Monday, January 16, 2017

22 Movies I Liked Just Fine from 2016

Here we are right in the middle of the bell curve.

46. For the Love of Spock



I talked more about this on Starmageddon, but the short version is that this is a good, professional documentary celebrating the character of Spock for Star Trek's 50th anniversary. For those who haven't heard a lot of the behind-the-scenes details of Spock's development before, there are plenty of interesting anecdotes presented in a visually interesting way.

But for those of us who already know the origin of the Vulcan neck pinch, I wish there was more about Adam Nimoy's relationship with his father as well as some deeper exploration of Leonard Nimoy's relationship with his daughter. It seems like she had a different experience from her brother and I would have liked to understand that better.

45. Alice Through the Looking Glass



I loved Tim Burton's critically underrated Alice in Wonderland and would have told you that I welcomed a sequel. But the trailers for Alice Through the Looking Glass made me less excited. Burton's version sent Alice on an emotional and spiritual journey that I deeply connected to. For a sequel to be as effective, it was going to have to find a new journey for Alice, but the trailers for Looking Glass made it appear mostly interested in just offering more of what Burton did.

And that's indeed what's going on. Looking Glass is mostly about fan-service. If you liked Burton's Alice in Wonderland, here's some more with these characters and that setting. Alice even repeats her spiritual journey from the first one (a huge no-no for a sequel), just not as powerfully.

The biggest change comes in the form of Sacha Baron Cohen at the personification of Time. He's good in the part, but he's doing essentially the same schtick that he did as the more-enjoyable Station Inspector in Hugo. Adding Time as a character also introduces a time-travel element to the story, but that's all about the fan-service, too. It's just a device so that Alice can witness the origin stories of the Hatter and the Red Queen. These stories are both supposed to teach Alice something about her own life back in her world, but the messages are really trite compared to what Alice learns in the first film. Or maybe I just didn't connect to them as personally. Either way, Looking Glass was amusing enough, but offered nothing new.

44. Central Intelligence



I love The Rock. And this is my first Kevin Hart movie, but I liked him a lot, too. He's pretty much what I expected from seeing trailers for his other films.

Both actors are funny and charming, but they're also both playing super exaggerated characters in Central Intelligence. One of them needed to play it straight. Hart's got the more grounded character, but he's still out there enough that the whole movie feels flighty and rather slight. It has some great things though to say about friendship, bullies, expectations for life, and finding your calling.

43. Manhattan Night



'40s noir by way of '90s sex thriller. Unfortunately, I only like one of those genres.

The mystery is good and it resolves well with some nice surprises, but it's not the surprise classic that I was hoping for.

42. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping



I don't think I'm a prude, but I may have reached the limit of the number of times I need to hear the F-bomb in my life. And I'm pretty sure Popstar doubled it. It's a funny movie with some great cameos, but I'm not connected to the world that it's parodying. This probably just makes me old.

41. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them



I kind of dig what Eddie Redmayne's doing and I very much like Dan Fogler's character, but the rest of the people in the movie are uninteresting. So is the plot: a thin, easy mystery padded with unrelated scenes of Redmayne's collecting creatures. I figured that I could at least rely on some excellent world-building by JK Rowling, but even that's disappointing. Instead of a magical world that I wanted to immerse myself in, Fantastic Beasts takes place in an oppressive dystopia that I couldn't wait to get out of.

Redmayne and Fogler kept me interested and some of the creature designs are fun, so I ended up liking the movie. But I'm also aware that that's largely thanks to a tremendous amount of goodwill created in me by the Harry Potter series so far. I'll likely watch the sequel out of curiosity, but if we didn't get any more of these, I'd be okay.

40. Ghostbusters



Funny enough with some good effects and just enough story to pull it together. Which pretty much echoes my feelings about the original. It's a decent Ghostbusters remake, but my least-favorite Paul Feig movie since Bridesmaids.

