Home > Reviews > 2017 IN REVIEW – The Films Between Two Extremes

2017 IN REVIEW – The Films Between Two Extremes

Okay, so I’m very behind. I have decided on dropping the whole review of films I hadn’t seen yet thing with 2017. It took me way too long, and, with this year in particular, I just wasn’t feeling it. December and January were hard months for me – as was most of 2017 – but I also felt as though I’d seen most of the films I wanted to, even while reviewing the ones I had missed. And so, I break with a longstanding tradition and skip straight to talking about the films I have seen, starting with the films that I neither felt were awful nor were among my favorites.

Below you’ll find the 50 films(!) that fell within this category along with a brief-ish summary of how I felt about them – and how critics in general felt about them with the included Rotten Tomatoes score. These are not intended to be reviews, and I also warn you that in the interest of finishing this by Oscars night, I did not double check my writing, so I apologise for the roughness. But then again, nobody’s apologizing to me about the roughness that was 2017, so… screw it. Here we go!

Monster Trucks                1/13/17                 31%

“Is this based on a toy?” I recall asking myself upon seeing the first (and apparently only) theatrical trailer for Monster Trucks. A movie about a teenage boy and his cuddly squid monster friend who takes a liking to off road driving, you would almost swear was originally made in the 1980s or 90s with its hokey premise, strained broken family dynamics, and tacked on environmental message if not for the fact that it features at least modern-looking CGI and features Lucas Till and Jane Levy in the lead roles – both of whom look every bit the near-30-year-old actors that they are instead of the teenagers they’re hilariously meant to be. This isn’t a good movie, but I’ll give it this: Creech, the movie’s titular monster, is kind of cute, and there’s just enough competency in front of and behind the camera to keep this movie from being absolute torture, sparing it from falling in with the worst of the year. It could definitely be worse.

(rehearsal scene shown)

Lost in London                1/19/17                 71%

The first film to ever be broadcast live to theatres, I actually paid $14 for a ticket for the privilege of seeing Woody Harrelson’s semi-biographical comedy based on an incident from his life that put him at odds with his family while navigating a hectic night in London. The film is ambitious, to say the least, as Harrelson weaves his way throughout London with every actor, prop, vehicle, and camera having to work in unison to ensure that the film flowed smoothly. And, you know, it really worked! It was reasonably funny, well-acted, and as an experiment, it’s an undoubted success, with Harrelson – who also directed, co-produced, and wrote the script – finding ways to incorporate conventional cinematic flourishes that sell the experience, despite the live nature of the film. There are a few hiccups along the way, but the cast – which includes a few surprise appearances – is quick enough to make it seem natural, as in a moment where it was revealed in a post-film interview that a cast member had forgotten to be on scene for a couple minutes, resulting in a bit of convincing improv. All that being said, while on a technical level, Lost in London would have made it onto my best of the year list, and probably deserves an honorable mention, if you want to talk exclusively about the film as a film, however, this is – perhaps necessarily – a very average comedy that wouldn’t have managed to rise to the top level had it not been for its technical merits.

The Founder                1/20/17                 83%

Michael Keaton continues his hot streak of post-Birdman performances as Ray Kroc, the man who “founded’ the McDonald’s chain of fast food restaurants after basically sneaking off with the name and concept from the original location’s founders and the chain’s namesakes, Richard and Maurice McDonald. Needless to say, McDonald’s itself does not exactly endorse this film’s decisively negative treatment of Kroc’s rags-to-riches life story, but when has any company been keen to have all of its dirty laundry aired in such a public fashion as in this Weinstein Company production?… Keaton is fantastic, of course, and there are also some great turns from Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as the simple and increasingly frustrated McDonald brothers as well as Laura Dern as Kroc’s put-upon wife Ethel. I’m actually kinda surprised there wasn’t much Oscar buzz surrounding this one.

The Girl with All the Gifts                1/26/17                 84%

2017 was the year I basically dropped The Walking Dead from my watchlist, having grown tired of its wheel-spinning misery porn, but I’m still generally a fan of the zombie genre. I’m just also very well aware of the fact that not many people are able to subvert expectations and do something new with the concept these days, so I was actually pretty happy to hear about this British film based on the novel by M.R. Carey, who also wrote the screenplay. A fungal infection has taken over most of the world, transforming the infected into cannibalistic “hungries.” A select few children, however, remain relatively unencumbered by their infection and maintain a regular human-level of intelligence, despite their occasional lust for human flesh. Contained and studied by the military, these children are only given the most basic of care and mental stimulation, which includes some elementary schooling. One of the test subjects, a girl, has formed a bond with one of the teachers, a young woman who struggles to not see the children as mere experiments, putting her at odds with her pragmatic superiors. An incident occurs, of course, and the base is left in ruins, with only the teacher, the girl, and a few soldiers and scientists left with their lives. The film does begin to meander a bit, but the cast – including Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close, and newcomer Sennia Nanua as the girl – is very good, and the concept, featuring a dash of I Am Legend-style philosophy, is just intriguing enough to set the film apart from its blander and less artful peers.

I Am Michael                1/27/17                 64%

“Ex-gay” is basically what you call someone who has allegedly gone through a conversion from gay to straight. Needless to say, there’s plenty of controversy surrounding this concept and whether or not it actually is feasible and, if supposedly so, calls into question whether the convert is merely repressing or wasn’t truly gay in the first place, or whatever you would like to call it. Regardless, it’s a concept that a lot of religious groups believe is a possibility, and I Am Michael, based on the New York Times Magazine article “My Ex-Gay Friend,” tells the story of Michael Glatze, a former editor at XY and founder of Young Gay America magazine who came to reject his homosexuality and allegedly converted before eventually becoming a pastor. The film stars James Franco, Zachary Quinto, and Emma Roberts, and surprisingly takes an open-minded approach to its subject matter. The film isn’t astounding or anything, but the performances are good, and the perspective it takes makes it all the more interesting.

