2016 IN REVIEW – The Films I Didn’t See (August – October)
Alright, so now we’re at the tail end of the summer and beginning of the Oscar season. Lots of documentaries made it onto this list. Also, a lot of Jamie Dornan, too, for some reason. Despite being a shorter time span than the last entry, this list contains a lot of films, mostly because it’s just closer to the present, and I didn’t have enough time to watch them all, rent them, or they’re not even out yet to rent in the first place. As always, however, I do reserve the right to watch any of these and include them on my final lists.
Bobby Sands: 66 Days 8/05/2016 96%
Hailed as a comprehensive and fair examination of Bobby Sands – a member of the Provisional IRA who was arrested, became the face of the 1981 hunger strike, and elected to Parliament just prior to dying while on strike – 66 Days uses Sands’ own diary during the hunger strike to form its portrait of both the man and the environment that fueled his activism, all while attempting to keep as neutral a stance as possible, which is a tough thing to do, given the controversies and still raw wounds from this awful and long time period.
Anthropoid 8/12/2016 66%
Focusing on Czech soldiers Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš’s roles in Operation Anthropoid – the mission to assassinate Holocaust architect and overseer of operations within Czechoslovakia during World War II, Reinhard Heydrich – Anthropoid is apparently a well-intentioned but ultimately mediocre and tonally awkward based-on-a-true-story thriller that may very well still be worth watching, if only because it’s also allegedly fairly watchable, and you rarely see movies set during this time period that aren’t taking place in the decidedly more “scenic” locales.
Disorder [Maryland] 8/12/2016 73%
Vincent, a veteran with PTSD who served in Afghanistan, takes on a job as the bodyguard to the wife and son of a wealthy Lebanese businessman. However, Vincent’s mental issues may be putting them in more danger while he’s around than if he weren’t. Whether the threats he perceives are real or just a figment of his imagination is the question at the center of this reasonably well-received thriller. Still, it seems like PTSD is becoming the new amnesia, which also gives the plot a hint of exploitation, too. Still looks like it could be reasonably entertaining.
When Elephants Were Young 8/12/2016 N/A
Narrated by William Shatner, this documentary explores the unusual and controversial relationship between endangered elephants and the people of Bangkok who live in poverty and use them as a means of putting on shows that bring them much needed income, following a young man who has decided to find a safe means of releasing his beloved elephant back into the wild. It’s a complex issue, to be sure, one that may at first seem to have obvious answers but just as likely may still be more complex than some would like to believe, as no two stories about elephants and their owners are guaranteed to be the same, while it’s largely been proven that these animals really don’t belong in bondage.
Ben-Hur 8/19/2016 25%
I saw a lot of complaints that this was yet another remake of a classic film leading up to its release. I don’t think people know that the story has not only twice been a play (1899, 2009) but was also twice a silent film (1907, 1925), a major blockbuster (the more recognized 1959 Charlton Heston adaptation), an animated film (2003 – also with Heston), and later a 2010 miniseries – all of which were based on the original 1880 novel by Lew Wallace. So, no, this 2016 adaptation’s problem was not that it was a remake of a classic film, nor that it was necessarily the nth adaptation to be released to cinema, but rather that it simply looked like a poorly made adaptation that did nothing to impress any sort of compelling reason to shell out money for it. Heck, it’s been in Redbox for weeks, and I can’t bring myself to waste 2 hours and 30 minutes on it.
I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead 8/19/2016 43%
I am really the wrong audience for this one, perhaps? I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead follows DJ Steve Aoki and recounts how his career has been informed by the legacy of his father, professional daredevil as well as Benihana founder Rocky Aoki. I’ve heard their names (and of course know who Steve’s half-sister Devon Aoki is thanks to her role in various films), but I can’t say that this is something I’d ever even consider watching. I know… I guess I’m not very open-minded.
