2016 Reviews

THE ACCOUNTANT (**1/2) is a flawed, hackneyed, moderately enjoyable Ben Affleck thriller.  All I need to say about that.

ALLIED (**) has such an intriguing setup (spy Brad Pitt is informed by his superiors that his spy wife, Marion Cotillard, may actually be a double agent), that it's a bummer that it's delivered so laboredly.

APRIL AND THE EXTRAORDINARY WORLD (***) is a wildly imaginative and visually stunning animated French film.  Unfortunately, I was too tired to hop on the front of the out-there train, and I was a bit allergic to the “performances”, but it’s clearly a very unique film that’s worth investigating.

ARRIVAL (***1/2)  How wonderful that the lead of a sci-fi film could be a female linguistics university professor (brought on by the government to attempt to communicate with aliens hovering in a ship mere fathoms* above a field in Montana, among 11 non-American locations on Earth).  Amy Adams is more calm & centered than ever before, and this “alien flick” feels far more like a political thriller: truly, what would we do under these circumstances.  There are next to zero explosions – this is the kind of taut, thought-provoking filmmaking rarely seen in this genre.

 

*a fathom is 6 feet, you non-nautical readers

THE BFG (**1/2) was thoroughly sufficient from a storytelling & cinematographical perspective, and Mark Rylance is endlessly marvelous; but it just didn't pop, and dragged a bit.

A BIGGER SPLASH (***) features Tilda Swinton (and her lover) and Ralph Fiennes and his daughter) as former lovers on vacation together in Italy.  The story leaves something to be desired, but the sound and cinematography and performances are breathtaking.

BILLY LYNN’ LONG HALFTIME WALK (**) is surprisingly bad.  Filmed at 120 frames per second (vs the standard 24), and based on a very successful & allegedly moving book about a war vet having flashbacks during a halftime appearance at a football game, buzz has been hot for this film.  But the rich visuals (a little too “wow it feels like I’m really there”) only illuminated how stale the dialogue was and how flat the acting was.

THE BIRTH OF A NATION (***) is solid and absolutely moving, but a bit too schmaltzy to fully impress.  Highlight: the performance by supporting actress Aja Naomi King, though her role is perhaps too small for a Dickie or Oscar nod.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (***)  is a perfectly solid Marvel movie.  Go for the action & jokes, stay for the action & jokes, stay for another hour of action & jokes (cuz this one’s long, as they all are), and then stay through the credits, and watch yet another wee chunk of action & joke.  It doesn’t fly off the screen with taut suspense the way Captain America: The Winder Soldier did; but the ensemble coheres better than they have been in the Avengers movies, providing the greatest joy of it.

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC (***1/2)  features Viggo Mortensen as a dad raising his six children in the woods, in order for them to develop au naturale,  without the negative influences of the rest of civilization.  When the mother commits suicide, they are forced to reconnect with their extended family, and...conflict naturally ensues.  It's a very intriguing story, and beautifully told - asks tough questions and flirts with inspiring answers.

CHRISTINA (***) is a rather entertaining portrayal of the true story of the news reporter who shot herself on screen.  Rebecca Hall is wonderful in the titular role.

DEADPOOL (***)  Sure sure, this definitely shook up the superhero scene in a deliciously creatively way.  But holy hell: calm down, team.  We don't need 30 dirty jokes every 5 minutes, especially when half of them are underwritten, merely the shape & smell of funny rather than actually funny.  And Dear Plot: where are you?  I LOVED the palate, and enjoyed myself, but wished it lived up to its palate more fully.

DEEPWATER HORIZON (***) is the perfect way to learn more about what went down on that BP oil spill ship, and how nasty it was!  It's not revolutionary filmmaking, but totally successful.

DENIAL (***1/2)  The true story of a Holocaust denier (Timothy Spall) suing a Holocaust historian (Rachel Weisz) for libel.  Spall is outstanding, as is Tom Wilkinson as Weisz's lawyer.  And the story is shocking enough to easily amount to a very good film.

DOCTOR STRANGE (**1/2)  I might have enjoyed this film’s trippy, magical spin on the superhero trend had I been more awake or, ya know, gave a crap.

DON'T THINK TWICE (***1/2) is about a New York improv group, and what happens to the social dynamics when one of them makes it onto Weekend Live (a thinly veiled SNL).  It's utterly top-notch dramedy, and poignantly hits at the core of what pretty much every professional performer is dealing with (on both sides of the "success" line).  Must-see material for actors.

