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2017: The Year in Reviews (Part II)

Summer’s over. Time for the second batch of reviews.

I’m doing remarkably well so far. I’m about on pace with where I was at this time last year. Which is insane, because I didn’t skip a single movie last year. This year, I skipped two right off the bat. Granted, I’ve only skipped two more since then, and four isn’t that bad a total. I’m only on pace to skip five all year, which feels lower than any other year besides last year. The point is I’m still on a crazy pace without trying nearly as hard as I was last year.

You guys know the drill by now — quick thoughts and ratings that get used later when I wrap everything up in December. First batch went up end of April and the final batch will go up right before we begin the wrap-up.

Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for, my review of Captain Underpants:

47 Meters Down — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

It’s another shark attack movie. We all know how these work. The setups get more and more lazy, and they’re all pretty much just watchable at best. This is a lesser version of The Shallows, which in itself was just decent. You could do worse for 90 minutes, but you could also do way better.

Alien: Covenant — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

If you ever wanted to see Michael Fassbender kiss Michael Fassbender while also helping him play a recorder, I have great news for you. Prometheus was a solid film, despite being very divisive in terms of its status as a movie within the Alien universe. This one — while way more in line with Alien than Prometheus was — didn’t really break new ground within the franchise, and went so far as to do something that I truly don’t know if the people who love the Alien films would appreciate or not. That said, it held my attention, felt like a better movie than Prometheus and had a lot of cool stuff in it. Not gonna say it changed my life or was a masterpiece, but it got the job done and was all I really needed. My only displease with this franchise is that it’s all Ridley Scott seems to want to make for the next five years. And dude’s only got so many movies left in him. Maybe just let someone else finish it. Seems like Blade Runner’s gonna turn out all right without you.

All Eyez on Me — * * * (3 stars)

The music made me pay attention. Otherwise — this is not a good movie. It was basically put together by his mother, so the whole thing is designed to make him look good. It goes so far as to put scary, ominous music on screen when Suge Knight shows up for the first time. This is not the Tupac biopic we should get, and just like that watered down Jesse Owens biopic from last year (and even the Jackie Robinson one from a few years ago, or the James Brown one), maybe one day these people will get movies befitting of their legacy.

Atomic Blonde — * * * * (4 stars)

It’s no John Wick, or James Bond, or whatever you want to compare it to, but it’s fun. It’s got a level of dirt and grime on it, which a lot of movies don’t have. It’s one of those movies where you realize pretty early on that the plot doesn’t matter. So you just go along for the ride. And it’s got fun action scenes (which they almost ruined for people, releasing them all early), fun dialogue, a fantastic use of neon lights, an 80s-centric soundtrack (which goes very on the nose at times, but almost in a good way, since it seems deliberate), and a lesbian sex scene, which never hurts. They go nuts in the last fifteen minutes, throwing like four twists on top of one another, which could annoy you. By that point I was like, “Okay, fine. Keep going,” since I’d given up long ago trying to make sense of it. It’s not as good as anything you want to compare it to, but it’s very fun. They only shot this for $30 million. They got their money’s worth with this.

Baby Driver — * * * * (4 stars)

Good to see Edgar Wright back. It’s not like he was gone for a long time, but it kinda feels that way, since The World’s End barely registered for a lot of people and he had that long gap with the whole Ant-Man fiasco. It feels like he’s been mostly gone since Scott Pilgrim. I had a fair amount of anticipation for this movie, but it also didn’t feel like something I was ready to go all in on. Which is probably for the best, since it allowed me to truly appreciate it without the feeling of expectations. It was quite good. I go back and forth on how I feel about the film being edited to the music. At times it feels pretty awesome and others it feels really on the nose and hokey. Overall it works. And overall, it’s a fun time. There’s a lot of little things in the movie I like a lot. Ultimately the story follows a lot of obvious genre progressions, so it’s never particularly surprising. And I’m still not sure how I feel about those last 15 minutes. I get that the whole film is building toward them and he layered in everything that led to them, but I still don’t know if I think they were necessary. But that’s the story he wanted to tell, so I’m fine with it. It has just about everything I like about the movies — a strong voice behind it, practical effects and action, a tone that holds up throughout and leads to a lot of smiles throughout the movie, and something that doesn’t leave you wanting. This is one of the more solid films you’ll see in 2017 and one of the stronger directorial efforts. It’s impressive as hell and I liked it a lot.

Band Aid — * * * (3 stars)

Really solid indie. Married couple channels all their anger and frustration into songs. Rather than fight, they start a band. My favorite thing about this movie? Aside from starring and being written and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones, it had an all-female crew. Which is absolutely fantastic. I support everything about this movie.

Baywatch — * * (2 stars)

Well this was the piece of shit we were all expecting. I held out hope for maybe indifference on my part because of Dwayne Johnson. And I can see why he took this part. He gets to have fun and do R-rated comedy and branch out a bit more. But the movie’s a fucking mess. Within fifteen minutes, one of the characters gets his erection caught between pieces of wood and everyone on the beach is there as they try to get it out, like it’s a fucking Christmas Story or something. There’s a gross-out scene where one of the corpses leaks embalming fluid or something onto Zac Efron’s face. None of it makes any goddamn sense and it’s purely designed to get people with their brains turned off to laugh in the theater. Problem is, no one went to the theater because the movie looked like shit. And now no one’s gonna go back and watch this because it’s not good or very funny. Baywatch was about hot chicks in bikinis. And this movie is about… guys… doing lifeguard stuff. But not even that. Because it turns into a procedural, almost. The plot is so nuts, I don’t understand why they’d just go take the easy steps rather than try to engineer this into something people would go see. This is a disaster, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this ended up on the Unforgivables list at the end of the year. The only interesting thing I got out of it was wondering just how much cocaine was done on the set of this production. Cocaine and steroids.

Beatriz at Dinner — * * * (3 stars)

For some reason I just don’t respond to Miguel Arteta’s films. Can’t explain why. I just don’t. This was… moderately engaging. Salma Hayek was good. Everyone else felt either underdeveloped or too one-note. I appreciated the bleakness of the ending, but otherwise nothing particularly grabbed me here. I definitely felt engaged, so I can’t say that I was totally indifferent toward this, but it also didn’t do a whole lot for me.

The Big Sick — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)

I’d been hearing so much hype for this that I tried to avoid everything I could about it for as long as I could. Because when the hype gets too loud too early in the year, it just makes me more resistant to liking a movie. And movies don’t deserve that. So I waited a week or two before going to see this, didn’t watch a trailer, and didn’t listen to what anyone said about this. Fortunately everyone around me liked the movie enough to oblige, which is rare. Usually they can’t shut the fuck up about it. So I went to this on a random night, just before my feelings on this would have turned if I waited any longer. And I was utterly delighted. This was, for about a month, the best movie I’d seen in 2017. It still may be the best movie I saw in 2017 to this point. The key for me is going back and watching things again. But this is the indie darling of the year, and with good reason. It’s absolutely delightful, and wins because it’s based on real events and actually has something to say. Whatever you think this movie is, it’s not. Don’t go in expecting anything, and honestly, the less you know, the better. It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s emotional, and it seamlessly weaves between all of those things, getting the best out of everyone involved. This movie is a delight.

Blind — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

If it didn’t star Alec Baldwin, I wouldn’t have seen it. And if it didn’t star Alec Baldwin (and even kinda now that it does), it would be a Lifetime movie. It’s so completely preposterous. Overwritten, trying to be like one of those movies that came out 20 years ago that just completely falls flat now. The trailer actually plays up the terrible aspects of it and is way worse than the actual film is. Here’s the plot — just so you’re aware — Demi Moore is the wife of a guy arrested for insider trading. As community service, she’s assigned to read to Alec Baldwin, a man blinded after a car crash that killed his wife. He’s mean and surly to people, and they of course get along and fall in love. He’s a writer who is being read his students’ stories for class. Why they can’t be translated into braille, I have no idea. Oh, and there’s a random black kid who shows up and miraculously becomes Baldwin’s protege, because the writer still thinks it’s 1997, apparently. Honestly I only rated it this high because it amused me. There’s almost nothing good here.

The Book of Henry — * * * (3 stars)

This movie was fucking nuts. The setup is almost like Gifted — adult raising a hyper-intelligent child. No custody battle here, though. Though if you saw the trailer, it has that moment at the end where you’re like, “What the fuck? Why does Naomi Watts have a sniper rifle?” The crazy thing about this movie though is that it takes a CRAZY turn. The sniper rifle bit was crazy enough. But this movie takes an even crazier turn. I’ll block it out so I don’t spoil it for those who don’t want to know. At the end of the first half, basically, the fucking kid dies. He gets a brain tumor out of nowhere and then dies at like the midway point of the movie. And then the mother is grieving and finds a book where he’s like, “So that girl next door is being abused by her father, so here’s a plan where you can murder him.” So the rifle is even crazier than you think it is! I can’t believe this movie happened. Did anyone think at all that the story was a bit out there when they green lit it? That being said, I somehow got a perverse amount of enjoyment out of this, so I am giving it 3 stars. But holy shit, man. What is this movie?

Brain on Fire — * * * (3 stars)

Based on a woman’s memoir about dealing with mental illness. Or, not, actually. Since the mental illness is apparently caused by some other illness. It’s like an episode of House, but told from the patient’s perspective. She’s a budding writer at the New York Post who starts acting all weird. And apparently no one suspects mental illness or anything and thinks she’s just being “weird.” Then she ends up in a coma, and no one can figure out what the hell is wrong with her, and they just start treating her to try to figure out what’s wrong. It’s fine. Nothing special. Very much a VOD type watch.

Bushwick — * * * (3 stars)

It’s Red Dawn but in Brooklyn. With Texas instead of Russia. Texas decides to secede, so a bunch of southerners get military gear and attack Brooklyn. This isn’t revealed until halfway through the movie, but it’s all over the marketing for this movie, so I’m not sorry I said it. The movie begins with hipsters being murdered, so I was in from there. There’s no exposition. It’s literally, couple walk off the subway and into a war zone. Then we find out later what the hell is going on. So mostly it’s just running around in a war zone trying not to die. It should come as no surprise to anyone that I was fine with this. I grew up on these kinds of thrillers, and I have a soft spot for them, even if they aren’t very good.

Captain Underpants — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I remember when this book was published, that’s how old I am. The book was definitely amusing when I was 10. At 28, the movie’s not really for me at all. It’s fair. I’ll give it that. It’s not a piece of shit and actually seems like it would be fun for children between 6 and 12. Plus Weird al does a song at the end, of which I approve. This rating is my standard for non-Disney, non-Pixar animated fare. It’s not for me, and most of the time I don’t get much out of it and it’s not particularly good enough to stand the test of time, even if that time is six months. So I leave it to the people it was made for. Nothing wrong with that.

Cars 3 — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

All things considered, this wasn’t terrible. The second Cars movie is by far the worst movie Pixar’s ever made. The first Cars was fine, but lacking that spark that made their great movies great. The second one felt purely designed to make money, and started an alarming trend of spinoff movies featuring side characters who should be kept as side characters because they’re actually quite annoying, the more time you spend with them. This one takes the franchise back to what it’s always been about, and actually tries to have a nice commentary on athletes and aging and how quickly heroes are cast aside. They also try to do the progressive thing and switch over to a female protagonist for the future, which is clunky, but not that bad. This could have been worse, and while it’s not great Pixar, it’s fine Pixar. I’d rather them spend their time putting out original material, but with Coco on the way, maybe that one will be great, and this will be another cash grab that’ll sink along with the other two Cars movies, Monsters University and Finding Dory to the back of their collective oeuvre.

