Posts Tagged ‘2016 movies’

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Nocturnal Animals (2016)

February 15, 2018

Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Director: Tom Ford (A Single Man)

Bottom Line: I can see how Nocturnal Animals has divided audiences and I’m actually surprise the audience score is as high as it is on Rotten Tomatoes (72%). This is likely not a movie for the casual filmgoer or really anyone that doesn’t want to think too much while watching films. I loved it though. It’s beautifully shot, extremely well acted, and the multiple narratives seem complex but are actually pretty simple and intertwine extremely well.

Here’s the gist: Amy Adams plays a woman deep into her second marriage and things seem to be falling apart between them. While her husband is away in NYC (cheating on her) she receives a manuscript from her previous husband (Gyllenhaal) that she begins reading. The story is about a man (Gyllenhaal again), and his wife and daughter, driving along a deserted Texas highway and being forced off the road by some hooligans that torment the family and eventually take off with the two women. The man teams up with a local sheriff (Shannon) to locate the two women. While reading the manuscript, Adams’ character finds herself reflecting on her own life and wondering about the choices she’s made.

I tried to type that synopsis up with as few spoilers as possible. I highly recommend watching Nocturnal Animals knowing absolutely nothing about it… like I did.

Michael Shannon gives a terrific (and Oscar nominated) performance as the Texan sheriff and the rest of the cast is great as well. Jake Gyllenhaal always seems to be solid, if not quite amazing, in any role he takes on and this film isn’t any different for him. Amy Adams’ character is quite a bit more interesting. In flashbacks, she seems genuine, somewhat optimistic, and perhaps quite a bit naive and in the present she says very little but exudes sadness and a palpable coldness. It’s a nuanced performance that will probably be appreciated more over multiple viewings. Also, it’s a bit of casting genius to have Isla Fisher in the role of the wife in the manuscript as Fisher and Adams have long been linked as doppelgangers of one another.

Nocturnal Animals is a brilliant film. If you found yourself unsatisfied when the credits started rolling, work a little harder. Do some research and figure it out. If you don’t want to do that, then Nocturnal Animals definitely wasn’t for you. This movie fires on all cylinders, while combining Western thriller with psychological warfare and a classic revenge tale. I still haven’t seen some critically acclaimed films from 2016, but right now I feel comfortable ranking Nocturnal Animals as high as #3 on my list and I won’t be surprised if ten years from now I look back on 2016 and it’s the film I remember most. I highly recommend it, but be warned: you’re going to have to use your brain because it’s not all spelled out for you.

Replay Value: This is the kind of film that if you liked it, you’ll surely want to watch it again. Probably immediately.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Michael Shannon was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and, in what I felt was a rather weak year for films, was probably robbed of multiple other nominations. Nocturnal Animals stuck with me way more than La La Land and Fences, for instance, and it seems criminal that the film received zero technical nods.

Grade: 8 (Must See)

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The Love Witch (2016), Hush (2016), Little Evil (2017)

September 11, 2017

The Love Witch (2016) – Curse the Best Movies of 2016 list that I saw this film on! But it’s hard to blame one list – The Love Witch sits at 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. This is one movie the critics and I did not agree on… not even a little bit. When the critics love a movie I could barely sit through, it makes me wonder what they were seeing that I didn’t. The Love Witch has gotten praise for its 1970s retro look and if there’s anything to like about this film it’s certainly the visual presentation. But I couldn’t get into the story at all and while Samantha Robinson gives a sultry performance in the lead role, she delivers all her dialog in a cadence that borders on parody and if this film is supposed to be a parody of something, I have to say it went over my head or I wasn’t paying close enough attention. I admittedly tuned out pretty early in the film and I almost quit it, so I have to admit this might not be the most fair review, but if a movie doesn’t grab my attention at all in the first 45 minutes, how good can it possibly be? The Love Witch is unrated and while it has a fair amount of nudity and sexual content, it’s not that sexy. This movie didn’t work for me as a parody, a comedy, or a horror film. It obviously has an audience, but I hated it and I doubt many of the people that read my reviews would like it either.

