2017: The Year in Reviews (Part I)
We’re a quarter of the way into 2017 and that can only mean one thing — I’ve already given up and started day drinking. Oh, but, movies-wise it means it’s time for my first batch of reviews. Covering everything I’ve seen between January and now. Last year, it magically worked out to where I didn’t skip a single movie. This year… not so much. But that’s good, since I have other stuff to work on.
You know how this works — initial ratings and thoughts that will go toward wrapping everything up in December. Another batch will be posted at the end of August and one more will be posted right before we close out the year.
Here’s what I got for everything I’ve seen so far in 2017:
3 Generations — * * * (3 stars)
The Weinsteins were supposed to release this in the fall of 2015. They pulled it about two weeks from release and then said “Don’t worry, we’re gonna release it soon.” And of course they didn’t. It’s supposed to come out next week. Let’s see if that happens. But either way — once they pulled it, I lost any hope for it to be good. But, given the cast, I figured it might be watchable, even though the subject matter is very easy to screw up. I maintained those worries for the first part of the film. But it was okay. It wasn’t particularly enlightening, or overly progressive, but it also didn’t feel like it was offensive to its subject matter, belittling the plight of trans people. Or maybe it does. I don’t know. It definitely wasn’t awful. It wasn’t great, but I was able to get through it without overly disliking it. Which is all I needed for something that was held over a year and a half and basically dumped quietly without any fanfare.
Aftermath — * * * (3 stars)
This is based on a real story. In a way, the real story is more fucked up and interesting than the movie. The movie’s fine. More Schwarzenegger using his age and gravitas to make a dramatic performance. But mostly it amounts to him being quiet a lot and using that and a lack of screen time to make it seem like he’s doing heavy lifting. I like it, but the lack of overall quality of his films has hindered him from actually getting great notices for the work. Anyway, stop reading if you don’t want to be spoiled. Not that you’d ever really know what this film is or see it without my talking about it. Note: THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED. A Russian architect’s wife and kids are flying in to town. He goes to the airport to meet them. The board says “Flight delayed, see desk.” He goes to the desk and finds out the plane crashed. What happened was, an air traffic controller was on the job, and a confluence of bad luck all happened at once. The phones were being switched over for six minutes and are glitchy, his coworker was on break and he was the only one in the tower. He’s talking to one plane and telling them to descend to a certain altitude. He keeps going and trying to call a tower for a runaway. And each time he does, he misses another plane asking for permission to drop altitude. They go ahead and do it, putting them in direct path of the other plane. He realizes too late and hundreds of people die. The dude loses his shit and has a mental breakdown. As one would do when they find out they were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people by sheer accident. Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger, upon hearing of his family’s death, goes to the wreckage and volunteers to help. He manages to find his wife’s body in the woods. This causes him to have a breakdown. And, long story short — he goes out, finds the air traffic controller and murders him. This happened. The movie’s decent. You can watch it. But the real story — holy fuck.
All-Nighter — * * * (3 stars)
What a weird movie. It casts Emile Hirsch as a romantic lead (of sorts), which makes you go, “What?” And he’s not even like an actual romantic lead. He’s one of those nervous, passive characters that everyone’s taking advantage of. J.K. Simmons is supposed to be the star of the movie. And his character is… strange. The whole movie is just slightly off-center and never quite works. The fact that the bulk of it takes place over a single night and is supposed to be a madcap adventure/comedy type film allowed me to get through it, but the whole thing just came off as odd. Even the reveal at the end makes you feel wrong. Maybe it’s just a misfire. It’s a watchable misfire, but a misfire nevertheless.
Alone in Berlin — * * * (3 stars)
Two German parents lose their son in the war, so they set out to start turning people against the war. Simple set up, eminently watchable, and you have Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson. This could have been an awards contender had it been done slightly differently. But as it is, you have a decent enough drama that would have made a really great B movie 75 years ago. Can’t ask for a whole lot more than that.
Arsenal — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
The movie’s not that good, BUT NICOLAS CAGE IS LITERALLY DOING THE SAME CHARACTER HE PLAYED IN DEADFALL TWENTY YEARS AGO. It’s crazy. Of course he must know by this point he’s the only reason people watch these movies. It had to have been a conscious choice. But my question is — was it done deliberately because he knew it would be an interesting easter egg for crazy people like me, or is it because he was lazy and had nothing else so he just did that same thing again? Because it’s a really specific thing. Of course, it’s not as energetic and as insane as the original performance was, but still. I’m fascinated by the decision-making process that went into that performance. You’ll notice my review doesn’t at all mention the rest of the movie, because that doesn’t matter. Nobody gives a shit about the rest of this movie. It’s not even worth mentioning. This movie will either be something nobody knows about, or it’ll be known as the film where Nicolas Cage basically reprised his Deadfall performance, which probably only a couple thousand people even know about, some of whom are the direct result of my telling them about it (because I show everyone that performance).
The Assignment — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
So this is a movie where Michelle Rodriguez plays a male hitman who, as part of a revenge perpetrated by someone related to one of his targets, is given a sex change operation and turned into a woman. I am not making that up, that is the plot of this movie. It was originally called (Re)Assignment. And if you thought anything about this movie was gonna be subtle, you are way wrong. It was also directed by Walter Hill. As in the guy who wrote Alien and directed The Warriors and 48 Hrs. Now he’s directing a movie about a hitman given a sex change trying to kill the people who did it. The scene where (s)he finds out what happened, the reaction is the same as when Anakin finds out Padme is dead. I’m not kidding. It’s so ridiculous. I can’t say it’s terrible, because it’s so unintentionally entertaining in the worst possible way. Just describing what this movie is about makes the watch completely worth it.
Beauty and the Beast — * * * * (4 stars)
It’s not that good. The 4 stars is at least 75% due to the fact that it does exactly the same thing as the original, and me replaying the original is enough to get this at least 3 stars. And the other star is because it looks so nice. This is the same as Jungle Book. None of the Disney remakes have been great films, but most of them have been at least watchable. Jungle Book had great effects which made the so-so story worthwhile, and this one has nice sets and costumes and that makes it look great even though we’re watching a lesser imitation of something that was already done way better in animation. It’s a part of life that this was going to happen, and I accept it. I’ll give it 4 stars, but I don’t particularly have any real affinity toward this film. I’ll watch the animated version nine times in a row before I think to watch this again.
Before I Fall — * * * (3 stars)
It’s Groundhog Day, but with teen girls. Yeah, that almost lost me too. It’s fine, though it does get kinda dark. Wasn’t expecting that. There are parts I like and parts I don’t. They definitely could have made more out of this than they did. Overall, I’m fine with it.
The Belko Experiment — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Decent idea, solid execution. Not good enough to be great, but also worth a watch. I’m not sure I follow a lot of the logic here, but I guess if you can try to put yourself in the shoes of these people, you can let a lot of those questions go. Still, a serviceable thriller that holds your attention and gets the job done. Can’t ask for much more than that.
Between Us — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Your standard indie movie about a young married couple going through problems. It’s watchable, but it’s not great. I really like Olivia Thirlby and she generally makes things worthwhile. Plus it’s nice to see Adam Goldberg pop up in things. It’s fine, but it’s not something I particularly enjoyed one way or the other.
Bitter Harvest — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
I’d tracked this for so long I felt obligated to watch it. It’s… boring. Not much happens. It’s like a straight to video Doctor Zhivago, but compiled from all the boring stuff that never actually made it into the movie. Oh well. At least I saw it. Had I not tracked it for four years I’d have not known this existed just like everyone else.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
This was directed by Anthony Perkins’ son. Not sure why I led with that, but it is interesting. I actually saw his second film first. He did I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House for Netflix, which I did not like. It was boring as hell. I didn’t realize he did that movie until after I saw this one. Mostly because I was watching it, found myself really engaged by it, and went, “Who made this? What else has he done?” Which is usually the sign of good filmmaking, when you want to know what the person has done and is doing next. This is a slow burn of a horror movie, with low key weird things happening amongst a spooky atmosphere until all the fucked up shit happens in the third act. It’s not the greatest movie ever made, but it’s very effective. It stars the little girl from Mad Men (who everyone who watched that show seems to really like), Emma Roberts and the girl from Sing Street. It works. A perfectly effective horror movie that shows nice filmmaking chops out of its director. As someone who doesn’t like horror movies at all, I did like this one.