The Case for Christ — * ½ (1.5 stars)

I was arguing for the prosecution. I hate these simplistic religious movies. I groaned within the first five minutes when the characters were out at dinner and their daughter started choking. Let’s ignore the fact that they had no idea what to do when that happened and they ran around like idiots (the guy literally said something to the effect of, “Baby I love you, please stop choking”), but then a nurse saves the little girl. The mother thanks her and she says, “Don’t thank me, thank Jesus.” And right then there was no saving this movie. The rest of it is fucking ridiculous. The wife becomes religious afterward — which, sure. Let’s say that’s not weird at all — then the husband’s like, “I’m not losing my family to this shit.” Which — what? She’s so religious she’s trying to convert the husband and he’s so anti-religious that he’s actively telling other people “stop trying to brainwash my wife?” These movies create the most unrealistic situations in order to further the theme of faith. I sincerely hope the people this is trying to target look at it and think it’s ridiculous. This probably won’t end up Unforgivable, just because I can’t even bother with these fucking movies, but man, did I hate this.

Chronically Metropolitan — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

A bunch of well-to-do New York intellectuals have family drama. I think we all know by this point that this is not my cup of tea. I don’t do well with these movies at all. That being said, Addison Timlin is in this, and at this point, I’ll pretty much watch her in anything. And she does seem to be just about the only bit of life in this movie. I just do not enjoy these types of movies. Two of the character are authors who use their families as the basis for their writing. Ugh. Just about every New York indie trope I can’t stand.

Chuck — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Fun little biopic of Chuck Wepner. You know you’re in for a fun time and a movie that’s not taking itself too seriously when the opening scene is him about to box a live bear. It’s got a good cast, fun performances, and it doesn’t even do the parts you’d think would be cringeworthy badly. Sylvester Stallone is a character in the movie. And you think, “Oh god, the actor is gonna look awful and they’re gonna lean too heavily into referencing him and Rocky and all that.” But no. The actor looks like him and sounds like him enough and the scenes with him really do work. It’s a nice little gem of a movie. It’s one of those that I’d recommend people check out because they don’t know what it is and it’s fun. It’s not gonna win any awards, but Liev Schreiber is good in it. Naomi Watts has a small, but solid role. Same for Elisabeth Moss. And there are nice parts by some other familiar faces who all do a good job. Overall, this is the kind of movie I like promoting. I’m glad this exists.

Churchill — * * * (3 stars)

Destined to be the lesser of the two Churchill movies that come out this year. This will be the Infamous to Darkest Hour’s Capote, only at least in the other comparison, Toby Jones was a strikingly good Capote, despite Hoffman giving the better overall performance, and I could point to something of interest there. Here, Brian Cox is pretty much just Brian Cox playing Churchill. My only concern for the Oldman performance (and you see a bit of it in the trailer) is that he’s gonna sound like Oldman and it’ll take me out of the performance. Here, he just sounds like Brian Cox trying to do Churchill. Which I could have been okay with. I mean, I saw Frank Langella doing Nixon but was able to mostly get into that performance. But to get into it, you also need a good movie around it. This — is just an okay movie. I also have slight concerns that this will be a similar story to Darkest Hour and it’ll lessen the experience for that movie. But we’ll see. Overall it’s fine. See it if you like Brian Cox and want to see him play Churchill, but otherwise, wait for Darkest Hour.

The Circle — * * * (3 stars)

What happened to James Ponsoldt? He started off with Smashed, which was a great little indie. Then he did The Spectacular Now, which was lovely. Then The End of the Tour, which I didn’t love, but was all right. And now he goes into this, which — couldn’t they see that this wasn’t gonna turn out well when they got into it? Yeah, we get it. A company like Facebook that gathers all of its users’ personal data and, by adding all these new features, basically positions itself to spy on everyone and basically influence anyone and anything to do whatever they want. Sure. Emma Watson probably wasn’t the right star for this movie, but she does okay. Tom Hanks definitely wasn’t the person for that role. I get what they were going for, but that did not work out. The John Boyega character has nothing to do, the kid from Boyhood is just kinda there. The scenes they shot at CAA completely took me out of it, but at that point, I’m used to that happening. The ending was completely abrupt and confusing, and after having read how the original novel ends, I’m upset they didn’t have the balls to go with that one. Because the one they have is not good. Also, if I don’t have to see another TED talk or corporate presentation in a film every again, I’d be okay with that.

The Dark Tower — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Can a movie be Unforgivable if we knew it was gonna be a disaster since the year began? The answer: yeah, probably. But it’s early yet. We still need to try to figure out how in the hell this happened. This is one of those — the movie’s not awful. But it’s not good. And that’s the long and short of it. It’s boring. And you have no idea what the hell is happening. You cut back between two stories that are not set up at all, and then they converge, and you’re kind of aware of the general beats, but that’s only because you have a general understanding of how these movies work. I know Stephen King is who he is as an author, but there are seven books to work with. There’s no way a movie with this caliber of talent and amount of source material to work from can be this generic. It’s almost as if they had a version cut from the books and the studio didn’t like it, so they reshot the shit out of it (hence an ending that I’m sure is not what King wrote, that I’m sure will completely piss off King fans) and cut it all to hell to try to make it a quick moneymaker. And it’s that reason that I’m angry that this happened. This feels so much like a disaster brought about by a studio who badly needed a hit and a franchise that they forgot that in order to have all that they have to make a good film! This is a disaster on nearly every level.

Dave Made a Maze — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

From when I heard what this was at Sundance and saw the initial 30-second teaser they released for it then, I was in. This is exactly the kind of movie I love discovering. And this is exactly the kind of movie that I love having in my pocket because I know almost nobody knows about this movie. Here’s the setup: while his girlfriend is away, a guy builds a cardboard box labyrinth in his living room. She returns to find him inside. He says he’s lost, and that she should not try to come inside to rescue him. Not long after, a rescue attempt occurs. And man, is it fun. The maze is entirely made of cardboard and other objects you’d likely have around the house. And it’s awesome. One of the most original set designs I’ve seen in a while. I highly recommend this movie. It’s simple, it’s short, and it’s the kind of movie that’ll bring out the child in you. (If you loved shows like Legends of the Hidden Temple, you’ll enjoy this.)

Death Note — * * * (3 stars)

Well, so much for Adam Wingard. I had such high hopes for him after You’re Next and The Guest. Then he went and made the Blair Witch reboot, which sucked. And then he made this, which I think we can all agree, whether we’ve seen the original anime or not (I’m in the ‘or not’ category), is a disaster. He started in low budget horror, then made one of the great horror movies of the past few years (because it has a great undercurrent of humor to it) and followed it up with a thriller that seems to be so generic and cliche but turns into one of the weirder, bolder films of its kind (that third act is so wonderfully insane. I love it). It all looked so promising. Then two bad decisions in a row. The first because there was no point to try it, no one wanted it, and there was no way to not just remake the original. Instead of the element of surprise, we got a diverse cast. Great. And this — I know little about the source material, but it seems like it was gonna be really difficult to pull off. Of course it was gonna turn out this way. Now he’s doing Godzilla vs. Kong. So yeah, I’m just about done looking forward to his movies. Oh well. Shit happens. As for the movie itself — it just kind of starts and then hurtles forward without really giving you time to give a shit about anything. It also seems like it was trying to revel in the gore of the deaths. I don’t think that’s the point of the whole thing? I feel like there was a better movie here at some point in the process, and then they lost it in many of the same ways movies lose it nowadays. I would be mad at this, but I had no idea what the original was, so mostly I’m just kind of ‘whatever’ about the whole thing. Movie was fine. I like the premise. Execution felt shoddy and rushed, and I feel like if they made three movies for $90 million instead of one movie for $50 million, they probably could have told this story in full somewhat properly. Shit happens, I guess.

Deep — * * (2 stars)

Shitty, low-budget animated movie. Not sure why I’ve become fascinated by these, but this must be like the fifth one I’ve seen this year. They’re all bad, and there’s not really a whole lot to like. Yet I keep watching them. What does this say about me? The part about this one that interested me was the idea that all these fish live, essentially, in a wasteland, after all the humans fucked up the world and left. So like, Wall-E, but what’s going on underwater. Which is kinda like what the Avatar sequel is supposed to be, from what I heard. So it’s this generic fish story, but the subtext is that the human race has abandoned the planet. There was an interesting route to go there, but of course a movie like this wasn’t gonna take it. I feel like all I really need to say about this one is — yes, I saw it. I know you don’t know what this is. I don’t know why I saw it, and it wasn’t good.

Despicable Me 3 — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

The first movie was cute. The second one was unbearable. This one falls somewhere in between. Much like the Cars franchise, they spent too much time on side characters in the sequel and it really made it suck. And now they went back to telling a real story and getting close to whatever heights the first movie in the series reached, but at this point it’s just wash, rinse repeat. There’s not much in this franchise for me. They get one, maybe two chuckles out of me, maybe one more, “Oh, that’s a good choice,” and otherwise I don’t really care. This is for kids. I leave it to them to enjoy it. I’m not the audience for this movie.

Detroit — * * * * (4 stars)

Kathryn Bigelow has certainly perfected a style. This is the third film in a row where she has used it, and she is definitely very good at it. Though, like all people who have a style they use across multiple films (Terrence Malick, Wes Anderson, David O. Russell), she does feel like she’s getting somewhat repetitive in certain areas, and the films are all having the same faults (however minor they are, compared to other films). The social relevance in the film speaks for itself, and I’m not even gonna go there because everyone else will. I’m also not gonna use the social relevance to claim the film is better than it is. Because a lot of other people will. I liked this movie quite a bit. The direction of the Algiers sequence was fantastic. Like Zero Dark Thirty, I see a movie that is incredibly well made that is not without its flaws. I think this could have been about twenty minutes shorter. I think a little more nuance could have been shown within each of the characters. Too often were people portrayed along the same note throughout the film — the racist cop, the slimy lawyer, etc. Though I appreciate how bleak the movie is. It needed to be. I like that they didn’t try to make it happy and they didn’t try to sanitize it. Anyone docking this movie for being so grim is missing the point. I actually love that the movie ends the way that it does. I just think that it took too long to get to the point that we all knew was coming. I wanted it to make me feel angry. Instead, I sat there, feeling like the movie was leading me to go, “Yup, I get it. Cops kill people now too and they get acquitted. Parallels.” I didn’t need 20 minutes of trial to get that. But sure. Maybe some people do. It’s certainly an important film. But like Zero Dark Thirty, I just like it a lot. I don’t love it. It’s good, but I don’t think it’ll be in my top ten. I know a lot of you will have it there, and that’s fine. I’m good with simply liking it a lot.

The Dinner — * * * (3 stars)

I’m usually a big fan of Oren Moverman’s work. He makes this intimate dramas that deal with personal conflict rather than trying to add unnecessary size to them. Time Out of Mind was just a movie about a homeless dude. And I liked that it was just that. This is based on a book, and I had a hard time not thinking of the movie Carnage for the first half. Because it’s essentially the same story — two couples sit down to discuss something that happened between their children. Though here, what happened is way more fucked up, and there’s a bunch more going on between the couples. Richard Gere is running for office, Rebecca Hall is his suffering wife who stands by him and just wants to see him through, Steve Coogan is Gere’s brother who we slowly find out has a history of mental illness (which is really out of nowhere and confusing at first, but then begins to dominate the latter half of the film) and Laura Linney is his wife, who is the cheery optimist who is willing to overlook some awful shit just to keep everything on an even keel. The actors do what they can to make this work, but the story just isn’t there. I just wasn’t invested in any of it, and was more interested in seeing the actors do their thing. Which was enough. Though I do wish this ended up being better, because these are four fine actors, and they really could have made something great with the right script.

