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2016: The Year in Reviews (Part I)

Damn, it’s May already. And time for our first batch of reviews of the films I’ve seen this year so far.

Pretty simple, I gather a list of all the films I saw in each third of the year and write up reviews for them. This makes it easier for me come December (and documents what I thought, to keep everything above board), and allows me to see how my thoughts have changed after initial watches.

The next set of reviews will go up in August and the final set will go up just before the end of the year review articles.

Here’s the first set of reviews of the films of 2016:

The 5th Wave — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

It’s generic YA bullshit. You know my deal with these. They don’t hold my interest. The one thing I took from this — they fucking murder some people. Chloe Moretz actually murders people. Which is different. Otherwise — there’s an apocalypse, and then aliens take over the bodies of people or something… I don’t know, it’s stupid. Capably made, but not interesting or unique in any way. So basically, standard YA bullshit.

10 Cloverfield Lane — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I openly hated Cloverfield. I don’t think that’s a secret. I have my reasons, and I don’t begrudge anyone who loves it. That’s fine. No one has to feel the way I do and I don’t think it’s bad enough that I feel that anyone who likes it is an idiot. That said — this was a different beast entirely. This was a film that they took and made a Cloverfield movie much later in the process. So, 90% of this movie is a thriller contained in a bunker below ground, and 10% of this movie is an actual Cloverfield sequel (or whatever they’re calling it). So 90% of this movie was awesome. John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (and what’s his name) down in the bunker. You don’t know if he’s telling the truth or lying, or what his motivations are, if he’s nice or malevolent, and the film really plays with that throughout. And then the climax happens and it’s… there. It doesn’t diminish the movie for me, despite not being ideal for what I’d have liked. But it’s fine. It’s a contained thriller that’s really well made, and I enjoyed the 90% of it to call it a solid film that I really enjoyed. And that’s more than I could say for any movie with the word Cloverfield in the title

11.22.63 — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

The first two episodes were really great. And then it just kind of lost steam the more it went on. I stopped caring about midway through, but it picked up a bit toward the end. It was fine, but the premise didn’t sustain itself. I thought we’d be really in depth with the time travel stuff and all the details of the assassination. But this just didn’t add up for me. I’m sure the book is way more in depth. Overall, solid, but it definitely started better than it finished.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This was an Oscar nominee, so I had to see it. I didn’t get to see it in time for last year, so it goes here. It’s enjoyable. 100-year-old guy (the only logic issue here is how well he moves for someone supposed to be that age) escapes from the old folks home and gets into some shit. It’s fun. A crazy plot that mostly works. Nothing outstanding, but it is better than I thought it was gonna be.

The Adderall Diaries — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

This is a James Franco movie that was held back at least a year and dumped on VOD. Was there any doubt that I’d be completely indifferent to this? It’s okay, I guess. Though I didn’t particularly care about anything that happened. Nor was I really following half the shit that I saw. At one point Franco is getting tied up by a dominatrix and has clothes pins all over his chest? Sure. No idea what this is, I saw it because I’d been tracking it for two years and liked the cast. You likely haven’t heard of it and will never see it, and that’s fine, because you don’t need to.

All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Fun documentary. Music is always a good thing for a documentary to be about, because it’s more likely to hold my interest. Plus this is about a music store where all the employees did drugs and shit all night and talked music during the day. If there was a way to do that with movies, I’d be down for that.

Allegiant — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I stopped caring halfway through the first movie. It hasn’t gotten any better from there. I really don’t give a shit about anything that happens in this franchise. And it doesn’t matter if I ever do. This author is laughing all the way to the bank. One more mediocre movie I half-sleep through and we’re done.

Anesthesia — * * * (3 stars)

I had some worries about this, because it wasn’t released for two full years. But it managed to be okay. It held my interest well enough. It’s an ensemble, and feels exactly like a New York indie. So a plus, and a neutral. And then the negative is all the erudite, philosophical discussions about poems and literature. Not for me. So, I got enough out of it to give it 3, but it’s not something I’d strongly put a stamp of “I liked this” on.

Band of Robbers — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn reimagined as modern day ne’er do wells trying to pull off a low level heist. Not for me at all. Barely held my interest. Maybe worked as an intellectual exercise for a class or something, but as a movie, not particularly interesting. Oh well.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice — * * * (3 stars)

Oh boy. Not sure where to begin here. The simple version is: perfectly entertaining enough to be okay, but also a HUGE piece of shit. My god. But we’ll wait. I need to see this again to truly type up my feelings on this one. The reviews aren’t wrong. But I think most people already know that.

The Benefactor — * * * (3 stars)

I must have been tracking this for two years now. When I first heard about it, I thought I was getting a sort of “matchmaker” movie, where Gere is this figure who conspires to get the two of them married. Then I saw a trailer, and it looked like a fucking thriller, where he’s this creepy man who insinuates himself into their lives and basically blackmails them. And in the end, it was neither. It’s this weird, unbalanced movie that doesn’t really have much to say. Gere gives another solid, underrated performance, but the film around him doesn’t go much of anywhere for it to matter. This was dumped on VOD, so you likely have no idea what this is. Mostly it’s worth watching if you ever decide to go back and appreciate Richard Gere, because the past decade has been him giving terrific performances in small, underseen movies.

The Boss — * ½ (1.5 stars)

Why? Why are we doing this? Melissa McCarthy had one breakout role, and she’s been doing that same role for five years. And every single movie has been shitty. And the one time she doesn’t do that role, is Spy, which is the only good one she’s had. (And I don’t even really like the Bridesmaids performance.) These movies are awful on so many levels, and they’re just mean. There’s nothing redeeming about the movies or the characters in them. It makes me wonder why they think people are going to enjoy them.

