Directed by David Leitch
Starring Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Eddie Marsan, John Goodman, Toby Jones, and Sofia Boutella
Based on the graphic novel "The Coldest City" by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, this wham-bam action flick stars Charlize Theron as spy Lorraine Broughton, who is assigned to find a list of double agents being smuggled into the West on the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It's a Cold War tale featuring plenty of super spy situations, plot twists & turns, and gadgets that would make both James Bond and Jason Bourne extremely jealous! If anyone is jonesing for more of the tough-as-nails Theron from Mad Max: Fury Road, you'll be happy to hear Theron is all kinds of badass in this! Atomic Blonde is a smart, sexy, action-packed hell of a good time!
Batman & Bill
Directed by Don Argott & Sheena M. Joyce
Blade Runner 2049
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Sylvia Hoeks, Ana de Armas, Mackenzie Davis, Jared Leto, Lennie James, Carla Juri, Dave Bautista, and Edward James Olmos
Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival) is one of my favorite directors today, so I was excited when I heard he was directing this sequel to one of the best sci-fi films of all time! Because this was a sequel to 1982's Blade Runner, despite Villeneuve's involvement, I was skeptical of how good this film would be and if it would even come close to being as good as the first film. I was not disappointed! There are so many intricate weavings of stories going throughout this film, but it's all tied together magnificently. There is more going on here than in the original first film, and what I particularly loved was how I thought I'd had figured out the plot twist, only to find I was wrong. Also, as much as I'm a fan of Harrison Ford, I'm glad he wasn't in a majority of the film. This is completely Ryan Gosling's movie and he owns it! Blade Runner 2049 is the best sci-fi film of the year!
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard, Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance, Tom Glynn-Carney, Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden, Cillian Murphy, and Kenneth Branagh
Director Christopher Nolan is simply one of the best directors in contemporary cinema and his latest, Dunkirk, proves this statement true! Based on the true story of Dunkirk evacuation during World War II in May/June 1940, Dunkirk shows the viewpoint of several British soldiers trying to leave Dunkirk, France to return to England, all while under attack by the Germans, as well as civilians making their way to pick up the soldiers. There was such an urgency that any and all sea craft were drafted to travel to Dunkirk and pick up any and all British soldiers they could, thus turning common civilians into heroes. What is most noteworthy about this film is the timeline which Nolan utilizes throughout the film, picking different times and having them eventually all converge by film's end. It's an astonishing story device that is extremely difficult to pull off from a writing aspect, but Nolan pulls it off with ease and grace.
Directed by Jordan Peele
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephen Root, and LilRel Howery
Most people raved about this film and how it had a hidden message of race relations in the U.S. While there is that, on its face, Get Out is a wonderful psychological thriller with touches in the vein of 1975's The Stepford Wives and mostly 1976's Marathon Man thrown in. But, whereas Marathon addressed the violent history between Jews and Nazis, Get Out addresses the violent history between African Americans and slavery. The story follows photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) who is going to visit his girlfriend Rose Armitage's (Allison Williams) family for the weekend. Most would think her family to be Republican and/or conservative, but not so, as, more than once, it's relayed on how her family voted twice for President Barack Obama. Filmmaker Jordan Peele, best known for his comedy, masterfully weaves the story without flat-out preaching and finger-wagging; he makes a horrific thriller of which anyone can relate and fear.
The Glass Castle
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton
Starring Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, Ella Anderson, Max Greenfield, Josh Caras, Sarah Snook, Sadie Sink, and Brigette Lundy-Paine
Based on the autobiography by Jeannette Walls, this film tells the story of Jeannette both as a young girl (Ella Anderson) and in her late 20s/early 30s (Brie Larson), as she remembers and deals with her eccentric, alcoholic father (Woody Harrelson) and artistic, free-spirited mother (Naomi Watts). The family of six (including her older sister, younger brother, and younger sister) move around a lot due to their father's inability to keep a job. Along the way, Jeannette learns creativity, love and independence, but she also learns insecurity, fear, and hunger. Cretton had already directed Larson in another gem of a film (Short Term 12), and he continues to show with this film that his skill behind the camera is well set! Larson is one of the BEST actresses working today and will go on to do such great things! I was wowed by the impressive acting of Ella Anderson, a young actress who I also see going on to have an impressive acting resume! But it is Woody Harrelson who VERY MUCH deserves an Academy Award for his work here! The complex relationship between Jeannette and her father wouldn't have affected so many and been such a touchstone of this film if it weren't for Harrelson and Larson! There are upsetting themes throughout the story but also nervously funny scenes as well (the arm-wrestling scene comes to mind!); and it all makes this film one of the best of the year!
