Monday, February 27, 2017

A Simple Plan

When I heard Bill Paxton passed away, I thought back on all his iconic roles over the course of his career. The smart mouthed Hudson in Aliens, a sadistic vampire in the underrated Near Dark, the smarmy used car salesman posing as a spy in True Lies, the courageous stormchaser in Twister, the obnoxious older brother Chet in Weird Science, a man seeking a lost diamond among the wreckage of the sunken ship in Titanic, the troubled father convinced he is on a mission from god to kill demons in Frailty (a film he also directed and I reviewed here). There are countless others but the one I kept coming back to was his performance in the dark thriller A Simple Plan

Hank Mitchell (played by Bill Paxton) lives a simple life in rural Minnesota, working at the feed mill and living with his wife, Sarah (played by Bridget Fonda), with a baby on the way. One day, while out with his brother Jacob (played by Billy Bob Thornton) and Jacob's friend Lou (played by Brent Briscoe) they discover a crashed plane in the woods. Checking it out, they discover that inside is not only the body of the pilot but a duffel bag full of money totaling roughly four and a half million dollars. The three men decide to keep it with the provision that Hank hangs on to the money until Spring when the plane is found and if nobody asks about the money, they'll split it up evenly and then all of them leave town. What starts as a simple plan begins to slowly unravel as mistrust and suspicion begins to grow between the men. As the three men dig themselves in deeper and deeper and the bodies begin to fall, Hank finds himself scrambling to find a way out of this increasingly dire situation.

The film was directed by Sam Raimi at his most un-Sam Raimi. The wild camera tricks and exaggerated violence that became his trademark is nowhere to be found here, aside perhaps for one moment (you'll know it when you see it). He treats the material of the film with the utmost seriousness that it deserves and the film works all the better for it, making every twist of the plot that much more gut-wrenching as Hank keeps digging himself in deeper and deeper, doing things he never thought he would do. Scott B. Smith wrote the screenplay, based on his novel and weaves a tight little tale of three men in way over their heads and along with Raimi does a wonderful job of slowly building the growing tension over the course of the film. They are also helped by a wonderful score by Danny Elfman that really sets the mood for the film. 

When the film was first released back in 1998, it was Billy Bob Thornton who got most of the attention as Hank's mentally challenged brother Jacob, even earning an Academy Award nomination in the process. While Thornton's performance was good, I always felt like Bill Paxton's performance was overlooked. He gives such a great performance in this and it was his turn that made the film stick with me for the past nineteen years. Bill Paxton lent a certain guy next door charm to the role that I think a bigger star would have hurt the film. I felt like I knew this guy and that is part of what made the film so effective and made me empathize with his character as the world around him starts to spin out of control. Paxton was able to capture so much of his character's anguish and in turn had me squirming in my seat as Hank just dug himself in deeper and deeper, with Bridget Fonda as the Lady Macbeth of the Upper Midwest urging him on. If I had to rank the best Bill Paxton performances over his career, I'd rank this one at number one. It has stuck with me over all the others for all these years. 

A Simple Plan wasn't a huge hit when it was released in theatres back in 1998, but gained a certain reputation once it hit DVD, which is how I first saw it. It was a film that was often compared to Fargo, but aside from both being snow swept crime stories, this one had a much more serious tone while Fargo had a stronger comedic edge to it. So, the comparison feels a little inaccurate to me. Still, A Simple Plan is a superior thriller filled with great performances that just never quite got it's due when it was released. It is however well worth checking it out if you've never seen it. If you subscribe to Hulu, it'll be on there starting 3/1/2017.  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Fist Fight

I will say this right up front so that you understand where I am coming from as a reviewer. I will watch anything with Charlie Day in it. I've been a fan of his since It's Always Sunny in Philidelphia started through Pacific Rim, Horrible Bosses, Horrible Bosses 2, and now Fist Fight. There is just something about him that never fails to crack me up. That being said, Fist Fight is a total rip off of Three O'Clock High.

Andy Campbell (played by Charlie Day) is an English teacher at Roosevelt High, a school filled with some of the most undisciplined and wild kids ever and to make things even worse, it's the last day of school. He's asked by fellow teacher Strickland (played by Ice Cube) to help fix the A.V equipment in his classroom, which he does. When they discover the problem is a student in the class turning the power off on the T.V with an app on his cellphone, Strickland goes postal and busts up the desk with a fire axe. When Andy admits to the Principal what happened, Strickland challenges him to a fist fight in the school parking lot after school at 3 o'clock. Now, with the help of the school guidance counselor Holly (played by Jillian Bell) and the Gym Teacher Coach Crawford (played by Tracy Morgan), he has to figure out a way to get out of it by 3 o'clock as the hours tick down to the increasingly inevitable fight.

