Incredibles 2 (2018) Film Review

In the fourteen-year span between The Incredibles and its sequel, Pixar has revved up three Cars movies.

While you’re thinking on that, consider how CG animation has improved by leaps and bounds in those fourteen years. Incredibles 2 looks, how shall I put it, incredible. A Pixar action movie is a rare beast, and watching the kinetic quality of the animation is a pleasure. Tending to character first and foremost, writer-director Brad Bird delivers a more than worthy installment in his saga of a super-powered family coming into their own, together.

The Parrs

After the Parr family foils a bank robbery but not without some collateral property damage, Incredibles matriarch Helen Parr/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is recruited by a sibling-run corporation to be the face of superhero (or “super”) legalization. Meanwhile, her husband Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) faces the daunting challenge of domestic duties, juggling responsibilities toward three powered kids. And while Elastigirl stretches out and gets positive press, the mysterious “Screenslaver” is reaching out with a much more invasive type of PR.

Spy-Fi Aesthetic

This sequel to The Incredibles feels more like a “traditional” superhero movie, and maybe with all that’s happened since 2004, that was inevitable. This franchise resembles 1960s spy-fi more than anything else (see the production design aesthetic and Michael Giacchino’s jazzy score). Incredibles 2 retains that context, but also deals heavily with the politics of supers and accords being drawn up (familiar territory both from Captain America: Civil War and Holly Hunter’s own role in Batman v Superman). In the first movie, this was there, but more a backdrop for super-sneaking around a supervillain’s lair built into (of course) a volcano.

Dashiell Parr Portal

That’s really a key difference between the two films overall. The first movie starts from a place of sadness and eases gradually out of a greyscale world. The sequel is then free to be more of a colorful romp. As Tony Stark once said, “You’ve been tip-toeing, big man. You need to strut.” So Incredibles 2 runs on a more traditional engine – action scene, emotional drama, politics, comic relief, rinse and repeat. Once the film is done building momentum, its pace is an asset; however, the climax doesn’t match the imagination on offer elsewhere. Also, my audience was doling out applause, but the climax rather rushes through these applause moments. On the whole, the movie gets right to the business of being good without reaching the stratosphere of being great.

Elastigirl Elasticycle

Character-wise, the film is a fantastic showcase for Elastigirl. Putting her center stage brings the character into focus, both the idealist and the cynic. Plus her stretching powers continue to be a great showcase for the animation. Her son Dash (Huckleberry Milner) gets short shrift, but that leaves more room for Violet’s (Sarah Vowell) delightful romantic subplot. The Deavor siblings (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) are a welcome addition to the cast, Odenkirk in his typical huckster mode and Keener taking on a particularly dynamic role.

Violet Parr Romantic Subplot

Funniest subplot in the movie!

The villain this time around is the Screenslaver, and it’s pretty frightening for a family movie, laying down a lengthy manifesto monologue as everyone looking at a screen is hypnotized. A legitimately unsettling one-on-one fight between Elastigirl and an avatar of the Screenslaver puts our heroine on the back foot. The villain also weaponizes a criticism of Brad Bird’s movies. Dozens of thinkpieces have gone looking for Randian themes in Bird’s work, specifically relating to the superior entitlement of “special” people over the mediocre masses. Here, the Screenslaver argues that relying on superheroes makes the rest of humanity weak and complacent. If the Screenslaver saw Tomorrowland, we’d hear some choice words.

Screenslaver

“There’s nothing virtuous about selfishness. Is creativity at all human cost rational?”

The production design by Ralph Eggleston is outstanding, from the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Parr house to the sleek Elasticycle. Giacchino’s score is spicy, but perhaps could have made more triumphant use of the main Incredibles theme. For most of the running time, the film cuts between Elastigirl’s action/political story, and Mr. Incredible’s amusing domestic story, and both engage the audience equally, in different ways. The baby Jack-Jack’s powers take advantage of the wild abandon of animation (and get the iconic Edna Mode into the story), while his mother faces an insidious but intriguing threat. The joke is that it’s been fourteen years since these characters last lit up a cinema screen, but it’s been more like fourteen seconds for them. Incredibles 2 bears that out. Everything is in its proper place in as solid a continuation by Pixar’s cape-free First Family as could have been hoped for. A strong 7/10.

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Hotel Artemis (2018) Mini-Review

Hotel Artemis

“No water in L.A., but it’s raining assholes in here.” So says the Nurse (played by a whirlwind of Jodie Foster), head of the Artemis, an exclusive hospital for contract criminals. The film Hotel Artemis follows the Nurse, her earnest orderly (an on-point Dave Bautista), and her colorful clients, on one fateful 2028 night marked by blazing water riots on the streets of Los Angeles.

A members-only hotel for killers governed by a strict set of rules – so far, so (John) Wickensian. But Hotel Artemis carves its own identity (occasionally on a human neck). Writer-director Drew Pearce keeps things contained within the evocatively designed Hotel, making the movie a chamber piece that unfolds like a finely tuned play. In a play you need characters it’s a pleasure to watch bounce off of each other, and the film delivers. Sterling K. Brown is a likable, solid-as-a-rock heist mastermind, offering a humane bedrock among the clients. As an effortlessly magnetic French assassin, Sofia Boutella finds maybe her best role yet (and she has pretty good taste). Best of all is the Nurse, animated by a bravura performance from Foster. She injects world-weary humor into this ideal protagonist, forever shambolically running to fix up the next patient, put out the next fire.

Pearce’s screenplay overflows with punchy neo-noir dialogue, enhancing the feeling of Hotel Artemis as a writerly movie. (Another sort of stagey conceit is that all the characters are referred to by codenames; for instance, Bautista’s hulking health care professional is Everest.) Pearce’s near-future world-building is nicely on the fringes; lived-in technology at the Hotel, breadcrumbs of backstory, and the not-so-subtle setup of an L.A. heading for dystopia.

If there’s a hang-up with the film, it’s that the screenplay is a little too eager to call back to itself and pay off previous moments and lines of dialogue. (This is a weird complaint, like the movie… fits together too well?) Also, there sure are a lot of life-changing things coincidentally happening on this one night. In the end, it’s safe to call these nitpicks.

Hotel Artemis is a rare beast in that it’s one of those movies that simply radiates “cool”, but it’s also got a lot of storytelling meat on the bones as well as humanity. It’s hard to overstate how marvelous Jodie Foster is in the movie, and Drew Pearce’s script is sharp enough to draw blood. In Pearce’s career prior to checking into the Artemis, he’s been paired with marquee writing talent on excellent blockbusters (with Shane Black on Iron Man Three, with Christopher McQuarrie on Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), and now his directorial debut establishes him as a significant talent in his own right. I highly recommend this hotel on Expedia, Yelp, or your booking site of choice.

