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Kyle Kersten was a true friend of TCM. One of the first and most active participants of the Message Boards, “Kyle in Hollywood” (aka, hlywdkjk) demonstrated a depth of knowledge and largesse of spirit that made him one of the most popular and respected voices in these forums. This thread is a living memorial to his life and love of movies, which remain with us still.

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From the Last 25 Years


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#21 CinemaInternational

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Posted 29 July 2017 - 12:52 AM

I would like to say a few words about the plight of Silence. I have mentioned before that I am a part of an online group of mostly young people who intently watch and discuss Oscar films past and present. Having studiously followed the entire 2016 Oscar race, I can say that the main reason for the shunning of Silence was its production company, Paramount Pictures.

For much of the year, it looked as though Paramount was going to have a stunning Oscar year. They had Silence, Fences, Arrival, Allied, and Florence Foster Jenkins, and all of them came with the possibility of awards. Well, Allied opened and disappointed many critics and audiences so that was DOA. Arrival and Fences both got their Best Picture nominations, even though the former embarrassingly missed out on a seemingly surefire nomination for Amy Adams. Florence Foster Jenkins also slipped up slightly as the category fraud of passing Hugh Grant as supporting completely backfired, costing him what looked to become the first nomination of his career.

But Silence was the most negatively affected. Paramount dragged their feet on the film. The first trailer did not appear until November, the poster having arrived a month earlier (I think). They embargoed it from many critics until shortly before its Christmas Day release, thus costing the movie greatly, as it needed those critical guild prizes to attract the Oscars' attention. And so very few people had seen it by the time the Oscar ballots were due. It was a shameful situation. This isn't the first time Paramount did something like this. It happened in 2014 with Selma, but that film did get a Best Picture nomination. Had Silence been done by another studio, I think it would have had a much stronger showing at the Oscars. Scorses just moved his next project away from Paramount and is producing it for Netflix instead.

As for the film, it was one of the most talked about films of the year in the group, and most people loved it when they saw it. I saw it in June and thought it was a thought-provoking, masterful film. My being a Catholic probably also helped my appreciation of its moral complexities. The performances were spot on. I think that it is one of Scorsese's very best films, and it will be making my top 10 list about 2 months from now. (As will another film that had its award hopes dashed by studio incompetence, A24's 20th Century Women)
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#22 LawrenceA

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Posted 28 July 2017 - 11:56 PM

Silence - Martin Scorsese's long-in-development adaptation of the novel by Shusaku Endo. In 17th century Japan where Christianity is illegal and punishable by death, two Portuguese Jesuits, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver), sneak into the country to search for their missing mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). The two missionaries minister to the remaining Christian population as best as they can, but as the crackdown on believers is intensified, Rodrigues has his faith tested to the extremes of spiritual endurance. Also featuring Tadanobu Asano, Issei Ogata, Yosuke Kubozuka, and Ciaran Hinds.

 

This was a passion project of Scorsese's, who had struggled for years to get it made. The difficulty he encountered finding funding is understandable when one sees the final product. It has little to no American commercial value, and is instead an earnest, deeply philosophical, in-depth examination of the limits of faith. The period and setting details are meticulous, as always in a Scorsese production, and the cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto is gorgeous. Garfield has a difficult role, and he pulls it off, showing a true character arc from beginning to end in his performance. There are several very good supporting actor performances here, too, from Driver and Neeson as the fellow Jesuits, to Ogata as the wily old Inquisitor and Asano as his official interpreter. As I stated, I can see why this would fail at the box office, but why it failed to also click with critics during awards season, I cannot fathom. The movie did earn a single Oscar nomination for Prieto's cinematography. It is my personal choice for best film of the year. Highly recommended.   9/10

 

This was my final 2016 movie.