The Boy — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Did not care. I watched it purely because it was January and because I had so little else to watch it was easy. Otherwise, had this come out in June or something, I’d have skipped it entirely. Because I knew. Woman becomes a governess for a child, only to discover the child is a doll that the parents treat as real. She treats it as a joke, and of course then creepy shit starts happening, making it seem like the soul of the dead child really is in the doll. Which meant that either it was gonna end supernaturally, which I’d have hated, or it was gonna be generic, and there was some dumb explanation and the film would turn into a shitty thriller, which it did. So I basically ended up bored throughout and didn’t care about any of it, which is to be expected with a film like this.

The Choice — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Nicholas Sparks movie. So I’m not gonna waste any time. I saw it, I didn’t care, I don’t know why I watch these, and we move on and forget this even happened.

Colonia — * * * (3 stars)

It’s well-made. Looked good, seemed well-directed and all. I just didn’t care. Nothing against the movie whatsoever, it just wasn’t for me. Don’t let my rating affect what you think about this movie. This is ultimately one of those ratings where I just wasn’t the audience for it, which means nothing toward the ultimate quality of the film, only my reaction to it.

The Confirmation — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

What a small, lovely film. It was written and directed by the guy who wrote Nebraska, so you should know exactly what you’re getting in terms of tone and size. It’s literally about a guy looking for his tools. Clive Owen is a divorced dad who watches his son for the weekend while his ex-wife and her new husband are away. He’s a handyman who is low on finances (and trying to quit booze) and discovers that his prized tool set has been stolen from his truck. And he goes around the neighborhood looking for it. So it’s a nice father-son story. The ultimate rewards on a film like this aren’t particularly high, but they’re solid, especially since you had (and likely have) no idea what this movie even is.

A Country Called Home — * * * (3 stars)

I say it every time — Imogen Poots has become one of the most interesting actresses for me to watch. I seek out everything she does, because she never fails to be the most interesting thing in the movie, even for something like Need for Speed. This is a typical indie movie — 20-something that doesn’t have their shit together goes home to take care of a dying parent and has to deal with “home.” Nothing particularly new. The standout here though is Mackenzie Davis, another actress I’m starting to enjoy seeing in all these random movies (that the mainstream knows nothing about). She plays a transgendered singer who befriends Poots. The two of them are the most interesting parts of this movie. The rest is whatever.

Creative Control — * * * (3 stars)

This movie looks absolutely beautiful. That said, I couldn’t tell you what the story is if I tried. The director has a great eye for setting up a frame and creating a composition. It’s very well made. But again, no fucking clue what this movie is about or what was going on. The story is so all over the place and feels irrelevant. Plus it’s so hipster bait. Mostly I just wanted to look at the shots. Which sometimes is enough.

Criminal — * * * (3 stars)

It’s fine. Generic action movie. Has its moments. The cast keeps it afloat. Otherwise not something I’m going to remember all that much. The premise isn’t even all that great. Feels like a paycheck movie for all involved.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

This was embarrassing. If you want to shit all over Zoolander 2 for being a decade too late and nothing more than a cash grab (and believe me, no one wants to shit on Zoolander 2 as much as I do), this should be even more offensive to you. Because Zoolander wasn’t a great movie to begin with. A sequel — you know what you’re getting. Crouching Tiger was a phenomenon. That movie was about five minutes away from BEST PICTURE in 2000. Ang Lee won the DGA for that movie! And this is just such a hollow movie. Everyone is speaking English. The plot is TV movie generic. There’s no beauty or sublime action here. And you could tell when they put the full title in there that they were hoping to get people based on the original and nothing more. There’s absolutely nothing of value here, and I feel embarrassed for the people involved. Fortunately this came out on Netflix and barely counts as a sequel, kind of like all those American Pie movies they churned out that no one takes seriously.

Deadpool — * * * * (4 stars)

It’s difficult to give a review of this movie, given how many people have seen it and have strong opinions on it. I deliberately waited two months from when I saw the movie to even write it. Having had time to reflect upon it all, I can honestly say — I enjoyed the film quite a bit. I didn’t go in with any expectations except that it would be fun, and I got that and more. It was smarter than most superhero movies. Smarter in this case being more aware of itself and using that to its advantage in the right way. The stakes aren’t high, which I liked. None of that 9/11 imagery in the climax that’s starting to bore me to tears in the Marvel movies. And the budget and character limitations worked to its advantage. I’m not gonna overthink this. It was fun, it wasn’t a masterpiece, but it wasn’t supposed to be. I’m not gonna think about how other people see this movie, because I can only control how I feel about it. And I enjoyed the shit out of it. It’s overrated, but I don’t care that it’s overrated. I’m done trying to worry about how the public feels about a movie. Ultimately it comes down to whether or not I think it’s okay for people to like this movie. And I think they should. So it’s overrated, but not bad overrated. I take people overrating this as a sign that they’re so starved for actual risk taking and doing something different in the marketplace rather than them buying into a false narrative that doesn’t exist about a film. And frankly, rather than the public at large overrating the quality of this movie, I have deeper concerns about what this is going to do to the superhero genre in the future. Not the bigger films, those will always be immune. But other ones — you’re gonna see copycats. People are gonna try to replicate this, but in the worst possible ways. That’s troubling. But other than that, how could you not enjoy this movie on a base level? It’s something we see too much of having fun with itself and at least undermining a lot of the tropes, even if it’s a base example of the genre itself. What’s not to like? I don’t have a problem with this. Just maybe don’t put it in your top ten films of the year. That would be a bit much.

Diablo — * * * (3 stars)

Surrealist western. Reminiscent of High Plains Drifter and the sort. Not great. Most people will hate this. It had its moments. And it’s a western, so I’m fine with it. Otherwise, nothing particularly groundbreaking here.

