Black Panther- Movie Review

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blackpantherBlack Panther is one of the most impressive features that Marvel Studio has ever produced, not just for because of what it does right, but because of what it does different. The world of Wakanda is a world that feels lived in, and while Chadwick Boseman is remarkable as the titular superhero, this truly feels like an ensemble piece, with an amazing group of actors that feel like they’re part of a real community. Black Panther is an exhilarating piece of entertainment, but it’s also about something deeper, and all credit is due to director Ryan Coogler, who is becoming one of the best young talents in the industry.

After the death of Wakandan King T’Chalka in Captain America: Civil War, his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) ascends to the throne to become King of the enigmatic and secluded nation. When the villainous vibranium thief Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) reemerges, T’Challa and his allies discover the existence of Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a mysterious character who aspires to take the throne for himself.

Marvel has been notorious for its remarkable ability to create compelling, interesting heroes, yet somewhat underwhelming villains, but Black Panther proves to be the standout. Michael B. Jordan’s Killmoger is a villain full of righteous anger; he’s a Wakandan raised in America, and has seen the prejudice and hatred throughout the world that’s not present in the secluded location of Wakanda. He’s got radical ideas, but they come from a place of tragedy and injustice, and B. Jordan sells his reasons for becoming the film’s antagonist. Killmonger is the type of villain that you can’t help agree with about a great many things, and I honestly believe that B. Jordan’s work should warrant serious consideration for Best Supporting Actor.

Of course, Boseman is great as T’Challa, and gives a truly layered performance as a man struggling as both a superhero and a king, and struggles to balance his commitment to law and justice. The ensemble is populated by wonderful supporting actors, including Angela Bassett, Daniel Kaluuya, Lupita Nyong’o, Letita Wright, Danai Gurira, and Martin Freeman; this is a world that feels populated by character who have relationships beyond what we see onscreen, and the strength of the entire cast only strengthens the emotional resolve for T’Challa and his journey.

The film is also just beautifully shot, with Wakanda feeling like a real place with unique customs and environments. There’s a variety of great environments, including a great night club scene that feels plucked right out of a James Bond movie, and the visual design is unlike anything ever seen in a Marvel movie.

What makes the film standout among recent comic book films in my eyes is its emotional undercurrents; revelations made about past events have a profound impact upon both T’Challa and Killmonger, and while they have an emotional affect upon the story unfolding onscreen, they represent something that is relevant to our world and a great many people. Ironically, the film’s only problems are ones that involve its action scenes; there’s some action scenes that are hard to follow at points, and some of the CGI near the end is slightly problematic.

Black Panther is a great Marvel movie, establishing a world unlike we’ve seen before full of complex characters, fascinating political intrigue, and genuinely impactful subtext. Ryan Coogler has established himself as a filmmaker willing to push boundaries, and Black Panther is a film that both fits within the larger context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while also standing as its own self-contained story. Grade: A-

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A Futile and Stupid Gesture- Movie Review

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A Futile and Stupid Gesture is my favorite type of biopic, because its one that engages with ideas and influence more than accuracy. It’s the story of Doug Kenney (Will Forte), the highly influential creator of the National Lampoon and write of Animal House and Caddyshack, and how Doug’s early days writing for a college paper led to him becoming one of the most influential comedic voices of all-time. The film occupies the rare space where some of its subjects are still relevant today, and while it leads very hard into the meta zone, the film captures the feel of a National Lampoon movie more than anything.

While in actuality Kenney at 27, the film uses a highly meta device of having a fictionalized older Kenney (Martin Mull) narrating the film, and breaking the fourth wall on what’s accurate and what’s not. This is effective, as Mull’s timing is perfect, and the open satire of the biopic genre is well needed; it’s silly to think that an entire man’s life could fit into a 100 minute movie, and the film keeps thinks light and fun for the most part, and it doesn’t rely on Kenney’s work to provide the jokes. We get a great sense of what a game changer Kenney was, and Forte couldn’t have been a better choice to play the irresponsible, selfish, yet tragic character.

When the story get darker in dealing with Kenney’s depression and suicide, so does the humor, which given its subject is completely fitting. Many of the early scenes involve Kenney’s relationship with National Lampoon co-founder Henry Beard (Domhnall Gleeson), who’s fittingly a straighter player in comparison to Kenney’s crazed antics. I also really liked Emmy Rossum as Kathryn Walker, a romantic interest for Kenney who provides a sense of happiness for him as his life spins out of control following the stressful production of Caddyshack. There’s a lot of actors recreating comic legends here with fine performances, and credit is due to Joel McHale who plays Chevy Chase, and surprisingly does more than an impression.

More than anything, A Futile and Stupid Gesture feels like a National Lampoon movie (despite a tragic ending). It’s a success story about how a bunch of outsiders upset the established order, and through sheer force of will and raw talent changed the entertainment world, and if that doesn’t scream National Lampoon, I don’t know what does. It’s a breezy, very funny, and quite charming, and surprisingly makes Kenney’s tragic end into something rather poignant. I’m pretty sure Doug Kenney would have loved it. Grade: B+

2018 Academy Award Predictions

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Here are my official predictions for this years Academy Awards nominations, which will be announced January 23rd. These are my predictions, but if you are interested in my personal picks, you can check out my previous blog post.