War Dogs 8/19/2016 60%
I was sick of the trailer for this one the first time I saw it, and my growing displeasure with it only grew the more I saw it in front of movies. That the movie got average reviews meant that I skipped this one, particularly since it also promised to have both Miles Teller and Jonah Hill at max douche levels – and I don’t even hate those two, like some, but they undoubtedly can become obnoxious in certain roles.
Kate Plays Christine 8/24/2016 81%
One of two films recounting the story of Christine Chubbuck, a local news reporter in Florida who, in 1974, committed suicide with a gun live on television in what is believed to be a premeditated event known only to herself. The Rebecca Hall-starring Christine was released later in the year and takes a more dramatic approach, while Kate Plays Christine toys more with a documentary style, following actress Kate Lyn Sheil, playing herself, as she prepares to play Christine in an upcoming film within the film. As a result, the film we watch is itself an examination of an actor getting into the head of a character through Kate’s research, while at the same time learning about the real facts surrounding Christine through the research. It’s a fascinating approach, one that director Robert Greene has previously played with, and the fact that the film has been so well received, despite its dark subject matter blending with such an experimental style, speaks to the film’s strengths.
Complete Unknown 8/26/2016 47%
A woman and a man, old flames, reconnect after 15 years apart, with her having disappeared and apparently spending much of her time since reinventing herself with every passing relationship. She returns to New York City and reconnects with him, disrupting his now settled life with his wife and work, and the two of them attempt to pick up the pieces of their former relationship. It kind of sounds interesting, and the cast – Rachel Weisz, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates, and Danny Glover headline – is pretty strong, but at 47%, the film ended up like many releases this time of year: set aside for a perpetually later date.
Hands of Stone 8/26/2016 45%
Biopics often have trouble breaking out of the usual paradigms, and this Robert De Niro and Edgar Ramirez-starring biopic about Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran fared no better than average with critics. I’ve found that I actually enjoy quite a few films about boxing, despite having no interest in the actual sport, so it’s really kind of a shame that Hands of Stone failed to impress much.
Mechanic: Resurrection 8/26/2016 28%
Was anyone really clamoring for a sequel to what seems like a forgotten Jason Statham 2011 film? Did they hear that his Fast & Furious costar Vin Diesel was returning in a late sequel to xXx soon and rush this one out to see if they could cash in on a belated hype train? Meh.
Southside With You 8/26/2016 91%
Politics aside (please, for the love of God), there’s no doubt that there’s a whole lot of affection shared between Barack and Michelle Obama, and so a romance film based on what would become their first date in 1989 seems highly appropriate. Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers seem well cast as Michelle and Barack, and the film was widely praised for its tight pacing (it’s not even 90 minutes long) and charmingly told story. How accurate is it? How political does it get? I dunno, but at the very least, it sounds like it makes for a decent film.
The Hollars 8/26/2016 43%
John Krasinski’s an undoubtedly likable guy. Who didn’t love him in The Office? But, here’s the thing – his film directing record hasn’t been so great. Brief Interviews with Hideous Men was barely a blip on the radar for most people and got “meh” reviews, and now comes The Hollars, a dramedy indie film about a quirky, dysfunctional family brought together by the matriarch’s illness, and they also just so happen to have an appropriate last name… Yeesh.
XOXO 8/26/2016 71%
EDM and romance. Bright colors and dancing. Realizing your dreams and realizing what life is all about. Or something. I dunno. This movie didn’t look that much better to me than We Are Your Friends, but it’s apparently not nearly as pretentious or self-absorbed as that Zac Efron film. That it’s a Netflix production means it’s easily accessible, so if you’re into the music and raves, perhaps check it out.
Your Name 8/26/2016 97%
Mitsuha and Taki are two Japanese teenagers, with Mitsuha living in a quiet rural town and Taki living in Tokyo, who would otherwise be living normal lives if not for the fact that the two of them keep waking up randomly in each other’s bodies, an event that just so happens to coincide with the passing by of a comet. The two begin to bond with one another from within each other’s bodies, leaving each other notes for when they return to their own bodies, but they seemingly never have a chance to actually meet each other directly – that is, until a certain event spurs them into action to try to finally meet one another. Your Name looks like a gorgeously animated film, and it’s received high critical acclaim for its story and characterizations, and it has even become the highest grossing anime film of all time as of early 2017. I would actually very much like to check this one out.