The Incredible Jessica James                1/27/17                 86%

Jessica Williams was a standout among Jon Stewart’s supporting cast of Daily Show correspondents, so I’m actually kind of surprised that she hasn’t seemingly blown up even more in later years than she has. Regardless, The Incredible Jessica James will offer fans of Williams plenty to enjoy along with a good helping of Chris O’Dowd on the side as her unexpected love interest. The two have a great chemistry, and Williams manages to be both comically over-the-top and confident as her film counterpart – an aspiring playwright who was recently dumped – while remaining grounded in realism and humility. It’s a breezy flick with not too many stakes, but, you know – there’s really nothing wrong with that.

The Space Between Us                2/03/17                 16%

If Nicholas Sparks wrote movies about teenagers and sci-fi… Asa Butterfield here plays the son of an astronaut who managed to go on a colonization mission to mars while in the earliest stages of her pregnancy. She dies in childbirth, and so the boy, Gardner, becomes the responsibility of the colony and the company that sent them on the mission. Growing up, his social life revolves around the other scientists alone, but he maintains a secret chatroom friendship with a girl on Earth who he knows as “Tulsa,” a perpetual foster kid and eventual love interest to Gardner, who is inspired by the film Wings of Desire to come down to earth and meet the girl of his dreams, secretly flying back with returning astronauts. The only problem: Gardner’s body isn’t used to the heavier atmosphere of Earth, and his being there could potentially put his life at risk. You might think you know where this is going, and, for the most part, you’re right. There are a couple twists that help keep it afloat, but it’s ultimately a rather bland teenage romance flick, despite the sci-fi trappings. Also, leads Asa Butterfield and perpetual teenage girl-player Brit Roberts don’t exactly work well together, right down to the fact that Roberts looks so much older than the much younger-looking Butterfield. More “meh” than misery, but I couldn’t really recommend it, either.

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore                2/24/17                 88%

I feel like this movie came at just about the right time for a lot of people last year. A film about becoming fed up with the assholes of the world and finally doing something about it – but maybe going too far and regretting not doing something sooner when you weren’t so worked up, basically. Here, Ruth, a nurse, comes home after a rough day at work (it happens when a patient dies) only to find that her home has been burgled. The police prove to basically be useless, however, even when Ruth figures out a way of tracking down the thieves herself, and so she turns to her paranoid neighbor, Tony, to assist in the situation. Naturally, the two vigilantes quickly get in over their heads, and… you’ll see. I Don’t feel at Home… is a pretty fun, darkly humorous substitute if you find yourself craving a Burn After Reading-style, Coen Brothers-Lite style of film, and Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood are both expectedly great as the unlikely duo of Ruth and Tony, too. It’s included in your Netflix subscription, too, so why not give it a go?

Before I Fall                3/03/17                 63%

Between this, Naked, Happy Death Day, and the Korean film A Day, 2017 could maybe be counted as The Unofficial Year of the Time Loop Film. I only saw two of those, and, thankfully, they didn’t seem to be as awful as the Damon Wayans-starring Naked, either. I wouldn’t necessarily call Before I Fall a good movie, per se, but it is trying. Zoey Deutsch stars as Samantha Kingston, your basic teenage white girl who doesn’t realize she’s been turning into a mean girl over time. Here, as in Groundhog Day, she finds herself reliving a holiday, Cupid’s Day (apparently a separate thing from Valentine’s Day), after the girls are involved in a fatal, post-party car crash. Over the course of the loop, Samantha begins to come to terms with the person she has become and attempts to make amends with those who are close to her and with the people she and her friends have tormented. I’d have liked the film more if it hadn’t been so self-serious. Deutsch is more than capable of being funny (she made Vampire Academy watchable), and while it’s perhaps due to a constraint of being faithful to an equally self-serious novel, there’s no reason why this couldn’t have been granted a bit more levity in the transition to screen, either. That being said, while the movie is at times insufferably maudlin, depends upon far too much hand-holding exposition to get its message across, and features a hilariously overwrought performance from Elena Kampouris as Juliet, the object of the girls’ torment, it’s… not bad.

Table 19                3/03/17                 26%

There’s a part of me that enjoyed this ensemble comedy about rejects and obligatory invitees who find themselves relegated to the furthest table in the room at a wedding together – one of whom used to be the maid of honor until the best man/bride’s brother dumped her. It’s a solid concept, and with a cast that includes Anna Kendrick, Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson, Stephen Merchant, Tony Revolori, and June Squibb, how could you go wrong? Well, predictable punchlines to tired gags, is one way. A sense that the film thinks it’s a bit more poignant than it is also doesn’t help. But it doesn’t drown the film, either. There are a few nice moments, not all of them as nice and tidy as you would expect, and the cast, again, is plenty likable, regardless of whether or not the jokes they’re delivering are all that effective. It’s fine, and I don’t regret the $1.50 rental fee I paid, either.

The Last Word                3/03/17                 37%

An elderly woman, Harriet, is coming to terms with the fact that she’s nearing the end of her life, and so she decides to hire a young woman at a newspaper, Anne, to write her obituary – while she’s still alive to hear it. You see, Harriet is a bit of a control freak, and so she wants to ensure that it’s told right, so that everyone knows how great she really was. There’s another problem, though: Harriet is also kind of a bitch (“She puts the bitch in obituary!” Anne shouts at one point), and despite being given a huge list, Anne is unable to find anyone who has something nice to say about Harriet. Harriet, realizing perhaps she has something to prove, after all, decides to enrich herself further, taking up a mentoring role to a comedically precocious and equally foul-mouthed troubled youth, Brenda, and finding herself a side gig as a cantankerous, no-nonsense radio DJ whose old school taste in music and preferred medium has come around again in its appeal to the youths of today, including Anne. Anne begins to see in Harriet what it is that makes her special, of course, and an unlikely bond is forged between the three characters. Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried are pretty good in their respective roles, particularly with the predictable, lackluster script they’ve been given, though it’s hard not to feel like AnnJewel Lee Dixon is wasted as kind of a token… well, take your pick of caricature. It’s a lazy but not painfully awful film.