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (***1/2) is one of the more moving teen dramedies (more drama) that I've seen.  True Grit's Hailee Steinfeld finally showed me why some people think she's has any talent - she made me tear up.

ELLE (***) is a French film starring Isabelle Huppert as a rape victim trying to subtly search for her rapist, who she suspects must have been someone she personally knew.  She's terrific, and it's... interesting enough!

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!  (***1/2)  Richard Linklater’s follow-up to Boyhood, and spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused, is one of the most entertaining films of the year (what a change-up from Boyhood, am I right? I’ll be here all week).  About a college baseball team enjoying their last day of summer before fall training, it features some of the most specific & colorful characters, and fully embodied performances, I’ve seen in awhile.  Go for the ensemble!

EYE IN THE SKY (***1/2)  A reservedly tense political war thriller, I strongly recommend this to fans of thinking-man’s suspense.

THE FAMILY FANG (***1/2) stars Nicole Kidman (who also produced) and Jason Bateman (who also directed) as the grown-up adults of avant-garde guerilla theater artists (Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett), who used their children as pawns in their flash-mob style “artistic” pranks, ultimately f**king them up into their present adulthood.  Watching these pro actors athletically handle this deliciously unique 4-way relationship is what makes it more than your time.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (**1/2)  If you're in the mood for 2 hours & 13 minutes of magical animals chasing shiny objects, and magical wizards chasing magical animals, and ignorant Muggles with shiny objects chasing magical wizards, look no further.

FENCES (***1/2) is the poor-black-family drama of the year, and boy is it good.  August Wilson adapted this screenplay from his own renowned play, and Denzel directs himself & Viola Davis into astounding performances.  VIOLA FOR THE SUPPORTING WIN, baby!  It's basically a lead, and she tears up the screen.

FINDING DORY (***) was just as fun as you'd want a Pixar movie to be, but with just a little less magic, heart, & classic hilarity.

THE FOUNDER (***) is the generally successful film about the McDonald brothers and the ravenous businessman, Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), who essentially stole their franchise.  Keaton's pretty great, and the story will hold your attention for two hours.

FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS (***)  Meryl Streep is fabulous, the movie is fun, and I brought none of it home with me.

GHOSTBUSTERS (***) was a successfully fun diversion, but nothing more than a broad, straightforward 2016 comedy, which is a little bit of a bummer considering its predecessor.

GREEN ROOM (**1/2) is suspenseful but distinctly overrated horror thriller about a band trapped in a green room by the murderous skinhead club owners.

HACKSAW RIDGE (**1/2) is the schmaltzy tale of an army medic (Andrew Garfield) who insists on fighting without a gun, as that would be against his morals.  It would be a lot better if Garfield were half as good at acting as he is at looking pretty.  (Oh so pretty.)

HAIL, CAESAR! (***)  3 stars is a mediocre review for a Coen Brothers movie - while I naturally enjoyed myself, I expected more.  Too many disjointed satellite characters that didn't provide enough flavor to make up for their lake of relevance, and the dialogue was below their stimulating par.  But: it looked & felt fun enough and did feature some playful performances.

HELL OR HIGH WATER (***) is a bank heist cat-and-mouse thriller starring Chris Pine & Ben Foster as the steady & wild mice respectively, and Jeff Bridges as the cop cat.  Bridges brings his trademark dazzle, and Pine & Foster deliver; but it doesn't add up to quite as much as it smells like it should.

 

HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS (***1/2)  Sally Field is delightful in this spunky little dramedy, about a wannabe cougar's crush on her new young boss (the beautiful Max Greenfield).  They're both lovely to watch, for different reasons :)

HIDDEN FIGURES (***) is the sentimental untold story of the team of mathematically gifted black women that were instrumental in helping NASA make it's launch, so to speak.  Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae are all terrific.  It's too formulaic a film (yuk yuk) to inspire me artistically, but it's surely a moving story.

A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING (**1/2)  is a perfectly serviceable Tom Hanks vehicle about a guy trying to lock down a business venture in Saudi Arabia, but ultimately winds up venturing deeper into his soul than his profession.  It’s a fine enough 2 hours, but certainly too cookie-cutter to do anything other than fall flat.