39. Arrival



Has some great things to say about life and some truly unique and cool ways to say them. But it can also be on-the-nose and sloppy in the process. I might like it more after another viewing or two, but I was underwhelmed the first time.

38. Passengers



POSSIBLE SPOILER:

Passengers takes the romantic comedy plot formula and wraps it in a mostly humorless science fiction setting. Fortunately, it's got completely charming people to spend time with, a core dilemma worth discussing, and an ending that I quite like. I understand that not everyone feels that way about the ending, but part of what I like about the movie is that it makes that kind of disagreement and discussion possible.

37. Outlaws and Angels



Great idea for a story. A gang of brutal bank robbers invade the home of a pioneer family. When the youngest daughter of the family begins to seduce the gang's leader, it's not clear if she's doing it to save her family or escape from them. There's an excellent thriller here with some interesting characters; I just wish it weren't buried under so much graphic violence and pretentious symbolism.

36. Don’t Breathe



POSSIBLE SPOILER: 

Another unique premise that's very good at being tense. The problem with this one though is that it's not as morally ambiguous as I was hoping for. I wanted it to let me root for the "villain," but it steals that option away and without ever giving me a good reason to root for the main characters. So I ended up very curious about, but not especially invested in, where the story was going to go.

35. Hail, Caesar!



A lot of fun, but I wish I hadn't seen the trailer, which makes it look like more of a single, cohesive story. That's what I was expecting: something along the lines of Raising Arizona or O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

Instead, Hail, Caesar! is a series of vignettes loosely tied together by some common characters. The individual pieces are all amazing and awesome; I just wanted a stronger narrative to pull everything together.

34. The Duel



A lot of cool elements here. It's a Western version of the story where a government agent has to take down the charismatic leader of a religious cult. And that's blended with an interesting murder investigation and a marriage that gradually reveals itself to be something other than it first appeared. Some of those things resolve well and some of them don't.

The two leads are just as uneven. Woody Harrelson is compelling as the cult leader, but Liam Hemsworth doesn't do enough with his Texas Ranger character. He's fine as a ruggedly stoic cowboy, but with everything he goes through, the role needs some emotion that he's not delivering.

33. Love and Friendship



I love Jane Austen movies, but this is a minor entry in the Austen film canon. It's funny and charming and I'm sure I'll revisit it, but when I'm in the mood for Austen I'll still head first to Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility or the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice, with Douglas McGrath's Emma being a close third choice. But, if I'm marathoning Austen films, I'm not skipping this one either.

I also love Kate Beckinsale and she was a huge draw for me, but ironically, I would have liked the movie more if it had focused on her character's daughter instead. That's where the real story is.

32. Swiss Army Man



Strange and beautiful and whimsical and ultimately... deeply disturbing. I loved the journey, but the destination was nowhere I wanted to go.

31. X-Men: Apocalypse



I enjoyed it, even as I was aware that it wasn't doing anything new. It's the same basic story that the X-Men movies keep retelling; counting on my already established fondness for these characters to carry me through. A lot like the X-Men comics in that way, actually, but there's a reason I don't read X-Men comics anymore.

30. Zoolander 2



I almost didn't watch this one because of the universally horrible reviews, but I'm glad I went ahead. It's not as funny or good as the first one, but it's funny enough and I just really like spending time with these characters.

29. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies



Was hoping for something goofy and fun, similar to Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. And it is, in parts, but the movie never forgets that it's based on Literature. It never lets itself get completely silly; going instead for a serious take that's occasionally interrupted by ridiculous moments.

But even though it's not exactly what I wanted, it is a pretty good version of what it wants to be. It's not a great adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, but it's an effective zombie movie with an interesting spin on the mythology around those monsters. And Lily James and Sam Riley are pretty awesome as the leads.