The Shack                3/03/17                 20%

Octavia Spencer is one of the few saving graces of this quasi-faith-based film about one man’s grief after his little girl is kidnapped, raped, and murdered while on a camping trip, her body being found within the eponymous shack in the woods. Upon returning to the scene of the crime, Mack finds himself confronted with the embodiment of God in his three parts – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… albeit by different names and in unexpected forms. Mack and God begin to work through his grief and understand where God is during his suffering, anger, and – most challenging of all – where God was when his little girl needed a protector. These are not easy questions to definitively answer, needless to say, and I do think The Shack presents it in at least an intriguing way that may prove challenging. I don’t think this is going to change any minds or hearts, however, and while Spencer is dependably warm and comforting as the “Papa” of the three (a term Mack’s little girl used in reference to God), Sam Worthington struggles valiantly to give Mack the pathos the character and audience need. The film also suffers from its myopic perspective, given that Mack has a wife and two other kids that only barely factor into the overall plot. Lord also help anyone who might feel anger at the very sight or mention of Thomas Kinkade, too, his paintings of cabins in the woods serving as the film’s idea of God communing with creation – which is almost darkly hilarious when you think about it. Not a good movie, but an interesting one.

Beauty and the Beast                3/17/17                 71%

Disney’s penchant for remaking and retelling its classic animated movies in “live action” (or some semblance of it) has turned out quite a mixed bag containing melancholy duds (the Alice movies), a fascinating and technologically fascinating slight improvement (The Jungle Book), a wonderfully charming reinterpretation (Cinderella), and a steaming pile of rank sacrilege (Maleficent), so I guess we can be grateful that their retelling of arguably their greatest animated musical is, when it’s all said and done, a pretty entertaining, if pointless, nearly exact remake. Casual fans of the original may delight in seeing their favorite scenes recreated in live action and realistic CGI, but others may find themselves balking at the inferior and often ear-splittingly auto-tuned renditions of favorite songs. I’m more in the latter camp, having never really objected to the idea of a remake, provided Disney got the right people behind and in front of the camera, and they only halfway succeeded. It is nice to look at, though, and a few new plot details thrown in are for once welcome without being a detriment to anything that came before, but rather serve to further enrich the story. Luke Evans is a great Gaston, and while Emma Watson is a bit boring as Belle, Dan Stevens under all that CGI is a good Beast, who is here given not just one of the better additional songs thrown into this film, but undoubtedly one of the best songs from either version of the film.

The Belko Experiment                3/17/17                 52%

What would you do to succeed in your place of work? Would you lie for your employer? Keep their questionable ethics a secret? Would you stab a coworker in the back? … No, like… literally – would you stab them in the back, repeatedly, so that they died if your employer asked you to? That’s basically the gist of The Belko Experiment, a James Gunn-written and co-produced film about a bunch of white collar employees in a remote Colombian office building of the powerful Belko Industries who find themselves one day locked into the building and ordered to kill off a certain number of employees or else themselves be randomly chosen for execution. The film is ostensibly a satirical commentary on the heartlessness of big corporations, with a sprinkle of dark humor throughout the slathering of ensuing violence and gore that permeates most of the film. It’s decent, if not especially clever, but at least there are some clear heroes and villains you can root for and against, respectively, so it’s not altogether nihilistic.

Life                3/24/17                 67%

Lo-fi Alien was how I regarded this film upon seeing the trailers (though some thought it was a Venom prequel), and, to be perfectly honest, that’s kinda how it plays out. While examining a soil sample from Mars, scientists on the International Space Station discover an organism that could be the first discovered extraterrestrial lifeform and promptly go about reviving it. Naturally, things don’t go nearly as planned, and the rapidly developing organism proves to be a little more than a menace to them. The film is fairly predictable, but it’s well made, all the same, with solid acting from the cast – which includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Hall, Ryan Reynolds, and Hiroyuki Sanada. Effects are also pretty good, and there is one plot development that’s rather bold on the movie’s part that I won’t dare spoil here.

Power Rangers                3/24/17                 44%

I still don’t know why they needed to make a Power Rangers movie quite so self-serious as this one, considering the silly source material, but what’s done is done, and… you know, egregious Krispy Kreme product placement aside, it’s not that awful an adaptation. Sure, the costumes are ugly, and the effects as a whole are lacking, but Elizabeth Banks is having a lot of fun as Rita Repulsa, Bryan Cranston and Bill Hader are perfectly cast as Zordon and Alpha-5, and the actors who play the actual Rangers are not bad at all, either. I’d have still preferred a more self-aware but not self-effacing adaptation, or at least see the film adopt a Pacific Rim-style tone of fun with a dash of serious, but for former fans of the series, particularly its first incarnation, I can’t help but appreciate it a bit, and I kinda want that Green Ranger sequel, too…

The Boss Baby                3/31/17                 52%

This movie looked awful. The trailers were awful. The concept was seemingly awful. But… I don’t know why, but I didn’t think the final movie was all that awful. I still would never ever buy it, and I much prefer the zanier Storks from the previous year if you want to talk about animated comedies about the origin of babies, but there’s something about The Boss Baby that just kinda… worked. Perhaps it’s just the insistence upon leaning into the concept so straight-faced? Perhaps it’s the casting of Alec Baldwin as the baby? I dunno. The movie is definitely inconsistent in its humor and its portrayal of what is reality and what’s fantasy (I still have no idea what took place in the kid’s head and what actually happened in the movie’s reality), and I don’t want to pretend like it’s actually something I want to watch again. For the simple fact of it not being as bad as I thought, however, it’s not going on my worst of list. … Still don’t know how the hell it got nominated for Best Animated Feature, though.