Deadpool 2 (2018) Mini-Review

Deadpool 2

At one point in Deadpool 2, Ryan Reynolds’ titular fourth-wall-breaking superantihero jokes about the first film’s box office figures relative to The Passion of the Christ. Delightful! After Deadpool gets ripped in half by his favorite comic book character, his lower half’s, shall we say, juvenile development becomes the object of much disgust from the other characters. Also delightful. Deadpool 2’s brand of humor can be a virtue, but the film also desperately wants to move the audience to great depths of feeling, and these conflicting impulses don’t mesh in this case, resulting in an emotionally disorienting experience.

Deadpool’s ability to make meta jokes about movies and particularly the one he stars in is a license for great fun, but it’s a double-edged sword. When one particular cliché is deployed with lengthy, sobering ramifications, you keep waiting for Deadpool of all people to skewer it. But Deadpool plays it almost entirely straight, and he’s led along on an inelegant emotional arc with heart forced in, reverse Temple of Doom-style. Such moments of emotion feel schematic – “this is the scene with earnest character development”, “this is the scene with heart”, etc. The first Deadpool, for all its foibles, has a blessedly straightforward narrative thrust and a much more successfully beating heart. By framing itself as a Valentine’s Day movie, the preceding film uses its central romance as its spine, even as it invents wonderful new profane phrases like “shit-spackled muppet fart.”

Deadpool 2 is also visually unappealing, all chrome and greasy grey. The hiring of director David Leitch was a hopeful sign, because I love Atomic Blonde, but the action is unengaging. The exception is where it involves Zazie Beetz’ Domino. After her luck powers are called out as “not very cinematic”, they prove to be the most cinematic thing in the film. Though to be fair, the X-Force parachuting sequence directly prior is an undeniable highlight. Deadpool’s “hit it”, timed with the perfectly synced warning lights and AC/DC needle drop, gives the feeling of a theme park thrill ride.

Amongst the chaos, my favorite running gag is Deadpool repeatedly accusing Cable (Josh Brolin) of being racist. Of course it’s delightful when Deadpool jokes about MCU superheroes, the DC universe, and Brolin’s other role as Thanos (my audience cheered at that). The James Bond title sequence is good, but a little passé. The mid-credits scenes are hysterical (but where’s my Blade Trinity shout-out as a movie where Ryan Reynolds’ character might be just as horny and quippy as Deadpool?). However, a major development occurs with wide-ranging implications not only for future movies but the one you’ve just watched, and casual viewers who leave at the top of the credits will miss some mighty fine dessert, because that’s what we call having our cake and eating it too.

Deadpool 2’s uneasy balance of slobbering silliness and big swings for deep pathos ends up undercutting them both. I love the idea of these Deadpool movies more than the movies themselves, which don’t stick the “superhero landing” for me. But maybe the greatest Deadpool movie of all is an experiential one that happens all around us. The marketing campaigns are better than the films themselves.

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) Film Review

How high are the stakes for Solo: A Star Wars Story? There’s a disconnect between the extreme scrutiny paid to the film from a real-world perspective (largely due to the hiring of Ron Howard to finish the movie after the firing of Phil Lord and Chris Miller), and the movie’s own identity. Solo is a movie of modest ambitions, and it meets them. This is a solid straightforward crime movie in the Star Wars galaxy with a great lead performance, and that’s all it needs to be a success. The fate of the galaxy isn’t at stake on screen, so the fate of Star Wars isn’t at stake off screen.

Han Solo

On the industrial planet Corellia, Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) is unwittingly following in the footsteps of his future father-in-law; he’s indentured to an alien slave driver, and longs to take his skills as a fast driver off-world to be a great pilot. After being separated from his girlfriend Qi’Ra (Emilia Clarke), Han befriends Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and follows the gunslinging cynic Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) into a life of crime.

Qi'Ra Han Solo

The era is ten years before the original Star Wars, a time when the Galactic Empire is a fact of life. Stormtroopers are just dystopian cops. Against this backdrop of oppression, Han is introduced hotwiring a landspeeder, and here Ron Howard takes a cue from his past and paints with an American Graffiti brush, all breakaway teens and hairpin turns. Familiar genre conventions are trotted out because they do the job. Of course there are Mexican standoffs, and a train heist (updated to the high-flying, twisting Conveyex), because this is a space western, get it? Several side characters are wiped out, because that’s what happens when a motley crew gets together in a heist movie and a job goes sideways.

Han Solo Enfys Nest

One stumbling block is that the film is a little top-heavy with action. How exciting can it be for a ship to rock in a vortex filled with abstractions for ten minutes? The action isn’t a particular highlight, but still, Solo is a fun ride. The opening speeder chase is propulsive, and parts of the Conveyex sequence are spectacular (including a stylish little one-on-one fight between Beckett and the masked Enfys Nest).

Tobias Beckett Enfys Nest Conveyex

Everything is held together by the film’s central performance. Ehrenreich is extraordinary, holding the screen with real presence but doing so with subtle actorly choices. He embodies a few of Harrison Ford’s mannerisms, but more importantly, his roguish essence. When we first meet Han, he looks damaged, determined with a face like an open wound, the product of a pained Dickensian upbringing. As the movie goes on, his worldview evolves, from optimism to that familiar front of being above caring.

Another highlight is the droid L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a (what do you know?) droid-rights activist who, like Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, profoundly represents the spirit of rebellion. However, some odd decisions are made with Solo’s female characters. Maybe Thandie Newton was only free from Westworld for a week or two, but her character Val gets L.O.S.T. in the shuffle (Lack of Screen Time). L3-37 is given such as strong logline for her character but then gets sidelined. And Qi’Ra is taken in a weird nourish femme fatale direction that feels undefined.

Qi'Ra

Another major player is Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), who’s great and larger-than-life, complete with a closet filled with nothing but capes. At one point, Lando and Han are given a little call-forward to the famous “I love you”/”I know” exchange from The Empire Strikes Back, but this and other fanservice moments feel decidedly underplayed, to the point that some audience members won’t even catch it. This is the right decision; there’s a way to wink and nod without contorting your face and giving yourself whiplash. Rounding out the characters, we all know it’s all about Luleo Primoc (aka “Vat Weirdo”) and Aurodia Ventafoli’s soulful, plaintive duet.

Luleo Primoc Aurodia Ventafoli

“Sing once again with me / Our strange duet”

In the build-up to Solo, it was announced that John Williams would compose a musical theme for Han Solo, something he always wanted to do in the past. But what he’s come up with seems like a copied-and-pasted, slightly faster version of his own Poe Dameron theme, another roguish pilot. The main body of the score is written by John Powell, who uses hints of his own percussion-heavy Bourne scores, as well as an Adiemus-meets-Ennio Morricone cue for Enfys Nest’s Cloud-Riders. But Powell would have done well to incorporate some of the rock instrumentation from the Solo trailers to give the score an extra oomph. It’s a bit of a missed opportunity for the man who, with How to Train Your Dragon, gave us some of the greatest film music of this century by marrying atypical film score instruments with an orchestra. Powell does make great use of existing Star Wars themes, however. The “TIE Fighter Attack” cue, last heard during the Millennium Falcon’s flight under Crait in The Last Jedi, gives the Kessel Run a needed punch-up, and will never stop being a pure injection hit of Star Wars. And, asteroids!