Dirty Dancing — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Holy shit, who thought this was a good idea? I had no idea it existed until it came out and got savaged by everyone who saw it. Then I had to see it, just to see how bad it was. It’s — not great. I don’t consider the original an untouchable classic that you can never try to remake into a TV movie. But I do question a lot — okay, pretty much all — the decisions they made in this one. I’m firmly of the belief that you can remake whatever the hell you want if it’s only going on TV for one night only. Though you’re still held accountable for bad writing and bad directing. I still have no idea what the creative thought process here, but I can’t hate this as much as the internet has just because it’s a TV movie. Who gives a shit?

Dunkirk — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)

This may be the best movie of the year so far. It’s an incredible piece of filmmaking. The one knock on Christopher Nolan was always that his scripts had way too much exposition. So what did he do? Cut out all the exposition and all the dialogue, essentially. And this was the story with which to try that, and it works completely. People have complained about the sound for his last two movies, but I don’t see why you’d complain here. The sound being so loud actually immerses you in the experience. If I had one thing I’d say that was slightly confusing about the film, it’s that I lost track of the timeline for a bit in the middle, but even that wasn’t so bad. Mostly I was amazed at how great the whole thing looked and how well it was made. Very excited to see it again. This may well end up in the top ten come the end of the year.

The Emoji Movie — * * (2 stars)

There’s always one movie a year that astounds me because it was so clearly made for all the wrong reasons. Here’s a movie that was engineered from the top down. They saw a property people would recognize and decided to make a movie about it because they figured people would go see it. There was no passion put into this whatsoever. It’s almost like the Angry Birds movie. Purely done out of greed and the pursuit of box office. There’s no story here. And what there is in the way of a plot is a blatant ripoff of The Lego Movie. It’s terrible. By the midway point, the movie stops pretending like it’s about something and becomes a blatant advertisement for apps. THEY LITERALLY PLAY CANDY CRUSH IN THIS MOVIE. There’s nothing redeeming about this piece of shit whatsoever, and this represents everything that’s wrong with cinema today.

Everything, Everything — * * * (3 stars)

This was a decent YA movie. Girl born with a condition that prevents her from ever going outside because she’s allergic to (insert title here). She falls in love with the boy next door. Etc, etc. The problem of the movie is the idea that it has to get her outside, which makes it go into some real weird and fucked up territory. It just makes it fall apart. It has a light amount of charm, the lead is the girl who played the little girl in Hunger Games who gets murdered. Not really something I can recommend for most people. I suspect tween girls are the only audience for this.

A Family Man — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Ever watch a movie and go, “My parents will like this”? That’s what this feels like. Your parents (and maybe even you) will see this on cable and go, “That wasn’t that bad.” And if it’s on and there isn’t much else out there, they’ll watch it. This was done at least a year ago and has been pushed and dumped about as quietly as a movie can be. Gerard Butler is a headhunter who is dedicated to his job at the expense of his family. He’s competing to take over for his boss, who is about to take more of a backseat role, but finds himself waylaid by his son developing leukemia. It plays exactly how you expect it will. It’s watchable, but it’s really only for those people who go in for those overly sappy cable dramas.

Feed — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

The lead actress wrote this, and it’s about her struggle with an eating disorder. Kind of an interesting angle to take, but you really don’t get to the point until late in the game. You’re not really sure what it’s about, and I think if it were clearer about its goals, it would have helped the overall film. You look this up on IMDB and it reads like a way different film than it is, and even if you start watching it you have no idea what the hell it’s gonna be about. I thought this was some weird thriller about pseudo-incestuous fraternal twins. It’s not. And I feel like if I tell you it’s not, it’ll actually (maybe) get more people to appreciate it for what it’s actually about.

First Kill — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Bruce Willis paycheck movie! He’s more consistent with these than Nicolas Cage is. This one also has Hayden Christensen, who has been in the wilderness for the past decade or so, only really having made one movie most people would have seen. That’s really all I have to talk about, because the movie’s not good at all.

Fun Mom Dinner — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Yeesh. There seems to be one “moms go out and get crazy” movie every year now. Last year was both Bad Moms and Moms’ Night Out. Both sucked. This one… pretty much the same. I hated it for the first half, but it worked its way up to indifference by the end. So I guess there’s that. It’s a low rent Bridesmaids wannabe. And just like that movie, they’re all white. Everybody’s white. Go watch Girls Trip instead. It’s a better movie.

A Ghost Story — * * * (3 stars)

If you were looking for a movie where one person eats a pie for five-and-a-half minutes while someone under a sheet stands, watching them, then I have great news for you. I have no fucking clue what the point of this movie was supposed to be. That’s not a strike against it, I just have no idea. I don’t have a problem with him portraying a ghost as a dude under a sheet. Totally fine with that. I’m just not sure what the overall theme of the movie was supposed to be, and what I was supposed to get out of it. To me, this was a movie that was asking me to do a lot and not really giving me all that much in return. It was actually the first movies in a long time that I straight up walked out of. Because I was sitting there in the theater (me and like, four other people), they set up a scene, and within twenty seconds, I got what the scene was and what it was going for. And then I didn’t really need to pay attention anymore, because that scene was gonna play out exactly as I expected for the next five minutes. If the scene was two people falling asleep, that’s the shot you get, unbroken, for several minutes. Then they started repeating scenes, and I really started to feel myself mentally groan. The movie was 87 minutes and felt so much longer. Within 25, I was openly looking up the rest of the plot on my phone and surfing the internet (something I’m completely against in a movie theater). By the time I got to the climax, I saw them set it up and went, “Yup, I get it,” and then walked out, because what I actually managed to accomplish outside the theater in the last ten minutes of the film was more than I would have gotten simply watching it. I’ll watch those ten minutes (and the film) again just to see if I get more out of it on a small screen, but for me, it wasn’t a particularly rewarding experience. It looked great, but it felt empty. It felt like it was aiming high and not really getting to much of anything. Which is fine. It’s a better film than I thought it was, and I’m sure there will be people who end up loving this. I’m not saying it’s not worth your time. I’m just saying — this wasn’t for me. Also, Rooney Mara had never eaten a pie before she shot that scene. Somehow that makes perfect sense.

Gifted — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

It’s your standard “person tries to maintain custody of a child” movie. Nice twist about the kid being incredibly smart. The girl who plays the kid is very good, and Chris Evans is very good. He’s really impressing me more and more with his non-superhero choices. It’s not gonna win any awards, but it’s very solid family fare. It’s hard not to be even a little charmed by this movie. It’s heart is in the right place and it does things mostly right. This won’t be an all-time hidden gem, but this will be a nice little gem from this year that you ought to watch.

Girls Trip — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This is legitimately a better movie than Bridesmaids. I laughed my ass off during this. White people don’t seem to know about this movie. It made about $100 million at the box office, but I still feel like no one’s up on this. It’s really good. Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah and Tiffany Haddish. And Haddish is the one that steals the show. She’s terrific. They’re all terrific. They all do some crazy shit, and it works. Bridesmaids, it felt formulaic to me, but here, it worked. I watched someone fucking a lamp and it was funny. People pissing on crowds — it worked. The grapefruit thing — hilarious. I hate the state that comedy is in right now, but this is a legitimately funny movie and one of the best experiences I had watching a movie this year. It’s already too late, but if you could see this in a mostly-full theater with a non-white audience, you will enjoy the shit out of this movie. One of the great gems of 2017.

Goon: Last of the Enforcers — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

The first Goon was fun. This one felt like — and I’m using this analogy because it essentially steals a plot point from this franchise — Major League II. Technically the first Major League has the plot point of the character who is over the hill and one injury away from not being able to play anymore, but it has that level of drop off to it. All the characters are back, and the results just… aren’t that interesting. Oh, and it has the same bit from Major League II of the superstar being traded from a rival onto the team, only to go back to being on the rival for the final showdown. But yeah, other than some nice moments with Sean William Scott and Liev Schreiber, and Alison Pill somehow being able to take dialogue where every other word is “fuck” and somehow making that come off as endearing, this movie did nothing for me. I couldn’t even really be that entertained by it. I was pretty ‘meh’ on the whole thing. Definitely nowhere near the original, as most comedy sequels tend to be.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

There’s only two ways to look at this movie. First, in the context of the previous film, which was one of the most delightful and refreshing movies Marvel has made since the first Iron Man (and I’d call it perhaps the best movie Marvel has made since the first Iron Man). And second, in the context of the other Marvel films. Starting with the first — of course the sequel wasn’t gonna be as good as the original. Especially something with a tone like this and something that succeeded the way the first Guardians movie did. The reason that one worked is because it came as a surprise. Here, we’re looking for everything it’s gonna do. We know these characters. So all they could do was put them in situations you’d expect. It follows a lot of the standard sequel trajectory: your hero has a moody, dramatic plot that pits him against the rest of the team for much of the movie. The love angle between him and the female lead is furthered but downplayed, while she is taken off on her own subplot. Some of the characters are elsewhere on their own subplot. There’s nothing particularly unique about how they did it. And fucking Baby Groot. Holy shit, guys. The fact that it looked like pandering from the start and people bought into it…. my god. The soundtrack had its moments. The first film’s soundtrack had like 80% great choices and then they got basic by the end. This one was like, 60/40, with a lot more on-the-nose choices throughout, with a couple of really fantastic choices interspersed (“Fox on the Run” and “Come a Little Bit Closer” are the highlights for me, despite the former being overused in trailers). I liked the slow play of the villain. For some reason I kept looking elsewhere for where and when they were gonna bring in a villain, only to realize about halfway through where they were going. Which was actually kind of interesting. Even though, once we got our villain showdown, I wasn’t particularly in love with it. I like some of what Gunn was going for (the whole Yondu thing in the third act was well done), but I just feel like it was a tiny bit of a letdown. But that brings us back to the second way we have to look at this movie. As far as sequels go, this was solid. It wasn’t a Hangover II situation like I was concerned about, and kept the story contained to the characters rather than trying to connect them to the rest of the universe. And in terms of all the Marvel films, it’s fine. It’s in that middle tier of, “This was a decent film.” So overall, a relative success.

Handsome — * * * (3 stars)

It’s a Netflix comedy version of a detective story. Very weird little movie. I was engaged, but it didn’t quite do it for me. Since it was following the detective plot, and yet it had bits of comedy that were very specific that led to a very strange overall tone. It’s about a girl that was murdered and dismembered and they try to infuse laughs in there. Actually I think the comedy part works more than the mystery part. The fact that the situation is so brutal actually takes away from what they’re trying to do. But it’s fine. I didn’t hate it. It wasn’t the worst 80 minutes I’ve spent on a movie. But also not something most people need concern themselves with.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This is exactly the kind of movie that, based on the trailer, you know you’re gonna enjoy and you know critics are gonna shit on it. But honestly — it’s exactly the movie you think it is. A fun, action comedy. The stars have great banter, the action actually works and it’s the kind of thriller they made twenty years ago that they wouldn’t make now because everything is too goddamn serious. I enjoyed the shit out of this. Go with your gut, not the reviews. If you think you’ll like this, you will.

Hounds of Love — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Check out the trailer for this. That’ll either sell you on it completely or let you know that you don’t need to see it. Basic set up — husband and wife abduct and murder young girls. They find a new one. Shit goes down. That’s really all you need. It’s a really strong debut by the filmmaker. You can tell from the opening minutes that he’s got a real visual style and sense of control over the film. It’s not often you see someone actually wrestle control of their first film the way this guy did. I was impressed. The movie was also solid. A bit slow and it spent a bit too much time boiling for me, but overall it was a worthwhile experience, and hopefully his next film (which is his first American film) shows as much promise.