Dirty Grandpa — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

This annoyed this shit out of me. Zach Efron doing the same thing he does in practically every movie. Either he’s the straight man or the douchebag. So it’s like a half a facial expression worth a change but otherwise the same performance. And the film is designed to put De Niro in all these crazy situations. I hated it. It’s fine, and you can get through it, so the rating is fair, but man, did this really make me borderline angry. There’s nothing likable about this. It’s offensive, sexist, not particularly funny. It’s the kind of movie that treats and old man (or anyone) calling people gay as funny. There’s a scene where they try to get humor out of mistaken child abuse. Efron is naked on the beach and a child wanders by and through camera angles, it looks like he’s making the child suck his dick. I — no. Everything about this movie is wrong, and I want to forget this even exists as soon as possible.

The Dressmaker — * * * (3 stars)

This is a strange movie. It’s basically High Plains Drifter but with a woman. Kate Winslet was banished from a town 25 years ago because someone died and they all assume she did it because she’s the only one who was around. And now she’s back, a successful dressmaker, and proceeds to turn the town upside down. It’s fine. I enjoyed it well enough. Very strange, though. I guess it’s the Australian sensibility.

The Driftless Area — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

They got an impressive cast on this movie (Anton Yelchin, Zooey Deschanel, John Hawkes, Frank Langella, Alia Shawkat, Ciaran Hinds, Aubrey Plaza), but I don’t know what the fuck its supposed to be about. I’m watching stuff happen, but I’m not even remotely invested in any of it. Not even a little bit. It’s actually quite astounding how little I cared about everything that happened in this movie. Oh well.

Eddie the Eagle — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

It’s utterly charming and delightful. How could you not feel that way about this? It’s an underdog story about an underdog that truly isn’t very good. But goddamnit, is he determined. And that’s exactly what this story is. You keep thinking he’s gonna get better, but no. And that’s what’s so great about it. You can’t not love this movie. It’s harmless, and it’s entertaining as all hell. It also has both Hugh Jackman and Christopher Walken in it! What’s not to love?

Embrace of the Serpent — * * * (3 stars)

Foreign Language nominee. It was cool. Black and white, surreal as shit. It was enjoyable. Like a South American Aguirre. Very arty. Some people will hate this, others will love it. That’s the nature of the beast. Solid film though.

Exposed — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Boring movie. Keanu Reeves is a cop whose partner died, and then there’s this young Spanish woman whose fiancé has died who witnesses a murder and is now a target — boring police thriller. All revolving around a supposed ‘miracle’. So it has religious overtones. Nope. Do not care.

Fathers and Daughters — * * * (3 stars)

Directed by the guy who did Pursuit of Happyness, Seven Pounds and that Gerard Butler soccer player movie where he’s banging all the housewives. So you get an idea of what this is going to be. Russell Crowe is an author whose wife dies and he has a mental breakdown and starts having seizures. He tries to care for his daughter throughout all this, and his wife’s sister (who is well off) wants to take her away. It’s mostly about him and the daughter’s relationship. It’s fine. Didn’t hate it. Not a great film though by any stretch.

Fifty Shades of Black — * * (2 stars)

I got about two minute into this before I said, “Nope!” It didn’t pick up from there. This had about as much appeal to me as A Haunted House. 2. With about the same quality of subject matter it’s “parodying.” If I could sum up this review, and my thoughts about the film in two words, I guess those two words would be STOP IT.

The Finest Hours — * * * (3 stars)

I like that it was a period piece. And that it didn’t go overboard on the sentimentality. Otherwise there’s not a whole lot here. It’s very formulaic, and you know all the beats. Solid B-list cast. It’s Disney doing a disaster movie. So the edges are softened, the risks are minimal, the formula is ever-present, it’s designed to be watched on Starz two years after it comes out and for people to enjoy it in an easy way. It succeeds, even though it’s not particularly great.

The Forest — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I almost skipped this. Thought it was gonna be complete horror bullshit. But actually it’s a psychological thriller, and I liked how it didn’t go overboard on the jump scares and the usual horror bullshit. It’s a woman in a forest looking for her twin and slowly losing her shit. And you get to attribute her losing her shit to the supernatural forest or some personal shit she’s going through. I like it when supernatural elements have non-supernatural explanations, and you can interpret it however you want. So for that, I was very okay with this movie, and 2.5 stars is definitely better than I was expecting to get out of this.

Forsaken — * * * (3 stars)

Western. The great thing about a western is that even if it follows the same path every other western follows, you can still be fine with it because it’s a western. I’ll just watch the sets and let the atmosphere envelop me, even though I know, beat for beat, what’s going to happen in the movie. Kiefer Sutherland is a gunfighter whose put down his guns. He returns home to his father, Donald Sutherland, a preacher. He is trying to live a simple life and work to atone his sins. Naturally, there’s a land baron in the town making people sign over their property by force. They think Sutherland could fuck with that, so they start goading him. They humiliate him in the street, almost daring him to fight back, knowing he won’t. But of course it gets to the point where he has to pick up his guns again. There’s nothing at all new about this, but I love a western, so I did not care for a second.

Freaks of Nature — * * * (3 stars)

This is a bizarre fucking movie. Humans, vampires and zombies live together in relative harmony. They go to school together. That’s just how it is. That’s the set up. So our three main characters — human guy who is in love with the hot girl who doesn’t take him seriously, human girl dating a vampire who wants to turn her into a vampire (and she lets him, falling for his “I love you” bullshit), and a nerd who turns himself into a zombie because he can’t stand his life. And then one day, aliens show up, and all hell breaks loose. And there’s chaos. And the movie is a crazy comedy, sort of like an Edgar Wright movie meets a high school comedy. It’s fine. The leads are enjoyable and the film has its moments. The best part is the very end, when the “super alien” or whatever it is shows up. Oh, right. Perfect Being. That’s what they call it. This giant alien shows up, and it’s supposed to be this great moment, and… well, I won’t spoil it. But what happens (and who voices the alien) really made me laugh. So the film is fine (also Mackenzie Davis is in this, who is really starting to impress me with her work). Not sure what one would expect out of this. I imagine this is a movie you now nothing about and will see on Netflix and wonder if you should watch it. So I’m here to tell you — go for it. It’s fine. Worth a watch if you’ve got nothing else to do.