28. The Girl on the Train



PROBABLE SPOILERS: 

I was considering reading the book until I saw the trailer for the movie. Whatever blurb I read about the novel made it seem like the eponymous Rachel is a complete stranger to a couple that she sees every day on her commute and then one day she notices something strange and when the woman disappears, Rachel has to solve the mystery.

That's all technically true, but the movie trailer revealed that Rachel is actually deeply connected to the couple and probably somehow involved in the woman's disappearance. I'm much more interested in characters who are drawn into adventure against their will, so I wasn't sure I cared about one who got there because of her own bad choices. But I went to see it anyway and I'm glad I did.

It's a good thriller. It's not great, but it kept my interest and Emily Blunt is awesome in it. Actually, everyone's pretty awesome in it and it has a lot of my favorite actors right now from Haley Bennett (Magnificent Seven) to Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation) to Luke Evans (tons of stuff). There are even great, smaller roles for Laura Prepon, Allison Janney, and Lisa Kudrow. It's a lot of fun to watch and the mystery is compelling for a while as I'm trying to figure out what did happen to Megan (Bennett). Did she run away? Is she still alive?

Unfortunately, once that answer is revealed, Roger Ebert's Law of Economy of Characters makes it pretty easy to figure out who's responsible. It would have been a complete giveaway except that the movie doesn't play fair. It has the character abruptly change personalities as soon as they're revealed. It does this in a cool and clever way, but it's still a trick and it doesn't hold up to scrutiny. I loved watching Rachel's investigation, but felt cheated by the answers she uncovers.

27. Deadpool



The trailers and other marketing for Deadpool didn't make me laugh at all (except maybe for that poster above), so I had decided not to see the movie. But positive reviews from friends and critics made me reconsider and with little else going on at the theater one week, I checked it out.

And it's not too bad. I was surprised at how much I cared about the character even while I found him and his girlfriend super annoying. Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead are great foils whom I enjoyed whenever they showed up. And it was great to see Gina Carano and TJ Miller.

The movie has a great look to it, too, and I enjoyed the way it used music. My biggest problem with the movie is that it's just not my humor. I chuckled twice and both times were at lines that reveal character, not actual jokes. The jokes were just more of what the trailer suggested: references to sex, poop, and other movies. So while I had a pretty good time watching Deadpool, it ultimately didn't feel like it was for me.

Then again, I watched it again later in the year with a different crowd and laughed more. It may be the kind of movie that's best viewed in a living room with a bunch of friends.

26. Neon Demon



Neon Demon presents itself as a commentary on the fashion industry, but it's doing so much more than just that. I found some challenging insights about humanity's relationship with beauty in general. We're seldom able to just appreciate it for the gift that it is. Instead, we have to get all selfish about it: either becoming jealous of it or wanting to own and control it.

This is strange film and I don't always love the visuals that Nicolas Winding Refn chooses, but I very much appreciate what it's saying.

25. Free State of Jones



Bigger in scope than I expected and that's mostly a good thing. It's not so much the story of one event as it is the history of a very interesting part of Mississippi during the Civil War and into the Reconstruction period (and even into the Civil Rights Movement a little).

All based around this one guy, but what a fascinating person. I just wish it had more to say about the experiences of the black characters. That would have made it more compelling and important to me.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Starmageddon: For the Love of Spock, Rogue One, and Carrie Fisher



Need to catch up some more on reporting recent podcast activity. And by "recent" I mean the last three months. It was a sporadic autumn for Starmageddon, but we did have some good discussions that you should totally listen to.

In Episode 38, we discussed the final Rogue One trailer, then Episode 39 was mostly about Adam Nimoy's documentary, For the Love of Spock. Episode 40 was all about Dan and my initial reactions to Rogue One, and then we got all silly in Episode 41, where we talked about the most recent Axanar news and shared our memories of Carrie Fisher.



Monday, January 09, 2017

6 Movies I Didn't Like from 2016

Today, we start counting down all the 2016 movies I watched from worst to best. Here's the bottom of the barrel.

