film

10 of the best films I saw in 2018

Look, definitive Top Ten lists litter numerous webpages and blogposts this time of year, and I normally deviate from rankings and scores anymore on the subject of a film’s merit- however, I will write here about ten of the films that caught my eye (and heart) this year at the theater; it’s just a nice round number to work with. I didn’t see all of the films I wanted to (like every other year) and if I catch one later I’ll write up a review if I found it noteworthy. I suspect “Eighth Grade” and “Upgrade” will get this treatment in the new year. Last year I made an effort to get to older films that I’ve either neglected or just missed entirely, classics that I needed to check off of lists, and the occasional odd pick resulting in a new favorite (Here’s looking at you “Stalker” [1979]). So, it was a strange and fascinating year of movie watching for me. *Most, but not all (MI6 Fallout & Spider-Verse), of the films listed below have received their own movie reviews over the course of the year so if you’d like a more in-depth discussion take a peek through my 2018 reviews and check them out!

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. “Infinity War” was the culmination of a decade of Marvel Studio’s Cinematic Universe, eighteen movies of interconnected storytelling resulted in the ultimate payout for both longtime Marvel fans and execs. Thanos proved he had more tricks up his sleeve than just a space throne and profoundly undid the expanded universe with a snap of his fingers. Even with all of the combined might of these comic-book characters, it wasn’t enough to stop the Mad Titan. If you, somehow, still haven’t seen this movie, get on it! “Endgame” is mere months away and you’re gonna want to be caught up for the second part of “Infinity War”.

ISLE OF DOGS

Wes Anderson’s latest foray into stop motion animation was simply a delight. Filled to the gills with celebrity voice actors, some Anderson faithfuls were present, however there were some new additions to the quirky symmetry loving director. From Bryan Cranston and Edward Norton to Frances McDormand and Yoko Ono the voice cast imbued the whimsical production with an extra layer of indelible charm. The film’s story is about breaking down the barriers of communication with a tale of a boy, Atari, and his lost dog, Spots. Set in the not so distant future of Megasaki City ‘Dog Flu’ sweeps through the city and swift legislation is ordered condemning all canines to be quarantined on trash island off the coast of Japan. Atari sets out to trash island to find his dog Spots and discover the mystery behind the mass migration of mutts. I recommend this one to anyone fascinated by animation or especially stop-motion animation, it’s a beautifully crafted film and the story it sets out to tell is pretty fun!

ANNIHILATION

This was one of the smartest and strangest sci-fi films to come out in years. In the opening of the film, a meteor crashes into a lighthouse in southeast North America and emits a strange and ever expanding phenomena. Naturally, the Government ascends upon the affected area and labels the abnormality The Shimmer. After a few years of failed Military efforts the Feds finally send in a scientifically minded team consisting of five women. Lena (Natalie Portman) is recruited after her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) returns to her after being sent into The Shimmer months prior in one of the many Military missions. He is the only person to have returned from The Shimmer. Equal parts horrific scientific exploration and beautiful abstract mystery, “Annihilation” is one of the most cerebral and original sci-fi films in years and you owe it to yourself to check out this slow-burn Lovecraftian horror.

SUPER TROOPERS 2

The comedy sequel is a hard sell. Especially for a cult classic like “Super Troopers“, but even more rare is the comedy sequel that excels past the quality of the first film and improves on what worked in the first place. “Super Troopers 2” is such a rarity. The long gestating bookend from Broken Lizard may have taken 17 years to realize, but it’s one that was well considered. The movie reunites the Vermont State Troopers as the transition team that oversees a section of Canada being turned over to the Americans after a few ancient documents revealed the border to be incorrect. Naturally this gave Broken Lizard the opportunity to have an assortment of Canada vs America jokes veiled in a film that cleverly retraces the first film’s steps while sidestepping the faults with that film’s story structure. This is one of the best comedy sequels out there, if you enjoyed the first one, odds are you’ll have a good time with this one too.

HEREDITARY

Ari Aster’s directorial debut was one to remember. I’m not the most likely person to suggest a horror film, but when there’s an overwhelming chorus of people pouring praise on such a film- well, then I had to go see it. This film is very good. I don’t know how soon I’ll see it again, but that’s mainly because it turned my own house into a creepfest for a good two weeks this last year. This horror film is slow, it doesn’t hold your hand, and it doesn’t fully reveal the plot’s underpinnings until the very last scene and it’s all the better for it. Toni Collette should receive awards recognition for her work here as it is both spellbinding and horrific in the best way possible. Check this one out if you have the patience for some good scares!

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 6: FALLOUT

Who knew that the “Mission Impossible” franchise would get better with each installment (with one notable exception)? The plot is almost unnecessary at this point, though still fine in this film, we’re just here to see Tom Cruise risk his life doing crazy insane stunts for our amusement. This film definitely delivers on that front, he learned how to fly helicopters for the third act, broke his ankle jumping between rooftops, and completed over 100 Halo jumps in preparation for this film. Throw in a mustachioed Henry Cavill for good measure and you’ve got yourself an excellent action spy movie that adds fuel to the “Mission Impossible” franchise.

Left to right: Emily Blunt and John Krasinski in A QUIET PLACE from Paramount Pictures.

A QUIET PLACE

This film earned it’s place on my list this year purely out of shock at how damn thrilling it was. I saw this film on its opening night on a whim and I was rewarded heavily for this game of chance at the theater. The concept was perfect, the shots and dialogue were lean and efficient, and the surprise masterclass execution of suspense was outstanding. The film is a tight white-knuckle exercise in how quiet a theater full of people can get- the crowd I was with was a sold out group of loud, chatty, people of all ages eating snacks and loudly laughing during the previews, but after that first scene the room went silent and the only audible sounds from the audience for the remainder of the film were gasps and quiet murmurs of exclaimed expletives.

HALLOWEEN (2)

Working as a direct sequel to the original slasher film in John Carpenter’s “Halloween“, this film had a lot to live up to. Earning the blessing from Carpenter went a long way to assuage my own suspicions before seeing the film. This sequel/reboot brought back Jaime Lee Curtis and Nick Castle and stitched together a highly entertaining new film in the franchise. The filmmakers made Michael legitimately scary again, and they skillfully crafted the present day Haddonfield to be the serial killer’s playground once more. Jaime Lee Curtis killed it as a paranoid, and simultaneously broken and stronger, Laurie Strode. While there are small hiccups that deviate a bit from the overall mood, I thought this was an excellent horror film and I can’t wait to see it again!

CREED 2

While not quite as phenomenal as the initial outing, this sequel delivers a thrilling journey for the son of Apollo. The only nitpick, if I can even call it that, I have with the film is that some of the cinematography wasn’t quite as immersive as Coogler’s “Creed“. That being said, this film has a better villain in the son of Ivan Drago, Viktor. The story further evolves all of the returning characters in nuanced ways, but especially concerning Ivan and Viktor Drago. The fights are visceral, the losses were shattering, and the montages stayed as galvanizing as ever. If you’re a fan of the “Rocky” franchise, this is fine addition to the legacy.

INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

Having already seen three live-action Marvel movies, “The Incredibles 2“, and trying to fit in a potential “Aquaman” viewing before it leaves theaters this year- my bar was fairly high for the super-hero genre walking into the theater this time. Which is why I was so massively impressed with “Spider-Verse”. Not only is the hybridization between Pixar-level 3D-Animation and the natural hand drawn flair outright impressive, but the storytelling skill on display far exceeded my expectations. The team-up between the two core Spider-Men in Peter Parker and Miles Morales was vastly entertaining and surprisingly moving. Pile on four more “Spider-People” from other comic-book universes and any other story would have been overwhelmed and chaotic, but this film cut through the fat and produced a pitch-perfect, brilliant, animated film.

Honorable Mentions: “Mandy“, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs“, “Best F(r)iends Vol 1

MOVIES I MISSED IN 2018:

“EIGHTH GRADE”, “UPGRADE”, “IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK”, “THE FAVOURITE”, “lOVE, SIMON”, “SEARCHING”, “WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?”, “PADDINGTON 2”, “GREEN BOOK”, “ROMA”, “BLINDSPOTTING”, “FIRST MAN”, “SORRY TO BOTHER YOU”, “THUNDER ROAD”, “BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY”, “SHOPLIFTERS”, “MARY POPPINS RETURNS”, “CRAZY RICH ASIANS”, “BURNING”, “BUMBLEBEE”, “SUSPIRIA”, “AQUAMAN”, “TULLY”, “VICE”, “THE MULE”, “THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN”, “THE SISTERS BROTHERS”, “GAME NIGHT”, “RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET”, “THE GRINCH”, “BLOCKERS”, “THE HATE YOU GIVE”, “LET THE SUNSHINE IN”, “NIGHT COMES ON”, “A SIMPLE FAVOR”, “A STAR IS BORN”, “VENOM”, “THE TALE”, “THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT”, “MADELINE’S MADELINE”, “COLD WAR”, “THE DEATH OF STALIN”, “YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE”, “LEAVE NO TRACE”, “THE RIDER”, “THE NIGHT COMES FOR US”, “WIDOWS”, “PRIVATE LIFE”, & “FIRST REFORMED”

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My favorite films of 2017

Say what you will about 2017 as a whole, but the films released this last year were a good harvest of cinematic entertainment. I’ll refrain from any sort of top ten lists of the best or worst variety and simply talk about the movies that I saw and enjoyed. Below are the films that evoked the most powerful responses from me, be it slow and meditative science fiction, excellently choreographed action and fight sequences, or simply the films that gave me the largest laughs and the most to dwell on afterwards. As most years there are almost as many, or more, films that I missed due to one reason or another and will likely catch up on later. So if you see a popular film missing I either didn’t think it did enough to merit being on the list, or I didn’t see it. Here’s to hoping that 2018 continues this trend and gives us more quality films to soak up and revel in.