Lando Calrissian The Lodge Therm Scissorpunch

Production designer Neil Lamont adds to the saga’s palette of settings well, a couple of his designs being Han’s cool-as-Hoth landspeeder and the rustic and unusual Lodge set, where the stage is set for Lando’s introduction. Also, cinematographer Bradford Young gives Solo an earthy yet beautiful look. His lighting of the film’s five planets give a shape to the story’s structure all on their own: From the grime of Corellia, to the even-darker War-is-hell mud of Mimban, to the brighter snowscapes of Vandor, to the claustrophobic toxicity of Kessel, to a warmer hope for the future on Savareen.

Han Solo Chewbacca Millennium Falcon

Solo, while not featuring the best action or the best character dynamics, carries itself well as a fun space caper movie, and is given a big lift by its make-or-break central performance from Ehrenreich. It hits its themes of freedom and family hard and often. It’s filled with that Star Wars spirit of rebellion, albeit in different forms. I’d venture to say it’s a better Han Solo movie than Return of the Jedi (though not a better movie overall). When Han first sees the Millennium Falcon, I did almost cry. And that’s got to count for something. 7/10.

 

P.S.: YOU CAN’T MAKE THE SPOILER RUN IN LESS THAN 20 SENTENCES!

More than the other recent Star Wars movies, Solo traffics in a delightfully unending stream of offhand references to other elements of the canon. To name a smattering: Aurra Sing (Beckett killed her…!?), Teräs Käsi, Mimban (from the Legends novel “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye”), Colo claw fish (“There’s always a bigger fish…”), we now know how both Lando and Leia got their Jabba’s Palace disguises (see Forces of Destiny), Bossk, the Pykes. But best of all is Maul.

What a payoff for fans of the wider Star Wars canon. What a tribute to the writers of The Clone Wars and Rebels TV series and Maul’s two comic miniseries, who against all odds created a real character out of the cipher in The Phantom Menace. That’s not to mention Ray Park (from the films) and Sam Witwer (from the TV shows), whose distinct approaches to Maul were melded together into one performance here. And this is exactly where Maul would be, as per TV and comic continuity: orchestrating criminal syndicates, and in opposition to the Pykes, who abandoned his service. That little strain of “Duel of the Fates” comes on, and Maul ignites his lightsaber. There you go, that one moment means that every Star Wars movie still includes a lightsaber.

Brian De Palma: An Appreciation

A bucket of pig’s blood falling on the innocent Prom Queen. A tragic death punctuated by endless streaming fireworks in the sky. A daring, near-silent heist of CIA headquarters. These are all images and setpieces orchestrated by Brian De Palma, a “Film Brat” director of the 1970s (think Spielberg, Lucas, Scorsese, Coppola), and one of the most dazzling technicians in film history. His use of split diopter, split-screen sequences, voyeuristic tracking shots, and montage is nothing short of thrilling when firing on all cylinders.

Brian De Palma 1980

Exhibit A: Phantom of the Paradise (1974), a delightfully over-the-top earworm musical satanic bug-eyed spectacle, and a contemporary rock opera update of the “Phantom of the Opera” story. The film is a Technicolor dream/nightmare impeccably constructed to shock, amuse, and entertain, with catchy tunes sure to invade the viewer’s brain. The movie remixes the glammy shock rock of Alice Cooper, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, Caligari-esque German expressionism, exceptional sound design, and pre-KISS black and white stage makeup to dizzying effect. Its tale of sleazy, pastel-colored rock musician backstabbing is delirious fun, and feels like what Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls should have been. Winslow Leach (William Finley) is the wronged rock musician who is horribly burned and dons the Phantom mask, and like everyone else in the movie, gives it his all and then some. All respect to the flickering shade of Lon Chaney, and the dulcet tones of Claude Rains, Emmy Rossum, and Gerard Butler, but Phantom of the Paradise blows straighter adaptations of the Phantom story out of the water, but not before electrocuting them.

Phantom of the Paradise Winslow Leach

Exhibit B: Blow Out (1981), a sober, downbeat, and captivating political thriller that is also filled with De Palma’s signature craftsmanship. John Travolta stars as a sound editor at a B-movie studio (close to De Palma’s heart, I’m sure) who unwittingly witnesses and records the fatal car crash of the leading U.S. presidential candidate. As a wider conspiracy unfolds, De Palma unleashes the full range of his talent. Montages play out the crash as the fateful tape is rewound and played over and over, Travolta and an owl are filmed strikingly in contrast through split diopter, and on the scuzzy streets of Philadelphia, John Lithgow’s terrifying government asset is right at home.

BLOW OUT_27.tif

The two films are definitive masterpieces of pulp, and for much of his career, De Palma indeed churned out some high-grade pulp matter. Sisters (1973) stars Margot Kidder (RIP) as one half of a Siamese killing machine. The Fury (1978) ends with a human explosion so spectacular De Palma gives it to the audience from multiple angles and in slow motion. The masterful Dressed to Kill (1980) features Michael Caine in drag in a scary-as-hell elevator kill and museum chase, an almost exploitative Hitchcockian exercise. Snake Eyes (1998) lets Nicolas Cage off his leash in Atlantic City for a crazy movie-star performance; at first he seems like the sleaziest guy in the room (or stadium) but he ends up the straight man charged with uncovering a conspiracy.

I haven’t loved everything De Palma has done, however. Scarface (1983) finds De Palma at his most languorous and tepid, ambling through an overlong history stretched too thin that laughs in the face of narrative cohesion. Al Pacino’s Tony Montana characterization is that Joe Pesci in Goodfellas thing I hate, where anything and everything sets him off. Yes, the ending is legendary. Maybe fast-forward to that. And better yet, watch Carlito’s Way (1993), which finds Pacino back as a mobster looking to get out of that life. Pacino and De Palma’s reteaming for that movie makes it a soulful companion piece to the lazy excess of Scarface, and this time around Pacino is given some meat to chew on and turns in a thoughtful, complete performance.

Carlito Brigante's Way

As time went on, De Palma mounted muscular adaptations of existing properties The Untouchables (1987) and Mission: Impossible (1996). With the former, De Palma gave us a sprawling cops-and-robbers epic, an unforgettable showdown in a train station, and a rare tolerable David Mamet movie. With the latter, De Palma gave us a twisty tale of espionage that set the stage for one of our greatest action franchises. Mission to Mars (2000) is average, rote science fiction that takes a big Close Encounters of the Third Kind/The Abyss turn for the finale, which still proves magical.

The women in Brian De Palma films are too often just victims, particularly in Dressed to Kill and Blow Out (there the female lead is played by his then-wife, Nancy Allen). Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface is especially tokenistic. On the more positive side, there’s a sweet give-and-take flirtation between Pacino and Penelope Ann Miller in Carlito’s Way, and Jessica Harper’s Phoenix in Phantom of the Paradise is formidable. But one film stands out as acutely representing female experience.