The House — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Well this certainly seemed like a surefire Unforgivable back in January. You show me a movie with Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler in 2017, and I’m probably gonna assume Unforgivable. Especially with the plot of this — parents start an illegal casino to pay for their daughter’s tuition. There are so many ways that could go wrong. And here’s how we shook out — within the first ten minutes, this was Unforgivable all the way. Then it settled in and I just didn’t give a shit. I was watching, and I didn’t care. Which was good. Then the ending happened, and I groaned, but I wasn’t that angry. I mean, yes, these kinds of comedies make me angry because of how terrible the genre of comedy is at the moment. But I’m not sure this made me angry enough to make it Unforgivable. Which is actually kinda shocking. Still, this was bad, and that’s really the important thing here.

How to Be a Latin Lover — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

What is this? And why did Ken Marino direct this? What a strange movie. It’s not even all that funny. I feel like if this were made in the 70s, it could have been rediscovered as this weird little comedy. But there’s something about the digital look of all these movies that makes me think they’re not gonna seem worth discovering in thirty years. I — don’t even know how to explain this movie. Chances are, you haven’t heard of it, and if that’s the case, just leave it that way. You’re not missing out on much.

The Hunter’s Prayer — * * * (3 stars)

Generic action movie. An assassin is hired to kill a girl whose parents were already murdered by his boss. He takes pity on her and takes her in, training her so she can kill the people responsible for her parents’ death. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before and it’s not particularly good. But you know my affinity for these cable-level thrillers, so what would be indifference for most is a “I’m fine with it” for me.

Inconceivable — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

The fact that this movie exists is (insert title here). Okay, not really, but you kind of have to, right? This is your typical crazy white lady movie. There’s an extra twist in here that makes it slightly more than that, but it’s still not good. It’s actually really similar to that Will Ferrell/Kristen Wiig Lifetime movie they made. You know, the one you thought was a parody that actually wasn’t. You get Gina Gershon and Nicolas Cage in it. And… not a whole lot else. Yeah, this is another one of his boring paycheck movies where he’s barely giving a performance. I’m kinda hoping this is him cleaning the palate from the assumed insanity you think you’re gonna get from him in order to reinvent himself in a couple of years into something new. But it’s starting to look more and more like he’s stopped giving a shit and is purely doing movies now just to pay back the IRS. Which is a shame.

The Incredible Jessica James — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Jim Strouse is an interesting filmmaker. He makes these intimate character pieces. His first film was Grace Is Gone, with John Cusack as a husband whose wife went off to Iraq and died. So now he’s dealing with the death of his wife and the prospect of raising his daughters on his own. Which was a nice twist on the usual narrative and a quietly good film. Then he made The Winning Season with Sam Rockwell, which I haven’t seen but looks good. It seems like your ‘disgraced coach looks for redemption’ film. Then he made People Places Things, which is with Jemaine Clement as a divorced teacher dealing with co-parenting his daughters and trying to date again. That’s where he first worked with Jessica Williams, who is the star of this movie. I tell you all that first to show where the idea for this film began and to let you know that Jim Strouse is a filmmaker you probably haven’t heard of who makes this solid indie films that are worth your time. Now, onto this one. It’s centered around Jessica Williams, who most people would recognize from the Daily Show. The film was written around her and works because she’s the star. It’s a role designed to make her shine. And she does. You’re in love with her within the first four minutes of the film. And the film is pretty simple — she’s a struggling playwright who teaches theater to children and is dealing with a recent breakup. She starts dating a divorcee and slowly realizes she has to deal with her own shit if she wants to move forward. And it’s great. It’s a nice pseudo-romantic comedy. It’s kind of an indie movie that surprises you by being a rom com. It’s nice. It’s one of the better Netflix movies and is one of those movies people should watch, if only to see the dynamo that is Jessica Williams.

Jasper Jones — * * * (3 stars)

Australian coming-of-age, mystery (?) film. It was all right. The mystery wasn’t all that interesting to me, and it never really went anywhere that felt new or engaging. I love Hugo Weaving playing the possibly-crazy, scary guy who clearly is gonna end up a nice guy. Otherwise — ehh. Not really for me.

Kidnap — * * * (3 stars)

This is good bad cinema. Completely schlocky in every way, yet watchable. I always cringe when Halle Berry does another movie that sounds like a shitty thriller, yet this is the second time that it’s been an enjoyable shitty thriller. The other was a similar subject matter. Where she was the 911 operator on the phone with a girl being kidnapped. Here, she’s the mother of the kid who was kidnapped, who basically engages in an 80 minute car chase with the kidnappers. And it’s the fact that this is one long car chase that makes me okay with it. It’s not good. I’ll never claim that it is. But I enjoyed it, which is more than I can say for a lot of other movies this year. You guys know my history with the cable movie thriller. This is that all around. And I will take that so many times over a bunch of the other crap out there. Also, for all the people who will shit on this movie with the argument, “Halle Berry is an Oscar winner! What is she doing here?” — remember, a lot of Oscar winners in the 50s made B-movie noirs. This is no different than that whatsoever.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword — * * * (3 stars)

We all knew this was a bad idea from the start, right? Because the outcome of this movie (quality-wise, critically and financially) should surprise absolutely nobody. King Arthur is overdone and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to the story to make it seem new or interesting. And hiring Guy Ritchie was only gonna lead to disaster, because he’s someone who injects a visual style to things, but can’t overcome bad studio development. This just didn’t work. It had enough money invested into it that the product was fine. You can watch it. But it’s not good. It’s too long, it’s too serious (and don’t we know by now that Guy Ritchie’s bread and butter is not serious?) and it falls into every single trap you would expect from a movie like this. How do we have a King Arthur movie where the villain becomes a CGI creature in the third act? What the fuck is that? This is just a complete dud all around, and I’m not even remotely surprised. All this really did is make me nostalgic for the days when Guy Ritchie made awesome little crime movies. And now he’s a for-hire studio filmmaker. His next movie is fucking Aladdin! What the hell, man?

Lady Macbeth — * * * * (4 stars)

This will go down as one of my top five or ten best surprises of 2017. I did not know anything about this movie until about a week out. I knew I’d been tracking it, because it had the same release date all year. It was in that spot that I know very well. There’s always, at the beginning of the summer months, one indie that’s counter-programmed against a major blockbuster. And those are always solid movies. Year after year, those are the ones I end up liking more than the films they’re up against. And this was exactly that. (Which, to bring it back yet again… and I think I’m due to update those articles yet again, because we’re going on four years since I’ve last updated them… my How to Read a Hollywood Release guide just proves itself more right every year.) The film — and I don’t really want to spoil it for anyone, because it’s a wonderful discovery — is about a woman sold into marriage to an older man. That’s really all you need to know and all you should know. It’s just a wonderful film that packs a lot into 90 minutes. It looks gorgeous, it takes some turns that seem both obvious yet surprising, and the performances are fantastic. Florence Pugh, who plays the main character, is astoundingly good. One of the best performances you’ll see this year and one of the most exciting discoveries in recent years. She’s terrific here. I love that there’s no score in this movie and I love how absolutely powerful it is. This is one of the finest movies you will see in 2017. Go see it now.

The Last Face — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Sean Penn directed this. So far his directorial output has been solid to great. I loved The Pledge and Into the Wild. And this is the first film he’s made since the latter. From the start, reading the logline — about two aid workers in Africa — it felt like it wasn’t gonna end well. Stars putting their humanitarian efforts into their movies never ends well at all (just ask Angelina Jolie. I say that meaning both her first film and the one that’s about to come out). This screened at Cannes last year. And it was so derided and shat upon that it sat on the shelf for over a year. And even then it barely came out. I’ll skip all the pleasantries by saying — it’s not good. Charlize Theron has nothing to do, though she tries. And Javier Bardem doesn’t have much to do either. It’s very poorly written and conceived and there’s almost nothing enjoyable about the movie. The two things I will tell you about are better than the entire movie. First — Robin Wright originally wanted to make this story back in the 90s and star as the main character. And then, after she and Sean Penn divorced, he made the movie and put his then-girlfriend Charlize Theron in the title role. There’s nothing like pettiness, is there? And second — there’s a scene in this movie that’s so nuts that I showed it to everyone I could because I couldn’t believe it. It’s a scene where Theron and Bardem are reunited. I forget why or what the circumstances are. Doesn’t matter. They have an emotional reunion, and the scene abruptly cuts (the editing in this movie is all over the place. I guess it’s meant to be impressionistic) to her sitting in a chair, looking over at Bardem, as a violin score starts playing. And I’m sitting there watching, going, “Wait… why does that sound familiar?” Usually a score is just a score, but sometimes you realize you’ve heard it before. In this case, I had heard it before. Took me about ten seconds. I kept thinking, “Was this lifted from another movie?” Because that happens. The score for Sunshine (which I love) was blatantly lifted and used in Kick-Ass. So I think it’s that. And then I realize, “Oh, wait… I know what this is.” And immediately, when that happens, the movie reminds me what it is — it’s a fucking Red Hot Chili Peppers song! “Otherside,” from Californication. The fucking song starts playing over the scene! Which, maybe in a better movie I could have let slide. The orchestral use of a pop song can be cool in the right situation. But here, you watch these two fuck to it. It’s nuts. And everyone I’ve shown it to agrees that its nuts. (I have a clip of it to prove it.) The worst part is — later on in the movie, they’re driving in a car, and the song plays on the radio! And then Theron (because apparently the song in the scene where they fuck was diegetic) storms out of the car and gets mad because apparently Bardem thinks it’s “their” song, and she doesn’t like the lyrics. “Pour my life into a paper cup /The ashtray’s full and I’m spillin’ my guts / She wants to know am I still a slut.” She thinks they’re about her. I’m not fucking kidding you, that scene is in this movie. And that tells you everything you need to know about the quality of the film. When a movie is trying to analyze meaning from an Anthony Kiedis lyric, you know there’s a problem.

The Last Word — * * * (3 stars)

Once you hear the logline, you’ll immediately know what you’re gonna think about this movie. And I’m here to tell you — that’s exactly what you’ll think of this movie. The premise is: Shirley MacLaine is a rich widower and control freak who is both hated and feared by just about everyone. She decides to pay the local newspaper (which her husband helped support for years) to write an obituary for her while she’s still alive, so she can control that too. Enter Amanda Seyfried, who is tasked with writing said obituary, and naturally you can guess where the movie goes from there. Yeah. It’s everything you’d expect. I like Shirley MacLaine, so there was a certain amount of enjoyment I got from this, but mostly it’s every bit as you’d suspect all the way through. And it had a lot of those indie dialogue tropes that annoy the hell out of me. (People should never discuss music or bands in films. It always sounds like the writer and never the characters.) It’s truly one of those times where you can say — this movie is exactly what you think it is.

Lemon — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

There’s a certain type of indie movie that I cannot stand. One version is set in New York and the other is set in LA. This is the latter. And man, are these movies just not for me. I think they’re supposed to be funny? I don’t know. I’m usually sitting on my hands for the whole thing, just completely baffled at the whole thing and wondering why they don’t do anything for me. One thing’s for sure — any movie where people are rehearsing a play and discussing their characters and motivations, I’m out. Plus, this is such a dry movie that’s trying to be absurdist that doesn’t really hit much of any mark. The main character is meant to be off-putting, which doesn’t lead (at least for me) to a whole lot of interesting situations. Kind of like Woody Harrelson in Wilson. There’s not much you can do with that. Mostly I was watching and thinking how different some of the performances were and how no one seemed to be in tune with what the film was going for outside of the main character and maybe like one or two other people. If you’re gonna watch a movie about a miserable person in absurd situations, watch Entertainment. Because this one just didn’t do it for me at all.