 

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Blade Runner 2049

While this was a good year at the theater, for myself there was no film that surpassed the cinematic glory that was Blade Runner 2049. A sequel releasing thirty-five years after the original film might seem like a detractor for most films, but not here. Director Denis Villeneuve and Cinematographer Roger Deakins (along with cast and crew) have spun a transfixing web of powerful and immense sights and sounds across this science fiction epic. Harrison Ford returns to his lesser known sci-fi icon Rick Deckard and gives us one of his best performances in the last ten to twenty years. Meanwhile Ryan Gosling’s K, the new Blade Runner of 2049, sets out to track down the crimes and mysteries left behind in Deckard’s wake. This film is a slow burning science fiction epic that rapidly escalates the scale apart from the first film’s relatively smaller set of events in the best ways possible. I cannot recommend this film enough, though I know it won’t be every audience’s favorite flavor.

 

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John Wick Chapter 2

Forced back into the world of cordial killers that he left behind ages ago, this sequel brings back Keanu Reeves’ latest hit character John Wick and throws him into a gauntlet of violence and feigned civility. Rarely giving the audience time to soak into Wick’s brooding life after his successful revenge in the first flick, Chapter 2 quickly forces Wick’s hand into fulfilling a blood oath after blowing up his house a few scenes in. This film is a continuation of the surprise success of the first film by allowing what worked there to be thoughtfully expanded upon here. The legend of John Wick hinted at in the first film is realized here by having Wick operate in Italy for his mission, thereby having many people quickly recognizing, and fearing, him. This film cracks open the doors to his old community of killers that was merely peeked at before and it’s a joy to watch Wick do what he does best. If you’re looking for near relentless and creative gunplay in a refined atmosphere then you can do no better than John Wick Chapter 2.

 

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

Kong: Skull Island

As a fan of the giant monster movie sub-genre, I always look forward to new and evolving versions of old favorites, and this interpretation of cinema’s most well known giant ape may well be my favorite. The largest Kong yet towers above the rivers and peaks of Skull Island set during the waning days of the Vietnam war in which a few madcap scientists talk their way into a military escort onto the isolated and volatile isle of legend. Once they arrive their suspicions of the giant ape are confirmed as Kong is quick to prove who is King in this untamed land. I love the adoration this film has for it’s monstrous locales and unique creations-this is a film that knows it is first a foremost a creature feature. It doesn’t hurt that the cast involved knew how to embrace the tone, some particularly fun additions were John Goodman as the conspiratorial lead scientist, Samuel L. Jackson’s cynical and bombastic Major Packard leading the military support, and John C. Reilly’s wary but good-hearted WW2 fighter pilot who crash-landed on the island when an aerial dogfight went awry. It’s also worth mentioning that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts maintained his sense of style and kept his cinematic voice intact in a major studio release, that’s no small feat and deserves some recognition.

 

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Get Out

As someone who isn’t all that in love with horror movies, this year gave us two absolutely stellar additions to the genre. The first of which was the outstanding directorial debut of Jordan Peele’s Get Out. What makes this film so magnetic is the way it plays on the real world anxieties that still thread through American racial relationships to this day. Peele slowly settles the audience into unease with his clever use of pacing and throwbacks to some of his most adored film inspirations from the likes of Guess who’s coming to dinner?, The Stepford Wives, and The Shining. This is my preferred style of horror, it never relies on jump-scares or cheap thrills, instead the film unnerves you with each passing minute until the spellbinding hypnosis scenes begin-then the film accelerates the madness only hinted at before. This psychological thriller will likely be among many favorites lists for years to come, and Peele has earned every second of adoration for it.

 

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IT Chapter 1

The other surprise horror hit last year was IT Chapter 1. This latest rendition of a Stephen King classic rose to legendary horror movie heights as the highest grossing R rated movie of all time earning close to 700 million worldwide on a budget of only 35 million. With only another lackluster Saw comeback to challenge it’s box office reign roughly a month after it’s release, the film about a killer clown dominated the silver screen for weeks on end. What really made the film stand out from the crowd though wasn’t the scares-which were plentiful and effective, but rather the chemistry of the Losers Club and how they not only interacted with each other, but how they dealt with the overwhelming presence of Pennywise the evil shape-shifting clown. The film was funny, charming, creepy, and intense. If you (somehow) missed this one at the theater, then check out the video release-it’s definitely worth your time!

 

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Wonder Woman

Ladies and gentlemen, they did it! DC films finally made a great superhero movie. Wonder Woman did what neither Batman, Superman, or Will Smith could accomplish- a truly wonderful superhero story. Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins deserve a hell of a lot of credit for infusing some heart and empathy into this dour and sour universe of grisly and uninspiring superheroes. Gadot and Chris Pine shared an excellent onscreen chemistry on their journey through worn torn Europe, they evolved as characters and weren’t used for glamour shots or crude humor. Wonder Woman is the shining light of the DC film universe and I can’t wait to see how Jenkins and crew return to the character in her untitled sequel, best of all though, we can rest assured that she’s in good hands until then!

 

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Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

I wasn’t sure how the sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy would fare for me, the first was a surprise hit and became an instant pop culture icon. How would James Gunn handle these characters’ evolution and what kind of madcap adventures would they tumble into next? They may not have been chasing a macguffin stone this time around, but we did get a compelling story that dug into some deeper character work for a few of the characters on the team, and they had a far more interesting villain this time around in Ego the Living Planet, who just so happens to be Star Lord’s father.. Kurt Russell, because of course he is. Everything about this film was amped up from the last installment and the world building for the greater cosmic side of the Marvel universe was stepped up in scale as well. This was a visual feast of colors and special effects and the comedy (a detractor for some this time around) worked for me just as much if not more this time around. This was an excellent addition to not only the Guardians story but the greater web of MCU storylines as well!

 

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Spider-Man: Homecoming

This was my favorite superhero movie of the year, and that’s saying something because this year had some of the best offerings from Marvel and DC yet! Even the Justice League was an improvement overall (though it’s not on this list as it didn’t quite reach the mark for me). Introduced in Captain America Civil War this newest incarnation of the web slinger may be my favorite version yet! Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is the youngest web-head thus far and he’s got an innate natural sense of the big-eyed wonder that a younger Parker would have, especially since he’s the rookie in a world of Avengers now. Placing Spider-Man into the MCU allows him to be positioned into storylines and arcs that would have been impossible before now, a feat realized through the perfect use of Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark as the guiding hero and moral compass (Something Stark could only accomplish after years of being Iron Man). This was a wonderfully small scale super hero movie and I loved it all the more for keeping things grounded, lighthearted, and funny. There’s also the great benefit of having Michael Keaton playing the Vulture, a C-class villain from the comics that he made all his own resulting in one of the best villains of the MCU since Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. I can’t wait to see how this latest version of the Wallcrawler’s story evolves after this!

 

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Thor Ragnarok

Taika Waititi threw out the rulebook with his Thor film and it was all the better for it! I was incredibly excited for this movie since hearing the rumors surrounding the creative team involved and the stories that they were going to adapt with Thor’s third MCU film. Soaked in neon colors, a synthy score crafted by Mark Mothersbaugh harkening back to his Devo days, and paired up with Mark Ruffalo’s Incredible Hulk, with a cameo from Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange-this film had a lot going for it, and everything worked beautifully! Plus, Jeff Goldblum! My ticket was sold to this film the moment I saw that first trailer (Although truthfully I would have seen it without the extra hype anyways). Waititi combined elements of the Planet Hulk storyline with Asgard’s apocalyptic Ragnarok event, all while serving up jokes and surprising character development from our recognizable favorites. This might be Marvel Studios’ strongest year yet, these three entries were the hat-trick of risky features and each of them paid off marvelously!