 

Best Picture

1. The Shape of Water

2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

3. Lady Bird

4. Get Out

5. Dunkirk

6. The Post

7. Call Me By Your Name

8. The Big Sick

9. I, Tonya

If there’s ten

10. The Florida Project

Runner’s Up:

11. Molly’s Game

12. Darkest Hour

13. Wonder Woman

14. The Disaster Artist

15. Mudbound

16. Logan

17. Phantom Thread

18. Blade Runner 2049

19. The Greatest Showman

20. All the Money in the World

 

Best Director

1. Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

2. Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk

3. Martin McDonaugh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

4. Jordan Peele, Get Out

5. Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird

Runner’s Up:

6. Steven Spielberg, The Post

7. Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name

8. Ridley Scott, All the Money in the World

9. Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman

10. Craig Gillespe, I, Tonya

 

Best Actor

1. Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

2. Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

3. Daniel Day Lewis, Phantom Thread

4. Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

5. James Franco, The Disaster Artist

Runner’s Up:

6. Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

7. Tom Hanks, The Post

8. Jake Gyllenhaal, Stronger

9. Hugh Jackman, The Greatest Showman

10. Christian Bale, Hostiles

 

Best Actress

1. Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

2. Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

3. Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

4. Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

5. Meryl Streep, The Post

Runner’s Up:

6. Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game

7. Judi Dench, Victoria and Abdul

8. Michelle Williams, All the Money in the World

9. Emma Stone, Battle of the Sexes

10. Annette Bening, Film Stars Don’t Star in Liverpool

 

Best Supporting Actor:

1. Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

2. Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

3. Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water

4. Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World

5. Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missoui

Runner’s Up:

6. Armie Hammer, Call Me By Your Name

7. Steve Carell, Battle of the Sexes

8. Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name

9. Mark Rylance, Dunkirk

10. Ray Romano, The Big Sick

 

Best Supporting Actress

1. Alison Janney, I, Tonya

2. Laura Metcalf, Lady Bird

3. Mary J. Blige, Mudbound

4. Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

5. Hong Chau, Downsizing

Runner’s Up:

6. Holly Hunter, The Big Sick

7. Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread

8. Kristin Scott Thomas, Darkest Hour

9. Tiffany Hadish, Girl’s Trip

10. Carrie Fisher, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 

Best Original Screenplay

1. Lady Bird

2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

3. The Shape of Water

4. Get Out

5. The Big Sick

Runner’s Up:

6. The Post

7. I, Tonya

8. Phantom Thread

9. Darkest Hour

10. The Florida Project

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

1. Call Me By Your Name

2. The Disaster Artist

3. Mudbound

4. Molly’s Game

5. Logan

Runner’s Up:

6. All the Money in the World

7. Wonder

8. Wonder Woman

9. Last Flag Flying

10. Blade Runner 2049

 

The Post- Movie Review

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Amongst his many qualities as a filmmaker, Steven Spielberg is well known for his pursuit of distinctly American stories. A great deal of Spielberg’s work has represented different interpretations the American spirit, from the idea of an adventuring action hero in Raiders of the Lost Ark to a band of heroic soldiers in Saving Private Ryan, and The Post is clearly a passion project made to represent Spielberg’s feelings on the current political climate by reflecting on historical events. It’s on the nose in parts and lacks the urgency of some of his best films, but The Post is clearly a work of passion by one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time, and thus is a fascinating watch.

The film takes place in the early 1970s, where the staff of The Washington Post have uncovered The Pentagon Papers, extensive documents detailing the inaccuracies reported by the U.S. Government during the Vietnam War. With pressure to publish the documents increased when the U.S. Government threatens legal action, the paper’s editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) must convince its publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) to publish. Hanks and Streep are solid as one may expect, but the film’s best cast member is surprisingly Bob Odenkirk, who’s character Ben Bagdikian gets the most interesting story as he pursues a source for the report.

The Post does seem to have a pacing issue, as the story never really kicks in until about halfway through, and while the film clearly has some pointed things to say about the state of journalism, its best scenes are the ones that deal with the very nature of journalism- writing, editing, meeting, publishing, and speaking to sources. I don’t see The Post ranking among Spielberg’s best, but it’s a well-acted work made compelling by its amazing cast, and even if it is a reactionary piece of work, Spielberg has earned the right to make such a film, and a story like this could not be in better hands. Grade: B+

2018 Academy Awards- My Personal Picks

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Award season is in full swing, with the Golden Globes wrapping up and the release of today’s BAFTA nominations. As usual, I will give my official predictions for this year’s Oscar nominations closer to the actual nominations date, but today I will give my personal picks for what I would like to see nominated for this year’s nominations. These are not predictions, but what I would vote for in this year’s awards.