Logan Lucky — * * * * (4 stars)

Let’s begin by saying, I’m glad Steven Soderbergh is back. The man always makes interesting movies. I don’t necessarily love them all, but they’re never bad, and they’re all worth seeing. This one looked right up my alley from the start, and he got a hell of a cast on it, which made me even more excited. This is a self-described “Ocean’s 7-11,” which is an amazing nickname. A bunch of ‘hillbillies’ pull off a NASCAR heist. It’s wonderful. It follows the heist film structure pretty well, and has a lot of character. And it’s the character that makes it work. From the opening scene, you’re in. It’s a lot of fun, and Daniel Craig is amazing. It’s a great time at the movies, and somehow awareness of this movie was really high, yet it made almost no money. I don’t get it. But I know everyone’s gonna start seeing this in the coming months and really start to like it. Because it’s pretty great. It definitely lived up to my expectations, and I’m excited to see what Soderbergh’s got cooking up next.

The Lost City of Z — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

James Gray is one of those filmmakers who makes really good, interesting films, and yet the public at large knows nothing about him. His films include Little Odessa, The Yards, We Own the Night, Two Lowers, and The Immigrant. Odds are you’ve seen at least one of them. This might be his best film. It’s an epic adventure tale (made on a budget that would shock you) about a British explorer who became convinced there was an ancient lost city in the Amazon and that he’d be able to find it. The movie is gorgeous. It’s a big, classical film, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time. Pound for pound, this is one of the best films of the year. It’s an impressive feat, and it’s a shame not more people have seen this already. Amazing cinematography by Darius Khondji, and a terrific performance by Robert Pattinson, who is almost unrecognizable. This is one of 2017’s gems.

The Lovers — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This is a nice little coming-of-middle-age romantic comedy. Tracy Letts and Debra Winger (two actors we’d all like to see more of in things) are a married couple who have been together for too long. The fire is gone from their marriage and they’re both having affairs. At this point it’s all but in the open. “Working late again tonight?” “Yeah.” “Okay, I think I’ll go meet a friend for some dinner.” “Cool.” And then they go sleep with their respective paramours. And the film is about them, on the eve of both divorcing the other, suddenly reigniting that spark once again and falling in love with each other once more. Which starts to cause issues with not only their respective lovers, but also their son, who is so used to his parents hating each other that he doesn’t know what to do when he finds out they’re actually in love once more. It’s a solid film. It’s not gonna change your life, but it’s good actors in an engaging story. What more do you need?

Lovesong — * * * (3 stars)

The very definition of a Sundance indie. Two friends, one a single mother, go on a road trip, and things happen. It’s simple, it’s got good performances by Riley Keogh and Jena Malone, and it’s just a decent little movie. Can’t ask for a whole lot more than that.

Lowriders — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I feel like every Mexican-American coming-of-age story has the same exact plot. Guy looks up to his older brother, who is gang-affiliated. Dad doesn’t approve, but loves his son and wants to see him safe and out of prison, while trying to shield the younger brother from the violence so he can make something of his life. Dad’s got a business, that you know will be threatened and probably vandalized over the course of the movie. You know older brother will end up having to give up his life and/or freedom to keep his younger brother on the straight and narrow — how am I doing? I haven’t even watched this movie yet. Okay, now that I’ve watched it — sure. It’s got all the tropes. I feel like the proper review of this movie is, “Good for you, but I didn’t like it.” It wasn’t for me at all, but I appreciate that they made an earnest movie that had all the right intentions.

Maudie — * * * (3 stars)

Solid little movie. Sally Hawkins is always good, as is Ethan Hawke. It’s a nice little movie about a real woman, born with arthritis and had a lot of ailments throughout her life. She made these little paintings that became beloved by the people of her town. It’s a really lovely little film. It’s not gonna change your life, but it should put a smile on your face. And that’s all you need. Also, written and directed by women, and that’s something that needs to be championed.

Megan Leavey — * * * (3 stars)

Kinda thought this was gonna be worse than it was. I felt like it was either gonna be overly either spiritual or pro-military in that off-putting way. This was pretty much just a movie about a woman and her dog. And I liked that. This was way more solid than I ever expected it could be. This is a thoroughly okay movie. Which is the greatest compliment I can pay it.

The Mummy — * * * (3 stars)

The best way to start is the way we’d all start — what the hell happened here? And you thought DC was bad at setting up a universe. My god. This seemed ill-conceived all the way through to the point where none of us should be surprised that it turned out the way it did. First off — a Universal Monsters “universe” is not a good idea. You can reboot the monsters, but don’t make it a shared universe. And then they went and paid fuck tons of money to big actors — allegedly, aside from Cruise and Crowe, they got Jolie, Bardem and Depp already set up to join them. Which is whatever. The initial idea of getting Tom Cruise just seemed like a terrible idea from the beginning. Here’s a universe you’re trying to control, and here’s a star who contractually obligates almost unprecedented amounts of control on whatever he does. Not to mention not being a fit for the material (if you didn’t think he was actually gonna be the Mummy in future films, you’re high). You just knew it was a bad idea. And then you see the movie and you go — “What the hell were you going for?” Cruise being who he is clearly exerted a large amount of control on the story and the finished product. And I’m curious to know if his influence meant ruining whatever the film was gonna be, or saving the film and making it the barely watchable that it is. My guess is the latter. But holy shit, man. Why did you bother? Studios make all these bad decisions in the pursuit of money, they dump so much of it into what they think is a sure thing, and then they get into these situations where this movie had to open to some obscene amount of money in order to be considered a success. And the product is just boring. The Russell Crowe/Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde scene seemed forced in later on to try to expand on the universe, taking away from whatever story this could have told to make things more interesting. Didn’t they realize we’d all preferred the Brendan Fraser versions of these stories? Which, I find it hilarious that it’s 2017 and there’s a situation where we all collectively prefer Brendan Fraser to Tom Cruise, and it’s not even weird. By the way, shout out to whatever marketing genius thought this poster was a good idea. What went wrong with your movie:

My Cousin Rachel — * * * (3 stars)

This was originally adapted in 1952 and starred Richard Burton in his first American film and Olivia de Havilland. Here, it’s — I don’t even remember who the star is. He’s not Richard Burton. And Rachel Weisz plays the de Havilland role and is perfectly cast. The premise of the story is that a guy gets letters from his cousin, saying he’s sick and that he suspects his wife is poisoning him. The guy shows up to the house to find his cousin dead and the wife way more beautiful than he suspected. And the film is him trying to see if the wife is as sinister as the cousin wrote about, all the while falling in love with her. It’s very much something you could have seen Hitchcock make. It’s by the same author who wrote Rebecca. Weisz is the only interesting thing about this. It looks nice, but otherwise is just okay at best. If you’re gonna watch it, you’re either watching it because you love the novel, love the ’52 version, or love Rachel Weisz. And for those people, go for it. Otherwise, I think you’re okay without this one.

Naked — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

At what point will someone in one of these Groundhog Day ripoffs acknowledge that they’re in a Groundhog Day scenario? Every time someone tries to steal that plot, the character is always surprised to see the exact same day happen over and over the first few times. And you, the audience member is like, “I get it, it’s Groundhog Day.” If they realized after the second or third one, “Oh, I’m in Groundhog Day,” then we can skip along to the more interesting parts and try to get to a resolution. But anyway, this is about Marlon Wayans as a dude who wakes up, (insert title here), in an elevator with an hour to go before his wedding. And he realizes he is going to keep repeating the hour over and over until he makes his wedding day perfect. It’s — fine. The Groundhog Day plot makes the movie watchable, but nothing else about it was engaging at all. Every character here is way too one note to be interesting, and I’m pretty sure by the end all the stuff that happened could not have possibly taken place in the time it was supposed to. And there are these crazy reveals that come out of nowhere that are like Scooby Doo endings. Like, “YOU were the one that hired the hooker to make it look like I was cheating!” And then the person suddenly is like, “Yeah, it was me. I’m evil, and this was my plan!” Don’t waste your time with this movie, even if it is on Netflix and easily accessible.

Norman — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

The subtitle to this movie is “The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.” Which is great. Every time I talk about this movie, I’m going to mention that subtitle. This is another one of Richard Gere’s great little gems that not enough people will see that features a really terrific performance by him. I love the character actor he’s become over the past decade. For those of you with the ability to follow through and actually watch these things, rather than saying, “I should put that on the list” and never getting to it — watch the movies Richard Gere has made, post-Chicago. The Hoax, The Hunting Party, he’s in I’m Not There, Arbitrage, Time Out of Mind, and this. They’re all really interesting, and he’s really good in them. This one is about a guy who tries to be a wheeler-dealer. Within five minutes of this movie starting, you know exactly who this guy is. He’s going around, “Hey, how you doing? I know your sister’s brother’s nephew. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about this opportunity I’m a part of. You should meet my friend (Person B). He’s hosting a dinner tonight and would love for you to show up.” Then he slick talks his way into the person saying yes, and then goes to person B like, “Hey, I’m a friend of your secretary’s. (Person A) is a very close personal friend of mine and would really like to talk to you about certain issues you’re interested in. I’d like to bring him to meet you.” The guy that talks out of his ass and pretends to be more known and influential than he is. And he meets a guy who is like the third in line trade secretary for Israel and encounters him at just the right moment and ends up befriending the guy. And just his luck — that guy becomes Prime Minister a few years later. And now Gere has hit it big. He’s finally got a friend in a high place. And the rest of the film is about… well, look at the subtitle. It’s really interesting. This is gonna be one of the hidden gems of 2017, and it’s something I guarantee most of you know nothing about.

The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature — * * (2 stars)

Gonna be honest, the pun subtitle is the only reason I watched this. I support any movie with a pun subtitle. The first Nut Job movie was a piece of shit. And this wasn’t any better. But it had a pun subtitle, and that makes it okay by me.

Okja — * * * * (4 stars)

This movie was so good. It knew how to get people invested in it — by spending the first fifteen minutes with just the girl and the giant super pig. And with a crazy-ass Tilda Swinton speech. By that point, you were willing to go anywhere the movie went. Which… it goes some pretty damn weird places. And I love it. I don’t know what the hell Jake Gyllenhaal is doing in this movie, but shit, he went for it. Whatever ‘it’ is. And I love everything he did. I also loved the tone of this movie. Because it’s not a drama, it’s not a comedy, and it’s not an action movie. But it works. I also spent the first half wondering what drew Tilda Swinton to this part (aside from having worked with Bong Joon-Ho before). Took a while, but there’s that moment where you realize, “Oh, now it makes sense.” There’s always something that makes it feel perfectly ‘Tilda Swinton’. This was a movie I expected to be good, but I never expected it to be as good and as touching as it was. This is one of the stronger movies of the year so far. Also one of those movies I really want everyone to see, because somehow it’s really accessible for everyone despite seeming really limited in terms of who’d go for it. In a way, this is a perfect movie for Netflix.