Replay Value: I’ve read reviews that say repeated viewings are worthwhile but that’s a hard pass for me.
Sequel Potential: The Love Witch grossed less than $300K so I’m going with none.
Oscar Potential: None

Grade: 3/10 (Skip It)

Hush (2016) – This was a solid horror thriller about a deaf woman living by herself in the woods and fighting for her life when a Jabbawockee shows up outside her window and does a killer dance routine. Just kidding. Hush is serious horror and there is nothing funny about this movie. This is a killer reminiscent of Michael Myers in the original Halloween, before he couldn’t be killed and was just your standard psychopath that really enjoyed murdering people… with a mask on. We don’t know why this man shows up outside this window or what his motives are and, let’s be honest, there are plenty of killers like that in the real world. And that’s part of what makes Hush scary: the idea that someone can be lurking right outside your bedroom window isn’t all that farfetched. Making the main character deaf certainly raises the stakes and writer/director Mike Flanagan and writer/star Kate Siegel (a married couple in real life) come up with plenty of scenarios that bring Maddie’s handicap into play. Siegel gives such a convincing performance that I wondered if she is actually deaf (she is not). Hush is a scary and fun horror film that seems to be overlooked. If you’re a fan of the genre you should definitely check this movie out while it’s streaming on Netflix.

Replay Value: I’ll probably never see this again, but it was fun enough that I would enjoy it a second time.
Sequel Potential: Horror movies always have potential for sequels… but I would imagine this doesn’t get one.
Oscar Potential: None… but Kate Siegel got nominated for Best Actress in various genre award shows.

Grade: 6/10 (Recommended)

Little Evil (2017) – Here’s another review that isn’t going to be very fair. My wife started watching this Netflix exclusive that started streaming earlier this month on her own and I sort of picked it up about 30 minutes or so into it. The gist is Adam Scott marries Evangeline Lilly and becomes step daddy to her kid, a child that may or may not be the spawn of Satan. My wife thought I would like it, but it was pretty stupid and it’s not funny enough to make up for how corny it is. Adam Scott does a fine job, but Lilly’s performance is hokey and could have been done by any run-of-the-mill actress. The kid isn’t anything special either. I may have missed the answer to this question, but I was wondering how Scott’s character decides to marry this woman while having such an apprehensive relationship with her kid. Also, the film seems to resolve its primary conflict because it’s time for the movie to end and not because of any natural progression between stepdad and stepson. Little Evil is a moderately interesting concept with a subpar execution. This movie is something to have on in the background while you’re doing something else and little more.

Replay Value: None.
Sequel Potential: Definitely potential for a sequel but who is going to want it?
Oscar Potential: None.

Grade: 3/10 (Skip It)

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The Handmaiden (2016)

August 28, 2017

Starring: Min-hee Kim, Tae-ri Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Jo
Director: Chan-wook Park (Old Boy)

Bottom Line: There was a time when I used to watch foreign language films on a regular basis – at least the ones that got high critical acclaim and Oscar attention. But I just scrolled through all my reviews and the only foreign language film I’ve reviewed in the past five years was The Raid: Redemption. Needless to say, the scope for my love of cinema isn’t what it used to be. But I saw The Handmaiden pop up on a lot of top 10 lists last year and it was even mentioned as the best film of 2016 by multiple people and I put it near the top of my Netflix queue and it finally ended up in my mail box.

After my wife quit on La La Land thirty minutes in, I knew there was no way I was going to subject her to The Handmaiden and I have to say I’m glad I didn’t try. If I did she would probably think I’m some sort of weirdo pervert for liking this movie. It’s highly sexual and more explicit than you might expect. To label it softcore porn isn’t totally unfair, but it would be a slap in the face to what is otherwise a very good thriller with strong characters, a fun and twisted story, and some rather spectacular cinematography.

