Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Waco - TV Review

Starring Michael Shannon, Taylor Kitsch, Andrea Riseborough, Paul Sparks, Rory Culkin, Shea Whigham, Melissa Benoist, John Leguizamo, Julia Garner, Camryn Manheim, Glenn Fleshler and Eric Lange.
Created by Drew & John Erick Dowdle.

The Branch Davidian tragedy is one of the biggest black stains on the resume of the ATF and FBI. It's been ripe for a limited-series retelling, and I'm glad Paramount Network (formerly Spike TV) took it on.

For the most part they do a good job. It's an incredibly talented cast, and it's treated with the same prestige as American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson. Kitsch in particular has to play the balancing act of a believably charismatic leader for his followers while showing the meglomaniacal side that led him to believe he was another Messiah.

This six-episode series dedicates the first two episodes to before the siege. We see top negotiator Gary Noesner (Michael Shannon) trying to clean up the mess of the Ruby Ridge standoff that led to the ATF killing an unarmed mother and child. He butts head with FBI man "Mitch Decker" (Shea Whigham). He's based on someone else, but he's such a cartoon villain for most of this miniseries, I can understand them changing the name so they wouldn't get sued.

We also see David Koresh being a loving leader, albeit with polygamy and underage brides snuck in. They're telling this from the perspective of the Branch Davidian survivors, making it plausible why so many people would follow him.

I think the miniseries would have been stronger if the creators hadn't pressed their thumbs so heavily on the scale. The one-two punch of incompetence by the federal government leading to the deaths of innocent people didn't need the extra melodrama. In that respect, it reminded me of classic movies like Bonnie & Clyde and Dog Day Afternoon, where no matter what the criminals did, law enforcement was eeevil.

And yet, it's still highly effective in pushing those buttons. The tension builds and builds to the final showdown, where we see how tragedy could have been averted if Koresh and the FBI bosses had just been a little bit less stubborn.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Black Panther #1, Wrinkle in Time #2

For the weekend of March 9-11, 2018, Black Panther wins once again, dropping a mere 38% in its 4th week. It's currently the 7th highest domestic grossing movie ever (21st on the worldwide list).

Is this the first time in history that the top two movies at the box office had African American directors? A Wrinkle in Time did well but was no match for Panther. Perhaps mixed reviews damaged its Saturday/Sunday intake. It's currently at 45% at Rotten Tomatoes.

A handful of other poorly reviewed movies also splashed into theaters. Strangers: Prey at Night is a sequel that should have come out five years ago. Gringo felt like a cashed-in favor by everyone involved. The Hurricane Heist looked like a Syfy movie that they threw on to the big screen as a joke.

Best Picture winner The Shape of Water went back into theaters, but it looks like whoever was going to see it has already seen it.

The Death of Stalin did well in limited release.

Opens March 16
TOMB RAIDER with Alicia Vikander, Walton Goggins and Dominic West.
LOVE SIMON with Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel.
I CAN ONLY IMAGINE with Dennis Quaid, J. Michael Finley and Cloris Leachman.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Annihilation - Movie Review

Starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Oscar Isaac, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny and Benedict Wong.
Written & directed by Alex Garland.


Alex Garland is 2 for 2 when it comes to delivering smart, suspenseful sci-fi. His debut was Ex Machina, now this. He's already established himself as a must-see filmmaker.

Natalie Portman stars as Lena, a biologist whose soldier husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) has been missing in action for months, presumed dead. But then one day he shows up in their house, not quite himself. Soon they find themselves in a government facility where they are questioned, and she learns it's by a phenomenon they call "the shimmer," a section of land covered by shimmering lights that are surely alien.

The government's sent several teams inside to discover what's in there, but so far, Kane's the only one who's come out. Lena volunteers to be part of the next team that goes in, an all-women crew led by Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a psychologist who mainly just wants to see for herself what's in there.

I liked that feeling of the unknown going in, like getting into a haunted-house ride and you go through the first dark door. Part of the enjoyment comes from not really knowing what will happen next.

Black Panther still #1

For the weekend of March 2-4, 2018, Black Panther is still crushing the competition. It's on pace to pass The Last Jedi domestically. It could pass The Avengers to not only be the high-grossing Marvel movie but could wind up being the 5th highest grossing movie of all time.

Worldwide it's at $900 million, which still puts it just behind Jumanji. 32 films have passed the $1 billion worldwide gross mark, and Black Panther will probably join them sometime next week.

Next weekend it should be a real race between it and A Wrinkle in Time for the #1 spot.

Of the other newcomers, Red Sparrow edged Death Wish. Not surprising. Jennifer Lawrence is currently a bigger draw than Bruce Willis, and Death Wish had terrible reviews.