Once Upon a Time in Venice — * * * (3 stars)

Not quite a Bruce Willis paycheck movie, but close. This was written and directed by the guys who wrote Cop Out and you can see the basic narrative thread from that movie running through this one. That movie was about a cop trying to get back a baseball card. Here, it’s a dog. Though they make it much more like a detective movie, with all sorts of weird side characters and such. So that got me through. It’s more fun than you’d think, though not great overall. This would have been one of those weird movies I saw on cable as a kid and enjoyed even though I’d know it wasn’t a particularly great movie. And there’s something to be said for movies like that. There are cool people in this, and it’s not that bad. Also — there’s one moment in this movie where I’m guessing it’s supposed to be Bruce Willis leaving a voicemail on Thomas Middleditch’s phone, but it sounds like a completely random person. I’m pretty sure Bruce Willis straight up refused to do ADR for this movie and they had someone do an impersonation of him and put it in there. I wonder how many people even noticed.

The Ottoman Lieutenant — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Period romance with some war thrown in. There’s always one of these that comes out under the radar every year and they almost always turn out the same. Here, it’s an actress I’ve never heard of (whose character is strikingly progressive for the era, to the point where it seems engineered), Josh Hartnett and Ben Kingsley. Basically, she is a nurse, helping Hartnett, a doctor, and Kingsley, another doctor (who is addicted to ether and has a backstory, to give him something to do), on the eve of World War I. And she falls for a Turkish officer in the meantime. Pretty standard (and generic) all the way through. Mostly I watch these, wondering what kind of budget they had. Since there’s really no way these can be sold anymore, even with big stars. (The Promise had $100 million, Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac.) Maybe someone gets something out of movies like this, but mostly I think they’re doomed to irrelevance and only get seen by maniacs like myself who seek stuff like this out because, “Why not?” And then I watch them and go, “Oh, that’s why.”

Paris Can Wait — * * * (3 stars)

I was worried this might be an offshoot of the Kevin James show. It is not. It’s the debut narrative feature of Eleanor Coppola, director of Hearts of Darkness, perhaps the greatest documentary about filmmaking ever made. This is a movie written and directed by the wife of a director. And it shows. This is clearly based on her experiences and daydreams while on the festival circuit with her husband. This movie told me what it was within the first ten notes of the score. Within two minutes, you know exactly what you’re in for, all the way through. And that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means you know what you’re gonna get. It’s not really gonna surprise you in any way. You get Diane Lane, who is always great, a little bit of Alec Baldwin, who is always welcome, and Arnaud Viard, a French actor with whom I was unfamiliar before this. It’s fine. It’s engaging. It’s a comedy/romantic comedy that is about twenty years past its era. It’s doing things that have been out of style for long enough that it feels just left of center in terms of pacing and the jokes landing (or not landing). But I’ve seen worse, so I was fine with it.

Person to Person — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Ensemble New York indie. Looking at this film’s IMDB page, you know exactly what you’re gonna get. All New York-based actors, mostly comedians, a writer director making their first feature and a film that played at both Sundance and South by Southwest. Within four minutes of this movie starting, not only were my suspicions confirmed, they doubled down on all the New York indie tropes. Which really did not make for a fun time for me. One of the characters goes around New York in search of an elusive jazz record (jesus). It feels like it’s trying to be funny? I have no idea. I can’t stand movies like this, because they’re all the same, and none of them really do anything particularly new or interesting. At least one of the characters wasn’t an NYU professor, and no one went on long monologues about the nature of love or talking about capitalist systems or something like that. So I guess it had that going for it.

Pilgrimmage — * * * (3 stars)

The movie looked great, had fine actors in it — I just wasn’t particularly engaged. Religious people doing stuff is not my idea of a fun time at the movies. But hey, Tom Holland and Jon Bernthal — I gave it a shot. And I will say it looked way better than whatever the budget was, and that’s the best thing about the film.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales — * * * * (4 stars)

Whoo boy, this franchise has run out of steam, hasn’t it? I’m not gonna say that I don’t enjoy these movies, because I do. Even that last one, which is pretty incoherent, plot-wise, I enjoyed. This one is definitely better than that last one, but it doesn’t come anywhere near the magic of the first three. They did right by not making Sparrow the main character of the film. He’s better served as a strong supporting character. Though he’s still not as good as he used to be, because half the joy with him is not knowing what his true motivations are and seeing him all over the map, doing whatever he does. Here, it’s become a plot point, seeing him do crazy shit during action sequences that just works miraculously. They need to get this franchise back on track by scaling it down and telling a real story with characters. They almost went there. I actually was engaged by Kaya Scodelario’s character and really enjoyed what they did with her. Not sure I love where she ended, but it got a little bit of emotion out of me, so I’m fine with that. The Orlando Bloom shit — whatever. Fine. Put that there. Geoffrey Rush’s character — it was really the only place they could have taken him, so that’s fine. I’m not a fan of the overly complicated MacGuffin plots here. I think the franchise needs to reinvent itself. The overly CGI finale was boring as hell. The villain didn’t matter at all. It just — it got better mileage out of the practical set pieces, like the bank vault and the guillotine. Young CGI Depp didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would (mostly because the unfinished effects in the trailer looked creepy, whereas the finished effects in the film looked fine), and I was even fine with the Paul McCartney cameo. Still, while they did set up interesting characters (which the franchise was lacking in the previous entry), they really need to come up with something smaller for the next time out. (Ghost sharks just aren’t gonna cut it.) Otherwise, this franchise is gonna run aground real fast.

The Promise — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

So the story behind this is — an Armenian investor put up $100 million in order to fund this movie because he felt the story needed to be told. It’s about the Armenian Genocide. They got Terry George to direct (clearly because they saw Hotel Rwanda and thought, “Well, he did it well already”), and good for him and what I’m sure was a lucrative payday. Then they paid Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale to star in it. Bale likes these historical pieces (The Flowers of War, Exodus), and I feel like he does them because, to him, it’s basically like learning history while getting paid. Which, cool. That being said — it’s not a good movie at all. Propaganda is a strong word, but this movie is basically meant to shed light on an event from a particular point of view, so of course it’s gonna be one-sided and portray the Armenians in a certain way and the Turks in a completely different way. That’s what they wanted to do, and it led to the creation of a certain kind of movie. It’s just… not a very interesting one. That’s the problem. I get why they made it and what they wanted to achieve, but from a pure standpoint of, “Is this a good movie?” — it’s not. It doesn’t engage in any way, wastes a great cast, and doesn’t offer much of anything beside a broad history lesson about a genocide that’s been swept under the rug by history. Admire the effort, don’t like the movie.

Raw — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This was fantastic. I love movies that start from a weird place and stay that way. It’s just your simple, run-of-the-mill movie about a girl who gets hazed and ends up developing a taste for human flesh. (College!) The places this goes are pretty fantastic. More than worth your time, and one of the great pseudo-horror movies of the year.

Rememory — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Not for me. Didn’t particularly care about anything that happened in it. Peter Dinklage has a memory machine that allows him to access people’s memories, and he’s trying to solve a murder — nah. Didn’t do it for me.

Revolt — * * * (3 stars)

This was a weird movie. I think it’s gonna debut on Netflix one of these months. It’s a sci fi movie with a fair amount of special effects that show what kind of a budget this movie didn’t have. Perfect for the Netflix model, from what I’ve seen them release so far. The movie’s about an alien invasion that takes place after the invasion’s gotten started. Dude wakes up in a jail cell in South Africa with no memory and needs to figure out how he got there and also get out before he gets murdered. It’s engaging enough, but there’s not a whole lot there. In terms of Netflix movies, it’s not the worst. If you have 90 minutes to kill while cleaning or ironing or something, it’s not the worst movie to have on in the background. Otherwise, not much you’ll get out of it unless you really like either of the stars (Lee Pace and Berenice Marlohe).

Rough Night — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

More like a rough WATCH. The state of comedy has made it such that I can’t even root for an all-female movie to be good and to succeed. I’m happy this made every dollar it made and wish it made more — but guys… we gotta stop making these shitty, raunchy comedies that are copying a template that wasn’t even that great to begin with. This movie seemed ill-conceived from the start. Why couldn’t it be as simple as the premise stated? Why did it have to get so overly complicated? (I’ll tell you why — someone along the way, be it studio executive or test audience — decided that if they actually killed someone, they wouldn’t be able to be rooted for anymore. Which, spoiler alert, you’re an idiot if you’re actually going into this movie for the plot.) There are too many subplots and too much going on and not enough actual comedy. Everything about this movie just feels — off. Ultimately I didn’t care at all about this, but movies like this just make me weep for the state of the comedy genre.

The Secret Scripture — * * * (3 stars)

What happened to Jim Sheridan? My Left Foot, The Field, In the Name of the Father, The Boxer, In America. That’s about as strong a first five as you’re gonna get. And then… just nothing. Straight studio gigs. He made Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Do you realize that? He made the movie Brothers, which is a remake that’s most notable for a clear bribe campaign that got Tobey Maguire nominated for a Golden Globe. Then he made Dream House, a movie so bad that he wanted to take his name off the movie and its stars, Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, refused to promote it. This is his first movie since that disaster. It’s a return to Ireland. Rooney Mara is a woman placed in a mental institution for the alleged murder of her child. And most of the movie is told in flashback as we find out what happened in this woman’s life. It’s — okay. Maybe? It’s not that great a film, but I like Rooney Mara and I wanted to be engaged by this. Ultimately it’s just kind of meh and makes me wonder if Jim Sheridan is just done making good movies. Maybe he stopped having something to say after In America. It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened to someone. Look at Cameron Crowe after Almost Famous. It’s possible people are just creatively spent. Here’s hoping Jim Sheridan has one more good movie left in him.

The Sense of an Ending — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I sat through almost two hours of this thing. Trust me, I wish it had come sooner. This was boring. This is less interesting version of the movie 45 Years, which itself wasn’t all that interesting. But hey, they both have Charlotte Rampling, so that’s something! (I honestly have nothing to say about this movie. I didn’t care for it, and that’s about it.)

Shimmer Lake — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Of all the Netflix movies I’ve seen (which at this point is all of them), this is one of the good ones. The conceit of this movie is that it’s told backwards. Not like, Memento backwards, but in a way, a little bit like that. It’s something like five chapters, all told in reverse. So we begin with the last chapter, told in order. So when that chapter ends, that’s the end of the movie. And then we go to chapter four, and we watch that in order. And the end of chapter four is where the beginning of the movie (chapter five) started. And as it goes, more characters become better revealed and you start to see what’s going on. The gimmick of the film is what separates it from others. If it were told chronologically, it wouldn’t be as interesting. Not that the film isn’t reliant on the nonlinear style, but you know what I mean. The other thing the film does is cast comedic actors in very serious roles. Some directors have tried that, to varying degrees of success. It mostly works here, though it is a little weird, because it happens so much that it feels like there was a deliberate reason for it, which I just can’t figure out. Otherwise, very solid, worth seeing, and better than the average movie.

Sleight — * * * (3 stars)

Decent little movie. Amateur magician deals drugs on the side to help out his sister, and gets into some deep shit. It got generic at times and got too outlandish at times, but overall, it was a solid little movie, considering how little it was made for. Perfectly fine with this.

Snatched — * * (2 stars)

I think if you asked people going into the year what was guaranteed to be an awful movie that would shoot right to the top half of the Unforgivables list, I’m pretty sure this would have been there. It had the stink of an awful movie from the start. I don’t want to get too much into how bad this was now, because I already know it’ll be making a reappearance once we get to December. I will say, near the top of this movie’s many failures — why the hell would you cast Goldie Hawn only to make her the straight-man of the movie? What a waste of everyone’s time.