There is so much about this film that felt familiar to the original film (without crediting itself as a remake at all), that I just shook my head throughout. Just about every beat Charlie Day goes through is straight from the earlier film. Perhaps not in the same order and not exactly the same, but still very similar. There are even entire scenes that feel lifted directly from the previous film with only slight adjustments. Now, don't get me wrong, it was at times a very funny film. It was also a very raunchy film that went for the shock gag a little too much. The script, written by Van Robichaux and Evan Susser, has the opportunity to go for some real biting humor about the state of the American Education system but time and again goes for the easy laugh every single time. 

Still, there were moments of hilarity throughout the film. The much discussed talent show scene towards the end of the film was the one true gut busting moment for me. Jillian Bell as Holly was a standout as she is quite possibly the worst Guidance Counselor ever as she openly states she takes drugs and lusts after one of the senior students. She quietly steals nearly every scene she is in. Likewise, Tracy Morgan scores some laughs as the clueless Gym Teacher. Charlie Day delivers as well, showing that wound up anxiety about him as the day wears on that never fails to crack me up. Ice Cube on the other hand pretty much plays the same tough guy character he's been playing since forever with very little variation. 

Overall, Fist Fight, is a sporadically entertaining comedy that never is quite as hysterical as it wants you to think it is. It has a few laughs in it, but not enough to recommend seeing it in the theater. But it'd make okay rainy Saturday viewing but is probably not something particularly memorable. Also, Universal, you might want to call your lawyers. I think you might have a case. They totally ripped off your movie. 

Three O'Clock High

When I first saw the trailer for Fist Fight, my immediate reaction was, "Holy Crap, they remade Three O'Clock High!" The only big change seems to be that in the new movie the fight is between two teachers and in this one it's between two students. Other than that, they seem rather similar. So, I figured it might be fun to revisit this one and then check out the new one and compare. 

Jerry Mitchell (Casey Siemaszko) is a well liked guy in school. He manages the school store and writes for the school paper. He is given an assignment to write a welcome article for the school paper on the new student, Buddy Revell (played by Richard Tyson). The initial meeting between Jerry and the hot-tempered Buddy doesn't go well and results in Buddy challenging Jerry to a fight in the parking lot after school. Not wanting to fight, Jerry finds himself scrambling to find a way to get out of it with the help of his girlfriend Franny (played by Annie Ryan), best friend Vincent (played by Jonathan Wise) and little sister Brei (played by Stacey Glick). He tries everything from trying to ditch school early, to getting detention to getting another, bigger student to beat up Buddy as the hours tick down and to the increasingly inevitable fight. 

The film was directed by Phil Joanou from a script by Richard Christian Matheson and Tom Szolossi. The film's title was meant as a reference to the classic western High Noon, which similarly focuses on a lone hero having to face down an intimidating opponent. Barry Sonnenfeld, who would go onto a solid directing career himself, was the cinematographer and gives the film a certain hyper real quality at times, making this film a little more unique in the realm of eighties teen films. The film is a solid and lean film with strong pacing, which is important to a comedy film like this. The film also does a good job developing Buddy not only as a formidable foe for Jerry, but also as a character. The film also does a good job developing Jerry as a sympathetic character who has always done the right thing but over the course of the day does some pretty bad things to try and get out of the fight. 

The performances in the film are strong as well. Casey Siemaszko carries the bulk of the film as Jerry and does a good job portraying his character's increasing desperation, especially in the scene in his English class where he gives perhaps the most outrageous book report ever in a desperate attempt to get detention that winds up backfiring in an unexpected way. Annie Ryan is great as Jerry's spiritual and flighty girlfriend that claims she speaks to a spirit guide named Ethan. I appreciated that Jerry's younger sister was more than the typical bratty younger sister, trying to help and encourage Jerry as much as she could.  

Three O'Clock High has probably faded into obscurity a bit over time as it has become a bit of a cult film over the years. It's one I remember seeing on cable and liking quite a bit as a young teen myself. Even though the movie does stretch reality a bit for the sake of comedy, there were several fights throughout my four years of high school and they always did drive large crowds, although they were in the halls between classes and never drew the entire school like some sort of adolescent cage match. But, still it's a movie and I will allow certain things like that for comedic effect. But overall the film was strong enough for me to remember it fondly all these years later and want to revisit it simply from the prompting of a new and very similar movie trailer. So, I think that says something. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2

John Wick makes a triumphant return to cinema screens in a sequel that is damn near as good as the original. Picking up more or less where the first one left off, this film does a wonderful job expanding the unique world of John Wick and the society of Assassins that he once belonged to. 