 

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#23 LawrenceA

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Posted 28 July 2017 - 08:59 PM

Moonlight - Character study in triptych from writer-director Barry Jenkins. Told in three chapters, the film focuses on Chiron aka Little aka Black. In the first section, Little (Alex Hibbert) is a young kid, small for his age and picked on by his peers. He's discovered cowering from bullies in a crack den by mid-level drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali). He takes the young boy under his wing, much to the anger of his nurse mother Paula (Naomie Harris). In the second section, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is now a high school teenager. He's still bullied, and now has to deal with his mother's out-of-control crack addiction. In the third section, Black (Trevante Rhodes) is now an adult, and a mid-level drug dealer himself. He's also struggling with his repressed homosexuality, which was only revealed once many years ago. Also featuring Janelle Monae, Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, Andre Holland, and Patrick Decile.

 

This is a small movie in comparison with most Oscar-winning Best Pictures. The direction is fairly straightforward, and the scope of the story is limited to a sketch of a character. Ali's Oscar win for supporting actor is also a surprise, as while he's good, his role lacks any dynamic scenes that make him stand out. In many ways this reminded me of 2009's Precious, a study in abuse and misery among the poor and drug-addicted. I thought singer Janelle Monae was good, adding to her sterling acting year, and I was also impressed by Andre Holland as the adult version of Black's friend Kevin. But for me the reach of the film was too minor to make a lasting impression, and after this first viewing, I would have to rank this among the lesser of the Best Picture winners. The film earned nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Harris), Best Director (Jenkins), Best Cinematography, Best Editing, and Best Score, while it won for Best Supporting Actor (Ali), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture (eventually!).   7/10

 

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#24 LawrenceA

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Posted 28 July 2017 - 05:49 PM

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - First in a proposed series of one-off movies taking place in the Star wars universe. This direct prequel to the original 1977 film concerns the Rebel Alliance's efforts to learn about the Empire's secret new weapon, the Death Star. When word of such a weapon leaks out, the Alliance recruits thief Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) to make contact with radical resistance leader Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), with whom she has a past, and who is rumored to be in contact with a former Imperial pilot (Riz Ahmed) with news about the Death Star. Jyn is accompanied by Rebel spymaster Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), his robot sidekick K-2S0 (voice of Alan Tudyk), blind monk Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), and his companion, the grizzled heavy-gunner Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang). Opposing them is Imperial General Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), the ambitious supervisor of the Death Star project. Also featuring Mads Mikkelsen, Genevieve O'Reilly, and Jimmy Smits.

 

This was a troubled production, with the film's producers and the bosses at Disney demanding reshoots after director Gareth Edward's original cut was deemed too dark and depressing. The end result movie is a mixed bag of some great scenes that rank with the best of the series along with lengthy patches of the film that left me uninvolved. The central problem may lie with the Jyn Erso character, who we never really get to know and only root for because we are supposed to. There's no fault with Jones' performance, but rather with the unfocused screenplay, credited to at least 4 people. Several of the supporting characters are interesting or fun, though, such as the acerbically blunt robot K-2S0, and the Force-worshiping monk played by Chinese martial arts superstar Yen.

 

Another problem with the movie is that, despite the fact that these stand-alone adventures are touted as being outside of the traditional Star Wars storyline, they are still beholden to them, with all of the events here leading up directly to the beginning of the 1977 movie. This one also takes the added step of not only featuring a CGI young Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, but also featuring the long-deceased Peter Cushing, rendered via CGI, as the original film's villain Grand Moff Tarkin (and which ends up not quite looking right nor sounding like Cushing). There are also many throwaway lines and visual gags in the periphery that are call backs to the earlier films. We still don't know how well a truly original film set in this universe will be received, since this wasn't one, nor will the next one, due in 2018, another prequel, this one covering the formative years of Harrison Ford's Han Solo character.

 

Overall, though, I still liked more than I disliked here, especially during the final 45 minutes, when the big ground raid and space battles occur. I also didn't mind the bleaker resolution, which in many ways was a foregone conclusion. This received two Oscar nominations, for Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects. I'd give this a 7.5, but since I don't do partials, I'll round up. 8/10

 

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#25 LawrenceA

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Posted 28 July 2017 - 02:35 PM

Manchester By the Sea - Exceptional drama about grief, guilt, and family bonds, from writer-director Kenneth Lonergan. Casey Affleck stars as Lee Chandler, an apartment complex handyman in Boston. When he gets word that his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died, Lee returns to his hometown, where he's shocked to learn that Joe, who knew his time was short, had expressed in his will that Lee become the legal guardian of Joe's 16 year old son Patrick (Lucas Hedges). As Lee tries to determine his course of action, his own tragic past confronts him, as well as his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams). Also featuring C.J. Wilson, Gretchen Mol, Heather Burns, Tom Kemp, Tate Donovan, Josh Hamilton, Anna Baryshnikov, and Matthew Broderick. 

