The 17 best films of 2017…that I actually saw in 2017

Do I begin with some cliche sentiment about how 2017 sucked? Because I can.

I don’t really want to though, so instead of that how about we just jump in?

Wait.

Crap.

I almost forgot.

I didn’t see EVERY movie this year, partly due to my location in the country (limited releases are not kind to Midwest audiences) and mostly due to my limited time. I sure did see a lot over the course of 2017. Just not everything.

Movies I still need to see but didn’t before the end of the year:

Call Me By Your Name

The Florida Project

The Killing A Sacred Deer

Mudbound

The Post

Coco

Good Time

Paddington 2

The Blackcoat’s Daughter 

Probably like 100,000 more I’m forgetting. 

So yeah, hopefully I get to all of those in the near future. I’m oh so sorry I could not get to them before now. Speaking of, here are some movies that I DID see and really liked HOWEVER I lack the time, resources, inclination, etc. to write about them all. I do wholly recommend you check them out though because they’re all great (in my opinion).

Some honorable mentions:

Brigsby Bear

Free Fire

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Wonder Woman

American Made

It

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Lego Batman Movie

John Wick: Chapter 2

Personal Shopper

Colossal

1922

It Comes At Night

War for the Planet of the Apes

Detroit

Wind River

Ingrid Goes West

So see those movies as well, please.

Now can we start?

Oh yeah.

I excluded documentaries from this year’s contenders just because it was hard enough ranking all of the movies I did write about. I saw a lot of great docs this year (Icarus, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press, Casting JonBenet, to name just a few) but…well, my time.

So…

Some movies I really liked in 2017…

Some may even say they were my favorite…

Some…

Including me…

MY 17 FAVORITE FILMS OF 2017 (that I actually saw in 2017)

17. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. II

Full review here.

It seems like there’s a lot of shade out there directed towards the second volume of James Gunn’s Guardians saga. I, for one, loved the hell out of it. (It also made me ugly cry but that’s neither here nor there really.) I’d stake my claim that the first is a stronger movie it doesn’t really matter whether Vol. 2 a better movie than the first film; it’s a hell of a lot of fun all while being much more mature, opting not to rest solely on the past accomplishments of its predecessor to make it great. It builds on them. Think of this as the Paul’s Boutique to the first film’s License To Ill. Sure, it lacks the populace appeal of the first outing as well as its conciseness, but it’s deceptively simple as it hides layers of complexity to be discussed and examined beyond its initial release. The first was a mission statement; the second is the fulfillment of a promise.

16. Logan Lucky

As much as I loved all the new treats 2017 offered, sometimes you can’t argue with the classics. Logan Lucky not only represents Steven Soderbergh’s return to feature filmmaking (after a remarkable 4 year retirement) but also his return to a genre he helped revitalize with his rebooted Oceans franchise in the first decade of the 2000s. Like any heist flick worth its weight in salt, the movie sports a memorable cast of enduring, memorable characters (matched by some of our best and brightest acting talent to boot) and its script is more concerned in the “why” than the “how” in why they need the money. We have Channing Tatum and Adam Driver as a pair of smart, soulful country bumpkins at the heart of it all, Riley Keough as their plucky sister/wing woman, Daniel Craig in a career high as a batshit criminal mastermind (who necessity to the plan is somewhat complicated by his current incarceration) and many, many more.

15. The Big Sick

I’m a big fan of a movies with perspective, and The Big Sick is about as personal perspective you’re going to find in an outright comedy this past year. A large part of that probably has to do with the script coming from real-life couple Emily Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (the latter also stars), and is loosely based around their real-life experiences during the first year of their relationship. Now interesting anecdotes don’t always universally translate into interesting movies to be sure, the film makes use of some dramatic licenses with its characters and throwing obstacles larger than the typical ones the dating scene tends to produce. A common theme throughout this list is a fresh take on a borderline-stagnant formula; in this instance, the romcom.  From the offset, this may seem like a standard romantic comedy. The main conflict being Kumail’s fear of upsetting his traditional Pakistani family by bringing home Emily (played here by the ever-charming Zoe Kazan), a white woman, rather than finding love with a Pakistani woman through an arranged marriage. While the two hit it off, the split as Kumail doesn’t want to risk losing his family. One may expect something like that to hit near the tail end of the second act; here, it occurs in the first as this movie spins into something much more. No spoilers to be found here. This is a movie that’s best enjoyed as a blank slate (i.e. skip the trailer I’ve included below…).

14. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore

There sure were a lot of actors-turned-directors in 2017. To be fair, many of those that made the jump also at least had some pretty successful turns as screenwriters as well meaning they at least have a firm grasp on what constitutes a structurally sound movie. Macon Blair, a mainstay of writer/director Jeremy Saulnier, steps into the chair for the first time with I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore, a movie that is very much “of the moment.” A woman’s deep dive into an existential crisis, the inciting action of this wildly unpredictable romp is a simple theft. From there, we touch on everything from modern day gender dynamics to the very foundation of societal norms. Featuring standout performances from the likes of two former Peter Jackson collaborators, Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood, it’s a movie defined by drastically different tones, something that is often attempted but rarely executed as well as it is here. Think of it as the Three Stooges by way of the Coen Brothers. Much like a Reese’s, it’s two great tastes that inexplicably taste great together.

13. Raw

Raw’s thesis statement is as follows: “An animal that’s tasted human flesh isn’t safe.” It comes midway through, from a father who has yet to discover the dark craving that has utterly upended both of his daughters’ lives. Julia Ducournau’s French horror film gained a weird reputation as a gross-out cannibal gore fest. While not TECHNICALLY correct (the best kind of correct), it detracts from the often striking yet beautiful story at its center. We have Justine (Garance Marillier), a first-year veterinary student. She’s a classic overachiever, vegetarian and virgin. All three come to play in a big bad way as the movie proceedings in which she goes from demure, self-righteous innocent to feral, sex-craving beast. (Did I mention the movie’s French?) This is only complicated by her older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumf), who suffers from the same cannibalistic  urges. For Justine’s struggle is whether to succumb to these primitive urges that overtake her after her fateful first bite (easily the most insanely uncomfortably horrific scene in the film), or whether to follow her ingrained moral code in the face of unholy temptation. It’s a struggle we all go through at one point or another, just hopefully not to these extremes. Raw only cements my opinion that horror may just be the best genre for all up-and-coming directors to cut their teeth. Here’s hoping this isn’t Ducournau’s last contribution. 

12. mother!

It’s a giant biblical allegory. It’s a cautionary tale on the threat of global warming. It’s a creative type’s manifesto on the process of being creative. Darren Aronofsky’s mother! wears a lot of hats, and clearly that’s not everyone’s cup of tea as reflected by its 69% RT score. It’s a movie designed top-to-bottom to provoke its audience, encompassing all of recorded history and beyond within the confines of a single house. Our perspective is contained exclusively to our titular young, unnamed mother (a career high for Jennifer Lawrence), either by keeping her in frame or shaky first-person POV shots. There’s an unspoken tension from frame one that only grows and grows as the film continues. Arguing what it all means is part of the fun, but it’s a movie best experienced as pure sensation as everything ebbs and flows, a roller coaster plummeting you at 500 miles per hour, culminating in the most insane third act you’re likely to see in a major release for quite some time.

11. Dunkirk 

Recounting Operation Dynamo – the evacuation of over 300,000 British, French Allied solders from northern France off the beaches of (you guessed it, Dunkirk) – Dunkirk gives us three interwoven sections (air, land, sea) that all unfold over different lengths of time. I’d compare watching it to reading three chapters of a novel simultaneously, all of which eventually converge on a single, solitary word. Unlike most war movies which are about winning, Dunkirk is all about survival. (Never before I have I seen a movie capture quite so distinctly the terror of an air assault before as the stranded soldiers can only can fall to the sand, all in the small hope of not being torn to shred by the enemy planes.) I may not have cared for his last couple of flicks (largely in regards to their plots), but Christopher Nolan still stands nearly peerless in his cinematic craft and technique. He’s a style all unto himself, as all the best directors are. He and his team are the rare few in big budget studio movie-making still allowed to work and innovate in environment defined by micromanagement.

10. Gerald’s Game

Dark Tower aside, 2017 was really strong year of Stephen King adaptations. Within a two month time period, we got 1922, Gerald’s Game and It; all of which could have been contenders for my year-end “Best Of” list. Gets the edge if only for being A) topical and B) a more impressive feat given the limitations of its source material. Give the original novel a read and one discovers very quickly that it would be one hell of nut to crack onscreen as much of it takes place inside the mind of our main character, who is handcuffed to one location for a majority of the proceedings as her husband lays dead on the floor. Thankfully, co-writer/director Mike Flanagan is up to the challenge, thanks in large part to Carla Gugino and her compelling performance, which effortlessly pivots from panic to grief to despair to rage, sometimes all at once. I’d go so far as to say she delivers her first Oscar-worthy performance here, a shame given the Academy’s penchant for over-looking strong performances in genre fodder. The same goes for Flanagan, who in any other race would be up for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. It’s a movie that really benefits from his signature directing style. If he opts to tackle more King in the future, I wouldn’t protest. 

9. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

There’s a lot of split positions on Martin McDonagh’s latest pitch-black dramedy. I guess I found it perfectly in line with a lot of his other work. However I get the criticism without altogether agreeing with it. I favored the unpredictability of everything to be quite honest, along with an emphasis on portraying ever single character as its center with dimension. The movie goes out of its way to muddy our allegiance at multiple turns. Do we root for the grieving, angry Mildred (Frances McDormand) who has purchased three billboards…outside Ebbing…Missouri, in the interest of finding her daughter’s killer while also shaming the local sheriff’s department for what she feels is a lack of effort? The movie definitely positions us to initially. Her grief now calcified into a single-minded, nothing-left-to-lose mission, bulldozing anyone who gets in her way.  Do we emphasize with said sheriff’s department, headed up by Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson)? It’s revealed early on that Ebbing’s police department, while populated with knuckleheads and racists, didn’t so much bungle the investigation as run into dead ends due to a lack of evidence. Also Willoughby is a pretty decent guy, sympathetic to Mildred’s plight. Oh, and he also happens to be dying of cancer, something Mildred knew about before putting up her signs. Has grief pushed Mildred past reason? There are no easy answers to be found here and no real resolution either. Given closure is out of reach for its characters, it seems only fair it should be for us as well.

8. A Ghost Story

A musician (Casey Affleck) dies, returns to haunt his wife/lover (Rooney Mara) and their shared house as a stereotypically bed-sheet garbed specter (only visible to us, the audience). He travels the range of space and time, speaking no audible dialogue throughout. That’s pretty much the gist  of David Lowery’s A Ghost Story. It’s deceptively simple on paper, but in many ways it is quite possibly the most thematically dense cinematic outings I witnessed in 2017. As our titular ghost is bound to the house, the world begins to move on without him going beyond a simple examination of a relationship beset by grief. It is that, but a lot more. It is a movie that is at once epic and sweeping and still incredibly intimate, touching on fears, thoughts and anxieties that keep many awake late at night. As with any good ghost story, it’s one that haunts the back of your mind long after it’s finished.