Opens March 9
A WRINKLE IN TIME with Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Chris Pine.
STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT with Christina Hendricks and Bailee Madison.
THE HURRICANE HEIST with Toby Kebbell, Maggie Grace and Ryan Kwanten.
GRINGO with Charlize Theron, David Oyelowo, Joel Edgerton and Amanda Seyfried.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

2017 Academy Award Winners

BEST PICTURE - The Shape of Water
BEST DIRECTOR - Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape of Water
BEST ACTOR - Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
BEST ACTRESS - Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing MO
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing MO
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY - James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS - Blade Runner 2049
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE - Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water
BEST ORIGINAL SONG - "Remember Me", Coco
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT - Heaven Is A Traffic Jam on the 405

My Last-Second Oscar Predictions

My last-second guesses

BEST PICTURE - Shape of Water
BEST DIRECTOR - GDT, Shape of Water
BEST ACTOR - Gary Oldman
BEST ACTRESS - Frances McDormand
BEST SUPP. ACTOR - Sam Rockwell
BEST SUPP. ACTRESS - Allison Janney
BEST FOREIGN FILM - A Fantastic Woman
BEST MAKEUP - Darkest Hour
BEST SCORE - Shape of Water
BEST SONG - "This Is Me" Greatest Showman
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS - War for the Planet of the Apes

Friday, March 2, 2018

Black Panther - Movie Review

Starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, Martin Freeman, Letitia Wright, Andy Serkis, Forest Whitaker, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke and Sterling K. Brown.
Written by Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole.
Directed by Ryan Coogler.


I'm a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. Even the worst one, I'd still give a thumbs-sideways to. Even so, lately we've had some really good ones. Black Panther did not disappoint.

After stealing the show in Captain America: Civil War, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is back with his own movie, in his own country. Wakanda has been a secret country in Africa for thousands of years, highly advanced thanks to a special alien metal called vibranium. While Wakanda has flourished, the rest of the world has gone through the wars and social upheavals of real history. Eric Killonger (Michael B. Jordan) is a villain ready to topple King T'Challa and use Wakanda's powers for some world disruption/domination. His plan may be similar to most supervillains ("I will rule this world!"), but he has one of the better backstories, and combined with MBJ's performance, Killmonger winds up being one of the most compelling MCU villains.

I liked watching a movie full of mythic black empowerment imagery - Wakanda's like the African answer to the Hogwarts, Middle Earth, Westeros worlds we've been getting the last couple decades - and I liked a Marvel movie with so many strong female characters. A few years ago, General Okoye (Walking Dead's Danai Gurira) probably would have been a man, and Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) would only have a handful of lines. They're great, and we also get good performances from T'Challa's gizmoduck of a sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and his love-interest Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o, in her best role since winning the Oscar for 12 Years a Slave), who has her own subplot and isn't just there to react to what T'Challa's doing.

The Tolkein white guys Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis are fun in their roles. Freeman's got that jittery Dr. Watson energy he has as Agent Ross when he was introduced in Captain America: Civil War, and Serkis is in full "Wee! I'm a comic book villain!" mode.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Black Panther sets February box office record

For the weekend of February 16-18, 2018, Black Panther has shattered February box office records. Deadpool's $132 million was the previous record holder for February opening weekend. In fact, Black Panther is the fifth highest opening ever, behind Star Wars 7 & 8, Jurassic World, and The Avengers.

The other new releases, Early Man and Samson, flopped. Aardman's been having less and less success domestically, but they tend to make their budgets back overseas.

Jumanji and Greatest Showman are continuing their amazing runs.

Opens February 23
GAME NIGHT with Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams and Kyle Chandler.
ANNIHILATION with Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
EVERY DAY with Debby Ryan, Maria Bello, Owen Teague and Colin Ford.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Fifty Shades Freed is #1

For the weekend of February 9-11, 2018, Fifty Shades Freed opened large. Maybe not as much as the first two, but it's still very profitable for a trilogy nearly universally hated.

Peter Rabbit entered the family-film market but this feels like it should have gotten out of Black Panther's way and opened closer to Easter. But what do I know?

The 15:17 to Paris needed good reviews to get traction, but it's been largely panned and I expect it will disappear quickly.

Expect next week to see many films in the Top 15 to fall 50%, 60%, 70% because Black Panther sucks up all the oxygen. It's tracking to open north of $150 million at this point.