Bokeh — * * * (3 stars)
This is the world’s most indie apocalypse. Two twenty-somethings are on vacation or their honeymoon or something in Iceland. One day, they wake up, and everyone else has disappeared. And upon further investigation, everyone else on the entire earth has disappeared. Just gone. No explanation. Cars still have the keys in them, lights are on, the whole nine yards. Nothing is ever explained, this is just how it is. And we watch them living like this. And remember, it’s Iceland. So it’s beautiful and an island. So they’re stuck there. And that’s pretty much it. It looks nice. Not overly great. But it’s watchable.
The Book of Love — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Watch the trailer for this. You know what you’re getting. I am inherently suspicious of indie movies where a character is dealing with the death of a loved one. This tries to be overly sappy and is filled with every bad cliche you wish a movie wouldn’t bother with. I almost found this watchable enough to like, but it never did anything remotely off-book. Plus, I’m not a Jason Sudeikis fan and I don’t know why. So all that led to indifference. Which isn’t that bad. Because this is a movie that is gonna be really disliked by people. Just by watching a trailer you can tell that. So the fact that I don’t feel one way or the other about it is actually a good thing.
The Boss Baby — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I think I may have gaslighted myself. I saw the trailer for this in January, and for the first half I thought “What in the holy fuck is this?” And then by the end I was like, “You know, it’ll probably just be forgettable kids stuff.” And then the “cookies are for closers” line was cute. So there was that. I started ironically calling it the best film ever made and began talking about it as if it was going to be the greatest film ever made. Somewhere along the way, I lost the irony. I was excited for it to be successful primarily because I wanted no reason for Trump to shit on Baldwin for not doing good box office. Because you know he would have. So I was happy to see it succeed. And then I saw it and was actually excited for it to be good. And even though it’s so fucking ridiculous on every level, I enjoyed the shit out of it. I have no idea why, and I can’t lay claim to this being a remotely good film at all. But I laughed. The movie takes 12 steps when it only needs to take 2, but I laughed. So fuck it, I’m giving it 3.5 stars. It’s really only 3 stars, but who said my ratings had to be accurate? They’re accurate to how amused I was when I watched the film. And I was quite amused by this one.
Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
This was a nice little documentary about a mother and daughter. I like that it didn’t over-embellish everything and just let them be who they are. I’m not gonna overrate this and say this is such a huge loss or anything like that. I don’t like to mythologize celebrity deaths. To me, it’s about the work they’ve left behind. Sure, it’s sad, specifically how this one happened, but what this is really about is a strong mother-daughter connection in the strangest of situations, and an iconic actress and her daughter who has to live with her mother’s shadow, the giant franchise for which she’s known, and mental illness. It’s a very interesting story, and the fact that this doc let these two be who they are (even when they don’t look great because of it), is nice.
Brimstone — * * * (3 stars)
Boy, did I not know what I was in for with this one. The first sign was when the director’s name was put above the title card. Meaning it deliberately made itself look like the product of an auteur. Then it started about the same as the synopsis had suggested, and then it veered way off course. This movie is two and a half hours. And it’s presented in about five chapters, not in chronological order. We begin at about chapter four, even though it seems like chapter one. You’re in for a long and grim movie. It’s a western, but man, is it not having any fun. It’s almost intent on being a purgatory for its characters, putting them through one one awful event after another. It takes real patience to make it through this one. Without much of a payoff at the end. You may feel like you’ve accomplished something once you get through it, but I’m not sure the film gives you much of anything to make the run time feel warranted. I was almost tempted to go the full 3.5 stars with this, but I think that’s just because I was impressed at its ability to hold my attention for so long. It wasn’t because I had any particular affinity toward it. It was fine, and the western of it all got me through it. But this is more of a curious oddity than anything. I’d be curious to see how I feel about this one over time. This may be one of those westerns you can view academically and do studies on. Which is something that would increase its status in my eyes. It doesn’t need to be good, but if I can talk about it, that counts for a lot.
Burning Sands — * * * (3 stars)
Netflix movie about college hazing. It had its moments. Ultimately it didn’t amount to much. Hazing is bad, fraternities, especially longstanding ones, do some fucked up shit, and schools let it go out of some sort of tradition. I liked it well enough, but there wasn’t much that was overly special here.
The Bye Bye Man — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Carrie Pilby — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I liked this. Bel Powley has proven to be an actress I like watching, whose work is always interesting. And this premise is really good. It almost ruins it by turning into a standard rom com with the usual indie tropes, but it manages not to give in too much. Overall, I liked it. And Powley manages to take what could have been a fairly forgettable movie and makes it solid.
The Chamber — * * * (3 stars)
I like contained thrillers. This takes place entirely on a submarine in some alternate future where we’re at direct war with North Korea. The captain of an old, rickety sub takes on some passengers who hire him for a job. Of course they have a mission they’re keeping from him that he slowly finds out about as the movie goes on. This could have been really good. Instead it’s just watchable. This could have made a great noir 70 years ago.
CHiPs — * * * (3 stars)
Thought I was gonna hate this, surprisingly didn’t. A lot of the humor is not stuff I usually go in for, but I managed to get through it okay, mostly due to fun performances by actors I like. So I’m fine with this. Not gonna go see it again, but I’m fine with it.
Clinical — * * (2 stars)
Did not like. Very boring, very predictable. The only reason I watched was because it was a Netflix movie. Usually those are decent. I was not a fan of this one.
Coin Heist — * * * (3 stars)
It was fun. High school students try to rob the mint. They add a bunch of “story” to it to give them motivations, but all we really want is the heist aspect of it. Which there’s not enough of. So it’s a decent enough movie, but it could have been more. It’s fine, though.
Collide — * * * (3 stars)
A throwback action movie you’d have watched on cable randomly. Nic Hoult and Felicity Jones are in love. She needs an operation. He was working for a crime boss, but quit. Now he’s gotta pull a job to pay for the operation. This puts him at odds with an even bigger crime boss. So he’s on the run, trying not to get killed, trying to keep his girlfriend from being kidnapped, and trying to make it so he gets out clean and no one is pissed off at him. It’s fine. You can get through it. You get Ben Kingsley and Anthony Hopkins to keep things lively. It’s fun. Catch this on Starz or Showtime in six months and you’ll enjoy it well enough. A bit too much hipster music choices and pretentious flourishes, but the action parts get you through.
Colossal — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
This was great. I didn’t know what to make of this when they announced it. And then when it came out, I knew people liked it, but I still didn’t quite know what I was gonna get. But I ended up really liking it. I saw pretty early on what they were going for, and I actually appreciated it more than I would have if they went the way it seemed from the outset. The scenes with the… the monster scenes, to not give it away… are so great. It’s nice when Anne Hathaway does real dramatic roles rather than the light stuff that doesn’t require her to do as much. She’s terrific in this. And this movie is terrific. I’m so happy this exists.
The Crash — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Nah. White collar criminal is brought in to prevent the entire financial system from collapsing. Don’t worry about it. It’s not that good. But John Leguizamo quietly has an interesting part. That’s worth noting.
A Cure for Wellness — * * * (3 stars)
I tried to stay away from this because it looked like bad horror. But Gore Verbinski usually makes worthwhile movies, even when they’re The Lone Ranger. So I gave it a shot. And it started off really interesting. It looked great, it was well-directed, and it was one of those throwback kind of horror-thrillers. You could see this having been made by Val Lewton. It was interesting for large portions. The real problem is that it’s almost two and a half hours long. No horror movie should be that long. This movie needed to be much tighter and less overdone and it could have been pretty good. As it is, it’s fine, and there are some really nice shots and interesting moments, but it’s just too much. Verbinski is taking his overindulgence he learned from the Pirates movies and putting them in a genre that is about the exact opposite of that.