7. The Shape of Water 

It’s no secret that Guillermo Del Toro is quite the fan of cinema. The Shape of Water works as almost like a love letter to a life-long affair with the medium from the Mexican maestro. Now his movies have always generally felt like bubbling cauldrons of superfandom to be fair but here it’s as if Del Toro has dropped all pretense, transmitting his obsession by concocting a story that is entirely old-fashioned (with some twists here and there) but aided by modern day movie magic. A riff on the Beauty and the Beast tale, we have a mute cleaning woman (Sally Hawkins) falling in love with a towering fishman (Doug Jones, obviously).  She doesn’t mind the scales; he doesn’t speak the language she can’t. You could almost consider this an Abe Sapien spin-off feature given we’ve got Jones playing yet another lovable creature that may or may not stem descend from a Black Lagoon. For those fearing Del Toro’s gone soft, fret not. As with any of his best films, this is a fairy tale meant for adults and there’s plenty of gore and darkness to go around. For my money, Sally Hawkins gives THE performance of the year here, conveying a cornucopia of emotion without uttering a line of dialogue.

6. Logan

It’s about time the X-Men series’ “fluid” continuity was a source of inspiration rather than outright frustration. Cut free from franchise mandates, Logan serves as a poignant, proper cap to Hugh Jackman’s tenure as the cigar-smokin’, claw-poppin’ Ol’ Canucklehead we’ve grown to know and love over the past 17 years. The same goes for Patrick Steward’s Charles Xavier, with both men turning in franchise-high performances and placing their respective definitive stamps on the characters. I pity anyone who attempts to feel their shows, particularly after this (hopefully) last outing. Director James Mangold opts to create an emotional continuity between the two’s long-shared pain. It’d be shallow to say something as simplistic as, “It was better because it was rated R…‘cause blood n’ guts are cool…and swear words.” Sure, seeing Wolverine deliver the severed limbs and viscera after all this time is pretty goddamn satisfying but it’s even more satisfying to see the consequences of a life defined by violence laid bare. It’s spared from the dredge of nihilistic abyss by a combination of new takes on well-worn characters and tender relation shared between Logan and his kind-of daughter Laura (Dafne Keen).

5. Okja 

In many ways, the online direct-to-consumer model is perfect for Bong Joon-ho. The risk being that his movies may get lost in the shuffle of Netflix’s “MORE, MORE, MORE” release mentality is valid, but it’s here that his movies stand less of a chance of getting cut down or mired in the web of studio politics much like his last film (Snowpiercer) did. The man’s chaotic sensibilities are all over this thing and admittedly not everything sticks; however, I can’t help but marvel at the attempt none-the-less. Part E.T., part Fast Food Nation, part Wes Anderson, part Pixar, part….countless other things, Okja is the cinematic equivalent to a pot luck dinner; everyone brings something unique to the table, and as is the case with good pot lucks, the end result is ultimately delicious. That isn’t to say this movie is free of some heavy handed messages. The social commentary is laid on so thick this time out you may just feel your cholesterol rise at one point or another. When we advance to the more metropolitan area of the film, things start to become all at once more wacky and incredibly dour. And it’s when those two key elements (the whimsy of the country side and the wacky yet bleak, over-the-top metropolis) where things don’t really click all the way for me. Perhaps Joon-Ho meshes these two, from the offset, incompatible sides intentionally. The down home values of rural living don’t often sit well with the cynical crassness of the corporate circus. It might be more than a little blunt, but that could also be the point.

4. Baby Driver 

I really am beginning to doubt Edgar Wright has a bad movie in him, or at the very least, a non-entertaining movie. As with Nolan, Wright GETS cinema in way so few seem to these days, thereby making his movies actual events, an experience worth actually venturing out to the theater to see. Baby Driver is his latest event, and well-worth the price of admission. The level of technique on full display here is next level for Wright as he crafts what equates to mix-tape with a movie happening around it, scored from everything to alt-rock to classic R&B and everything in-between. Literally nothing is superfluous as Wright makes use of every shot, cut, effect and music cue to tie seamlessly in the visual composition as a whole. It’s quite unlike anything I’ve seen before outside of a musical, which you may very well consider this. Against all odds, Baby Driver keeps this near-breathless momentum throughout its near two hour runtime. Much like the work of his buddy Quentin Tarantino (a clear influence here, along with George Miller and Walter Hill), Baby Driver is one of those singular movies that will inspire countless others that follow in its footsteps.

3. Blade Runner 2049

Full review here. 

Wow. Not only do we live in a world were a Blade Runner sequel FINALLY happened, that same sequel is better than the original in just about every single way imaginable. Maybe that has something to do with Denis Villeneuve taking the reigns. Much like Rian Johnson did with The Last Jedi, Villeneuve and screenwriters Hampton Fancher (one of the co-writers of the original film) and Michael Green aren’t concerned with giving fans what they want and instead focus on giving them what they need, a delicate tightrope act to be sure. Whatever it is though it worked like gangbusters. 2049 is very much a story torn from the same cloth as its predecessor but this time the narrative actually matches the quality of its visuals. The world of 2049 feels very much like an expansion to the world we were first introduced to back in 1982 (albeit with a few cosmetic enhancements here and there obviously). The first movie gave us the blue-print whereas the second is here to give us the nuts and bolts. A critical factor in the original’s longevity dealt in its iconic visuals and score, something that’s carried over here exponentially; no surprise really given the astronomical leaps movie effects have taken in the intermedium. It doesn’t hurt that the greatest cinematographer working today (that’d be Roger Deakins) behind the lens, canvasing a future that is all at once sad and beautiful. 

2. Lady Bird 

Hyper-specific. Universally relatable. Lady Bird is a masterclass in the always seemingly-tired but still always proven “coming-of-age” genre. Writer-director Greta Gerwig’s first cinematic effort as a director (she won’t be the only freshman you’ll see on this list) takes place in Sacramento over the course of the 2002-03 school year and is centered around 17-year-old Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) but it feels like it could take place anywhere with anyone of us in the staring role. Gerwig treats Christine’s arc as delicately as a mother bird would, favoring natural tension to arise organically rather than hackneyed or melodramatic. Too rarely does a filmmaker dare to opt for ordinary. And while it’s frequently hilarious, there’s some pretty real tension at its heart too. It’s a movie so in-tune with what it is to be a teenager, you inadvertently feel the desire to pull Christine aside like a parent and tell her to stop rushing to adulthood.

1. Get Out

I, like many others I imagine, made the mistake of going into Jordan Peele’s directorial debut as if it were a one-joke Key and Peele sketch (kind of like Keanu), reimagining the “black guy meets his white girlfriend’s parents” as a horror movie. But execution is EVERYTHING, and the biggest, biggest, BIGGEST strength of Get Out is how seriously he treats the genre. It’s a genuinely unsettling, surreal experience in which Peele forgoes a lot of easy laughs (and there are laughs to be sure), instead favoring a mounting unease in his hero, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya, one of the many on and offscreen involved in this masterpiece that should be under consideration come award season). It doesn’t hurt he’s packed his movie with oh-so subtle foreshadowing and easter eggs that not only rewards multiple viewings, but demands them. Gerwig may have given us a nostalgic teenage dream, but Peele gives us a modern day racial nightmare. Bravo sir. Bravo.

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‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ impresses with its maturity and continued personality

Editor’s Note: In an attempt to keep some resemblance of consistency, I’m actually getting another review out the gate faster than I thought I would. I’ve written a review for almost every Marvel movie (Thor: The Dark World and Ant Man) since Iron Man so I wanted to get this out there as quickly as I could. Actually really liking the movie didn’t hurt either. 

The first Guardians of the Galaxy is definitively my favorite of the Marvel Studios’ canon at present period. I wouldn’t say there was a single terrible movie in the batch. It mainly falls to some being much more memorable than the others, and out of all of them I’d wager Guardians is the one to beat in that regard.

My review of the first film can be found here.

Writer/director James Gunn just brought such a voice to that film movie it  transcended beyond anything the company had done up to that point. Much credit to Marvel for actually allowing the guy to down his thing albeit within the confines of their big picture. I just wish the same sort of situation could have worked out for Edgar Wright and his Ant Man movie which I would have thought to the be the one that topped Guardians but I digress.

Going into the sequel, I didn’t have much doubt I’d enjoy it particularly since Gunn was coming back along with the entire original cast. The question was whether it could actually surpass the original. Too often sequels go too big, favoring familiar rather than innovation. Luckily Gunn is a smart enough filmmaker to largely bypass some sequel (Chris) prat falls other directors do, delivering a product that may not be as good as its predecessor but comes mighty damn close in some respects.

This will be a spoiler free review, Nick.

The plot:

“Set to the backdrop of ‘Awesome Mixtape #2,’ Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the team’s adventures as they traverse the outer reaches of the cosmos. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mysteries of Peter Quill’s true parentage. Old foes become new allies and fan-favorite characters from the classic comics will come to our heroes’ aid as the Marvel cinematic universe continues to expand.” – IMDb.com

The review: 

Thankfully that all important personality I was drowning on and on about in the preface carries over here, almost even more so. There are so many weird things I want to talk about because Gunn goes for some off-the-beaten path pulls this time around. I remember freaking out in the first film when he went so far as to include Howard the Duck (who returns briefly) near the end. Here we have Ego the Living Planet as a major character as well as shout-outs to the original Guardians of the Galaxy (led by an actor I’m surprised wasn’t included in the marketing more) and even the Watchers.

Pardon me as a scratch off yet another thing I assumed I’d NEVER see in a major motion picture.

It’s also a movie bursting to the brim with color, unafraid to embrace an entire palate rather than brood in the shadows providing yet another line-in-the-sand for Marvel against their distinguished competition over at DC.

Gunn is our sole credited writer this time out and it shows, given this movie does something almost unthinkable in relation to the sequel-dominated cinescape we find ourselves in today: rather than expanding this insane universe, Gunn brings us inward. At times, this movie is downright intimate; given that once again a talking raccoon and sentient tree are major characters, this is all the more shocking.

From the offset, Gunn shows us how these characters have changed since last we met. Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is a little less reckless, recognizing himself as the caretaker of his team’s larger-than-life personalities. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is less hardened, actually opening herself up to genuine care and affection. The same could be said of Drax (Dave Bautista), who is downright jovial this time around. Conversely, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is a much more bitter; his wise cracks sporting a sharper edge.

Also Groot (Vin Diesel) is now a baby….referred to as Baby Groot, obviously.

Oh by the way, Gunn communicates all this subtly within the first ten minutes of the film; no easy feat to be sure, particularly just how many characters I just listed without even getting to the rest of the returning cast and new recruits.

Largely focused on the idea of a family being what you make of it (much like the first film), Vol 2 splits our characters off from one another for portions of the film, partnering them up with another guardian as to allow for some further development/playing of each other in different ways. 

Think of it like the fourth season of Arrested Development only here we actually have multiple scenes of the entire family altogether.

As you may have guessed, the story kind of takes a back seat in this entry leaving a film that is much more leisurely in its pacing. The larger MCU doesn’t really factor into the events, leaving our characters to take the reigns which I actually ended up liking quite a bit. It doesn’t hurt that these are such lovable and weird characters obviously.

The cast is again uniformly outstanding. Dave Bautista’s Drax is yet again the comedic highlight and in many ways come to represent the heart of this franchise. He gets to spend some quality time with Mantis (Pom Klementieff), a personal favorite of mine from the comics. Their interactions are basically everything I wanted and more, leading to some of the movie’s funniest bits.

I was kind of worried Marvel was going to lean in really hard on Baby Groot, who is obviously very adorable, but luckily he’s used effectively and more or less sparingly.

If the movie were to belong to anyone in front of the camera, it’d be Gunn mainstay Michael Rooker pictured below with a local drunk.

