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Infinite Disagreement: The Goomba Stomp Staff’s Impressions of ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

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[WARNING: This post contains heavy SPOILERS from Avengers: Infinity War. If you haven’t seen the film, please turn back now or check out our spoiler-free review!]

The newest Marvel blockbuster, Avengers: Infinity War, continues to rapidly rise up the global box office rankings, nearly capturing a billion dollars in its first week. It’s been immensely popular, even among critics, with an ending that might not have been entirely unexpected, but has certainly spawned its fair share of memery.

Opinions on this latest entry in the MCU have tended to be fairly strong here at Goomba Stomp, and so we’ve invited our writers to sit down and share their thoughts. This resulted in some interesting answers:

“A Boring, Rote Film”

Avengers: Infinity War is a boring, rote film that is carried by Josh Brolin’s magnetic performance as Thanos, as well as a cast of charismatic actors bantering with each other. While the film goes to interesting places by its conclusion, they’re also places that are undercut by having no stakes.

Thanos’s motivations are fleshed out, so when he eventually has the Infinity Gauntlet at its full potential and kills half the galaxy’s population, it doesn’t feel cheap or dumb. He’s a madman who has seen the pros and cons of his plan — even if one of the cons is that he could die himself. But once his plan is completed and he snaps those huge fingers, there’s a real lack of significance to the moment. Why? Because Doctor Strange has established in his “dying” breath that everything is going according to plan, and the one potential sequence of events that could lead to The Avengers living is in motion.

Combining both Doctor Strange’s comments with how the movie establishes the way the Reality and Time stones could change things in the Avengers’ favor, it’s hard to care about anything that happens in Avengers: Infinity War. I love the boldness of the ending, but it feels just as dumb as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’s death of Superman moment. Comic books have always circumvented death in many lazy ways, but to see the movies also stoop so low is just getting tiresome. Of course, maybe the characters will all actually stay dead despite already announced sequels and the fact that the majority of remaining characters have been in the MCU since the first phase.

The other major issue is that there’s no real emotional pull with any specific character’s death. Opening with Loki’s death is bold, but is played off by Thor as possibly another ruse, so the emotional charge he lacks is mirrored in the audience. Thanos’ attachment to Gamora is explored in Infinity War, but not enough for us to care about her death. Instead, I cared more about Thanos’ conflicted feelings about killing her, which is just another reason that Infinity War is Thanos’ movie. Brolin brings life to a story that seems so fixated on pretending its all about death.

Christopher Cross

“A Culmination of Ten Years of World Building”

I wasn’t expecting much from Avengers: Infinity War. Call it superhero fatigue or a lingering bitterness over the way Justice League turned out (I defended it like a good DC acolyte, despite definite problems), but I couldn’t seem to muster up much excitement for the MCU’s uber team-up event in the months leading up to its release. I had a kind of intangible dread regarding Infinity War, a dread that didn’t turn into a coherent fear until I saw Ready Player One. After sitting through two hours-plus of pop-culture references and cameos being thrown at the screen non-stop, hoping that one or two would land, I finally saw a vision of the kind of clusterf*** I worried that Infinity War would turn out to be.

Thankfully, the Russo brothers had my back. Despite being the biggest act of corporate synergy ever put on the silver screen, Infinity War never feels bloated or overstuffed. In fact, it feels downright intimate at times. When I heard the film would feature over sixty characters from all throughout the MCU, I assumed the whole thing would end up like Transformers — nothing but huge fight scenes where you can’t tell who’s who, and after a few minutes of artless noise and action you don’t care. If you’ve seen Avengers: Infinity War, you know that what ended up on the screen couldn’t be more different. Sure, there are over sixty characters, but the story only focuses on about a dozen, most broken up into three main groups all either trying to get magic rocks or protect the magic rocks they already have. The other characters show up when needed, and when they do, it’s organic and doesn’t feel shoehorned in just to fill a quota. Hell, they even added new characters, and everything was still easy to follow, never feeling like it was trying to do too much.

Infinity War was exactly what it needed to be: the culmination of ten years of world building and interconnected narratives, and a showcase for a villain that’s finally worthy of throwing down with earth’s mightiest heroes.