Carrie White

Carrie (1976) feels extremely rich thematically as a definitive horror take on female puberty, and features painfully real performances from Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. It builds the most exquisite tension, culminating in the show-stopping prom sequence, with the bucket of pig’s blood leading to a jaw-dropping climax of bloody revenge. Carrie feels perfect, and it holds the title for my favorite horror movie. The recent remake nailed the casting (Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer) but otherwise just goes through the motions.

Brian De Palma 2018

Brian De Palma’s most recent effort, Passion (2012), only has one sequence that (sort of) catches fire, and doesn’t live up to the premise of Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace in an erotic thriller. I put De Palma’s upcoming crime movie Domino (2018) in my list of most anticipated movies of this year because he is simply one of the greats. De Palma has to his credit been very open about the struggle of older filmmakers to recapture the creativity of their youths, but hopefully Domino is some type of return to form. He’s got an interesting core cast at least (Guy Pearce, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Carice van Houten from Game of Thrones). But even if it ends up worse than The Snowman, Brian De Palma has left an untouchable legacy, and his films will continue to inspire and shock forever.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018) Film Review

We are creating the language necessary to react to Avengers: Infinity War. This is a film without precedent, ironically because it pays off eighteen preceding superhero stories. In the ten years between 2008’s Iron Man and 2018’s Infinity War, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has expanded by leaps and bounds, but now enters the Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin), whose goal is to contract it. Thanos seeks the six Infinity Stones, which together give him the power to instantaneously blink half the life in the universe out of existence, eliminating scarcity in one genocidal swoop. Opposing him: just about every superhero in the MCU. So this is a crowded movie where the villain’s plan is literally to de-clutter it.

Thanos

Like a season finale on TV, Infinity War requires a certain buy-in. In that light, the controlled chaos of the movie becomes impressive. It’s not the most perfectly balanced ensemble, but the fact that it’s elegant as it is counts as some minor miracle. (Some serious screenwriting heavy lifting from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.) While certain favorite characters (Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers, Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff, Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa) don’t get a whole lot to do, the writers know it’s their time to be a paragon, and that’s fine. Why not just soak in the applause when these characters merely show up and act? In top-heavy blockbusters, small details matter more, not less, and so it goes for screen time-challenged characters. Observe Steve running ahead of the vanguard of Wakandan warriors to the place of a true selfless soldier, and T’Challa’s warm greeting of M’Baku (Winston Duke), which carries the weight of a whole other movie behind it.

M'Baku T'Challa Bucky Barnes Steve Rogers

There is one fascinating detail about this ensemble. With the exception of the new children of Thanos (of which only the delightful Ebony Maw is given a personality) and Peter Dinklage’s character, every last speaking role is filled by a character returning from a previous movie. So the solution for accommodating a luxury liner’s worth of cast is to skip the usual authority figures, incidental professionals, and bit parts that populate any other movie. This is a payoff for MCU viewers in itself; for virtually the whole film, you will only be listening to people you already know.

Peter Quill Tony Stark

So, much of the joy of Infinity War is in seeing new combinations of characters bouncing off each other, and some of the interactions are perfect. Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) bickering with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is leavened by Peters Parker (Tom Holland) and Quill (Chris Pratt) talking movies. One of the best scenes of this movie is a quiet one between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper/Sean Gunn), where Thor tries to put a brave face on his pain.

Thor Emotional Wringer

As rewarding as such moments are, there is no central figure among the heroes; screen time is democratized. The most time goes instead to Thanos. The tragedy and menace of the character are anchored by an exceptional motion capture performance by Brolin, making the six-year build-up to this villain worth the wait. It also helps to no end that existing characters we care about like Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) already have a personal stake with him, so when all involved are put through the emotional wringer, it all clicks into place. In particular, there’s one pivotal scene of high drama involving the Soul Stone, a big swing that all but crumbles the movie if it misses. *Click* It’s pure storytelling, giving all the quips and extended action beats around it a foundation to stand on.

Gamora

Last time the directing Russo brothers and writers Markus and McFeely collaborated in the MCU, they were in Captain America mode, in a world of espionage and statecraft. Now, the canvas is the universe, and that scope is taken advantage of. A fight with Thanos on the planet Titan is pure comic book gold. The finale in Wakanda balances brutality with applause moments. The tone turns on a dime from comic to heavy; it feels efficient rather than strained. And with so many beloved characters colliding in the film, there are countless wonderful moments and grace notes. Dave Bautista the funniest he has ever been as Drax; three big heroic moments from Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff; Shuri (Letitia Wright) upstaging Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo); Ebony Maw’s (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) dismissiveness toward Stark and Strange, and so on it goes.

Wanda Maximoff

Juggling this many story threads takes a village. One member of that village is composer Alan Silvestri, whose score is at its best when focusing on Thanos’ pathos. As Thanos receives the Space Stone, a violin reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings One Ring theme elevates the moment. Just as the Soul Stone sacrifice is the centerpiece of the film, it’s also the centerpiece of the score, all bombastic pain and purpose. Early in the filmmaking process, the idea of using the whole range of character leitmotifs was vetoed, and I wonder if something was lost there. How cool would it have been to hear Brian Tyler’s Iron Man theme when Tony first activates the suit, Michael Giacchino’s Doctor Strange theme during particularly mystical action beats, or Silvestri’s own Captain America theme when Steve emerges from the shadows of a Scottish train station? At least part of Ludwig Göransson’s Black Panther theme is used to score the first glimpse of Wakanda, and of course, Silvestri’s own Avengers theme gets a few airings, eight notes that even casual fans can get stuck in their head.

Steve Rogers

Avengers: Infinity War is a roller coaster, funny as hell when clashing familiar personalities, but also showing a constant willingness to put them through the emotional wringer. Just as Thanos runs the gauntlet, reactions to this movie from casual viewers will run the gamut. Maybe the biggest stumbling block here is coming to terms with the new type of movie this is. While given a structure of its own, Infinity War is all third act, all a climax for the MCU at large. This film can’t stand up terribly well on its own, but in no way should it. For defying the odds and delivering thrills, chills, and coherence, the third Avengers movie is a unique accomplishment. 9/10.

 

P.S.: SPOILERS FOLLOW. No pretty end title design for this film, no curtain calls for the cast. Just plain and dignified white text and the Avengers: Infinity War title crumbling to dust. This is a Serious Film™. At movie’s end, Thanos has succeeded in wiping out half the life in the universe, including many of the Avengers; the heroes have utterly lost. (Unlike Rogue One, where everyone dies but the heroes still “win”.) Steve Rogers is reduced to a defeated “Oh god…”, delivered beautifully by Chris Evans. Ironically, maybe everyone should be more worried about those who are left behind than those who are dust.

Peter Parker School Bus

Fun fact: Peter’s dying pleas were improvised by Tom Holland.

P.P.S.: Peter Quill must kill Gamora. Thanos must kill Gamora. Wanda must kill Vision. The way things are going, must Pepper Potts kill Tony?