Rooker’s Yondu is partnered with Rocket and the two really get down to the nitty gritty as to why their characters are they way that they are, both of whom share arguably the best arcs in the entire film. Quill’s notion of “building your family around” is something that obviously stemmed from Yondu, and is explored to poignant effect here.

Rooker’s one of those character actors that is basically good in everything he appears in, which is no easy feat given the sheer scope of his body of work as a character is. Seriously go check out his IMDb page and come back. So know I’m serious when I say this may just be his best performance to date. I won’t divulge into specifics but the movie’s best beats (both comedic and dramatic) all go to him, and I feel it’s a performance we’ll all be talking about for a while. Given the guys super talented, it should come as no surprise and it’s awesome to see Gunn give his friend such a hefty role in such a huge movie. Not that he needs it, but I hope this means we’ll only see more of him in bigger films.

This film also passes the bechdel test, which is something I always like noting in major blockbusters. Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, perhaps the least developed of the guardians, is given much more time with her adopted “sister” Nebula, played by my favorite companion Karen Gillan. The two share quite a few nice story beats throughout, playing once again into the whole family theme.

If anyone gets shortchanged, oddly enough it’d be Chris Pratt’s Star Lord, who is paired with his father Ego (of course he’s played by Kurt Russell). Pratt really doesn’t do a whole lot another the final act and it’s not like he’s out of commission a majority of the movie. He’s just a lot lest dynamic to the plot outside of he’s just met his apparent father. To go another further would be too spoiler-y, but even though it’s kind of late in the game, Pratt is consistently in his element here. Unlike Jurassic World or Interstellar, Pratt is the perfect quasi-level headed mantle piece for this insane galaxy to rest its shoulders. He’s an insanely charismatic everyman, unafraid to look stupid or take a joke at his expense.

So if I were to take any qualms with this one it’d be that it’s almost too easy on plotting, drifting off in some sections where some tightening could have been beneficial. This becomes increasingly apparent during the middle section where we linger on beats that drag on just a tad too long. This becomes jarring once things ramp up in the third act and we have action happening at a lighting fast rate.

The film’s soundtrack, following in the footsteps of the unlikely mega-hit that was the Awesome Mix, Vol 1, is similar to the film itself in that it is perfectly great but just not up to the exact bar of its predecessor. Their are certainly some stellar tracks put into play here though with my favorite Fleetwood Mac song of all time being the largest standout for me personally.

Although Glen Campbell’s inclusion was also a worthy of note too, particularly the ludicrously silly scene it accompanies.

To be a nitpick, I’d argue the songs in the first film “fit better” in that each and every one was obviously carefully picked one-by-one as to go specifically with each scene in which it appears. Vol. 2‘s soundtrack, while also doing this to a degree, feels just a little bit more like an oldies jukebox. There’s really nothing wrong with that. It kind of just boils down to personal preference. It comes no where near the level of ego/incompetence behind the ADD music cues in Suicide Squad, which were part showing off and part shamelessly attempting to emulate the success of the first Guardian‘s soundtrack.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether Vol. 2 a better movie than the first film; it’s a hell of a lot of fun all while being much more mature, opting not to rest solely on the past accomplishments of its predecessor to make it great. It builds on them. Think of this as the Paul’s Boutique to the first film’s License To Ill. Sure it lacks the populace appeal of the first outing as well as its conciseness, but it’s deceptively simple as it hides layers of complexity to be discussed and examined beyond its initial release.

I for one can’t wait to see this motley crew back in both Avengers 3 and the third (and presumably final) film with Gunn on writing and directing duties. Like it or not (why would you not), Gunn has carved out a whole universe for himself; largely undictated by the larger demands of the MCU and a sandbox for which he and his team may let their collective imagination run rampant.

‘Ghostbusters’ (2016) is an okay yet forgettable comedy, a terrible ‘Ghostbusters’ remake and I still feel fine

Lord have mercy, there is so much unwarranted bullshit surrounding this freaking movie sight unseen that it was nearly impossible for me to enter it just a little grumpy.

There was the much publicized misogynistic assholes that will hate on just about any movie that lets a woman speak for more than 30 or 40 seconds and this did exist, particularly on sites like Twitter and Reddit. News flash: it’s called the internet. I think the aspect of this side of extreme that irked me the most (other than, you know, the piggish misogyny) was the entitlement. As if Hollywood really cares that you think the original Ghostbusters is some sort of sacred cow upon which they are not allowed to touch. I’m calling it now: there will be a remake, reboot or whatever you want to call it to these beloved franchises within the next 20 years: Back to the Future, The Goonies, Harry Potter, Gremlins, Indiana Jones, Men in Black and even fucking Space Jam. 

I think the only true sacred cows are the films of Steven Spielburg and I am fully prepared to eat my words with that statement. It sucks, but its something you need to suck up and move on from. Maybe its a bit harsh to say. I get it. I really do. The original movie is a really special movie for a lot of people, but it is always going to be there. And unless one of the cast members murders one of your loved ones, your cherished memories of it are going to be just fine.

Look, Hollywood is a business and there isn’t a lot of room for sentimentally in business. The point is to make money. I can only assume this song is playing LOUDLY in those rooms filled with executives and producers since the film industry became a thing.

Then, on the polar opposite side of the annoying press that surrounded this goddamn movie like flies to a carcass, there was the extreme white knight, safe space-loving, “feminist” side jumping to the movie’s defense and sought to equate any legitimate concerns or criticisms as fanboy bitching or the rantings of women-hating cavemen.

"The picture that singularly justifies the new Ghostbusters and feminism. Yay girls! Fuck fanboys!" - Buzzfeed, Jezebel, UPROXX, the AV Club and other such sites

“The picture that singularly justifies the new Ghostbusters and feminism. Yay girls! Fuck fanboys!” – Buzzfeed, Jezebel, UPROXX, the AV Club and other such sites

Why judge a movie based on its own fucking merits right? The hatred some reviewers was appalling, missing the entire point of their actual, non-harmful, NON-SEXIST concerns altogether.

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It’s rather infuriating to get lumped in with a very vocal minority where most of people simply just looked at this as a simple, fun movie whereas many die-hards simply looked at the movie with at worst cynicism and at best cautious optimism. (While I acknowledged the cash-in feel of the movie, I was firmly in the latter group by the way.) It pisses me off to see film critics labeled as “sexists” for the simple fact of doing their jobs. What kind of person actually gets mad at another person for not liking a movie? Answer: the fucking internet. It’s always been like this. This movie should not serve as some sort of massive feminist issue. It’s a fucking Ghostbusters remake. Real world politics really have no relevance in the matter just because a vocal minority doesn’t like a movie with ladies in it.

We go to film reviewers to get honest reviews, whether we agree with them or not. Richard Roeper isn’t a sexist because he honestly hated this movie. To expect him to lie and say he loved the movie because it featured four female leads is condescending and pandering of the highest degree and to attack him for speaking a harmless opinion is bullying, something I thought femenism was supposed to be fighting against. I don’t know. I am a man and didn’t love this movie, so what the fuck do I know?

Here’s a video basically reiterating all the points I just made, but does so much more eloquently…

Both sides of the argument decided how they felt about the film well before seeing it, and now that it’s out I’m honestly glad so we can all collectively move on with our lives as this movie fades into the ether. I have to applaud both the studio and the media for spinning this whole affair into something much more than it actually was for a movie that did not deserve it.

Now, we’ve spent a lot of time in the present. Let’s go back a bit and wax like Harry Knowles on this mother…

Like a lot of people, I love the original 1984 film, Ghostbusters. I don’t think I hold in the same regard as many of my friends (who hold it as dearly as I do Star Wars and Alien), but I’d agree that is a damn-near flawless movie. It such a cinematic oddity that was assembled from so many disparate elements that it could have easily been a gigantic mess. However it starred (and was co-written by) some of the greatest comedians the world has ever seen at the top of their respective form and was in the hands of competent filmmakers that, rather than be hindered by the limitations of effects at the time, rose to the challenge, embraced these limitations and, in doing so, elevated the craft. As far as horror comedies go, it is perfect. It is as funny as it is scary and accessible to both kids and adults without heavily pandering to either side. What always stands out to me most every-time I revisit it is that director Ivan Reitman, being the genius that he is, shot the film not like a comedy but as a wholly conventional, real-world narrative. It’s important to note that Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman may be the most influential comedic creation in how it influenced my sense of humor. It’s often said the film was simply a multi-million dollar excuse for Murray to riff, and its hard to argue given how effortlessly he glides through the film, nearly stealing the show.

It’s humor wasn’t a joke a minute. It was more dry…with a few exceptions. Least we forget Ray got a dream(?) blowjob from a ghost at one point. It also established a world that was unique without sacrificing realism. I love that the Ghostbusters don’t meet the bad guys on their own terms. In most movies, heroes must use some sort of mcguffin (magic or what-have-you) to beat the antagonist. The Ghostbusters say, “Fuck that,” and combat magic with science and that’s so fucking cool I still get giddy whenever I go back and they pull out those proton packs. Their as cool as lightsabers.

That all being said, I could not tell you more than 3 things about the second film. If I have seen it, it’s been a very long time since the fact. I remember they were in court at one point and that there was purple ooze in the sewers. I also remember being a fan of the cartoon but would be hard pressed to name one individual episode of either series outside of the insane “Christmas Carol” one. So I wouldn’t place myself as a die hard fan of the franchise of the whole per se; simply a casual one and a major one of the first film.

With the passing of Harold Ramis, another film helmed by the remaining cast would have just been…awkward. Ramis was such a critical element in why that first film succeeded and to have a movie starring everyone else BUT him would be wrong and misguided. So props to Sony for at least having the sense to bring an entirely new cast in and luckily the filled it with some of the best comedic talent of the current era.

Is it cool to have a female-led mega-budget franchise? Of course, and I support that 100%. However, that means very little if those characters aren’t worth a damn and the trailers did very little to build my confidence. It’s as if they pulled all the worst looking elements as a dare to see if people would still come see the movie just because it had “Ghostbusters” in the title.

Now, before I really get into this, I want to preface by warning readers that I’m going to be comparing this new film to its predecessor; that being the 1984 original. Is that fair? Nope.

You know what? Fuck that, it is completely fair.

It’s a Ghostbusters movie!

Look, I get that movies (remakes included) should stand on their on two feet and I’m going to point out when this movie does just that below but this movie is called “Ghostbusters.” Comparisons are inevitable, and I’m not going to pussyfoot around that fact.

This is a remake.

Not a reboot.

Not a sequel.

For better or worse, this is the Ghostbusters remake for a new generation. That means: extended, scenes directed by improv rather than story but still a beat-for-beat carbon copy of the original. Does it work? As a regular comedy? Sure, I guess. As a Ghostbusters movie? No…not at all and is ultimately about as flavorless as a bowl of rice.

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The plot:

“Following a ghost invasion of Manhattan, paranormal enthusiasts Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates, nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann, and subway worker Patty Tolan band together to stop the otherworldly threat.” – IMDb.com

The review:

I think it’s fitting that one of the last lines of Ghostbusters (2016) is to the effect of, “Well…that wasn’t terrible,” because I felt the exact same way by the end.

I had fun…at times, and was bored in others. It’s largely flavorless as it falls squarely in the middle of being a watered down Paul Feig comedy and Ghostbusters cash-in, failing to really achieve success at being great at either.