 

Best Picture

Blade Runner 2049

Baby Driver

Lady Bird

Call Me By Your Name

Dunkirk

Last Flag Flying

Logan

I, Tonya

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Darkest Hour

 

Best Director

Denis Villenueve, Blade Runner 2049

Edgar Wright, Baby Driver

Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird

Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name

Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk

 

Best Actor

Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

Jeremy Renner, Wind River

Daniel Day Lewis, Phantom Thread

Jake Gyllenhaal, Stronger

James Franco, The Disaster Artist

 

Best Actress

Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Brooklyn Prince, The Florida Project

Carla Gugino, Gerald’s Game

Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game

 

Best Supporting Actor

Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Paul Walter Hauser, I, Tonya

Mark Hamill, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Will Poulter, Detroit

Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name

 

Best Supporting Actress

Alison Janney, I, Tonya

Kelly MacDonald, Goodbye Christopher Robin

Ana de Armas, Blade Runner 2049

Rooney Mara, A Ghost Story

Mackenna Grace, Gifted

 

Best Original Screenplay

Baby Driver

Lady Bird

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Get Out

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Blade Runner 2049

Call Me By Your Name

The Disaster Artist

Molly’s Game

Logan

 

Best Editing

Baby Driver

Dunkirk

Logan Lucky

Blade Runner 2049

Get Out

 

Best Cinematography

Blade Runner 2049

A Ghost Story

Brigsby Bear

War for the Planet of the Apes

The Lost City of Z

 

Best Visual Effects

War for the Planet of the Apes

The Shape of Water

Blade Runner 2049

Thor: Ragnorak

Spider-Man: Homecoming

 

Best Sound Effects Editing

John Wick: Chapter 2

Blade Runner 2049

Baby Driver

Dunkirk

Thor: Ragnorak

 

Best Sound Effects Mixing

Baby Driver

The Greatest Showman

T2: Trainspotting

Blade Runner 2049

Thor: Ragnorak

 

Best Original Score

Blade Runner 2049

War for the Planet of the Apes

Phantom Thread

Darkest Hour

Goodbye Christopher Robin

 

Best Original Song

“1890”, T2: Trainspotting

“I Get Overwhelmed”, A Ghost Story

“From Now On”, The Greatest Showman

“Friends are Family”, The LEGO Batman Movie

“Mystery of Love”, Call Me By Your Name

 

Best Costume Design

Thor: Ragnorak

Beauty and the Beast

Phantom Thread

Brigsby Bear

Hostiles

 

Best Production Design

The Lost City of Z

Blade Runner 2049

Brigsby Bear

Hostiles

All the Money in the World

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

The Shape of Water

Darkest Hour

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

It

Top Ten Best Films of 2017

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This year I saw over one hundred films, and of all the films I saw this year, these are the best of the bunch. This year’s film where funny, surprising, exciting, emotional, saddening, and inspiring.

As always, it’s hard for me to see everything, as films such as The Post have not yet screened in my area, and I was unable to watch Twin Peaks: The Return prior to the end of the year. There’s also films such as Silence, Paterson, A Monster Calls, and Patriot’s Day, which were 2016 films that I was unable to see until 2017 and do not qualify for my list.

The most shocking thing about this year is the fact that I could easily make a top fifty list of the year’s best films. There was such a magnitude of great quality, but I narrowed it down to ten. Here are the forty runners up for the best of the year, listed in no particular order.

Honorable Mentions- The Top Forty Runners Up

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Phantom Thread

Molly’s Game

Brigsby Bear

Spider-Man: Homecoming

War for the Planet of the Apes

Thor: Ragnorak

T2: Trainspotting

The Lost City of Z

John Wick: Chapter 2

Get Out

Logan Lucky

Stronger

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

The Florida Project

The Shape of Water

It

Wind River

Detroit

A Ghost Story

The Big Sick

Wonder Woman

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

The Discovery

Mudbound

Gifted

Split

Goodbye Christopher Robin

Hostiles

The Disaster Artist

The Greatest Showman

It Comes at Night

Colossal

Battle of the Sexes

All the Money in the World

Gerald’s Game

Wheelman

1922

Win It All

Jumani: Welcome to the Jungle

 

These are the top ten best film of 2017.

 

  1. Darkest Hour

DarkestHourTelling the story of one of history’s greatest leaders is a daunting task, and Darkest Hour is a much more thoughtful look at Winston Churchill than one might expect. Its historical electricity is apparent from the beginning, conveying a sense of urgency from the beginning, and giving a multilayered look at the different struggles that Churchill faced, from political squabbles and the threat of losing office to the potential domination of Europe by the Nazis. Darkest Hour feels like an electric thriller without having to show the conflict, yet it still legitimizes all sides of Britain’s leadership.

Yet, the greatest strength is naturally Churchill himself, and Gary Oldman simultaneously humanizes Churchill as a man while also establishing the reasons for his legacy. Oldman nails Churchill’s mannerisms, giving rousing speeches and outbursts, yet also having time to have a thoughtful moment with a crowd of citizens or his young secretary, played by a remarkable Lily James. There’s also a humor and wit to Churchill, and the film understands the importance of giving those moments of humility and vulnerability to his character. Darkest Hour is perhaps the best onscreen representation of Churchill ever, and Oldman has rarely ever been more convicting.

 

  1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

three-billboards-outside-ebbing-missouri-004_3b_05858_rgbThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a movie that generates empathy, a beautiful compromise between gritty realism and a Fargo-inspired quirkiness that generates moments of beauty amidst an otherwise unforgiving world. It’s a tragic two-parter, following Frances McDormand as a grieving mother who channels her frustration and hatred into a peculiar form of activism, and Sam Rockwell’s prejudiced and utterly pathetic police officer trying to find meaning, and perhaps redemption, in his life.