Tony Stark Emotional Wringer

One of the signature images of this movie.

P.P.P.S.: I’m making my way through the “Infinity Gauntlet” comic miniseries by Jim Starlin, and can confirm that at least one line of dialogue made it in. “My humble personage bows before your grandeur” was Mephisto in the comic, Ebony Maw in the film. Speaking of Ebony: When characterizing Thanos, the writers drew inspiration from Darth Vader, another iconic, tragic villain. Thanos’ line “You killed the Maw… This day extracts a heavy toll” works as an inversion of Vader’s line “This will be a day long remembered… It has seen the end of Kenobi, and will soon see the end of the Rebellion.” Thanos also positions himself as a viewer of the MCU himself, who takes decisive action to curb its growth. He knows of Tony and describes himself as being also “burdened with knowledge”, and upon killing Loki, declares, “No resurrections this time”, as if he saw Thor: The Dark World. This isn’t even a new idea; observe the mid-credits scene of Avengers: Age of Ultron, where Thanos sees Ultron’s failure to destroy the Avengers and says, “Fine – I’ll do it myself”.

Ebony Maw

“Your powers are insignificant next to mine.”

P.P.P.P.S.: After Wong gracefully ducked out of the action, did he order a metaphysical ham-on-rye?

The Death of Stalin (2018) Mini-Review

The Death of Stalin

The Death of Stalin is an inspired farce of political backstabbing, the manipulation of language, and Steve Buscemi’s failed attempts to hug Andrea Riseborough. Set while a (laugh-out-loud) power vacuum left by dictator Joseph Stalin’s death rocks the highest levels of Russia’s government, the film depicts a Central Committee who can’t agree on which of Stalin’s policies to reform, can barely decide who’s in charge, and upon finding their leader barely alive, not even whether to call a doctor.

The Russian politburo is a viper’s nest, a literal murderer’s row played by a figurative murderer’s row of talent (Buscemi, Michael Palin, Jason Isaacs…). The standouts of the cast are Simon Russell Beale as chief of the Soviet secret police Lavrentiy Beria (if anyone’s the villain in this roomful of monsters, it’s him) and Riseborough as Stalin’s grieving daughter Svetlana. Little parts are filled by recognizable British character actors, and in fact the cast is mostly British, using their own native accents rather than “playing Russian”. This decision helps the performances, while also making the events of the film oddly universal.

In case it’s not clear, The Death of Stalin is an extremely funny movie and a very successful comedy. But just by nature of its subject matter it is thematically fascinating too. Buscemi’s Nikita Khrushchev pointedly remarks that Beria is “bending and breaking the truth like it’s a human body”. There’s a comic runner that goes from the idea of photographing the new Secretary with a girl who was pictured with Stalin for a sense of continuity; to maybe using a fake one because they can’t find the real one; to finding the real one but deciding on a whim to go with the fake one anyways; and the beat goes on. It’s a microcosm of how these people grasp for integrity or authenticity but upon finding it, they edit it and twist it within an inch of its life. It’s easy to reduce this to the fake news thing, but this is so much more interesting.

There’s such an air of paranoia in the air that the wrong word to the wrong person, the wrong inflection, can get you arrested or shot. It makes the characters great verbal gymnasts, sometimes in a split second, which becomes endlessly entertaining to watch. The satirical tone is remarkably true to reality as well, with many of these weird incidents having actually happened. It’s a well-researched carnival show.

Armando Iannucci (director of the excellent In the Loop) shoots in a documentary style with disorienting elements, such as breaking the normal cinematographic rule of shooting conversations from one side. There’s one scene in particular where Jeffrey Tambor seems right on the edge of breaking character and laughing at the absurdity of it all. It’s easy to understand why; Iannucci and three co-writers (David Schneider, Ian Martin, and Peter Fellows) have crafted a hilarious screenplay, littered with funny barbs. Given the balance of comedy and darkness, the tone is an extended tightrope walk that lands as a rousing success.

The Death of Stalin, one of my favorite movies based on a true story, is also adapted from a French comic book, making it, incredibly, the best comic book movie of the year. As opposed to other reviews I’ve written, for great movies everyone knows, or bad movies a lot of people avoid, this is review as promotion. If fast-talking dark political satire is a mode you enjoy, watch a diamond example of the craft.

 

P.S.: As aforementioned, Simon Russell Beale is excellent as Beria, the nominal villain of the movie. That means my entire Supporting Actor field so far this year is villains – see also Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther and Hugh Grant in Paddington 2. Good job being bad.

A Wrinkle in Time (2018) Mini-Review

A Wrinkle in Time

Early in A Wrinkle in Time, two teacher characters are having a conversation with the most awfully stilted “as you well know” expositional dialogue, and the child who overhears them righteously yells, “Shame on you for talking that way!”

Quite so.

But really, the two teachers are setting up the two core conflicts of the film (while throwing shade on our heroes). Young Meg’s (Storm Reid) scientist father (Chris Pine) has mysteriously disappeared for four years after postulating interstellar travel via pure thought; and Meg has a lack of self-confidence that over the course of the movie will have cosmic consequences. Being as it’s calibrated for kids, the message of loving and accepting yourself just as you are is hit home constantly with a velvet mallet. The film is a monument to earnestness. There’s value in that, but as they say, your mileage may vary. I mainly object to the songs (not good enough for this not to matter), force-fed into the body of the film to inject emotion.

And I swear, director Ava DuVernay shoots this movie like Aronofsky’s mother!, full of intentionally disorienting extreme close-ups and subjective use of space. The focus is on creating empathy for the young protagonists, and thankfully the close watch of the camera finds able actors. One of them being Levi Miller as Calvin, a casual acquaintance of Meg who, to the surprise of even himself, shows up to get swept up in the adventure purely because of what we might call “fate” or “the script”. Is there something to the idea that this type of matter-of-fact fairy tale logic, so beloved in, say, The Princess Bride, finds a more skeptical eye from modern audiences?

Part of that dissonance might be because A Wrinkle in Time exists in the space between fantasy and science fiction, between flights of magic fancy and the application of complex equations. It’s The NeverEnding Story (Villain duties go to the It, like The Nothing) meets Interstellar. Even that latter movie and A Wrinkle in Time agree that love opens fifth-dimensional portals.

Even though the film doesn’t strictly speaking work overall (and in kind of an intangible way that’s unexciting to work through), calling something uneven implies it’s got good parts – and that certainly applies here. The standout sequence revolves around a suburban nightmare of conformity. The visuals are often appealing, with nice show-off-y costume changes for the cosmic beings. The fate of Michael Peña’s character is a really cool moment. There’s a magical flight that looks like it wouldn’t be out of place in the World of Avatar at Disney World. I often say that flight sequences bring out the best in composers, and while Ramin Djawadi’s music isn’t a patch on his own dragonriding music from Game of Thrones, it still does the trick.