Dayveon — * * * (3 stars)
Decent little coming of age movie. Meant to be a slice of life, without a real plot and focusing on the smaller moments for the character, but at times that becomes — “Why is nothing happening? Please let something happen in this movie.” I wish more happened. I might have liked it more than I did.
Detour — * * * (3 stars)
Nice little thriller. They tried to do a bit too much with it, but the parts that worked were nice. And you have interesting young actors here — Dane DeHaan, Bel Powley and Emory Cohen. This might be one of those movies people go back to when all of these people get really famous in ten, fifteen years. Overall, it works.
Deidra & Laney Rob a Train — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I really enjoyed this. It’s Netflix, so don’t get your hopes too high. But it’s fun. Girl wants to go to college, but her mother lands in jail and her father has no money to pay for bail. So she’s got to keep the family going or else she and her sister end up being taken away from their mother. So, she starts robbing trains. It’s probably not as good as the rating, but it was really fun to watch. This is one Netflix movie I think is truly worth seeing.
The Discovery — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
A terrific premise that starts off great but levels off pretty quickly and then turns into a pretty run of the mill film for a while and then tries to get nuts in the third act. I have no idea what they were doing there at the end or if it even tracks. But hey, I was engaged well enough, so I’m fine. But this is definitely a disappointment for McDowell, coming off The One I Love, which was a terrific debut. I consider this an interesting failure. It has moments that worm well, but ultimately they don’t add up to much.
A Dog’s Purpose — * * (2 stars)
I mean, what more needs to be said about this one? The entire movie is in the trailer. Forget the video that came out. That’s subterfuge. This movie is actually bad. Just completely ill-conceived on every level. If it weren’t so hilariously bad to me, this might be Unforgivable. Some movies that we know are bad I try to pull my punches when I talk about them. This movie deserves it. It’s that bad.
Fallen — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
They pushed this one for at least two years. Which meant it was gonna be bad. And it was. There’s a weird sub genre of YA novels that’s about biblical stuff. And they’re always bad. This his every YA cliche you can think of, except that there are fallen angels at a school and some of them are good angels? I have no fucking clue what happened here, and the only reason I saw it was because I was tracking it for so long. I don’t think anyone even knows this exists or will ever see it, and that’s probably for the best.
The Fate of the Furious — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
You know what you’re getting with these by now. Every cast member who isn’t killed on screen (and some who are), bad guys turning good, more ridiculous stunts that outdo the previous film, and the word “family” spoken about a hundred and eighty seven times. These are automatic 3.5 star movies. Nothing about them ever surprises me anymore. The most they get out of me is, “Oh, that’s a nice location,” or, “Well that’s pretty crazy” with an approving head nod.
Fifty Shades Darker — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Is it weird that I actually think this is a better movie than the first one? It’s still not a good movie, but we’re getting to almost watchable. And whereas the first movie tried to play the sex stuff for titillation, this movie seemingly plays it for laughs. Either that or it’s so bad it’s actually funny now instead of just being awkward and boring. This movie actually includes the line, “No way, you’re not putting those in my butt.” What more do I need to add? Though I guess we do need to eventually come to terms with the fact that the song “Darling Nikki” is more hardcore BDSM than anything these movies are.
Fist Fight — * * * (3 stars)
I thought I was gonna hate this. I saw a trailer in the theater and thought, ‘Oh Jesus’. Because all these movies have such stupid over the top shit in them that’s just so unrealistic it takes me out of anything they’re attempting to do. In this movie, it’s a random moment where a horse drags the dude through the hallways of the school. Makes no sense whatsoever, and it’s just there to get ridiculous laughs and lowest common denominator humor.
Five Came Back — * * * * (4 stars)
Incredible story turned into an interesting documentary. Frank Capra, John Huston, John Ford, William Wyler and George Stevens. Five all-time directors going off to make films during World War II. We talk about them before the war, during the war, and after the war, and the films they’ve made. Oh, and they’re talked about, one director for one director, by Steven Spielberg, Guillermo Del Toro, Paul Greengrass, Lawrence Kasdan and Francis Ford Coppola. Go ahead and try not to be interested in that.
Free Fire — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I was over-excited for this, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun as shit. A bunch of people in a warehouse with guns shooting at each other. I was in from the jump. It’s well-choreographed. And there’s a lot of humor to it. All around a good time. Excited to see if it has replay value.
Get Out — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
It’s incredibly well made. The strength of the filmmaking is what made me bump this up from 3 stars. I don’t love the film. I think it’s just pretty good. But Peele directs the hell out of it, and that kept me more invested than I thought I’d be otherwise. It’s a truly impressive debut. I think people made more out of it than they should have, but I also think they needed to in order to get people to see it. This deserves to be seen. It’s an incredibly smart thriller with a great premise and a strong voice behind it. People definitely need to see this, whether they love it or not. P.S. This ending — wonderful. I fucking cheered.
Ghost in the Shell — * * * (3 stars)
Yeah. I mean… look, this was never gonna be for me. I accepted that all the way through. After a while, it became sport to joke about how bad this movie was gonna fail. It’s not that bad that I wish ill will on it. But also… kind of ill-conceived, all around. I haven’t seen the original, but was there any chance they could have made anything that captured half of whatever that captured? The whole race thing was way overblown. I chalk that up to people wanting to be outraged before they saw the damn thing. People cried foul when it was Scarlett Johansson, but wasn’t that the point? The little I know about what it’s actually supposed to be, seems like there should be no issue there. The robot looks like Scarlett Johansson. The girl that died that became the robot (i.e. the one who’s brain is Scarlett Johansson’s memories) was Japanese. Aside from the fact that all anime characters basically look white anyway, and I believe the original creator thought Scarlett Johansson was a good choice to actually play the role. Plus, the pictures I saw of the original character… that’s a white person. Now sure, I get some of what they’re saying, and it’s a horrible issue, but they’re not disrespecting any source material. You want to cry foul about how horribly Asians are represented in big studio movies. And that is a legitimate issue. But let’s not say that they deliberately cast outside what is supposed to be an Asian role. Doctor Strange, you could have done that. This one… I think people just wanted to be outraged. That said — the movie’s not particularly good. The visuals are fine, but you can’t skate by on just visuals. Just ask Zack Snyder. Or maybe don’t, because he probably thinks you can. This movie is capably made, I just didn’t give a shit about any of it. I’m not sure who this was made for. Seems like this feel victim of trying to appeal to too many people, and it was watered down from anything it could have been in the initial iteration. But how is that different from at least half the bigger budgeted movies that come out every year? Not gonna say this offended me in any way, but it was criminally mediocre, which is the issue that at least 75% of “blockbusters” nowadays have.
Girl Asleep — * * * * (4 stars)
I really liked this. Technically it’s a 2016 film, but it sounded interesting to me, so I sought it out. It starts very much like a Wes Anderson movie. You watch the first ten minutes and you immediately think Wes Anderson. And then the next thirty are sort of a Taika Waititi, an offbeat comedy. Then it takes this crazy turn and gets fantastical, and I really went with that. It’s only like 70 minutes, but I really enjoyed it. It’s a great first film from this director. I’m curious if she has more in her or this is very much a product of emulating other filmmakers. I hope it’s the former. I’d like to see what else she has in store.
Girlfriend’s Day — * * * (3 stars)
It sounded interesting from the outset. In the end it was a semi-interesting, very strange pseudo-noir/mystery set in the world of greeting cards. (Not a joke.) It feels like it might have started as an SNL sketch. (And it might have been better served as an SNL sketch or a short film, because it’s just okay and feels overly long despite only being 70 minutes.) They clearly designed it to be like a B movie noir, so that I appreciate.