Opens February 16
BLACK PANTHER with Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan and Lupita Nyong'o.
EARLY MAN with the voices of Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne and Maisie Williams.
SAMSON with Taylor James, Jackson Rathbone, Billy Zane and Caitlin Leahy.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Full List of Oscar Nominations

Best Picture:

“Call Me by Your Name”
“Darkest Hour”
“Get Out”
“Lady Bird”
“Phantom Thread”
“The Post”
“The Shape of Water”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Lead Actor:

Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”

Lead Actress:

Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”

Supporting Actor:

Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Supporting Actress:

Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”


“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro

Animated Feature:

“The Boss Baby”
“The Breadwinner”
“Loving Vincent”

Animated Short:

“DeKalb Elementary”
“The Eleven O’Clock”
“My Nephew Emmett”
“The Silent Child”
“Watu Wote/All of Us”

Adapted Screenplay:

“Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory
“The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
“Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
“Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin
“Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

Original Screenplay:

“The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh


“Blade Runner 2049,” Roger Deakins
“Darkest Hour,” Bruno Delbonnel
“Dunkirk,” Hoyte van Hoytema
“Mudbound,” Rachel Morrison
“The Shape of Water,” Dan Laustsen

Best Documentary Feature:

“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail”
“Faces Places”
“Last Men in Aleppo”
“Strong Island”

Best Documentary Short Subject:

“Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405”
“Knife Skills”
“Traffic Stop”

Best Live Action Short Film:

“Dear Basketball”
“Garden Party”
“Negative Space”
“Revolting Rhymes”

Best Foreign Language Film:

“A Fantastic Woman” (Chile)
“The Insult” (Lebanon)
“Loveless” (Russia)
“On Body and Soul (Hungary)
“The Square” (Sweden)

Film Editing:

“Baby Driver,” Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss
“Dunkirk,” Lee Smith
“I, Tonya,” Tatiana S. Riegel
“The Shape of Water,” Sidney Wolinsky
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Jon Gregory

Sound Editing:

“Baby Driver,” Julian Slater
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mark Mangini, Theo Green
“Dunkirk,” Alex Gibson, Richard King
“The Shape of Water,” Nathan Robitaille
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Ren Klyce, Matthew Wood

Sound Mixing:

“Baby Driver,” Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hephill
“Dunkirk,” Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo
“The Shape of Water,” Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick

Production Design:

“Beauty and the Beast”
“Blade Runner 2049″
“Darkest Hour”
“The Shape of Water”

Original Score:

“Dunkirk,” Hans Zimmer
“Phantom Thread,” Jonny Greenwood
“The Shape of Water,” Alexandre Desplat
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” John Williams
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Carter Burwell

Original Song:

“Mighty River” from “Mudbound,” Mary J. Blige
“Mystery of Love” from “Call Me by Your Name,” Sufjan Stevens
“Remember Me” from “Coco,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
“Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall,” Diane Warren, Common
“This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman,” Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

Makeup and Hair:

“Darkest Hour”
“Victoria and Abdul”

Costume Design:

“Beauty and the Beast”
“Darkest Hour
“Phantom Thread”
“The Shape of Water”
“Victoria and Abdul”

Visual Effects:

“Blade Runner 2049”
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
“Kong: Skull Island”
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
“War for the Planet of the Apes”

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Jumanji still #1, 12 Strong #2

For the weekend of January 19-21, 2018, Jumanji fought off all newcomers to be #1 again. (I'm surprised they haven't announced a sequel yet, but then Dwayne Johnson has a TV series and his next five movies lined up.) It's now grossed over $760 million worldwide.

Of the 2018 titles, 12 Strong followed the January tradition of War on Terror movies being released, though it's been diminishing returns since the days of American Sniper and Lone Survivor. 12 Hours did better than Patriots Day and about as well as 13 Hours.

Oscar hopefuls Phantom Thread and Call Me By Your Name expanded, but they couldn't find an audience. Maybe if they'd waited a week after nominations have been announced...

It's pretty impressive how The Greatest Showman is still in the top five. It looked like it might lose money after its low opening but it's been a real crowd-pleaser.

The Last Jedi has now grossed about $1.3 billion worldwide.

Coco has grossed $200 million domestically for a worldwide total of $655 million.

Opens January 26
MAZE RUNNER: DEATH CURE with Dylan O'Brien and Thomas Brodie-Sangster.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Best & Worst Movies of 2017

I put my top 15 and bottom 5 at the end.

Caveat #1 - Your Name is technically a 2016 title, so I've put it in my top five from last year. It'd be in my top five this year if it counted.

Caveat #2 - My top and bottom lists will change as I see more 2017 titles. Still haven't seen The Florida Project and many other movies getting year-end praise. Skipped a lot of bad movies I knew I wouldn't like.

Caveat #3 - Netflix would like to treat their movies as if they were theatrically released, but to me if they don't get that theatrical run, they're TV movies. And yet, I'm seeing some Netflix movies get on top ten lists and even nominations.