Let’s get this out of the way now: if any single movie is enough to “rape your childhood” or even “ruin” it, you are a fucking loser. Plain and simple. 

A shitty reboot should not be enough to “ruin” something you cherish.

Unlikely as it was however, I was pulling for this movie to succeed at capturing that proverbial lightening the bottle once again. If only to shut up the smug naysayers that dismissed the film upon entry. Yes, the trailers fucking sucked but looking at the level of talent involved, I was hoping it’d actually turn out to be something utterly and truly special. Something definitive; a testament to the comedic prowess of some of the best comedic talents of this current comedic batch….

Mostly kidding. This movie was….fine…it was fine. Truly a lot of pomp and circumstance for ultimately just a…fine movie. It’s even fun at points but (spoilers) it’s obviously largely inferior to the first film and a pisspoor attempt at recapturing what made that movie work so well or even revitalizing a long-gestating franchise in need of a shot to the arm. It’s also a disappointing output for director and co-writer Paul Feig who brought us Bridesmaids, a movie I adore, as well as The Heat and Spy, two completely watchable rainy day comedies that made me laugh consistently throughout. All of those films are hard R’s and largely succeed because they operate outside of good taste and convention, allowing their stars to swing for the fences. Ghostbusters feels almost neutered in comparison as it doesn’t let a large portion of its talent play to their strengths.

There’s a very frustrating thing about this movie that I want to convey but am afraid that I’ll fuck up the execution in my explanation…fuck it, I’ll give it a shot:

This movie is fine when it goes off and does its own thing. It even (kind of) succeeds during a couple of scenes that harken back to the original. HOWEVER when this movie opts to largely carbon copy exact plot points from that earlier film, it sucks. It’s the exact same main problem I had with The Force Awakens although in that film ripping off the earlier film was less of a detraction. It still sucked at times (coughStarKillerBasecough), but it clearly came from a more sincere place whereas this film’s riffing was more…deliberate coming off as lazy. That film however did a fairly commendable job at mixing both the new and old elements. Put bluntly, that at least FELT like a Star Wars movie most of the time in that the tone of spirit and fun was there where this film ever rarely feels like its in line with the iconic Ghostbusters tone. I think the closest it comes is the opening and even that feels more like a weaker version of the first film’s.

If the writers (sorry, Max Landis) Katie Dippold and Feig spent just a bit more time on their script, I could actually see this being a somewhat decent sequel. Even better, how about an original horror comedy that plays to this cast and crew’s strengths by going for a full-on hard R-rating? 

Something that felt off immediately about this movie was the pacing. It believe it clocks in around the same runtime as the original but it feels about 2 hours longer. Where Reitman was rather disciplined in the way he shot and orchestrated the comedy of the original film, Feig, informed by movies from Adam McKay and Judd Apatow, goes for the exact opposite; letting humor dictate pace rather than story.

Feig’s rapid fire way of shooting and assembling improvised comedy scenes is all well and good for his films (of which I am largely a fan), but this is a Ghostbusters film and the two styles just never really mesh. This allows for scenes to either go on way too long or end almost abruptly.

This unevenness bleeds over into the new characters as well.  The original team largely felt like real people. These are cartoon characters. (In fact, this felt more like a remake of The Real Ghostbusters than the original film, only strengthened by Kate McKinnon’s look mirroring animated Egon’s.)

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Before bitching is unleashed, the fact that the new main characters are women is ultimately inconsequential. What matters is if they are strong, memorable and CONSISTENT characters and they are largely hit or miss. I’ve seen plenty of action movies, particularly science fiction movies, with phenomenal female protagonists. They’re a little obscure but you may have heard of them…

Like they’re mainly little indie movies that didn’t get a lot of attention…

I don’t know, you may have heard of them…

Hmmm….maybe the sucked….I don’t think many people remember them…they didn’t get a lot attention….

What do I know though, right? Those movies are all old and obscure.

One hasn’t come out in a while I think…

I digress…

I really liked that these weren’t replacement characters as in there wasn’t an Egon, there wasn’t a Ray, there wasn’t a Winston and there sure as hell wasn’t a Venkman. Instead, our new leads are largely their own thing with some elements of the original four popping up here and there.

After seeing this film, I’m even all for seeing these four in a better film now that the murky “origin” waters as everyone assembled are A+ comedic talent and one of the film’s biggest strengths is how palpably they play off one another, just not as well as the probably would have had been allowed to actually play to their strengths (something I’ll harp on more than once).

This leads me to the positives, of which there are a number…just not as many as I would have liked. As I mentioned before, the four main leads are all good, even when their respective material isn’t. I was least impressed by Kristin Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, who play the more, straight grounded types which ultimately need but here it comes at the expense of what kind of heights both of these women can reach. Like taking the venom out of a pair of cobras.

The real comedic heavy lifting is from current SNL classmates Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon. There is quite a bit of hubbub around McKinnon becoming a superstar based off her turn as Holtzmann and its hard to argue against that. She’s almost designed to be the fan favorite character and I completely get why she’s getting the most buzz out of any one involved on the film. It should really come as no surprise to anyone work her magic over on SNL week-after-week much in the same way cast-mate Wiig did during her tenure on the show.

Her character here reminded me a lot of Sarah Jessica Parker’s performance in Hocus Pocus. She’s always making a choice, whether she is the focus of the scene or not.

This is both a blessing and a curse. While she is consistently funny, her constant motion sometimes comes to the detriment to the tension of a scene, particularly when dangerous things are going on. There will be major plot threads being dropped in which she has no involvement and yet the film will cut to her making a face. It’s as if Paul Feig just put a camera on her sometimes and just said, “Do something funny,” and kept it in. Venkman was a yuckster but he took things seriously when the situation called for it….well…most of the time. That “She’s a dog” line still bothers me.

Her character never takes anything seriously. Like, ever and you need that in a movie that purportedly takes place in the real world. HOWEVER as I said before, this is a cartoon so I guess she fits right in whether I like it or not. It’s like the extreme version of Chris Pratt’s raptor trainer character in Jurassic World or Rey in The Force Awakens; she’s never in trouble because she is literally in charge of any situation or conflict that faces her therefore leaving very little in the way for actual tension.

The funniest of the four to me was Leslie Jones’ Patty, who I was honestly the most worried about going in given how poorly she came of in the aforementioned trailers. She’s a nice consistent mixture of both grounded and outlandish, or at the very least, the most successful of the four leads here.

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The editor of the trailer really did her a disservice by picking the unfunniest moments of the film featuring her when in fact she’s the closest thing to an actual character in the movie. She’s funny when appropriate. She’s scared when appropriate.

A lot of people are praising Chris Hemsworth and his turn as the dumb secretary Kevin. While I thought that while his first few jokes (and couple subsequent ones) were funny enough, he got to be annoying. I get the joke. It’s a role reversal of the dumb female secretary troupe. We get it, and this character would have been just as annoying (to me) if it were a woman before that argument breaks out. If he’s supposed to be a shot at Janine Melnitz, fuck this movie. Janine was not a brain dead moron; she was smart, sassy and didn’t take shit. Once again: she was an actual character; Chris Hemsworth is another cartoon character. Moving on…

Speaking of annoying (yep, we’re back in the negatives), I may be in the minority here but the influx of cameos from GB senior staff really started to grate on me, largely due to their execution. My interest in their involvement sort of flew out the window once I learned they all would be playing new characters. Bill Murray’s is the most substantive but also left the worst taste in my mouth if only because Murray seems like he’d rather be anywhere else. He plays what amounts to the Walter Peck character but lacks any point other than being a cameo. The other original cast members appearances are largely throw-away cameos with Annie Potts appearance being the main highlight out of all of them as it was at least a little amusing to see her still be a receptionist.

Another negative that I also need to take a bit to harp on a little bit is the film’s main villain.

This villain fucking sucked. Like, a lot. Like, a lot a lot.

Neil-Casey-Ghostbusters-Photo-by-Jerod-Harris-Getty-Images

Okay, okay: he’s not the worst thing ever, but he sure as shit is weak in terms of execution. Now Neil Casy is fine (albeit highly forgettable) with the dullness he’s given but it all goes back to just that: he’s fucking boring.

Typically, in a cartoon (as this movie is), you’re villain is going to be the most flamboyant, memorable element. Casey’s Rowan is perhaps the most bland, underwritten antagonist I’ve seen in a film this year.  He was bullied…so he wants revenge….on the bullies? Want to know how I know that? Almost every scene he is in either has him being called creepy while he does in fact act creepy. I could see some potential in perhaps tying his outcast plight to that of our Ghostbusters, which the movie seems to be going for at one point but it is quickly dropped for another series of mildly funny improv jokes. Gozer was barely in the first film, and still eons more memorable than this poor excuse for a bad guy.

Some other stray observations:

  • This whole mess was frankly almost justified for me just by hearing Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance, in a two scene cameo) say “Reddit” with a disapproving tone.
  • As gratuitous as McKinnon’s role was at times, she did get some of the best lines.”It’s 2040. Our president is a plant.” Also she had the only proper “hero moment” in the final battle in Time’s Square which actually zapped me back into engagement with the movie, if only for a brief moment.
  • Dan Akroyd actually says, “I ain’t afraid of no ghost,” and I’m still cringing.
  • Speaking of cringe, that Fallout Boy/Missy Elliot “Ghostbusters” remake…
  • The essentially do the “Choose the form of the destroyer” bit again as the climax here so very much in line with the BS Force Awakens pulled with the Star Killer Base/Death Star rehash.
  • On the whole, I thought all the ghost designs were pretty cool, with some even being fairly creepy. However it hits overload once the climax hits which bored me to tears. I was rarely engaged because it was another instance of actors in front of a green screen fighting nothing. If you want an big action ending, a Ghostbusters movie is not the place for it.
  • I didn’t like the Mayor and Mayor’s aid characters or the “we have to discredit you while secretly supporting you angle” in the slightest. The did get a pretty funny Jaws joke out of it though I must admit.
  • Did it kind of suck to anyone else that this team failed to catch even one ghost? The sort of catch one during an Ozzy Osborne concert but it is quickly released because one character acts like a moron and releases it.
  • When Kristen Wiig knocks that “ghost bros” ghost hunter show, I though that the movie may do something with that and have the Ghostbusters go against the phonies…but it didn’t. It was just a joke…kind of? It wasn’t really funny, so I assumed it was a plot point.
  • On a serious note, it is cool that kids are getting introduced to Ghostbusters again given the series’ dormancy. I just wish it were up to snuff. Everyone has to have their own Star Wars prequel, I suppose.
  • I liked the bit where the developed new Ghost-catching tech…not much more than I thought some of the gadgets were cool.
  • A shared cinematic Ghostbusters universe? The Ghost Corps logo at the beginning does not inspire confidence neither does the shameless sequel, Marvel-inspired post credit scene. Also…Gozer was the main villain…Zuul was one of his dogs…so you even got that wrong, Ghostbusters (2016.)
  • Is Rowan supposed to be a shot at pissed off Ghostbusters fans? If so, way to be the better person, movie.

If  Ghostbusters (2016) were just another run-of-the-mill comedy, I’m sure I’d be less harsh but instead the studio opted to slap “Ghostbusters” on the title and pass it off as something it just wasn’t. This is in turn led to higher expectations of which the film ultimately failed to satisfy for me. 

I think my failure to connect with it comes down to is that divide I spoke of earlier. Had it opted to be something standing on its own two feet, I would have enjoyed the movie a bit more. Had it opted to committing to being a full-blown sequel (with the same new leads), I would have enjoyed it more. Instead, it kind did both by being both new stuff (Feig’s improv-driven direction) while also “homaging” the original as to not anger the fans of what came before.