Going in Style — * * * (3 stars)
We have to start by saying — the original is great and there was no real reason to remake it. I get why they did, it’s not the worst idea in the world. But also, why? If it’s just to cast also older actors, sure. But the way they went about it was not the best. My feelings on the film’s director are well-documented. That said, it’s a perfectly fine movie, but only because of the cast. The movie wants to be bad, but the chemistry between Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin is undeniable, and they make this movie charming enough to get through. It’s breezy enough to make it a worthwhile cable watch.
The Great Wall — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Well… this happened. I’m not gonna say it’s a piece of shit like most people would, because it’s not that bad. This is gonna be 2017’s Gods of Egypt, the movie people shit on and list as one of the worst of the year just because it has the stink of failure on it. It’s a perfectly entertaining movie. The problem is that there’s not a real overlap between Chinese audiences and American audiences at the moment. So no matter how much you try, you’re not gonna be able to reconcile the monsters. Apparently this is what Chinese audiences want? Though clearly not, since this didn’t do nearly as well in China as they were hoping. Still — Damon, with his indeterminate European accent designed not to be from anywhere, he works. The idea of the movie isn’t to have him come in as the white savior. In fact, it’s the opposite. He’s the mercenary who comes in and wants no part of this. He’s there for his own selfish reasons. And the capable Chinese soldiers show him the meaning of honor and working for the greater good and make him a better person. There’s a lot of misconceptions about this that are out there. Look — it’s not great. Them fighting monsters, it’s just weird. But it’s got a classical action movie kind of tone and almost works. There’s just too much money and too many genre overlaps for it to work. You can’t be historical action and have them fighting monsters. It just doesn’t work. This movie is a failure, but it’s not a disgusting “you only did this for the money” failure. This is a failure in trying to bridge the gap between two cultures that don’t really have a cinematic overlap as of yet. Particularly in the direction they’re trying to take it (China to America).
iBoy — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Boy has a crush on girl. Boy goes to visit girl. Boy runs into thugs who shoot him in the head. Boy gets pieces of his phone lodged in his head and gets superpowers from them. A classic story. This… didn’t do it for me. It never quite came together. It never really goes in any interesting or unique directions. It never rises above standard thriller, yet there could be some interesting things done with the powers, I guess. I don’t know. I couldn’t really get into this. Maybe there’s something there, but I don’t know what it is.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Macon Blair wrote and directed this. He starred in Blue Ruin and was also in Green Room. So you have a general idea of what you’re getting. Though this is much more a dark comedy/satire than those films. They set you up with the opening scenes, of all the awful shit that people do in life that people just put up with. Like letting dogs shit on the lawn despite a sign that says don’t do it, or jumping in front of you at the supermarket with their cart full of shit when you only have one item. It’s about a woman who decides “fuck it, I’m not taking anymore shit.” And then she gets involved in this weird series of events. It’s good. I liked it. I think if you liked Blue Ruin and Green Room you’ll like this. It’s not intense like those are, but it’s similar. And it works. Of all the Netflix movies, this is definitely one of the best. Definitely worth checking out for sure.
Imperial Dreams — * * * (3 stars)
Decent little Netflix movie with a solid performance by John Boyega. Never really rises above “just okay” but as far as movies you randomly put on and can enjoy well enough, this is perfectly acceptable. Can’t ask for a whole lot more out of a Netflix movie.
John Wick: Chapter 2 — * * * * (4 stars)
The first John Wick came out of nowhere and surprised the shit out of me. It was awesome. It was really good. The premise was amazing. They killed his dog, he killed them. Simple, perfect. This one — they kind of grew it out a bit too much. I think they went too big too fast. I liked the simple setup of the franchise, even though the hint of a bigger world with the network of hitmen and the hotel was a wonderful thing. And the scenes of him killing people are just incredible. All of that is here, and it’s wonderfully done. Just, intellectually, I wonder if they got too big. We’ll see what happens with the next film (since it seems designed to have been a trilogy), but for now, this movie was fucking great and I enjoyed the shit out of it. The fight scenes — especially with Keanu and Common — wonderful. This franchise is everything I want out of action movies. Here’s hoping they can stick the landing.
Kong: Skull Island — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
This movie is all visuals and nothing else. Without the visuals, this is 3 stars and I barely care. It’s perfectly okay. The story — whatever. They get moments of actual interest out of me, but it too easily devolves into CGI monsters, simplistic “bad army guy looking for revenge” plots, and subtle world-building for an eventual Kong vs. Godzilla situation. Plus, so much of this movie felt like, “Yeah, we get it, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, you really liked a bunch of other movies.” Since it felt like he was emulating a lot of parts of other great movies. I’m not gonna say it’s a disappointment for him, but I did love The Kings of Summer a lot. I just thought this was acceptable. And I guess, for a King Kong movie, acceptable will do, since we’re almost 85 years past the original and still no one’s topped it. It definitely moves more than the Peter Jackson one. Not being three and a half hours will do that. Overall, I enjoyed it. But I thought it had the problem of being just good enough to where I actually saw where it could have been better, and found myself wishing it had been. But I guess that’s better than “yeah, that was fine, but I’m gonna forget about it in two months.” I’ll still forget about it, but at least I can think back to, “It did have some nice visuals.” Which is something.
Kung Fu Yoga — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
I saw this for the title. It’s Jackie Chan doing a co-Indian-Chinese production. It’s like Journey to the Center of the Earth, except with Jackie Chan stunts and they end on a Bollywood number. Not for me at all. But these weird Chinese market vehicles where they try to make them for other markets are just fascinating to me. I don’t particularly like any of them, but they are interesting as far as genre goes.
Leap! — * * * (3 stars)
These Weinstein animated movies fascinate me. All Weinstein movies fascinate me. Because at this point, none of them even come out. Especially the animated ones. They must make some sort of profit abroad, but it’s just strange. Anyway, this was perfectly charming. You’ve seen it all before. For a movie about taking chances, this one certainly does not. But that’s fine. For every cringeworthy element (notably this film’s unbearable use of pop songs in what is a period piece), there’s the requisite uplifting moment. It balances out to a perfectly decent animated movie that a couple of people will see on Netflix in a few years.
The Lego Batman Movie — * * * (3 stars)
I suspect these Lego movies are all gonna end up the same for me. The Lego Movie remains on my list of one of the most overrated movies of the decade. I just — no. It’s cute. It’s not a masterpiece. This one actually looked better, going in! But that’s all it was. Well-cut trailers. The movie was those three minutes of trailers spread out over 90 minutes with a lot of annoying shit in the middle. So you end up with perfectly fine, but something for six year olds. It’s confectionary. You enjoy it, you forget about it. It’s gonna take a lot more than what they’re doing to make one of these that holds up over time.
Life — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I think the way I’d describe this is “serviceable good” but not “good good.” You know what I mean? I liked it, it was quite well made and quite engaging. But nothing about it felt great. It felt derivative and never went in a direction I wasn’t entirely expecting. So it’s fine. I enjoyed it. But it’s not good enough that I’ll ever want to watch it again. To me, just watch Alien. This is like the Netflix version of Alien. When I can’t watch that, okay, I guess I can enjoy this. There’s nothing wrong about that, but it’ll never be more than just, “Yeah, that was kinda good.”
Little Boxes — * * * (3 stars)
Solid little movie. Though it’s the kind of movie that’s about subtle racism. So subtle that after a while I wanted to shout, “Just fucking be racist!” It’s little things, like, “Hey, black guy walking up the street, can I help you? … oh, you’re the new neighbor! Great! Awesome! Be my friend so I can have a black friend! Hey everyone, look, I have a black friend!” Yeah, we get it. But there’s only so much of that I can take. I was engaged for most of this, I just felt like it got too subtle to make a point, and after a while the racism thing took a back seat to just… indie movie character problems. Which is also fine. But if they could have found a way to tie them together just a bit more, this could have been a really great movie. Instead it’s just a nice little one.
