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🎬 Ad Astra, Godfather Part III, Mean Girls, and more

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ESJ's Movie Project

October 4 · Issue #33 · View online
I'm reviewing every movie I watch, and watching every movie I own. Settle in, this is going to take a while.

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🎉 First, a contest!
Here we are: I’ve officially seen 50 new films in 2019, and you can find the review of the 50th (Ad Astra) below. I think I’ve already seen more films this year than in any other year. And we’re just starting awards season! So, let’s try something: Reply to this email with your guess of how many new movies (2019 feature-length releases in theater OR streaming) I will have seen as of January 1, 2020. I will send something cool to the person(s) who comes closest without going over. The window for guesses starts now and ends at 9:00 a.m. PT on Friday, Oct. 11.
🍊 The Godfather Part III
Pictured: The height of mobster cardigan fashion.
Pictured: The height of mobster cardigan fashion.
Whenever I watch a movie for the first time, I want it to be great. I’m not under any delusion that every movie is great, of course, and sometimes movies I enjoyed on the first viewing turn sour on a second pass, but I believe it’s healthier for a critic to want something to be good than to want it to be bad. All of which is a long wind-up to say that I really wanted THE GODFATHER PART III to be great, in spite of everything I’d heard. I took mental note of the things that worked, such as Francis Ford Coppola’s direction and the powerful scene of Michael Corleone confessing his sins to Cardinal Lamberto in the courtyard. But I couldn’t ignore the often-awkward dialogue, the notorious-for-good-reason casting of Sofia Coppola, and the film’s over-reliance on nostalgia for its superior predecessors. With a few brief exceptions, the story feels slight and unnecessary, whereas Parts I and II felt epic and powerful. By the end of Part III, I had already made up my mind not to give this one a second chance.
🍳 Julie & Julia
Pictured: Omelette you finish, but Meryl Streep is the best actress of all time.
Pictured: Omelette you finish, but Meryl Streep is the best actress of all time.
As someone in the middle of an overly ambitious creative project (which you are enabling by reading this), I identified deeply with the Julie in JULIE & JULIA, who sets out to cook everything in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. Amy Adams turns in a typically great performance as Julie, but the real reason to watch this movie is to see Meryl Streep as Julia Child, depicted in flashback becoming a chef herself in 1950s Paris. Streep is so aggressively cute that even though her performance is frequently hammy, I couldn’t help but love ever minute. Side note: Can we go back to the days when everyone had a blog that no one read instead of a podcast no one listened to?
✈️ Airplane II: The Sequel
Pictured: When everything is fine, and it's just a little turbulence.
Pictured: When everything is fine, and it's just a little turbulence.
Last week I explained my controversial belief that The Godfather Part II is not as good as its predecessor, but I don’t think there’s anyone who would argue in good faith that AIRPLANE II: THE SEQUEL is an improvement on the original. It recycles many of the same jokes from the first Airplane movie, to lesser effect, and the new jokes that were written (not, I should note, by the original movie’s writing team of Zucker Abrams and Zucker) are more miss than hit. That said, there were a handful original segments that made me laugh out loud — especially the moon base scenes with William Shatner. And hey, speaking of moon bases …
🚀 Ad Astra
Pictured: It's not easy being green. In fact, it's the Pitts.
Pictured: It's not easy being green. In fact, it's the Pitts.
There’s an adage in writing that the more specific a story is, the more relatable it becomes — which is why, even though I admired a great deal of AD ASTRA, it ultimately left me more frustrated than satisfied. Ad Astra aspires to say Something Imporant about Life and family and parenthood, and much of its cinematography is wonderful, but the main story is a predictable snoozer. Brad Pitt stars as astronaut Roy McBride, and is sadly saddled with one of the worst voiceovers since the theatrical cut of Blade Runner; whether this was just lazy writing, studio meddling, or concealer for bad acting, it’s impossible to say, although given how good Pitt was in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, I’d bet on one of the first two. I was much more interested in the world-building the movie does around life on lunar and Martian colonies of the “near future,” and wish the whole story had taken place there.
👚 Mean Girls
Pictured: Wednesday.
Pictured: Wednesday.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen Mean Girls, but even 15 years after its initial release, it holds up. Almost every scene has a great line or a funny facial expression, which is why it has been so memed to death online, but unlike some meme-friendly movies (looking at you, Fight Club), repetition just makes Mean Girls better. Tina Fey’s script is as sharp as the best episodes of her later sitcom 30 Rock, which I need to rewatch all of now (that’s just how this works, I don’t make the rules). And as a side note, I wish Rachel McAdams — who plays the reigning queen bee Regina George — had had a more prolific comedy career than just this, Wedding Crashers, and Game Night, because she is the MVP in all three of those movies.
P.S. Yes, I did watch this movie on Mean Girls Day (it’s October 3rd), and I did it with several hundred other San Franciscans at a free outdoor movie screening. If you already love Mean Girls, I heartily recommend watching it with a big crowd that also loves it; there may or may not have been a “Jingle Bell Rock” singalong.
🏆 Every New Movie I've Seen in 2019 (So Far), Ranked
(new additions in bold)

  1. Booksmart
  2. The Farewell
  3. If Beale Street Could Talk
  4. Us
  5. Free Solo
  6. Avengers: Endgame
  7. The Favourite
  8. Amazing Grace
  9. Long Shot
  10. The Wife
  11. The Art of Self-Defense
  12. Toy Story 4
  13. Shoplifters
  14. Hustlers
  15. The Last Black Man In San Francisco
  16. Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood
  17. Apollo 11
  18. Spider-Man: Far From Home
  19. Aladdin
  20. The Peanut Butter Falcon
  21. Slut in a Good Way
  22. Green Book
  23. Cold War
  24. Official Secrets
  25. Ready or Not
  26. Always Be My Maybe
  27. Rocketman
  28. Roma
  29. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  30. Ad Astra
  31. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
  32. On the Basis of Sex
  33. Shazam!
  34. The Lion King
  35. Downton Abbey
  36. Fighting With My Family
  37. They Shall Not Grow Old
  38. Yesterday
  39. Mary Poppins Returns
  40. Captain Marvel
  41. Minding the Gap
  42. Tolkien
  43. The Biggest Little Farm
  44. Alita: Battle Angel
  45. The Dead Don’t Die
  46. The Great Hack
  47. Stan & Ollie
  48. Vice
  49. Bohemian Rhapsody
  50. Aquaman

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