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (***1/2) is about a delightful New Zealand gem about a country-wide search an orphan and his foster uncle as they journey the deep woods in an attempt to escape the forces that want to separate them after the death of the Auntie.  Sheerly smile-inducing.

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO (***1/2)  is crushingly moving and importantly NOW.  James Baldwin's writing, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson (with a rare simplicity & softness), juxtaposed with footage from various time-periods that highlight the deeply-engrained racism in our culture...that's a beautiful thing.  At times the footage is either too on-the-nose or too obscure, and the arc wanders a bit.  But boy is it powerful, and boy is Baldwin's voice more relevant than ever.

THE INVITATION (**1/2)  A somewhat suspenseful people-start-dying-at-a-Hollywood-Hills-dinner-party horror thriller, featuring mostly terrible acting and a decent twist at the end.

JACKIE (***) is like a music video of Jackie's coping right after JFK's assassination.  So, not surprisingly, there are many moments & sequences that are stirring, but as a whole, it's limited in terms of what it's able to add up to.

THE JUNGLE BOOK (***1/2) is honestly stunning.  In every way.  It’s an exciting remake of a classic flick, made in a way it never could have been until now:  animated animals that straight-up look REAL AS HELL.  It feels like you’re watching a live action film (except when the animals’ mouths move), and yet – you’re not.  And it blows your mind to a) accept that these animals aren’t real, and b) watch something never before seen: said moving of the mouths of real-looking animals.  What a mind-f**k to see that, and delicious to feast your eyes on.  All while enjoying one well-crafted age-old tale.

KEANU (**1/2) is sketch comedy magicians Key & Peele’s first feature film, about two bff’s who get caught up with a gang in an attempt to save a cat they love, named Keanu.   While the two of them are a delight to watch as always, and many jokes are fun enough, it doesn’t quite add up to much.  Here’s the main problem, from my assessment: if you’re going to base the insane course of gang-events that transpire in this film on the triggering need of these protagonists to save a cat they knew for mere days, then you need to treat this story either very seriously (so the tone contrasts the absurdity of what’s going on) or very absurdly (so the tone accentuates the turn of events).  Unfortunately, they got caught in the middle, and nothing popped.

 

KRISHA (***1/2)  A 60-something woman comes back to her extended family (for Thanksgiving) the first time in years after a few troubled decades.  Family turmoil slowwwly bubbles up, but the pace is PERFECT.  If you're interested in seeing some super unique & effective directorial choices in the cinematography & sound arenas, definitely check it out.

KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (***1/2) is BEAUTIFUL, and unlike any other animated movie I've ever seen, primarily in terms of form, but also in terms of content.

LA LA LAND (***1/2)  This modern-day-LA-set musical (opening with a big-ass musical number set in a trademark traffic jam on the 105, and then centering on a doused-in-classic-movie-musical-themes romance between Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone, at their charming finest) ADDS UP.  It's geniusly constructed, wildly creative, & super smart about its balance between glitz & glam and raw truth.  I was less enthralled & dazzled than I felt like I ought to be, and I'm still thinking about what the movie could have done to dazzle me more - I think it needed to go a few steps farther in some direction, and surprise me more, in order to really plant the landing.  But at the end of the day: bravura filmmaking.

LIFE, ANIMATED (***1/2)  The story of an autistic guy who learns to communicate with others via his love for Disney movies, this is utterly uplifting and one of my favorite documentaries ever.

LION (***1/2) is SO moving.  So so moving.  It's the true story of a 5 year old Indian boy who is separated from his family, fostered by an Australian couple (including Nicole Kidman, in a lovely turn), grows up to be played by Dev Patel, and then searches for his family.  I've never really been a fan of Slumdog Millionaire star Patel, but he actually kills it.

LITTLE MEN (***1/2)  BEAUTIFUL!  I can't sum up the plot here - read about it or watch the trailer.  But man does this NYC real estate / cultural divides story hit the nail on the head by addressing the macro via a deliciously detailed micro story of a family and their Spanish renters.  Watch it!!

THE LITTLE PRINCE (***1/2) is an imaginative Netflix animated feature about a little girl's special friendship with her nutty old neighbor, and the journeys she travels through the stories he weaves.  It's pretty beautiful, but could have been better.

