The advantage of being born in the early ‘70s in my humble opinion is all the music and movies my parental units exposed me to. My entire life as far back as I can remember was spent watching movies as a family and having discussions with my late Mother on what took place in the films, or what things meant.
Now with that said, I will openly admit, I have “bad” taste in movies; I love B movies, grindhouse films, almost anything Sci-Fi, weak love stories with bad acting, movies with ridiculous premises with low budget special effects. So it is safe to assume my taste will differ from most. My Brother Ben calls me “Contrarian Carl” because if something is super popular, and the world is going crazy over it, I have a tendency to stay as far away from it as I can.
Here are some of my favorite film releases from 2019:
#1 Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker
Being a fan of this franchise for 42 years, and knowing the end was quickly approaching, left me feeling a bit uneasy. Then I started watching some reviews online by some like-minded people and honestly, that did NOT help my anxiety.
I’ve now seen this movie three times including opening night and it’s left me an emotional mess every single viewing. J.J. Abrams absolutely nailed it with this film. The callbacks to yesteryear, the cameos of some familiar friends, a respectful end to our real life fallen Princess’s story (Carrie Fisher) and of course the answers we were all looking for when it came to REY. Add in the fact that the CGI is absolutely magical and this “fan boy” was very pleased with it.
There have been plenty of people I’ve heard say “the movie was just fan service.” Well, aren’t most movies? I don’t take offense to it. I mean, let’s be real – I’m a fan and I feel like I was serviced. I’m of the opinion that this is the strongest film since A New Hope or Empire Strikes Back.
J.J. took my beloved franchise and gave it a proper ending, plain and simple, and for that I will be forever grateful.
#2 Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
The long awaited 9th film by Quentin Tarantino came with a lot of mixed reviews; some folks loved it, a good number of people hated it, and I guess can understand both sides.
I’ll try to keep this simple. If you’re familiar with Tarantino’s previous 8 films you should know what to expect: interesting as well as ordinary story lines that skip around with plenty of flashbacks for context, long drawn out mood-setting dialogue, and wildly outrageous historical inaccuracies. All things I love about his movies.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a wonderful love letter to tinsel town of the late ‘60s and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are amazing in it. It’s a story about an actor whose career seems to be winding down and his trusty stunt man/friend. It really is a day in the life sort of story with plenty of humor, some suspense, and a wild twist at the end of the film.
What I really found awesome was it’s a true period piece of art. I have seen this movie a ton and tried to find imperfections but can’t. The cars, the billboards, the ads on the bus stops, all perfect for that time. Quentin went as far to research what was playing on TV on certain nights during the movie and that was exactly what he shows us while characters are watching TV in this film. Crazy amounts of attention to detail.
I can honestly say Quentin Tarantino has yet to make a film I didn’t like. His films may not be full of action, or special effects, and there may be too much dialogue and bore some people. I find it all refreshing, the way movies used to be made, mentally stimulating and very entertaining.
Wow, this was one of the most beautifully shot movies I’ve seen in a long, long time. Anyone familiar with hallucinogens should thoroughly enjoy this very visual ride, I know I did.
The film starts off in a dramatic, shocking manor, and then jumps right into the main story. A troubled young couple headed with friends to a mid-summer Swedish festival. What could go wrong? I’m not going to spoil anything for you, but what I can tell you is the way the film is shot and the arc of the story combined makes a psychotic thriller like I’ve never seen before. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of well-shot films, and plenty of good thrillers, but they usually aren’t in the same movie.
I took my 15 year old to see this movie; when we got out of the theater he was dead quiet, which was unusual because we always discussed what we had just seen. Half way home I asked him, “well, Kook, what did you think?” His reply was priceless: he said, “that movie messed me up, it was terrible, and not terrible as in a bad movie, it was terrible because of the subject matter and what the Director showed us.” Music to this Dad’s ears; he got it. He really, truly understood how fucked up this movie was, also why it made my list for 2019. Beautiful, tragic, and a mind fuck, what an excellent movie.
Here is probably my surprise of the year. On the one month anniversary of my Mother’s passing and the rest of the world was losing their shit over something called “End Game” I found myself buying a ticket to…. Shazam? I remember collecting a good amount of the Shazam comics in my teenage years (which I still have) and while everyone else was after Spiderman, Superman or other Super Heroes, I was combing the thrift stores for Shazam comics.
I literally walked into the theater with zero expectations, feeling a little down, and just looking to waste some time quietly. What I ended up getting was a really funny entertaining movie that actually made me feel a whole lot better.
The movie follows a young rebellious foster boy in search of his Mother who ends up obtaining super powers along the way. Sounds pretty basic right? Wrong. The super powers turn this troubled youth into a grown man with an amazing skill set, think Tom Hanks in Big but with a ton of muscles and some pretty awesome powers. Shazam also has the power to turn back into his teenage self on command, a pretty cool little twist. Eventually Shazam runs into the evil Dr. Sivana who’s after his powers; what would a comic movie be without an evil adversary?
Shazam has plenty of kid and adult humor and manages to intertwine a heartwarming tale about what real family is. I tried to inform some friends who are into comics and comic movies about Shazam, but none of them wanted to hear anything about it because it’s part of “DC Comics.” I never knew such comic racism existed, and I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed.
#5 Dolemite Is My Name
Quick back-story: I used to listen to Redd Fox and Richard Pryor albums and cassettes with my Father when I was very young, which in turn helped shape my sense of humor, and gave me a well rounded vocabulary and potty mouth. In 1983 Eddie Murphy released a stand up special entitled Delirious, and that, my friends, was a true game changer for a 10 year old Mean Gene.
Eddie Mother Fucking Murphy is back!!!
Dolemite is My Name is the type of film all Eddie Murphy and comedy fans alike have been waiting a long time to see. A no holds barred comedy that follows the life story of Rudy Ray Moore, a comedian and one of the earliest rappers known. After being rejected and having his Hollywood dreams smashed Rudy Ray creates an alter ego named Dolemite, a foul mouthed “karate expert” that ends up becoming a huge star in the ‘70s Blaxploitation films.
I had seen everyone talking about this movie, so there was a ton of hype surrounding it and that alone made me not want to watch it. I guess because all the buzz around this film had set my expectations too high? But I sure am glad I did. Eddie Murphy of old has returned. He wasn’t playing a donkey, or a fat professor, a Dad running a daycare, or even some sort of weird astronaut. He was the comedian Little Mean Gene loved. The comedic cadence, the foul language, body language, it was all there.
Please don’t miss understand me; I like some of Eddies later work, like Norbit (highly underrated comedy) or Life, but let’s keep things real: he hasn’t made a true, real deal adult comedy since what, Harlem Nights (1989) or Another 48 Hrs (1990).
Dolemite Is My Name is a fabulous throwback sort of comedy that has already received two Golden Globe nominations. The soundtrack is phenomenal, the true story was inspirational, and the cast of characters were perfect.
And now, I shall leave you with repeated line from the movie.
“Dolemite is my name, and fucking up mother fuckers is my game”
Here are a few honorable mentions to other films I enjoyed in 2019:
The Irishman B+
Frozen 2 B+
Toy Story 4 B
Doctor Sleep B-
Have a great 2020 my friends. Cheers!
— “Mean” Gene A Gaona