Divines [France]* 8/31/2016 85%
A brash teenage French girl, Dounia, enlists the help of her friend, Maimouna, and goes into business as a drug dealer, mentored by another powerful drug dealer in an attempt to escape her religious Paris ghetto environment, but while such a lifestyle has its perks, she also finds out it ultimately has its consequences. Oulaya Amamra has been praised for her performance as Dounia in this Netflix-distributed film, which also blends plenty of humor and into its gritty script, so if it’s something that strikes you as interesting, it’s probably only a click away for most. I know I’ll add it to my list.
The Salesman [ فروشنده ]* 8/31/2016 100%
Due to a construction project, a couple is forced to move from their apartment into another one nearby, but when the wife, Rana, is involved in an incident with the previous tenant, it puts a rift between her and her husband, Emad, who becomes driven by a need for revenge, despite Rana’s reservations about even addressing it with the police. This very well could have ended up the plot to a cheap thriller, but in the hands of the filmmaker who brought us masterpieces like A Separation, About Elly, and The Past, it seems like The Salesman is yet another film to add to the growing list of masterworks Farhadi is so adept at producing. It seems like every year I discover that Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi has released another critically acclaimed film that went under my radar, and 2016 is no different. Granted, this one isn’t yet out in America, where it’s getting a 2017 release courtesy of Amazon, so even if you’re unable to see it in theatres, there’s hope of it being made available on Amazon Prime in the near future. (Amazon really has been doing well for itself in the film department hasn’t it?)
The Light Between Oceans 9/02/2016 59%
A troubled WWI veteran who has taken on work as a lighthouse keeper falls in love with a young woman on the mainland and marries her. They discover she is unable to have children, however, and so when a boat washes up on their island carrying an infant, alone with a dead man, she believes it to be the answer to her prayers, though he struggles between preserving his wife’s happiness and doing the right thing and reporting the discovery of the baby before ultimately choosing her happiness. Of course, there are consequences for every action. By all means, this movie has the makings of greatness, including a cast that features Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, and Rachel Weisz, and the film is also helmed by Derek Cianfrance, who also directed and wrote The Place Beyond the Pines and Blue Valentine, both great in their beautiful, morose sort of ways, though critics did note that the beautiful-looking Oceans overplays its melodrama with distracting results.
Author: The JT LeRoy Story 9/09/2016 82%
The celebrity lifestyle continues to be an obsession for many. Not really for me, honestly – beyond some notable and sometimes extreme exceptions, I really couldn’t care less about following celebrities around. It’s impossible to avoid, however, and sometimes you do get those stories that just can’t be ignored. Author is a documentary about one such exception: JT LeRoy, the subject of autobiographical books about a childhood of doing sexual favors to get by. LeRoy would later become somewhat of a celebrity, making rare appearances alongside notable celebrities like Winona Ryder and, of course, Bono. The only catch? It was all fake – LeRoy was just a creation, whose words were written by Laura Albert and whose public appearances were all performed by Albert’s sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop. Naturally, the charade was found out, as evidenced by this documentary’s existence. The film examines what motivated Albert to take on this persona and go to such lengths to preserve the illusion of her literary alter ego for so long, despite the eventual outrage from the public. Regardless of your perspective on the matter, it sounds like a fascinating subject.
The Disappointments Room 9/09/2016 0%
I think I might actually rent this one just to see what all the fuss is about. I hear it’s spectacularly awful, which might go well with a side of beer.
When the Bough Breaks 9/09/2016 12%
A couple, unable to have a kid themselves, takes in the young woman who agrees to be their surrogate mother after she is beaten by her boyfriend. She soon takes a liking to the man who would be the father, and it’s not long before she shows her true, insane colors and attempts to put a wedge between him, his wife, and the baby she’s carrying. This looks about like what you’d expect from a low budget romantic thriller.