Ghost in the Shell                3/31/17                 45%

Ghost in the Shell feels like a film that has almost all of the intrigue sucked out of it. The parallels between the film’s protagonist and the antagonist in the source material are instead made more into a generic story about former lovers. The culture of Japan, down to the casting, is relegated to basically just scenery that’s already a bland Blade Runner-inspired landscape in a year when an actual and much better Blade Runner film was actually released. World building and side characters are similarly reduced in favor of a more straightforward narrative focusing almost entirely upon the main character. The action, sleek and stylized in the original, is reduced to stale bullet-time action. At the very least, though, Ghost in the Shell tries to honor its source, and it’s not unwatchable. I don’t recall any bad performances, and some of the visuals, such as those geisha robots, were pretty cool. It’s a film that’s ambitious in its goals and underwhelming in its execution, however, and it’s unlikely that it’s going to resonate with casual moviegoers nor take its place alongside the anime adaptation of the manga – a movie I didn’t even really care for all that much in the first place, mind you.

Gifted                4/07/17                 73%

Films featuring precocious, highly intelligent children who smacktalk like young adults are rarely enjoyable (stay tuned for my worst of the year list…), but I’ll give a lot of credit to Gifted for making this schtick not just tolerable but fairly realistic. Chris Evans stars as Frank, the caretaker and uncle to one such little girl named Mary, played by the increasingly prolific McKenna Grace. Frank wants Mary to live an ordinary life and enrolls her into a regular school, where Mary begins to chafe with the other children due to her impatience with the material. Frank’s estranged mother, herself a genius mathematician, comes into the picture and attempts to take Mary away from Frank, believing him to be wasting her gifts, whereas he believes he’s doing only what’s best for Mary. The film is frequently in danger of becoming insufferable but doesn’t ever teeter too far in that direction. The cast – which includes Octavia Spencer and Jenny Slate – is no doubt to thank for a lot of the film working as well as it does, as the more emotional scenes had a greater impact on me than I’d probably like to admit.

The Fate of the Furious                4/14/17                 66%

Well, it had to happen at some point. The Fast & Furious series (or whatever you want to call it) finally ended its hot streak of insanely entertaining, absurdly over-the-top action flicks and took a nosedive back into kinda entertaining but mostly just stupid action with its eighth installment. Charlize Theron should’ve been more intriguing as the film’s hacker villain, and the cameoing Helen Mirren is wasted after expressing interest in getting her hands on a car in the franchise. I also don’t quite follow the character arc of Jason Statham’s character being redeemed, considering he killed one of the gang’s close friends, but he and Dwayne Johnson do have a good chemistry going, at the very least. At least we can look forward to their spin-off while hopefully giving the main series some time to figure out how to get back on top of things.

Snatched                5/12/17                 36%

This movie’s not hilarious or anything, but it sure was nice to see Goldie Hawn back in action, and I still think Amy Schumer is often funny, too. The two play a mother-daughter duo who reluctantly go on vacation together in Central America and then find themselves getting kidnapped and on a journey to get back home. The movie could’ve used a better-written, funnier script, but I did have a decent enough time with this one as a rental.

Alien: Covenant                5/19/17                 68%

This is certainly an odd film, blending together the mythologizing of Prometheus and the horror of the original Alien for something that’s… very unnerving. I quite liked this movie, despite some of its faults, and I loved the overall look of it, too. There were times I was genuinely disturbed by not just the action and violence happening, but also quieter moments spent with the film’s android antagonist. This perhaps isn’t the xenomorph origin story people wanted, but I didn’t have any major issues with it beyond the fact that it’s just not up to the same standard as the first two Alien films. Still worth a watch, regardless.

Okja                5/19/17                 85%

I was disappointed I didn’t feel much more for this movie as I did. Perhaps it just felt a little too cheap to make the central superpig Okja so anthropomorphic – neither intelligent enough to compare to Babe nor animal enough to make its themes about ethical farming feel realistic; it’s more like Elliot the dragon in the recent Pete’s Dragon, really, right down to its playful relationship with a young human protagonist and near understanding of what’s going on around it. Okja feels manipulative as a result, particularly when the film goes into some truly dark territory that earns it the R-rating that sets it apart from those family-friendly flicks, but it does have its charms, both quaint and madcap, thanks to director Bong Joon-ho, who also made the monster comedy-horror film The Host (2006) and the incredible revolution-on-a-train flick Snowpiercer. I also appreciated that the film doesn’t take itself too seriously and treats everyone but the girl and her superpig as being just a little too extreme in their respective sides. I don’t think it adds up to a greater whole, but it’s certainly an interesting film, at the very least.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales                5/26/17                 30%

Overlong is now almost synonymous with a Pirates movies, and while this fifth film is the shortest in the series, it still feels like a slog to get through. Perhaps because it has so little else to do with these characters now? The film seems to be setting itself up as both an end to the films and yet also setting up a new generation of much less interesting protagonists that I have very little interest in following further. Not that I’m too interested in following Jack Sparrow himself, either. The character has outlasted his welcome, with him no longer being an intelligent and conniving – if a bit of a buffoonish – pirate and instead becoming almost an accidental hero who finds himself trapped in a Rube Goldberg machine universe that conveniently favors his every whim. He’s Mr. Magoo with eyeliner and a hangover. I’m so tired of it. Javier Bardem is also wasted as the ghostly villain of the film. Conversely, Brenton Thwaites still hasn’t shown that he’s capable of being an interesting actor. At the very least, I can say that this is at least better than the fourth film, which you can basically skip if you were planning on catching up.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie                6/02/17                 86%

Okay, so this is actually a pretty fun film that had me laughing out loud quite a bit. I know, didn’t think it would, either. It’s sophomoric humor, to be certain, but it’s also a film that’s aiming for that level of silliness that will appeal to kids and remind parents of when they were kids and enjoyed this kind of stuff. The film centers on two best friends who love to play pranks and make comics about a superhero they call Captain Underpants, but their creative efforts are always thwarted by the controlling school principal, Mr. Krupp. The boys fight back, however, using a hypnotism ring from a cereal box on Mr. Krupp, inadvertently convincing him that he is, in fact, Captain Underpants. And just in time, too, because there’s an even greater evil on the prowl in the form of a new teacher named… Professor Pee-Pee Diarrheastein Poopypants, Esq., or “Mr. P” for short, and he’s got a diabolical plan to rid the world of all laughter. That’s the kind of humor you’re dealing with here, but the writing and over-the-top delivery of the script are clever enough to make this kind of silliness endearing and entertaining. I honestly had a really fun time with this, and I didn’t even watch it in the presence of an easily amused child.