Whether the movie as a whole does the trick for you depends. For me, this moralizing, space wrinkling, Hamilton referencing blockbuster is a mixed bag that fits in a tradition of heart-on-its-sleeve children-oriented fantasy without necessarily bettering it. In the future, let’s hope for better movies aimed at this demographic.

Black Panther (2018) Film Review

In the Thor movies, we’re used to the camera lovingly panning through the wonderland of Asgard, magisterial music blaring, spectacle rolling by. In Black Panther, simply replace Asgard with the African country Wakanda, the most technologically advanced nation in the world. This sense of wonder is right here on Earth, not in the far-flung cosmos, and the question of what the King of such a utopia owes to the rest of the world is central to the film; newly crowned King/Black Panther T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is still finding his feet when Erik “Killmonger” (Michael B. Jordan) challenges his claim to the throne.

T'Challa

The film opens with the intertitle “Oakland, 1992” (incidentally the city and year of my birth), establishing the setting of Erik’s upbringing. Upon seeing the post-Jetsons Wakanda, Erik calls for the nation to help its descendants affected by the African Diaspora in overthrowing their oppressors and “starting the world over”. And this causes a great conundrum for the audience. Wakanda is hidden and unspoiled, but their secrecy makes them the envy of everyone watching the movie. Minus the violence, Erik’s evil plan loses the evil part. Smartly, other characters like Nakia (Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o) and W’Kabi (Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya) make political arguments that are just less extreme versions of what Erik is saying. It’s up to T’Challa to mediate all these points of view, and by the movie’s end, he’s found a way forward.

Wakanda

Erik’s association with Oakland, both early in the film and reinforced in a beautiful moment toward the end, makes him in some way a stand-in for Oakland-born Ryan Coogler, director and co-writer of this very motion picture. Like Joss Whedon said of writing Avengers: Age of Ultron, “You’ve got to love your villain”. There’s a lot of Whedon in Ultron, and a lot of Coogler in Killmonger.

Erik Killmonger

Our hero T’Challa is a very internal character, so he doesn’t so much own the movie as center a great ensemble. Other standouts include M’Baku (Winston Duke), leader of the independent Jabari tribe, and Okoye (Danai Gurira), General of the fierce Dora Milaje, essentially the King’s elite all-female Secret Service. Best of all is T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), who fulfills several archetypes; she’s the sister, the Q to his James Bond, and the comic relief (and, on paper, a Disney Princess). The virtually all-black cast includes two significant roles for white men, including Martin Freeman reprising his Marvel role as Everett K. Ross. Freeman is really smart casting because he’s so likable, but also a schmo and easily put in his place. Trailers for Black Panther used Ross as a POV character to introduce the concept of the hidden country of Wakanda. “I’ve seen gods fly, I’ve seen aliens fall from the sky, but I’ve never seen anything like this”. By proxy, he was representing white mainstream moviegoers. Thankfully, the angle of using him as an “in” to the world of Wakanda is nowhere to be found in the movie proper.

Nakia Shuri

Of course, it’s hard to overstate the cultural significance of a lot of this Afro-Futurist iconography. It’s an aesthetic that informs everything presentational in the film, from production design to eye-popping costume design to cinematography (the Veldt scenes look beautiful) to score. (Ludwig Göransson’s main theme feels very much of a piece with his theme for Creed, his prior collaboration with Coogler.) There’s something to be said for world-building a very fictional space like Wakanda; in a way it makes the audience more invested than, say, a fictional version of New York City does. We’ll see how this plays out in Avengers: Infinity War, when Wakanda is threatened by a full-on alien invasion.

Veldt

The action here is a bit of a mixed bag. Some sequences impress, like a brawl in an underground gambling den that Coogler brings one of his Creed-style one-shot wonders to, and a Lord of the Rings-esque battle on vast grassy fields. But the film suffers from occasional CGI issues, and their nadir is the final Panther-on-Panther fight between T’Challa and Killmonger. These are already non-tactile suits, glitching like an ugly Microsoft Paint program, fighting in a heavily digital environment. It’s too many layers of unreality. On reflection, I don’t think that on a visual level, there’s ever been a worse main hero vs. main villain fight in the MCU.

Panther-on-Panther Fight

Maybe Hulk vs. Abomination looks worse. Maybe.

There are minor storytelling problems here and there – a romantic connection between two characters that could’ve been mined for great drama but is largely forgotten, awkward scene transitions – but the operative word is minor. There are certain tipping points in the film, when Shakespearean revelations come to light and the plot viscerally pivots, where everything just works. These moments are operatic, befitting the talk of royal succession. Black Panther is a dynamite entry in the superhero genre, another win for the MCU, an action movie that touches on vital political themes, and a hub of groundbreaking Afro-futurist iconography that will inspire all who see it. Long live the King. 9/10.

My Year at the Movies – 2017

Action Scenes of the Year (SPOILERS) (see below for One-on-One Fights)

10) The Losers’ Club vs. Pennywise, It

9) Shootout, Wind River

8) Foot chase, Baby Driver

7) Finale chase, Monster Trucks

6) Motorcycle surf chase, xXx: Return of Xander Cage

5) Mexican standoff, Logan

4) One-shot brawl, Atomic Blonde

3) Veld, Wonder Woman

2) Escalating finale, The Fate of the Furious

1) The throne room, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Throne Room Fight Praetorian First Guard Rey Kylo Ren

Best Action Films of the Year

Baby Driver

Atomic Blonde

The Fate of the Furious

John Wick Chapter Two

Logan

 

Best Non-2017 Films Discovered in 2017

https://letterboxd.com/paulstanis/list/best-non-2017-films-discovered-in-2017/

 

My Favorite () Yet

Battle of the Sexes, my favorite Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris film yet

The Fate of the Furious, my favorite Fast and Furious film yet

Gifted, my favorite Marc Webb film yet (though I haven’t seen (500) Days of Summer)

Logan, my favorite Wolverine film yet

My Cousin Rachel, my favorite Roger Michell film yet

Power Rangers, my favorite Power Rangers film yet

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, my favorite Rian Johnson and (maybe) Star Wars film yet

Thor: Ragnarok, my favorite Thor and Taika Waititi film yet

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, my favorite Martin McDonagh film yet

Wonder Woman, my favorite DCU film yet

xXx: Return of Xander Cage, my favorite xXx film yet (but, sue me, I like State of the Union)

 

Best Heroes or Antiheroes of the Year

11) Moonie (Brooklynn Prince), The Florida Project

10) Meredith (Jane Levy), Monster Trucks

9) Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), Molly’s Game

8) Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh), Murder on the Orient Express

7) Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Thor: Ragnarok

6) Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), Get Out

5) Diana (Gal Gadot), Wonder Woman

4) Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

3) Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Thor: Ragnarok

2) Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Rose Tico

1) Ruth Kimke (Melanie Lynskey), I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore

Ruth Kimke

 

Worst Heroes or Antiheroes of the Year

Valerian and Laureline (Dane DeHaan and Cara Delavigne), Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), Cars 3

 

Best Horror Films of the Year

Get Out

The Girl with All the Gifts

It

mother!

