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Year End Summary for 2017

While I didn't have time to write up a lot of reviews for this last year, I did manage to summarize a few in addition to writing a couple complete reviews. Here's my 2017 round up:

"The Greatest Showman" a great musical. Of the 50 or so movies I've seen in 2017,  The Greatest Showman  is the top of my list. All the presence of what Hollywood does best: great music, character and show. But without what Hollywood does worst: the pretense or self-congratulatory tone of art looking admiringly at itself.. [detailed review...]

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" - The 2nd best, and weirdest, movie of 2017. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri  is at once tragic, humorous and ridiculous. Martin McDonagh's film is a redneck myth that somehow mingles the irreverence of the Coen brothers and the strange darkness of Guillermo del Toro. Using the blunt instrument of southern prejudice, writer/director McDonagh hammers out a tale of hyperbole, irony and overstatement that cracks open the viewer for a few moments of epiphany. Note: definitely an R movie due to language. [detailed review... ]

"Darkest Hour" is the third best movie of 2017, in my opinion. Gary Oldman's rendition of Churchill is both clear and complex. He masterfully delivers the best character movie of the year, while the directory/script keep the task narrowed in on the ascension of Churchill to the Prime Minister post and the immediate handling of the initial few days of the war effort while in office. Worthwhile and enjoyable yet without hyperbole.

"The Shape of Water" is the latest movie from Guillermo del Toro (Mimic, Pan's Labyrinth, Pacific Rim). A wonderful film of love between us regular humans, some mean humans, and a strangely alien terran whose own humanity seems to exceed that of the human persecutors he is subject to. An odd movie, for del Toro's intentionality about exposing people's quirkiness, but equally odd for its plot and character conclusions. Definitely worth seeing, if you can handle this final note- Note: an R movie due to nudity and situations.

"All The Money In The World" seems like it should be about excess and avarice. But it isn't. It's about the poverty of mind that leads the richest man in the world to despise his own flesh and blood for the sake of a few more talents of gold. Well-acted, well shot and interesting. The true story (with another "based-on-real-events" caveat) of billionaire Jean-Paul Getty and the kidnapping of his teenage grandson in the 70's. Christopher Plummer and Mark Walberg make this good enough to go to the theatre to see.

"Wonder" is a movie that doesn't lament its feel-good status. And neither should you. Good enough to watch, and honest enough to keep you watching, it does descend to emotional pleas. Still I never felt the movie absconded with reality to make you feel something. A boy changed by a birth condition takes on the world. He's changed, his family's changed and you smile at the end. If that sounds pedantic to you, you won't venture here. But if you watch it, you will discover some good scenes and characters. Only the poorly cast Owen Wilson requires any sympathy and lament, as he seems to stumble unbelievably with properly portraying emotional liminal space.

"Downsizing" has nothing to do with being fired. But one hopes that it does have that effect on whoever brought this idea to the studios. It's a movie about shrinking people to save the planet. Not actually a bad idea, but so disastrously scripted and plotted that you find out the only thing worse than saving the planet is saving human lives. We, after all, are the problem with ourselves, our planet, our universe. Yet, at the same time, if you are one of the truly "good" people inside, then maybe you shouldn't be illuminated like a bug. Hmmmm. Aside from the fascination of seeing a human as small as the size as saltine, the movie loses interest beyond that.

"12 Strong" is another "based-on-a-true-story" action flick that heralds a heroic military exploit and the people who survive it. Poorly developed characters are enabled by a "series of unfortunate events" in which a company of 12 soldiers manage to wipe out a strongly-armed but stupid adversary.  It seemed like a good, unique story put in the hands of a poor director. The only actor with possible chops to save the movie (Michael Shannon) finds his character turned into the only one who is nullified for the most important parts of the story. I am guessing the book or real story was a better read than this movie is to watch. Even the god of thunder (star C. Hemsworth) couldn't make lightning strike on this movie.

"Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" is a better-than-expected redo of the 1995 original with Robin Williams. Not worth the full entrance price of a theatre, but a fun Netflix queue addition nonetheless. Funnier, more intriguing and better acted than I expected, but still a C+ film.

"The Commuter" is Liam Niessen in yet another role where he "has a particular set of skills". A collusion of "Speed" and "Murder on the Orient Express", this movie has the typical expectation of one unbelievable twist after another, none of it making for suspense or interest. The surprises are never surprises and the whole narrative ends up being a self-fulfilling, prophetic symbol of what the movie really is: a train wreck.

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi". Earth discovered the largest blackhole in the universe on the night this movie released: a galaxy sucking void left by abandoning George Lucas' legendary space epic for a few chuckles, some Disney penguin toys, visionless direction and a cast with no onscreen presence in exchange for $10.50. Goodbye Star Wars.

"The Big Sick" is easily one of the best movies of 2017, imo, but its humor language (profanity) will be uncomfortable for many. That said, it's pithy without turning into a self-absorbed "look at my struggling career” comedian introspection. Using humor, it presents the story of a Pakistani comedian who courts a white American who ends up in a coma- plenty of one liner fodder if ever there was any.

"Valarian" is a good CGI wrangle. In fact, its entre-de-force is the fact that it plays a CGI virtual movie in which the characters themselves start off in an adventure in a CGI/virtual world … and return to that kind of motif several times. The characters are shallow and the action is sporadic. The plot is predictable and uninspiring. But, hey, it's cool and has so many homages to Star Wars I stopped counting.

"Dunkirk" is a poorly rendered multi-threaded story that has great music and audio, but tries to emulate a Crash (2004) story time/line device and fails to create an actual narrative that you care about despite the very compelling possibilities in the subject matter.

"War for the Planet of the Apes" is the "final” installment of the prequel or whatever they were trying to do to lead up to the original. Lots of blowing up stuff and discrimination topics. I moderately liked it. It was worth watching if you like apes acting like humans. Reminds me of home life and my 3 sons. Anyways..

"Spider-Man: Homecoming" is the 27th remake to hit the same story. Sony just can't stop cashing in on this franchise. Each time, the movie makes another swipe at the young web-slinger. Each time, it gets somethings wrong and right relative to the comic book hero I read growing up. Not worth the big screen, but fans will check out the rental/Amazon/Netflix.

"Wonder Woman" is the best superhero movie in 2017. Well done, good acting and fun. Nothing surprising here, other than the fact that they didn't screw up the character from the original comics but still managed to make her come alive and have dignity beyond the silly TV representations formerly played by Linda Carter. Both her and Gal Gadot are stunningly beautiful, but this modern movie makes much more of the comic-book accurate story of Wonder Woman's origins and her traversal into (and through) the 20th Century. DC aficionados will think this is one of the best renderings on film of any DC character. Much better than all the Superman movies, and just behind the Christopher Nolan trifecta of the Batman.

"Baby Driver" is violent, profane rich and ridiculous as an action movie-not that it would stop an action fan from liking it. It has an interesting core character and love interest with a slight disability who's inner ear ringing forces him to listen to music constantly… if car movies are your thing, throw it on the Netflix queue.

"Transformers: the Last" blah blah blah… don't go. Die first. Then still don't go. I'm glad I love popcorn and work out a lot. It's the only reason I didn't demand my money back.

"The Hero" is actually a decent character movie. Not great, but good. Old actor tries to come back. Meets with challenges on many levels. Be warned, though- some vulgarity and drug use. Despite that, I think it is worth seeing.


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