Get a Job — * * * (3 stars)

This was on the shelf for like five years. They said it would never get released. And now that it has — I’m not sure which would have been the better idea. Because being released now, all that could have happened was that people wouldn’t see it and critics would eviscerate it. Which is what happened. The premise is timely, the execution is not. But the cast is really solid, which is a problem, because now people are gonna seek it out and watch a movie that’s not that great overall. It’s fine, and I enjoyed it well enough, but the style of comedy and the way it’s executed — not great. But oh well. Shit happens.

Gods of Egypt — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Oh shut up, it wasn’t that bad. You knew what you were getting when you saw the trailer. These movies aren’t awful. They’re bad, and they’re too expensive and misguided, but they’re never terrible. They’re moderately entertaining, have too much CGI, are too on-the-nose and formulaic, and they make you wonder why all these people thought the movie would be worth spending $150 million on and that it would be able to make it back. That’s exactly what this is. It’s fine. It’s not good, but it’s fine. Clash of the Titans was fine. It’s got the right amount of fun, but otherwise it’s bad in the sense that it just shouldn’t exist and all that money could have gone to five other movies of smaller budgets that probably would have ended up making more money than this in the long run. But whatever. This isn’t one of the ten worst movies of the year, despite what all the articles from now to December will tell you. It’s just a high profile bomb, nothing more, nothing less. Watch it on Netflix in eight months. You won’t want to shut it off. The most you’ll do is laugh and wonder why the hell they thought this was a good idea.

Grease Live — * * * * (4 stars)

I watch all of these live musicals because even if the show is a disaster, there’s still the fact that people put in work to execute this in one take, flubs and all. And all the other ones, Peter Pan and The Wiz, followed a particular format for putting on the show. This show decided, “No, we’re going to embrace the theatricality and the cinematic nature of television.” And within the first five minutes, my jaw dropped at how well this was done. The opening credits song, where the camera is moving all through the sets and all the actors are around, and the woman singing is walking through, was incredible. Nothing short of incredible. And the rest of the show was absolutely wonderfully staged and choreographed and executed. It’s different from the movie (I’m guessing it’s more like the stage version), so don’t expect complete parallels. But I was giddy by the hour mark because of how incredibly put-together this show was. I can’t quite count this as a film for my year-end list, but this was one of the most impressive and entertaining things I saw all year, and wish all live musicals were done like this from now on. They really upped the game, and set a standard by which all of these events will now be judged.

Green Room — * * * * (4 stars)

This was great. Simple, effective. The real key to this movie was how grounded it was. All the violence was realistic, and punctuated. Any time a knife, or a box cutter, or a gun was used, the repercussions were graphic and had consequences. That’s what made this as effective as it could be. A very solid second effort from Saulnier.

Hail, Caesar! — * * * * (4 stars)

I don’t even know how to talk about this one. Because it’s the Coen brothers. That’s both a positive and a negative. They have such incredible films on their resume from top to bottom that it’s hard to rate one of the ones that feels “lesser.” This feels like one of their lesser efforts. So it’s not that it’s one of their worst films, because none of their films has ever gone below 4 stars for me (maybe 3.5 for Ladykillers, but it’s been about ten years since I’ve seen it). So you have to realize that this is still a really solid and hilarious film that I like a lot and will end up thinking very highly of at the end of the year (particularly after a rewatch, which is for sure going to happen). That said, in terms of the rest of their oeuvre, this is pretty low for me. I think there are certain aspects that don’t pop for me, and a lot of the references (which I got) feel like references for the sake of being references. They didn’t always get used for comedy (like the “Would that it were so simple” scene). Sometimes it felt like they wanted to throw in references. Which is fine. I still loved the film. I loved them staging their own musical numbers and everything. That was fun. It’s an enjoyable film with a top notch cast directed by the Coen brothers. If only there were more of these.

Hardcore Henry — * * * * (4 stars)

This was just fucking chaos. And I loved it. Everyone had doubts as to whether the POV could sustain an entire feature. And it kinda does. Honestly, my only problem is how edited a lot of it looked. I’d have liked them to try to extend sequences to look like continuous shots. I mean, sure, they couldn’t do that a lot of the time, but other times it felt like they were editing for the sake of the audience to not get queasy or something. Other than that, what more could you ask for? So much goddamn fun.

High-Rise — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

It definitely sounded more interesting than it was. The set up is great, the execution is just okay. I wanted to be interested in this, and I was, for the most part. But I didn’t love it, and I was really hoping I’d love it. It’s stylishly directed and there’s a lot going on that kept my attention, but I’m not quite sure what the point of it all was. I’ve never read the novel, and I’m worried that if I did, I’d like the movie less. So I’ll leave this at — it’s a great visual exercise and a really interesting premise that turns into a decently watchable film, which is all I could really ask for.

Holidays — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

This should come as no surprise. I don’t care about the horror genre, and then the anthology aspect makes it increasingly hit or miss, which is bad considering they’re more likely to miss with me. So ultimately I was really, really bored during this, which has so little to do with the film itself than it does my complete lack of interest in the genre. So you know, indifference is where we are with this.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