Raw

 

Moments of the Year

20) ATM, Baby Driver

19) “Of course not”, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

18) Churchill’s speech, Dunkirk

17) Olive the Wonder Woman, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

16) Projector scare, It

15) Riff-off, Pitch Perfect 3

14) “Luck don’t live out here”, Wind River

13) The reversal, Good Time

12) Laura unleashed, Logan

11) The cop car, Get Out

10) Good Morning Missouri broadcast, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

9) A hypothetical question, The Post

8) The ending, Your Name.

7) Second “Immigrant Song” needle drop, Thor: Ragnarok

6) TIE: “Choose” and “No More Catholics”, T2 Trainspotting

5) “I wish I could put my fist through this whole lousy, beautiful town”, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

4) Diplomacy montage, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

3) Shaw family reunion, The Fate of the Furious

2) This one, Kong: Skull Island

Explosion Reflected in Shades Kong Skull Island

1) No man’s land, Wonder Woman

wonder-woman

One-on-One Fights of the Year (SPOILERS)

13) Roland Deschlain vs. Walter, The Dark Tower

12) Eggsy Unwin vs. Charlie Hesketh, Kingsman: The Golden Circle

11) Logan vs. X-24, Logan

10) Letty vs. Russian, The Fate of the Furious

9) Walter vs. David, Alien: Covenant

8) Finn vs. Phasma, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

7) Vincent Downs vs. McFerrin, Sleepless

6) Thor vs. The Hulk, Thor: Ragnarok

5) Nick Morton vs. Edward Hyde, The Mummy

4) Mark Renton vs. Simon Williamson, T2 Trainspotting

3) Ashley Miller vs. Veronica Salt (Round 1), Catfight

2) Gamora vs. Nebula, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

1) John Wick vs. Cassian, John Wick Chapter 2

 

Best Pop Culture References/Allusions of the Year

10) The Lord of the Rings, Unforgettable

9) Hercules, The Fate of the Furious

8) Monk, The Assignment

7) Star Wars, Spider-Man: Homecoming

6) Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Thor: Ragnarok

5) On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, T2 Trainspotting

4) Wings of Desire, The Space Between Us

3) Seconds, Get Out

2) A Song of Ice and Fire, Logan Lucky

1) Jerry Maguire, The LEGO Batman Movie

 

Ranking Disney-Distributed Movies (Worst to Best)

7) Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

6) Cars 3

5) Coco

4) Beauty and the Beast

3) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

2) Thor: Ragnarok

1) Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 

Best School Films of the Year

Lady Bird

It

Monster Trucks

Power Rangers

Spider-Man: Homecoming

 

Best Science Fiction Films of the Year

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Blade Runner 2049

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

The Space Between Us

War for the Planet of the Apes

 

Sequel Improvement

Cars 3 > Cars 2

The Fate of the Furious > Furious 7

John Wick Chapter 2 > John Wick

Logan > The Wolverine

Star Wars: The Last Jedi > Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Thor: Ragnarok > Thor: The Dark World

xXx: Return of Xander Cage > xXx: State of the Union

 

Sequel Decline

Kingsman: The Golden Circle < Kingsman: The Secret Service

Pitch Perfect 3 < Pitch Perfect 2

Transformers: The Last Knight < Transformers: Age of Extinction

 

Best Sequel (#2 – Second Installment) of the Year

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Blade Runner 2049

John Wick Chapter Two

T2 Trainspotting

 

Best Sequel (#3 – Third Installment) of the Year

Thor: Ragnarok

Logan

War for the Planet of the Apes

xXx: Return of Xander Cage

 

Best Spinoffs of the Year

Wonder Woman

Kong: Skull Island

The LEGO Batman Movie

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Split

 

Stray Observations

After Godzilla cameos in Moana, King Kong cameos in The LEGO Batman Movie.

After Idris Elba sang the end credits song of Bastille Day, Samuel L. Jackson does the same in The Hitman’s Bodyguard.

After Tilda Swinton played twins in Hail, Caesar!, she does it again in Okja.

The general overuse of “Spirit in the Sky” continues with Life’s end credits, and I Tonya.

In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a peasant recognizes that Arthur is king because he’s “the only one who hasn’t got shit all over him”. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has a scene that covers Arthur in shit.

The Belko Experiment and The Circle share one similar plot point, and have the exact same final shot.

Peter Ferdinando plays the main villain’s henchman in both King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

I’ve seen four versions of The Mummy and this one is the weakest.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie is the second-best Power Rangers movie of the year.

In Battle of the Sexes, Emma Stone appears under a huge sign spelling Aloha, aka the movie where she infamously played the one-quarter Hawaiian Allison Ng.

Best nonverbal acting of the year: Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s Carrie Fisher in the scene where Leia and Kylo Ren feel each other’s presence through the Force.

There are five 2017 movies with the word “Wonder” in the title: Wonder Woman, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Wonderstruck, Wonder Wheel, and Wonder. Not to mention Logan, Logan Lucky, and Lucky. Plus, Your Name. and Call Me by Your Name.

I could have pretty much filled a legitimate, endorsed-by-me Best Actress category exclusively with people whose last name starts with H: Rebecca Hall in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Anne Hathaway in Colossal, Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water, Anne Heche in Catfight.

 

Tearjerkers of the Year

Dunkirk; Professor Marston and the Wonder Women; Wonder Woman; Murder on the Orient Express; Coco; Star Wars: The Last Jedi; Your Name.; The Post

 

Most Underrated Films of the Year

Star Wars: The Last Jedi; The Space Between Us; Sleepless

And Monster Trucks wins my “Pardon One Turkey” award. It’s really good!

 

Best Villains of the Year

10) Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), The Shape of Water

9) The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), Thor: Ragnarok

8) Kevin Wendell Crumb/The Horde (James McAvoy), Split

7) Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener), Get Out

6) Hela (Cate Blanchett), Thor: Ragnarok

5) Ego (Kurt Russell), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

4) The Joker (Zach Galifianakis), The LEGO Batman Movie

3) Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), Spider-Man: Homecoming

2) Francis Begbie (Robert Carlyle), T2 Trainspotting

1) Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Kylo Ren Samurai

Worst Villain of the Year

Steppenwolf

Born to be a mild threat.