John Wick (played by Keanu Reeves) finds himself in another terrible predicament. After the events of the first film, Wick is paid a visit by an old associate, Santino D'Antonio (played by Riccardo Scamarcio), to whom Wick owes a blood oath. In the society of assassins, a blood oath is unbreakable and when the other person calls in the favor bound within, it must be fulfilled. Since his rampage in the first film, Wick can no longer claim to be retired and must fulfill the promise made. D'Antonio explains he wants his sister assassinated so he can claim her seat on the High Table, a council of high level crime lords. Seeing no way out, he reluctantly takes up the task as he once again enters the life and world he tried to leave behind. 

There is a certain comic book sensibility to these two films that I just love. Everything about them is just a little larger than life as it creates and inhabits this unique world all it's own. But there is still an emotional resonance to this film that carries over from the first film. I found myself really caring about John Wick, who karma seems to perpetually have in their crosshairs. Director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad return for the sequel do a fantastic job expanding on the original film as it explores new areas of the world the film takes place in, both in New York and Rome, Italy. They come up with some inventive new action sequences for the film to, from the opening scene where John Wick retrieves his stolen car from the previous film to quite possibly the longest all out fist fight since Roddy Piper and Keith David in They Live as Wick gets into a knock-down, drag out fight with his target's bodyguard, played by Common. Again, they thankfully discard the shaky cam style for long, fluid cuts that really showcase the action and make the action scenes that much more exhilarating to watch. Other contemporary action filmmakers could learn a thing or two from these films. There is also a certain unpredictability to this movie that I love. Derek Kolstad does a great job of twisting what the audience might be expecting and then subverting it. Also, kudos for paying off the pencil bit from the first film so wonderfully in this one. 

Keanu Reeves once again does a great job as the broken, conflicted John Wick. He's a character we can really sympathize with as he once again finds himself pulled back into a world he tried to leave behind. But yet, Reeves also gets the larger than life nature of the films and does manage to play the humor of some the scenes as well and that balance is what makes these films so great for me. He is joined by some great co-stars including Ian McShane as well as reuniting with former Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne. 

John Wick: Chapter 2 continues the saga and is every bit as good as the first film. Filled with exciting action sequences and an entertaining story that kept me guessing throughout. The film sets itself up for a Chapter 3 and I say by all means bring it on. I, for one, can't wait. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

John Wick

After a time away, Keanu Reeves made his triumphant return to the action genre with perhaps his best one yet. Filled with exciting action sequences and strong emotion and a bit of humor, John Wick was a film that caught Action film fans off guard with just how good it really was. So, with the new release of John Wick: Chapter 2, I take a look back at the original that started it all.

John Wick (played by Keanu Reeves) is a retired assassin reeling from the recent death of his beloved wife from cancer when there is an unexpected delivery to his house. Inside the crate is an adorable beagle puppy and a note from his wife telling him that she got him the puppy to try and help him move on from her death. The plan works as John starts getting out of the house and living his life with the little puppy by his side as they go shopping and he drives them around in his classic 1969 Mustang. However, trouble soons find them in the form of Ioseph (played by Alfie Allen), an entitled little brat son of Russian Mobster Viggo (played by Michael Nyqvist). He takes a liking to John's car and offers to buy it. When John declines the offer, Ioseph and his cronies break into John's house, beat him up and kill the puppy. They then steal the car and leave. Soon enough, word of what Ioseph has done reaches Viggo, who promptly rips his son a new one as he explains that the man he just robbed is known in their circles as The Boogeyman, or more accurately the man you send to kill The Boogeyman. Emotionally devastated, John digs up all his old assassin weapons from the basement of his house and prepares to wage war on the entire Russian mob to get to Ioseph and kill him.   

While the revenge flick is a well worn genre, the filmmakers, director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad, found a new and unique vision for John Wick, creating a unique world of assassins that Wick comes from and left to settle down for a quiet life with his wife. Central to the film is a hotel in New York City that John takes refuge in known as the Continental and caters specifically to people in his line of work with the specific rule that no business can be conducted on it's grounds. The assassins also have their own form of currency, gold coins, which Wick uses not only to pay for his hotel room but also such services as a cleaning service to take care of several goons he took out. They also do a good job setting up John Wick as the formidable opponent with various characters telling stories such as a time he killed three people with just a pencil. Even when a cop comes to his door after a shoot-out with the aforementioned several goons, the cop just inquires about what was going on, sees one of the dead bodies and then leaves, wanting no part in John's affairs. The film also has fantastic cinematography and production design that gives a unique and memorable style to the film as it moves from location to location. I also have to give the film credit for staying away from the hyper editing and shaky cam that has permeated action films these days, preferring to keep the shots long, fluid and stable. It makes it that much easier to follow the action as well as making it that much more impressive. 