Logan — * * * * (4 stars)
We’re four months into the year and this is the best movie of the year thus far. It’s a fucking masterpiece of the superhero genre. Granted, this movie really only has like, two masterpieces in it thus far, but it’s still the best superhero movie to come out since The Dark Knight. This is the only movie I’d even consider letting in the conversation with The Dark Knight. I’m not gonna go overboard and overrate this like other people will. I’ll leave it at 4 stars for now and wait for the second watch to happen in a few months. Either way — incredibly good movie. They pared it down. Less mutants, more character stuff. They made Unforgiven with Wolverine. And it’s fucking wonderful. It’s a hard R, violent, unapologetic, and deeply moving. I cried in the theater. I knew exactly what was happening and it still worked. Plus, that final moment — that shouldn’t have worked as well as it did. That’s the sign of a good movie that nobody found that ridiculous. They did a tremendous job with this one and I can’t wait to see it again.
The Love Witch — * * * (3 stars)
I was interested in this for two reasons. First, the director designed every inch of set in the film. She made all the sets, all the costumes, all the props — everything. Plus it was a throwback to 60s movies and filmmaking. So that made me interested in seeing it. Plus, the general idea of a witch who can control men who goes through the same sort of female issues of confidence and femininity that all women do — that’s interesting. The movie — I think it’s too reliant on trying to fit that style. It’s deliberately trying to be campy to the point of almost being bad. I got enough out of it to be okay with it, but that’s it. It was an interesting little excursion, but I’d hope that the movie would be better for someone to go out and design every square inch of it.
Mad Families — * * (2 stars)
Did you see the trailer for this? It looked so awful that I had to see it. It’s a fucking Crackle movie. That alone let you know it would be fucking terrible. And it was. It was awful. It was unwatchable and honestly if I didn’t already know what I was getting myself into, it would be Unforgivable. I completely brought this on myself. I knew better. Hell, YOU know better and you don’t even know what this is. Pull up the IMDB. Pull up the trailer. You know instinctively that you never need to see this movie. This isn’t even good enough to count as filmmaking. This is actually borderline incompetence.
Mine — * * * (3 stars)
This is the movie where Armie Hammer is stuck on a mine in the middle of the desert for like three days. The set up sounded interesting so I saw it. I never had any particular hope for it, because it went VOD. And if something with a set up like this goes VOD, there’s probably a reason. Turns out, there was. I’ll say this, for someone in the middle of the desert by himself, he sure runs into a lot of people. Also, you figure out what the deal is pretty early on, and you’re kinda over it before it happens. It’s perfectly decent, but you kinda feel cheated by the end. Maybe not the best way to go. I’m fine if you really want to go down the ‘the biggest enemy is the psyche’ route, but fuck, man, give me something.
Monster Trucks — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Somehow they got the tone right. This was the fun, 90s-style family flick they wanted it to be. Problem is it’s totally misguided on a lot of levels. Aliens? Shouldn’t it be actual monsters? And aliens who eat oil? Uhh… sure. They spent a lot of money on something that shouldn’t have cost nearly as much as it did. They did this to themselves. On its own, its not an unholy piece of shit. It’s not good, but it’s not the worst movie of the year or anywhere close. It’s just generic. It does some things right, but also does a lot of things… strangely. So we’re left with a movie that I (and most people) don’t really care about, designed for I guess kids whose biggest flaw is the amount of money they spent on it. It’s not like that’s something we’re not used to by now.
The Most Hated Woman in America — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I liked this. Bit of an odd angle to take, but I get it. It’s about the woman who started the biggest atheist group in the country and, by extension, became (insert title here). It’s framed around her being kidnapped and (spoiler alert) eventually murdered. It’s a bit of a weird framing device for something that’s part biopic, part comedy, part hostage thriller. But it kinda worked for me a little bit. I did enjoy it. Melissa Leo is great as the woman. Everyone else pretty much takes a back seat to her. As far as Netflix movies go, definitely in the top five, I’d say. Won’t be there every long, the way they churn these things out, but for now it is.
The Other Half — * * * (3 stars)
Nice movie about being bipolar. I saw it because Tatiana Maslany stars in it, and after Orphan Black, I’m interested in seeing anything she wants to do. And she’s really good here. The film’s just meh, but she’s very good. And Tom Cullen is good as (insert title here). That’s not what the title means, but it worked. The movie’s about the two of them and their chemistry, and they make it work. Without them, the film wouldn’t even really be worth seeing. It’s all about their performances.
Ozzy — * * (2 stars)
There’s a reason I saw this. First, I had the opportunity to and then said, “What the hell is this?” And then I looked it up on IMDB and found this synopsis. I’m assuming this will disappear from the page at some point, so I’m glad I have it here, as a record. This is actually what IMDB has (as of April 2017) as the synopsis for this movie:
Ozzy, a friendly, peaceful beagle has his idyllic life turned upside down when the Martins leave on a long and distant trip. There’s only one problem: no dogs allowed! Unable to bring their beloved Ozzy along for the ride, they settle on the next best thing, a top-of-the-line canine spa called Blue Creek. This picture perfect place turns out to be a facade constructed by its villainous owner to capture dogs. Ozzy will soon end up in the real Blue Creek, a prison for dogs, run by dogs. Ozzy will have to avoid danger and find strength in his new friends, Chester, Fronky and Doc to escape the prison and return home safely. The narrative of ‘OZZY’ aims to follow in the footsteps of movies which employs Pixar-like quality and fun. ‘OZZY’ is an animated comedy-adventure movie targeted for kids of all ages and represents family entertainment at its best. The story itself is based, almost entirely, around dogs. ‘OZZY’ falls into the “prison movie” genre with funny tributes to the great prison classics. It’s a story about friendship, loyalty, courage and the ability to find the best in ourselves when facing a tough situation.
First, someone doesn’t know how to write a synopsis. Second — how insane does this sound? “No dogs allowed!” Then it turns into a prison movie! An animated kids movie about dogs in prison! Also, when a synopsis says it “employs Pixar-like quality and fun” — it doesn’t. This is a publicity team trying to make it sounds good. Not a great publicity team, either. But yeah, that’s why I saw this. I thought, “Wow, this sounds awful. I have to watch it.” That’s me as a person, right there. Most people think that’s crazy. And they’re right. So I saw it. And it wasn’t great. There are moments when I could say it’s almost okay, and I almost got to the point of indifference. But no. It’s not great. It’s not Norm of the North bad, but it’s also… really misguided. It does seem like it was originally made in Spanish and is being translated for America, which might explain a lot. Still… no. Just read the synopsis. You already know what it is.
Personal Shopper — * * * (3 stars)
Uhh… sure? It’s a Kristen Stewart awkwardly not finishing sentences drama (so… all of them). It’s a weird ghost story. There’s a murder. There’s weird text stalking. I don’t know what this movie wanted to be. For those who have no idea what this is — it’s by the guy who did Clouds of Sils Maria. Which you also didn’t see. Kristen Stewart became the first American actress to win a Cesar for that. You don’t know what those are. Uhh… she gets naked in this. Okay, now I got you back. It’s not like, sexy naked. More like, medical naked. Or trying on clothes naked. Casually naked. And then there’s also weird shit where she sees ghosts, but not like in a Sixth Sense way. There’s also like fifteen to twenty full minutes where practically all the dialogue spoken is done via iMessage. So it’s literally text, response. Text, response. That’s it. Weird choices. It was kind of engaging, but not really. Which is how I felt about Sils Maria. I just don’t get the Kristen Stewart thing. I want to like her, but I just can’t find her interesting on screen. I don’t understand it. But everyone else thinks she’s great. I wish I saw what they see. Maybe it’s those Twilight movies. I see her on screen more than I see the characters. With the “Oh, I’m the most awkward person in the world” thing, and the lip biting and the monotone voice that can never finish a sentence. I don’t know. The movie was fine. Moving on.