So… you made a sequel to a Snow White movie without Snow White. Okay. Guess that’s what you have to do when Snow White is banging the director. (Though I’m not sure why. That happens on a lot of movies.) Then you get rid of the director. And you decide, “No, it’s Chris Hemsworth that the people want to see. Just wait. That Michael Mann hacker movie and Ron Howard whale movie are gonna go over like gangbusters and we’ll look like geniuses.” Then in order to combat the press saying you fired your star because she slept with the director (which you did), you say, “No, it’s because we’re doing a prequel and her character’s not in it.” Which works… if you actually make a prequel. Which they didn’t do. So basically they said one thing to shut everyone up and then didn’t even follow through on it. Really surprised no one got upset about that part. They’re treating you like idiots either way, but at least the other way, they didn’t outright lie to you. This movie literally stops being a prequel after ten minutes. After ten minutes, we flash forward to after the events of the first film. So either they deliberately mislead people to prevent them from boycotting the movie. Then, to make it worse, since they had nothing but a bland huntsman character to work with, they went, “What can we put in this movie that will sell tickets? What’s popular now? Oh, Frozen. Bam, ice queen villain. Oh, but now we got this huntsman guy. He needs someone to sleep with. Bam, female warrior.” (Emeril Lagasse was the studio executive on this movie.) And then they put the whole thing through the studio movie shit generator and out came this movie. I have no idea what the point of any of this is. An ice queen gets powers because her husband murdered a baby, and then she raises child soldiers, and then there’s the mirror, and then the warriors are dead, but they’re not dead, and then dwarves and CGI trolls and shit. If you’ve ever wondered, “What if Princess Elsa was also into child slavery,” then I have good news for you. It’s basically Ice Ice Kony.I don’t think the film and the thought process behind it could have been less coherent if you tried. Mostly you spend the run time of this movie wondering how the fuck they managed to get this cast together. There is one good thing that came of it: because of the Sony hacks, it was revealed Charlize Theron was getting paid way less than Chris Hemsworth to be in this movie. In response, she demanded equal pay. So they paid them the same amount, $10 million. And then because this movie isn’t a prequel, Charlize Theron’s character is DEAD for the majority of the film. She literally shows up at the end for about fifteen minutes, through some stupid convoluted fucking logic that only exists because she has top billing. At the very least, I can feel good knowing she got paid $10 million for doing practically nothing due to the stupidity of everyone involved.

I Am Wrath — * * * (3 stars)

Straight to VOD, B movie John Travolta release. He’s been doing these pretty exclusively lately, and they’ve all been fine. They’re all moderately entertaining. They’re not all strong 3s, but they’re fine. The whole thing is ridiculous, but who gives a shit? It’ll kill 95 minutes.

The Invitation — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I was bored. People at a dinner party, drinking wine, and it turns into a thriller/horror movie. Not my kind of thing at all. Arthouse/horror fans will like this. Didn’t do anything for me.

James White — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I tried to see this last year, because it was a darling indie with a lot of people saying Cynthia Nixon should have been nominated for it. But it wasn’t meant to be. That said — solid film. Really well made, and you can see the director having a story to tell and the energy to tell it well. The lead performance is great and Nixon is very good too. Solid indie all around.

Jane Got a Gun — * * * (3 stars)

The amount of problems this film had, it’s almost a miracle it turned out as watchable as it is. It’s clear the film is compromised. So much of it reeks of them not having the money to do much else. The climax basically happens in the dark, and you can’t see anything, and so much of it feels limited by the budget and edited down in order to just get the film out there and be done with it. But honestly, it’s all right. Not great. Mostly forgettable, but it got the western bump from me. Mostly it’s just unfortunate it turned out this way.

The Jungle Book — * * * * (4 stars)

This was awesome. The film was so well-designed. It’s exactly the same as all the other remakes. Like Cinderella. A retelling of the animated film, with no real changes to it. This is the same thing. Except the effects are great, and the voice acting is good too. The kid is — fine. Some of the deliveries on the lines aren’t great, but he holds his own otherwise. Hearing Christopher Walken sing “I Wan’na Be Like You” was awesome. I like this quite a bit. Can’t ask for much more than this.

Knight of Cups — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Terrence Malick has crossed that point to where it feels like his style is actually hindering him from telling a story rather than enhancing it. This felt more put-together than To the Wonder, but not much more. I don’t know what this was supposed to be. It felt monotonous. It looked good and it was fine and all, but I’m starting to tire of Terrence Malick’s whole style. He needs to find a story with a plot, that his style can actually help. Rather than having famous people look into the distance in beautiful locations and then cut to shots of nature, all while abstract voiceover plays.

Krampus — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Tried to get this out of the way last year. One of the few I missed. Gave it a shot because the guy’s previous film was at least fun, if not particularly good. And this — meh. Did not care. Not surprising.

Kung Fu Panda 3 — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Was done with this franchise after the first one. It’s for kids, so I don’t mind. It’s DreamWorks, which means they milk these things dry, and even if they hit with a really good first movie, the successive sequels and TV shows and straight to DVD movies kill it violently and bury it in the backyard, and continue beating it just to make sure every last cent is squeezed out. And I’m not a fan of that.

Lamb — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Really solid film that could have turned real creepy real fast. Still kinda creepy. Divorced 40 year old dude befriends a 12 year old girl. But it’s not sexual and they’re both aware of how weird this whole thing is. Yet, it’s watchable. I don’t know why I enjoyed it, but I did.

London Has Fallen — * * * (3 stars)

It’s fine. Utterly ridiculous and more of the same as last time. Here’s what’ll tell you everything you need to know. The President has been captured by terrorists and taken back to their hideout. Gerard Butler follows them and is waiting outside. He relays the location to the government, who uses a satellite to scout the place for him. He says he’s going in. They tell him there must be “a hundred terrorists in there.” His response? “Well, they should have brought more.” That’s everything you need to know about this movie. Then he goes inside, proceeds to kill everyone, and at one point, is walking, unarmed toward the main villain, who runs at him with a machete. What does he do? Punches the dude in the face. Doesn’t try to dodge the machete, just punches him in the face. That’s this movie.

Me Him Her — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Max Landis burst onto the scene with Chronicle. A movie I hated but a lot of people really liked. Fair enough. Then he wrote American Ultra, which was a disappointment on a lot of levels, despite a vaguely interesting premise. And then Victor Frankenstein, which was an abject failure on almost every level. And then he was given the chance to write and direct this. It’s a movie about a dude with no direction in his life who comes out to LA to help his friend navigate coming out of the closet on the eve of him being the biggest star on TV. Though everyone seems to know the guy is gay already. Thus negating any need for the plot. But it’s cool, because Max Landis thinks he’s making the greatest movie in the history of cinema, and wants you to know that he knows it. It’s sitcom level of how one-dimensional the characters are and how over the top the whole thing is. Chances are you have no idea what this movie is and will never see it, so I won’t waste any more time talking about how not great this was.