Beatriz at Dinner                6/09/17                 74%

The premise is ripe for an engaging, scathing comedy: Beatriz, a massage therapist and naturopathic healer, finds herself the not-so-honored guest at a dinner party thrown by one of her massage clients after her car breaks down. Beatriz is reluctant to join in, but the host insists, despite protestations from her husband, who is expecting this dinner to be a means of schmoozing with his invited boss, a smarmy mogul whom Beatriz can’t seem to place but who definitely gives off the aura of evil. The film is most definitely more empathetic towards the plight of poor Beatriz, a Mexican immigrant and animal lover who tries to see the good in those around her, even when they’re being patronizing and talk derisively about her seemingly behind her back. John Lithgow plays the boss, and both he and Salma Hayek prove to be engaging sparring partners throughout the night. That being said, it’s hard to feel as if the film couldn’t have been more even-handed in its portrayals, as Lithgow is almost Captain Planet villain levels of lacking in nuance. Similarly, the film finds little fault in Beatriz until potentially at the very end, when you almost kinda want her to embrace her wrath, in contradiction with the film. The film is fine for a single watch, though.

Cars 3                6/16/17                 68%

I almost think that this third (and hopefully final) entry in Pixar’s perpetually frustrating Cars series is the best of the three. It lacks the pacing issues of the first film, the stupidity of focusing on Mater in the second, and instead it actually makes Lightning McQueen face some more existential challenges, such as when to allow yourself to stop being the champion and be content with where you are in life. It also not only reduces the screentime of Mater and introduces in his place a new protagonist in Cruz Ramirez, an aspiring racer who is put in charge of rehabilitating Lightning after a critical accident on the circuit. The animation is stunning, as per usual with Pixar, and you may find yourself quieting those nagging questions about how this universe works more than with the other two films, as well. It’s still on the bottom of Pixar’s films, and it can’t compare to Coco, their second film released this year, by any stretch of the imagination, but, you know, it’s fine, and kids will enjoy it immensely, as the little boy behind me in the theatre screaming for Lightning to win his race proved. Perhaps that experience enhanced the experience?

47 Meters Down                6/17/17                 55%

Two sisters take a vacation to Mexico to forget the troubles of their reality and find themselves going off the beaten path after becoming enamored with two local guys hanging out around the resort. Danger quickly finds them, however, as their ill-advised cage dive with sharks proves to them exactly why they were warned to only stick to the resort’s activities. I should mention here that it’s refreshing that the two guys do not turn out to be the scumbags you’d have expected, so that makes for some unexpected thrills figuring out how these girls, stranded on the bottom of the ocean with quickly depleting oxygen tanks, will survive, cheap though some of them may be. There’s also a fake-out partway through that’s rather brazen, and I’m not certain it works as well as they were thinking. If you liked The Shallows from the year prior, you might find something to like in this.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets                6/21/17                 49%

Full disclosure – I only saw a free screening of this film that had unfinished effects, so I can’t say that I saw the finished version exactly. That being said, much of the film was completed, and my friend who accompanied me to the free screening who then also saw the final version assured me nothing changed beyond a few finished effects, so I’m counting this one. I didn’t feel all that compelled to rent Luc Besson’s long-awaited adaptation of the French comic that provided him with a lot of inspiration for The Fifth Element, but I did have a good enough time at the screening, all the same, and I do intend to see the final version someday. The film, even in that point in development, was a feast for the eyes, and it had a lot of cool concepts. Unfortunately, the two protagonists weren’t all that engaging, particularly Valerian himself, who is cocky but not exactly interesting enough for it to prove charming, with Dane DeHaan lending the character very little charisma. Cara Delevingne, of all people, proves to be the more compelling of the two and may have proven to be more than capable given a better costar (which you would normally think would be reversed with this casting…). The fact that the two are meant to be lovers and yet look way too much like siblings was distracting for me, too, but that’s perhaps just me. Still, it’s not a bad movie, and it even manages to make Rihanna’s character a charming presence.

Despicable Me 3                6/30/17                 60%

I do not like these movies. I find the Minions insufferable, and the children are the annoying precocious children trope times three. Gru I liked early on, but his reformation into a good guy has proven to be a detriment to a series that could use a little family-friendly dark humor – which, oddly enough, was offered up by its Minions spinoff. You’d also think that South Park’s Trey Parker’s presence would liven things up as the 80s-inspired villain, but his character is frequently sidelined for the main story about Gru’s discovery of his twin brother, who is everything he is not and yet in many ways is also exactly the same. Most of the time, Parker’s presence just had me thinking about how funny it was hearing what sounded like Randy Marsh in a children’s film. I know these movies aren’t disasters, but I still very much dislike them. As a compromise, I merely count them as inadequate.

The Little Hours                6/30/17                 78%

This is a rather highbrow bit of lowbrow comedy, having been based on tales from The Decameron, telling the story about three rebellious nuns and an adulterous pauper pretending to be a deaf-mute gardener leading a rebellious streak within a convent. Most of the humor is derived from the infusion of profanity throughout the story alongside the misunderstandings and deceptions going on, which means your mileage may vary in that regard. I found it mostly amusing, though the mere usage of the “F-word” is not in itself inherently funny – though Aubrey Plaza definitely gives it a go. It’s also extremely dry, despite its colorful nature. If anything, it was interesting, and, like a lot of comedies this year, I liked its cast, which includes the aforementioned Plaza, Alison Brie, Kate Micucci, Dave Franco, John C. Reilly, and Molly Shannon.