WTF (Bad)

Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance, Okja

Chicago song at the big dramatic climax, Death Note

Ominous ending, Unforgettable

Mid-credits scene, Wish Upon

Jason Isaacs as Phantom of the Opera meets Frankenstein’s monster, A Cure for Wellness

The notion that people care about the byzantine politics, Underworld: Blood Wars

All of Transformers: The Last Knight

Jump scares, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

 

WTF (Good)

Rambling Anthony Hopkins villain, Collide

Excalibur, The Dark Tower

Fauna, Kong: Skull Island

The world revolves around an adult’s cards game, Girlfriend’s Day

TIE: The breakup scene and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift crossover, Wish Upon

Nicolas Cage as Unhinged Main Villain #32, Arsenal

Cockney Crowe, The Mummy

The concept of Colossal

Adventureland, Good Time

Uncensored Jeff Goldblum, Thor: Ragnarok

Mid-Credits scene, Split

All of The Fate of the Furious

 

Best War Films of the Year

Dunkirk

Mudbound

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Their Finest

Wonder Woman

 

(ROUGH) Final Ranking of All (111) 2017 Films Seen (Best to Worst)

Get Out; Star Wars: The Last Jedi; The Fate of the Furious; Colossal; The Post; Thor: Ragnarok; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri; Baby Driver; Your Name.; Wonder Woman; John Wick Chapter 2; Molly’s Game; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2; I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore; Beauty and the Beast; Battle of the Sexes; T2 Trainspotting; The Disaster Artist; Atomic Blonde; Coco; The Shape of Water; Logan; Murder on the Orient Express; Dunkirk; All the Money in the World; The LEGO Batman Movie; Blade Runner 2049; Darkest Hour; The Big Sick; mother!; Wind River; Loving Vincent; Spider-Man: Homecoming; Lady Bird; Kong: Skull Island; Monster Trucks; The Space Between Us; xXx: Return of Xander Cage; Catfight; Good Time; Phantom Thread; I Tonya; Call Me by Your Name; The Girl with All the Gifts; War for the Planet of the Apes; Free Fire; The Lost City of Z; Professor Marston and the Wonder Women; Raw; Power Rangers; Sleepless; The Hitman’s Bodyguard; Mudbound; It; Logan Lucky; Gifted; Pitch Perfect 3; Ingrid Goes West; American Made; Kingsman: The Golden Circle; Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets; The Breadwinner; Alien: Covenant; Their Finest; Girlfriend’s Day; The Great Wall; War on Everyone; The Florida Project; Personal Shopper; The Assignment; Split; Okja; A Ghost Story; The Greatest Showman; My Cousin Rachel; Aftermath; Cars 3; Gold; The Beguiled; Ghost in the Shell; Gerald’s Game; The Belko Experiment; The Discovery; The Zookeeper’s Wife; The Dark Tower; Justice League; Victoria & Abdul; Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie; The LEGO Ninjago Movie; Sleight; Table 19; Geostorm; Death Note; The Circle; Wonder Wheel; Wilson; Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales; Life; A Cure for Wellness; The Mummy; Wish Upon; The Foreigner; The Wall; Before I Fall; King Arthur: Legend of the Sword; The Book of Henry; Collide; Arsenal; Transformers: The Last Knight; Unforgettable; Underworld: Blood Wars; Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

 

By the Numbers

7 Monsters with grotesque rows of teeth (Monster Trucks, The Great Wall, Kong: Skull Island, Colossal, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Alien: Covenant, It)

5 Final bosses with skull helmets (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Wonder Woman, The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Thor: Ragnarok, Justice League)

4 Jungle treks (Kong: Skull Island, The Lost City of Z, Gold, Kingsman: The Golden Circle)

4 Films featuring sign language (John Wick Chapter Two, Baby Driver, War for the Planet of the Apes, The Shape of Water)

4 Women in a creepy isolated house (mother!, Gerald’s Game, Personal Shopper, A Ghost Story)

4 Wonder Woman appearances (The LEGO Batman Movie, Wonder Woman, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Justice League)

3 Awful fifth installments (Underworld: Blood Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Transformers: The Last Knight)

3 Films dealing with the Dunkirk Evacuation (Their Finest, Dunkirk, Darkest Hour)

3 Uses of John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” (Free Fire, Okja, Kingsman: The Golden Circle)

3 Uses of John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads” (Alien: Covenant, Logan Lucky, Kingsman: The Golden Circle) (The latter two films both feature Channing Tatum.)

3 Appearances of King Arthur’s sword Excalibur (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Transformers: The Last Knight, The Dark Tower)

3 “Major Tom” songs/references (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Atomic Blonde, Geostorm)

3 Films revolving around a one-on-one fight/confrontation (Catfight, Unforgettable, Battle of the Sexes)

3 Samuel L. Jackson appearances where another role of his is referenced (xXx: Return of Xander Cage, Kong: Skull Island, The Hitman’s Bodyguard)

3 Series’ main protagonists turn evil (The Fate of the Furious, Transformers: The Last Knight, Justice League) (With the exception of Justice League, the other films feature at least one scene in Cuba.)

3 Stephen King adaptations (The Dark Tower, It, Gerald’s Game)

3 Villains whose name is scoffed/laughed at (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, The Dark Tower)

2 Ape films heavily referencing Apocalypse Now (Kong: Skull Island, War for the Planet of the Apes)

2 February horror films in which a car hits a deer (Get Out, A Cure for Wellness)

2 Characters who make a big deal about aiming a weapon with his heart (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, The Dark Tower)

2 Coney Island appearances (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Wonder Wheel)

2 Eighth installments (The Fate of the Furious, Star Wars: The Last Jedi)

2 Uses of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” (Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Battle of the Sexes)

2 Uses of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I Tonya)

2 Genius-level gifted kids (Gifted, The Book of Henry)

2 Giant animals in South Korea (Colossal, Okja)

2 Good remakes (Beauty and the Beast, Sleepless)

2 High school films with the female lead being run over by a car at the end (Wish Upon, Before I Fall)

2 Hopeful futures for the International Space Station (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Geostorm)

2 of Jaeden Lieberher’s friends being abused by her single-parent father (The Book of Henry, It)

2 King Kong sightings (The LEGO Batman Movie, Kong: Skull Island)

2 Instances of life on Mars (Life, The Space Between Us)

2 Films where people ask someone what their mother was like and the answer is “fearless” (Beauty and the Beast, The Space Between Us)

2 Tom Cruise plane crashes (The Mummy, American Made)

2 Villainous absentee fathers who play catch with their son (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, The LEGO Ninjago Movie)

Curtain Call Cast Credits (xXx: Return of Xander Cage, The LEGO Batman Movie, The Great Wall, Beauty and the Beast, Sleepless, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Assignment, Collide, Death Note*, The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Loving Vincent, Thor: Ragnarok)

Epilogue Text (The Zookeeper’s Wife, The Lost City of Z, The Assignment, The Big Sick*, Wind River, American Made, Battle of the Sexes, Victoria & Abdul, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Loving Vincent, The Disaster Artist, Darkest Hour, All the Money in the World, The Greatest Showman, I Tonya)

Mid-Credits Scenes (Split, Power Rangers, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, Transformers: The Last Knight, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Wish Upon, Good Time*, The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Thor: Ragnarok, Justice League, Pitch Perfect 3*, Call Me by Your Name*, Phantom Thread*)

Post-Credits Scenes (Kong: Skull Island, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Cars 3, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Okja, Thor: Ragnarok, Justice League, The Disaster Artist)

Rose Tico Valkyrie Ruth Kimke

The three heroes of the year.