Midnight Special — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)

This is Close Encounters for this generation. But directed by Jeff Nichols. It feels like a Jef Nichols movie put through the lens of sci fi movies from the 70s and 80s that meant something. When there was real emotion there and real world people and real world drama. People had problems with the third act. I don’t. I have a slight issue with the final shot, but at this point, I’m completely willing to ignore final shots to movies because I’m aware that’s just the age we live in (looking at you, Nolan). This is just apparently how we end movies now. Without getting into detail, I’d have been much happier without the little, flourish, we’ll call it, and the simple fact that the man is happy because he accomplished what he wanted. That, to me, would have been the more powerful ending. But that’s a different conversation. This movie is absolutely wonderful, and I deliberately went to see this the weekend Batman v. Superman came out instead of that. I felt this was more deserving of my money, and quite honestly, I would make that same decision 100 times out of 100. This movie was an absolute joy to watch. I’m not even going to get into specific critiques of the film. This is quite literally Close Encounters for the current generation. And we frankly needed one of those. We needed a movie that had size and scope and was a genre film that had real emotion and didn’t resort to all the same crap every other movie of its kind would resort to.

Miracles from Heaven — * * (2 stars)

Remember Heaven Is For Real? Yeah… fortunately this is that, just they save the stupid religious shit for the very end. Yes, there are church scenes and praying, but most of the film is them dealing with the daughter’s illness, and then the tree thing happens near the end. Only really at the very, very end do we get the miracle reveal. So I won’t give this a giant “fuck you” but I will say I did not care for this at all. It will actually not lose points because they waited so long to get to the really stupid shit.

Misconduct — * * * (3 stars)

Thriller. Paycheck cast (Pacino, Hopkins, etc). It’s fine. You get through it. Nothing great, nothing terrible. Cast makes it mostly watchable. You could do worse.

Moonwalkers — * * * (3 stars)

Moderately entertaining. The idea is pretty good, the execution is weird and not optimal. But I got enough out of it for January. Outside of that, not something I’d really recommend. I’d rather watch the actual Stanley Kubrick version of the moon landing conspiracy than this.

Mr. Right — * * * (3 stars)

It works because Kendrick and Rockwell are great. Otherwise, it’s a Max Landis film. It’s like American Ultra. Great premise, shoddy execution. There are moments that work and moments that really don’t. But the leads are charming, so you get through it all right. That’s what it is.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I don’t remember if I’ve even watched the entire first movie. This — fair. I didn’t think I’d like it, and thought I could hate it. Because I was worried that the humor would be… kind of what it was. The kind that appeals to middle-aged parents and older people. That out of touch with the youth comedy. And that’s what it was. But the kookiness of the family is endearing enough for me to feel indifferent about the whole thing. It’s harmless, it’s fine, but it’s to over the top and sitcom-my to really be any good.

The Night Manager — * * * * (4 stars)

LOVED this. This was quite awesome. Very TV, but I’m glad we got a miniseries and not anything more. Any more it wouldn’t have sustained. This was quite nice, and Hidleston, Laurie and especially Debicki were all great. And Tom Hollander was awesome too. I’m down for anything John le Carré, and this was a real joy.

Nina — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

A lot of people are gonna comment about the makeup job in this movie. I’m not going to. Because that was their choice and they’re going to have to live with that. Just like how J. Edgar has to live with the makeup they chose. That’s not gonna affect my thought on the overall film. Not, one choice they made that is going to affect my thoughts on the overall film, because it’s inexplicable to me why they’d make it, is the fact that all the songs are sung by a voice that is most certainly not Nina Simone’s. There’s no soul to it, no power. And it certainly doesn’t sound like Zoe Saldana’s voice. If it is, then fine. That’s another choice you made. But again, maybe cast someone who can pull off the voice? Isn’t that the point? Outside of that, I didn’t hate the movie. It just, had no direction. I don’t know the story it wanted to tell or what it wanted to say about Nina Simone.

Norm of the North — * * (2 stars)

I mean… clearly. A talking Polar Bear comes to New York, voiced by Rob Schneider. You know you’re not getting anything good here. And it’s not that unholy a piece of shit to waste time on. It’s bad, we know it, we’ll move on.

One More Time — * * * (3 stars)

It’s good enough. Dialogue is lively enough to not suck, not too indie, the performances are fine. Walken. I had no problems with this.

Pee-wee’s Big Holiday — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Pee-wee is so great. I am down for anything Pee-wee they want to do. This feels a bit lumbering, and doesn’t always work, but it’s so charming that I don’t care. It needed a stronger hand in the writing and a director like Tim Burton to go nuts with it like in Big Adventure. This… gets some of the way there, and is a charming little movie that is unassuming and hard to dislike.

Precious Cargo — * * * (3 stars)

The dialogue is trying. I’ll give it credit for that. The story’s not great though. Still, I appreciate these B movies, even if they’re not very good. I got through it. It was fine.

The Preppie Connection — * * * (3 stars)

Not bad. Vaguely interesting subject that doesn’t really go anywhere. Don’t care about rich private school kids or drugs or any of that. So it was fine. But otherwise, not something I particularly loved.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

They’re playing it straight and it’s not campy. That’s a bad decision. Didn’t they learn anything from Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter? You have to make these things campy. And this was not that. And it failed. I was bored, I didn’t care, and now we have a movie that appeals to absolutely no one. Good job.

The Program — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

The Lance Armstrong movie. It’s solid. Not great. But solid. Not sure if this ever did come out here. But it’s something you could enjoy. A bit too much like a thriller. Lance comes off a bit too much like a douchebag, but I get it. Could have been better, but I’m okay with what we got.