Extremis 9/13/2016 N/A
This documentary covers the lives of patients, families of those patients, and their doctors dealing with the tragic reality of terminal illness and untimely death as they all go through the process of end-of-life care. Not exactly a feature length film at 24 minutes, but still another notable documentary from Netfilx.
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years 9/15/2016 95%
You’d think that being a Beatles fan, I’d jump at the chance to see this film about the band during their brief period of playing to packed stadiums before calling that sort of thing off, particularly since it was on Hulu, and I’m a subscriber. Alas, I have yet to get around to it, like with many documentaries.
31 9/16/2016 50%
I really dislike Rob Zombie’s immature “extremely gritty” directing style, as evidenced by my review of his first Halloween film, so why would I go see this?
ARQ 9/16/2016 60%
Robbie Amell and Rachel Taylor star in this film about a couple who find themselves caught up in a timeloop that forces them to relive a violent home invasion. The reason? A new energy source that can likely end the wars plaguing the earth, which they have been entrusted with keeping safe. Now they must find a way to change what they know is going to happen and escape the intruders and the loop with the technology – and their lives – intact. While I’m uncertain we need another home invasion film, that’s a solid enough premise and twist no the genre to perhaps warrant a look. My friend, on the other hand, who watched it due to his fondness for time travel stories, was ultimately very let down by the film, however, so there was always that voice in the back of my head that led to me procrastinating on this one.
Hillsong: Let Hope Rise 9/16/2016 60%
Hillsong churches have become a worldwide phenomenon, and this documentary – yes, from PureFlix – covers the founding of the church in Australia and its spread across the world, all while providing concert footage of its world famous worship band, HIllsong United. I’ll admit that I actually like quite a few of their worship songs, but, honestly, the idea of a global franchise of churches really freaks me out in much the same way as Mars Hill did before it was ultimately exposed and dismantled. Some say I’m hypersensitive, but if you know my background, you’d understand my skepticism. Still, it’s probably a worthwhile documentary for anyone even curious about this massive church.
Is That a Gun in Your Pocket? 9/16/2016 0%
Perhaps, but critics weren’t exactly happy to see this lowbrow sex comedy about all of a Texas town’s women going on strike and withholding sex unless their men end their obsession with guns after an incident involving two kids and a handgun. Sound familiar? Well it should be. Not only is it an adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, it was also the premise of a film directed by Spike Lee, Chi-Raq. Now, just because it adapts the same source material in such a short amount of time doesn’t mean Is That a Gun in Your Pocket? is worthy of contempt. The fact that the movie looks painfully unfunny, however, means withholding your time from it is likely a wise investment in the future of all humanity.
Mr. Church 9/16/16 15%
Driving Miss Daisy director Bruce Beresford teams up with Eddie Murphy for this dramedy about a man named Henry Church who was hired by a recently deceased man to take care of his lover, who is battling breast cancer, and their daughter, who is ignorant of her mother’s suffering and at first hates the strange black man who has entered their lives. Over time, however, the two grow in their fondness for one another, supporting each other through hard times, including the death of her mother, well into her adulthood. Naturally, the film looks like an examination of what it means to be a real family, but it also looks insufferably treacly, and while Murphy seems to have been praised for what he brings to the role of Mr. Church, it seems like Beresford has taken some heat for going back to the well of contrived and stereotypical humble-black-man-helps-white-girl stories.
Snowden 9/16/2016 61%
I will grant Snowden this: It’s the first time I was nearly compelled to go see an Oliver Stone movie in the theatre. I really should give more of his movies a shot, even though I’m not particularly fond of what I’ve seen of his beyond Platoon, and I do think this is a worthwhile subject for a film, too. Joseph Gordon-Levitt looks nearly perfect in the role, too. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like I could stand to tolerate too much of Stone’s sensationalizing during the political climate, and this one went under the radar. It also didn’t help that the trailers for the movie used a cornball, slow-tempo rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” What is this, a Purge movie?