It’s a beautiful story, mixed with a fair share of dark humor and memorably odd moments, with an ending that ends the film on a perfectly ambiguous note that never compromises the film’s moral arguments about justice and law. It walks a fine line between being too dreary or insensitive in the material it presents, but Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a memorable and rewarding experience that offers insight into where we’re at, and what we might become.

 

  1. I, Tonya

I, tonyaI, Tonya is about the media scandal that rocked ‘90s America, but it’s about so much more than the shocking true story of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. It’s a film about a woman suffering all types of abuse- physical, mental, and psychological, and in 2017 the film makes Tonya Harding into a strange sort of tragic character. It’s as black as comedies get, detailing how a woman’s life was ruined by her obsessive mother and the world’s dumbest criminals, and the use of voiceover and an incredible soundtrack both highlight the incredible things that actually happen and dampen the pain of seeing these event unfold.

Margot Robbie has proven to be a force of charisma, but has never gotten a role as dynamic as this. Robbie finds the tragedy in the situation, but also never makes the character fully likeable despite the in depth exploration of her upbringing. Sebastian Stan and Allison Janney are both brilliant as completely despicable scumbags, and the film makes sure that we’re laughing at them, not with them. I, Tonya is the type of biopic that engages with ideas more than events, and delivers a thorough character study of all the players in a media scandal that would seem minor in 2017.

 

  1. Logan

loganLogan is the best comic book film since 2008’s The Dark Knight, a perfect end to Hugh Jackman’s seventeen-year odyssey as Wolverine. The brilliance of Logan is that it tells the superhero story that you never see, which is the end of the story, the acceptance of fate, and living with consequences of actions. These are questions that comic book films rarely ask, and director James Mangold wears his western influences on his sleeve, drawing form Unforgiven and True Grit to create a gritty, post-apocalyptic future that’s stripped of the formula and cleanliness of modern blockbusters.

When the violence comes, it’s brutal and to a point, and while the villains facing Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine may leave something to be desired, Wolverine’s villain here is himself, his uncompromising nature, and his past, and Hugh Jackman gives the character a heartbreaking sense of loss, be it his literal friends or his sense of purpose. Logan is the best sort of standalone film, with the stakes being personal, and a third act consisting of trying to save a little girl’s fate, not stopping a CGI villain from taking over the world. Despite its stylistic differences, the franchise has never done the character of Wolverine better, and Logan is the comic book film that transcends its label and becomes a great film period.

 

  1. Last Flag Flying

last-flag-flyingRichard Linklater’s film adopt a quality in which they feel like they are a product of their characters’ perspective; Dazed in Confused sees the world through the eyes of a teenager, Everybody Wants Some does the same from the perspective of a college freshman, as does the Before films for a couple in different stages of their relationship. Last Flag Flying is perhaps his most mature film to date, and the story of three veterans who’ve gone their separate ways yet still haunted by their service is both enlightening and quietly meditative.

Steve Carrell gives a truly heartbreaking performance not seen since Casey Affleck’s turn in Manchester by the Sea, and while the film has some of the most difficult to watch scenes of the year to watch, the breaks in tension filled with pure, unfiltered comedy are truly hilarious in an uncomfortably honest way. The film’s meditations on the meaning of war are pointed yet subtle, and the dramatic conclusions are emotional while not evoking any feeling other than investment in the story. It’s a quiet and unflashy portrayal of war, giving light to those felt abandoned and those seeking more.

 

  1. Dunkirk

dunkirkChristopher Nolan has made better films than Dunkirk, but he’s never been more in his element than he is with this. The film evokes excitement, fear, and emotion with little to no words, showcasing a visceral level of brutality and beauty that few war films manage to reach. Hans Zimmer’s beautiful score highlights the confusion and conflict of one of history’s largest military operations, never breaking into a cliché or inaccuracy; there’s no scene of soldiers sitting around a campfire talking about their lives, nor is there a moment that feels added to evoke an emotion not felt by those who served on that fateful day in the 1940s.

Nolan has been unfairly criticized for his characterization, yet Dunkirk shows his ability to make emotionally satisfying moments through visual storytelling. Moments like watching the civilian boats arrive on Dunkirk harbor, or watching Kenneth Branagh’s General wait on the dock for the French soldiers to escape are more powerful without words, and Nolan understands that there are moments that only the medium of film can produce. As the film concludes with Tom Hardy’s pilot descending through the sky and landing behind enemy lines, Zimmer’s score surrounds the beautiful sunlight on the beach where thousands died. It’s a wonderful moment in a film full of wonderful moments, and one of the most complete and immersive war films ever made.

 

  1. Call Me By Your Name

CMBYNSummer love and forbidden desires have never felt purer than they do in Call Me By Your Name, an exquisite portrait of passion and time, set in the scenic Italy of summer 1983. It’s a film fueled not by dramatic confrontations or over exaggerated emotions, but reflections on the passing of time seen through simple storytelling. It’s not the physical events here, but the subtle nuances in the actors’ performances and the use of musical cues that string together the film’s character development.

Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer have chemistry to spare; Chalamet is vulnerable and understated in a way that few young actors, or actors period, allow themselves to be, and Hammer brings his standard charisma to a character of challenging qualities. It’s a bittersweet, often touching, and emotionally exhausting experience, and Call Me By Your Name doesn’t just encourage that the variety of emotions felt are important, but they are the essence of youth that we all desperately strive for.

 

  1. Lady Bird

ladybirdBeing a teenager really sucks, and Lady Bird understands that better than most. It’s not only one of the more accurate portrayals of parental relationships, teenage love, and college searching, but it’s also really damn funny, finding all of the awkward, weird, and shocking moments in a teenager’s final year of high school. Greta Gerwig doesn’t miss any moments of the teenage experience, and the specific nature of a young girl at a Catholic high school is obviously personal, and feels all the more disarmingly accurate because it feels so auto-biographical.

Of course, none of this would work in any way without the work by Saoirse Ronan. Ronan feels like somebody that everyone knew or were in high school, and her earnest yet active performance is full of moments of pure accuracy, from receiving her college letters to her continuously ridiculous romantic entanglements. Each character, while filling out a stereotype, elevates their role to remind you of someone you once knew, and each performance goes beneath the skin level, from the boy in the band to the strict teacher. It’s a movie that celebrates real people, finding the wit in the highlights of a particularly interesting, but not unique experience.

 

  1. Baby Driver

babydriverBaby Driver is a full blown celebration of cinema that’s so earnest and creative that it feels almost shocking that it was made in 2017. The film has a lot of great jokes, but the film itself isn’t; after years of brilliant genre parodies, Edgar Wright created his sincerest movie to date, combining moments of simple, yet effective emotional resonance with a self-confidence in the film’s own idiosyncratic qualities. It’s a merging of the elemental character archetypes that Marlon Brando and Audrey Hepburn might have played seventy years ago, with the most well drawn out and perfectly synced set pieces of the year.

There’s a joy to how perfect the film’s composition is, with each moment perfectly choreographed to evoke and awe and entertainment. The soundtrack could’ve easily been a gimmick, but it’s so perfectly incorporated into the film’s unrelenting pace that it feels so critical to its identity. Beyond the Twin Peaks inspired romance of Ansel Elgort and Lily James, each character is full of wonderful and tender moments, from Jon Hamm’s unstable hitman to Kevin Spacey Christopher Plummer’s big-hearted gangster. It’s refreshing to see a film so classically charming yet so refreshingly modern, and there’s something quite moving about seeing old and new Hollywood sensibilities brought together by one of cinema’s modern geniuses.

 

  1. Blade Runner 2049

blade-runner-2049Blade Runner 2049 did the impossible- it topped perfect. The impact of 1982’s sci-fi noir Blade Runner cannot be overstated, but Denis Villenueve’s sequel elevates every quality that the original possessed and expands the immersive world of replicants and humans. The noir element is evermore present, channeling old Hollywood mystery elements alongside Hans Zimmer’s experimental and powerful score with the cinematography of Roger Deakins, which may very well be the greatest to ever grace the silver screen.

Yet, Blade Runner 2049’s best quality is also the original deepest flaw, which is its wonderful characters and emotional climaxes. Everything, from Ana de Armas’s first time in the rain to Ryan Gosling’s constant wrestling with his identity, is impactful and compelling, and the constant discussion of what life means and the way it impacts each character is a conversation the film never finishes- nor should it. The film’s moments with Harrison Ford at the denouement of the story are emotional on a level that I didn’t know films could reach, and for all of its groundbreaking technical achievements, the look on Ford’s face is the most significant byproduct of its own perfection.

Top Ten Worst Films of 2017

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In 2017, I saw and reviewed over one hundred new films. I saw a lot of good, a lot of bad, and a fair amount in the middle, and these ten represent the absolute worst films of the last twelve months.  Granted, I did not see everything (I managed to avoid films like The Mummy or Fifty Shades Darker altogether), but I saw a good deal of trash this year.

Honorable Mentions- The Runners Up

Free Fire

The Incredible Jessica James

Death Note

The Great Wall

The Wall

Okja

Downsizing

Bright

 

There are the top ten worst films of 2017.

 

  1. Power Rangers

powerrangersTo be fair, Power Rangers is a lot better than it had any right to be. The five leads, Dacre Montgomery in particular, are quite strong, and the film does seem to be going for a fun superhero origin story. Yet, it doesn’t work. The teen characters inhabit the most basic of stereotypes, and the film’s painfully slow pace and “been there done that” superhero story clichés are proven to be all for nothing when the film’s finale descends into pure CGI schlock that feels like a test run for a bigger finale.

Power Rangers runs the line of mediocre, but it truly goes off the rails with the introduction of Elizabeth Banks as the villain Rita Repulsa. Rarely can a single performance derail an entire film, but Banks’s caricature of a villain lifted from the ‘90s television show draws such a stark contrast from the film’s initial character developments that the character proceeds to turn an admittedly enjoyable YA superhero flick into a silly attempt at recreating schlocky action that should have remained in 1997. Power Rangers seems to have an identity crisis, starting off as a group of teenagers joking about sex and drugs and ending with the same teenagers flying spaceships to fight a green alien witch who bases her operation in a Krispy Kreme’s.