Keanu Reeves dominates the film as John Wick turning in perhaps his best performance as the title character. He really sells the emotional journey of the character, moving from intense grief to a small bit of happiness before being thrown into an intense and righteous rage as it is once again stolen from him. It's because of Reeve's performance that the remainder of the film was so satisfying to me as Wick lays waste to the people responsible for ripping away the last bit of happiness he had left. His performance really anchors the film and gives it a bit more emotional weight than the usual action film of this variety. 

Overall, John Wick was an action film that took audiences, and certainly me, by surprise with just how good it was. Anchored by a strong script and solid direction made this a more memorable than most action film. I'm psyched that we have a John Wick: Chapter 2 now out and by all indications a Chapter 3 to come. I say, by all means, bring it on.    

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Worst of 2016

As I have grown as a filmgoer, I have developed a keen instinct for bad movies. Still, I did stumble a bit in 2016 and wind up watching a few real stinkers. Some I thought might actually not be that bad, others morbid curiosity won out. Still, my pain is your reward as I list them here for you to know what to avoid and spare the precious minutes of all your lives. 

Yoga Hosers

What has happened to Kevin Smith? The man who gave us the likes of ClerksChasing Amy, and Dogma has reduced himself to this? This film tells the tale of two annoying teenage brats, both named Colleen (played by Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp)  who work in a Convenience store in Canada battling little mutant Nazi Bratwurst called Bratzis and their crazy creator with the help of oddball detective Guy Lapointe (played by Johnny Depp). Filled to the brim with really dumb Canadian jokes and barely any plot. I didn't laugh a single time through the entire film as "joke" after "joke" fell flat. Smith obviously was stoned as he wrote this, but I doubt me being stoned would help the viewing experience any. The plot is scattershot at best, focusing on two obnoxious teen girls who were clearly going for being the female Bill and Ted, but without any of the heart. The whole thing is a depressing new low from a filmmaker I am normally a real fan of. But this one was just painful to sit through with every actor in the film mugging endlessly for the camera trying desperately to be wacky. None of it worked at all, sadly.

London Has Fallen

This was a thankless sequel to the far superior Olympus Has Fallen, with both Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart in another go around as bad ass Secret Service Agent and the President in jeopardy. With an even more preposterous plot and some really cringe worthy casual racism, this film lacked any of the genuine suspense or intensity of the original film. Instead, we got a strictly by the numbers sequel that lacked any real thrills or even reason to be. The fact that we're still apparently getting a third film, called Angel Has Fallen and is apparently more or less a remake of the fantastic Air Force One, has me filled more with dread than excitement. Needless to say, I'll be skipping it.

Dirty Grandpa

My, how the mighty have fallen. Robert DeNiro has starred in some of the greatest movies of all time. Films such as Taxi DriverThe Godfather, Part IIRaging BullGoodfellas, and many more. Dirty Grandpa is most certainly not one of them. A raunchy comedy has DeNiro as a naughty Grandpa trying to teach his tightly wound, straight laced grandson (played by Zac Efron) how to loosen up by taking him to Florida for Spring Break is heavy on the raunch but light on the laughs. In fact, I didn't laugh even once. Not even the extended period of time when Efron's character runs around wearing nothing but a plush bee could save the movie for me. And considering some of the crap I've sat through because there was a hottie in the cast, that's really saying something. 

Independence Day: Resurgence

A late in the day sequel that no one really needed or even perhaps wanted. The original film was a great, epic Summer cheeseball Sci-Fi action disaster flick. This film feels like the warmed up leftovers. It has none of the spirit of the original film. God love him, Jeff Goldblum does his best to try and make it work but the film just has an overwhelming feeling of been there, done that. There is destruction and action galore but there is no suspense to really back any of it up. It just retells the same story as the first film with only a minor few changes meaning we know pretty much exactly how the story is going to go beat for beat. If that doesn't say how much we didn't need an Independence Day 2, I don't know what does. 


Clearly, nothing is sacred anymore in Hollywood with this half-baked remake of the Cinemascope classic Ben-Hur. Yet, somehow this film seems cheaper, smaller and less epic than the 1959 film it draws its direct inspiration from. Jack Huston stars in the titular role and is does a reasonably good job in the main role. Morgan Freeman also pops up in a supporting role but looks utterly bored. The story is slapdash at best with the narrative cut down to a lean two hours that includes an ending so overwrought and so ridiculous that the preceding two hours doesn't begin to earn, not to mention it comes completely out of left field. I finally broke down and watched the film because I am a fan of Jack Huston, but none of this worked for me, despite the best efforts of the actors involved. The film just completely lacked the emotional weight the story required and as a result never quite comes together. 