I didn’t walk away from The Handmaiden thinking it was one of the best films from last year – it didn’t resonate with me like that. But it was plenty enjoyable and at nearly 2.5 hours in length, it never felt like it was dragging. I couldn’t possible recommend this movie to most of the people that read my blog. If you don’t have a history of liking foreign language films, The Handmaiden wouldn’t be the first one I’d recommend. It’s pretty out there and I suspect it would be rated NC-17 if it was released in the United States. But to anyone that doesn’t mind broadening their film horizons and taking in cinema from other cultures, The Handmaiden is well worth a watch.

Replay Value: I would watch it again.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: No Oscar love, but it won a lot of Best Foreign Language Film awards elsewhere, sits at a 8.1 rating on IMDB, and has a metascore of 84 – obviously a very well received film.

Grade: 6.5/10 (recommended/highly enjoyable)

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The Big Sick (2017) & Hell or High Water (2016)

August 9, 2017

The Big Sick (2017) – The poster says it all. This is one of the best romantic comedies in many years – maybe the absolute best of the past decade. It’s definitely the most touching film of 2017 that I’ve seen so far and I have no problem giving it my #1 ranking for the year as of early August. Star Kumail Nanjiani (of HBO’s Silicon Valley) and his wife Emily Gordon wrote The Big Sick about how they met and had to overcome both pressure from Kumail’s parents to follow the Pakistani custom of arranged marriage and Emily’s sudden illness that led to a lengthy coma. The Big Sick is filled with laughs and plenty of heartfelt moments. Kumail has a great sense of humor that he frequently delivers in a dry and hilarious manner and Holly Hunter really knocks it out of the park as Emily’s mom – I fully expect a Best Supporting Actress nominations. It’s probably too late to catch this in theaters, but I can’t recommend it enough as it’s probably the best movie I’ve seen in 2017.

Replay Value: A solid add to any movie collection.
Sequel Potential: I would say none.
Oscar Potential: Drawing live at Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay and I really like Holly Hunter’s chances of getting nominated.

Grade: 8/10 (Must See)

Hell or High Water (2016) – All the vibes of a modern day western, as a couple of Texan brothers set out to rob local banks in order to save their family ranch. Ben Foster, Chris Pine, and Jeff Bridges all give noteworthy performances with Bridges getting an Oscar nomination for his work. When I list my favorite actors, I never think of Jeff Bridges, but this move made me look over his resume and the guy is a beast and seems to be getting better with age. This movie reminded me a lot of Thelma & Louise, which is a borderline classic in my books, so if you liked that movie, Hell or High Water should be up your alley. This is definitely one of the stronger 2016 movies.

Replay Value: I’d watch it again.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Four Oscar noms: Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Film Editing, and Supporting Actor for Jeff Bridges.

Grade: 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

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The Secret Lives Of Pets (2016) and 2017 Album Ratings

May 16, 2017

Added my rating for The Secret Lives Of Pets to the 2016 Movie Ratings page. I gave it a 5.5 which is somewhere between “Watchable” and “Recommended.” It was a cute, charming, and very short (80 minutes) kid’s movie, but make no mistake, kids are the target audience here. It’s not totally unappealing to adults, but it’s not nearly as clever or as funny as the Toy Story movies and it’s pretty obvious this movie wanted to be the pet version of Toy Story.

I have added a number of ratings for recent music releases to my 2017 Albums page and this seems to be the best way to organize them. I’m not really interested in writing full album reviews, but this is an easy way to see what I think the best albums are. I usually have to listen to an album two or three times to know how I really feel about it, so a number of new releases either take a while to get to that point or never do.

Thanks for all the awesome feedback on my DMX and Biggie profiles. The next artist I’m going to highlight is Brother Ali, one of the most overlooked emcees of all-time, fresh off another solid album release this month. I’m heading to Vegas for the WSOP in June and I’m going to try and be distraction free while I’m there, so the Brother Ali update won’t be published until July and it will be unlikely I make any posts while I’m in Vegas at all.