Power Rangers — * * * (3 stars)
I have a lot of complicated thoughts about this. Because Power Rangers is my childhood. It’s not sacred to me, since the show was very 90s and predicated on preexisting Japanese footage spliced in with the American stuff. And the first movie is god awful. I went back and watched it again before I saw this — it’s a really bad movie. It still resides in a special place in my heart, but it’s bad. So I wasn’t gonna be mad at this automatically regardless of what they did, but also… don’t fuck it up. And… they kinda fucked it up. It’s almost like that first Ninja Turtles movie, where they took the basic elements of the series, but then went and put the most generic movie on top of it. Why would you do a gritty origin story version of Power Rangers? They don’t even morph until 20 minutes before the end of the movie! And they downplay everything nostalgia related until the last 15 minutes, and then as soon as they do drop that original theme song, and you sit up and go, “Okay, I guess I can start to get into this,” they promptly take it away, like, “No, fuck you!” There are brief, fleeting moments where I think they did a good job. RJ Cyler was good as Billy. The actresses who played Kimberley and Trini were good. Bryan Cranston as Zordon was stunt casting. It’s just… not great. It’s not good enough to get non-Power Rangers fans invested, and it’s not Power Rangers enough to make the fans satisfied. I’m not sure who they made this movie for. Which is the problem with all of these. They go through so many rewrites and the studio tries to engineer it to hit certain quadrants, and pretty soon you have a movie for nobody. This isn’t even performing well internationally. So actually you made a movie that nobody wants to watch. Great job. Also can we talk about how awful the whole Krispy Kreme thing was? Holy shit. How did they allow that to be on screen? Even Michael Bay went, “Jesus, guys, have some dignity with the product placement.” And speaking of Michael Bay — the Megazord is literally Optimus Prime! Which maybe we could ignore, only they literally made a Transformers reference like five minutes before it showed up. That’s not okay. I’m very disappointed in this. It’s not Unforgivable for me — at least I don’t think it is, but it’s not a good movie. They didn’t have to do much to make a passable Power Rangers movie, and they couldn’t even do that.
Prevenge — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Well this was dark and fucked up. A woman is being controlled by her unborn fetus and goes on a killing spree. And it’s kinda funny. There’s a scene where she slits a woman’s throat in an office and then spins her around in her chair a few times, remarking how nice the chair is. This is one of those, either you’ll find it hilarious or you just won’t get it at all. This was definitely the kind of film I like finding, because I can sell it to people on premise alone, and it’s actually good enough to hold up after the hard sell. This’ll be a nice hidden gem from this year.
A Quiet Passion — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
This is a movie about Emily Dickinson starring Cynthia Nixon. You don’t know it exists, nobody knows it exists. And it’s one of those movies — I can’t say it’s good, but I also didn’t hate it. It’s hard to have movies where people talk all proper and 1860s. Or where nothing really happens. But, you know, they tried.
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter — * * * (3 stars)
Somehow I never turned on this franchise. I couldn’t tell you what happened after the first one. Well, maybe second one? I know they did some Nemesis bullshit in the second one and nuked Raccoon City. But after that — Vegas, some other shit, they came back to the big simulator, and here we are. I don’t even know what the plot of the games were, but I guarantee you they weren’t what these movies were. I can say, though, that even though every movie in this franchise aside from the first one is nonsensical and generic, they’ve all been fine. Watch them once, be okay with them and then forget about them forever. Knowing this one was the last one, I feel like they actually tried for a sense of cohesion and actual sense in this one. It felt pared back, more down and dirty. I was actually able to follow it! They tied everything back to the first movie and gave it a sense of closure, in a weird way. This might have been — and I know this isn’t much of a stretch — the best Resident Evil movie since the first one. They give it an ending… and then promptly set up for more sequels. Because apparently it’s a compulsion. It was nice while it lasted, though.
The Resurrection of Gavin Stone — * * (2 stars)
These religious movies… I saw a trailer for this in front of the Columbine movie. And now I feel like I need to see all of these religious movies, because they’re just so ridiculous. It used to be about how much I disliked that they were pushing the faith across in all the wrong ways, but honestly now it’s just about how bad they are. Truly horrible filmmaking and storytelling. It’s like all the people who make these movies know is religion and have never been exposed to the real world. It’s incredible. Forget that the faith stuff annoys me — it’s just awful writing and acting and everything else. And that’s just so funny to me. Just watch a trailer for this. You know it’s gonna be shit. And it is shit. But what’s worse, seeing it for all the wrong reasons or never seeing it?
Rock Dog — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Generic animated stuff. China made this. Which — honestly this is very American. So I’m surprised it’s almost entirely a Chinese production. It’s a simple story. This is one of those — and I could say this about every one of these — if they hand-drew it, then there’s a chance it could have been good. Because if you hand draw it, you have to actually think about everything and put care into the narrative and make it work. And the characters get personality they otherwise lack in these cheap CGI ones. But whatever. The dam’s broken. Doubt we’re going back to good animated filmmaking. This is perfectly watchable and even on a good day you might enjoy it. I caught it on an okay day, so I didn’t dislike it.
Rodney King — * * * (3 stars)
Solid one-man show. Great performance by Roger Guenveur Smith. Only an hour and worth a watch. Good stuff. Somewhat over-directed by Spike Lee, but still worth a look.
Salt and Fire — * * * (3 stars)
Coming off Queen of the Desert, which might possibly be Werner Herog’s worst film, this one is actually watchable. I have no idea what the hell the point of it was, but it was watchable. To distract you from the fact that you don’t really know what’s going on, you have Michael Shannon, and then the lead actress and two blind kids stuck in a salt flat for like thirty minutes. I was well enough invested. No fucking clue what half of it was — the end of the movie features a motorized wheelchair pushing along a salt flat with a bottle of champagne, with the hopes of attracting aliens. I’m not even gonna call that a spoiler alert, because if you can make any goddamn sense of that, you’re way beyond having movies spoiled for you. I feel like Herzog’s got one more great movie in him. Here’s hoping it’s the next one.
Sand Castle — * * * (3 stars)
Solid war movie. Not great, but I liked it well enough. It’s trying to do something different with the genre, which I appreciated. Doesn’t end up being much, but for what it’s worth, I got through it okay and enjoyed it well enough. Another watchable Netflix movie that doesn’t become a whole lot more than “decent time passer.”
Sandy Wexler — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Why? Why is he still doing this? That’s it. That’s all I have to say. I’m honestly wondering why he still does this. Surely he doesn’t need the money. Is this part of some ancient curse inflicted upon humanity? Is there a way to end it? I’ll volunteer. I’ll throw the totem into the volcano or whatever it takes. The worst part? Two hours and ten minutes! It’s like they know how bad it is and want to make us regret our decision to watch it as long as possible. May god help us all.
The Shack — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Yeah, I mean… its a movie about a guy whose daughter is abducted and murdered and in his despair, he gets a letter from God who says to meet him at an abandoned shack in the middle of the woods. How good did you think this was gonna be? The most surprising thing about this was that the book was a bestseller. But that just goes to show you how few people actually buy books anymore and how easy it is for almost anything to become a bestseller. I bet most of those copies were sold in the middle of the country. Still — this was never gonna be a good movie. And I understood that. I didn’t hate it enough to shit all over it the way I usually shit all over those faith-based movies. But I’m also not gonna say it was any good. The most you’re getting out of me is — I’ve got nothing good to say about this and I don’t hate it enough to say something bad about it. So I’ll leave it at — nope.
Si j’etais un homme — * * * (3 stars)
The proper translation is probably “If I Had a Dick.” Because that’s what this movie is. Divorced mother wakes up one day to discover that she has a dick. And much of the movie is comedy involving her now having said dick. It gets strange after a while. Then when you start going along with the “I have a dick” humor, it turns into a standard rom com. Not the best. I’m not even gonna get into why or how I managed to see this, but I did. And if you like “what if” movies where a woman grows a dick, this is one for you.
Sleepless — * * * (3 stars)
I wish I liked this more. I can’t say I wish it were better, because a three-star action movie is exactly what this was designed to be. It just never does anything truly interesting enough for me to give any more of a shit about it than most of those VOD paycheck movies Bruce Willis does. It’s decent enough. I could have went to a theater when I was 14 and enjoyed this just fine. Now it’s just like… yeah, sure. You all gotta eat. It’s fine. But it’s April now and I’ve largely forgotten this movie. It’s definitely no Collateral.