Girls Trip                7/21/17                 89%

The best of the “ladies go out and get drunk” movies to come out this year, Girls Trip was a surprise box office success and made Tiffany Haddish a superstar overnight, even while starring alongside bigger names like Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, and Jada Pinkett Smith. The four actresses play friends who have grown apart over the years – one is a TV personality being hailed as “the next Oprah” (Hall), one is a struggling gossip columnist (Latifah), another is a full-time nurse and single mother (Smith), and the last has recently become gleefully unemployed to pursue her calling as a party girl (Haddish). Desperate to unwind, they decide to reconnect on a trip to attend the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. Shenanigans ensue thanks to the help of plenty of alcohol, followed predictably by a healthy dose of drama. Girls Trip is very funny, and it even has one of the funniest accidentally high scenes I’ve seen in quite a while. I really liked this cast, and Haddish is definitely someone to watch out for. That being said, it also falls into the trap that a lot of these party shenanigans movies fall into in that, for example, simply talking graphically about sex isn’t inherently funny, nor is a spontaneous dance fight. It doesn’t really do anything new that you haven’t seen countless times before, albeit usually with a white male cast. All four actresses do give it their all, however, and I did have a really good time while watching it.

Atomic Blonde                7/28/17                 77%

Charlize Theron should definitely feature in more action flicks – let me get that said right off the bat. Atomic Blonde, a late Cold War-era spy action thriller, is based on the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City and features Theron as ass-kicking British spy Lorraine Broughton infiltrating West Berlin just before the fall of the wall in order to obtain a secret list containing the identities of all agents active within Berlin. There are a lot of great setpieces within the movie, and there’s definitely style to spare, too. It’s a shame, however, that it wasn’t spread out further into the slower parts of the film. And when I say slow, I do not mean that there’s no action scene, but rather that there are often times where I found myself squirming because not even anything interesting was being said between two characters. The movie definitely finishes strong, however, and the film as a whole is a worthwhile watch, provided you’re capable of staying awake for those longer stretches.

Fun Mom Dinner                8/04/17                 35%

The lesser known of the four  big “women behaving badly” comedies released this year, Fun Mom Dinner unfortunately does not live up to “funny yet poignant and insightful” expectations you might have from a film with indie cred going up against the bigger girls. Not especially funny, nor is it especially insightful, its only real conflict – the rivalry between the hyper-engaged mom played by Bridget Everett and the openly hostile exhausted mom played by Toni Collette – resolved within the movie’s first quarter, despite its insistence of trying to rekindle it multiple times afterward. (I mean, did you really think they weren’t going to end up on friendly terms by the end?) The subplot about the ignorant and irresponsible fathers is also beyond tired at this point – it’s in a freaking coma from being exhausted. Also, is it possible for there to be a raunchier rip-off of a Christian film? Because this movie’s totally Moms’ Night Out with an R-rating. It’s pointless and laughless, but also mostly harmless, and you might be able to cost on the charms of the cast, which also includes Molly Shannon, Katie Aselton, Adam Scott, and Rob Huebel.

The Dark Tower                8/04/17                 16%

Having never been that familiar nor enamored with the works of Stephen King beyond what’s adapted into film, I didn’t have too much riding on this movie beyond maybe the hope of seeing some kind of Easter Eggs that would tie together all the films I’ve seen, as in the books, even if in only unofficial ways. There are a few mentions of shining, of course, but people expecting the kids of Stand By Me to confront Pennywise the Clown will be sorely disappointed. (Okay, I wasn’t expecting that level of crossover, either, but one can dream.) Overall, though, I think this lack of expectations on my part did result in a film that was merely lackluster and dull rather than painful and disappointing. Most expectations of quality on my part were just based on hearsay from friends who had read the books in this series, so I guess I’m sad for them. Since this is my list, however, I will just say that this is a decent-enough-looking film with a story that I’m not entirely sure I followed, but I wasn’t angry by the end.

Annabelle: Creation                8/11/17                 69%

Much like with Ouija: Origin of Evil, this prequel to a crappy film manages to overshadow its predecessor in every way and surprise critics by actually being an ambitious and well-made horror film when all signs pointed to them being nothing but cheaply made cash-ins to even cheaper films that made a comparatively huge profit with little effort. (They also both star Lulu Wilson, who I guess will soon be sought after by whoever decides to make a prequel to The Bye Bye Man in the next couple years.) Coincidentally, I also haven’t seen either films’ predecessors due to said notoriety, but I suppose the previous Conjuring spin-off didn’t explain quite enough about the origins of the creepy doll in the glass case as fans were expecting, and so here we have a film showing the actual creation of said doll and why exactly it’s been such trouble for all of its subsequent owners. The center of the film takes place on a farm owned by a couple who has decided to open themselves up to a group of orphans and the nun in charge of caring for them after a tragedy that befell them some time prior and which opened them up to being tormented by the titular doll. The plot can be a bit meandering at times, and some of the scary bits and the logic behind how things happen are needlessly murky, but the performances are all great, including from the central two girls at the forefront of the story, and even though the film is predictable, it’s effective nonetheless. Kudos, filmmakers. This was a good ride.