I don’t know. Clearly a lot of people liked this movie a lot more than I did, for which I don’t fault them as it really fits into the comfortable status of “decent, summer comedy” in the same way movies like Central Intelligence and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates did this summer. I’m honestly surprised it elicits a strong reaction, negative or positive, out of anyone really. I experienced no belly laughs nor was I really surprised by anything that happened. I’m seeing it get someone decent reviews on RT and IMDb.com which may come from an honest place but I would not place this movie at a 70%. Hell, I wouldn’t even place it any higher than 30 or 40%. Critics I respect seem to love this movie WHICH IS FINE, but it is starting to feel as if some critics are afraid of a witch-hunt and therefore giving the film a more positive rating in an attempt to either A) not appear sexist or B) support women leads. I’m doing my best to be honest, but even I fear backlash…and I think only 2 people read this blog regularly.

I chuckled often which is all well and good for a run-of-the-mill summer comedy, but this was (I thought) supposed to be a GHOSTBUSTERS film. Forgive me, but when I go into a movie called Ghostbusters, I expect something at least resembling Ghostbusters, more in tone rather than story. I really long for another movie to truly pull off the GB formula once again, the most recent successful example I can think of being Men in Black because you just don’t see too many franchise starters actually succeed at being something totally fresh these days. They are largely repackaged garbage we’ve seen time and time again.

This is (largely) yet another example of that repackaged garbage with a fresh, new orange slice on it, but instead of providing relief, it adds a flavor that clashes with the old, creating a product that does neither of the goals it attempted to accomplish…other than make money, of course.

I really only got genuinely mad once and that was when they defeated the bad guy by shooting him in the dick. Put simply…

This movie isn’t a successor to Ghostbusters.

This is a tween re-telling you the story of Ghostbusters only semi-competently.

This is a cash in, and that kind of sucks because it could have been more.

THAT BEING SAID…

Who in the wholly fuck cares if this isn’t as good as the original film? That earlier, beloved film will always be there, and this film does nothing to change that fact nor does it diminish the legacy of said film. You shouldn’t feel bad for not liking it. You should not feel bad for not seeing it either just as you shouldn’t feel bad for liking or even loving it.

To me?

It is one, big, fat “…meh” of a movie.

I at least laughed a few times.

Do I remember a lot about it?

Not at all.

Do I regret seeing it?

No, not really.

Will I see it again?

I doubt it.

Do I wish it had been better?

Yes, and I think that’s another major disconnect for me personally. Let me reiterate ONE LAST TIME: there’s real talent in the mix here, but it is unrealized and that is incredibly frustrating as all of the major players (both onscreen and off) are capable of better. What really gets me is that that had this IP, this talent, this budget and this is what they came up with.

This movie isn’t a waste of time; it’s a waste of potential.

 Oh well. It’s not the end of the world as we know that there’s a lackluster comedy masquerading as a Ghostbusters running around out there and I may not have liked as much as I wanted to, but you know what? I still feel fine.

For better or worse, ‘Swiss Army Man’ the first wholly singular cinematic experience of 2016

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So…where were we?

I wouldn’t consider this a return from my self-imposed hiatus from reviewing films. I’m still in a state of weird flux as to how to continue with….with….let’s call it “my hobby.” I think tentatively, from here on out, I’ll keep it to movies that I actually have something “different” or “personal”  to yammer on about.

A movie so singular and sincere has emerged from the ether that is practically taunting me to write something about it in an attempt to define it. Like many, I had read the stories earlier this year about a film called Swiss Army Man back when it debuted at Sundance. Overblown headlines casually dismissed the film as “the movie with Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse” and focused instead on audience walk-outs.  The premise alone was enough to pull me in. The fact that A24, a distributer that has already put out two winners and personal favorites of mine this very year (The Witch and Green Room, respectively),  opted to give it a wide release was the final straw in ensuring my ass would be in the seat should it reach Oklahoma.

Luckily it did hit one theater in my area, and while I don’t think it will necessarily set the world aflame given what it is competing against at the local multiplex this summer, it has perhaps the most cult potential of any film I’ve seen this year.

It’s so unique that I dare not really compare it to anything else. I’d quickly classify it as a “buddy travel film” but that would be a disservice to everything it holds. Yes, there are fart and boner jokes. Yes, it gets thematically heavy and almost frustratingly complex. It however meshes those two worlds (the juvenile and pretentious) in such a way that it succeeds entirely in spite of itself. It is at once both a celebration of the absurd and mundane, and I can’t wait to talk to you about it.

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The plot:

“Hank, stranded on a deserted island and about to kill himself, notices a corpse washed up on the beach. He befriends it, naming it Manny, only to discover that his new friend can talk and has a myriad of supernatural abilities…which may help him get home.” – IMDb.com

The review:

I feel as if there is going to be a large portion of people that see this movie and ask, “What the fuck was that?” This is a general reaction that I fully believe was co-writers/co-directors Daniel Scheiner and Daniel Kwan implicit intention of invoking. I can only assume they wear those reported walk-outs as badges of honor given just how intentionally strange their film gets.

The beauty of Swiss Army Man is that, like the multipurpose corpse for which it is named, it is a film that will mean almost anything to anyone. You could watch Swiss Army Man and find a movie about raising a child. You could find a movie about the ways broken people help other broken people. It could be about overwhelming loneliness and the power of love and hope. You could even simply view it as just a movie about a lost guy hanging out with a farting corpse and getting into wacky adventures. To me, it was a deeply personal yet completely universal film revolving around themes of growing up and accepting yourself for every little weird fault.

It takes about 5 solid minutes for the film to establish its universe. The next thing you know Hank (Paul Dano) is riding on the titular corpse Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) as if he were a jet ski, propelled by the later’s farts. As far as meet-cutes go, it is hands down the year’s most memorable.

From the get go, this movie rides on whether the chemistry between in its two respective leads. Luckily both Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe turn in absolutely stellar performances, which also no doubt come in as their most intimate given just how much poking and prodding the pair do to one another over the film’s runtime. I’d be hard pressed to name a film out of this year that rode so high on the complete commitment of its stars.

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I don’t want to accuse Dano of being typecast, but the man excels at playing lovable weirdoes. That isn’t to say the guy has anything left to prove. After going toe-to-toe with Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood, I’m all in for whatever Dano is selling. When we meet Hank, he is literally at the end of his rope as he prepares to hang himself to escape the boring monotony of stranded desert island life. Enter: Manny, who may or may not actually be a magical, talking corpse. Don’t worry. The movie will give you a definitive answer before all is said and done.

As the movie continues, we learn more and more about how Hank got to where he is, both physically and psychologically. There is a girl back home, played by the lovely and underrated Mary Elisabeth Winstead, he has a thing for and the movie even plays into the creepier aspects of this, layering Hank’s plight even more past the cliche of the tradition “journey home” arc so common in films. Conversely, Manny comes from a very different play. Where Hank is stuck sorting through his own issues, Radcliffe’s Manny is a completely clean slate. He’s a toddler, ready to know what everything is and how the world works. Soon enough, he blasts through adolescence and becomes corrupted in ways we all do by shame and self-doubt.

Those who’ve dismissed Radcliffe as a “flash-in-the-pan” can officially step aside. Of all the Harry Potter alumni, he’s taken what’d I consider to be the more interesting, multi-faced role choices; this latest, to be blunt, being the best of his entire career thus far (Potter included).

I’m not positive I can even overstate just how good Radcliffe is. When he experiences happiness at the simplest of things, it is utterly infectious. And when the sadness of his coming age and eventual belief that he is disgusting is crushing. It’s the most likable performance from an actor this year so far and as unlikely as it will ultimately be, I’d love to see Radcliffe get some attention next year once awards’ season starts collectively bothering all of us.

While both Dano and Radcliffe give phenomenal performances, they wouldn’t have a prayer without the direction and script of the Daniels. The pair are known primarily for their music video work, including a little bit of magic you may remember from a couple years back…

Swiss Army Man is their feature debut, and I’d be hard pressed to point to an example of a director or directors not knowing any better paying off so incredibly. The Witch, another cinematic highlight for me this year, also came from a first time writer and director – Robert Eggers. Whereas that film felt like it came from an industry veteran in just how precise and nuanced it was in its execution, the Daniels go in the exact opposite direction that will no doubt polarize more than just a few people.  I, however, see their success with Swiss Army Man as a testament to cinema’s fluidity. There is no one “right” way to craft a movie after all. The Daniels saw no limitations when assembling their first feature, and bypassed good taste and convention as the brought it all in; a gamble that could have easily led to a clusterfuck of ideas, visuals and tones. Luckily for us however, they crafted a film is philosophical and juvenile in equal measures, and it plumbs deep emotional and spiritual ideas without ever being pretentious. In other words, it’s a movie with something to teach you but also laugh along side you as it casually tosses around fart and boner jokes left and right. 

Given their most known for outlandish visuals, it should come as no surprise that the film looks as evocative as it is ludicrous. Cinematographer Larkin Seiple takes a $4 million dollar movie and made it look like it cost $40 million. When the modest budget becomes somewhat obvious the Daniels take it up a notch by implementing a handmade style reminiscent of Michel Gondry. 

The music is another aspect that elevates the film past its price range, enlisting Andy Hull and Robert McDowell of Manchester Orchestra to handle score duties. At times, it feels as if the two are mocking/parodying the care-free jungle jams of Karen O’s classic Where the Wild Things Are score. A minor nitpick, but for the most part the film’s score works best when it brazens its own singular, weird path with the exception of two instances when John Williams’ theme to Jurassic Park is used to better effect than the fucking Jurassic Park sequel that came out last year!  

This isn’t going to be a movie for everyone, and for that its biggest strength (its uniqueness) could also be viewed as its biggest flaw. I’d be lying if EVERYTHING in this film made sense to me. Just because I watch a few movies doesn’t make me an expert and things do (constantly) go over my head. As I said before, there is a lot of interpretation when tackling this movie, and that isn’t for everyone. Hell, I’ve dedicated one day a week where I blatantly try to avoid thinking too hard about a movie. So I can’t particularly fault anyone for not liking this movie as it is REALLY weird and more than a little hefty in its themes. Personally, I like a movie that challenges, enlightens and entertains me. A true triple threat; a cinematic Jennifer Lopez if you will, but recognize that people don’t need really need more than just one of those elements.

Regardless of whether you think you may or may not like Swiss Army Man, I fully recommend you give it a shot while it’s still in theaters at the very least. I can at least promise that you’ll have a wholly memorable experience with it.

It’s a film that’s going to buzz around in your brain a lot longer than the latest Independence Day or Kevin Hart/Dwayne Johnson vehicle, whether you ultimately liked the movie or not. It’s a movie with real vision and different; something we don’t see much of in a landscape that is largely uniform with sequels, prequels, reboots and all-female re-imaginings.

‘Deadpool’ succeeds at being a Deadpool movie by getting down and dirty with its absurd comic book roots

Whoda thunk, right?

Like cut back to May 2009. Right after you saw X-Men Origins: Wolverine and just how badly the character of Deadpool was handled in that film.

Flash forward to now, and we actually have a proper interpretation of the character.

To be fair, the film environment back then probably would not have allowed for a PROPER Deadpool film, but we are in a post-Guardians of the Galaxy world and in my book that opens the floodgates for just about any obscure character to get his or her own movie deal.