THE LOBSTER (***1/2) is one of the most imaginative & unique films I have ever seen.  The setting: a world where single citizens are captured and given 45 days to partner up, or else you will be turned into an animal of your choice.  The result: a hauntingly original universe that is deliciously enthralling to watch painted pixel-by-pixel before your eyes.  Colin Farrell is better-than-ever in the lead role of a sad-sack soft-spoken fellow trying to cope in this world.  Go see it, especially if you like daring filmmaking!

LOSERVILLE (***1/2) was co-written & directed by my dear Brown/Trinity MFA classmate Lovell Holder!  Woohoo!  It takes a smattering of teen-dramedy tropes and finally does everything RIGHT.  Check it out!

LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP (***1/2) is a disarmingly delightful period comedy, originating from the literary brain of Jane Austen.  Some neat original flairs help keep this offering bubble with energy, and I'd encourage you to give it a whirl!

LOVING (**1/2) is the true story of the Loving v. Virginia case that led to the legalization of interracial marriage.  Joel Edgerton and especially Ruth Negga are terrific in understated performances, but ultimately the film is too understated.  We spend two hours watching these people, and leave not knowing anything about them, or why they love each other, or even any details about the trial itself.  It's too bad, because obviously this is a moving story (as I sometimes felt during it) - it deserves a more enthralling vehicle for its delivery to our eyes.

MAGGIE’S PLAN (***) is a decent-enough dramedy about a pixie New Yorker (Greta Gerwig, flatly releasing her lines through her quirky mouth in her trademark bad-actor way) who, after her marriage with her affair-turned-husband (Ethan Hawke, alive & relatable as always) turns sour, tries to dupe him into falling back in love with his ex-wife (Julianne More, entertaining but suspiciously stilted, as always).  Doctor the script and axe Gerwig, and you might have quite a flick.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (****) Casey Affleck is astounding as a blue collar handyman who's had to adopt his 16-year-old nephew (Lucas Hedges) after his brother dies.  Meanwhile, he's also got some rough history of his own, shared with his ex-wife, played in a volcanic if brief turn by Michelle Williams.  The writing and acting are OUT. OF. THIS. WORLD.  Please go see it.

THE MEDDLER (***1/2)  is in some ways your typical heartfelt comedy (about a type-A LA career woman, Rose Byrne, coping with a overlong visit from her recently widowed & astoundingly stifling mother, Susan Sarandon), but somehow adds up to surprisingly more.  Sarandon is marvelous, as is J.K. Simmons as a romantic foil.

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (***1/2)  Michael Shannon & his friend (some guy, I don’t know) try to save his supremely gifted son (is he an alien? a robot? what’s up?) from a cult of God-worshipers who think he’s their savior.  It’s a supremely concave film that I couldn’t take my eyes off of.

MISS SLOAN (***) stars Jessica Chastain as an anti-gun lobbyist who must change firms and play some real hardball in order to go after what she personally believes in.  It has a hell of an ending, and I have no complaints; but it would need more artistic filmmaking a la Michael Clayton in order to amount to more.

MOANA (***1/2) is pretty top-shelf Disney.  The music & visuals swell, & dazzle your heart; and the themes are truly poignant.

A MONSTER CALLS (***)  This movie might be brilliant - I was too asleep to be able to tell.  Liam Neeson's monster voice is too monotone for these ears...  So, there's that room for improvement.  This is a deliciously explored & refreshingly original concept, but I don't think the execution was as effective as it could have been.  We'll call it 3 stars?

MOONLIGHT (****) is the crazy moving story of a black boy questioning his sexuality while growing up in Miami (not quite the easiest place for such a question, apparently).  It spends 40 min apiece on three different ages of his life, and you will be floored by these three performances, and how beautifully constructed this story is.  It will engender the kind of empathy that much of this country is lacking right now - let's just hope they see it.

MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI (***) is a beautiful claymation tale of an orphan boy.  Nothing to write home about, but rather moving.

THE NICE GUYS (***)  is a deliciously fun buddy-detective action-comedy starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowed.  They prove to be a surprisingly alive pair, and the LA-set plot is pretty fun to watch unfold.  As fun as it was, it felt a little less alive and poppy than I anticipated; but it’s definitely a fun time.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (***1/2) isn't as good as fashion designer Tom Ford's single other film A Single Man, but it's nonetheless quite immaculate & engaging.  Michael Shannon shines in a supporting turn, and Jake Gyllenhaal gets an A for effort in the lead role (he's about as good as he'll ever be, except for exception Nightcrawler.)