 

The heavy spiritual burden that some people carry has rarely been as movingly depicted. Affleck gives a wonderfully nuanced, underplayed performance of a man who has been completely destroyed within while keeping a largely calm exterior, only occasionally bursting forth in seemingly irrational moments of temper. Hedges is also very good as the sharp-tongued Patrick, and there are many funny exchanges between he and Lee, adding some levity to the melancholy proceedings. Williams delivers another stellar, chameleonic turn.  Director Lonergan does a good job expressing the emotional timbre of the story through the cold and damp coastal scenery. As someone who has experienced the kind of walking-dead emotional stasis as the Lee character, I sympathized greatly with him, and I also loved the idea of familial redemption, as Joe's final act was an attempt to heal his brother. This was one of the leading movies at the Oscars, earning nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Williams), Best Supporting Actor (Hedges), Best Director (Lonergan), and Best Picture, while winning for Best Actor (Affleck) and Best Original Screenplay. Highly recommended.   9/10

 

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#26 LawrenceA

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Posted 27 July 2017 - 11:47 PM

Star Trek Beyond - Third installment in the rebooted franchise, with former director J.J. Abrams remaining as producer, but handing directing duties over to Justin Lin. The crew of the starship Enterpirse, including Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine), science officer Spock (Zachary Quinto), Dr. Bones McCoy (Karl Urban), communications officer Uhuru (Zoe Saldana), helmsmen Sulu (John Cho) and Chekhov (Anton Yelchin), and chief engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg), are ordered into uncharted space on a rescue mission, but it proves to be a trap set by alien warlord Krall (Idris Elba), and the Enterprise core crew is stranded on an unknown world. Friendly alien Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) decides to help our heroes, and they'll need it, as Krall has a plan that could endanger all life in the galaxy. Also featuring Joe Taslim, Lydia Wilson, Deep Roy, Melissa Roxburgh, and Shohreh Aghdashloo.

 

I have not been a fan of this new series of Trek films. None of the recast roles fit to my mind, and I feel that the appeal of those original characters was based in the people playing them, and I would have preferred that the screenwriters just created new characters. Quinto, especially, makes for a very poor Spock, one that bears little resemblance to Nimoy's iconic turn. That being said, I appreciate this new film's attempt to step out of the shadow of old Trek by introducing new villains, settings, and aliens. I just wish they hadn't all been so bland. Elba seems an odd casting choice for the villain, buried under head-to-toe makeup and with his voice modulated. But a late film twist (and a stupid one, at that) makes the choice more clear. The direction is obnoxiously intrusive, with the camera zooming and sweeping in CGI abandon, reducing the veil of reality to oblivion. By the time our heroes are blasting out songs by Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys, I didn't know if I should laugh or groan. This managed to nab an Oscar nomination for Best Makeup.   6/10

 

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#27 LawrenceA

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Posted 27 July 2017 - 09:41 PM

Train to Busan - South Korean take on the zombie apocalypse, from writer-director Sang-ho Yeon. Hedge fund manager Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) decides to take his young daughter Su-an (Su-an Kim) to visit her mother in Busan for her birthday. What should be an uneventful hour-long train ride turns into a nightmare when a mysterious, rapidly-spreading infection causes its victims to become mindless, unkillable cannibals whose bite further spreads the disease. One such infected managed to climb aboard the train just as it departed the station, and it doesn't take long for a full-scale outbreak to sweep through the train cars. A small band of survivors must work together to make it to safety, but some of their number may be deadlier than the zombies. Also featuring Yu-mi Jung, Doung-seok Ma, Woo-sik Choi, So-hee Ahn, and Eui-sung Kim.