There are two main complaints that people seem to have with the movie and I disagree with both. The first is that Infinity War doesn’t do enough to explain what happened in the eighteen films preceding it. This is just absurd, like going into Return of the King and saying “Who are these two little people and where are they taking that ring? Where did this Gandalf guy come from, what’s his story?” It’s like sitting down to watch the last season of Game of Thrones and being mad that they didn’t explain the previous seven seasons. How else are you going to know who this Jon Snow guy is if the show doesn’t tell you, right? Look, I get that certain Marvel movies are fairly self-contained, especially near the beginning, but even more recent entries like Black Panther can be enjoyed with little back story. However, the Avengers films are always supposed to be large crossovers, bringing multiple characters and story lines together for a larger-than-life slobberknocker. In an age when everyone has access to an unlimited amount of information and most can access it by reaching into their pocket and pulling out a small, glass rectangle, going to see Avengers: Infinity War without at least a cursory understanding of the events leading up to it reveals a level of willful ignorance usually reserved only for politicians. We’ve been doing this for ten years people, you should know by now if these Marvel movies are your jam or not.

The second complaint has more validity: the deaths in Infinity War mean nothing because Marvel has already announced future films starring the deceased characters. Look, I don’t think any die-hard Marvelites think Black Panther, whose first solo movie was practically a cultural revolution, is really dead. I mean, he’s definitely dead, but he’s comicbook dead. He’ll be back in Avengers 4: Psych! We Have a Time Stone Idiot! along with Spider-Man and most of the other characters who bit the bullet. Here’s the thing though: if you can immerse yourself in the film the way that Marvel hopes that you can, cheap pops or not, those deaths are going to give you the feels. Anyone who sits and watches Peter Parker desperately grasp at Tony Stark as his body turns to dust — begging like a frightened child “I don’t want to go!”— and doesn’t shed a tear, has a heart of stone…infinity stone! Ba-dum ching.

Zachary Zagranis

“Absolutely Worth It”

It has been 10 years since the Iron Man movie made its big screen debut, and the buildup to Avengers: Infinity War has been absolutely worth it. With the smallest gripes in regards to some plot decisions and how certain characters got shoved into the background, this is a phenomenal film — one of the best summer blockbusters we’ve had in a long time.

Infinity War does a great job balancing all the emotions at play. The film doesn’t feel like it’s trying to cram humor or bleakness down anyone’s throat, but allows those emotions to come organically. The Thor/Guardians team-up is sincerely hilarious, making for numerous laugh-out-loud moments. We are also given a decent backstory for Thanos that sincerely set up his “Mad Titan” mentality.

I’d have to say that my two favorite characters are Thor and Thanos. There are many other characters I enjoyed (and some who I wish got more attention), but these two really nailed their roles. Thor has a great arc in his quest to seek revenge against Thanos, and in regards to Thanos, I don’t think the MCU has ever had a more terrifying villain. Whereas Black Panther’s Killmonger was a remarkable antagonist given his societal context, Thanos presents fear. From the moment the film begins, there’s that immediate sense that no one wants to mess with this guy.

Avengers: Infinity War makes for an excellent first part. It ends with many questions in how massive changes will be resolved, with a sequel having some immense shoes to fill.

Michael Pementel

“Lazy and Boring”

Considering the oversaturated, clinical, factory-produced film landscape created by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s a bit of a feat to have a feature like Avengers: Infinity War show up. Not only does the film spit in the face of audience expectations for the majority of the events that happen, but it’s refreshing to have a story that explores things beyond typical plot conveniences, actually spending time with the “baddies” just as much with our heroes.

Aspects of the first hour truly feel more like a classic comic book crossover than any other instance in the MCU before, and it also works a hundred percent in not caring too much for audiences not familiar with the MCU, feeling a lot like how a comic book crossover should. I’ve seen complaints about how the movie is too confusing for those not familiar with the MCU up to this point, but that’s silly. Making actual use of the MCU after having built it up for 10 years in such a way is the only proper way to tell this story.

However, these few conventions that Infinity War breaks are not worth congratulating all too much; it’s a bit like congratulating Nabisco on their creation of Reduced Fat Oreos. The underlying problems that make the vast majority of the MCU movies an empty fulfillment are all still here. The writing — at times snappy, campy and fun — is cringeworthy when everything has to stop for a character to add in an out-of-place attempt at pop culture humor.