OTHER PEOPLE (***1/2) is a precious dramedy starring Jesse Plemons as a single gay screenwriter coping with a dying-of-cancer mom (Molly Shannon, doing some fine dramatic work) and a homophobic dad (Bradley Whitford).  Plemons is subtly outstanding, and the film both entertained & moved me.

PATERSON (**)  Director Jim Jarmusch is praised for the richness of his slow character-studies, but this "character study" about a bus driver poet in Paterson, NJ (Adam "My Last Name is Perfect for this Movie" Driver) has far too little going on underneath the surface for me to have wanted to spend 2 hours in this world.

PATRIOTS DAY (****) is an important film about the Boston marathon bombing of 2013.  Enthralling, moving, and perfectly told.

THE SALESMAN (***)  This Best Foreign Film winner displays how finely woven European storytelling tends to be.  It's a bit slow and doesn't add up to as much as this director's previous winner A Separation, but it's quality film.

SILENCE (**), about Jesuit priests searching for their mentor in Japan in the 1600's, is SOOOO BOOOORING! Sorry Scorsese... this one just didn't add up to anything for me.  It MAY be that it's masterful and I'm just the wrong audience for it, but man: it was painful for me, and 2 hours & 39 minutes to boot!  Ugh :o

SING STREET (***)  is another offbeat dramedy from the director of Once and Begin Again.  This time: boarding schoolers create a band, against their headmaster’s wishes.  It’s cute and poignant, but ultimately a little predictable and unexciting.

SNOWDEN (***) is a pretty great way to learn more about this guy and his story, and it's pretty thrilling to boot.  But it is totally too long, and not enthralling enough to merit that.  Also, I'm super tired of Joseph Gordon Levitt.

SULLY (***1/2) is about Sully Sullenberger, the pilot who landed the plane in the Hudson.  This might be my favorite Clint Eastwood movie - it's actually very well structured, and he finally doesn't get in the way of any of the performances - Tom Hanks predictably excels.

SWISS ARMY MAN (***1/2) is a wildly creative movie about a suicidal desert-island survivor (Paul Dano) and his magical corpse friend (Daniel Radcliff).  It would be a 4-star movie if it didn't star the two worst actors of today.

 

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (***)  A satisfyingly tense apocalypse thriller, featuring John Goodman holding two captives in a bunker for "noble reasons" (but are they noble?)  Not life changing, but good stuff.

TONI ERDMANN (**1/2) is the 2h42m German film that isn't NEARLY as deliciously entertaining as the critics are touting it to be.  Apparently it's the front-runner for the best foreign film Oscar, but man does that leave me scratching my head.  Sure there are some great moments & qualities to it, but it's WAYYY to long, and this story of a prankster father trying to reconnect with his workaholic daughter could have added up to so much more.

 

TOO LATE (****)  This will likely land a Dickie Award nomination for Best Picture - I slapped my hands together and exclaimed "YES" when the final frame went black and the credits popped up.  It's a noir with five approximately 20 minute scenes, chronologically jumbled, surrounding an LA private eye's (the enthralling & grisly John Hawkes) involvement with the case of a missing girl; each scene one unostentatious continuous take, with a hypnotic sound design.  Tinkering with chronology is old hat, but it has a fresh spin here, thematically and functionally.  And the plot, by its final unfolding, is gangbusters.  Check it out!

20th CENTURY WOMEN (***1/2)  is a precious ensemble dramedy (more a drama? my jury is out) about a boy growing up in a big house with his nutty, spontaneous & spirited mother (Annette Bening, at her finest), two renters (handyman Billy Crudup, and the free-spirited Greta Gerwig), and a few-years-his-senior friend-on-the-verge-of-benefits frequent-slumber-partier (Elle Fanning).  It’s about how this unique trifecta of female role-models influences the nurturing of this wide-eyed teen.  Bening is likely to be nominated, but keep an eye out for supporter Gerwig: I FINALLY see her talent, in spades, now that it is free from the stifling stiltedness of her frequent director Noah Baumbach.

ZOOTOPIA (***1/2)  One of the most fun & creative animated films ever made.

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