 

It's hard to come up with something new in the zombie genre, but this film manages to throw in a few scenes and situations that I hadn't seen before. The performances are all good, and I especially liked Doung-seok Ma as a big guy ready to use his fists to protect his wife and unborn child. The zombies here are of the fast-moving, ultra-violent type, closer to the non-zombie infected from 28 Days Later than to the shambling hordes of the Romero films. Some of the blue-screen work was a little dodgy, but acceptable. The central relationship between the workaholic father and his young daughter is handled well, and when the tears come, they're earned. Recommended.   8/10

 

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#28 LawrenceA

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Posted 27 July 2017 - 07:16 PM

Sing Street - Winning coming-of-age Irish musical written and directed by John Carney. It's 1985, and 15 year-old Dubliner Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) has just been transferred to the harsh Catholic school named Synge Street. After he impulsively tells pretty older girl Raphina (Lucy Boynton) that he's in a band and that he wants her to star in their first music video, Conor sets out to actually start a group. Soon enough Sing Street is formed, and Conor, along with lead guitarist Eamon (Mark McKenna) start writing their own songs, switching styles on a weekly basis, either emulating Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, or the Cure. Will the band succeed, and will Conor make his love for Raphina known, or is he setting himself up for a world of disappointment? Also featuring Jack Reynor, Aiden Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Ian Kenny, Don Wycherly, and Des Keogh.

 

Even if the music and the era don't quite match up (most of the music seems closer to 1983, although references to Back to the Future are 1985), the mood is infectious. The young cast is very good, and most of the original songs sound right for the time period, with one or two exceptions. The fashions and makeup are also a nice throwback. The film does a really good job showing the joy of the creative process, and I was also impressed by the positive relationship between Conor and his older brother, played by Jack Reynor. This isn't anything very heavy, but most adults, even those who aren't nostalgic for 80s New Wave music, should enjoy it as much as any teen audience. Recommended.   8/10

 

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#29 LawrenceA

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Posted 27 July 2017 - 04:11 PM

The Nice Guys - Entertaining 1977-set comedy/action/mystery from writer-director Shane Black. Professional leg-breaker Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and drunken P.I. Holland March (Ryan Gosling) find themselves working together when a porn actress that was reported dead is spotted running around L.A. As the unlikely duo go on their search, they discover a web of corruption that leads all the way to the US Justice Department. Thankfully the pair have Holland's sharp 13-year-old daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) to help put the pieces together. Also featuring Matt Bomer, Lois Smith, Margaret Qualley, Yaya DaCosta, Keith David, Beau Knapp, Gil Gerard, Jack Kilmer, and Kim Basinger.

 

Director Black previously had a terrific outing with 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and much of that film's snappy banter and neo-noir plotting are continued here. Crowe, looking heftier than ever, seems like he's having fun for a change as the two-fisted bear Jackson, while Gosling gets to play cowardly, opportunistic, and inebriated to good comedic effect. The film is full of small period-specific details, like billboards for Smokey and the Bandit, and a comedy club marquee touting newcomers Tim Allen and Elaine Boosler. The soundtrack, featuring many period tunes, has a least one anachronism ("Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" was from 1979). The action scenes are well done and kept to a minimum. Much like Black's earlier film, this should have been a bigger hit than it was, and it will likely end up on my Top Ten of the year list. Recommended.   8/10

 

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#30 LawrenceA

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Posted 27 July 2017 - 12:22 PM

Nocturnal Animals - Arthouse drama/crime thriller from fashion designer-turned-writer/director Tom Ford. Amy Adams stars as Susan Morrow, an unhappy L.A. modern art dealer stuck in a loveless marriage with Hutton (Armie Hammer). Susan receives a manuscript of a novel by her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) whom she hasn't spoken to in nearly 20 years. As Susan begins to read it, we see both the events of the novel (which is where the crime thriller aspect comes into play), as well as flashbacks to Susan and Edward's life together. Also starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Shannon, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen, Jena Malone, Karl Glusman, and Laura Linney.