Having painted themselves in a corner due to a lack of explanation for various plot holes and inconsistencies in how certain powers work (like say, Dr. Strange’s portals or the Infinity Gauntlet itself) and how certain characters would act (the Vision part of the story is poorly written and frankly idiotic on the part of the characters), the writers are forced to just ignore these glaring issues to move the story along.  This is without really getting into the halfhearted ending that should make everyone roll their eyes with a unanimous “yeah, right.” Sure, Spider-man and Black Panther are dead. Sure. Lol. I tried to restrain my laughter, especially at Rocket reacting to Groot’s death (the second time Rocket has lost him) as if though he lost some loose change down a drain.

It’s not like these inconsistencies couldn’t have been addressed; at times, addressing them would actually make the world a lot more believable, and would make for a better investment in the story. But it’s easier to simply ignore it and depend on the fans to come up with their own “actuallys.” It’s just lazy and boring. Plus, just like most movies set in the MCU, Infinity War is ugly to look at — overly “cinematic” and like looking through a layer of post-production Vaseline. The CG is ridiculously cartoonish at times, not to mention that Thanos — the character with perhaps the most screen time — looks like a bootleg G.I. Joe figure. For a film based on such a vibrant, imaginative, and colorful comic book world, it’s a bit disheartening to see it come to life in such a generic way.

What I’m saying is that Infinity War is one of the better features in the MCU, but it’s still an MCU feature. No matter how hard it tries, it won’t escape that. It won’t be anything more than that, and that’s unfortunate.

Maxwell N

“I Just Don’t Understand”

I’ve never been a massive Marvel fan. I didn’t read comics as a kid, and I grew up watching animated series like Batman Beyond and Teen Titans. So when the first few Marvel films rolled around, I didn’t understand the hype. The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man were okay as far as generic action flicks go, and I personally thought Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger were just downright bad films. Avengers was fine, but like I say, I hadn’t grown up with a love for these characters, so seeing them all in the same movie didn’t elicit any excitement. However, over time this changed. Guardians of the Galaxy was a great film, and after Civil War I was hooked on the MCU just like countless others.

The injection of comedy into their films and the refinement of the action-packed hero’s journey formula led me to fall in love with Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, Thor: Ragnarok, and Spiderman: Homecoming. Despite being late to the party, I was just as hyped for Infinity War as every other comic book fan seemed to be, which is why I’ve been utterly astounded by the universally positive reaction the film received. I genuinely believe that besides the original Thor, this is the worst MCU film to date.

Infinity War had some incredibly funny moments, but too much humour was injected into the wrong places. The conversations between the Guardians and Thor worked well and fit the characters, but Banner’s ‘erectile dysfunction’ issues with the sulking Hulk were frankly cringe worthy. There is also a massive disregard for previous character development in Infinity War. After Taika Waititi spent Ragnarok evolving Thor past merely being the man with the hammer, he spends the entirety of Infinity War looking for a replacement.

This doesn’t just happen to Thor; besides Thanos, who is a fairly interesting and complex villain, many characters’ personal developments are tossed aside for no reason. Vision, one of the most uninteresting characters in the MCU, is thrust into the spotlight, and Star Lord, my favourite MCU character to date, is made absolutely hateable. The new additions to the MCU are also pointless. Peter Dinklage provides some of the worst acting I’ve seen in years, and Thanos’ henchmen, beings heralded as some of the most fearsome foes in the galaxy, are almost entirely eliminated in joke sequences.

The film’s biggest issue, however, is its plot. Much like Justice League, Infinity War tries to cram in far too much for the sake of fandom, yet still manages to tell a paper-thin story. I’ve heard many movie goers praise Infinity War for its courageous decision to kill off so many of its cast, yet these deaths are meaningless. Almost every character killed has already had an announced upcoming sequel in their own franchise, and they’ve even gone as far as saying that the Spiderman: Homecoming sequel will be set straight after Avengers 4, and will star Peter Parker…one of the characters killed off in this film. So it’s pretty obvious to me that there are no real stakes, and these characters will all be brought back.

I just don’t understand. A paper-thin plot, bad jokes, and pointless deaths; Infinity War doesn’t even come close to capturing the magic of the MCU’s latest outings, and instead feels like an episode of Dragon Ball Z with a bigger budget.

Chris Bowring

“One of the Greatest Superhero Films of All Time”

There’s one moment in Infinity War that really stood out to me: a rather quiet scene between Thanos and Gamora, set aboard the former’s enormous ship. Gamora is standing around looking sullen when suddenly here comes Thanos, giant gauntlet of death and all, offering her…a bowl of food? “I thought you might be hungry,” Thanos says before handing the bowl to an agitated Gamora, who pitches it into his throne with disdain before remarking about how she always hated his throne. “So I’ve been told,” the Mad Titan remarks with something approaching humor.  