The White Helmets 9/16/2016 N/A
This 40-minute documentary follows three volunteer rescue workers in Aleppo and Turkey who are noted for their trademark helmets and especially for their harrowing efforts to help victims caught up in the conflict. Though receiving universal praise and being available on Netflix, my eyes couldn’t help but well up at the trailer, and I never could bring myself to watch this, though I certainly intend to one of these days.
Audrie & Daisy 9/23/2016 79%
Focusing on two girls who were victims of rape and social media bullying in the wake of the incidents, and both of whom never really got justice for the crimes committed against them, Audrie & Daisy is a timely documentary that also attempts to put a spotlight on the unfathomable excuses that let the abusers off for the simple fact that “boys will be boys” who should simply learn from their mistakes without any real accountability. While its ability to do that in any meaningful way has been questioned by some, it has been praised for its encouragement for victims and their allies to stand up together and speak out against this mentality.
The Dressmaker 9/23/2016 53%
I actually covered this movie last year, back when it was only an Australian release. The reviews back then were at 64%, but since the film’s release has gone wider, it’s dropped 11%, which doesn’t bode well for it. Regardless, here’s what I wrote about it last year: Based on Rosalie Ham’s novel, The Dressmaker stars Kate Winslet as Tilly Dunnage, a smalltown dressmaker who returns home and uses her skills to exact revenge upon those who wronged her in the past and accused her of murdering a boy when she was a schoolgirl – by transforming the “lesser” women of her hometown into fashion bombshells. The film doesn’t look bad at all, and Winslet and Judy Davis reportedly elevating the film to a much higher standard with their performances. It looks perfectly pleasant to me.
American Honey 9/30/2016 78%
A girl on the cusp of adulthood runs away with a group of Bohemian traveling salesmen, becoming infatuated with one in particular, Jake, who helps to draw her into their reckless party life. The film has been praised for its use of music and beautiful cinematography, as well as for Sasha Lane’s performance and its originality in playing out the usual coming-of-age stories we’re all used to, but at 162 minutes long, it’s also been called a beautiful but overlong chore in need of some cutbacks.
Masterminds 9/30/2016 30%
I was honestly kind of rooting for this movie, a based-on-a-true-story wacky comedy starring Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, and Jason Sudeikis. The film is based on the story of David Scott Ghantt and the web of people who collaborated with him on their 1997 heist of a Loomis, Fargo & Co. cash vault in Charlotte, NC. Masterminds was filmed all the way back in 2014 but was delayed after the production company, Relativity, filed for bankruptcy, so if it seems like you’d seen this trailer well before release – you have. The film was finally released, obviously, but it was criticized for being far too reliant upon its recognizable cast and far too many stupid/zany-for-zaniness’-sake gags.
Morgan 10/02/2016 40%
Ridley Scott’s son, Luke Scott, makes his directorial debut with Morgan, and it’s a dead-ringer for the kinds of gritty sci-fi films his father is known for. The film follows an investigator who is sent to examine a research facility that just so happens to have manufactured a bioengineered a perpetually evolving girl they’ve named Morgan. Naturally, Morgan has some issues, having grown up in a lab with no actual freedom, and it’s not long before her continued evolution enables her to fix that in the scariest way possible. Honestly, it actually looks okay, if a bit too familiar, and it has a great cast in Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Toby Jones, Michelle Yeoh, and Paul Giamatti, so… rental?