 

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Baby Driver

As a fan of every film that Edgar Wright has directed I was ecstatic about his next release after his fallout with Marvel Studios over creative differences on the Ant-Man film. This choice ended up being beneficial for everyone involved anyways. The Ant-Man film we got was a small (pun intended) and charming heist film with lovable characters introduced into the constantly growing Marvel movie machine. However, while Edgar Wright’s next project would also be a heist film, that’s where the similarities end. Baby Driver is a fast paced crime flick with music in it’s soul, but more than that the film is intelligently written and Wright’s whiplash editing is as fresh as ever and particularly important to this film. Each scene is dictated by the music that Baby’s listening to at that time resulting in eclectic shootouts set to everything from Run the Jewels to Brighton Rock by Queen. Full of blink-and-you-miss-it easter eggs and populated by an excellent cast firing on all cylinders, Baby Driver stole the summer for me.

 

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War for the Planet of the Apes

The final installment in the prequel trilogy of The Planet of the Apes franchise follows our main ape Caesar as he leads his clan of apes towards finding a peaceful territory all their own. However the ghost of Koba still haunts Caesar as the remainders of Koba’s faction work for the remnants of the humans’ military forces. This is my favorite of the Apes newest series of movies, the film showcases the most impressive visual effects I have ever seen onscreen with the performance capture of the apes- who we spend a majority of our time with this time around. The story simmers in a sense of ever present dread and tension as the apes must strive against the paranoid and ramshackle remains of humanity. This story depicts more of the brutality of war than an all out assault, though in a delightful turn of events this film accomplishes more in its quietest moments than most blockbusters ever do throughout their run-times. This completes an incredibly strong trilogy that every cinephile should watch at some point, especially if you have a fondness for thought provoking science fiction.

 

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand planets

Despite having a vague science fiction subtitle and lacking some chemistry between the two leads, Valerian and the city of a thousand planets is a colorful and fast paced sci-fi flick that dazzles with spectacle. Directed by Luc Besson, of The Fifth Element and Leon The Professional fame, Valerian (and Laureline) stumble upon a conspiratorial plot aboard the infamous space station “Alpha” and have to traverse it’s many layers, regions, and sectors to find the answers they seek. While this film may be no Star Wars or Star Trek it is a unique enough offering to engage and entertain with its effective world building and absurdly fun technologies in play. If you’re looking for some science fiction fun but don’t want to go see The Last Jedi another time, Valerian should be able to sate your sci-fi needs this winter.

 

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A Ghost Story

This one caught me off-guard. Nearly devoid of dialogue and cosmically melancholy, A Ghost Story is about a young couple in love when tragedy suddenly strikes the man and he dies. We spend the rest of the film with the departed musician as he wanders the earth incomplete in the, literal, sheets of his ghostly form. The film’s aspect ratio, a squared 1.33 Academy ratio with curved corners, add to the nostalgic and intimate nature of the film as the ghost experiences time and space becoming slippery and unrecognizable. This is the shortest film on the list and if you have the patience for it’s slower parts I would highly recommend giving this unique film a chance.

 

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Fast and Furious 8

The Fate of the Furious is on this list because of the pure enjoyment I had with this movie. At this point, I know what I’m getting with this series- cars, explosions, heists, one-liners, punching, and a set-piece that’s slightly more ridiculous than the last installment in the series. It’s a long running series of Saturday morning cartoons for adults, and I’m okay with that. I had a theory with these movies that every other one was going to be not quite as good as the one that preceded it. For example: the first film was (and probably still is the best of the bunch as far as films go) pretty good entertainment, the second I enjoyed but it wasn’t quite as good. Tokyo Drift was excellent- but I wasn’t as impressed with Fast 4 the reboot of the series, while Fast Five was my personal favorite of the series. The sixth was a let down for me while the seventh was pretty good dumb fun. However, this eighth movie in the franchise was another solid entry for me-the curse of the even numbered Fast and Furious films was broken! I quite enjoyed the prison escape sequence between Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson, the spy stuff with Kurt Russell and Scott Eastwood as the newbie was jovial, and the twist with Vin Diesel being the villain this time around wasn’t as cheesy as I expected. I don’t know if each new episode will stay as fresh or exciting as the best of the series, but hey, I never expected perfection from my guilty pleasures before-why start now?

 

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Logan

Finally unleashing Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine for his final performance, Logan was a different kind of superhero movie. I’ll admit, while I did enjoy this film, it never quite reached the heights for me as it did for so many audience members out there, though the opening and closing scenes were near perfection in execution. Years in the future an old and battered Logan strives to make money as a chauffeur for young rich assholes as he secretly cares for an increasingly unstable Professor X. Things go awry once Laura, his biological daughter created in a lab, comes into the picture. The performances were solid and the action was grisly and entertaining, although personally there were a few too many adamantium claws lodged into people’s faces for my liking. It was a solid film, an ode to Westerns and the Wolverine alike, and a good finale to one of the longest running character performances from comic book adaptions.

 

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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

This was the last film I saw in 2017 and it was surprisingly good! This film is a sequel to the Robin Williams led original film from 1995 and I enjoyed the fact that this film didn’t bulldoze over the original but took cues and inspiration from it while crafting a new adventure to enjoy. This time around it is four teenagers that all end up in detention with each other a la The Breakfast Club but instead of talking through their problems together they get sucked into the game reassembled as a cartridge based video game from the mid 1990’s. Each character is put into the body of their chosen avatars, Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, and Jack Black. Each has three lives and they must solve riddles and best challenges in the jungle to win the game. It was a joy to watch Johnson and Black play against their type while Gillan and Hart were solid in their roles they didn’t have personas quite as large as the other two, though there is some great character work between Hart as the former football quarterback quarreling with the studious nerd within the hulking body of Johnson. This was a welcome surprise and a fun way to end the year at the theaters.

Listed below are the films that I wanted to catch at the theater, but never got around to:

Disaster Artist, The Shape of Water, Lady Bird, The Big Sick, Dunkirk, It comes at Night, The Florida Project, Colossal, Good Time, Logan Lucky, Detroit, Lucky, Phantom Thread, The Post, Dave made a Maze, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Brawl in Cell Block 99, Call me by your name, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, & Wind River

P.S. Yes, I too saw Star Wars Episode 8 The Last Jedi, but I felt that this wasn’t the proper place to pile onto that film as it was/is one of the most talked about films of the year. This post is more about the year as a whole and Star Wars gets most of the limelight when it is released anyways. If you want to know my thoughts on that film I have posted a review on the blog as well. Enjoy!

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Movies of 2016

2016 may have been one of the most divisive years in recent memory, but when I looked back on the movies that came out I began to realize that while there were certainly big duds among the crowd there was an abundance of quality movies that came out last year. Below is the list of a majority of the films that came out last year with my thoughts on them. Enjoy!

The Good

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Deadpool

Ryan Reynolds gets a lot of credit for this one. He stuck around after his character’s horrific introduction and then incredible misuse in the first standalone Wolverine movie back in 2009 and kept pushing for this film to get greenlit. Self referential and winking at the screen knowingly, “Deadpool” is everything you want it to be if you know the crude character in the slightest. Violent, crass, and fourth wall breaking, this film is the best direct adaption of a comic character, possibly ever.

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Captain America 3: Civil War

Proving that you can take two characters with idealogical differences and pit them against each other and actually have the story work (Looking at you, Zack Synder), “Civil War” isn’t just one of the best Marvel movies, it’s one of the best Superhero movies ever made. Captain America and Iron Man take opposite sides of a government mandate and string up followers on each side to punch each other until you cry when it gets serious (You know what scene I’m talking about). Captain America 3 is one of the few exceptional blockbusters from this year!

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Dr. Strange

“Dr. Strange” continues to prove that Marvel can take any of their properties, no matter how Strange (Ba-dum-tss!), and make it work. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Strange, a brilliant Neurosurgeon that has his hands crippled in an auto accident and ends up traveling the world and spending his last dollar in search of a cure. Instead he meets the Sorcerer Supreme (Tilda Swinton) aka the Ancient One, and begins his path of mastering the mystic arts of sorcery and otherworldly magic. What sold me for this origin tale is the third act, and how Strange solves his own villain dilemma. No Sky beams. No faceless army to beat into submission. No, here lies a creative solution that I will not spoil, but it’s well worth the watch.

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Hacksaw Ridge

Mel Gibson’s directorial return to cinema is not one to miss. Easily one of my favorite films of the year, this film changed my view on Andrew Garfield. The true story follows Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector in wartime to receive the medal of honor for saving 75 men in the battle of Hacksaw Ridge, in WW2, without a firearm. The first half follows Doss’ battle to stick to his beliefs and to train as a field medic, without holding a weapon, as it was his belief not to kill another man. The second half depicts the battle, and well, hold onto your butts because it is relentless in it’s violence and horror. Gibson deserves a best director nod at the very least.