The 2017 Netflix movies I've seen:

MUDBOUND (★★★½) - Very well done; the racial injustice of 1940's Mississippi is infuriating. Great performances from all involved, but Mary J. Blige is a standout because it's so subdued. We don't expect her in this type of role.

I DON'T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE (★★★) - This dark comedy stars Melanie Lynsky and Elijah Wood are an odd couple who've had it with the unkindness of society.

THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED) (★★★) - Adam Sandler in one of those rare movies where he tries, and he's great as the older neglected son of an eccentric, maddening sculptor (Dustin Hoffman) whose art might not be near as important as he thinks it is. Ben Stiller and Constance Zimmer are also really good.

THE BABYSITTER (★★★) - Fun horror comedy about a boy who discovers his babysitter is actually the head of a murderous satanic cult.

OKJA (★★★) - Weird but in a good way. Plus Tilda Swinton!

WHEELMAN (★★★) - Frank Grillo is my favorite blue-collar action hero right now, and it's a showcase for him since most of the movie takes place with him driving around.

GERALD'S GAME (★★★) - One of Stephen King's least filmable books winds up being a pretty decent thriller thanks to clever direction and a compelling central performance from Carla Gugino.

BRIGHT (★★) - It's like Suicide Squad but more serious. It was a miss for me.


So anyway, here are the middle 48 movies of 2017 I saw.


Thumbs up (26)

ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD (★★★) - Michelle Williams gives a performance we've never seen from her before as the ex-daughter-in-law of the richest man on Earth who refuses to pay the ransom when her son is kidnapped. Christopher Plummer came in at the elventh hour to shoot all of his scenes in the wake of the Kevin Spacey scandal, and he nails it. His J. Paul Getty is wily, driven, selfish, happy, cruel and has that general billionaire craziness.

AMERICAN MADE (★★★) - Tom Cruise charms it up as Barry Seal, a pilot who helped smuggle guns and drugs for Pablo Escobar under CIA orders, or at least that's what he thought was happening.

ATOMIC BLONDE (★★★) - The plot may be trashy John Le Carre, but this movie more than makes up for it with style, including a ten-minute fight scene on a staircase that all take splace in one take. Charlize Theron's great; I wouldn't mind a sequel.

BEAUTY & THE BEAST (★★★) - This live-action remake has its charms, but it's also a little too faithful to the original, with several scenes that feel like they're going for shot-by-shot remakes.

BLADE RUNNER 2049 (★★★) - Beautiful cinematography, slowly paced, probably wouldn't have lost anything being fifteen minutes shorter, but good work from Ryan Gosling and stand-out work from some actresses who haven't had opportunities to shine like this before (Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks).

THE BOSS BABY (★★★) - Surprisingly complex plot for a kids film that relies on kindergarten-level potty humor. Alec Baldwin nails it as his Glengarry Glen Ross character in baby form.

BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 (★★★) - Vince Vaughn gives his best performance in years as a drug trafficker who must do some time after a deal goes bad. The longer it goes, the darker it gets; the blackmail subplot is so evil, I'm upset anyone even thought of it.

DARKEST HOUR (★★★½) - A perfect companion piece for Dunkirk, this shows Winston Churchill's first month in office as prime minister, after confidence in Neville Chamberlain has collapsed and Germany is marching through France. Gary Oldman, with help of makeup, loses himself in the role of Churchill.

DETROIT (★★★) - Harrowing horror movie that's difficult to watch. Based on the true events of the Detroit Riots of 1967, it focusses on a group of innocent bystanders who are tortured and taunted by some racist cops who just feel like they need to find someone guilty after they came in with guns blazing. Will Poulter is frightening, and the movie is in-your-face about police brutality.

THE DINNER (★★★) - Four adults need to figure out how to handle the fallout after their two boys wind up committing a shocking crime together. Good work from Richard Gere.

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (★★★) - Not often we get original musicals on screen. This film takes gigantic liberties with the life of P.T. Barnum, but it's a decent entertainment. It wouldn't take much to convert it to a stage musical.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2 (★★★) - Fine, but not as good as the first.

HAPPY DEATH DAY (★★★) - Groundhog Day, but where the heroine gets killed at the end of every day. She has to figure out who's killing her or she has to keep living it. It's well done for what it is. I liked that my first and second guesses as to whodunit were wrong.

IT (★★★) - Engaging period horror flick based on half of Stephen King's bestseller. Bill Skarsgard is great as Pennywise, and most of the kids are great too. I came away a little disappointed that it wasn't scarier.

JOHN WICK 2 (★★★) - He's back! Not quite as good as the first, but still fun.

JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (★★★½) - Plenty of laughs to be had as Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan play four teenagers who are sucked into a video game and have to function with their avatars' powers, allowing all to play against type. Johnson's the geek, Hart's the jock, Gillan's the loner, and Black is the stuck-up babe most traumatized by her new body.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND (★★★) - Good ol' fashioned monster movie mayhem.