The 9th Life of Louis Drax 10/02/2016 40%
“We’re not supposed to use the word ‘miracle,’ but this might call for an exception.” So says the doctor who is assigned to the little boy’s case after he falls off a cliff on his birthday and survives. It’s the ninth life-threatening incident he’s survived in his nine years, and, naturally, this causes some concern but also a lot of intrigue, as the boy is clearly unique, as evidenced by not only his repeated survivals but also by a tar-like monster appearing at times around him in the film’s trailer while making guttural growls. Despite the name and number, the creature appears to be of the humanoid variety rather than feline, so I think that’s a missed opportunity for at least some kind of unique take on the mysterious creature haunting a kid in what seems to be a supernatural mystery thriller type deal. I dunno. It looks like a more restrained sequel to The Cell with Jamie Dornan replacing Jennifer Lopez as the empathetic, sexy doctor with unorthodox methods.
The Girl on the Train 10/07/2016 43%
Color me embarrassed. I got sucked into the film’s marketing as the next Gone Girl and ended up really looking forward to this movie about obsession and murder and starring Emily Blunt, an actress who can seemingly do no wrong in even bad movies, and Rebecca Ferguson, who I thought was fantastic in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. Sadly, the film received mediocre reviews, which bumped it off of my list of must-sees, getting buried by films I was more compelled by, and then disappearing from theatres.
The Siege of Jadotville 10/07/2016 60%
As with a lot of wartime films, there seems to be some controversy about this film and its depiction of Irish soldiers who find themselves caught up in a siege within the Congo and taken prisoner by the Katangese troops for a month. I honestly cannot say I’m any sort of historian on this matter, but while the film was recognized as being relatively well-made, its focus on action and not the bigger picture of the conflict has drawn some criticism.
Voiceless 10/07/2016 N/A
Regardless of one’s stance on abortion, this movie kinda sounds kinda… controversial. Here, a veteran returns home and finds a place within a church, but when he discovers that it is located across the street from a family planning clinic that performs “5 to 20 abortions a day,” he begins to take action, spurred on by the suicide of a young woman he meets just before she has an abortion. The film has its fans on the pro-life side, but those on the pro-choice side have pointed out that its hero seems to deviate too far into militant harassment, to the point where he may make for a better villain in someone else’s story, which, considering that the film is allegedly trying to reach out to people, seems like a poor rhetorical choice. Then again, I’m fairly certain most Christian-targeting films are just that: Christian-targeting, so it seems like yet another instance of filmmakers alienating the other and hoping to fleece those who want their beliefs reinforced via film.
Voyage of Time 10/08/2016 62% / 92%
Why the disparate Rotten Tomatoes scores? Well, that’s because Terrence Malick’s dream-like documentary was released both in both full-length traditional format, narrated by Cate Blanchett, and a 40-minute IMAX variant narrated by Brad Pitt, both examining the birth and death of the universe as we understand it. The IMAX experience, both more taught in editing and visually stunning in its grandeur, fared far better than its feature-length variant, which many found overlong for a film of its scope. Both, however, promise stunning imagery of the natural world, both real and effects-driven. It’s just a shame that most people don’t have an IMAX in their home to enjoy it in its best format.
Mascots 10/13/2016 53%
Christopher Guest continues his quirky mockumentary series with this satirical examination of the wacky world of “sports mascotery.” Unlike with Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman, however, this looks like it lacks the subtle humanity that makes those awkwardly humorous films such delights, trading it in for over-the-top wackiness and a format that looks more like a wacky, single-camera TV sitcom with talking heads than a true mockumentary.
Kevin Hart: What Now? 10/14/2016 76%
I’ve always heard that Kevin Hart’s standup is much better than his films, and, you know, they’re probably right, but I’m still not a fan of his. Still, I know there are, as evidenced by this concert film documenting the first ever stand-up set performed in front of a sold-out football stadium. Say what you will about his comedy, but that’s pretty impressive.
Max Steel 10/14/2016 5%
Based on a forgotten toy line and coming out of God-knows-where, Max Steel went under the radar for most people and then promptly left theatres. Much like the prior year’s Jem and the Holograms I didn’t even have a chance to make time for this one, sadly.
Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang 10/14/2016 100%
Cai Guo-Qiang is an artist known for his largescale art installations that primarily use gunpowder, “an acknowledgement of humanity’s fleeting nature.” Containing footage of his work as well as interviews from other artists and admirers, Sky Ladder’s depiction of Cai’s temporary artwork has been praised as being second only to actually seeing it unfold firsthand, following him in his attempt to create a 1,650-foot ladder of colorful gunpowder explosions while also providing context for his motivations in pursuing his unique medium.
The Accountant 10/14/2016 51%
Much like with The Girl on the Train, I kept an eye out on this film, as it had the makings of a promising thriller but was also potentially a piece of garbage. Mediocre reviews, again, bumped another film down on my list of must-sees in a crowded release window, and I just never managed to check it out, despite the hopes of my viewing falling within the span of 51% of critics who liked it.
Christine 10/14/2016 85%
As previously discussed, there were two films this year centered on Christine Chubbuck, the reporter who staged her own unexpected suicide live on television: Kate Plays Christine, the experimental documentary, and this film, a more straightforward but reportedly no less arresting dramatic take on her life, here starring Rebecca Hall, who has received widespread acclaim for her portrayal of this troubled woman. It may not be as original in its format as the quasi-documentary that preceded it, but even so, these are no doubt forever going to be linked as companion pieces.
My Life As a Zucchini [Ma vie de Courgette] 10/19/2016 100%
Already nominated or a Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature Film, this French-Swiss animated film tells the story about a little boy known as Zucchini, who struggles to find his place within a foster home filled with other orphans, eventually sending him on an adventure to find a family of his own. The film has been praised for its unwavering and emotional depiction of his and the other kids’ circumstances. I’m always happy to see artful, audience-respecting family films like this release, much like this year’s A Monster Calls and Pete’s Dragon and even Where the Wild Things Are a few years ago, so I’m very much looking forward to this film’s wider release. It’ll no doubt get some attention at the Oscars, too, with that Globe nomination.
American Pastoral 10/21/2016 23%
Ewan McGregor tries his hand at directing for the first time with American Pastoral, a film based on Philip Roth’s 1997 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a man known as Swede leading a seemingly charmed life until his teenage daughter, impassioned by the ongoing war in Vietnam, becomes the primary suspect in the bombing of a post office and local gas station, killing the owner in the process. McGregor also stars alongside Jennifer Connelly as Swede’s wife, Dawn, and Dakota Fanning as their daughter, Merry, but despite earnest efforts, the film failed to win over most critics, who cited McGregor’s lack of experience behind the camera as being painfully self-evident and unsuited to adapting the acclaimed source material. Eesh.
An American Girl Story – Melody 1963: Love Has to Win 10/21/2016 N/A
Amazon’s first in a series of films based on the American Girl line of dolls follows the titular character as she faces both the shameful ugliness and promise of hope that was prevalent during the Civil Rights movement in 1963. I didn’t look too much for reviews (there’s a single one currently on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s from parental advisory site Common Sense Media, which I don’t think should really be allowed to factor into quality ratings), but it looks sweet enough and competently made, and I like that Melody in the trailer is shown as bravely pointing out the hypocrisies of the idealism people foist upon her, so… sure. Enjoy the film, if you feel so compelled.
Boo! A Madea Halloween 10/21/2016 21%
I made no such promises or declarations obligating me to see any Tyler Perry/Madea movies this year. I did come close to convincing a friend to seeing this with me as a hate-watch situation, but considering my experience seeing A Madea Christmas theatrically a few years ago and hearing that this one was somehow worse than the film that combined Perry with Larry the Cable Guy, can you blame me for sparing us both the agony? I was already turning 30 around this time. I had enough to deal with.