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Star Wars: Rogue One

Who knew a film with a widely known ending could be this good? “Rogue One” is pure Star Wars fun. This film had a lot riding on it going into it’s opening. Would the first standalone Star Wars movie be a success? Would audiences care about a film with little to no recognizable faces throughout the runtime? As the first film in the franchise to focus more on the “war” than the “stars” Rogue One swiftly introduced us to a cast of rebels devoted to the cause. Jyn Erso leads the band of resistance as the daughter of the head engineer of the Death Star while the Empire puts the finishing touches on their shiny new superweapon. Each member of the team has notable moments throughout- Donnie Yen’s “Chirrut Imwe” is a blind, force sensitive, kung-fu martial artist with a deep belief in the power of the force- and an excellent example of this. The film goes to extreme lengths to recreate the dirty, lived-in world of the original series, from 3D printing toy model sections for digitally recreating star destroyers to the use of practical effects and some puppetry throughout. The film also breaks new special effects ground by reviving Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin not simply just for a cameo, but as a character that has several scenes and deliberately pushes the plot forward. The film adeptly handles the mythology with caring hands and even fills in former plot holes, such as the infamous womp-rat sized hole in the Death Star, while also taking new risks, like the ending. Which I won’t ruin just in case you haven’t caught this movie yet-somehow. Darth Vader also has one of his best scenes ever put to film near the ending-right before the reveal of a youthful CGI Princess Leia who, in a timely sense, reminds us to have Hope. Rest in Peace Carrie Fisher.

 

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Swiss Army Man

Easily the weirdest movie of the year, “Swiss Army Man” is an oddly beautiful one that combines emotional nuance.. with farts. I know, but trust me on this one. The best way I can describe this movie is that it’s about a suicidal man that teaches a dead guy that life is beautiful and worthwhile despite the hurdles of confusion and emotions that are thrown at us. Paul Dano’s character starts the film stranded on a small pacific island and is about to hang himself when he spots Daniel Radcliffe’s dead body wash ashore. He clambors down from his noose and inspects the corpse. He quickly finds that this void vessel is full of life, flatuence, and strange abilities-like farts powerful enough to propel him off his island. From there the film follows Hank (Dano) and Manny (Radcliffe) as they discuss life and its many complexities while they wander through the pacific northwest to try to find civilization. I know I’ll be on the lookout from anything that the Daniels (Directors & Writers of the film) make from now on, the special effects, soundtrack, and quirky nature of this flick was the strangest amalgamation put to film this last year and I can’t wait to see what they create next!

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Set in New Zealand, this film follows defiant city kid Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) as he is placed into his newest foster care home to be raised by the jovial Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and grumbly Uncle Hec (Sam Neill). Written and directed by Taika Waititi (Helming the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok) this film is an excellent example of his ability to juggle wildly different tones with impeccable skill. The film ends up becoming a buddy roadtrip comedy, in a sense, between Ricky and Hec as they are chased in a manhunt throughout the wilds of the New Zealand bush that is in parts hilarious but also a touching and heartfelt showcase of friendship, family, and how to deal with loss. Between this and Waititi’s last film “What we do in the shadows” he has become one of my favorite directors to keep in mind. Seek this one out, you won’t be disappointed.

 

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The Jungle Book

The latest adaption of Rudyard Kipling’s 1893 literary allegory of anthropomorphic animals was released by Disney last year in groundbreaking fashion. This was one of the rare times when a reboot or reimagining of a property gave new life to the material and improved upon various versions of the story. This iteration, directed masterfully by Jon Favreau, combined some of the most cherished musical numbers from Disney’s earlier animated classic with a dash of the darker nature and tone that came from the original tale. Photorealistic computer generated imagery breathes new spectacle into the century plus old story, each of the animals move and react in a beautifully realized digital jungle with a human actor as Mowgli (Neel Sethi) that physically interacts with the imagined world around him. Of course it would be remiss of me not to mention the stellar voiceover cast with the likes of Christopher Walken as King Louie, Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, Sir Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, and of course-the perfect casting choice, Bill Murray as Baloo.

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Star Trek Beyond

The third movie in Star Trek’s newest revival of sci-fi films, “Beyond”, is a smaller film in terms of the scope of the adventure and thus feels more like a true ‘Trek’ episode than the previous films. While there is much to enjoy here, my only nitpick was some of the editing and cinematography choices during the action sequences, it was a departure from the sweeping glides of JJ Abrams whereas this seemed a bit clunkier and rife with shaky cam. The newest story takes place while the crew is on their five year deep space mission when they get stranded on an alien planet, the enterprize gets destroyed again, and thus the team is fractured into pairs where they must all work together to strive against the might of Krall, played effectively by Idris Elba. Simon Pegg pens the script here and you can feel his influence throughout in the playful pairings of the crew, Spock and Bones in particular was a great choice. The film leans a bit into nostalgia, and the revival series has earned it’s place among the canon to do so. It’s a bright future for the franchise and I can’t wait to see what they do next in “Infinity”… I mean, it might not be called that, but if they don’t name it “Infinity” they clearly missed an opportunity.

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Kubo and the Two Strings

This stop motion animated epic from Laika Studios is one of their very finest work.Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes, & Matthew McConaughey throw their talent behind the voices of Monkey, the Moon King, and Beetle respectively and much of it works to great effect. Kubo (Art Parkinson from Game of Thrones) is our hero who must retrieve his lost father’s armor and weapons to defeat the evil Moon King once his hiding place is discovered. Akin to a Legend of Zelda set up, this adventure wisely relies on wit and humor with crazily intricate fight sequences throughout to craft an entertaining and solid flick for children and adults.

 

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Snowden

Oliver Stone’s newest film tackles the recent international affairs of Edward Snowden, the name known the world over for unleashing news of America’s sweeping surveillance program put in place by the NSA. These revelations that our government was spying, not just on other nations, but on our own citizens has changed the course of history and will have a lasting effect on policy and politics. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt effectively portrays the title character in a very true to life scenario. Shailene Woodley also stars as Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, and injects an authentic charm into the film, which is a role that I believe will net her more projects in the future. The film may lag in spots because of it’s devotion to reality, but it doesn’t make this tale any less fascinating or important.

 

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La La Land

Combining a love and devotion to Golden age Hollywood Musicals with modern sensibilities and new age ability “La La Land” is easily one of my favorite films of 2016. This is a film that was made by somebody that had something to say, and that is powerful. When a crew this dedicated to perfection comes together-it’s palpable. The amount of pure determination showcased in this film with all of the choreography, the dancing, the music, the acting, the lighting, it’s astounding how it all works! This film is about the push and pull of love of art versus the art of love, but more than anything else, it’s about hope and the pursuit of happiness. If you’re a creative person at all (and that can be applied to many, many, many variations) you will likely love this film. If you love film, you may even adore it. Even more importantly than that-you should see this movie, challenge yourself if you’re not a musical person, these are extremely human characters telling an incredibly relatable tale. This is masterclass filmmaking at it’s finest, so much so that Damien Chazelle will likely become a household name after this, and he’s earned it!

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The Nice Guys

Critically underwatched, “The Nice Guys” is definitely one of my favorites of the year! Set in 1970’s L.A. Gosling is an alcoholic Private-Eye who ends up teaming with Crowe’s burly muscle with a heart of gold when they stumble upon a sprawling conspiracy while investigating the alleged suicide of a famous female porn star. This is hands-down the best script of the year and possibly the hardest I laughed at a movie all year, although “the Hunt for the Wilderpeople” gives that title serious competition. Directed by Shane Black in brilliant fashion, “The Nice Guys” harbours hilarity, a snappy script, and unlimited charisma between the leads to combine into a new classic.

 

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Sing Street

As the second musically themed movie on this list, “Sing Street” shares similarities about love and risk, but it is also about family and brothers. Set in the 1980’s in Dublin, Ireland the story centers on Conor, a 14 year old boy that’s strained by the familial stress at home from his parents’ arguments about love and money after he’s sent to a rough-and-tough inner city public school. He eventually finds a cool girl named Raphina whom he invites to be in a music video for his band. Then he sets out to create said band. The film is full of optimistic heart and catchy tunes from the era as Conor and his newfound friends play music, engage in youthful rebellion, and fall in love. “Sing Street” shows us that music has the power to sweep us away from the turmoil of everyday life and transform us into something far greater.

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Zootopia

Proving to be smarter than your average anthropomorphized animation, Disney’s “Zootopia” is a well crafted tale with timely lessons held within it. The story is about assumptions based on appearances, and how we (or in this case the animals of Zootopia) should approach diversity and challenge our reactions. The film follows Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin), a small town bunny with big city aspirations. She desperately wants to be a police officer, which would make her Zootopia’s first bunny cop. Right away she is placed on meter maid duty but stumbles upon a case much bigger than expected by association of Nick Wilde (voice of Jason Bateman), a sly Fox that she encounters on her first day as an officer. From there the two reluctantly work together to follow the scent of foul play afoot. This is a wildly entertaining movie by Disney that has enough humor and stylish zany cartoon antics to keep children appeased with a story that adults can also appreciate. Also starring in the film as various animals are J.K. Simmons, Idris Elba, Kristen Bell, Alan Tudyk, Tommy Chong, and Shakira. Definitely check this one out if you missed it!