 

  1. The Dark Tower

darktower2017 was a year for great Stephen King adaptations; It, Gerald’s Game, and 1922 were all phenomenal, but the high budget flop The Dark Tower is not just a terrible Stephen King adaptation, but one of the blandest studio movies of the decade. The film is 90 minutes of exposition, plodding, moping, and all around bland, generic visual designs that feel like a second-tier video game. It almost occupies the same space as 2015’s Fantastic Four or Suicide Squad where it’s so obviously a reshot, cobbled together mess that I struggle to actually consider it a movie.

Despite a committed performance from the young lead Tom Taylor (a talented performer who shouldn’t be blamed for this mess), the film’s movie stars disappoint, with the usually brilliant Idris Elba sleepwalking through the film’s greenscreen landscapes and Matthew McConaughey missing the chance to give a fun, hammy performance by being oddly restrained. It’s one of the dullest movies of the year, and with a massive budget and great source material, there’s no excuse for the film to be this bad.

 

  1. Ghost in the Shell

Ghost-In-ShellBetween this and Death Note, 2017 seemed to prove that live action anime adaptations are not a good idea, but while Death Note was at least hilariously awful, Ghost in the Shell feels like a massive disappointment. The film starts off with a great action setpieces, and then precedes to delve into the sophomoric “what is human?” discussion that sci-fi films from The Matrix to Blade Runner have done better. Despite Scarlett Johansson’s performance, which elevates some of the weak dialogue, the characters are largely underwritten and the characters feel like vague ideas rather than three dimensional humans.

However, Ghost in the Shell’s biggest flaw is still it’s utter dullness; while the original that it was based off of was clearly influential on many sci-fi films, the new film feels outdated and generic, despite some cool visuals. The story is largely predictable, with some cringe worthy plot revelations, and the emotional finale is completely ineffective due to the lack of sufficient motivation in the entire film. It’s a pretty film to look at, but that’s just about it.

 

  1. Going in Style

goinginstyleMichael Caine. Alan Arkin. Morgan Freeman. How did three legends end up working with such poor material? Reviewing comedy is difficult, as there’s only so many ways you can say something isn’t funny, but Going in Style is reaching for the easiest jokes about aging, to the point that it almost feels insulting to its intended audience. Films such as the Red films have proven to be great comedies with a similar premise (“older people doing something younger people do”), but they didn’t talk down to their audience. Going in Style seems to think that seeing three legends of the screen together on the big screen is enough, even if it doesn’t give them anything particularly amusing to say.

 

On top of that, the film has one of the absolute dumbest screenplays of the year, with a plot revolving around every character being an idiot. As a heist film, it ignores the fact that the heist should be the best part of the film (the film’s heist is its worst and least exciting moment), and a series of embarrassing family side plots make it even worse. Going in Style is the magnum opus of laziness, a film cashing it on its three stars, yet forgetting to give them absolutely anything to do.

 

  1. A United Kingdom

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Bad genre films at least have the possibility of being interesting, but bad awards bait is truly insufferable. Granted, a period piece romance isn’t necessarily my forte, but A United Kingdom is incompetent to a degree that it’s genuinely shocking. The sweeping epic of an African King (David Oyelowo) and his white wife (Rosamund Pike) ignores the simplest rule of a romance movie: give a reason for the characters to fall in love. In this film, Pike and Oyelowos’ lack of chemistry is so evident from the beginning that their inevitable separation feels like a relief from the embarrassingly sloppy melodrama.

It’s also an extremely childlike and borderline distastefully simple depiction of African politics and race relations, with the extent of the film’s political discourse being Oyelowo addressing the same crowd of civilians twice, and not one, but two sets of racist parents being redeemed by the end of the film. There’s also an overall blandness to the film’s visual design, which is odd considering to vastness and beauty of Africa. A United Kingdom is the barest and emptiest of any romance this year, and by far the longest 100 minutes.

 

  1. What Happened to Monday

what-happened-to-mondayIn the future of What Happened to Monday, the government has outlawed having more than one child, a law enforced by brutal murder. Willem Dafoe secretly hides his seven identical grandchildren, all played by Noomi Rapace, who are all named after days of the week. The sisters are only allowed to go out on the days that correspond with their names. Oh, and there’s a government conspiracy that’s foiled by playing a video at a dinner party. Does this sound like it might be heavy handed? Or, does this sound like it makes any sort of logical sense?

I’m usually the first defender of films with logical inconsistencies or plot holes (at the end of the day, it’s a fictional movie), but a plot that makes this little sense is unforgivable. The film grasps at interesting concepts, but never goes beyond the surface, and while Rapace is committed in her performance, the script never differentiates the characters in a way that allows us as an audience to even tell the difference beyond appearance. It’s also one of the most needlessly complicated films of the year, and you’ll be too busy trying to understand the ridiculous conspiracy plots to find any sort of enjoyment.

 

  1. Message from the King

messagefromthekingThere are many types of bad movies, and Message from the King, while competent on a technical level, is a thoroughly nasty, exploitive experience. The film’s approach to uncovering the seedy side of Los Angeles is overwrought with horrible things happening to good characters, and its shock value never seems to have a point other than to continuously alarm the viewer. There’s nothing wrong with the material the film is attempting to cover, but its approach doesn’t seem to be in service of a particularly compelling narrative, nor does it seem to be conveying a message that’s particularly involving.