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I’m on the edge of my seat for the Rom major motion picture.

That isn’t to say Deadpool is any way, shape or form an obscure character. Not in the slightest. I’m not sure who describes Deadpool as a “cult character” other than those that have NEVER picked up a comic book or have NEVER attended a fan convention. The Merc with a Mouth is an INSANELY popular character and is only going to get more popular with a wide release film that actually plays to his strengths.

The first time I can recall experiencing over-saturation was with Deadpool. I don’t think you could pick up a Marvel comic book from the years 2008 – 2011 without Deadpool making a cameo at one point or another. Whenever I go to a comic book convention there are a minimum of 20 to 30 Deadpools of varying quality and spin on the costume (zombie Deadpool, pimp Deadpool, steam punk Deadpool, etc.). Now, my love of the character was pretty intense from my introduction around middle to about the end of high school. I eventually tired of the character however. Not to any fault of any particular writer, but Marvel as a whole. They were forcing him into EVERYTHING and I needed a break. It’s been a few years since I picked up a solo book staring Wade Wilson, and given that he’s set to blow up even more in popularity after this weekend, I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

Do not get me wrong: I still enjoy Deadpool, as a character, quite a bit. (I even put together a low-rent costume two Halloweens ago.) What has always appealed to me (in the comics) is he is really only the comic book character to recognize and actively comment on the fact that he is a comic book character. (Sure, Animal Man met Grant Morrison but that moment is not something that is really ever recognized in later Animal Man comics under the direction of other writers.) He exists to be a smart ass in the way that Spider-Man can’t be. Because of this, writers are able to mess around with standard comic book conventions. For instance, he has active conversations with his thought bubbles.

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He is what I would consider a template for meta humor, which appeals to me in varying degrees. He’s very much a product of the 90’s (little surprise should come from the fact that he was created by the comic book industry’s resident bro-writer/artist Rob Liefeld), and I completely get while people both love and hate him. When written poorly, Deadpool is cheap catchphrase machine with sex and boner jokes that appeal to the lowest common denominator. He’s also a character that it’s rather tough to care about on a emotional level. Given that he’s both aware of his fictional existence AND has a super healing ability, it’s hard to care about whether he’s going to live or die.

If this movie was going to work, it needed to not only be smart in how stupid it was but also embrace its own absurdity that its comic book namesake. As long as you embrace the absurd, you can get away with just about anything.

Luckily, the team behind Deadpool don’t just make it to second base with that absurdity; they hit a home-fucking-run and go all in. Done with the sex metaphors….FOR NOW.

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The plot: 

“This is the origin story of former Special Forces operative turned mercenary Wade Wilson, who after being subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers, adopts the alter ego Deadpool. Armed with his new abilities and a dark, twisted sense of humor, Deadpool hunts down the man who nearly destroyed his life.” – 20th Century Fox

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIM1HydF9UA

The review: 

Right off the bat this is a movie for fans made by fans. There is a palpable kinetic energy to the proceedings from every one involved. A fun movie can only be fun if its participants are also having fun.

Clearly someone was going their jobs in both A) making this movie and B)marketing this movie. They understood what is so appealing about this character.

Any doubts that I may have had that the filmmakers where going to mess this up were almost immediately eliminated by the opening credits which are a perfect “you’re either in or out” thesis before all the mayhem begins. An overt nod to the comic book splash page, the filmmakers clearly know their stuff because each action sequence is fun, gag-filled and excitingly preposterous.

It’s almost as if Fox cared very little about this movie as long as it stayed under budget (a fact the movie openly comments on) and made money (given it’s a comic book movie, they must have assumed that was a safe bet) because director Tim Miller and screenwriters Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese throw almost every insane, crude, offensive, R-rated joke he can at the audience. Given this is the same studio that gave us that atrocious Fantastic Four reboot that reeked of studio intervention a few months ago, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a little surprised. Hell, we actually get Colossus (played this time around by Andre Tricoteux)  portrayed as Russian, a trait the other movies seem to be gleefully ignoring at this point. It even boils down to little details like making the eyes on Deadpool’s mask CGI so they can emote just like they do in the comics. Both Weasel (played by Silicon Valley-scene stealer TJ Miller) and HYDRA Bob appear for small parts. We live in a world with a live action HYDRA Bob, people! (He obviously isn’t a member of HYDRA in this, but we get an old friend of Wade’s called Bob.) Fox, take note: it’s not that hard to make a character look and act like they do from their respective sources.

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Oh…….oh no…….why………what is my life………?

I don’t think since Robert Downey Jr. declared he was Iron Man have we had a better actor to character translation. Reynolds, who has had three previous attempts at the comic book movie apple now including a previous shot at Deadpool, FINALLY gets a superhero film worthy of his considerable charisma. He was always the right choice for the character (the opening moments with the character in that piece of shit disguised as movie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where he can actually quip and y’know be THE MERC WITH A MOUTH, rank as the film’s only lively scenes), but now he has a full platform to show just how right of a choice he was. I hope this starts a trend of actors, who were great/perfect choices for comic book roles that got stuck in shitty comic book movies,  getting second chances. I’m looking at you for recasting Mark Strong for Sinestro in your inevitable Green Lantern remake, DC.

I take issue with anyone that says Ryan Reynolds is a bad actor. Sure, he’s been in bad movies. Who hasn’t in Hollywood? Like just about every other actor in Hollywood, he also gets miscast in stuff. But I dare you to watch movies like Smokin’ Aces, Adventureland, The Voices and the recent (and possibly his best performance thus far) Mississippi Grind. The guy has always done solid work and he’s finally starting land consistently quality stuff worthy of his talents.

Reynolds plays Deadpool as if he leap right off the page. For better or worse, this is pretty much Wade Wilson as he is in the comics albeit only slightly watered down in order to be at least a little palatable to a wide audience. Rest assured though, much like Raphael, he is still the rude, crude, fighting dude we all know and love.

His latter appearance in said shitty Wolverine film is cheekily reference but wisely ignored in terms of where it comes into play. (These X-Men films have never, EVER cared about continuity and it’s best we accept that now rather than later.)

Speaking of the film’s cast, I was a big fan of Morena Baccarin as Wilson’s main squeeze Vanessa (who will one day become Copycat).

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I got some heavy Marion Ravenwood vibes from her in that she matches our hero quip for quip and actively avoids being a simple damsel in distress troupe. Baccarin has been working over at the acting wasteland that is Gotham lately so forgive for forgetting that she is actually a very charismatic actress worthy of much more than that terrible, TERRIBLE show that I still watch for whatever reason. Excuse me while address Ms Baccarin (who I am 100% sure is definitely reading this): Yo, Morena! I know DC probably pays you pretty darn well and ya met the fatha of your child on tha set -and may dat child be a b-e-a-utiful and healthy child- but more stuff like dis please. You’re beautiful. I wish you well. Papa bless.

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Okay, I’m back.

If I were to have any major complaints, it would be for all the bells and whistles, the story is pretty rudimentary. While told out of sequence for the first half, the film follows just about every beat you would expect in a standard origin/revenge story. Even our villians – Ajax played by Ed Skrein and Angel Dust played Gina Carano – are basically one-and-dones that don’t leave much of an impact.

I know. I know. You’re never going to a movie from a major studio that throws away all convention. It’s just that when Reynolds is out of costume, the movie becomes wholly predictable.

I also suspect (but hope I’m ultimately wrong) that this may be a movie of diminishing returns. It’s not fair to say because I’ve only seen it once but this movie didn’t have the heart of similar weird comic book movies like Guardians and Scott Pilgrim Vs the World did. I’ll give it a few more viewings before I commit to that statement so take it as more of a worry than an actual criticism. 

Also while I LOVE that this movie was made with little supervision, I’d be omitting if I didn’t say that at times it looks straight to video action movie at points in terms of cinematography and location. A minor, MINOR quibble, as being an asshole, I must both have and be able to eat my cake.

We are teased with promise of Cable in a future sequel (stick around for the end of the credits for a Bueller-ian inspired tag), which both excites and terrifies me. If there is any character in comics that would be harder to justify in a film than Deadpool, it’d probably be Cable. Just look at his bio and try to make sense of it. I wish luck to whatever writer(s) tasked with that assignment.

Should this movie be a massive success and spawn a franchise, I fear Fox will start to pay attention and start instituting PG-13 ratings for maximum profits so the character can properly cross over with the company’s sister X-Men series. Two X-Men appear here, the aforementioned Colossus and perpetually teenage smartass, Negasonic Teenage Warhead (another deep pull I was astounded by) as portrayed by relative newcomer, Brianna Hildebrand. I argue for the opposite however. Let the Deadpool team work outside of the confines of mega-budget studio tent-poles and let the X-Men come to him. As evidenced by that shitty, SHITTY Wolverine movie, this is a character that just doesn’t work in a movie that does not revolve around him or at the very least a universe in which he can fuck with the rules because that IS the character; the outsider. The one who can actively comment on the world he inhabits and the world outside it. Given that won’t be the case, here’s hoping someone a lot more talented than I is in charge of incorporating the Merc with a Mouth into the proper X-Men cinematic universe without sacrificing all the good will Miller, Reynolds and the rest of the team did such a commendable job building here.

The Fateful 15: My 15 Favorite Films of 2015

Boy, 2015 was quite a year; both personally and movie-wise.

I found myself gravitating more and more to smaller, simpler films this year. Not out of some misplaced cry against “the system” or big-budget spectacles (I saw and enjoyed my fair share of those this year); nor is it because I have some higher palette when it comes to the movies I favor. This was simply a great year for movies that gave us simple stories as opposed to complex, universe-building mega-franchises.

I don’t really want to go over plots here so I’ll leave that to the trailers I’ve also included. I’m not even planning on going into great detail either (I’m currently suffering from an undisclosed sickness -coughDepressioncough- and trying to get this done quickly) so my apologies for the broadness of my praise…just now I loved all of the movies on this list and recommend you see them all now…like right now…stop reading this….GET OUT OF HERE.

As I am writing this, I have yet to see the following critically acclaimed films:

Carol, The Revenant, Son of Saul, Brooklyn, The Tribe, Victoria, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Anomalisa, Spotlight and many, many, MANY more.

Mad Max: Fury Road

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Not often do I see a movie that I am almost immediately willing to call an instant classic.

Fury Road stands shoulder to shoulder with the best action movie ever made, including AliensDie Hard and The Raid: Redemption and it is without a doubt my favorite film of 2015.

George Miller has spearheaded a film that, by all rights, shouldn’t even exist given the size of its budget and its lengthy (and tumultuous) production. After all this is a movie that has had almost as many false starts as Stephen King’s Dark Tower adaptation and The Hobbit. Hell, I remember first hearing about it as far back as 2003, right around when I first started perusing the internet for movie news. Well given THIS is the movie we got, the wait was well worth it.

No other film spoke the visual language of cinema better this year than Fury Road. Each and every aspect is completely perfect; pacing, tone, score, acting, editing, the list goes on and on. You can get into thematic aspects about how this movie is feminist, but

As Miller intended, you could watch this film with no dialogue at all, and still get a completely insane and glorious experience.  I hate to hype a film up so much but this was one for the ages and I don’t care who knows it. Like Ron Burgundy, I want to declare my love from on top of a mountain…flutes playing and trombones and flowers and garlands of fresh herbs…AND YOU WON’T BE INVITED.

This is the cream of the crop for 2015, people. Witness it. 