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (★★★) - Tons of laughs. Fades from memory quickly.

LIFE (★★★) - Sure, it's a ripoff of Alien, but it's okay horror in its own right. The larger "Calvin" grows, the scarier it becomes.

MOLLY'S GAME (★★★½) - Turns out that Aaron Sorkin is very good at directing his own words. This look at Molly Bloom's high-stakes poker game will make you... really not like Tobey Maguire.

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (★★★) - Bring on the Agathaverse! Kenneth Branagh amuses as Hercule Poirot, and plenty of good actors make the most of their screen-time, from Johnny Depp to Judi Dench to Michelle Pfeiffer to Willem Dafoe to...


THE POST (★★★½) - Compelling story about how the Washington Post found itself up against the wall when the White House threatened prison if owner Katherine Graham allowed the publishing of the Pentagon Papers, classified documents that showed that the US government had been lying about the situation in Vietnam for decades. This is the type of movie that was greenlit immediately after Trump won the 2016 election, and you can see the fingerprints over its efforts to draw a parallel between Nixon and Trump, but it also accidentally makes a point that Republicans had been complaining about for fifty years. When Democrats JFK and LBJ were in office, the liberal-leaning media was buddy-buddy, covering up all sorts of sins. But once the unlikable Nixon got in, they decided no more, and the contrast between how Reagan and the Bushes were covered compared to Clinton and Obama lingers. Settin that aside, it's the kind of movie that'll make aspiring journalists everywhere go "Yes! This is why I want to do this."

THE SHAPE OF WATER (★★★) - A twisted love story only someone like Guillermo Del Toro could tell.

SHOT CALLER (★★★) - Game of Thrones's Nikolaj Coster-Waldau takes on a very different role as a fairly decent fellow who goes to prison for a DUI that resulted in someone's death, but he's forced to commit heinous crimes in that prison in order to stay alive. I'm glad they used a non-linear approach to tell the story.

SPLIT (★★★) - M. Night Shyamalan made two good movies in a row, which hasn't happened for fifteen years.

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (★★★) - Well made, but it can't be my favorite when it's designed to get you to root for the extinction of the human race.

Thumbs Sideways (15)

ALIEN: COVENANT (★★½) - This is one where I liked it at the time, but it's gone down in my estimation since. Interesting Hammer horror take, but the xenomorphs are given a back seat to Michael Fassbender's David, and we're not here to see David: Covenant. Ridley Scott had another Alien prequel movie planned to take place between this and the events of the original Alien, but I think it's okay to just let this franchise go for a while. I'd rather see a sequel in a few years that ignores Alien 3, 4, and the two Predator tie-ins.

ANNABELLE: CREATION (★★½) - Bad dialogue but at least this is a horror director who knows what he's doing.

A CURE FOR WELLNESS (★★½) - Sure it's too long but I still enjoyed walking down this weird detour-filled trip in a wellness facility that hides some dark secrets. A guilty pleasure for me.

THE BEGUILED (★★½) - Sofia Coppola seems to have a specialty for delicate female characters. I loved the scenery, but the story never took off.

THE BELKO EXPERIMENT (★★½) - Fun idea that unfortunately gets too predictable once most of the cast has been killed off. In fact, if you know the number of survivors, you can probably guess correctly which ones they'll be in the first few minutes.

FREE FIRE (★★½) - Plenty of actors are having fun, and I enjoyed the mix of all of them together, but there's really not much that can happen once the gunfire starts.

THE GREAT WALL  (★★½) - I liked this more than it deserved. Matt Damon is not the white savior the previews made him out to be, and I loved the drums, but the "true story" of why the wall was built in the first place doesn't make sense. The battles felt too much like Starship Troopers.

IT COMES AT NIGHT (★★½) - Nothing comes at night, and I think the movie would have been stronger if something had, at the end. This is about paranoia.

JIGSAW (★★½) - Blends together with most of the sequels. Okay enough twist ending.

KILLING GUNTHER (★★½) - Mockumentary has its moments. SNL's Taran Killam writes, directs, and stars in this film about a hitman who assembles a team to help him kill Gunther (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the best assassin in the world.

LADY BIRD (★★½) - Annoying characters. I intellectually recognize it was well made, well acted, and I was never bored, but I had a rotten feeling when the end credits rolled. I know I'm in the minority on this one.

THE LOST CITY OF Z (★★½) - This one never really took off for me. The cinematography was disappointing and it got a bit repetitive. Good work from Robert Pattinson though.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES (★★½) - One of the better Pirates sequels, despite zero character growth from Captain Jack Sparrow.