52. Mechanic: Resurrection



2016 was a year of ill-advised sequels that no one asked for. I managed to avoid a few of those (like Independence Day 2) as well as some that we definitely asked for, but by all reports turned out to be no good (Jason Bourne). A couple of them got me though. Even though I enjoyed the 2011 Mechanic remake, I wasn't exactly clamoring for more, but I like Jason Statham enough that Resurrection got me to the theater. And for a while, I was really impressed.

The film starts in Rio and uses a landmark that brought Moonraker to mind and put me in the mood for a big, fun action movie. A pretty cool fight and a very cool stunt later, and I was hooked. I was still into it when Statham's character went to Thailand to hang out in some very Man With the Golden Gun-looking islands with Michelle Yeoh (reminding me of the best part of Tomorrow Never Dies). Were were still all good.

But then Jessica Alba showed up.

I don't dislike Alba as an actor; it's the script's problem. Up until her appearance, the movie is about Jason Statham's staying one step ahead of his enemy and refusing to get back into the assassination business. But then Alba reveals that she's been recruited (seemingly at random out of literally everyone on the planet; there's no compelling reason for the villain to have picked her in particular) to seduce Statham so that when she's later "kidnapped" by the bad guy, he'll have leverage over Statham.

Even knowing this, Statham falls in love with her anyway because of a wedding dance and the rest of the movie plays out exactly as Alba predicted it would. You don't even have to have seen an action movie before to know what's coming. Her character literally tells you in the first act. From there, I was just bored.

51. Assassin’s Creed



This is a good-looking movie with great actors who are doing and saying ridiculous nonsense. There are some good action sequences in some cool period settings, but they're completely undercut by constant visual reminders that what's happening isn't real and that there are no stakes.

50. The Young Messiah



A fan fiction prequel to Jesus' story that promises to explore his coming to terms with his role as the Messiah. Sadly, it doesn't actually deliver that. Really it's just his learning the facts around his birth, so that he discovers that he is the Messiah, and then there's a bit of voiceover monologue at the end where he explains what he thinks that's about. I was hoping for something more thoughtful.

Excellent performances all around though and I especially like the character arc given to Sean Bean's centurion. The set up for that story is kind of ridiculous and very contrived: Herod the Great's mad son orders Bean to seek out and murder the legendary child who escaped the massacre of infants seven years ago in Bethlehem. But having Bean's character be one of the soldiers who was in Bethlehem that night makes for a compelling story as he wrestles with his past and has to decide if he's going to repeat it.

49. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2



I was surprised and completely charmed by the first movie in 2002, so this was a sequel I was actually looking forward to, regardless of what the critics had to say (and they didn't say nice things). Besides, there was at least one of other widely maligned comedy sequel in 2016 that I enjoyed quite a bit. Revisiting the original in preparation for this, though, I was concerned by how some of my fondness for it had expired.

The original is still very sweet and often funny, but I think a lot of its surprise was because of how it stood out among other romantic comedies of the early 2000s. Watching it today, when almost all romantic comedies are quirky and low-budget, it doesn't feel as fresh. I still quite like it though.

The sequel, on the other hand, tries to do too much. The first one knows exactly what story it's trying to tell and has no problem focusing on it. This one is sort of about Toula's relationship with her daughter, sort of about her daughter's relationship with the rest of her family, sort of about Toula's relationship with her family and how that affects her relationship with her husband, and sort of about her parents' relationship with each other. As much as I enjoyed seeing these characters again, the movie should have picked one - or maybe two - of those plots.

48. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising



Pretty funny, but the first one had the advantage of surprising me with an actual story. This one tries to do some of the same stuff - to be about something - but isn't as deep (if "deep" is the word I even want to use for the first one). The first one dealt with Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne's crisis about growing older and uncool. The sequel deals with their fears about being bad parents. But the thing is, they really are horrible parents, so I don't care to see them make their peace with that. I'd rather see them learn to become good parents.