It’s annoying in particular when the film squanders such a great cast; Chadwick Boseman is great at challenging righteous anger in his performances, but Message from the King gives him an empty role to provide surface level emotions, and Teresa Palmer’s performance could’ve been truly heartbreaking if the film had taken the time to expand her character as anything but an object for abuse. The plot is also a mismatch of half-conceived ideas, with odd characters making brief appearances and not affecting the film in any significant way. It’s an amateur’s attempt at neo-noir, confusing shock with impact, and an absolute chore to watch.

 

  1. Collide

collideOf all the films on this list, Collide is the hardest to consider a legitimate movie; the film, which was clearly shot several years ago and released to capitalize on the newfound success of Nicholas Hoult and Felicity Jones, is obviously an awkward cobbling on random scenes and feels unfinished in its shoddy, ugly style. It’s hard to imagine that anyone was putting any sort of effort into this, but the film goes beyond the crimes of being a generic action movie- this is some of the worst filmmaking ever seen in a major motion picture.

Shots are placed in an order that seems counterintuitive. Random dream scenes are inserted in awkward moments. Odd developments are made at random moments in order to service the plot. There’s an overabundance of shaky camerawork added to hide poor choreography, and the films continuous car chases are filled with truly embarrassing CGI. There was a chance that this could work as a “so stupid it’s fun” action movie, but Collide’s utter disregard for any basic comprehension of the medium of the film is simply gross.

Hoult and Jones are talented performers stuck with awful romantic dialogue, but it’s the performances by Ben Kingsley and Anthony Hopkins that mark the film’s true low point. Seeing two of the greatest actors of all time wear ridiculous suits and spout off random bouts of awkward profanity made me truly embarrassed as fans of their work. There are so many criticisms that could leveled at Collide, namely it’s painfully generic plot and terrible script that only serves to transition between action scenes, but it’s the profound laziness and utter contempt for the art of cinema that is truly insulting.

 

  1. Transformers: The Last Knight

transformers-the-last-knight-gets-a-uk-posterIt’s a Transformers film, and there are things that the film does that are problematic, yet not original to the franchise’s fifth installment. The hackneyed script does nothing but tie mindless CGI setpieces together. The film is overtly long, and introduces a multitude of subplots that only barely connect to the overall story. Oh, and this one is trying to expand the world of Transformers by tying it into historical events, so King Arthur, World War II, and the Underground Railroad all connect to a plot involving summoning an army of Decepticons from the Easter Island statues.

What makes Transformers: The Last Knight the worst that the series has ever offered (a title I would not reward lightly) is that at this point, Michael Bay and his team just seem to have given up. There’s nothing going on here beyond a series of noises and explosions, and it’s hard to provoke a full discussion regarding something so disposable. Mark Wahlberg’s character is the “last knight” of the story, a title that’s bestowed upon him as he swings a giant sword at giant robots three times his size. Remember the much hyped marketing campaign surrounding Optimus Prime’s evil turn? The character goes evil for precisely five minutes before suddenly redeeming himself and giving the same speech given before the third act in the last four movies.

There’s a level of laziness that I’d maybe expect from low budget garbage like Collide, but is truly shocking in a blockbuster of this magnitude. The film’s aspect ratio is constantly changing, as the editors seemed to not care enough to normalize the changing rate and eliminate the random appearances of black bars on the top and bottom of the screen. In the middle of the film, there’s a shot of characters entering a location that is immediately followed by an establishing shot of the same location. Any first year film student could tell you that a scene was intended to be between the two shots, with a location being introduced and then reintroduced after coming back from a different scene, but if the scene in between was removed in the editing room there’s an awkward transitional moment. It’s a mistake that’s occasionally made in an editing room and could have been easily fixed, but it seems like nobody cared enough to watch the film before shipping it off for release.

 

1.Wish Upon

WISH UPON

Wow. Simply, wow.

Leaving Wish Upon, I simply could not believe what I had just witnessed. It’s a film about a group of inconsequential middle school girls make some of the dumbest decisions ever as a magical wishing box randomly kills people in the weirdest ways possible, from chainsaw decapitation to slipping in the bathroom. The cast, which consists of legitimate middle schoole aged kids and 20-somethings pretending to be in 8th grade, seem to be stifling a laugh as the attempt to explain the continuously stupid mythology of an ancient Chinese wishing box that takes lives as it grants wishes.

The real shame is that Wish Upon really had the chance to be a great bad movie, but there’s a point where the film’s disregard for logic is almost tiring. Yes, characters will not acknowledge horrific deaths that occurred a scene before, or grasp on the highly unsubtle bits of foreshadowing of the next embarrassing death scene, and it gets to the point in which the illogical, inhuman choices made by the characters grow boring and predictable. There’s not even a fun guessing game to be made of how dumb the film will get, as it seems that each inconsequential scene is followed by another equally insufferable moment, losing any sort of shock value that the film’s stupidity may have. There’s absolutely nothing of quality here; The Last Knight even has its moments of spectacle, but Wish Upon has absolutely nothing to offer.

