My big gripes with this however are that the movie does overstay its welcome a tad too long even with its short run time which tells you how slow-paced the story can feel; but I guess that’s the risk you take adapting a short children’s fairy tale into a featured length movie. If someone was curious enough to see this, I thought a big screen watch wasn’t a bad idea. I certainly liked it for the most part myself. B- for GRETEL & HANSEL.
And that wraps up a whole month of quickie movie reviews from me for the month of January 2020. In the next post for this newsletter I’ll be running down my quickie reviews for the February 2020 films that caught my attention. Stay tuned…