The 5th Wave

The first half hour or so of The 5th Wave is actually a reasonably intense and gripping sci-fi thriller. It's the slow decent into mediocre Tween-Lit cliche that ultimately sinks the picture as routine genre plot development after routine genre plot development is checked off. The film focuses on Cassie (played by Chloe Grace-Moretz), who sees her world fall apart after an alien invasion sets off a series of waves of attack, first knocking out the power, then causing a series of natural disasters, followed by a viral outbreak and finally a ground assault to wipe out the few survivors of all the rest of that. Separated from her young brother who was taken to a nearby Air Force Base, Cassie makes her way there on foot while avoiding other people and Aliens in disguise along the way.  When she's pinned down by an Alien sniper, she is rescued by the mysterious Evan (played by Alex Roe), who agrees to accompany her to the Air Force Base. Meanwhile, at the base, her former classmate and crush Ben Parish (played by Nick Robinson), along with other teens have been recruited into the resistance as the last hope of Earth, under the command of Colonel Vosch (played by Liev Schreiber). The majority of the film plays everything so seriously and so earnestly for it's entire run time, it provokes unintentional laughter. The film also crams in so much story into it's two hour run time and at the same time fails to really develop it's characters in any sort of meaningful way, leaving the viewer to shrug rather than care. It also doesn't help that it is terribly predictable as the film moves from one obvious plot development to another, with me nodding each time as the film does exactly what I expected it to with little surprise. It even manages to work in the very tire Tween Lit trope of the love triangle between Cassie, Evan and Ben. The film also does something that has become increasingly annoying in films today, which is have no real conclusion and leave itself wide open for a sequel that will most likely never come. In this case, that's probably a blessing.    

True Memoirs of an International Assassin

My expectations were already at rock bottom and I was still disappointed by this Kevin James "comedy" about an author who pens an adventure novel about an international spy that his idiot publisher proceeds to publish as non-fiction. This leads him to being kidnapped by terrorist El Toro (played by Andy Garcia), who wants James to kill the President of Venezuela for him. Thrust into the world he just wrote about, he has to find a way to escape with his life and hijinks ensue. Ultimately, it failed to create any memorable action sequences or suspense nor was it at all funny as it trotted out one lazy joke after another. If you want to see a movie along these lines that was both exciting and very funny? Watch Spy instead. You can thank me later.

Gods of Egypt

Oh, where to start with this one? I went into this one with such lowered expectations and still was shocked at just how much of a disaster this film was. I suppose we should start with the casting, which for a film that takes place in ancient Egypt is predominantly white. But even within the realm of whitewash casting, this film goes even further. I mean, Scottish Gerard Butler as an Egyptian God? You're kidding right? Danish Nikolaj Coster-Waldau? Aussie Brenton Thwaites? Come on, filmmakers. This isn't just whitewashing, this is the whitest whitewashing with extra bleach for good measure. Add to that just across the board bad acting from a badly written and frankly predictable script cobbled together from every other sword and sandal fantasy epic ever released with some of the crappiest CGI seen in a major motion picture this side of A Sound of Thunder and you pretty much have this movie. It's worth watching only if you want to sit and watch gobsmacked at the sheer number of bad filmmaking decisions parade past the two hour runtime of the film, which was my experience as I sat in my living room watching this cinematic disaster on HBO.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Favorite Films of 2016

As 2016 comes to a close, it's once again time to look back at the year in film and highlight some of my personal favorites from the past year. I've always found the term "Best" to be highly subjective, so I'm going with favorite instead. Besides, I didn't see everything that came out this year. There is no way to have seen all of them. Such a task would be a full time job in and of itself. Many people said 2016 was a terrible year for movies. I say there were plenty of great ones, you just had to dig a little deeper to find them as this list proves. These are films that really impressed me, really entertained me and at times really surprised me. In no particular order, here they are:

Midnight Special

This film flew under the radar when it was out in theatres this past spring, overshadowed by other films out at the time. For me it was a welcome respite from the increasingly loud and overdone theatrical epics. It was a sci-fi film that kept it's focus on the characters, a very special young boy and his parents, along with a family friend, trying to keep him safe from both Government Agents and a Cult leader that wished to exploit him. It was a surprisingly emotional and touching film filled with fantastic performances from the likes of Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher, and Adam Driver. It just never quite gained the attention it deserved, which is a shame.

Hell or High Water

Sometimes it's not the story you're telling but rather how you tell the story. Cinema is littered with stories of Bank Robbers and the Cops chasing them but this one finds a unique and new twist to the story. Tanner (played by Ben Foster) and Toby (played by Chris Pine) are two brothers who inherited the family farm from their recently deceased mother and is about to go into foreclosure due to a mortgage the local banks convinced their elderly mother to take out on the farm. Feeling that the bank deliberately preyed upon their mother, they come up with a daring scheme. Rob the banks in the chain and use the money to pay back the mortgage, after laundering it through a nearby Indian Casino. Hot on their tail is an ornery cuss of a Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (played by Jeff Bridges), who is looking to tackle one more case before his dreaded retirement. The unique thing about Hell or High Water is I was rooting for both sides. I wanted the brothers to get away with it, but I was also rooting for Jeff Bridges to get his guys too. Which made the inevitable confrontation at the end all that more tense. No doubt this was in part due to three fantastic performances from Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster who breathed wonderful, relatable life into their characters. 