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Shin Godzilla

Toho Studios revived their radioactive giant once more last summer in Japan to soaring review scores while also becoming a box office home-run. This is a smart monster flick that utilizes the current political landscape in Japan as a foundation for tension as well as mindful social commentary. There is camp and visceral destruction to be had of course but, the film also deftly uses Godzilla as an opportunity to decide whether or not to use force when the country effectively has no military. The film casts a wide net on the scope of the film by showcasing how Godzilla’s very presence effects the lives of the people in Tokyo and surrounding areas. This does a lot to present the audience with an effective grasp on just how many moving parts would have to come into play under such an event. There are many conversations between leading personnel about the streams of red tape and hurdles they have to jump through just to get anything done. A lot of the plot rests on these debates. The film carefully considers the weight of taking action, of following procedures, and whether or not to choose independently. As an added plus this new Godzilla has a ridiculous range of destruction rendering abilities.

 

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Silence

Ending an incredibly long creative journey for legendary film director Martin Scorsese, “Silence” is a long and thought provoking summation on religion, faith, and to what lengths two men of faith will go to spread the teachings of their religion. Set in the 1640’s this is the story of two Portuguese Jesuits (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver respectively) who travel to Japan to retrieve their former mentor (Liam Neeson) who had been reported as denouncing his faith in public. Scorsese is one of the last great American film directors from an age when films took their time to tell you their story. Patience is important regarding “Silence”, but while it has a long runtime, the film rewards you with visual cinematic beauty. This is not in reference to any special effects, but rather classical imagery evocative of renaissance paintings, for much of the movie regards framing, movement, and staging in this manner. Andrew Garfield will find similar themes and ideas here in comparison to his most recent role in Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge”. However while Gibson’s  film had Garfield’s character utilizing his faith as a source of power-as the solution to his problems- the same cannot be said for Scorsese’s epic where Garfield’s character has to ponder whether or not his religious convictions are causing his problems. Adam Driver, still riding high from his villainous role in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, encounters a supporting role that isn’t quite as involved as Garfield’s, but is meaty with the themes that weigh on the shoulders of the story nonetheless. This a beautifully realized film, however you should measure your expectations for the type of story you’ll be encountering. If you are appreciative of the visual arts or the art of cinematography and directing in film then this is something you’ll likely enjoy.

 

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*A Monster Calls

Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, and Liam Neeson (as the Monster) surround Lewis Macdougall as Conor, a young boy dealing with familial illness, schoolyard bullies, and the trials of youth. This is an engrossing coming-of-age story that is awash in vibrant color, brilliant special effects, and dark themes that the film boldly never shies away from. The film seems to be partly fantastical in it’s cinematography and art direction while deftly weaving in a teary-eyed story of loss and growth. Keep an eye out for this one.

 

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*Hell or High Water

A modern day Western in the skin of a bank heist thriller, “Hell or High Water” offers a tried and true formula that is ultimately satisfying on multiple levels.  Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are two renegade brothers that start running multiple bank heists and subsequently getting rid of the evidence, then starting up the cycle again constantly keeping the cops at bay. That is, until Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Briudges) arrives on the scene looking for one last grand pursuit before retirement becomes his reality. The efficient pacing and solid character work here elevates this above mindless popcorn gunplay, comparisons have even been made to a more bombastic “No Country for Old Men”. If you enjoy the Western genre or a solid cat and mouse heist thriller; you’ll likely find much to enjoy here!

 

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*Nocturnal Animals

Written and directed by Tom Ford (a well established American fashion designer, this is his second film), “Nocturnal Animals”follows Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal as a divorced couple that get caught up in a haunting romance thriller. The film begins with a passion-lost Amy Adams owning an art gallery and living in a mansion in L.A. while her current husband (Armie Hammer) flubs their planned vacation and she ends up reading a book sent to her that was written by her former husband, Jake Gyllenhaal. This opens up the story contained within the book, a film within a film if you will, in which Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-johnson also star as side characters. Eventually the book melds with elements of the modern day storyline to form a violent and dark thriller that has a mixture of revenge, love, cowardice, and art all intertwined together.

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*The Edge of Seventeen

Not just another coming-of-age movie, “The Edge of Seventeen” wisely plays on the humor and emotional trauma of what it’s like to be a young woman in today’s world. The plot centers around Nadine, played with appropriate angst that endears sympathy by Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), as her popular older brother starts dating her best friend. Ouch. That’s prime awkward Teen comedy/growth material. Woody Harrelson is also a supporting character here portraying Nadine’s History teacher who becomes a sort of venting partner/mentor throughout the film. A step above many in this genre; “The Edge of Seventeen” effectively reminds us of classics like “The Breakfast club”, “Sixteen Candles” and “St. Elmo’s Fire” particularly because it doesn’t hold back its punches and inserts some well respected honesty into the story.

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*Arrival

Hailed as one of the most memorable performances from Amy Adams in a leading role, “Arrival” is the thinking man’s (Or woman’s!) science fiction film. This alien invasion starts the film as an elite team is brought in by the government to try to understand this possibly invading force. Adam’s character, Dr. Louise Banks, is a superb linguist joined by a welcoming physicist Ian Donelly (Jeremy Renner) as agents of the military, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) and others, inform them with what they know. There are eleven other gigantic alien crafts besides the one floating out in the wilderness of Montana, the alien spaceships reside in plain view as solitary stone-like structures in Shanghai, Siberia, Sudan, and Sierre Leone to name a few. Their mission is multifacted. They must open a line of communication with the aliens quickly, before the Russians or Chinese do, while yet learning more about them than what they can learn of us, the military influence pressures this with overbearing intent. This film is delibreate, cerebral, mysterious, and tension permeates the dialogue throughout. Another exceptional entry from Denis Villeneuve, who also directed Sicario, cementing yet another director to keep an eye out for!

 

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*Manchester by the Sea

After the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is shocked to learn that Joe has made him the sole guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the sea” has been bandied about as the character piece that will likely skyrocket Casey Affleck to the top of many Oscar contenders lists. This is a painful yet powerful tale of the tragedies of life along with the nuances that accompany it. There is a palpable sadness that is true to life, it makes the experience fuller, and richer with humanity than it would have been without. This seems to be among the top awards contenders, showcasing unchained acting that feels authentic beyond measure.

 

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*Green Room

Posing as a genre B-movie thriller, yet proving to be much more, “Green Room” offers an offbeat and intelligent addition to the horror/thriller genre. Punk rock band, “The Ain’t rights” are roughing it out, low on money, gas, and energy when they hear of an odd opportunity in the backwoods of Oregon- playing a show for Neo-Nazis. Reluctantly they accept but end up accidentally witnessing a brutally violent act. The club’s owner, played with a fiendishly fun and elegantly evil performance by Sir Patrick Stewart, quickly mobilizes his cronies to get rid of the outsiders. The rest of the film delves into murderous fun full of dark humor, expertly crafted tension, and a wicked good time. With the exception of his role as Chekov in “Star Trek Beyond” this is Anton Yelchin’s last starring role, and its one that’s worth watching if you’ve been craving a unique and violent genre flick.

 

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*The Lobster

Requiring an acutely acquired taste, “The Lobster” will most undoubtedly be a rare viewing opportunity for most. Despite its drab color scheme, muted and bleak, or the nature of its droll adaption of society, this film creates a truly unique effort. In the near future being single has been outlawed. If found to be single, you’re quickly transferred to a prison/hotel of sorts, with strictly enforced rules, where you must meet another single participant and become a couple within forty-five days or you’ll be transformed into an animal of your choosing. The film isn’t a straight up comedy, but there are many moments throughout that elicit laughter, particularly for the absurdity of the scene itself. It acts as a social commentary on how society can pressure people into finding soulmates so much that it leads to reckless choices, however the film flips this ideology by applying this radical treatment to people who are happy being single. The films stars Colin Farrell in the lead role (an uncharacteristically oddball choice for the actor), and Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly, Olivia Colman, Angeliki Papoulia as supporting characters.

 

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*Paterson

The latest film from Jim Jarmusch “Paterson” is about Paterson (Adam Driver) who lives and works as a bus driver and would-be poet, with his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) in the town of Paterson, New Jersey. If you’ve never seen a Jim Jarmusch film, you might say, “Wow, not a lot happens in this movie”, welcome to his style. This is, much like his filmography suggests, a repetitive rumination with beauty and comedy meshed in-but here it excels beyond previous efforts because of the performances and the ideology of the story. Paterson is about everyday life and trying to create art inbetween shifts at work, and the different ways people approach this. His girlfriend Laura, for example, treats every day as a new art project and switches from country music singing to another skillset or genre altogether. Paterson writes art, but Laura lives it. Jarmusch doesn’t play favorites with each character’s personal style either, both are presented as different approaches from different perspectives, no right or wrong here. Charmingly mundane, “Paterson” is a collection of very human moments, where Paterson will overhear bus passengers tell tales, catch up on the love lives of the barflies at the local bar he frequents, banter with bartenders, and passes by a late-night laundromat where Method Man (as himself) is rapping about the 19th-century black poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. It’ a pretty Zen film and a lovely change of pace, check it out for something new!