 

From the shock-value opening credits, to the two halves of the plot that don't mesh in an easy to notice manner, this won't be for everyone. I liked it quite a bit, though, and appreciated both sides of the tale. The events of the novel work well as a standard crime thriller, and one wonders what Ford could accomplish if he simply tried to make something like that without the surrounding artistic pretensions. But I could recognize how the events in the novel were a way for the author to find catharsis with the events of his past with Susan. The performances are all good, although some of the cast (Sheen, Riseborough, Malone, Linney) is wasted in nothing parts. Shannon earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role as an intense detective in the story-within-a-story. Recommended, but with reservations.   8/10

 

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#31 LawrenceA

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Posted 26 July 2017 - 11:13 PM

The Wailing - South Korean supernatural horror from writer-director Hong-jin Na. When a small village is beset by a series of inexplicable murders, bumbling policeman Jong-gu (Do-won Kwak) is on the case. Does it have something to do with the mysterious Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) who recently moved to town? As many people become convinced that there are evil curses at work, Jong-gu starts to fear that his young daughter may be the next victim. Also featuring Jung-min Hwang, Woo-hee Chun, and Hwan-hee Kim. 

 

Many South Korean films have a tendency to lurch back and forth tonally, making for some difficult viewing experiences. This is one such case, spending a great deal of time establishing what a goofy, fat-headed idiot the protagonist is, and then expecting the viewer to care about what happens to him. This is the kind of script that frequently has characters withholding information from each other when it makes no sense to do so, and for people to react in ways that don't seem to jibe with any reality that I'm aware of. And I'm not talking about the supernatural events, but rather the way the "normal" characters go about things. Perhaps it's a cultural difference, but one that I have not noticed to such an extreme in other SK films. Do-won Kwak as the lead was irritating and tiresome, and I started to  wonder if the title referred to what his character seemed to spend a lot of time doing. By the time the movie finally heads into the final stretch (it has a 157 minute running time), who the characters really were and why they were doing what they were doing made little sense to me. But maybe that was because I had stopped caring about 30 minutes earlier. This was another tremendous disappointment.   6/10

 

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#32 LawrenceA

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Posted 26 July 2017 - 07:47 PM

The Lost City of Z - Well-mounted jungle epic from writer-director James Gray, adapting the bestselling nonfiction book by David Grann. In 1906, British Army Major Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) signs on with the Royal Geographical Society and embarks to map central Bolivia and the Amazon river basin. He is joined by aide-de-camp Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson), and at the end of their grueling journey, they discover relics from what may be a lost ancient South American culture, a place that Fawcett names "Z". His adventures thrill people back in Great Britain, where the spirit of the last great era of exploration is in full swing. Fawcett then proceeds to make more journeys back to the Amazon in search of his lost city. Also featuring Sienna Miller as Fawcett's supportive wife, Tom Holland as his eldest son, Angus MacFadyen, Ian McDiarmid, Edward Ashley, Clive Francis, and Franco Nero.

 

Director Gray, an unlikely choice for the material given his previous cinematic works (mainly character-driven dramas like We Own the Night and Two Lovers), presents an old-fashioned man-vs-nature adventure, one based in great jungle movies of the past, such as Apocalypse Now and Herzog's Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo. Hunnam, an actor that I never really warmed to before, is excellent as the man of great inner strength and character determined to better his life. Miller is also good as the wife and mother with the patience of Job. Pattinson, hidden under a great bushy beard, resembles Bed-In era John Lennon. Fawcett's determination to find the lost city not simply for monetary gain but rather to show that the indigenous peoples of South America deserve respect and equality, is an admirable twist on the genre. While much of the movie is filmed in a direct, although still beautiful, manner, there are moments of artistic flourish, especially during the ambiguous finale. This is another movie that will be debated in regards to the proper release year: it premiered at the 2016 NY Film Festival, but didn't receive a general release until April of this year. Recommended.   8/10

 

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#33 LawrenceA

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Posted 26 July 2017 - 02:41 PM

Paterson - Tedious bore from writer-director Jim Jarmusch. Paterson (Adam Driver) is a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey. He gets up every day and follows the same basic routine, while quietly listening to his artistic wife/girlfriend(?) (Golshifteh Farahani) as she plans new hobbies like making cupcakes, learning guitar, and interior decorating. Paterson also writes poetry, or at least tries to, about the banal details of his existence. Also featuring Barry Shabaka Henley and Method Man.