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Directed by James Gunn
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, Pom Klementieff, Kurt Russell, Sean Gunn, Elizabeth Debicki, and Vin Diesel
While most may mention Marvel films such as Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, or Logan in their top films lists, my favorite -- and the only one entertaining enough to make the list -- was Guardians 2! Spider-Man was more like Iron Man Jr., not touching on any of the Spidey trademarks (no mention whatsoever of Uncle Ben, no spider sense, no real threat, no alienation from peers, M.J. completely not who she is!); Ragnarok cared more about laughs than substance; and Logan featured lazy writing -- "borrowing" its penultimate scene monologue from a classic western film -- as well as treading on territory already explored in previous Wolverine films (if it were a DC film, critics and audiences would have bashed it). And while Guardians 2 did try a bit too hard at times to get laughs only to fall flat (the carpet dragging scene coming first to mind), as well as Drax's unforgiveable, takes-it-way-too-far bullying of Mantis' looks, it nonetheless had heart, focusing on family. The cast have wonderful chemistry and, as always, Kurt Russell shines in all he does.
Directed by Andy Muschietti
Starring Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Chosen Jacobs, Wyatt Oleff, and Nicholas Hamilton
Based on the classic novel by Stephen King, It tells the story of seven kids who confront a legendary evil monster and eventually have to confront the same evil when they are grown-ups. Whereas the book jumps back and forth between the kids' time and their grown-up counterparts, this first installment explicitly follows just the kids. There were quite a lot of people and fans of the book as well as the 1990 made-for-TV movie that hated this version, but I thought it was well-done and aptly adapted for audiences (in the book version, the kids escape the tunnels after defeating It only by all of the 11-year-old boys having sex with fellow 11-year-old, and the only girl of the group, Beverly. Ewww!). While I liked Tim Curry's performance of Pennywise the Clown (from the 1990's TV movie) better, Bill Skarsgard's version wasn't so bad. What I loved most about this film, though, was the performance of Beverly by 15-year-old Sophia Lillis. She is a major acting powerhouse and I look forward to seeing her in more films! Next to Glass Castle's Ella Anderson, Lillis is one of the best actresses out there today! Overall, the film will only be complete once part two with the adults is tentatively released in September 2019. And I know I'll wait to purchase the Blu-ray until both films are released and inevitably put together either in one ultimate cut or at least packaged together. In the meantime, this release will suffice.
Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Mamoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, Ciaran Hinds, Joe Morton, J.K. Simmons, and Amber Heard
Directed by Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin
One of the most powerful documentaries to be made, LA 92 shows through strictly archival footage (no new interviews or commentary, just archival from the time of the riots) and a wonderful, haunting music score the timeline of how the Los Angeles riots of 1992 started and how they unfolded. It starts with a quick prelude of the August 1965 L.A. riots, the 1973 election of Tom Bradley as L.A. mayor, and the 1978 promotion of Daryl Gates as L.A. chief of police. The movie then opens with the end of Operation Desert Storm in March 1991, going on to document the police brutality beating of Rodney King and the tragic, unjustified shooting death of Latasha Harlins -- as well as showcasing the complete events that transpired between the acquittal of the 4 LAPD officers in the King beating and the end of the riots (April 29 to May 4, 1992), making the riots the most destructive civil disturbance in the history of America, with 63 people killed, 2,383 people injured, more than 11,000 arrested, and estimates of material losses varying between about $800 million and $1 billion, and approximately 3,600 fires set, destroying 1,100 buildings. What's most electrifying and hypnotic about LA 92 is the raw emotion expressed from all sides as well as the bookends of the film, which show that, when it comes to race relations, things today have sadly not changed as much as they should since 1965.