While the major hubbub surrounding Infinity War has situated around Thanos’ finger-snapping balancing act at the end, it’s the small, almost tender moments like these that give the film its incredible poignancy. Rarely — especially in superhero films — are villains given the chance to develop into something more than flat personifications of evil that do little but drive the plot forward. That was the problem that Avengers: Age of Ultron had — a flat villain that, while well acted by James Spader, wasn’t very interesting, and developed little over the course of the film.

In contrast, scenes such as this, as well as Thanos’ sacrifice on Vormir, help to flesh out Thanos’ character in ways that make it apparent that he feels he is sacrificing for the good of the universe. He truly believes, despite the horrible genocide he is committing, that he is doing the right thing by maintaining “balance.” The film’s adroit explanation of Thanos’ internal logic helps tremendously to sell him as a fully-realized character. 

Yes, the battles are incredible (as always), but this time they play background to Josh Brolin’s masterful performance as Thanos, a performance that may not be on quite the same level as Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, but is still an excellent portrayal of how complicated true evil is. The hilarious interplay between the motley crew that makes up the MCU, and even between Thanos and the heroes (such as when he remarks to Gamora that he likes Star-Lord), help to round out the characters in ways not seen in their stand-alone films.

In the end, Infinity War is a testament to what the comic book genre can aspire to. In lieu of last year’s disappointing Justice League, Infinity War is a reminder that despite over ten years of constant superhero films, there is still room for improvement in the genre. Indeed, while Infinity War’s ending is begging to be undone by Avengers 4, it still takes risks rarely seen in superhero films and in the end is not only Marvel’s greatest film, but also one of the greatest superhero films of all time. 

Izsak Barnette

“This Was Pretty Much Everything That I Could Have Wanted.”

I knew we’d witnessed something when my girlfriend and I spent the entire forty minute car ride home talking about Infinity War after we’d seen it. We’ve been to the cinema so many times, and we’ll usually chat about the movie, but then that gives way and we’ll end up on something else — dinner plans, work, whatever. This time we talked about Infinity War the whole way home, and even a little in the house. We talked about Thanos, and about how the dead heroes could come back, how brisk the movie felt despite being nearly three hours long, and about the various funny and awesome moments sprinkled throughout an otherwise darker — and sadder — Marvel movie.

People are moaning about certain aspects of this picture, but I don’t think a lot of the criticism is necessarily fair. Here, the common complaints are that Infinity War doesn’t make any sense without seeing the other movies, and that there are no stakes because we don’t believe that the heroes are in any legitimate peril. Well firstly, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, essentially, a television show masquerading as a series of big budget blockbusters. Television spent years chasing cinema, and now, after the radical improvement in the quality of TV as a storytelling medium, cinema is chasing television. You wouldn’t tune into the last episode of Breaking Bad and complain that you didn’t know who anyone was, and so you can’t really complain that the 19th movie in a shared universe (and the fourth major crossover event in the franchise) doesn’t give a backstory on everybody involved.

As far as stakes are concerned, oh, we care about stakes now, do we? We walk into 90% of our movies knowing that the good guys are going to win and the bad guys are going to lose. That’s how it works. Nobody believes that this monologuing supervillain is the one that’s finally going to kill James Bond. We know Bond is going to break out of captivity, ice the baddie, and then make some sort of hilarious quip about it. Similarly, we know that our Marvel heroes, even those that we see die on screen, consider the traditional definition of mortality more as a guideline than a rule, and that’s okay.

Assuming (cynically, but almost certainly correctly) that some of the superheroes that turn to dust at the end of Infinity War will return for future big-money movies doesn’t change the fact that this is the first time we’ve seen the collective of MCU heroes beaten as resoundingly as they are in this movie. Here, the Avengers lose — not slightly, not only just, but resolutely, and catastrophically. Here, the bad guy wins, and regardless of how inevitable it is that some of our heroes will return, that was a bold move for what was always going to be one of the highest grossing movies of all time.