Click here for my full review.

Ex Machina 

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The best Twilight Zone episode never written.

I’m a fan of almost any movie that could also function as a play and this is one that borders on theatric more than almost any other this year, with the exception being a certain film by a certain Quentin Tarantino that I will get to shortly. Ex Machina primarily consists of three major players (all three leads, Domhall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Oscar Issac, have all had a PHENOMENAL year) with two minor recurring roles. If this were a just world, all three would be up for Oscars for their work here. Oscar Issac for the sheer power of his dance moves alone.

Ex Machina isn’t about whether Ava is good or evil. Writer/director Alex Garland is more concerned with whether she/it can even grasp what those concepts are. More importantly, he wants you to fall to her/its spell and in doing so what we consider human, both literally and as an idea.

It’s a movie that gives you new treats, thoughts and revelations with each viewing. Every time I see it, I leave with different feelings which speaks well for its longevity.

What We Do in the Shadows

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Hands down the best comedy of 2015 in a year with a surprisingly weak turnout for comedies, What We Do in the Shadows is part parody, part homage. Like Shaun of the Dead did for zombie films over 10 years ago, Shadows manages to take all of the troupes, cliches, imagery and what-have-you from decades worth of vampire movies, subverts them to hilarious effect but the genuine love for the genre can be felt in every home run of a joke this film makes in its all too short (but ultimately perfect) 90-minute runtime.

This is probably the movie I saw most this year. There’s just so many jokes, both upfront and in the background, that it demands multiple viewings. Being a comedy, I can’t really say why its as funny as it is. Just take my word for it…or don’t, I guess. My opinion matters very little, but this is still a funny movie so go see it…please?

Inside Out

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This is a movie that could actually help people. Now I want to stress that this movie shouldn’t be used as a substitute for actual therapy or medication. What I mean is, that this movie could serve as a gateway for both children and adults to opening up about our emotions and actually trying to understand them in a society that seems to favor masking and fearing them.

For example, there was a scene so cathartic in this movie (when the importance, neigh necessity, of Sadness is finally realized) that I didn’t exactly cry but was hallowed out for what felt like months. I had never thought to look at it at the way it is presented here and it was so therapeutic that I wished this movie had been made a decade earlier for a younger version of me to experience. 

All of the emotions are voiced perfectly…like almost eerily so. If there was an Oscar for casting, this movie would be the top contender. (Seriously for Lewis Black as Anger alone this movie deserves all of the awards.) 

Director Pete Doctor and the masterminds over at Pixar have crafted a movie that will stand among the best in the company’s history. It’s filled to the brim with such lofty ideas, clever gags, background brilliance that is destined to be a movie that we are going to be talking about for years and years to come.

The Hateful 8 

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On the surface, this is a movie about bad people doing bad things to one another. Like its sister film, Reservoir Dogs, however, this is a movie with a TON happening between the lines. It’s Tarantino at his most theatric and his most political. We aren’t supposed to like this people. We are supposed to despise them, yet ultimately recognize ourselves in them. When put under the right (or wrong conditions), any one of us can fall to our baser natures including jealousy, distrust, racism and the like.

Speaking of Dogs, its remarkable to see how far Tarantino has come as a director in regards to his use of tension, subtly and dialogue. This is a movie that is carried by all three and like a play, once that intermission hits, you’ll have a shit ton to discuss and think about even before Act II begins.

Looking at talkbacks, this movie has received a…let’s say “mixed” reaction…in other words, what I can only assume is Tarantino’s intent. This is a movie that’s making people talk, and its certainly doing that.

Sicario 

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This may be the movie I revisit the least on this list. Not because it is a chore to sit through or anything of that nature. Quite the contrary actually. No, the reason is that this movie pulls no punches. In other words, you don’t leave feeling particularly good by its end.

A cynical look at the drug war being raged both in the States and across the border, Sicario is a movie that is much more than the sum of its parts. It works both as a searing drama, a tension-filled action vehicle and a political statement all in one. Director Denis Villeneuve is three-for-three with his cinematic output at this point. Combined with the visuals of Roger Deakins, there was no way this wouldn’t make my “Best of…” list by the end of the year.

Both Emily Blunt and Benecio del Toro deliver career-best performances. del Toro in particular deserves a certain amount of praise for the quiet yet devastating performance on display.

Click here for my full review.

Room

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Room was the biggest surprise of the year for me. I went in completely blind and left completely blown away. I’m glad I didn’t see the trailer before going in, but seeing it doesn’t ruin the movie by any means. It only alleviates some of the tension regarding Joy and her young son Jack escaping the titular room.

The movie isn’t really about the room however. This is a movie about how different people deal with trauma. Like Sicario, this movie pulls very little punches in regards to the horrible things Joy has been put through but this movie has a different intent and actually provides glimpses of hope at the end of a very dark tunnel.

Brie Larson no longer has nothing to prove and now stands side-by-side with the greatest actors/actresses working today. In turn, her young co-star Jacob Tremblay is equally mesmerizing and does just as much emotional heavy-lifting as his older counterpart.

Creed

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Creed gets back to the bare-bones of what makes the Rocky franchise so great.

Like The Force Awakens and Jurassic World, the film borrows/lifts narrative points from its predecessors with new faces filling the parts. Unlike The Force Awakens or Jurassic World however, Creed isn’t burdened with an overriding need to pay homage to what came before. Sure, it moves the Rocky franchise forward  but Creed is definitively concerned with telling its own story.

Director Ryan Coogler approaches the franchise film with such confidence and gusto that you would think this was directed by a much more seasoned director. (This is Coogler’s second full-length film to date.) I’m excited to see where he goes in the future of the strength of his first two films alone. Fingers crossed he headed towards directing a little movie about a certain Marvel character called Black Panther.

Michael B. Jordan recovers with earlier franchise blunder Fantastic Four, and delivers one of the strongest performances of his young career. He imbues the titular Creed with all the rage and hunger of an embodies that just breaks your heart. Similarly Slyvester Stallone returns as Rocky Balboa and gives his best performance since he first put on the boxing gloves. As improbable as it sounds, I sense some serious Oscar potential.

Bridge of Spies

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Can we just have Steven Spielberg direct all of our period piece procedurals from here on out? The guy is two-for-two between this and Lincoln. In a year full of spy movies, Bridge of Spies offered a old fashioned somber, even-keeled alternative. It harkens back to the Cold War thrillers of yesteryear, were battles were thought with words, not guns.

This film revels in dialogue and actual suspense, which is a common thread of a lot of movies I love most share. I think this is in large part thanks to the script by Matt Charman and JOEL AND ETHAN COEN. A Spielberg/Coen Brothers collaboration is enough to make any moderate film fan salivate. The result is as absurd, lovable and utterly watchable as one would expect.

Tom Hanks does his best Jimmy Stewart as James B. Donovan, one of those true life heroes  that find themselves at the right place at the right time in history that Spielberg is so fond of. It’d almost be unbelievable if the character were played by anyone other than Tom Hanks. Renowned Mark Rylance (who will reteam with Spielberg next year for The B.F.G.) steals scenes as the Russian spy that finds himself at the center of a trade between the US and the Soviet Union. His scenes with Hanks are some of the film’s best thanks in no small part to the duo’s natural chemistry.

Click here for my full review. 

Phoenix

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 Speaking of old fashioned, Phoenix is a classic noir thriller that takes an unbelievable premise and overwhelmingly succeeds by underplaying it.

We see a country and a woman in the middle of a crossroads in terms of their identity. Jewish nightclub singer Nelly (Nina Hoss) has returned to post-war Berlin after receiving extensive facial reconstruction surgery due to being disfigured in a concentration camp while Germany is looking to find its feet after a crushing defeat to the Allies as well as the Holocaust. Nelly is on a quest to find her husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), who may or may not have turned her over to the Nazis to save his own skin. Once she finds him however he doesn’t recognize her, but due to her passing resemblance to his wife (who presumes to have long since died), he cuts her into a scheme to acquire her own inheritance.

Director Christian Petzold favors subtly and nuance over theatrics, which ultimately lead to the film’s success. It also sports perhaps the greatest ending of any movie this year. I won’t spoil it but like the movie as a whole it is a testament to economic editing and phenomenal acting.

It’s currently available on Netflix, and I highly recommend you give it a watch if you have not already.

The Martian 

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Or “How Ridley Scott Got His Groove Back.”

The Martian was a welcome return to form for the iconic director, thanks in no small part to a phenomenal ensemble cast led by the ever-talented, ever-punching Mat Damon and screenplay brimming with likability from Drew S. Goddard.

Unlike last year’s rather dour Interstellar, The Martian never really gives into despair regardless of the utterly hopeless situation our hero finds himself. We know Mark Watney is fucked, but that isn’t going to stop his chipper attitude and never-say-die attitude.

Also it gets a massive plus is that this is very much a “team movie.” There aren’t any real villains. It’s simply about smart people trying to save one person and one smart person trying to stay alive long enough for smart people to save him.

Click here for my full review.

Steve Jobs 

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It’s rather annoying the levels of people casually dismissing this movie without having seen it on the snarky basis of it being a movie about Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs.

I get it. The canonization of Jobs after his death is bit much, but to deny the man led an interesting and complicated existence is to be glib. If this movie were to have any major sin it would be that it falls a bit under Jobs’ spell at the very, VERY end but for the most part it paints the best, most compelling portrait of a man that was anything but perfect.

We get Jobs’ life in three acts, each of which takes place on the eve of a major product launch, a unique approach to the somewhat stale biopic subgenre.

Every aspect of this movie screams: OSCAR BAIT, however it never concerns itself with prestige and instead gives us Jobs the man, not Jobs the god nor does it exist to service Jobs exclusively. Michael Fassbender is great at the titular character but its the supporting cast that left the biggest impression on me, particularly and most surprisingly Seth Rogen’s Steve Wozniak.

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin writes veritable action scenes with his dialogue here. The sequence involving Jobs confrontation mentor/friend/boss John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) and the former’s expulsion from Apple may go down as the most thrilling of the year.  Sorkin’s writing, Danny Boyle’s direction, Elliot Graham’s editing and Fassbender and Daniels’ performances are all on fire and had me on the edge of seat with not so much as a single explosion.

Cop Car

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It’s kind of shame this movie didn’t reach a wider audience but given that John Wells is about to become a much bigger name due to his next job as director of certain Marvel film revolving around your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, I’m sure it will be seen by more and more people as the latter movie’s release date looms closer.

It’s Duel meets Stand By Me with a little bit of a Coen Brothers movie thrown in for good measure.

From the first scene, I was hooked just by how natural the kid actors spoke back and forth. By the time we get to the mystery of how the titular cop car came to be abandoned and the cat-and-mouse game being played by figures we really don’t get a grasp on until the third act, I couldn’t look away.

No spoilers, but I recommend going into this knowing very little.

It Follows

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Honest to goodness dread is a pretty damn hard thing to convey in a movie. It Follows does it so well that it makes you wonder if anyone else making horror movies these days is even trying.

Writer-director David Robert Mitchell imbues his teenage cast of characters with the right amount of accuracy and maturity that feel downright refreshing in the modern horror landscape, but importantly never lets us forget that these are still teenagers.

Another thing I fucking loved was how we learn “the rules” organically over the course of the film, instead of all the exposition being dropped on us in one solid brick of a scene. Take note, other horror movies: Knowing more about a scary thing makes said scary thing less scary. It’s a delicate balance giving us just the right amount of information in a movie. Too little and you get Prometheus. Too much and you get any number of the horror prequels we’ve seen over the past 5 years. It Follows gives a monster we can interpret but never fully understand. Like Cop Car, it succeeds by implementing the “less is more” approach to story-telling.