Some Freaks — * * * (3 stars)

Engaging little indie. Thomas Mann (the kid from Me and Earl and the Dying Girl who is starting to show up a bunch in things) is a high school student with one eye. His best (and only, really) friend is closeted, and has an overweight sister who is bullied because of her weight. He and the sister hit it off and start dating. They find kinship in being outcasts. Then the girl moves across the country to go to college. Finally, when he goes to visit her in the middle of the semester, he finds out that she’s lost a bunch of weight. Which throws their relationship in flux, because now he doesn’t see her as an outcast like himself. It’s — interesting. It’s pretty engaging and there are a lot of elements I hadn’t seen in a film before. I saw some reviews that called it a modern day version of a John Hughes movie. Which might be true. Since in his day, digging under stereotypes was a thing. You can’t do that now. So what you do is look into the corners and try to find the stories people haven’t seen. And this, admittedly, is one of those stories. It does go in a lot of generic directions at times, but overall, there is something here to like. It’s worth seeing.

Song to Song — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Terrence Malick has gotten about all he’s gonna get out of this style. This, ethereal, non-narrative, dreamlike film he’s been trying to make the past couple of years. It peaked with Tree of Life, and everything since has been beyond diminishing returns with more and more impressive casts. They’re just not doing anything for me. Fortunately it seems like he’s returning to narrative filmmaking again, which makes me happy. I think what kept me from speaking ill of these films is the fact that I still feel like he could have disappeared again and we could have gotten nothing. But still — with the cast on this film… what did anyone get out of it? At this point we know we’re gonna get famous people walking around, staring into the distance and looking at each other while saying

Spark: A Space Tail — * * (2 stars)

I have no idea why I watch these really cheap, really bad, really generic animated movies. I never get anything out of them. I’m gonna chalk this one up to a pun subtitle. I always appreciate those.

Spider-Man: Homecoming — * * * * (4 stars)

Probably the most original — or at least interesting — Marvel movie since the first Guardians. What makes this movie work is probably two-fold. First, we are already aware of Spider-Man and all that comes with that character and that universe. So the film wisely doesn’t waste time on another origin story, murdering Uncle Ben and all that. The second thing they do is contain the story. This is just a story about Spider-Man. Stark is in it, but sparingly and only to further the story. They hint at the larger universe, but they don’t force the worldbuilding upon you like they did in previous movies. This is one of the movies that actually uses the Marvel universe to its advantage. Plus, the story works. It’s not perfect, but overall, it works. It’s fun, it has some really nice character building (the revelation near the end of the second act is quite good), and the climax isn’t the major destruction of the city. It’s a really solid entry into the Marvel universe, and dare I say, probably top five or six for them. (Though, you’re talking to someone who doesn’t particularly care for either Avengers movie, so my list is gonna be different from most of yours.) All their movies have felt pretty ho hum since Guardians. Avengers 2 wasn’t great. Ant-Man was charming but just decent. I didn’t like Civil War and thought it was a disappointment. Doctor Strange wasn’t interesting. And Guardians 2 was just pretty good. This movie actually felt like one of their good ones.

Strange Weather — * * * (3 stars)

Nice little indie with a good performance by Holly Hunter. And a nice supporting performance by Carrie Coon. She’s a woman whose son killed himself a few years earlier and she’s still struggling with the grief from the incident. She ends up going on a road trip when she finds out one of her son’s friends has turned her son’s idea for a business into a very successful restaurant chain. It’s decent. Very indie. But good because of the leads.

T2: Trainspotting — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I’m not the biggest fan of the original film. I like it, but I didn’t grow up with it the way some people did. I didn’t have the poster on my wall with the opening monologue. It wasn’t one of the films I watched really early on as I was getting into movies. I only saw it for the first time in the last like, three or four years. And it’s good, but this isn’t one of those holy films for me that no one can badmouth. I feel I need to get that out of the way first. Because how people feel about this movie is largely informed by how they felt about the original. I feel like it’s a movie that is very much a more mature version than one that could have been made ten years ago. I feel like Danny Boyle took an interesting approach to it, one that largely works. It’s a very solid film. Though, again, because this isn’t totally my thing, I didn’t do much more than just like it. But I did appreciate how it looked and liked quite a bit of it. It’s definitely not the first movie, nor is it trying to be.

Table 19 — * * * (3 stars)

This is by the guy who made Rocket Science. It’s a simple movie about a bunch of people ending up at the ‘rejects’ table at a wedding. Basically, all the random friends and acquaintances you have to invite out of kindness who you don’t actually expect will show up. And they all say yes, so now they have to be put somewhere. And they get put at a table together. The characters are fairly two-dimensional for most of the film. Occasionally they’ll become interesting, because the actors are doing a good job. It’s not a movie that does anything particularly well, but I was able to enjoy it for what it was. I don’t think you’ll hate it, and I think the cast is full of people who, collectively, we all like. So I think most people will be able to get something out of it for that alone.

Their Finest — * * * * (4 stars)

I enjoyed the hell out of this. This would make a nice companion piece to Dunkirk. It’s a lovely little movie. There’s always one charming British ensemble piece each year. This is about Gemma Arterton as a secretary who gets promoted to screenwriter who is hired to help write “women’s dialogue” for a propaganda film about the invasion of Dunkirk in order to help British morale during the war. She ends up becoming an actual writer on the film and falling in love with her co-writer, the whole thing. They base it on the story of these two girls, who took their father’s boat to go help evacuate troops. And of course they never actually got anywhere, but they decide to fictionalize the story (as movies always do) and all that. And then there’s Bill Nighy, as an aging actor who has to finally admit that it’s time for him to play the “grandpa” role instead of the leading man role. And then they cast an actual American military man in the movie, but he can’t act worth a shit. It’s that kind of ensemble. You’ll know exactly what it is when it starts getting going. And it’s a lot of fun. These are the kind of movies everyone enjoys.

To the Bone — * * * (3 stars)

This is that Netflix movie about eating disorders. I remember when it came out, people complained that it should have had a trigger warning attached. Which made me all sorts of pissed off. It’s like saying, “Hey, let’s watch this movie about racism. OH MY GOD HOW COME YOU DIDN’T TELL ME THEY’D SAY THE N-WORD IN IT?!!” This PC culture can lick my taint. Anywho, the movie was fine. Lily Collins was solid in it, and they cast it well. I feel like — and this is having zero knowledge of eating disorders, which is something apparently everyone under the age of 20 now goes through, seemingly — this is the ‘Hollywood’ version of what an eating disorder actually is. Or rather, the version that generally has things right, but either sugar coats it or doesn’t go the full distance and changes things just to tell a story that’s marketable to people. But maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know. I was relatively engaged. Not something that really did all that much for me, but I suspect I’m not really the audience for this one.

Tommy’s Honour — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Golf movie. You don’t see a… hole lot of those! (I should really get out now, shouldn’t I? It’s really only downhill from here.) It’s about two pioneering Scottish champions, father and son. It’s pretty by-the-numbers, but admirable in its effort.

Transformers: The Last Knight –* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Yeah, I know. Look, we know what these movies are. They’re completely incoherent messes. A jumble of noises and explosions and corny jokes. But I enjoy them. So there we are. This, honestly, is probably the best since the first one. Or maybe the third one. I know we’re grading that on a curve, but still. I enjoyed it. The extra half star was for seeing it in IMAX 3D. I will never defend these as actually being good movies, but they’re fun. And I got shitfaced afterwards at that Jimmy Buffett restaurant, so maybe that made me look back more lovingly on the film.

Una — * * * (3 stars)

This was based on a play, and I feel like it might have been better served as that. Or maybe in different hands? The play is about a 40-year-old who starts a sexual relationship with his neighbor’s underage daughter. She’s like 12 or 13 at the time. Eventually they plan to run away together, and he goes off to think about actually going through with it, and through both him and her becoming worried about the other, they are found out and he goes to jail. Now, something like ten or twelve years later, she’s in her mid-twenties and he’s got a new identity in a different city and has restarted his life. She shows up at his job to confront him. Though her intentions are not exactly clear (possibly even to herself). It’s not an easy film and the subject matter is, obviously, not something most people deal with on a regular basis. I feel like the film does not ask the same questions the play does, because it’s clear what questions there are within the story. And Ben Mendehlson and Rooney Mara are both fine actors and do what they can with the roles, but I just don’t think the movie gets anywhere it could. Even Riz Ahmed is in this and feels wasted. I appreciate the difficult story, even if it is icky in a lot of ways, but the movie really doesn’t go anywhere particularly interesting, and that feels like a shame given everyone involved.

Unforgettable — * * (2 stars)

This is just bad Gone Girl. I don’t know how else to describe it. Katherine Heigl playing a crazy white woman doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. And she’s playing this almost as if she thinks she’s gonna get that Gone Girl acclaim, only without a David Fincher handling it, this is like trying to play Hamlet on a Wishbone episode. The worst part is, they somehow didn’t know this wasn’t gonna be good? They don’t even try to make it campy. So who is this movie for, then, exactly? This is one step above Lifetime. If they actually released this on Lifetime, it would fit right in.

Unleashed — * * * (3 stars)

Hipster rom com where a woman’s pet cat and dog get turned into dudes. It’s fine. Cute in that broad, family way. It works because the guys playing the animals. There’s a certain group of people who will really enjoy this. Watch a trailer. You’ll know when you see it whether or not it’s for you.

Unlocked — * * * (3 stars)

Decent CIA thriller. Noomi Rapace, Michael Douglas, Toni Colette, John Malkovich and Orlando Bloom. Michael Apted directs. Cast is solid enough to make it watchable. Not particularly original, but if you came across it on Netflix, you could do worse for 100 minutes.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets — * * * * (4 stars)

Let’s start by saying — this movie is no Fifth Element. But it is running the Fifth Element playbook. This movie basically follows all the general beats of that one, and you notice it at very specific times. Like, “Oh, so now we’re going to a ‘paradise’ planet. Or the introduction of the hero after a planetary destruction, waking up suddenly from a deep sleep. I realized about halfway through, “Wait, how come Rihanna hasn’t show… oh, she’s gonna do the opera singer part, isn’t she?” And yup. That’s exactly what she’s there for, doing the 2017 version of the blue lady aria. Which, in this case, is a striptease. That being said, I enjoyed it. I’m never gonna claim it’s a great movie, but it looked nice. I saw it in 3D because I felt Luc Besson deserved a chance and because I thought that’s how the movie wanted me to see it. I’m not sure if that’s the case. I think I’d rather have seen it in 2D, and I’m interested to watch it again in 2D. The 3D didn’t really add to the visuals at all, and it seems as though it was post-converted. But still — I enjoyed it, I was engaged, and there were enough interesting bits about the universe that allowed me to overcome all the parts that I didn’t like (namely the so-so writing, the bad acting and the on-the-nose plotting that literally is trying to recreate the film he made 20 years ago). Not everyone’s gonna feel the way I did about it, and I’m fine with that. I think it’s an admirable misfire, that is way more interesting than most superhero movies nowadays. Let’s see what time does to this one. I feel like there’s a chance this could hold up a bit better than people expect.

Vier gegen die bank — * * * (3 stars)

German movie. Wolfgang Petersen’s first movie in ten years (since Poseidon) and his first movie back in Germany in probably 35 years. It’s part of my Directors List, which is why I’ve sought it out. It’s a remake of a TV movie of the same name he made 40 years ago. Basically the same exact movie you’d expect it to be, based on its synopsis. If you saw Going in Style, it’s kind of the same movie, minus the ‘old folks’ angle. Four men all get fucked over by their bank, so they take revenge. It’s very over-the-top. All the actors seem to be playing the typecast, stereotypical versions of the characters they’d normally play. It’s got that exaggerated, comedy vibe to it. But it’s fine. Perfectly decent movie.