Small Crimes — * * * (3 stars)
It was engaging. Had some moments I liked. A lot of moments that were just fine, but overall a decent movie. A nice collection of actors I like who never really get juicy roles in mainstream movies. So that was nice. Overall another watchable, but not great, Netflix movie.
Smurfs: The Lost Village — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Yeah, I didn’t care. We’re three movies in and somehow I’ve seen all of them. The first one was fine enough, the second one I don’t even remember, and this one is more of the same. It’s for six year olds, so I can’t be too upset at it. But this did absolutely nothing for me and was just forgettable kids movie shit.
The Space Between Us — * * * (3 stars)
The best description of this (and it’s not mine, so I can’t take credit or it) is: The Fault in Our Mars. There was a good idea here that got bogged down in… something. Kid born on Mars. Apparently the government keeps him secret? But he meets a human girl and they have a connection. He sneaks back to Earth to meet her. He’s not ready for Earth’s gravity, so it literally starts to kill him. And she and him go on a road trip to find his father (long story, but it works on its own). So it’s a nice romance angle with the obvious “him not understanding Earth customs” comedy bits and the road trip plot. It should work pretty well. But the minute they pushed this from late fall into early spring, you knew this was not gonna be great. And it’s not. They try. The kids are good. Britt Robinson always feels like she’s being underutilized in mediocre movies. Gary Oldman and Carla Gugino are solid as per usual. The kid was Hugo. So… that’s something? But yeah… this could have been solid, but instead is just kind of generic with an interesting, mostly wasted premise. Oh well.
Split — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I haven’t liked an M. Night Shyamalan movie since 2002. The Village was decent enough but I wouldn’t say I liked it. Signs, to me, was the last good one. Well.. I guess I do love The Happening, but that’s a whole other situation. Lady in the Water was shit. Last Airbender? Fuck no. After Earth was a good premise and terrible execution. And people liked The Visit. I fucking hated it. So this, I didn’t have my hopes particularly high. Though The Visit, I saw it and said, “I already know what the twist is,” based on the premise and then the trailer. This, I saw the trailer and went, “You know, that actually looks like it could be decent.” Or like, not great, but James McAvoy would make it okay because he’s good in it. But I quietly thought I could actually like this one. So it came out, and I waited. And all I read about was some crazy twist at the end. At least that’s what the websites tried to sell. From the people I knew who see it, all they would do is kind of laugh and not really get into it because I needed to see it. So for about two weeks from when it came out to when I saw it, all I would do whenever the film came up is describe what all the horrible potential twists would be. Just the most ridiculous things that, if they happened, would be so ridiculous that they couldn’t possibly be true. Only one of them turned out to be true! But anyway, the film itself: it’s good. I liked it. It’s typical on the nose, not great M. Night Shyamalan dialogue and exposition, but the set up, the McAvoy performance, and the sustained tension actually worked for me. The leads were good. I was very invested in this movie for about 80-85 minutes. Right about the point where McAvoy gets on the subway train and does… whatever the fuck he does… that’s when the film started losing me. But it never fully lost me. I kinda went with that. And then those last three minutes of the film happened. And I couldn’t fucking believe it. One, because I joked and said that would be a horrible twist ending, and that’s what it was. Fucking really? Also, the way that scene is written, I still openly joke about it, because it’s the actual worst writing in the world. I can’t believe he went and did that. The movie was actually good! And then he cheapened it by that stunt of an ending. What the fuck? The headline here should be, “Wow, M. Night Shyamalan actually made a good movie,” but instead it’s, “Did you really start your own fucking shared universe?” I don’t even care if that’s a spoiler. I’m openly pretending that’s not part of the movie, because it’s completely tacked on at the end. I look at that like the ending to the original Scarface, where they added the scene where a judge admonishes his actions so as to make it seem like they weren’t glorifying gangsters. Yeah, okay. You know those movies about self-sabotaging characters? Who are perennial losers but eventually have that one moment where things start to go really right for them? And then there’s that moment where they can leave it be and take the win, and you watch them as they can’t help themselves and fuck it all up. That’s how I feel M. Night Shyamalan makes movies. He was three minutes from getting out. And he couldn’t do it. But hey, at least there’s not a scene in this where James McAvoy dances to dubstep while pretending to be a child, right?
A Street Cat Named Bob — * * * (3 stars)
Okay, so I have to explain this one. A friend of mine sent me a text of a photo of this movie’s poster back in November when it came out. Something like this doesn’t get a real marketing campaign. Instead it had 11 x 14 posters stapled to telephone poles in Los Angeles. The title was one thing. But it was the tagline that made me cringe. “Sometimes it takes nine lives to save one.” That’s right. So I thought, “Oh my god, this looks like the worst movie ever made. You see a movie like that I bet you get a free bowl of soup.” And I thought nothing of it. I mean, sure, I have that initial instinct of, “I should see this.” Because I’m weird like that. I feel like I should see these movies and then be able to tell people how bad they are even though I’m not saying they should see them. Anyway, cut to January and I have the opportunity to see this. And I go, “I really shouldn’t. This looks awful. But… it’s January. So fuck it. There’s not a whole lot else out there to see, so I’ll go for it and if I decide I don’t want to see it, I don’t have to watch it.” So I had it sitting there for a while and eventually decided to go in on it. And, you know what… it wasn’t the piece of shit I was expecting. I was expecting something slightly above those faith-based movies. Overly sappy, trite bullshit. But this started with a dude horribly addicted to heroin, and I found myself going, “You know, this isn’t as bad as it could have been.” Sure, it’s not great. But it’s not as unwatchable as I’d have expected it to be given what I had to work with. If I only gave you this movie’s IMDB page, you’d have expected the same thing I did. I’m assuming it’s the director who kept this watchable. Dude did make a Bond movie. That has to count for something. Even when he’s making stuff like this, he can at least not make it as bad as it would be otherwise. But yeah, also this is about a heroin addict finding a cat and having it help him get his shit together. So don’t expect much. But also… for something I was ready to laugh at, I’m actually surprised it turned out halfway decent.
Stratton — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Is Simon West not the king of these generic action movies? Capable but generic. That seems to be the trend here. He started nice, with Con Air. But Renny Harlin started with Die Hard II and Cliffhanger. And now he’s making movies in China with Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville. This is — they tried. It just wasn’t very interesting to me. Shit happens. I guess there will be some people who like this. It’s about a “Boat Service Commando.” I — that’s it. That’s all I got.
Suddenly Seventeen — * * * (3 stars)
Chinese movie where a 30-year-old woman eats some chocolate that turns her into her 17-year-old self. Kind of a body swap movie where she’s body-swapping herself. But like, switching back and forth between present day self and past self. And the two are aware of one another and have no control over each other while they’re active. Not the best movie I’ve ever seen, but does add a few interesting wrinkles to a genre that is impossible to do anything new with anymore. Also directed by Ziyi Zhang’s daughter, which is of note. Her first film, despite being his editor on the last couple of pictures. Pretty decent beginning for her.
Take the 10 — * * * (3 stars)
Madcap comedy with two guys who get into some shit. You’ve seen it before. It’s fun enough. Not great, kind of over the top, but enough interesting moments to get you through okay. One of those movies better suited as a Netflix nominee. No real pressure on it. You can put it on during a lazy Saturday afternoon and be fine with it. That’s what this is. It’s fine.
The Ticket — * * * (3 stars)
Simple film premise: blind dude suddenly regains his sight. Once he does, he becomes blind in other ways. Basically, he becomes an asshole. It’s fine enough, I guess. Weird movie. Not sure why someone wanted to make this or thought there was a huge audience for it. It was interesting enough, but I can’t imagine a whole lot of people are gonna seek this out and like it. But sure. It was fine.
Tramps — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
I liked this quite a bit. A small movie that starts as an indie drama, then becomes a bit of a crime/caper movie of sorts, but then becomes a romance. It’s really sweet, ultimately. It works because it never tries too hard and never tries to go full on into any specific genre. It is what it is, and the film suits its characters. Definitely one of the best Netflix movies I’ve seen and a real gem that ought to be seen.