 

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*The Witch

One of the freshest horror films to come out this year, “The Witch” delivers it’s scares with proper skill and serious commitment. In a dread filled, puritan embellished flick set in New England in the 1600’s, this film has an unreal amount of dedication to the correct period piece way of life. Not only does the film boast proper spoken English for the period, it is also regionally specific to that time, with Carolinian prose for these Calvinist settlers. Realism is key in this setting, because in this world, the supernatural does exist. There really is a witch out in the woods plaguing the town, and how the film builds tension versus how it unravels it’s secrets will grip you until the credits.

 

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*Moonlight

“Moonlight” acts as a series of one act plays all centering on a character in three specific periods of his life: as a child, as a teenager, and as an adult. Accordingly, three different actors perform as Chiron during these eras of his life (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes). This all makes sense as it is an adaption of the play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Told in these particularly powerful stanzas is the story of Chiron and his path in life as he attempts to understand society and more closely, himself. Witnessing Chiron’s progress is both thrilling and agonizing as he tackles manhood and the issues he faces because of his sexuality. Being his second film, Barry Jenkins crafts a story that is very specific yet it has an inclusive nature of universality among its scenes without ever weakening the value of whose story is being told. The nature and meaning of manhood is the most primed focus here. How tough are you supposed to be? How cruel, or tender? How brave? And how are you supposed to learn? These are all pondered on and exemplified throughout the film. As powerful and challenging a look at life as you will ever come across, “Moonlight” is more than deserving of its award season buzz.

 

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*Fences

Starring, and directed by Denzel Washington “Fences” is an adaption of the 1987 Pulitzer prize-winning play by August Wilson. This isn’t the first time Washington has played around with the material though as both he and Viola Davis, also starring in the film adaption, were awarded Tonys for their 2010 revival of the Broadway play. The film, set in the mid 1950’s, is about Troy (Washington) and the inner workings of his family, through thick and thin. There may be temptation to limit Troy to his outwardly friendly demeanor at first, however upon peeling back the layers we see a man who is far more complex than is first realized. Bitter that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier years after he was able to play on the national stage, Troy barks harshly at his children who dream of being musicians and college football players undercutting their hopes with a dark realism that the world has not changed as ideally as they would like to believe. Troy’s wife Rose (Davis) battles him verbally as the film progresses and enters into a monologue at the end that will ensure her name in the best supporting actress nomination. Intense and raw acting paired with brilliantly impactful dialogue, this is definitely among the best performances from this year.

 

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*The Founder

The story of Ray Croc, founder of the franchised McDonalds, is a story-as the trailers say- of persistence. Michael Keaton looks to soar in this grimy power grab of a film about the rise of McDonalds through shear determination.. and slimy business tactics. This is the tale of how a wily businessman took an idea and made into one of the most profitable and globally recognized property of the twentieth century. The supporting cast is also excellently rounded out by Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, and Patrick Wilson.

The Bad

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Independence Day 2: Resurgence

This sequel tries so very hard to outdo it’s much loved predecessor, and fails in alomst every regard in that attempt. It’s worth a watch just for Jeff Goldblum’s antics, but make no mistake, much of this film was a mistake. The biggest issue, it seems to me, is that the film tries to balance two very different tones that don’t mesh well. While attempting to recreate that 1990’s big budget take on Sci-Fi and Aliens in all it’s explosive glory, the film wanders near that attitude, but then veers into our post “Dark Knight” world where dark and brooding close-ups reign in measured and overly serious bits. I say, if you’re going to do weird, go full weird. Don’t wander between tones like that, it shows indecision based on fear and profit margins, not the inherent joy of fighting off an alien invasion that we should be getting from this movie. Honestly, with “Collateral Beauty” and “Suicide Squad” now on Will Smith’s filmography, he’s shown a willingness to take on terrible films. He could have done something this film- and it would have benefited greatly from his presence just as “Suicide Squad” did.

 

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Sausage Party

The idea here is somewhat brilliant, take an animated Disney style 3D animation focused on food products-but show them swearing constantly and point out all the sexual innuendos possible. There are enough puns here to sink a ship, and some of that is acceptable and pretty funny at times, however the problem with this flick is that it’s overly excessive with this idea. A swearing hot-dog can only induce so many giggles after all. That and there is some heavy handed themes against the ideas of the most popular religions, which I get-but again, it was a bit excessive.

 

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Alice Through the Looking Glass

Through the studio inspired paradigm of throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, “Alice through the Looking Glass” is jam packed with colorful candy cane vomit. Decent visual effects can’t cover up a general lack of comittment to the characters and plot because it seems they have forgotten how to focus on telling a good and whimsical tale. From the opening Alice is now a swashbuckling adventuress that returns to feminist-viewpoint-squashing victorian era London to shove aside a former admirer before jumping through a mirror to land back in Wonderland. There’s something wrong with the Mad Hatter (who seems to have overgrown his original place in Carroll’s stories to appease fans of Depp’s first outing as the character.) and Alice strives to help him sort it all out. While the pace seems to want to rush along a breakneck pace to keep you from noticing the near underserving of the well known characters, you can’t help but become aware of this as the runtime wanes on. Even a time travel sequence can’t hide the workman like response to try and recreate Tim Burton’s first take on the world, and his missing presence can be felt.

 

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Passengers

Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence star in this futuristic sci-fi romance as two passengers on an intergalactic voyage that are awakened 90 years too early. There are aspects about this flick to be admired, it’s not downright bad, it’s just lackluster. There is a twist that is revealed way too early in the film that could have been played for far more benefit if certain elements had simply been told in a different order. Other than that both Pratt and Lawrence are fine in their roles but they were clearly not challenged by the director to dig deeper or find the center of these characters because both seem to act exactly how you would expect either celebrity to act, they played into their own archetypes and the romance never feels fully developed, there is a false charm to it. Personally, I believe this is one of the few movies that I would have preferred as a book where the author could have the time to develop the characters better.

 

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*Gods of Egypt

While this whitewashed take on Egyptian mythology is saturated in bad CGI and immense overacting-It can be a good time in the right setting. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister) as Horus, Gerard Butler as Set, & Brenton Thwaites as ‘mere mortal’ Bek play as the lead characters in which Set usurps Horus’ rise to power among the Gods. Horus then unites with Bek to undo Set’s ravenous power grab. Although, admittedly the story doesn’t really matter here as this movie doubles down on the ridiculous aspects as much as possible. For example, the Gods are physically much larger than mortals, but not to a gigantic amount, reaching roughly around ten feet tall making pairings of the mismatched characters outright silly from the beginning. Geoffrey Rush, Chadwick Boseman, & Elodie Yung also all star in this film. This is unequivocally the best “so bad it’s good” movie of the year.

 

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*Ghostbusters

It’s a credit to this film’s creative team that this wasn’t down in the “Ugly” section of films that came out this year, it wasn’t horrible, it just wasn’t all that great. Pitched as a female led revival of the Ghostbusters franchise, this straight up recycle of the first Ghostbusters was largely just “okay”. The worst I heard about the film was just that it wasn’t really quite as good as the first and that some of the jokes fell flat. Now, just because something isn’t as good as we would have liked doesn’t mean it deserves the hate it got. Personally, I say if Paul Feig wants to make a sequel, let him-he might be able improve upon the franchise now that they’ve wandered knee deep into the material and know what works and what doesn’t. They should probably ditch the “Answer the call” tagline though, doesn’t seem to make much sense.

 

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*Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Out of the Shadows

While the sequel quelled some of the problems with the initial outing, these corrections and changes were not enough to make the “Michael Bay-ification” of the turtles worthwhile. The additions of Bebop and Rocksteady alone will assuage nostalgia for some older fans of the material though it cannot cover the sugar coated glean of issues plaguing most of the film. Movies like this can be fun and intelligently made, just look at any Marvel Studios movie, this one just lacks enough wit and charm to merit any further iterations, although we’ll probably get one anyway.

 

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*The BFG

An adaption of Roald Dahl’s literary children’s classic “The BFG” sits on the bad list not because it is necessarily terrible, it’s here because Steven Spielberg made it-and it’s somewhat lackluster. The story is about a small girl and a giant (Mark Rylance) who set out to stop evil man eating giants that have begun to invade the human world. The visual effects are efficient, and there is some merit to the film, but when Steven Spielberg steps up to the camera we’ve all come to expect the cinematic “magic” that is so often associated with his work, and there isn’t much to feel here.