If you don’t like Marvel movies, Infinity War will do absolutely zilch to change your mind. But as a fan of the franchise, this was pretty much everything that I could have wanted. It strikes a good balance between joking around and acting like this seriously-really-this-time might be the end for some beloved characters. It forms team-ups between heroes that we’ve never seen working together before, giving long-running characters like Tony Stark and Thor fresh faces to bounce off with largely amusing results. It finally gives the MCU a villain worth caring about, with Thanos acting as the glue that holds the many disparate elements of the convoluted narrative together. And it all builds up to a fairly sensational climax in which, surprisingly, if you don’t read comic books, half the universe is obliterated, and we have to witness poor Spider-Man disintegrating in Tony Stark’s arms. Yeah, I know he’s going to come back, probably with some Time Stone jiggery-pokery, but I’ll still never get over the “Mr. Stark?” bit. Roll on Avengers 4.

John Cal McCormick

***

Overall, its pretty obvious that we have some different opinions here at Goomba Stomp. However, the questions remains, what did you think of Infinity War? Sound off in the comments below!

Although a gamer since before I can remember, there is not a better definition of me than these three words: Christian, moderate, and learner. I am steadfast in my Faith, my Beliefs, and in my Opinions, but I am always willing to hear the other side of the discussion. I love Nintendo, History, and the NBA. Currently a PhD Student at Liberty University.

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Film

Girl Power? The ‘Black Christmas’ Remake is About as Subtle as a Sledgehammer to the Face

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Black Christmas 2019 Review

1974’s Black Christmas is not one that is regularly referenced on Best Horror Movie lists, but a standard foray into the sub-genre of slasher movies. Having already been remade in 2006, to a terrible response, it’s the kind of film ready to be re-visited, a not-so-classic in need of a boost. Directed by Sophia Takal, it’s unfortunate that 2019’s version does nothing to make the premise something worth watching, falling very short of its mark.

During the Christmas break at Hawthorne College, sorority sisters Riley (Imogen Poots), Kris (Aleyse Shannon), Marty (Lily Donoghue) and Jesse (Brittany O’Grady) prepare to host an “orphan dinner” for those left at the college over the holidays, only to be harassed and eventually attacked by a group of masked, hooded men.

Black Christmas 2019

In order to make the premise more relevant for today’s crowd, writers Takal and April Wolfe update the nuts-and-bolts slasher with a feminist twist, including on-trend topics of toxic masculinity, rape culture, and female empowerment. Whilst its heart is in the right place, it’s execution is sloppy and comes across as condescending – conversations about missing DivaCups and dildos are just as commonplace as those on white supremacy and the patriarchy – making it an often embarrassing watch and feeling like a cynical cash-grab.

The characters we’re supposed to be rooting for are likeable enough but so paper-thin, a small breeze could knock them over. With one-trait personalities (PTSD-ridden, activist, loved-up and comic relief), the film fails to create a truly well-developed female character, or one of any gender; men fall into one of two categories, chauvinist or sensitive love-interest, both to the extreme.

Black Christmas 2019 REview

Horror is a difficult genre to make work, but the fundamentals are to scare; unfortunately, Black Christmas also lacks in the basic necessity of frightening its audience. Most supposed chilling moments come in the form of the safe bet of a jump-scare, a lazy device that considers making a film-goer bolt in their seat as a result of a loud noise a win in their efforts to unsettle. And that’s if they work. Quiet for long stretches of time before the inevitable jump, the scares in this will only work if this is the first film you’ve ever seen.

There is something to be commended in the fact that director and co-writers have attempted to differentiate from the original by adding a supernatural element to the proceedings, but by the third act, this ploy is so absurd as to be laughable (protagonists receiving text messages from a supposed ghost should never be a thing), and does nothing to enhance the story.

Black Christmas 2019 Review

It’s a shame for lead Poots, who, as shown in the likes of Green Room, is a talented actor, and worth more than the sum of this movie’s parts. Doing her best with what she’s given, she’s a light in an otherwise dim proceeding, along with Shannon as sorority sister Kris, and the two have decent chemistry when on screen together. None of the rest of the cast stands out, most likely due to their lack of character, but because the performances for a horror film of this ilk are par for the course – passable.

With good intentions, Black Christmas is a frustrating watch, with its overt dialogue and occasionally patronizing tone. It’s disappointing that a film with feminism at its core, directed by and co-written by women, misses its target by such a large distance.

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‘Richard Jewell’ is Both For and Against Character Assassination

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Sam Rockwell and Paul Walter Hauser in Richard Jewell (Warner Bros.)