I do like the girl power angle of the story though and I found it easy to root for both sides of the war.

47. Batman v Superman: The Dawn of Justice



Speaking of wars, this was better than I expected, but that's a really low bar. It's built on the very shaky foundation of Man of Steel, which presented a brooding, selfish Superman. Because of that, the citizens of this world can apparently only react to him in one of two ways: god or monster. One character in Batman v Superman pays lip service to a third option: that he's just a man doing the best he can. But that's not really explored.

In order to get the fight of the title in, Batman is forced to see Superman as a monster, but in an unconvincing way that makes Batman seem pretty dumb. So most of the movie is a bunch of people acting really shallowly or stupidly. Lex has an interesting point of view - that Superman is a god and therefore must be treated as a monster - but Lex is so clearly insane that it's hard to take him seriously either. He's basically the Joker Lite.

Without anyone to care about, there are no stakes and most of the film is pretty dull. That changes somewhat once Lex's plan finally becomes active though. There's suddenly something to lose (in a contrived and cliche way, but still) and some of the action scenes are pretty cool, if not particularly thrilling.

Affleck makes a fine Batman and I'm interested in seeing a solo film with him as long as Snyder and Goyer aren't creating it. Almost as interested as I am in the Wonder Woman film. BvS only teases what the character will be like, but so far so good (and the trailers give me even more hope). I'm also hopeful about Aquaman's movie, but will need convincing about the Flash and Cyborg.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Celebrating Wonder Woman and Giving Dead People Work at Nerd Lunch



Between 31 Days of Gothic Romance in October and Christmas Carol stuff in December (with my now-annual Non-Blogging November in between), I completely whiffed on mentioning a couple of episodes of Nerd Lunch that I was on.

In October, Stacey Rader and I joined CT and Pax to discuss Wonder Woman for her 75th birthday. I was also on the 75th anniversary discussions of Superman and Batman, so it made me really happy to complete the DC trinity. And really, Wonder Woman is the one I most looked forward to discussing. I love Superman and Batman, but they aren't that complex. Wonder Woman is. That's why I've written about her pretty extensively to try to figure her out. And we talk about that on the episode, too.

In November, I was back on again for my first shot at one of Nerd Lunch's recurring topics: "Give that Guy Some Work." That's usually where they pick some under-used actors and imagine the kinds of projects that they'd love to see those people work in together. This time, in the spirit of 2016, CT modified the topic to "Give that Dead Guy Some Work." I won't spoil the episode for you, but the image below suggests just one of the three amazing concepts that CT, Jeeg, Andrew Bloom, and I came up with.

Click on the links above to listen, or better yet, subscribe to Nerd Lunch on your favorite podcast listening platform.



Wednesday, January 04, 2017

24 Movies I Missed from 2016

I did pretty well with 2016 movies. In fact, my list of seen movies should be double the list of ones that I missed (assuming that I'm able to catch up on a couple of more this week like I plan). But I did miss a couple dozen that I wanted to see, so here those are; mostly to explain why some movies didn't make it into my rankings. As usual, I'm listing them more or less in the order that they were released:

1. Swiss Army Man



I don't know why I'm so fascinated with Daniel Radcliffe. I like the Harry Potter movies a lot and am enjoying the books (which I'm just now reading for the first time), but I'm not so huge a fan that I want to keep up with everything everyone Potter-related is doing. And yet, I'll see anything with Radcliffe in it.

Of course, the premise of a dead body who goes on adventures with a despondent man would intrigue me no matter who's playing the corpse.

2. Captain Fantastic



I feel like this can only end in heartbreak, but I love the idea of Viggo Mortensen experimenting with raising his kids outside of cultural influences and I really want to see the kids' stories once they have to interact with other people.