Directed by Greta Gerwig
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges, Timothee Chalamet, Odeya Rush, Lois Smith, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Marielle Scott
I'm very hard on "award-nominated" films because I think most of them extremely overrated. So I was skeptical when I stepped into the theater to watch Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, known for acting in films such as Greenberg, The Dish & The Spoon, Arthur, Damsels in Distress, To Rome with Love, Lola Versus, and Frances Ha. Very loosely based on Gerwig's youth, Lady Bird follows Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), who is a 17-year-old in 2002 in Sacramento, CA, and follows her throughout her high school senior year, with many vignettes of funny moments, dramatic moments, and everyday moments of which anyone who was a teenager can relate. Gerwig hits on all of the gratuitous teenage experiences, but adds a relatable likeness to them and unexplainable magic, making the film simply irresistible! The performances are wonderful (Ronan's best, in my opinion!; and Laurie Metcalf is at her best as well!), and the writing is stellar! Gerwig's first film is, without a doubt, one of the best of the year!
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Tracy Letts, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, and David Cross
One of the most important and timely releases to come along is a story that I believe should be required knowledge: the lies of the government concerning the official beginning of American involvement in the Vietnam War. The film follows the country's first female newspaper publisher, Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), of The Washington Post, who comes into possession of classified documents now known as "The Pentagon Papers," which detailed how the federal government, among other things, that the Presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson administration systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, revealing specifically that the U.S. had secretly enlarged the scope of its actions in the Vietnam War with the bombings of nearby Cambodia and Laos, coastal raids on North Vietnam, and Marine Corps attacks, none of which were reported in the mainstream media, as well as the advisors' and analysts' opinion that the war was unwinnable (and they sent troops anyway). These documents would inevitably lead to the revelation that the infamous 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, which fully got America involved in the Vietnam War, was partially lied about in that the second attack on American warships by the North Vietnamese on August 4, 1964, never happened. This film chronicles the fight between Graham, Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), and the President Richard Nixon administration. What is especially great is Steven Spielberg's utilization of actual Nixon White House recordings (no reenactments) to showcase just how pissed off Nixon and his staff were during this time. After hearing of Nixon's demanding to ban the Washington Post from coming to the White House, one can't help but parallel Nixon with Donald Trump's current administration, which uses very similar tactics and has similar opinions as Nixon when it comes to the press as well as the American people's right to information (or lack thereof). The Post is an absolute must-see film, showcasing the importance of the public's right to information when it comes to the government, the importance of a free press, as well as a history of our country's corrupt politics and methods which sadly didn't teach us a lesson as evidenced by the election of today's "president."
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Starring James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula
Love him or hate him, M. Night Shyamalan is a masterful storyteller, and his latest film, Split, is a definite return to form, touching on the creepy themes that gave a rise to his career! In the film, three young women are kidnapped by Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man who has dissociative identity disorder, specifically 23 diagnosed different personalities. While all of these personalities have their alarming quirks, it is the 24th personality, known as "The Beast," which is most violent and evil, and the person to whom the three women are to be sacrificed. What Shyamalan established with this film and story is a deeper delve into the mythology of his prior film, Unbreakable. In fact, there is already a sequel in the works to feature the villain from Unbreakable, Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), and McAvoy's character, all a final part of his "Eastrail 177 Trilogy," to be released in January 2019.