With Richard Jewell, director Clint Eastwood does two things at once: tell a compelling story of something that was all over the news about 25 years ago, and seek to make an incendiary political point meant to play to very specific modern-day resentments. Let’s just say the former objective is much more defensible than the latter. 

The film tells the story of a security guard (Paul Walter Hauser) in the Atlanta area who was working in Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Olympics when a bomb went off in the park. Jewell was first treated as a hero who rescued people during the bombing, but was later considered a suspect in the bombing by the FBI and named as such in the media. But Jewell, it turned out, was innocent, with domestic terrorist Eric Rudolph confessing to the crime years later. 

As depicted in Eastwood’s film, Richard Jewell bears more than a passing resemblance to Shawn Eckhardt, the character Hauser played two years ago in I, Tonya — a real-life creature of a sensational mid-’90s true crime case who hadn’t done much with his life, but has aspirations of something greater. In Jewell’s case, it’s thwarted dreams of becoming a cop, which haven’t kept him from worshiping and idealizing law enforcement. He’s also depicted as a man so simple-minded that he keeps doing things that made him look super-guilty, even though he isn’t.

Richard Jewell reporters

Richard Jewell takes us into how exactly the man came to be accused. The FBI, in the person of agent Jon Hamm, applied its vaunted profiling tactics — the ones you’ve seen lionized on such shows as Criminal Minds and Mindhunter — to the case, and came up with the wrong guy. 

Filmmaking-wise, what we have here is similar to most other late-period Eastwood films, and the pacing and storytelling aren’t the problem. The sequence right before the bombing, in particular, is especially harrowing and suspenseful.

While in the works for many years (Jonah Hill was at one point set to star as Jewell, and remains a producer), Richard Jewell itself was produced and completed uncommonly quickly, with production beginning in June, just six months before its release. Nevertheless, it creates a reasonable approximation of 1996 — The Macarena included! — and while seemingly the majority of studio movies these days are shot in Georgia, this one at least is actually set there.

The problem, however, is another decision the film makes. We see Hamm’s FBI agent leaking the existence of the investigation to media, specifically reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), after what’s essentially a seduction on her part. This is the film’s biggest misstep, which is in fact an act of pure character assassination against Scruggs, a real-life journalist (deceased) who is accused of horrible ethical breaches that she almost certainly never committed, including offering to sleep with sources in exchange for information. Beyond that, the character is played by Wilde as something resembling a cartoon witch. There are a lot of unique characters who exist in newsrooms, but this character isn’t one of them.

And despite what you may have read, the Richard Jewell makes the FBI look even worse than the media. It also shows Jewell, who spent his whole life wanting to be a cop, defending and making excuses for these unscrupulous agents who are falsely accusing him. The script also doesn’t really get the dynamic that takes place between media and the police/FBI quite right; in 95 percent of high-profile crime stories, the only major source is law enforcement, and media outlets just go with whatever the cops tell them. 

What the Atlanta Journal-Constitution did was report — accurately, at the time — that the FBI was looking at Jewell as a suspect. Yes, they should have done more due diligence, but they also didn’t make things up. Had Scruggs behaved the way she did in the film in real life, that would be worthy of condemnation. But she didn’t. 

Furthermore, yes, what happened to Richard Jewell was pretty terrible. But on the other hand, he was never arrested, he never did a day in jail or prison, and was cleared after about three months. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but…other wrongfully accused people have gone away for years and decades. Multiple movies this year, including Brian Banks and Just Mercy, have told the stories of such cases. 

Hauser is very good, and getting to be expert at this sort of role, although the performance ends with him delivering a long, articulate speech in which Jewell turns into essentially a different person.  Sam Rockwell, on something of a roll with Jojo Rabbit and Fosse/Verdon, is just fine as his lawyer. There’s also a performance by Kathy Bates, as Jewell’s mother, that’s been getting inexplicable praise — it’s more a regional affectation than a great performance. 

While Eastwood — the Obama invisible chair speech notwithstanding — is far from a down-the-line right-winger, the timing of this particular release is somewhat cynical. It’s clearly pitched right now in a way to exploit discontent with media misconduct and “fake news,” while also directly in line with that weird cultural tic in which cops are seen as beyond reproach, while the FBI is evil. 

Richard Jewell isn’t bad as a character study, but its agenda is a whole other story. 