ROMAN J. ISRAEL ESQ. (★★½) - Great Denzel performance; slow, dull movie.

VALERIAN & THE CITY OF 1000 PLANETS (★★½) - Terrific visuals wasted around a miscast Dane DeHaan and a disjointed, lurching story.

Thumbs Down (8)

THE COMEDIAN (★½) - Robert DeNiro attracts a great cast to this passion project that winds up getting listless direction from Taylor Hackford (why must every scene transition with a sad trumpet?), and one central problem - DeNiro is not credible as a once-successful stand-up comedian.

THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (★★) - Worst one in a while, where it made me wish they could just dump some of the deadweight characters. Paul Walker's missed, but Ludacris wouldn't be.

GHOST IN THE SHELL (★★) - Points for style, but ultimately boring remake.

JUSTICE LEAGUE (★★) - It had its moments, but DC just needs to get un-Snyderized to save itself. Steppenwolf is a terrible villain. I would be interested in the Justice League 2 teased in the post-credits stinger if a new creative team took over these films.

KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE (★★) - Disappointing sequel. Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges are hardly in it, and Eggsy's love interest from the first movie dies in the first ten minutes. Why?

THE SNOWMAN (★★) - The weirdest Val Kilmer appearance ever. Key plot points missing because they didn't bother filming the entire script. An "act of God" thwarting the villain at the end. Chloe Sevigny as twins... why? Good cast keeps most of it watchable, but the movie itself is a big misfire.

WISH UPON (★½) - Unscary. Bad acting.

XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE (★½) - This franchise exists to make Fast & Furious look realistic.


5. THE BAD BATCH - Sixty minutes of an intriguing idea stretched out to a hundred and twenty, with thirty minutes of the good idea cut out. This dystopian drama has a lot of people walking around silently in the desert. Buried in this is a good extended-cameo performance from Jim Carrey as a hermit who won't speak.

4. THE CIRCLE - This "thriller" about invasive technology feels like it's years out of date, and it can't get over its glaring central flaw: why would a woman allegedly as smart as Mae (Emma Watson) be so gullible and stupid? How can so many supposedly-bright employees not see the evil implications of the Circle? It then ends with a jaw-droppingly bad anticlimax.

3. THE MUMMY - I'm a Tom Cruise fan, but this movie made the mistake of being a "Tom Cruise movie" instead of a story about the mummy. If you thought DC was awkward in the expanding of its universe, Batman v. Superman has nothing on this. Why have Dr. Jekyll show up halfway through it, other than cynical brand expansion?

2. UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS - Put a stake through the heart of this vampire franchise already.

1. RINGS - This spin-off of The Ring squanders its potential by not caring about what the rules are with Samara, and it's never scary. It goes through the motions of what scary movies do without seeming to know why.


15. SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING - Michael Keaton's Vulture was one of my favorite MCU villains yet. He was blue-collar with an understandable motive. The tension in the car when he realizes who Peter Parker really is... (*chef's kiss*)

14. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI - Frances McDormand is a shoo-in for an Oscar nod, and she might even be the front-runner. It's a uniformly good cast from Woody Harrelson to Sam Rockwell. My one complaint would be that there are two violent felonies committed during the movie where they just don't bother to charge the guilty parties.

13. LOGAN LUCKY - Steven Soderbergh gives an Ocean's 11 type heist movie but sets it in West Virginia. Daniel Craig looks like he's having the time of his life as a redneck robber.

12. THOR: RAGNAROK - Few Marvel movies have allowed themselves to be so gleeful. Funniest one since the first Guardians movie.

11. I, TONYA - Margot Robbie is terrific as Tonya Harding, in this wild dark comedy about the infampous figure skater. It's mostly true, and it sure increased my sympathy for Tonya. Despite her talent, she never had a chance at a normal life.

10. THE LAST JEDI - I don't get why this movie has been so divisive among Star Wars fans. It just makes me glad there was no internet in 1980. "Ben Kenobi's a ghost now?" I liked how writer/director Rian Johnson redeemed the prequels, honored the original trilogy, and wasn't afraid to take risks and tear a lot of old things down to make way for the new. The first seven movies were about Good vs. Evil, but this one lets shades of grey in. Biggest tragedy is that Leia was set up to have an awesome story in Ep. IX, but now they'll have to tell a different story. Mark Hamill gives the performance of his career, and Adam Driver and Domhnall Gleeson are allowed to make Kylo and Hux more interesting.

9. WONDER WOMAN - The best DC movie since The Dark Knight, and much credit must go to director Patty Jenkins. Only thing it suffers from is its conventional CG-infested final showdown with the main villain.

8. THE BIG SICK - This semi-autobiographical tale from Silicon Valley's Kumail Nanjiani is a good testament to love and commitment, and a showcase for Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as his future in-laws.