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Manchester By The Sea (2016)

April 25, 2017

Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams
Director: Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count On Me)

Bottom Line: This is going to be a difficult movie to review because my watching experience was abnormal to say the least. We had my parents over for dinner and when offering a lineup of potential movies to watch, my mom insisted we watch Manchester By The Sea because it was a lauded movie that she had already seen and hated. My wife asked if we had to finish the movie about 40 minutes in and it was pretty clear my dad was also not into it, so watching a critically acclaimed, snail-paced character drama in the middle of the day when 75% of the audience was distracted was a rather difficult task.

But I liked Manchester By The Sea and no amount of moaning on the sidelines was going to stop me from finishing it once I started. And to be fair to my mom, she said she liked it this time; and it’s reasonable to conclude that any movie you can watch a second time through you probably didn’t really hate the first time around either.

But I can understand why someone would be turned off by Manchester By The Sea. It’s incredibly bleak. And although there are number of surprisingly funny moments, it’s a sad movie that revolves around the tragic curveballs life can throw you and how, sometimes, those moments can be too overwhelming to move on from. The whole film focuses on Casey Affleck’s Lee Chandler floating through life like a zombie for reasons that unfold as his story is revealed through flashbacks. It’s no surprise that Affleck won an Oscar for his role in this movie as he is truly wonderful, perfectly portraying a grieving man with emotions so boxed in that they are liable to unload with fury at any moment.

The supporting cast of Manchester By The Sea is also wonderful. Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges both earned Oscar nominations for their supporting roles. While Hedges plays more of a central character and his acting prowess is constantly on display alongside Affleck, Williams got award attention for a much smaller role, but there’s an incredibly powerful scene in the third act where you can see the exact moment she earned the all the accolades.

Manchester By The Sea is a very technically sound film, with solid writing, beautiful cinematography shot near a Massachusetts shoreline, and Grade A acting all around. It’s a story about tragedy and how we grieve – and don’t always heal – and it isn’t necessarily meant to be uplifting, but sometimes that is how life is. If you are able to get past the bleak subject matter and don’t mind a slow-paced film that’s entirely focused on the characters, then there’s a pretty good film here. I wasn’t blown away by Manchester By The Sea and it won’t rank in my top 10 films of 2016, but it’s worth watching, especially for Casey Affleck’s fantastic performance.

Replay Value: Not a movie you’d want to watch multiple times, but I’d revisit it some years down the road.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Six nominations: Best Picture and Best Director for Kenneth Lonergan; Best Supporting Actor for Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams; and Oscar wins for Casey Affleck for Best Actor and Kenneth Lonergan for Best Original Screenplay.

Grade: 6/10 (recommended)

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Hidden Figures (2016)

February 27, 2017

Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali
Director: Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent)

Bottom Line: Hidden Figures is a strong and moving drama about three incredibly intelligent black women fighting racism and discrimination as they aid NASA during the 1960s when America and the Soviet Union are battling to put the first man in space. Taraji P. Henson puts together a terrific performance and is quickly rising up the ranks of the most underrated actors in Hollywood. Henson has proven she can play a wide variety of roles at a high level and has received very little award attention for her hard work. Octavia Spencer gives an Oscar-nominated performance and she’s great, but Henson’s role has a bit more meat to it. Janelle Monae was also enjoyable in a supporting role and proves that she can act as well as construct top notch musical albums.

Based on a true story, it was great to see these women fight through the discrimination of being both black and female and succeed at the highest level, while breaking the mold for those to come after them. With strong acting plus a lightly humorous and heartwarming script, Hidden Figures gets a strong recommendation from me.

Replay Value: Not a lot, but it’s worth watching again.
Sequel Potential: N/A
Oscar Potential: Nominations for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer, and Best Adapted Screenplay, but no winners.

Grade: 7.5/10 (highly enjoyable/must see)