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‘Apollo 11’ Leads the Best Documentaries of 2019

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Best Documentaries of 2019

2019 was a generally strong year for documentaries, with many of the best ones sharing one or more of several elements: a focus on music, a resonance with the current moment, and the word “Apollo” in the title.

The Year’s Best Documentaries

Best Documentaries 2019

1. Apollo 11. Directed by Todd Douglas Miller, this documentary made masterful use of archival footage — much of it on 70mm film long not available to the public — to tell the story of the Apollo 11 mission on its 50th anniversary. It’s one of those films that’s nerve-wracking, even as everyone watching knows exactly how it all happened. The film opened in theaters, then showed on CNN, and then returned to theaters this month. 

Best Documentaries 2019

2. The Kingmaker. The Queen of Versailles director Lauren Greenfield takes another look at the ridiculously wealthy, this time catching up with Imelda Marcos, the 90-year-old former first lady of The Philippines. For its first half hour, the film hints that it’s going to be a soft-focused look at a newsmaker of the past, before it takes a sudden turn into showing its subject as a monster who looted her own people of billions and was almost certainly complicit in horrific war crimes. The film played in theaters this fall and will debut on Showtime in early 2020. 

Best Documentaries 2019

3. Love, Antosha. The life of the beloved late actor Anton Yelchin, which ended in a freak accident in 2017, is celebrated with home movie footage, clips of his movies, and interviews with a star-studded array of his co-stars. It’s a sweet remembrance of a talent gone far too soon — while also telling the story, through both letters and interviews, of his relationship with the loving Russian immigrant parents he left behind. Now streaming from on-demand providers. 

Best Documentaries 2019

4. City of Joel. Director Jesse Sweet’s film is an astonishing work of anthropological filmmaking, as he looks at the tension and land disputes between a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews who arrived in an upstate New York town, and their secular neighbors. The film, which played the Jewish film festival circuit and is now available on demand, is uncommonly evenhanded, letting both sides of the dispute have their say. 

Best Documentaries 2019

5. David Crosby: Remember My Name. There were many very strong music documentaries this year, but this film, directed by A.J. Eaton and produced and narrated by Cameron Crowe, was the best of them all. Crosby, knowing he’s in poor health and unlikely to live many more years, is uncommonly candid about his regrets, especially his many feuds with his famous musical collaborators. Now available on demand, it’s also the best film Crowe has been associated with in almost two decades.

Best Documentaries 2019

6. Cold Case Hammarskjöld. Mads Brügger’s documentary starts off by looking at the mysterious 1961 plane crash death of U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld, and then goes off in all sorts of crazy directions, including a supposed plot by South Africa’s apartheid government in the 1980s to infect people with AIDS. Not everything asserted here is true (most likely), but it’s all wildly intriguing. Now available on demand. 

Best Documentaries 2019

7. The Apollo. The year’s “other” Apollo documentary takes a look back at the history of Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater, a mecca of African-American culture for nearly a century. The film looks at how the theater has waxed and waned in importance over the years, while using a staged reading of Ta’Nehesi Coates’ “Between the World and Me” as a framing device. This one played at festivals and then debuted on HBO; it’s currently available on HBO’s streaming platform. 

Best Documentaries 2019

8. Horror Noire. Director Xavier Burgin’s documentary takes a look at the history of black horror films, using 2017’s Get Out as an inflection point to look back on decades of African-American representation — as well as ugly tropes — in the horror genre. The film had some big-screen showings before streaming on Shudder. 

Best Documentaries 2019
Tell Me Who I Am CR: Netflix

9. Tell Me Who I Am. Director Ed Perkins’ documentary about a pair of twins, and the family secrets one must tell the other, is very creepy and unsettling, but still essential. It debuted on Netflix, where it’s a perfect fit, and is still streaming there now. 

Best documentaries 2019

10. Diego Maradona. This look at the 1980s soccer star, directed by Amy filmmaker Asif Kapadia, makes masterful use of archival footage to depict the rise of this one-of-a-kind athlete. The doc, which played on HBO this fall and is still streaming there now, is a must for the many Americans who have gotten into soccer for the first time in the last decade, and are unfamiliar with the stars and stories of the past. 

****

Honorable mention: Black Mother, The Human Factor, Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles, Carmine Street Guitars, Mike Wallace is Here, Varda by Agnes, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, Screwball, American Factory, Homecoming: A Film by Beyonce,

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