My only real minor nit-pick is that movie seemingly breaks these rules, as established, near the climax.

Click here for my full review.

Turbo Kid

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I saw a ton of fun movies in 2015, and by fun I mean they certainly aren’t going to win a ton of awards but they are going to win a ton of smiles from me.

Turbo Kid was probably the most fun I had watching in movie over the past year, and this is a year that includes Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World and Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.

I’ve watched a lot of bad movies over the past year. Turbo Kid lovingly pays homage to the endless stream of cheesy science fiction flicks of the 1980s without ever coming off as a pandering pieces of shit (much like the Sharknado films that I absolutely despise).

It gets dark at times and it is incredibly violent (perhaps the goriest film I saw this year), but it never loses that sheen of innocence and enthusiasm that makes the film such an utter joy to watch.

The cast is uniformly great and full of unknowns (with the exception of character actor legend and utter badass Michael Ironside), with the real find being Laurence Leboeuf as Apple. The film’s likability is at all time highs when she is onscreen. I was worried about her character falling to the “Manic Pixie Dreamgirl” troupe but given what we learn about her character later on, those worries melted away pretty quickly.

 Turbo Kid is a lot of things, but most of all, it is a blast. Much like Fury Road, it’s A-class world building but unlike the other film, it operates on a meager budget; making it utterly impressive for similar yet different reasons. Give it a look see, and get ready to fall in love with the futuristic world of 1997.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Kingsmen: The Secret Service, Spotlight, The End of the Tour, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, Electric Boogaloo, Trainwreck, Call Me Lucky, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Mission Impossible: Rouge Nation, Amy and Ant-Man.

While thoroughly entertaining, ‘Krampus’ never truly lives up to the mad cap promise of its premise

I hate to be a Harry Knowles here but I was incredibly excited for Krampus, largely for personal reasons relating to my late grandmother.  My mother’s side of the family is largely German in ancestry. My grandmother was herself a German immigrant, and with her she brought a multitude  of  traditions my mother’s side of the family adheres to to this day.

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Now my grandma passed away when I was very young (around 5 or 6) so the memories I have of her are largely a little foggy. As grandmother typically privy to do, so spoiled me greatly with toys and treats. She indulged my flights of fantasy regarding my ultimate goal of becoming either A) Batman, B) a paleontologist or some mad mixture of the two.

One thing I vividly remember about her however is her love of Christmas, which in turn has been passed down to my mother. This ranged from a holiday recipes to Christmas songs.

These traditions also included bedtime stories…

This of course included regaling me with tales of the Krampus and the basis of my nightmares for many years.

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For those who may be unaware, Krampus is basically Santa’s shadow a.k.a demon helper who basically handles all of the bad kids whereas jolly old Saint Nick gives presents to the good ones. How does he go about doing this you may ask? Why by kidnapping you, placing you in a basket, whipping you with birch branches and finishing it all off by dragging your sorry ass to Hell. There are different interpretations of the legend but this is the one my großmutter loved to warn me, in her heavy yet lovable accent, about during the holidays…or just random parts of the year…or when I was bad…particularly when I was bad. Okay, almost exclusively when I was bad or being a brat. 

Now the legend of the Krampus is no secret cult icon. The Krampuslauf is an alcohol fueled celebration held in places all across the world this weekend. The character/legend is a staple of many European countries’ holiday traditions, particularly in the Alpine regions of Europe. I am not from those places however. I am from a small town in Oklahoma, therefore I am not friends with many people that grew up the looming threat of Krampus during their childhoods. People tend to (or at least used to) give me bemused smirks when I relate how this horrible goat man used to keep me up at night. Lately though the character seems to have a new found popularity here in the states which I hope means little kids here in Oklahoma are starting to sweat now that we are in the throws of December and old, Mr. Krampus is ready to punish any that choose not to believe. 

This is a story that binds me to my grandma, and while scary at the time, makes me laugh and warm with  gentle waves of nostalgia. I only had a precious amount of time with her before she died and since I was very young, I often fret that I never appreciated her enough. Having something, even something as silly as Krampus, that I can connect to is pretty important to me. So the notion of a big-budget, wide release Krampus film obviously perked my interest and after seeing the trailer, the movie jumped pretty in “my must see movies” list of the year.  We don’t get a lot of Yuletide flicks that break the mold any more these days. Let alone Christmas horror comedies. Throw in the fact that this is directed and co-written by Michael Dougherty, who brought us Trick ‘r Treat (one of the better horror anthology films to come out in the past decade and perfectly captures the spirit of Halloween) and you should have a recipe for one bonkers and memorable ride of a Christmas movie, right?

Well wrong in the sense of it being really memorable. Krampus is a movie that could have benefited with more risks; be a movie that really raised its middle finger to tradition and be its own thing. While it certainly has some inspired and utterly bonkers sequences, they were too few and far between for me, leaving a movie begging to go against the grain being utterly in line with whats expected and even worse: boring.

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The plot:

“When his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, young Max (Emjay Anthony) is disillusioned and turns his back on Christmas. Little does he know, this lack of festive spirit has unleashed the wrath of Krampus: a demonic force of ancient evil intent on punishing non-believers. All hell breaks loose as beloved holiday icons take on a monstrous life of their own, laying siege to the fractured family’s home and forcing them to fight for each other if they hope to survive.” – IMDb.com

The review:

I hate to be a humbug, but this movie just didn’t do it for me throughout large sections. Much like Gremlins ( a superior movie that this movie desperately attempts to emulate), this goes for a lot of crazy, only technically family-friendly antics but lacks the pace and bite of the earlier movie. What ultimately hurts this movie the most is how slow and steady it takes in setting up its not particularly interesting and/or compelling characters, which is a shame considering the cast includes the likes of Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner and Allison Tolman. All of this set up would be fine if the pay off were better. Their characters are largely painted in broad strokes, speaking in most cliches. For the first 30 minutes, the movie is largely dedicated to setting these characters up which would be great if they were actual characters. The cast tries their damndest with what they get, with even David Koechner doing his best to add a little humanity to the stock, immigrant-hating, gun-toting jackass. I do have a special spot for Krista Stadler’s Omi however as she is almost exactly how I remember my grandma. (She didn’t exclusively speak in German, but as I remember, her accent was really thick and she slipped in the occasionally slipped in a German word here and there. My mom attests that she would exclusively swear in German however.)

The tone of the movie is more realistic (well, as realistic as a movie about the Krampus can be) instead of campy. I think I may have liked something that leaned a bit more towards the campy or at the very least pushed the boundaries of what constitutes a PG-13. When it works, this movie is a treat harkening back to the days when directors like Joe Dante, Tim Burton or John Landis would take audiences on a wild, insane ride, rally against convention and never losing sight of humanity in the shuffle.

There are a lot of little nods, homages, references, possible rips off to other Christmas (and even other horror comedies) films throughout such as the narrative use of an advent calendar and a family not terribly unlike Cousin Eddie’s from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation as well as an assault by some particularly evil gingerbread men that is basically an exact salute to this scene from Army of Darkness

All of these come together to make a somewhat passable, albeit completely enjoyable, movie. And I want to stress that. This movie was a lot of fun when things started moving and for the most part, the other things it homages are ultimately for the best. Any movie that casually throws in a Calvin and Hobbes reference and alludes to Tremors is going to be a fun time at the cinema for me.

Maybe I just went into this with too high of expectations. Like I said before, this movie strives to be something akin to Gremlins in that it wants to balance horror and comedy. It unfortunately never really hits it out of the park on either fronts. The moments of inspired lunacy come later in the movie and when they do things pick up considerably. There is a sequence that takes place in an attic in which the Krampus’ toys make an appearance that may go down as one of the best of the year. Crazy thing after crazy thing keeps happening. The movie would have benefited more from having scenes like this. When things quiet down, the scenes are pretty hit and miss as we’re reminded that these characters aren’t altogether interesting. Now, you may argue “Tyler, you ignorant slut. We didn’t come for the characters. We came for the Krampus.” True, but Krampus can’t be  onscreen all the time. This isn’t the Godzilla argument in which it is a movie that is expected to have boring characters that simply serve as canon fodder. This is a horror comedy. Horror comedies (or just about any genre movie) need to have characters we are at least a little empathetic to so we take the ride with them. 

One incredibly high praise this movie deserves land squarely on its effects. Some of the puppets used throughout are just phenomenal and dare-I-say WONDERFUL. (There. I technically did say it was ‘WONDERFUL’, Natalie.) The Krampus puppet is a spectacular puppet (with some clever CGI enhancement) that rivals anything you’ve seen in Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal. He looks like the typical Krampus you see in a lot of artist renditions but appears to be wearing human skin he is clearly too big for or like he’s wearing the actual Santa as a costume. There is a sequence in which he jumps from rooftop to rooftop, ending with him attempting to get to a girl under a car, that is great and really blends the CG with the practical, hitting that sweet spot that only occurs when the two play off each other symbiotically. The Krampus design was really unique and one of the best creature designs I’ve seen in a while. Similarly his toy helpers are what appear to be demons in the guise of a jack-in-the-box (I fully expect this character to be the thing people remember the most about this film…when he starts clapping at the arrival of the elves…), Christmas tree angel, a teddy bear and a robot. It’s this recurring imagery of a perverted Christmas that really stuck with me.  In fact, on a purely technical level this movie is Academy Award worthy. Sound design, set design, special effects, score, etc are all top notch and deserve commendation.

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Another thing that I really appreciated was that this is a good, albeit not amazing, gateway horror movie. Like the aforementioned Gremlins or Ghostbusters or even Poltergeist,  this is a movie that is scary (at times) but not too scary to bring the kids, and in my opinion kids’ movies these days really need to scar kids in the same way we were scarred and not a hell of whole lot of family movies do that anymore. It does rely a little too much on jump scares for my liking, but they never really get too annoying.

I’m also thankful a movie like this exists at all. Oh there have been a slew of low budget Krampus-themed movies, and they almost universally suck. So utter props to Universal for actually taking a risk and letting this legend have the budget it deserves. I only wish the script and/or story was a little bit more…”out there.”

-SPOILERS-

The film’s ending is probably going to be a bit divisive but honestly I prefer it to the happy, clean alternative that was teased. I just interpreted it as the family is trapped in some kind of Christmas purgatory forever, paying for their sins just like the way the grandmother alluded to in her story and as we learned in the Fairly Oddparents Christmas special, there is no worse hell than Christmas everyday for the rest of eternity….also this song…

 I was also kind of disappointed that there wasn’t an appearance by Santa at the end but I ultimately accept that would have been out of place given the more grounded approach this movie takes. It would have been cool/insane, but the two characters really aren’t presented as rivals here nor are they in traditional folklore. Instead they are more separate sides of the same coin so having them fight wouldn’t have made a ton of sense tonally so I guess it is for the best that they avoided it.

-END OF SPOILERS-

For what it is, Krampus is pretty damn fun. Hell, I hope I end up being on the wrong side of history on this one. It’d be great if I warmed up to this in time added it to my Christmas movie canon alongside A Christmas Story, Elf, Scrooged, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Batman Returns and Die Hard but for based on my initial viewing, I’m more lukewarm. I wanted to LOVE this movie. I left liking it. For now, I’ll have to file this one under…