I don't think there was a more divisive film that came out this year than Ghostbusters. Now, I grew up with the original films and I loved them just as much as anyone of my generation. So, I did go into the new film with some doubts but I have to admit that I enjoyed the hell out of this one. I appreciated the fact that they brought a lot of new story to the new film rather than just retreading the original and creating four new and distinct Ghostbusters rather than just making female facsimiles of the original quartet. It was also just a damn funny movie headlined by four very funny women (with Kate McKinnon clearly the film's M.V.P). Plus, who knew Chris Hemsworth was so funny?

Hail Caesar!  

Any Coen Brothers movie is a gift to the cinema. Hail Caesar! is another great entry in their filmography with their salute to classic Hollywood. The film centers on Studio Executive Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin), who spends much of his time keeping his stars away from possible scandal and the rest of it making sure the studio's films stay on schedule. Things get more complicated when the star of the studio's latest biblical epic Hail Caesar, Baird Whitlock (played by George Clooney), is kidnapped and held for ransom by a group cryptically calling themselves "The Future." Like most Coen Brothers movies, the more times you watch it, the more you'll appreciate it's own quirky sensibilities. With an all-star cast that also includes Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Alden Ehrenreich and Jonah Hill. The film lovingly recreates the films of the era with such precision that the footage you see of the various films, especially the titular film within the film, actually look like movies from that era. As a serious cinephile, I loved every minute of this. 

Pete's Dragon

This one was a huge surprise for me this past Summer. I grew up with the original 1977 film, but curiosity got the best of me and I decided to check out the new version. To put it succinctly, this movie took my breath away. The film tells it's story with a certain tenderness and emotional depth that you just don't find often in family fantasy films. The film centers on young orphan Pete (played by Oakes Fegley) and his dragon friend, Elliot. Pete is discovered in the woods by a local ranger, Grace (played by Bryce Dallas Howard). She takes him home, surprised that the young boy survived in the wild for so long on his own. His stories about the large, green dragon Elliot bare a stunning similarity to stories her father (played by Robert Redford) often tells of a dragon in the forests outside of town. The film is beautifully directed with some of the best cinematography in a family film since The Black Stallion. This film was nothing short of magical for me.

Other People

As someone who is very close to my Mother, this film really had an impact. David (played by Jesse Plemons), after breaking up with his boyfriend, moves back home to help care for his mother, Joanne (played by Molly Shannon) who is suffering from a serious bout of cancer. What on the surface may seem like a Lifetime tear jerker of the week continuously surprised me with it's frank honesty and biting humor mixed with the expected gut punches of emotion. Jesse Plemons is great in the lead role and Molly Shannon really shines as she breaks away from the broadly comic roles she's mainly known for and stretches her dramatic muscles in a fantastic performance. 


This is probably going to be the most obscure movie on this list, but it was one that really surprised me. I've long been a part of the fan community, going to conventions  and whatnot but had not really found a movie that accurately reflected that community until I saw this one. Neil (played by Michael Johnston) is a high school freshman trying to figure himself out. In his spare time, he writes erotic fan fiction about his favorite intergalactic superhero, Vanguard, and an assortment of other male partners. When some of his classmates discover his writing and share it, Neil is humiliated until he finds out his fellow classmate, Julia (played by Hannah Marks) also writes slash fan-fiction and the two begin to bond over their shared interests. This film such perfectly captures the emotions of adolescence and really rang true to me with it's main character of Neil, who has reached an age where he begins to question his sexuality and what he's interested in. He's found an outlet for it, but when others find out he feels like a freak until he meets Julia and discovers there is a community and place that is accepting for people like him. This film really struck a chord with me because so much of it felt really familiar to me in some really unexpected ways as it reflected a community I have counted myself a member of for so long with such accuracy and ultimately respect.

Swiss Army Man

This was a movie I went into not knowing quite what to expect. I knew the basic outlines of the plot, but the film really surprised me as a unique film that was unlike anything I have ever seen before. Hank (played by Paul Dano) is a man stranded on a deserted island who has lost the will to live and just as he is about to off himself he notices a dead body washed up on the shore. The body, who he names Manny (played by Daniel Radcliffe), miraculously becomes a source of survival as well as an unexpected companion for Hank. The film is a surreal, existentialist take on Cast Away while also being wildly entertaining in a delightfully weird way as Hank and Manny, in their unique way, find a way to survive and get back to civilization. I don't want to give too much away as part of the fun of the movie is experiencing it's unexpectedly wild and crazy turns for yourself.