3. The Love Witch



Throwback to and parody of the lurid, semi-gothic horror movies of the '60s and '70s like what Hammer used to make. It just hit some festivals and had a small, limited release last year, so I'm waiting for it to hit home video. Hopefully by this Halloween.

4. The Wild Life



I heard almost nothing about this after it came out, which can't be a good sign. Of course, neither can the 15% on Rotten Tomatoes. But I'm up for a silly, animated version of the Robinson Crusoe story.

5. In a Valley of Violence



Neither Hawke nor Travolta are favorites of mine, but it's a Western and I did enjoy Hawke in the new Magnificent Seven.

6. Don't Think Twice



I'll see anything with Keegan-Michael Key at this point, but I'm also into exploring the politics when someone from an improv troupe hits it big and how that effects their relationships with the other members.

7. Hell or High Water



A modern-day Western with Ben Foster and Chris Pine.

8. The Red Turtle



Another animated movie about an island castaway. Probably not as silly as The Wild Life. The animation looks beautiful and I'm intrigued by its not having any dialogue. I love wordless comics, so I'm curious to see if I'll feel the same way about a wordless film.

9. Blood Father



Such mixed feelings, but this is exactly the kind of movie that I used to love Gibson in. I don't know if his offscreen issues are going to make this impossible to enjoy.

10. The Secret Life of Pets



Haven't heard good things, but the trailer made me chuckle.

11. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates



I love all four of the people on this poster. Keeping my expectations low, though.

12. Ghostbusters



I was pretty stoked to see this and support the idea of it, but early reviews (from people who were also expecting to enjoy it) dampened my enthusiasm. I've also heard really good reviews though, so I'm eager to see it and form my own opinion. I just didn't make it to the theater.

13. Pete's Dragon



The original is cute enough, but it never grabbed me like the fully animated Disney movies from that time did. I think I always resented the live-action elements of it. So a remake was never something that I cared about one way or the other, but I've heard a lot of great things, including that it's an improvement on the original story. If nothing else, it's got Karl Urban.

14. Ben-Hur



Morbid curiosity. I love the silent version from 1925 and enjoy the '59 remake. I expect nothing but even more diminishing returns, but want to see what changes have been made and what's been kept for a modern audience.

15. Swallows and Amazons



Hasn't been released in the US yet, as far as I can tell, but as soon as it is, I'm all over this story of a bunch of English kids on vacation who split into rival factions and have adventures.

16. Imperium



My love for Daniel Radcliffe overcomes my disinterest in stories about undercover agents and white supremacist groups.

17. La La Land



You put Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in anything together and I'm there. Even more so if they're singing and dancing.

18. Nocturnal Animals



Wasn't sure about this based on the description, but the trailer nabbed me.

19. The Edge of Seventeen



Hailee Steinfeld is another person on my Gotta Watch list. And I've finally come completely around on Woody Harrelson. Used to not care a thing about his films, but then he made Zombieland and he's become increasingly endearing to me since.

20. Inferno



I've never read Dan Brown and I only sort of liked the previous movies in this series (Wait... did I see Angels and Demons? I forget.), but I like them enough - and I like the genre enough - to give Inferno a look, too. And hey, Jyn Erso.

21. The Rendezvous



Speaking of whatever genre the Dan Brown movies are in, here's one with Kate Beckett.

22. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back



Really like the first one. Heard this isn't nearly as good, but what the heck. It's Tom Cruise running with a gun.

23. Rules Don't Apply



Snow White and Young Han Solo. And it'll be nice to see Warren Beatty again. And crap, look at the rest of that cast: Haley Bennett, Ed Harris, Oliver Platt... and those are just my favorites of that list.

24. Collateral Beauty 



Was originally attracted to this as a feel-good, holiday film with some of my favorite actors in it, but I understand now that the trailer is completely misleading and that the movie itself is nuts (but not in a good way). So now I'm attracted to it as a crazy train wreck with some of my favorite actors in it.

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