Two Lovers and a Bear — * * * (3 stars)
I was hoping there’d be more bear. I saw this because I’ll watch anything Tatiana Maslany does. It was nice to see them in the Canadian snow riding around and stuff. Not sure it added up to a whole lot, but it was decent enough.
A United Kingdom — * * * (3 stars)
Solid enough. Good story, good actors. Just an okay film. It happens.
Vengeance: A Love Story — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Nicolas Cage is in a movie based on a Joyce Carol Oates novel. That’s really all you need to know about this. I mean, sure, it’s a 2017 Nic Cage movie, which means he’s not really in it, worked like a week on it and his scenes are basically separate from the rest of the actors’. It’s a drama about a promiscuous woman who is gang raped and then has to go through a trial where they humiliate her and all that. It’s like The Accused, only bad. The only reason anyone would actually watch this is Cage. He plays a detective who feels bad about what happened to this woman, so he goes and hunts down all the guys responsible and murders them. Yeah… I’m starting to lose hope that he’s gonna make a good movie again. He’s hit that Bruce Willis level of taking only paycheck movies. But fortunately he hasn’t given up enough hope to hit that Eric Roberts/Mickey Rourke territory where they’re in like twelve movies that will never see the light of day. He actually has stuff that sort of gets released. Which is so disappointing. Because he’s such a great actor. But for every interesting movie he does, now there are like five that are utterly generic movies that were clearly done for the IRS and nobody else.
Voice from the Stone — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
The only thing this has going for it is Emilia Clarke’s innate likability and screen presence. Otherwise I’d have been bored to tears by this movie. At least they give you nice things to look at (and I’m not referring to what everyone else is referring to when they say that. Though I’m not unhappy about that either). Overall — ehh. It’s probably a genre thing. I needed this to look like it was made 70 years ago. Maybe then I could have liked it.
War on Everyone — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
John Michael McDonaugh is awesome. I liked The Guard, I liked Calvary. This is just him cutting loose. The opening scene is two cops hitting a mime with their car and stealing drugs from him. There’s a scene where they do cocaine with an informant and start talking faster and faster as the scene progresses. There’s not really meant to be a plot so much as it’s meant to be fun. And it is fun. Quite enjoyable all around, though I get why no one saw this. This is an impossible movie to explain to people or to sell to people who aren’t already in based on the filmmaker and the trailer.
We Don’t Belong Here — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Not sure what this was supposed to be. I like all the actors in it. Anton Yelchin, Riley Keogh, Catherine Keener, Kaitlyn Dever (the young girl from Short Term 12). But the movie was very odd. Non-linear, no idea what the actual timeline is. Just kind of morose all around. Not really for me.
Win It All — * * * (3 stars)
It’s a Joe Swanberg movie. 3 stars is assured. The man just cranks out totally watchable movies that just never quite do it for me aside from a passing, “That was okay.” He’s a perfect fit for the Netflix releasing system. His movies and the Netflix acquisitions run exactly the same, ratings wise, so now with his movies on Netflix, I don’t feel the need to try to like them, which I did before when they would always get these crazy good reviews and I just wouldn’t see anything past decent.
Wolves — * * * (3 stars)
I kinda liked it. High school basketball recruit dealing with all the shit that comes with that. I was hoping it would be more about people offering him money and such, but it’s focused here on his father being a drunk and a gambling addict. Which normally I’d cringe at, but since the dad is Michael Shannon, I’m cool with it. He ends up being the thing I’m most interested in during this movie anyway. Kind of a weird ending, I’ll say that. Not gonna get into specifics, but the implication of the kid’s actions… he had to know what that meant, right? But anyway, it was fine. I’ll watch anything with Michael Shannon in it.
xXx: The Return of Xander Cage — * * * (3 stars)
You know the Vin Diesel persona he has in the Fast & Furious movies? It’s pretty much the same persona he has in all his action movies. Now you know the Vin Diesel persona he has in real life? Kinda weird, you’re not sure if he’s crazy, serious, drunk or just having so much innocent fun that’s just how he is? Well, this movie is a combination of both of those. It’s like how in Die Hard, Bruce Willis stopped doing John McClane and turned him into Bruce Willis the person — the one who can’t be bothered to give a performance half the time. Here, Vin Diesel just incorporated himself into the character. Which makes for a weird movie. This movie is ridiculous in both the best AND worst way. The Fast & Furious movies keep a semblance of seriousness despite all the insane shit that happens. This movie is insane and knows it. Couple of things about it: the movie “kills” Samuel L. Jackson’s character in the first ten minutes. Slight problem with that, since Samuel L. Jackson’s mentor/head of an organization character has “died” early in a film before. So we know that shit isn’t sticking. Even worse, THIS FRANCHISE ALREADY DID THAT. They fake killed his character in the last one with Ice Cube and no one fucking remembers! Oh, and to make it even more obvious, when Samuel L. Jackson shows up alive at the end (spoiler alert: you’re an idiot for believing the character was actually dead) — at his own funeral, by the way, complete with gospel choir, which is exactly how I want my faked death and reappearance to go — HE SHOWS UP WEARING AN EYEPATCH. It’s never explained, but holy fucking shit. Anyway, there’s a plot. I don’t know what it is. This is one of those movies that makes no sense, and it’s so ridiculous you don’t think about how little sense it makes, because, to reuse a Roger Ebert line, it would be like kicking a dog for not being better at calculus. They bring back Xander Cage (who we first see skiing through a jungle …I know), and throughout the film, every character goes, “Oh my god, Xander Cage, you’re a legend. Everyone remembers what you did with Anarchy 99.” Which… what? He had ONE mission and then disappeared (or was fake murdered or whatever, depending on how you want to spin that one). There’s no way word of that shit spread throughout the secret agent community. Also, fuck you if you even remember the name of the goddamn organization that he took down. It’s not like they were fucking SPECTRE. Seriously? It’s like Vin Diesel wrote this movie himself as a vanity project. Everyone tells him how great he is and he gets to do hero shit all the time despite literally being the most ridiculous person in this movie. Here’s a scene that happens in this, just to give you an idea of how fucking nuts it is: you have your standard “mercenary team shows up and tells everyone not to move” scene. You’ve seen it dozens of times. “First person who moves a muscle I will shoot them in the face!” And everyone freezes and it’s tense. Only in this movie, when they say that, Vin Diesel starts dancing. I shit you not. He fucking dances. I feel like he wasn’t even working off a script for this movie and just did whatever he wanted. About halfway through this movie, as shit was happening and I wasn’t really paying attention since it didn’t matter, I said to myself, “Ice Cube’s gonna show up, isn’t he?” Because Ice Cube isn’t above this. I was joking, because the idea of Ice Cube showing up is so ridiculous that of course it would happen here (also see my review for Split). Then Ice Cube shows up, because of fucking course Ice Cube shows up. But not just Ice Cube. Ice Cube WITH AN ICE CUBE SONG PLAYING IN THE BACKGROUND. Ice Cube with an Ice Cube song playing in the background and the line, “Rock, paper, scissors, grenade launcher.” And that is everything you need to know about this movie.
The Films I Haven’t Seen Yet
- Table 19
- The Last Word
- The Sense of an Ending
- T2: Trainspotting
- Song to Song
- The Zookeeper’s Wife
- The Case for Christ
- Their Finest
- The Lost City of Z
- Tommy’s Honour
- The Promise
- The Circle
- How to Be a Latin Lover
The Films I Skipped
- Underworld: Blood Wars
Favorite Movies So Far:
- John Wick: Chapter 2
- Beauty and the Beast
- Free Fire
- The Fate of the Furious
- Kong: Skull Island
- I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore
Least Favorite Movies So Far:
- Mad Families
- A Dog’s Purpose
- Sandy Wexler
- The Resurrection of Gavin Stone
- The Bye Bye Man
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