Dave Made a Maze                8/18/17                 79%

Quirky indie comedies about adults who behave like higher functioning children with too much responsibility for their own good can definitely veer off the path of being endearing and insightful and instead turn out insulting and insufferable, so perhaps the biggest thing Dave Made a Maze has going for it, at least for me, is that it actually manages to straddle the line between those two extremes and left me not entirely certain which side it had fallen into. Here, the central character of jobless, income-free, 30-something Dave has, in fact, built a maze in his living room out of cardboard boxes whilst in the midst of his existential crisis. Dave’s girlfriend Annie, incredulous as to how Dave somehow got lost within his elaborate but outwardly tiny cardboard fort, assembles a team of friends to go on a rescue mission, only to find out that Dave wasn’t kidding – it really is a nightmarish cardboard labyrinth on the inside, complete with booby traps and monsters that’ll rip off your head in a display of confetti and tissue paper viscera. The movie is a little too on-the-nose in its dialogue, and I didn’t particularly feel like the stakes of the mission were particularly riveting nor comically over-the-top, either. I didn’t feel much of anything at all, in fact. Overall, this was just an oddity that occupied my time, which is a shame, because I really liked the concept.

Gook                8/18/17                 93%

The name is what caught my eye with this one. If you’re not familiar with the term, the movie defines it for you: a derogatory term for Koreans, Vietnamese, and Filipinos. Basically, East Asian “n-word,” and right there was a movie with a title that forced you to say it. I had a $0.99 rental promo code for Google Play, and the strong reviews for this movie encouraged a rental. And it’s pretty damn good! Set during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Gook follows two Korean brothers, Eli and Daniel, who tend to their father’s shoe store in a bad neighborhood – one of those stores that would’ve been looted. Along for the ride is Kamilla, a young African-American girl who loves hanging around and helping out at the store, even though she should probably be in school. The connection between the three is slowly revealed throughout the film, but ultimately, this is about the struggles of Asian-Americans working to get by in a country that as a whole doesn’t fully accept them, but it’s also about the struggle to integrate into a neighborhood that’s already predominately occupied by another disenfranchised minority going through a particularly tough time. The film is largely successful in its slice-of-life presentation, showing the brothers and Kamilla hanging out and their mutual feelings of being outsiders even among people of their own race – Kamilla is forbidden by her caretaker older brother to interact with the Eli and Daniel for initially hazy reasons, while the elderly Korean man who owns the convenience store across the street disapproves of the brothers’ affinity for hip-hop culture. However, there are also times when the film stretches the boundaries of its realism through convenient dramatic turns and shocking revelations. Still, the cast is very good, including director Justin Chon, who also wrote and directed, and overall it’s a rare and welcome look at the Asian-American experience.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard                8/18/17                 40%

Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson team up for a raucous buddy action comedy flick about a disgraced bodyguard hired to protect an incarcerated hitman who agrees to testify against a dictator in exchange for the release of his incarcerated wife. The trailers looked like they were tricking me into thinking this might be decent, but, luckily, it turned out to be just that – decent, though for unexpected reasons. I expected a few laughs, and that’s what I got, but overall what I enjoyed most was the action, particularly a car and boat chase through Venice. The movie gets quite ruthless, and the two leads have pretty decent chemistry as the mismatched duo of unexpected heroes. I welcomed this surprise.

Patti Cake$                8/25/17                 83%

Overweight and white Patti and her Indian pharmacist friend Jheri aren’t exactly who you would picture when you think of aspiring rappers, but, then again, you wouldn’t expect many rappers to incorporate their actual grandmothers into their music, either, would you? Patti Cake$ focuses on Patti’s struggles with confidence and overcoming her upbringing to achieve her dreams alongside Jheri, her Nana, and the most unusual love interest you’d probably imagine – a hermit avant garde musician living in the woods who calls himself Basterd. It’s a simple story, but Australian actor Danielle Macdonald really makes Patti a compelling lead character, one who doesn’t wallow in misery but genuinely struggles with confidence that sometimes only comes out in her music, with an entertaining performance from Siddharth Dhananjay as Jheri, too. I nearly ignored this movie, but, you know, sometimes those rent-1-get-1 deals at the Redbox prove to be a blessing in more ways than one.

Little Evil                9/01/17                 89%

I’m actually quite surprised that this Netflix release has such a high approval rating. Riffing on a bunch of evil child horror movies but The Omen in particular, Little Evil sees Adam Scott playing Gary, the perfect husband-to-be who finds himself struggling to connect with his future stepson, Lucas, and Gary would also very much like to be the perfect-father-to-be, too. An even bigger problem arises, however, when it turns out that there may be more to Lucas’ animosity than just resentment – he may very well be the Antichrist. The film plays up the anxieties of connecting with a stepchild with a lot of expected dark humor that has Gary finding himself contemplating some very screwed up solutions. A cult also finds its way into the family drama. Also, child services. You know the drill. Little Evil is quite entertaining, with Scott perfectly cast in the role of nice guy Gary. If you’re a fan of horror, definitely give it a go.

 

The Lego Ninjago Movie                9/22/17                 54%

The lesser of two Lego movies this year was perhaps to be expectedly… lesser, but I still had a good time. Based on the original Lego playsets the film is obviously named after, Ninjago has the distinction of not incorporating world-clashing cameos from other franchises, as with the previous two films, instead relying upon the wealth of various martial arts films and pop culture. Here, a team of mech-piloting ninjas fights the forces of Lord Garmadon, a four-armed samurai-like villain who just so happens to be the father of the team leader, Lloyd. While the city of Ninjago celebrates the ninjas, however, seemingly the entire populace openly – and very actively – resents Lloyd for his association with the ever-invading Garmadon, unaware of his heroics as the team’s Green Ninja. As a result, Lloyd doesn’t really know where his place is in society, and he doesn’t even really have a “thing” within the team, either, beyond being the generic leader. But when he hears of a device called the Ultimate Weapon, however, he gets it into his head that that’s how he’ll make a name for himself. Needless to say, though, things don’t go as planned. Ninjago is definitely inferior to its predecessors and is far more likely to entertain a larger proportion of younger children than all ages, but that isn’t to say it’s bad, either. There are a lot of solid, smile-worthy jokes even for the adults, and the voice acting – which features Jackie Chan, Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Michael Peña, Kumail Nanjiani, Abbi Jacobson, Zach Woods, and Fred Armisen – is all very solid, with Franco even getting a few chances to show off some dramatic work. Again, it’s not at all as good as the previous two movies, but I got a kick out of it, and the animation is just as gorgeous. My friend even got me Lloyd’s dragon mech set for my birthday. It was awesome.