 

I'm a big fan of Jim Jarmusch, and have found things to like about even his most seemingly inaccessible and obtuse movies (The Limits of Control). But this movie was a complete wash-out for me. It's dull, long, with no insight into anything, or the usual off-beat humor at least lurking around the fringes of things in Jarmusch's movies. If his intent was to show the search for art and meaning in even the most meaningless of lives, he could have done it in a more interesting way. Driver is an actor that I like, and his natural charm comes through a bit, but Paterson's such a wet-rag of a character that I wouldn't have cared less if he was killed in some horrible fashion. The movie often seems as if it is heading in some direction, but it never does, settling for little "quirks", like Paterson seeing a few sets of twins, or his love/hate relationship with the family dog. 

 

I feel like I must have missed something, as this was on quite a few "Best of the Year" lists, but I thought it was terrible, and easily the biggest disappointment of the year for me. Or maybe I'm just in a bad mood.   5/10

 

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#34 Marianne

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Posted 26 July 2017 - 10:19 AM

Patriots Day - More true-story heroics from director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg. The terrorist bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon is dramatized, from the events of that day through the next 4 days as multiple law enforcement agencies work to track down the two culprits. Boston PD Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg) is working at the marathon finish line when the bombs go off, and he stays with the case through to the end. We also see the activities of Boston police commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon), Watertown police sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese (JK Simmons), and the bombers themselves, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff) and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze). Also featuring Michelle Monaghan, Melissa Benoist, Christopher O'Shea, Rachel Brosnahan, Jake Picking, Lana Condor, Jimmy O. Yang, James Colby, Michael Beach, John Bolger, Vincent Curatola, and Khandi Alexander.

 

This third part in Berg's unofficial "American Heroes" trilogy, following Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, is perhaps the best of the lot. While the usual bit of patriotic flag-waving is on display, the story has more nuance, spending time to discuss whether terrorist acts can ever fully be prevented, and subtly warning about the erosion of civil rights and freedom in exchange for security. Despite this being such a recent story, I found out a lot of details that I did not know about the events after the bombing, as there was a glut of false information at the time due to the ravenous 24 hour news channels churning out "facts" faster than they could be verified. The performances are all suitable, although this isn't really the type of story for dramatic fireworks. I was impressed by the small bit from Khandi Alexander as an unnamed (CIA?) interrogator. I also liked the score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. This is a harrowing, at times intense look at recent events, and it's not afraid to show the mistakes made along the way, too. Recommended.   8/10

 

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It's hard for me to be objective about this film in some ways because I live in the Boston area and lived through the events portrayed in Patriots Day. I didn't think I would like it but I was surprised. I want to see Peter Berg's other films, but I have a feeling they will be emotionally demanding for me, too. He seems to have a knack for picking subjects close to home for me, literally and figuratively. For instance, I once knew someone working on oil rigs off the Gulf Coast, and I think Deepwater Horizon will be another tough film for me to watch. I'll have to wait until I recover from all the Hitchcock suspense thrillers I'm watching for The Master of Suspense: 50 Year of Hitchcock!


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#35 LawrenceA

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Posted 25 July 2017 - 11:14 PM

20th Century Women - Charming, touching coming-of-age dramedy from writer-director Mike Mills. It's 1979 in Santa Barbara, California, and 16 year old Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) lives in a house with his mother Dorothea (Annette Bening) and 3 roommates: photographer and punk rock enthusiast Abbie (Greta Gerwig), hippie home renovator William (Billy Crudup), and Jamie's friend Julie (Elle Fanning), who doesn't officially live with them, only she sneaks in and sleeps over every night. As Jamie struggles with adolescence, his mother worries that she can't connect with him enough, and so she asks the other housemates to act as surrogate parental figures as needed. Also featuring Alison Elliott, John Billingsley, Thea Gill, and Alia Shawkat.