Vincent-n-Roxxy — * * * (3 stars)

I thought this could be interesting but I’m never quite sure what they wanted it to be. The romance is almost immediately interrupted by violence and then it just becomes a crime movie. People get murdered all over the place here, and I just couldn’t find myself invested in it past the leads.

Wakefield — * * * (3 stars)

Weird movie. Based on (or inspired by, since he’s not credited) a short story by E.L. Doctorow. Brian Cranston plays a businessman who has an epiphany one day on his way home from work when all the power goes out on his train. He suddenly decides to just hide from his family. He moves to the guest house behind his home (which is mostly abandoned and used for storage, kind of like an attic), and just lives in there for months. His family thinks he just disappeared, while he sits in there, watching them. The thing about it, though, is that his character is pretty unlikable throughout. He’s fine, but outside of a moderate curiosity, there wasn’t much that I got out of it. Maybe hardcore fans of his will enjoy it. Otherwise, just okay.

War for the Planet of the Apes — * * * * (4 stars)

This is legitimately one of the few overall really good franchises we have. Everything else is either oversaturated with new films coming far too frequently or either has too many subpar entries or has lost steam several films prior. How many franchises lately legitimately have three compelling films in them that comprise a satisfying trilogy with a beginning, middle and end and don’t try to sell you on a bigger world? I’m so respectful and appreciative of what this franchise has done. This franchise has been consistently solid throughout, and to me it even got better as it went along (though some of that might be because they shed James Franco, which I feel is usually a good thing).

The Wall — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Came across this script last year. Would not have suspected Doug Liman was gonna jump in and direct it. But it makes sense. Liman seems to like films with a stylistic hook. This clearly appealed to him because it takes place entirely within the a small destination. Pretty much the entire movie is with one character behind a brick wall. It adds to the tension. It’s no different from that movie Mine, with Armie Hammer, except here, rather than manufacturing people for him to talk to, it manages to find nice ways to keep the story moving and change things up. It’s quick, effective, and gets the job done. Doesn’t try to be more than it is, and has a solid performance by Aaron-Taylor Johnson (practicing his Nocturnal Animals accent). Worth a watch. Nice movie for a plane.

War Machine — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

It has its moments. And Brad Pitt is certainly trying. He’s doing his best George C. Scott in Strangelove here. But the movie is tonally really tricky, and they never quite pull it off. Nice performances by the cast, and it’s certainly a watchable movie. But it feels like a disappointment for Michod, coming off both Animal Kingdom and The Rover, which were both great. It’s a misfire, but an admirable one, since it was gonna be difficult to pull off for anyone. I can see where it could have worked, but it just didn’t quite get there. Satire is hard to do now. You need either that 70s mindset, or Armando Iannucci doing his In the Loop thing to really make it work. It’s just one of those things that people just can’t seem to do anymore. I won’t fault them for trying, but it definitely didn’t fully work for me. (Also, nice to see Meg Tilly again. And there’s a nice cameo in the film’s final scene as well.)

What Happened to Monday? — * * * (3 stars)

There’s a lot to like in the set up of this movie. Can’t say I love where it goes, but I was engaged. Cool that Noomi Rapace gets to play seven different characters. There’s definitely a better movie here that could have been made, and it’s worth seeing for that reason. I think the movies that could have been better are the ones to see because they might inspire someone to actually come up with a better version.

Wilson — * * * (3 stars)

This is based on a Daniel Clowes book, and the trailer, along with the presence of Woody Harrelson, made me intrigued. It looked like it would be a lot of fun. And Woody Harrelson is certainly having fun. He’s great here, as he always is. But the movie amounts to actually nothing. Laura Dern is more animated than I usually see her, and that was nice. But the Harrelson character is so grating and annoying, and really doesn’t go through any shifts or changes whatsoever, and feels out of place in his own movie. You almost want either him or the film to shift gears just so things could be more aligned. Ultimately, I was fine with the movie, but it really doesn’t come together at all, which is a shame.

Wish Upon — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Generic horror movie. Not for me.

Wonder Woman — * * * * (4 stars)

There’s a lot to unpack with this movie. First, without question or qualification, this is one of the most important films of 2017. Whatever you feel about it, this is a big deal and will help define the year that was 2017. That part isn’t for me to get into (as a male, I will never fully comprehend this movie’s true importance, nor is it my place to speak on it), but what is important is — the DC universe, or whatever the hell it is they’re building, was in the toilet. Batman v. Superman was a piece of shit, and Suicide Squad might have been the single greatest disappointment of 2016. They needed this. And, while this doesn’t invent the wheel (and even steals from Marvel pretty blatantly at times), it works. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a really solid superhero movie. Let’s not overstate the actual quality of the film. It’s good. It’s not great. But the parts of it that are great — they’re really great. That No Man’s Land scene is legitimately one of the most uplifting moments I’ve seen in a film in a while. It was so entertaining that even I couldn’t find a way to shit on it. Because this is DC — I was looking to shit on it. After the garbage they’ve trotted out so far, I was hoping this would be terrible. And it wasn’t. I’m completely happy with this film in every way. Sure, theoretically it could have been better, but at this point, is there a whole lot a superhero movie can do to differentiate itself? Especially a first movie in the series? This seems like a win all around.

You Get Me — * * (2 stars)

Shitty Netflix movie. Standard “crazy white chick” plot. Set in high school to make it even more annoying. Less than nothing of interest here.

The Zookeeper’s Wife — * * * (3 stars)

Instead of We Bought a Zoo it’s “We Saved the Jews.” That’s the plot. Jessica Chastain and her husband own a zoo, the Nazis take over, and they use the zoo to hide Jewish people and get them out. Completely by the book in every way, with no interest or surprises whatsoever. Chastain does her thing, but the film doesn’t add up to much. It felt like that movie Woman in Gold with Helen Mirren. Set up like Oscar bait but ending up as a mediocre movie with moderate pleasures but not really breaking much ground whatsoever.

The Films I Haven’t Seen Yet

  • Manifesto
  • Dean
  • It Comes at Night
  • The Hero
  • The Beguiled
  • The Little Hours
  • Landline
  • Menashe
  • Brigsby Bear
  • Columbus
  • Wind River
  • Ingrid Goes West
  • Good Time
  • The Only Living Boy in New York
  • The Glass Castle
  • Gook
  • Patti Cake$
  • Marjorie Prime
  • Crown Heights
  • Birth of the Dragon

The Films I Skipped

  • Underworld: Blood Wars
  • Rings
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul
  • Annabelle: Creation

Favorite Movies So Far:

  • Dunkirk
  • The Big Sick
  • Logan
  • Baby Driver
  • Logan Lucky
  • John Wick: Chapter 2
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming
  • Lady Macbeth
  • Wonder Woman
  • Detroit

Least Favorite Movies So Far:

  • Mad Families
  • The Case for Christ
  • A Dog’s Purpose
  • The Emoji Movie
  • Snatched

– – – – – – – – – –

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2 responses

  1. I’m SO glad you loved The Big Sick. It’s one of my top three films this year (the others being Dunkirk and A Quiet Passion). Just lovely. And a perfect ending, too, in an era when so few films seem to stick the landing.

    I’m a little surprised Dunkirk wasn’t your #1 with a bullet. Aside from one subplot which betrayed Nolan’s weaknesses as a writer (and even that was a minor distraction), I thought it was pretty damned amazing. And I know how you love war films.

    August 29, 2017 at 9:42 am

  2. I’ve been waiting for this article. 🙂

    Some thoughts on some films…

    Baywatch:
    Not good, but beyond its cringe-worthy moments, scenes like the enforcer hyping up his “mute” partner and “How Deep Is Your Love” were actually well executed. No joke, I think I laughed more in this film than I did in Lego Batman and Captain Underpants (which just reference pop culture for the sake of referencing pop culture)

    The Big Sick:
    It’s good, but I didn’t get too much out of it. It’s bookending by rather generic scenarios, whereas the middle with Kumail, Ray, and Holly is the best part of the film. It’s an honest biographical romantic dramedy, but it’s also the indie film du jour that won’t have much staying power in the next few years.

    Cars 3:
    I actually regard the first film as the best, while the second film…Look, I get the backlash against it, but with the existence of Cars 3, the Cars trilogy is solid, kid-friendly way of looking at the trajectory of an athlete. If Cars is a look at a cocky, talented rookie and Cars 3 is that athlete towards the end of his peak, then Cars 2 is the craziest episode during his peak. Frankly, I still find that refreshing compared to the usual near-tragedy a la Rocky 3. And Mater, despite his annoying tendencies, makes sense as the star of a mistaken identity spy film.

    The Case for Christ:
    Look, it does have its ridiculous religious movie moments, but you can’t deny that the research moments are quite on point and taken seriously, not to mention being the point of the film (not exactly “simplistic” like you said). If you think about putting it in your Unforgivables article, you better have the balls to address every single piece of historical evidence that the film offers. Also, the film looks like it takes place in the late ’70s, aesthetics-wise, so at least it doesn’t look as flat and bland as most other religious movies. I hope you’re not lashing out against the film without even considering the research moments.

    Despicable Me 3:
    Man, was this film a waste of time. Say what you will about the Cars films, but I can tell you the basic plots of each film in more than a few sentences. They have stories in them that chug away and have plateaus and valleys (not to mention some quiet moments). The Despicable Me movies, on the other hand, are the MCU of the stereotypical western animated film (i.e., they’re the most successful of family cartoons that are all noise and barely any substance).

    A Ghost Story:
    The love I have for this film probably mirrors the love you have for The Big Sick. A Ghost Story looks and just feels better made though. I love how it’s a small film with transcendent ambitions.

    Guardians V2 was…yeah, a sequel. A colorful sequel, but a sequel where ultimately the substance is given a hasty treatment just so that the filmmakers can have fun (though not exactly make them grow or become more interesting) with the characters we already knew about.

    F*ck The Mummy. That was an expensive waste of time.

    Norman was fantastic. Richard Gere has likely given my favorite male lead performance of 2017 so far.

    Pirates wasn’t bad, but clearly they need to do something great with the next film, otherwise the franchise should end.

    Rough Night is my least favorite film of 2017 so far. Screw that movie.

    The Sense of an Ending was admittedly and quietly fascinating to watch. I thought Jim Broadbent gave one of 2017’s best performances in it. The editing and cinematography was also sharp. A nice little gem.

    Sleight was like a little giant. I quite liked it. For its budget, it accomplished a lot.

    Say what you will about Snatched, but Christopher Meloni did a great job with what he had, playing the wannabe misogynistic adventurer. Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack, on the other hand, were somehow more obnoxious than even Amy Schumer. The film didn’t need them.

    Spider-Man: Homecoming pulled off the best (i.e. arguably only) dramatic reveal of the MCU.

    T2 Trainspotting is, after three viewings, standing alongside Kong: Skull Island as my two favorite films of 2017 so far. I love the story and the style. It’s a sequel in the best sense possible.

    Their Finest is great. Kinda peters out a bit towards the end though.

    Valerian & the City of a Thousand Planets is FANTASTIC. It’s better than most of the superhero films of the past few years. Sure, it has more flaws than The Fifth Element, but I still welcome more films like The Fifth Element.

    Wonder Woman is great and important, but my goodness, its third act almost cripples the film in the end.

    =====
    As for your “least favorites”…seriously, outside of the usual cringeworthy “religious movie” moments, The Case of Christ isn’t half-bad, while I continue to regard A Dog’s Purpose as a guilty pleasure.

    Here’s to the last four months of 2017!

    September 3, 2017 at 1:49 am

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