I’m Not Ashamed 10/21/2016 29%
This year, God’s Not Dead studio PureFlix tried its hand at the “based on a true story” film, here focusing on the life of Rachel Joy Scott, one of thirteen people killed in 1999 when two students orchestrated an attack on Columbine High School before taking their own lives. The story fixates upon the alleged story about the shooters questioning whether Rachel was a Christian and then shooting her when she affirmed her faith. Notably, Rachel was not the only person whose faith was reportedly challenged by the shooters before she was killed, as this story of profound faith was also attributed to Cassie Bernall, whose story was also notably the inspiration for multiple songs and books. Granted, it’s just as likely that the shooters were asking multiple people this question as a sort of ritual – they may have even asked a survivor, Valeen Schnurr, the same question – so it’s not like they can’t both be true. By all means, Rachel herself was reportedly a wonderful person who touched the lives of many, so I’m not at all going to dispute whether her life story is worth adapting. That being said, the film does come from a studio known for its kneejerk reactions towards those who disagree with Christianity, and this film also goes back to the well of blaming video games (among other things) for the shooters’ actions without acknowledging the complexities of the situation, such as the shooters reportedly being victims of repeated bullying. They undoubtedly did monstrous things, but if you’re going to go that far into depth in their portrayal, I think you have a responsibility to not present it as a simple Good vs. Evil scenario with illogical conclusions being drawn, as PureFlix is prone to do.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back 10/21/2016 37%
I’ve heard that this was actually a fairly underrated film with lots of entertaining dialogue and a smartly portrayed relationship between Tom Cruise’s Reacher and the soldier, portrayed by Colbie Smulders, who is framed alongside him for something they didn’t commit. I also heard that the first film was pretty good, however, and was drawn in by the trailers, but I ultimately found it to be a serious bore, even though I knew it wouldn’t be like a Mission: Impossible film. I’ll probably rent this one day, but not any time soon.
Keeping Up with the Joneses 10/21/2016 19%
I was really hoping this was going to be good, even though the trailers didn’t provide too much promise. Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher star as an ordinary, mundane couple who find themselves caught up in their new, gorgeous, and, it turns out, super spy neighbors’ lives. It’s yet another solid premise that’s apparently wasted on lazy comedy – something that neither Galifianakis, Fisher, nor their costars Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot can save.
The Handmaiden [아가씨] 10/21/2016 94%
Park Chan-wook, director of the original Old Boy and Stoker, uses Sarah Waters’ 2002 Victorian-era novel Fingersmith as a guideline for this film about a Korean pickpocket who hires a conwoman to pose as a Japanese handmaiden to a rich Japanese heiress during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1930s, intending to use her as a means of stealing the woman’s inheritance. The film has been praised for its arresting visuals and for Park’s trademark directing style that combines the disturbing with the alluring. It’s pretty much been universally praised. And I missed it in theatres…
7 años 10/28/2016 N/A
Netflix’s first Spanish language original film is a boilerplate drama about four business partners and friends who must decide on who must take the fall and go to jail in a plan that would ultimately save their company. It sounds a bit contrived, but I didn’t do enough research to find out what exactly the plan is that would necessitate one of them going to jail out of fear of spoilers, so I guess I owe it a watch if I’m going to be that paranoid.
Gimme Danger 10/28/2016 94%
Unlike a lot of more popular classic rock bands, I didn’t grow up listening to The Stooges, a band fronted by Iggy Pop that has been credited for sewing the seeds of the punk and alternative rock genres, despite his insistence on not adhering to labels. Director Jim Jarmusch obviously admires the band, calling them the greatest of all time, and his enthusiasm for the group apparently came through in his retrospective documentary that follows the band from their dingy origins, their rise in popularity, and then ultimately becoming legends within the industry. Perhaps my uncultured mind would do well to view it.
Inferno 10/28/2016 19%
I don’t know why this was needed beyond the studio, cast, and crew all wanting to get a bit more money. More power to them, I guess, but having had little to no interest in seeing The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons previously, I wasn’t about to start out my Dan Brown film adaptation viewing with the third film, and I really didn’t care to play catch-up, either.
Into the Inferno 10/28/2016 90%
Werner Herzog is known to direct some compelling documentaries about whatever topics seem to strike his fancy, and here he joins volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer as they explore some of the most notable volcanos around the world as well as the cultures and philosophies of those that live around them. Sounds awesome!