After a glut of super serious Superhero movies, what the genre desperately needed was the fourth wall breaking, endlessly raunchy and silly Deadpool and this movie delivered in spades courtesy of one helluva great comedic performance by Ryan Reynolds in the titular role. As the Merc with a Mouth, Reynolds delivered one great moment after another as he repeatedly broke the fourth wall and tossed off bon mot after bon mot. I laughed my whole way through the movie and loved every second of it. This movie was just one delightful surprise after another as the film tossed jokes left, right and center and damn near all of them landed. No small feat. 

La La Land

A film that is both a gorgeous throwback to old fashioned Hollywood musicals and achingly contemporary is a film that parallels it's two main characters. We have struggling actress Mia (played by Emma Stone) who is just trying to make it in Hollywood and Jazz musician Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling), who aspires to own his own Jazz club and holds fast to the classic heroes of Jazz music. The two keep crossing paths over and over until finally they meet and a romance begins to bloom as the two try to make their dreams come true in the magical city of Hollywood. With dazzling choreography and an irresistible musical score, it's impossible to resist that movie (unless of course you hate musicals, in which case it's your loss). I dug the hell out of this movie and it had me dancing all the way back to my car with that wonderful score stuck in my head and the memory of a great, old-fashioned musical in my head. They don't make movies like this anymore...except they did.   

Closet Monster

Not unlike the aforementioned Slash, Closet Monster finds it's way onto my list for finding a new and unique spin on the well worn "Coming of Age" tale, which has always been a genre I've been a sucker for anyway. Oscar (played by Connor Jessup) is a driven and creative teenager about to graduate High School and move on to College. He dreams of going to New York with his friend Gemma and attend school for Special Make-Up effects. He spends his time assembling a portfolio of his work with his best friend, Gemma (played by Sofia Banzhaf). Things take a turn during his fateful summer before college when a new kid in town, Wilder (played by Aliocha Schneider), takes a fancy to Oscar as well as Oscar's troubled relationship with his father comes to a head. The film has some nice surreal flourishes to the film that illustrate Oscar's imagination and creativity, including his talking hamster, Buffy (voiced wonderfully by Isabella Rossellini), and some uniquely grotesque imagery depicting Oscar's struggle with his burgeoning sexuality, stemming from a gay bashing he witnessed as a young boy. It's a film that definitely struck a chord with me as someone with a healthy (or perhaps unhealthy, depending on your point of view) fantasy life. 

The Nice Guys 

It's a shame this one didn't do better at the box office because this Shane Black film (he both wrote and directed it) was a hoot from beginning to end. Private Eye Holland March (played by Ryan Gosling) and Enforcer for hire Jackson Healy (played Russell Crowe) team up to find missing girl Amelia (played by Margaret Qualley), who is mixed up with both the L.A porn scene and a conspiracy involving the Detroit automakers with assassins on her tail. Shane Black creates another funny neo-noir in the spirit of his equally underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with a fantastic script that knows just how to keep surprising it's audience (even if one of it's best ones was spoiled in every single trailer). Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are clearly having fun playing a mismatched pair as they bumble about late 1970's L.A trying to find a missing girl before the bad guys do and uncovering a huge conspiracy in the process. It was a funny, action packed film that at the same time knew how to twist an audience's expectations and surprise them. I enjoy this movie more and more everytime I see it.

Hacksaw Ridge

Mel Gibson makes a triumphant return to the director's chair with this intense and inspiring story of Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield), a man whose faith prevented from him engaging in combat during World War II be still wants to participate in the war as an Army medic. He is soon shipped off to the Pacific with his regiment with goal of trying to take the titular ridge and forward the Allies progression into Japan. It is there that Doss faces the unflinching horrors of war and in the process proves himself as a hero to regiment that doubted him and thought he was a coward for not wanting to fight.  Mel Gibson does a great job bringing the film to the screen finding the right balance between the horrifying realism of warfare and inspiring drama, along with just a little bit of humor in the right places to break up the relenting grimness of war. Andrew Garfield also gives a great performance as Desmond Doss with great supporting turns from Vince Vaughn as Doss' commanding officer and Hugo Weaving, Doss' World War I vet who doesn't want to see either of his sons go off to war. 