 

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*X-men: Apocalypse

Sequel/prequel/threequel “Xmen: Apocalypse” unfortunately fell from the heights that “Days of Future Past” set it up for. The film is overloaded with an over reliance on special effects, to the point that it’s trying to cover for a weak and baseless villain who unfortunately falls prey to cliche. However the film isn’t straight up awful, there is fun to be had here at times, but the shortcomings outweigh the few strengths available to them. Which is a shame, because the cast is great, they were simply under-served by the film around them. Magneto’s (Michael Fassbender) story is really the only one that has good motivation, everyone else’s is either sub-par or passable. However the biggest failure is most definitely the wasted opportunity of Oscar Issac as En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse. He is resurrected and begins his world domination with a fairly poor plan and almost no characterization. Besides the multitude of characters (which can be done intelligently ie Civil War), weak excuses for destruction, and lack of reasoning as to why killing off humanity would make the world a better place-the film has entertaining moments, but they’re simply not enough. To quote Jean Grey (Sophie Turner from Game of Thrones) after viewing “Return of the Jedi” in the movie, “The third ones always suck”.

 

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*Jason Bourne

What do you do with a character whose former motivation was regaining his memory, now that he remembers everything? Well, you end up with “Jason Bourne”. This is a film that has a magnetic lead in Matt Damon, and an effective director in Paul Greengrass, but it cannot shake the fact that they are working with seriously thin material. More of the same and yet nothing new. This latest Bourne flick has him chasing down the mystery behind his father’s association with the Black Ops Treadstone program. The typical character archetypes of past Bourne iterations are present; the shifty middle-aged intelligence chief, the female CIA agent who eventually believes Bourne’s actually a good guy, and a fierce opposing assassin. The shaky cam fight sequences are back too, which isn’t a good thing in my opinion, especially while shot in the dark. There might be a good fight scene happening, but the audience is just listening to two guys trying to kill each other in the dark. This is passable summer diversion, just don’t reflect too long on the films that came before this one, lest you realize this lesser Bourne for what it is.

 

 

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*Legend of Tarzan

Another year and another reboot of an ages old property. Granted this Tarzan adaption attempts to be weightier than most of its predecessors, it doesn’t do much else to warrant this revival. With a capable cast and hints of Tarantino glory, this is a reteaming of Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson after all, the film begins with Tarzan returning to the Congo after having lived in London for some time as John Clayton III aka Lord Greystroke. His reason for returning to the jungles of the Congo? He’s told of a Belgian plot, led by Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), to conquer the land and subjugate it’s people. This news comes to him by way of American diplomat George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), and it isn’t long before they travel, along with Tarzan’s Wife (Margot Robbie), to the African continent together to foil it. David Yates attempts to distance this film from some of the more unsavory aspects of the character’s past, ie being a white savior to the African countries and peoples along with the way Jane is typically presented, and he succeeds on some parts. Particularly when Jane is captive and spits in Rom’s face upon him mocking her and attempting to stir a scream, when she responds fiercely “Like a Damsel?”. There are fun aspects to the film, however it’s hard to get past the past when it comes to transforming Tarzan into an eighteenth century superhero of the jungle.

 

The Ugly

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Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

Two of the most iconic superheroes of all time come together in a fury of fisticuffs. Sounds like fun right? Wrong. Long, muddled, and a flawed understanding of the characters leads this film straight to the dump. At least the ultimate edition straightened out that Lois Lane scene at the beginning of the film. #Martha

 

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Suicide Squad

With a tagline like “Worst. Hereos. Ever.” you’d think this film would have a fun edge with a sassy commentary on the tropes and themes of modern superhero flicks. Wrong again. 1 & 1/2 acts of introducing characters set to outrageously overplayed hits, the only saving grace here is that Will Smith and Margot Robbie make the film worth a watch, but not much more.

 

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Assassin’s Creed

There was a hope among many that “Assassin’s Creed” could break the video game to film adaption curse. It most definitely did not. This film is overly loud and so frantic you can barely tell what’s going on at times. The hyper fast editing style also didn’t help, there may be good choreography in this film but you wouldn’t know it as the camera cuts away from the action so many times to get sweeping location shots that add nothing but more confusion. Michael Fassbender is an extraordinary actor but maybe he should choose his projects more carefully after this because his “I’m Crazy” sequence alone was so over the top and out of place I literally mouthed “What the hell is going on?” in the theater. The story only takes a barebones structure of narrative from the games and dashes the rest of the rich stories available to them. Particularly curious was the choice to make Fassbender’s ancestor a near mute, with “devoted to the cause” being his only character trait and motivation. Ezio Auditore had charisma, layers, and purpose. No one in this film came close. Oh Ubisoft, maybe next time?

 

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*Ben Hur

A remake of one of Hollywood’s golden age classics is already enough to boil some viewer’s minds just at the thought. A couple of visually interesting scenes cannot save this trainwreck from the graveyard. Morgan Freeman’s dreadlocks and an overly butterflys-and-cake-frosting ending send this movie into the abyss of unwatchables.

 

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*Zoolander 2

Not only did this sequel not need to happen (Nor was anyone clamoring for it), it retroactively makes the first movie worse. The comedy sensibilities of the first film do not work 16 years later, and it shows. The first movie worked for its time, but it’s a different world now. Cringeworthy at best, Ben Stiller- what happened?

 

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*Max Steel

A half baked and eye rollingly bad cash grab for an action figure with no notable name recognition (At least for me, and I grew up in the 1990’s!), “Max Steel” isn’t even “laughably bad”-good, it’s just bad.

 

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*Nine Lives

Who knew Kevin Spacey needed money this bad? At least, that’s the theory I have for why this movie even exists. Kevin Spacey stars as a daredevil businessman who rushes to get a cat (which he hates) for his daughter for her birthday, and is thus somehow turned into that very cat. This is an entirely forgettable, debasing, poorly written, with hamfisted acting abound, slog of a movie. Please, for your own good, do not waste your time on this one.

 

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*The Fifth Wave

Generic and middling in plot with forgettable tropes that are overly familiar to this sub-genre of films, “The Fifth Wave” is another bad effects and teenage-love-triangle-riddled bland movie. Maybe this film will be the end of the Young Adult (YA) dystopian films. We can only hope for so much.

 

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*Collateral Beauty

While some of the performances here are fine, Will Smith in particular, this film resides on the ugly list for how it was marketed versus what the story actually is. I won’t ruin it for you, but just know that the story is morally deficient and that there’s a reason it was buried under the latest Star Wars film.

 

*For one reason or another I did not get to see this film (yet), or simply wasn’t all that interested but thought it was worth mentioning. I have collected a general sense of the film through the marketing, reviews in video or written form, and the general consensus from word-of-mouth experiences through secondhand accounts. Some of these may receive individual reviews if I find them interesting enough to write about after an initial viewing.

 

film

Is 2016 the worst summer movie season yet? + year in review (so far)

This has been a weird year for movies. Lest we not forget the political vomiting that’s taking place and poor ole Harambe, but when it concerns the cinema, whew, it’s been one for the books, and its still only September! I can only speak for the films I’ve seen, but for the ones I have not I can only go by general consensus or word of mouth. For example, I saw Batman V Superman, so I know the extent to which I was dissapointed, but I could have easily relied on the explosion of conversation surrounding the film as well. Rotten tomatoes score or not that movie earned (some) bank but built an uneasy foundation going into the summer for DC comics based movies.

After compiling the lineup below I realized I haven’t seen anywhere near the amount of movies I wanted to see this year, but eventually I’ll get around to most if not all on this list. It’s hard to keep up with the abundance of visual art that’s made each year, and I personally try not to berate any one production, because it’s a difficult thing making a movie. I know, just from small instances of my own personal efforts, that simply scheduling around people’s lives can be a headache in itself and that’s not considering budgets, daylight, special effects, line memorization, lighting, hell even lunch being delivered on time can make or break a day’s efforts sometimes. So, sometimes even simply finishing a film can be a feat. I get that. However it’s also important to hold Hollywood to quality storytelling as they have the infrastructure that independent filmmakers only dream of and consequentially the indie people have made better films, than the big studios, as far as 2016 is considered.

Some are calling this the worst summer movie season ever. I don’t know about that. While it was certainly a letdown at times (here’s looking at you Independence Day) this year did have its merits, in fact I would say there were far more quality films over the more discussed dissapointments. You just had to know where to look for them. Anyways, here’s a quick reminder of this years highs and lows at the theater (so far).

The Good

Deadpool: A

Who knew the merc with a mouth could be more bankable (in North America), and have a better story, than Batman and Superman combined? #Driveby

Captain America Civil War: A+

Just another AAA 10/10 notch under Marvel’s belt, everything about this film knocks it out of the park in a way that keeps reinventing the superhero genre while inserting powerfully emotional story threads.