7. GET OUT - Jordan Peele's social satire/horror movie has stood the test of time, or at least the few months since it came out.

6. LOGAN - The gritty final chapter to Wolverine saga allows Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart to go out on high notes. It's unlike any X-Men movie before it.

5. BABY DRIVER - Arguably Edgar Wright's best movie yet, and I love Wright. This is just a fun classic B-movie, with a getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) who has to mingle with scary and dangerous people, all the while listening to his own personal soundtrack. Really enjoyed the edge that Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm brought to their roles.

4. DUNKIRK - Christopher Nolan foregoes any kind of traditional narrative to give us a more immersive you-are-there experience, when soldiers had their backs to the wall at a crucial time in WWII history. Recognizable names like Tom Hardy and Kenneth Branagh are there for support, but it's Fionn Whitehead who carries the bulk of the movie using not much more than his expressive face.

3. WIND RIVER - I will watch any movie Taylor Sheridan writes. His previous two efforts were Sicario and Hell or High Water. Sheridan took the directing duties himself and he patiently navigates through tribal politics after a young Native American woman is found dead just outside of her reservation. Jeremy Renner does his best work since his Hurt Locker/The Town days as a ranger who's really good at tracking and helps the FBI with the case.

2. THE DISASTER ARTIST - One of the best movies of the year is about the making of one of the worst movies of all time. Director James Franco guides himself to his best performance in years, as the enigmatic millionaire Tommy Wiseau who decides to make his own movie with his friend Greg after everyone in Hollywood shoots him down. Laughed more at this than any other movie this year. (It's even better if you've already seen The Room.)

1. mother! - This wild, wild home invasion thriller winds up being something much more epic. It was a bold and daring decision by director Darren Aronofsky and star Jennifer Lawrence to make something as polarizing as this, but the crazier it got, the wider I grinned.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Jumanji bests Insidious 4 at box office

For the weekend of January 5-7, 2018, Jumanji: WTTJ finally managed to dethrone The Last Jedi. It's the first non-Fast & Furious movie starring Dwayne Johnson to pass the $200 million domestic mark.

The one new wide release was Insidious: The Last Key. It's a financial hit, to the point where I have to imagine the studio's trying to figure what they can spin off from it like the Conjuring universe.

I'm a little bummed The Disaster Artist isn't doing better. Most of the Globes winners were from movies that are already on their way out. Darkest Hour might have expanded at the right time.

Opens January 12
PADDINGTON 2 with Hugh Grant, Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins.
PROUD MARY with Taraji P. Henson, Neal McDonough and Danny Glover.
THE COMMUTER with Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson.
(exp) THE POST with Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Sarah Paulson.

75th Annual Golden Globe Award Results

BEST DRAMA - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
BEST ACTOR DRAMA - Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
BEST ACTRESS DRAMA - Frances McDormand, Three Billboards
BEST ACTOR COMEDY - James Franco, The Disaster Artist
BEST ACTRESS COMEDY - Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
BEST DIRECTOR - Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape of Water
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards
BEST SCREENPLAY - Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards
BEST SCORE - Alexander Desplat, The Shape of Water
BEST SONG - "This Is Me", The Greatest Showman

BEST COMEDY - The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
BEST DRAMA - The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu)
BEST ACTRESS COMEDY - Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
BEST ACTOR COMEDY - Aziz Ansari, Master of None (Netflix)
BEST ACTRESS DRAMA - Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu)
BEST ACTOR DRAMA - Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us (NBC)
BEST ACTRESS MINI - Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies (HBO)
BEST ACTOR MINI - Ewan McGregor, Fargo (FX)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - Laura Dern, Big Little Lies (HBO)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Alexander Skarsgard, Big Little Lies (HBO)

CECIL B. DEMILLE - Oprah Winfrey

How was the show? Seth Meyers did a decent job as host. His bit where he had women and minorities give the punchline to arguably racist or sexist jokes fell flat, but overall, he navigated the sensitive waters quite well. His "In Memorium" joke about Harvey Weinstein cut deep, especially since they skipped the In Memorium this year. That's usually one of the highlights of the show.

The Globes are usually a zany affair, but it felt like a smug funeral with everyone wearing black. Natalie Portman pointing out the Best Director nominees were all male stepped on Guillermo Del Toro's moment. Oprah Winfrey launched her 2020 presidential campaign with a stirring speech.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Shape of Water - Movie Review

Starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones, Nick Searcy and David Hewlett.
Written by Guillermo Del Toro & Vanessa Taylor.
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro.


This 1950's period fairy tale is of course what Guillermo Del Toro would come up with. What if the Creature from the Black Lagoon fell in love, and that love was requited?