The past decade has proven to be renaissance for horror films, with flicks like Green Room, The Witch, and Get Out establishing themselves as genre classics. No, not every horror film will be an instant classic, and there’s room for schlock and camp. There’s no need for Wish Upon. It’s a sickeningly disposable, laughably incompetent film pandering to its PG-13 middle school audience, and its lack of tension, scares, or any compelling character induces rage that someone made this, and intended it to be seen by other humans.

Molly’s Game- Movie Review

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Molly’s Game is Aaron Sorkin doing Aaron Sorkin, and after several decades of writing great movies, Sorkin finally tries his hand at directing and it’s clear that he’s made the transition. The film is grippingly entertaining, with all of Sorkin’s well known back-and-forth dialogues and witty characters, and it takes a strong writer/director to make a 140 minute poker movie compelling. Molly’s Game is full of intrigue, great characters, and sharp dialogue, but when it’s emotional conclusions are reached, the film is willing to go deeper and explore some really great familial relationships.

The film follows the true story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a former Olympic skier who ended up running a high stakes poker game that would attract movie stars, billionaires, entrepreneurs, and eventually the Russian mafia, which puts Bloom under FBI investigation. Chastain is the best she’s ever been; Molly is convicted, sharp, and dangerously witty, but her resolve and personal ethics make her compelling beyond the persona she puts out. She should gain serious Oscar consideration, as should Idris Elba who’s terrific as a by the books lawyer who’s drawn into Molly’s world and finds himself rooting for Molly to escape persecution.

I enjoyed the quick witted exchanges, the visual storytelling, and the often insightful voiceovers of Molly’s Game, and while the stylistic elements would have been enough to recommend it, there’s an emotional undercurrent to the film that finally reveals itself with a wonderful exchange Molly has with her father, played wonderfully by Kevin Costner. The film is so idiosyncratic and heavy on the details that it needs things like that, and Sorkin offers a welcome amount of heart and humor to turn a wild story into a great film. Grade: A-

2017 Movie Catch Up

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Every year it’s difficult to see everything in theaters, and 2017 was no exception. I tried to see as much as I could this year, but there were a few films I missed initially and caught up with later. Here are some brief thoughts on some 2017 films I missed.

Gifted– A truly beautiful story, and while the film had the potential for maximum schmaltz, there’s an honesty here that’s rarely found in these sorts of family crowd pleasers. It’s imminently watchable, and the chemistry between Chris Evans and breakout star Mckenna Grace is electric from scene one. There’s a great depth to their father-daughter dynamic, and the film’s ending is genuinely very touching. Grade: A-

Spielberg– This HBO documentary does its very best to capture the life of the greatest filmmaker of all-time, and the amount of depth and footage granted to documentarian Susan Lacy is incredible, including extensive footage of a young Spielberg interacting with George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Brian De Palma. The documentary cleverly shows the impact that each of Spielberg’s films had on him personally, such as E.T.’s representation of his relationship with his father or Schindler’s List’s impact on his Jewish heritage and faith, and leaves the audience with not just a great sense of the director, but the man himself. Grade: A+

Free FireFree Fire has one of the best ensembles of the year, who are disappointingly wasted in low effort trash. No character is elevated beyond a single trait, and despite the ridiculous series of violent antics, the film feels a lot less fun that it should. Wheatley is clearly going for style over substance here, but ultimately the gimmick runs its course very fast, making Free Fire a boring slog that’s not even enjoyable for the performances alone. Grade: C

WormwoodWormwood is simultaneously a highly researched slice of history and a taught, suspenseful dramatic thriller, and master filmmaker Errol Morris seamlessly combines dramatic reenactments with fascinating archive footage and groundbreaking interviews to tell the enigmatic story of a scientist murdered by the C.I.A. and covered for nearly fifty years. The story in of itself is intriguing, but Morris’s master technique of comparing history to Shakespeare allows the audience to enter in the world of obsession and the paranoia of the cold war. Grade: A-

Phantom Thread- Movie Review

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There are many films about the obsessive nature of art, yet few are able to convey the taxing nature it has upon an artist like Phantom Thread, and setting aside all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s obvious technical wizardries, including gorgeous production design, simple yet artful cinematography, and a beautiful score, Phantom Thread is one of the wittiest movies of the year. Anderson goes once again for the cerebral intrigue, and the film is both a wonderful battle of wits between wonderful characters and a series of increasingly interesting conclusions about obsession.

In 1950s London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) serve royal families and high class people, but Woodcock’s world is turned upside down when he meets a young woman (Vicky Kreips) who’s good nature and strong will begin to turn his methodical life upside down. In his final screen role before retirement, Daniel Day Lewis is mesmerizing; he’s haunting whilst idiosyncratic, charming in his nature, yet repulsive in his lack of compromise, and Lewis is able to deliver quick and snappy lines without feeling silly, while also letting periods of silence speak more than words.

Phantom Thread has many wonderful sequences, and its the character confrontations and the battles of lifestyle and personality that make it so engaging. It’s a story about obsession that’s also a love story, and the conclusions it draws about balancing the two are interesting to say the least. Beyond that, there’s a surprising humor that’s thoroughly in character yet relieving in the context of the period. If this is truly to be Daniel Day Lewis’s final work it’s a worthy closure, and further proof that Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the auteurs of his generation. Grade: A