Swiss Army Man: A

This is a beautiful film about a suicidal man teaching a dead man that life is worth living. Filled with slick editing and special effects this film combines profound questions about life, saddness, love, and farts. Just trust me, it works.

Hunt for the wilderpeople: A+

A joyous and at times somber film that keeps you laughing while doling out life lessons for the leads both young and old. This is a truly unique flick and definitely one of my new favorites! Plus Any film that utilizes New Zealand’s beautiful landscape is always a nice touch.

Star Trek Beyond: B+

Slowed down to a more true ‘Trek’ vibe and pace this third outing in the series is another welcomed adventure with great character work. I may personally disagree with the creative choice of incorporating shaky cam sequences, but it’s not too much to distract from the overall quality.

The Shallows: B

The second best shark attack film ever made. At a tight hour and twenty seven minutes this popcorn shark flick hits all the intense and unnerving moments that you’d expect, and want, out of the ‘Blake Lively versus a giant shark’ pitch.

Jungle Book: B

Visually impressive beyond a doubt this modern rendition of Mogli’s animal adventure is a pleasure to watch and worthwhile solely on the basis of Bill Murray as Baloo and Christopher Walken as King Louie.

Kubo and The Two Strings: B

A clever and impressive stop motion adventure full of heart and danger, this is Laika studios’ best effort yet! Plus Matthew McConaughey steals the show as Beetle #AlrightAlrightAlright

Kung Fu Panda 3: B

A fitting and entertaining sequel following Jack Black’s Po and friends on more Kung Fu adventures while learning life lessons along the way. The soundtrack also took a noticeable uptick from previous outings.

The Bad

Independence Day Resurgence: C-

While I personally enjoyed this popcorn disaster flick, it is by no means “good”. Bigger Aliens, more destruction, but a confused tone throughout make a mess of a good alien invasion series. Jeff Goldblum makes the watch worth it, but not much else.

Sausage Party: C+

This isn’t necessarily a “bad” movie, but for what I expected (and this may be an issue of expectation vs reality of the film) it just didn’t really hold up for me. However there are clever bits hidden throughout about the nature of humanity, religion, and reality. If Hotdogs saying “Fuck” a whole lot is your thing then you’ll love it.

The Ugly

Batman VS Superman Dawn of Justice: D-

A complete misstep in the basic understanding of the two main characters here. While there are some fun visual things throughout the movie, like Batman in the warehouse, there are simply far too many failings (Martha/kryptonite spear/Jesse Eisenberg/Murderface Batman/No Smiles Superman) to merit this a success in the least.

Suicide Squad: D

1 & 1/2 acts and a thousand flashbacks mashed into one seriously confusing and muddled mess set to pop hits with the worst villain in ages, Suicide Squad is more entertaining than Batman V Superman at times, but not even Will Smith can save the DCEU, although he was the best part.

The Unwatched (For Now)

The Lobster: Want to see

I’ve heard great things about this one plus I love the concept of forced love under the threat of animal transformation.

Sing Street: Want to see

Consistently heard that this is one of the best, if not the very best, films of the year. Plus the trailers really sell those kids rocking the hits!

Green Room: Want to see

As one of Anton Yelchin’s last films I want to check it out since he was a great actor, but Patrick Stewart in a villainous role is also incredibly enticing!

10 Cloverfield Lane: Want to see

I personally love John Goodman in almost everything he’s done, plus the word of mouth about this film is excellence bar none so I’m pretty excited to check out how creepy Goodman can become when in a bomb shelter as friend or foe.

Hail, Caesar!: Want to see

I love the coen brothers’ films but I especially love when they work with George Clooney. The trailers sold me on the idea of a Golden Age hollywood kidnapping that becomes Josh Brolin’s problem. I’m in!

Warcraft: Want to see

Not everyone loved this film, and I’m not a World of Warcraft player but it looked fun and visually stunning, that and I admittedly have a fantasy genre weakness. More Magic and swords please!

The Witch: Want to see

I’m not the biggest horror fan around, but when a film in the genre seems to be universally loved I kinda want to know what all the buzz is about.

Zootopia: Want to see

The consensus is that this animated flick is clever as hell and highly watchable. That’s good enough for me!

The Nice Guys: Want to see

Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe paired together in a buddy crime flick set in 1970’s Los Angeles and its directed by Shane Black? I have no excuses, I should have seen this one.

Hell or High Water: Want to see

I like the actors involved here and it seems like an excellent robbery film scenario. It’s just nice to see Chris Pine in something besides outer space, although he’s a great Kirk nonetheless.

Finding Dory: Want to see

Finding Nemo was Pixar’s Lion King, and it seems they did one better than Disney by creating a follow-up that wasn’t direct to video material, kudos, I need to see this animated feat.

The BFG: Moderately interested

The actual story and trailers didn’t truly sell me on the film, but it IS Steven Speilberg we’re talking about here, i will see this one eventually.

X-Men Apocalpyse: Not interested

While Days of Future past was an excellent X-men Movie I’m just not all that interested in the first class crew out on their own, I didn’t love their first outing and it seems like they wasted both Apocalypse AND Oscar Isaac here. I’ll check it out eventually because of Michael Fassbender’s Magneto though, however I’m still not convinced when it comes to James McAvoy’s Professor X .

Jason Bourne: Not interested

I might be in the minority here but I just wasn’t a fan of the earlier Bourne movies, to each their own, but if this one is supposedly the worst of them all then why should I bother?

TMNT Out of The Shadows: Not interested

The first (new) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was abysmal (in my opinion) and this one did look to be a shade better, but they’re just not my turtles, sorry guys.

Ben-Hur: Actively avoiding

This seemed like a pointless remake to begin with and the reception has only grounded that belief further. I’m also not incredibly inclined towards Jesus flicks, I’m still miffed about the passion of the Christ if I’m being honest here (it’s not a movie).

Everybody wants some: Want to see

Richard Linklater is a unique voice in film today and I’ve enjoyed his other flicks so why not check this one out? It seems to be well received too!

The Neon Demon: Want to see

Besides Drive I’m not a gigantic Nicolas Winding Refn fan but this has been highly recomended to me by fellow film fans for the cinematography and use of color, so at some point curiosity will get the better of me and I’ll check this one out.

Zoolander 2: Actively avoiding

The first Zoolander is enertaining enough but I’ve heard that even people that loved the first one were dissapointed by this outing, so why spend the time if I wasn’t the biggest fan of the first one anyways?

Neighbors 2 Sorority Rising: Moderately interested

I have not seen the first neighbors so I should probably check that one out as well but I’ve heard nothing but good from both of these comedies and I’m always heartened when a solid comedy does well.

Now you see me 2: Not interested

I also missed the first Now you see me, so maybe I could give it a shot, I enjoy all of the talent involved, but I really have no interest in checking this out after all the “meh” this film received. Maybe on a rainy day.

The Legend of Tarzan: Not interested

This is one of those “Told a million times” stories that I honestly have no real interest in seeing. Christoph Waltz is always a delight onscreen but I fear this film has nothing else to offer.

Keanu: Want to see

Key and Peele are a fun comedic treat whenever they produce something it usually turns out great, plus the trailers sold me on the idea of this kitty caper, I just haven’t gotten around to it quite yet.

The Light between Oceans: Moderately interested

I recently saw a bit of an interview with the director Derek Cianfrance where he explains his filmaking process with this film and it honestly intrigued me enough to see how it ends up, plus Michael Fassbender is always good. Always.

Don’t Breathe: Moderately interested

Again, not a huge Horror fan, but the idea of a home invasion that is flipped on the intruders when the blind homeowner becomes the villain is delightfully creepy, plus Stephen Lang is excellent and its always nice to see him get more work.

Money Monster: Moderately interested

Directed by Jodie Foster and starring George Clooney in a timely thriller about the 1% and their greed seems like it could be an entertaining piece.

Nine Lives: Actively avoiding

Ha! This looked awful from the beginning, but if you really want a good opinion on why you should never see this check out Chris Stuckmann’s review of it on youtube, it’s glorious.

Pete’s Dragon: Not interested

To be fair I was never a fan of the original because I never saw it as a child so there’s no inherent nostalgia for me here, plus nothing in the trailers really sold me on it.

Gods of Egypt: Moderately interested

This is a train wreck I want to see. I know it’s bad. Terribly bad. But it looks entertainingly horrible, like laughing nonstop bad. It could be worth it if viewed as a comedy.

So that wraps it up for movies I have seen and those I have missed. If you have any thoughts or opinions please feel free to comment below. Let’s hope the fall has more promising films on the way. The ones I’m looking forward to are: Rogue One, Doctor Strange, Jack Reacher 2 Never go back, Godzilla Resurgence, In a valley of violence, Passengers, La la Land, & Rules don’t apply. Here’s to better films and brighter futures!