Queen of the Desert — * * * (3 stars)

Werner Herzog making an Out of Africa type period piece. Weird choice. Not a particularly great movie. I think because I don’t like the cast that much. But it’s fine. Nothing great. Most people will find it boring, and even worse, the Herzog fans are gonna what the fuck he’s doing. This doesn’t seem to be a film for anyone.

Regression — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Wow, this was boring. There’s a “reveal” at the end, but did no one see this coming from minute one? At least Ethan Hawke gives a committed performance. And I like Emma Watson. So there’s that. Otherwise, no.

Remember — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

LOVED this movie. Wow. Did not expect it to be this good. Here’s the premise: Christopher Plummer is in an old folks home. He has dementia. His wife died. He’s forgotten. Every time he wakes up he forgets what’s going on. His friend, Martin Landau, reminds him. He says, “Remember what we talked about you doing after your wife died?” And he reminds him. They were both in Auschwitz. One of the sadistic guards there escaped to the U.S. and has been living under an assumed name. Plummer agreed to go kill the guy, but only after his wife died. There are four potential suspects, all with the same name. Landau gives him all the info he needs, has it all taken care of (hotel rooms, train tickets), and sends him on his way. And every little twist in turn is practically Hitchcockian. It’s really good. I won’t give anything away, because the film changes gears every step of the way, but it’s great. This is something I recommend very highly.

Ride Along 2 — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Nope. First one was barely okay. This one — did not care, please stop making them now. That’s all.

Risen — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

A roman guy is tasked with finding who took Jesus’ body from the cave. So it’s a relatively interesting twist on a story everyone knows. Did I like the film? No. Was it bad? No. Just kinda there. So that’s all right.

The Search — * * * (3 stars)

I was so excited when they announced this. And then it didn’t come out, and that worried me a bit, because reviews were decidedly mixed. And then it didn’t come out again the following year. Which really concerned me. Still hasn’t come out. And I see why. It’s overdone. Too serious, and just doesn’t translate as well as the original did in 1948. A shame, but it happens. Post-Oscar films don’t always do well (unless you’re Inarritu, apparently), so I’ll allow it. Hope his next film is better though.

Secret in Their Eyes — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Couldn’t get to this last year because it completely disappeared. Decent film, not great. Kind of overdone. Micast, I feel. Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman — maybe not the best choices. But what do I know? Ejiofor is good, and otherwise they got enough out of it for me to like it, but not really something I’ll want to go back and see. I imagine the original is much better.

Solace — * * * (3 stars)

Weird movie. Not terrible, though. Anthony Hopkins is a psychic who doesn’t want to be one. He used to consult for police but then his daughter was brutally murdered so he stopped. Now, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, a friend, comes and asks him to help out again to catch a serial killer. Only, he finds out that the killer is actually also psychic. Which makes things interesting. And then we find out the psychic serial killer is also Colin Farrell. What’s interesting about that is that Farrell doesn’t really get introduced until much, much later into the film. Overall, it’s not bad. Not great, but not bad. The epitome of the 3 star rating.

Special Correspondents — * * * (3 stars)

It’s funny. It has its moments. The thing that keeps it from being really good is that it’s too easy to telegraph what’s gonna happen and the characters are far too one-dimensional to really make the material truly interesting or really sing. So we’re left with a moderately entertaining movie that has enough laughs to get you through.

Standoff — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

REALLY liked this. This is the kind of B movie throwaway that no one knows about that I think is awesome. Very simple premise. Thomas Jane is a dude living alone in a house in the middle of nowhere, basically, whose wife left him after the death of their child. Laurence Fishburne is an assassin. He shows up at a cemetery to murder a woman for whatever reason. It’s his job. And he kills anyone who sees his face, so all the people around get killed too. There’s a little girl there, visiting her mother’s grave, and manages to hide and take a picture of him. Though he eventually sees her. So he chases her through the forest and to Jane’s house. And what happens is, Jane ends up hiding upstairs in his house with the girl, and Fishburne is downstairs. Jane has a gun with only two rounds left in it, but Fishburne doesn’t know that, so a (insert title here) occurs. And it’s a chess match, each trying to outsmart the other and wait each other out. Not much going on here, but it’s awesome. 90 minutes, nothing bad about it. These are the movies I love. The ones you catch on cable out of nowhere that you’ve heard nothing about. I will always champion a good one of these.

Triple 9 — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I can’t tell if this counts as a disappointment for Hillcoat or not. Because I loved The Proposition. The Road was really good. And then Lawless, not so much. And this one — the action scenes are well done. The rest of the film I didn’t much care about, but the cast kept it afloat because I like them all. That’s how Lawless felt. Maybe this is just Hillcoat’s realm, and he can’t rise above it. But anyway — solid enough film, overall good performances. Mackie is good, Harrelson is good, Collins is good, Ejiofor is good, Affleck is really good. Winslet — I’m not sure. It feels like she’s trying out her Steve Jobs accent here. Maybe that’s just me. This is one of those 3.5 star ratings that’s solid, but I’m ultimately going to forget about a lot of what happened in this movie and think, “Yeah, that was pretty good,” but not have any real affection for it over time.

The Trust — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

What the fuck was this movie? Was it a heist movie? Was it a comedy? Nicolas Cage is completely off the wall in this, and I have no idea what they were going for. But any Cage I can get is fine by me.

Tumbledown — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Indie movie. The worst kind. The ones that are borderline pretentious. Though fortunately it doesn’t cross the border all that much. Just knocks up against it. Mostly about sad people, so the movie doesn’t have a particular kind of life to it. Ultimately I didn’t care. And it’s Sudeikis, who I find I’m just not all that invested in on screen.

A War — * * * (3 stars)

Foreign Language nominee. It was solid. Not much more to say.