 

Dialogue and characterization are key here, as the plot rambles along a bit loosely. Thankfully, the script is sharp, and the acting is top-notch across the board. I was most impressed with Gerwig, as the rambunctious Abbie, and felt that she gave the best supporting performance that I've seen from 2016 so far. She was certainly robbed of at least an Oscar nomination, if not the win. I also really liked Fanning, who has certainly come out of the shadow of her accomplished older sister to carve her own, distinctive career. Bening is good (as usual) in a difficult part, as, although Dorothea seems to be the most open-minded and social of people, her character is also the most inscrutable. If there was any one weak link it would be young Zumann as the central character of Jamie. Zumann isn't bad at all, he just doesn't generate much screen charisma. This was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. Recommended.   8/10

 

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#36 LawrenceA

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Posted 25 July 2017 - 08:22 PM

Split - Well-done suspense thriller from writer-director M. Night Syamalan. Three teenage girls, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), and Marcia (Jessica Sula) are kidnapped and held captive in an underground lair by Dennis (James McAvoy), a shaven-headed neat freak who claims that the girls are being kept as "offerings" for "The Beast". The scary situation is made even more so as the girls realize that their captor is even more disturbed than they thought, as he begins to display multiple personalities, such as Miss Patricia, a stern Englishwoman, Hedwig, a mischievous 9-year-old, and Barry, a flamboyant fashion designer. As the girls desperately seek to find an escape, Dennis (or one of his other personalities) is trying to find help with his longtime psychotherapist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley). Also featuring Brad William Henke, Izzie Coffey, Sebastian Arcelus, and Neal Huff.

 

I've found M. Night Shyamalan's prior films to be very hit-or-miss, more often miss. But this is a return to his earlier promise, thanks largely to the tremendous cast, and to a minimalist filming style. McAvoy is superb in his multiple roles, going beyond simple voice changes, and using his body and minute facial expressions to truly deliver different characterizations. Taylor-Joy, who made an impression in 2015's The Witch, is also noteworthy here, playing a character that is only slowly revealed over time. Speaking of revelations, the very last scene of the film takes things in a whole other direction, but I won't spoil that for you, although if you're interested in this sort of thing, you probably already know what happens. This will be another movie whose correct release year will be debated, as while I'm using the IMDb listed 2016, where it played at two film festivals, most people will consider it a 2017 movie, as it was premiered and generally released in January. Recommended.   8/10

 

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#37 LawrenceA

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Posted 25 July 2017 - 04:53 PM

Patriots Day - More true-story heroics from director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg. The terrorist bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon is dramatized, from the events of that day through the next 4 days as multiple law enforcement agencies work to track down the two culprits. Boston PD Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg) is working at the marathon finish line when the bombs go off, and he stays with the case through to the end. We also see the activities of Boston police commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon), Watertown police sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese (JK Simmons), and the bombers themselves, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff) and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze). Also featuring Michelle Monaghan, Melissa Benoist, Christopher O'Shea, Rachel Brosnahan, Jake Picking, Lana Condor, Jimmy O. Yang, James Colby, Michael Beach, John Bolger, Vincent Curatola, and Khandi Alexander.

 

This third part in Berg's unofficial "American Heroes" trilogy, following Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, is perhaps the best of the lot. While the usual bit of patriotic flag-waving is on display, the story has more nuance, spending time to discuss whether terrorist acts can ever fully be prevented, and subtly warning about the erosion of civil rights and freedom in exchange for security. Despite this being such a recent story, I found out a lot of details that I did not know about the events after the bombing, as there was a glut of false information at the time due to the ravenous 24 hour news channels churning out "facts" faster than they could be verified. The performances are all suitable, although this isn't really the type of story for dramatic fireworks. I was impressed by the small bit from Khandi Alexander as an unnamed (CIA?) interrogator. I also liked the score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. This is a harrowing, at times intense look at recent events, and it's not afraid to show the mistakes made along the way, too. Recommended.   8/10

 

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#38 LawrenceA

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Posted 25 July 2017 - 12:53 PM

Miss Sloane - Intelligent drama that serves as both a character study and a look at Washington lobbyists and the national gun debate. Jessica Chastain stars as Elizabeth Sloane, one of the most feared and respected lobbyists in D.C. She's a cold-hearted shark who won't hestitate to do what's necessary to win. So she surprises her high-powered firm when she announces that she's quitting to join a smaller firm that's set on getting gun restriction legislation passed, while her old firm signs on as the NRA representative. As the struggle for votes goes back and forth, how far is Miss Sloane willing to go to ensure victory? Also starring Mark Strong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jake Lacy, John Lithgow, Alison Pill, Christine Baranski, Meghann Fahy, Dylan Baker,  and Sam Waterston.