Sally Hawkins gives Frances McDormand and Saoirse Ronan a run for their award-nomination money as Elisa, a mute cleaning lady at an important government facility. One night a sadistic Fed (Michael Shannon) brings in a strange water creature he found in the Amazon (which is freshwater but the movie claims it's saltwater). He wants to study it by torturing it and eventually dissecting it, but Elisa sees into its soul - his soul - and sees an intelligent being.

It takes place during the Cold War, so there's that red paranoia at play. When Soviets do show up, it reminded me of Hail Caesar more than anything.

Solid support comes from Octavia Spencer as Elisa's co-worker, Richard Jenkins as Elisa's closeted artist roommate, and Michael Stuhlbarg as a sympathetic scientist.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Last Jedi #1, Jumanji #2 at box office

For the weekend of December 22-24, 2017, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi had a massive dropoff (as movies that open that big tend to do) and still held on to the #1 spot. Sony has to be tickled with the performance of Jumanji: WTTJ. The weekend after Christmas, movies tend to hold on pretty well, so it's realistic for it to be looking to pass $150 million domestic and $400 million worldwide. Dwayne Johnson needed a return to box office glory after Baywatch flopped.

Pitch Perfect 3 did well despite bad reviews. Looks like it's ending the franchise at the right time.

The Greatest Showman may be able to boast about its Golden Globe nominations, but that's a disappointing opening. Nowhere near as disappointing for Downsizing, a high-concept comedy that's been met with lukewarm reception. Father Figures is a flat-out bomb.

Of the expanding titles, Darkest Hour managed the better per-screen average than The Shape of Water. In limited release The Post did outstanding while Hostiles fizzled.

I'm a little bummed The Disaster Artist isn't doing better.

Opens December 25
ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD with Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Last Jedi has second-best opening ever

For the weekend of December 15-17, 2017, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi had the second highest opening in history, behind only Episode VII. The sequel had a different pace and plot style than Star Wars fare we've come to expect, and with word-of-mouth being more mixed and a ton of title coming next week, I'd expect a steep decline in week 2 but it'll still probably keep the top spot through the New Year.

Ferdinand was the alternative release, but it grossly underperformed.

Award-bait titles like The Disaster Artist, Lady Bird, and Three Billboards are losing steam. I hope Disaster Artist is able to keep most of screens despite five new wide releases coming next week.

Thor: Ragnarok has now grossed over $840 million worldwide.

Opens December 20
JUMANJI with Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Nick Jonas.
THE GREATEST SHOWMAN with Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron and Michelle Williams.
Opens December 22
PITCH PERFECT 3 with Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow and Ruby Rose.
DOWNSIZING with Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz and Jason Sudeikis.
FATHER FIGURES with Owen Wilson, Ed Helms, Glenn Close and JK Simmons.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Last Jedi - Movie Review

Starring Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong'o, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benecio Del Toro, Gwendoline Christie, Billie Lourd, Justin Theroux and Anthony Daniels. 
Written & Directed by Rian Johnson.


The action picks up right where the previous movie left off. The giant death star planet's been destroyed but most of the First Order, including Snoke, Ren, Hux and Phasma escaped. The Resistance is backpedaling and evacuating since the First Order now knows where their base is. Finn's in sick bay. Rey has just found Luke Skywalker.

So how seamless is the transition from JJ Abrams to Rian Johnson? Pretty seamless, but then Johnson is able to expand and deepen characters in ways Force Awakens wasn't able to. TFA built the world. It's fitting that one of the main words used in the Last Jedi trailers is "Breathe." Let's breathe and get to know them better.

I imagine the biggest question going into this was how was it going to be to have Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker back? Just as TFA was largely Han Solo's movie, TLJ belongs to Luke. Rey has arrived to be his eager apprentice, and Luke is the grumpy old wizard who's had it. Imagine how Star Wars would have gone if Ben Kenobi had told Luke to quit whining and go home.

It's nice to see Luke meet his old friends again. Luke and Chewie. Luke and R2-D2. It's sad we never get a Luke-Han scene. But what made me happiest about this movie is that Luke, and Hamill as Luke, is still just freaking cool.

One exciting new character is Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), a fangirl Resistance fighter who finds herself pulled into an important plot thread with Finn.

I really enjoyed the character depth added to Ben Solo and Admiral Hux. Hux is still a weaselly Empire wannabe, but he feels more complete. Ben/Kylo makes some interesting decisions, and Adam Driver does a great job of presenting the conflict on his face.

I'll have to see how this one digests on a second viewing. Right now I'd say it's better than Force Awakens or Rogue One. It makes a couple plot decisions I'm not sure I like. But I respect the emphasis on human relationships that Johnson has returned to the heart of this galaxy.