Zoolander 2 — 0 stars

Zootopia — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I saw this a few weeks before it came out. It was fine. I enjoyed it, it was exactly what I expected to get. And then it came out and got some insanely good ratings and people were calling it the best animated movie of the past 20 years. Calm down. It’s not that good. It’s fine. It’s an entertaining movie. My big knock against it, and you’ve heard me say this a dozen times now, it doesn’t feel like Disney.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Films I Haven’t Seen Yet

  • 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
  • How to Be Single
  • Race
  • Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
  • The Brothers Grimsby
  • The Young Messiah
  • Eye in the Sky
  • Hello, My Name Is Doris
  • The Bronze
  • Too Late
  • I Saw the Light
  • Born to Be Blue
  • Everybody Wants Some
  • The Dark Horse
  • Miles Ahead
  • Demolition
  • Barbershop: The Next Cut
  • Louder Than Bombs
  • Sing Street
  • Elvis & Nixon
  • A Hologram for the King
  • The Meddler
  • Keanu
  • Term Life
  • Mother’s Day
  • Ratchet & Clank

The Films I Skipped

– – – – – – – – – –

Favorite Movies So Far:

  • Midnight Special
  • Deadpool
  • Green Room
  • Hardcore Henry
  • Hail, Caesar!
  • The Jungle Book
  • Remember
  • Standoff
  • Lamb
  • Knight of Cups

Least Favorite Movies So Far:

  • Zoolander 2
  • The Boss
  • Dirty Grandpa
  • Fifty Shades of Black
  • Norm of the North
  • Miracles from Heaven
  • The Choice
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny
  • The Huntsman: Winter’s War
  • Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

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5 responses

  1. Hmm…I was looking forward to this article, but somehow I’m a bit disappointed that you didn’t like certain films and gave a pass to certain others.

    I feel exactly the same about The 5th Wave. It has a few quirks, but ultimately I didn’t care.

    I didn’t like The Boss, but somehow it really fascinates me. I notice that, after McCarthy has actually had roles of dramatic substance in St. Vincent and Spy (where her crass, improvisational persona is used as her disguise), it’s like she’s visibly troubled that films like The Boss, Tammy, Identity Thief, and The Heat aren’t actually that good. Peter Dinklage, on the other land, takes full advantage of these comedic roles and never fails to entertain (and I don’t even watch Game Of Thrones).

    I think I sent you an e-mail a while back, but while I really did find Deadpool entertaining, the praise for it from fans bothered me whenever I opined that it was entertaining, but was rather conventional, story-wise. I debated with too many people about its story merit and characters, both of which I found to be quite conventional. It’s still a fun film, but people really need to give the fans vs. critics battle a rest. Even the professional critics who loved it the most only gave it a rating similar to yours.

    I f*cking hated Dirty Grandpa, while Norm of the North is a horrendous excuse for family entertainment.

    I liked The Jungle Book enough, but “one of the best films of the decade” it is not. It’s just another retelling of the 1967 version (and a very dependent one at that). Even the visuals somehow don’t look as impressive as Avatar. And while I love Christopher Walken, he lost me the moment he started singing “I Wanna Be Like You”. That song worked in the 1967 classic because of the performers, but Walken sings it like he’s obligated to. (This version makes me look forward to the Andy Serkis film in a few years.)

    I’m kinda starting to find your distaste for non-Disney (we’ll get to Zootopia in a bit), non-SG, non-handdrawn animation to be quite off-putting. I actually regard Kung Fu Panda 3 as having the most thorough story of the franchise. The villain isn’t some facade that’s undermined by something that’s part of Po’s character (his weight in the 1st film and the shoved-down-the-throat prophecy of the 2nd film). Po actually has to be forced to sacrifice himself in this 3rd installment, which I found quite refreshing. Plus, the animation style was quite impressive.

    Finally, Zootopia…until I saw Eye in the Sky, it was my favorite film of 2016. Disney may have their princess musicals, but unlike you, I actually find their non-princess films like The Great Mouse Detective and The Rescuers Down Under quite refreshing due to their atypical genres. Big Hero 6 largely sucks because of the superhero genre today. Zootopia, on the other hand, impressed me because it actually had something important to say about race, prejudice, and stereotyping, like how Inside Out had something to say about the human mind and human emotions. Zootopia feels like a full-bodied work with full-bodied characters (who clearly aren’t just their stereotypes) and interesting narrative shifts. It offers a world that could produce more unique, standalone stories.

    I don’t care if Disney does something that’s not “what they originally became known for.” A well-made film is a well-made film. Zootopia’s place in the WDAS canon can wait; for now, I think it’s one of the best films of 2016 so far.

    (Now I shall look forward to your Ranking Disney articles for Zootopia.)

    April 30, 2016 at 10:32 pm

    • Just so you know, I say all of these things out of utter admiration for your work as a film buff and film blogger. You still have the best film website on the entire freaking internet. ^_^

      April 30, 2016 at 10:43 pm

  2. I hated Hardcore Henry – incoherent, nearly unwatchable, and just no fun at all. Midnight Special left me cold – I like ambiguity, but here it felt like things were left unexplained solely to generate mystery. (I’m also not really a fan of Close Encounters, which might not help.)

    Surprised you were so indifferent to The Invitation. I thought that was a hell of a movie. Maybe a little rough at times, but the good parts were good enough to compensate. And Zootopia I really loved, at least up until the third act, which kind of set aside the anti-prejudice theme in favor of a fairly generic plot.

    I’m just gonna finish by saying (and like BlueFox above, I say this as much because I admire your blog as anything else) that I’m finding your star system increasingly…arbitrary? Maybe that’s not quite the word I’m looking for. But your 3 and 3.5 star ratings especially seem to be often slapped on films which your seem to have 2-2.5 star feelings for. I get that it’s all subjective, but it can be a tad confusing.

    May 1, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    • You should see his Part III article. There are a great handful of examples for what you said of his ratings.

      December 17, 2016 at 2:39 am

  3. Somehow I knew that Zoolander 2 would get a 0 star rating.

    November 15, 2016 at 9:13 pm

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