 

Chastain excels as the icy Sloane, a woman who has sacrificed everything else in her life for her career, and the cracks are starting to show. The film doesn't talk down to the audience, but it also manages to depict lobbying practices in a way that makes it easy to understand what's involved. The film also leaves the moral questions regarding the gun debate open, so those with either position will appreciate the movie. The direction from John Madden is very good, keeping things moving at a brisk pace without getting exhausting. I also liked the performances by Pill as a rival lobbyist, and Lacy as a male escort. If things come together a little too neatly at the end, it's not so corny as to negate the rest of the film. Recommended.   8/10

 

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#39 LawrenceA

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Posted 24 July 2017 - 09:00 PM

A Monster Calls - Tearjerking fantasy/drama directed by J.A. Bayona and based on the book by Patrick Ness. Young teen Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is having a hard time. He's being beaten up by bullies at school, his father (Toby Kebbell) has moved away from England all the way to Los Angeles, and Conor's mom (Felicity Jones) is slowly dying from some terminal illness. Conor has a nightmare one night where the yew tree from the nearby churchyard comes to life, transforming into a giant, humanoid monster. The Monster (voice of Liam Neeson) tells Conor that he will visit him four time: the first 3 times, the Monster will tell Conor a story, but on the 4th visit, Conor must tell his story. Conor spends his days dreading the Monster's appearances, while also dealing with his family's decisions regarding his future. Also featuring Sigourney Weaver, Ben Moor, and James Melville.

 

To say that this story hit me close to home would be an understatement. I was roughly the same age as the Conor character when I learned that my father had a terminal illness, one that lingered for years before finally taking his life. Uncomfortable hours spent in hospital corridors, barely heard whispered conversations among older family members that only served to alienate me more, and an inability to properly express my emotions resulting in self-destructive behavior- all of these things I experienced are touched on in this film. Unfortunately, I didn't have a giant Liam Neeson-voiced tree monster to help me deal with things. The lead performance by MacDougall is excellent, and Jones has one very good, standout scene late in the film. The creature effects are exemplary, as is the water-color-like animation used during the Monster's tales. Since this scenario was deeply resonate for me, I may have liked it more than other viewers will, but I'll still give it a Recommended.   8/10

 

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#40 LawrenceA

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Posted 24 July 2017 - 04:02 PM

Zootopia - Very entertaining animated comedy mystery from Disney. In a world populated by intelligent, anthropomorphic animals, young country bunny Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin) dreams of moving to the big city of Zootopia and becoming a police officer, something unheard of for a rabbit. However, when she finally makes it there, she finds herself dismissed by her superiors, such as ZPD Chief Bogo (v: Idris Elba) and Mayor Lionheart (v: JK Simmons), and relegated to parking duty. When a series of animals go missing, though, Judy manages to get assigned to the case, and with the help of streetwise hustler and fox Nick Wilde (v: Jason Bateman), she's determined to prove herself worthy of the task. Also featuring the voices of Jenny Slate, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Alan Tudyk, Octavia Spencer, Nate Torrence, Shakira, and Tommy Chong.

 

This movie gets points for taking that most tired of animated film tropes, the cute talking animal, and doing something fresh and exciting with it. The multi-faceted city of Zootopia is an interesting concept, with its various districts separated by environments, such as arctic, jungle, and Rodentia, where the smallest mammals live. There are thankfully no songs other than the pop song from the movie's pop-singer character, and in fact one character in the movie states that this isn't the kind of place where someone sings a song and everything is fixed, a sly dig at animated musicals. The movie has a number of in-jokes and references scattered among the background details that could warrant repeated viewing to catch them all. The messages of never giving up on your dreams, and a rather adult look at minority scapegoating, are also well done. This won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Recommended.   8/10

 

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