The Accountant

Sometimes well drawn characters can make a well worn plot seem new again. It's in that respect that Gavin O'Connor's film The Accountant really impressed me. Ben Affleck plays the title role, the enigmatic accountant that in addition to filing tax returns for the average person, also uncooks books for some of the biggest and most dangerous people in the world. The requires him to take certain precautions and at times utilize special skills he learned from his Special Forces father. When his most recent employer turns out to want him dead, he's forced to go on the run with that company's accountant (played by Anna Kendrick). Add in the always enjoyable J.K Simmons as a Treasury Agent about to retire who decides to take one last crack at tracking this Accountant down, Jon Bernthal as a charismatic assassin hired to track down Affleck and Kendrick and a supporting turn from John Lithgow and you have yourself a better than your usual action thriller. 

10 Cloverfield Lane

This film centers on Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who after a bad accident wakes up in the bomb shelter of Howard (played by John Goodman) and is told there was an attack on the country and they can't leave. Also with them is Emmett (played by John Gallagher Jr.), who helped Howard build the elaborate bomb shelter they inhabit. With razor sharp writing and suspenseful direction to match, this one kept me on the edge of my seat the whole way through. Much of the credit goes to John Goodman, who gives one of his best performances as Howard. The whole way through the movie I found myself guessing was he on the level or was there something more sinister going on. The ending left some people annoyed but I rather enjoyed it myself for the sharp turn that it was and the rest of the movie is so brilliantly played, this film still would've made the list even if I had. 

Green Room

A struggling Punk Rock band takes a gig at an isolated bar that turns out to be full of skinhead Neo-Nazis led by the creepy calm Darcy (played by Patrick Stewart). When band member Pat (played by Anton Yelchin) walks in on a murder scene after the show, the band is corralled into the Bar's Green Room, along with the victim's friend (played by Imogen Poots). When it becomes clear the Bar owners intend to eliminate the Band as they are witnesses, the band barricades the door as they try desperately to figure a way out of a truly nightmare scenario. Filled with uncompromising, white knuckle tension, writer/director Jeremy Saulnier keeps the action grounded, making the film all that more intense as it goes along. This one had me on edge throughout and made for a unique and genuinely memorable thriller.

Sing Street

In an attempt to impress a girl he's enamored with, Raphina (played by Lucy Boynton), Conor (played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) asks her to be in his band's music video. There is only one small problem: He doesn't have a band. With help from his friend Darren (played by Ben Carolan) and classmate Eamon, Conor is able to assemble a talented group of students and they begin composing their own music. Helping him with his music is Conor's older brother Brendan (played by Jack Reynor), who helps Conor expand his musical horizons and in turn impacts not only Conor's music but also helps Conor find himself, which in turn allows him to be more confident not only with Raphina, but in life. While the film would like to be a romance between Conor and Raphina, it's the scenes between Conor and Brendan that really give the film it's emotional heart. The film was written and directed by John Carney, who previously made similarly themed Once and Begin Again returns with this film that is filled with a mix of winning optimism and kitchen sink realism that makes the film hit a homerun. It has a killer soundtrack of both 80's classics by the likes of The Cure, Duran Duran, The Jam, and original songs sung by the titular band. This one was a winner for me from beginning to end with its irresistible blend of comedy and drama.      

Hidden Figures

If the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is considering this a 2016 movie, then I will too even if I saw it in 2017. I also just recently posted a full review on this one, so I will keep this entry brief. Filled with fantastic performances and an inspiring true story of the early days of the Space Program made this a fantastic film well worth checking out. 

The Lobster

Sometimes, a science fiction film can more accurately reflect real life than a straight drama can. The Lobster would be one of those films, at least for me. Taking place in a not so distant future where everyone is expected to have a mate, single people are taken to an isolated resort and told that unless they find a partner in 45 days, they will be transformed into an animal. The film follows one of the people there, David (played by Colin Farrel), as he tries to find a mate. This film, at least for me, so accurately tapped into how it feels to be single in today's society through an admittingly absurd premise. With a stellar supporting cast that includes Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, and Olivia Colman, this was a strange and thoroughly original film that I actually rather enjoyed.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Now, I've been a Harry Potter fan ever since I first read the books so it was only natural I'd love this spin off as well, focusing on British wizard Newt Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne) and his adventures through 1920's New York as he gets mixed up with aspiring bakery owner Jacob (played by Dan Fogler) and Tina (played by Katherine Waterston) as he tries to wrangle some of the animals that escaped from his suitcase (that's bigger on the inside, of course) while dealing with the Magical Congress of the United States of America, who Tina works for. It was a lot of fun to see another part of J.K Rowlings vast Wizarding world brought to life, focusing on characters outside of the Harry Potter saga, but told with the same heart and humor that defined that series. 

So, there we have it. I missed a number of films this year, including such notable omissions as Arrival, Moonlight and Fences. There just wasn't enough days in the year to get to everything, so if you're wondering why those weren't listed now you know. Coming soon will be a list of the Worst Films I saw in 2016 which should be up in the next few days.