American Made                9/29/17                 87%

I resisted watching this for quite a while, mostly because I wasn’t in the mood to see yet another asshole character based on a real life guy make a ton of money and become the icon of people who missed the point. Luckily, a friend talked me into it, and I’m glad he did. American Made is a bit of a different monster than I was expecting, and, having no real knowledge of what actually happened, it also proved to be quite a fascinating, character-driven film, with a really great performance from Tom Cruise in the lead as Barry Seal, a TWA pilot who was recruited by the CIA to fly reconnaissance missions over Central America and eventually also finds himself running a rather impressive drug trafficking business on the side. It’s all very typical hush-hush, “Can you believe they actually did this?” stuff, but director Doug Liman, director of The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow, does a great job keeping things fairly interesting and understandable, without dragging the pace, even when it’s feeling a bit derivative of films like The Wolf of Wall Street.

Happy Death Day                10/13/17              71%

I’m always happy to find a pleasant horror comedy that manages to deliver on the hope instilled by the trailers, and that’s just what this timeloop slasher movie does. Here, a drunken sorority girl finds herself reliving her birthday and eventual day of death over and over again, attempting to solve the mystery of who keeps tracking her down and killing her while also finding out how to get out of this odd situation. The movie strikes a dark sort of humor not unlike those scenes where Phil Connors keeps killing himself in Groundhog Day over and over, only with murder instead of suicide, and a pinch of self-aware horror comedies like Scream thrown in, only without the movie referencing. Jessica Rothe is a winning lead, and her development over the course of the movie is actually fairly believable, too. It’s not going to revolutionize the genre, but it’s perfectly capable of becoming a solid recommendation for anyone who’s tired of watching the usual stuff.

The Babysitter                10/13/17              75%

Another horror comedy that’s actually not bad at all, this McG-directed throwback to ‘80s schlock horror centers on Cole, a kid who’s probably too old for a babysitter, but why fight it when the babysitter is Bee, played by Samara Weaving? She’s totally hot, likes the same stuff he does, and even lets Cole break a few minor rules in the process, too. Unfortunately for Cole, Bee’s affections may have an ulterior motive – which is proven true when Cole discovers that Bee’s totally the leader of a teenage Satanic cult that makes human sacrifices. While the movie isn’t a laugh riot, it’s fast-paced and just self-aware and cheesy enough to pass the charm test, with Weaving and Judah Lewis as Cole working well as both friends and eventual adversaries. Robbie Amell also shows up in an entertaining role as the deranged jock in Bee’s cult and predictably threatens to steal the show now and then. At 80 minutes long, The Babysitter is a quick and welcome watch that is luckily right there on Netflix if you want to give it ago.

Justice League                11/17/17              40%

After the disaster that was the overly serious Batman v. Superman, which made my Worst of 2016 list for being so disappointing, it’s practically a relief that Justice League managed to be as inconsequentially okay as it was. I gave it a solid enough score back when it first came out, but man, I can tell you right now that that post-initial viewing luster has actually faded. That being said, there were still some bright spots, not the least among them being Wonder Woman, who fared much better in her own movie earlier in the year. The lightened tone was also welcome, affording Ben Affleck’s Batman a few fun moments of weariness as he deals with the consequences of Superman’s passing and his subsequent attempt to form a team that could do the Man of Steel’s legacy some… justice. Unfortunately, all is not well, with a dull villain with yet another boring plan to take over the world and do not much else in terms of motivation, and the League members outside of the big three are either minimally entertaining (Aquaman), mildly annoying (Flash), and basically being a walking, talking prop (Cyborg). It’s more fun throughout, but it’s also somehow less interesting as a spectacle. Oh well…

Darkest Hour                11/22/17              86%

Nominated for Best Actor and Best Picture, this film covers roughly the same period of time as Dunkirk, but from the political side of the conflict – particularly focusing on the role of Winston Churchill just before and after his being appointed Prime Minister. This is also the only Best Picture Oscar nominee to not make my “Favorites” list, if that tells you anything. It’s not a bad movie, by any means, but it’s also very dry and at times tiresome, and while I am positive that Gary Oldman deserves his nomination, even with all that impressive makeup and prosthetics, I also found myself getting bored with following him so much. Lily James does play Elizabeth Layton, personal secretary to Churchill, but while she seems to be used as the audience surrogate and a means of humanizing the legendary main character, the film loses track of her for long stretches of time. The same can be said for Kristin Scott Thomas as Churchill’s longsuffering wife Clementine, who also seems to just show up at random. It is ultimately a very good movie, though. I just wasn’t enamored nor surprised.

The Greatest Showman                12/08/17              53%

This might be one of the more frustrating movies of the year for me, if only because I do not understand why audiences seemed to think that this was snubbed for a bunch of Oscars. When I brought up that the movie felt trite and artificial, and the songs within were repetitive and seemingly made to ensure Top 40 Radio friendliness, I’ve been repeatedly shot down by those who absolutely adored it and consider it best movie of the year and all that, even when I pointed out I thought it was at least “fine” in my mind. Then again, I guess I do use that term a lot to describe something that’s mediocre but trying hard not to be, don’t I? Hugh Jackman’s long-in-gestation biopic musical about P.T. Barnum’s life, going from rags to riches, albeit in a heavily fictionalized form that could easily be seen as idealized. Inaccuracies are to be expected, particularly in a musical that’s based on a true story, but that doesn’t keep a lot of the film from feeling a little too artificial, with drama that’s easily sung away like in a classic 1950s musical, which seems to be the goal. I guess they succeeded, but it didn’t do much for me, and the questionable visual effects didn’t help, either. I’m not going to say not to watch it, but don’t go in with huge expectations.

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