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Directed by Rian Johnson
Starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Domhnall Gleeson, Laura Dern, Andy Serkis, and Benecio Del Toro
It's difficult to write a spoiler-free review because, as a critic and fan, you want to instantly gush over the major plot twists and revelations! So, I will simply say there are a couple uses of the force that haven't been seen on the big screen, but the uses are such great, wonderful surprises, they are a welcome -- and some superfans may say long overdue -- addition to the cinematic universe! There is tragedy, loss and sacrifice; however, there is humor, caring and hope! As for the performances, they're all top notch here, particularly from Daisey Ridley, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill. Johnson finally addressed -- to me -- a long-standing issue with Fisher's Leia and it is glorious! Seeing Fisher up on screen makes your heart both soar and hurt over how wonderful she was and how much she will be missed. Hamill finally gets to delve into the more serious undertones of being the "last Jedi" and he delivers it in the masterful way that only Hamill can, proving once again that he was born to play Skywalker! Driver does well with his unspoken acting, delivering both on the yearning to be accepted and wanting to pave his own path. Ridley especially really upped her acting game, and in one pivotal scene with Driver, she delivers a rather simple line in the most heart-aching way. There were many scenes I figured out would happen but didn't know for sure if Johnson would actually go there, and, fortunately, he did! But there were also many unexpected moments and that makes for a great film! Of course, the film also saw the return of composer John Williams and his score this time around was SO much better than the Force Awakens score! This time, he does what should be done: he uses those familiar, favorite themes from the original trilogy and interweaves them with the new! Hearing themes like "Luke and Leia," "Han and Leia," "The Force theme," and others was a very welcome addition! My favorite moment of Last Jedi is one I unfortunately cannot write without spoiling the surprise, but I actually teared up throughout the entire scene! To me, this scene made the movie and I think other diehard fans will love it just the same! New actors and characters such as Laura Dern's Vice Admiral Holdo, Kelly Marie Tran's Rose Tico, and Benecio Del Toro's DJ are wonderful additions to the cast and SW universe, each given their respective moment to shine! Some are saying Del Toro wasn't used enough but I was satisfied with his screen time. Other great moments are seeing the Millennium Falcon speeding through the caverns of new planet Crait; as well as the production design and sets, which were amazing! The colors used and photography brings an artistic distinction to the saga. Overall, Last Jedi is one of the most enjoyable films of the year!
Directed by David Gordon Green
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Clancy Brown, Frankie Shaw, Carlos Sanz, Lenny Clarke, Nate Richman, and Richard Lane Jr.
Directed by Jeffrey Blitz
Starring Anna Kendrick, Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson, June Squibb, Tony Revolori, Stephen Merchant, Wyatt Russell, and Margo Martindale
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Directed by Luc Besson
Starring Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, and John Goodman
Most panned this sci-fi epic from director Luc Besson (Leon the Professional, The Fifth Element, Lucy) but I thought it was wildly imaginative. Based on the French sci-fi comic book Valerian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres, the film follows Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his partner, Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne), two opposites who work well together, working for a special police division which preserves peace through the galaxy. The two have an unspoken romantic tension between them and they are tasked to go on a mission to retrieve a device which can replicate anything it eats. This is just the start of a major epic sci-fi, special effects extravaganza that I found refreshing, inventive and extremely entertaining. I've never seen a film like it, and that's saying a lot in a time full of film remakes, reboots, and sequels. The only thing I wasn't crazy about was the chemistry between DeHaan and Delevingne; it wasn't all that great. Nonetheless, Valerian is a good time!
The Vietnam War
Directed by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick
Master documentarian Ken Burns (The Civil War, The Roosevelts, Prohibition, The Central Park Five, and Baseball) returns with another amazing piece of work -- this one being his best to date! The 10-part documentary, with each installment running about 2 hours long (clocking in at an extensive 20 hours!), focuses on the lead-up to, the life of, and the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Wisely avoiding politicos, talking heads and famous actor/activists, Burns and company interview soldiers on both sides (the U.S., the South Vietnamese, and the North Vietnamese), the family members of those who served, and everyday people who lived in and were immersed through the era of 1961 to 1975, The Vietnam War is an unflinching, objective, honest look into one of the most infamous wars in American history, telling most of the brutal truth which some still feel incapable of confronting today. The film features original music from that era (i.e., Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Donovan, etc.), as well as two separate scores (one featuring Yo-Yo Ma, and the other by Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross). This documentary is VERY essential and well worth the time invested.
War for the Planet of the Apes
Directed by Matt Reeves
Starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, Ty Olsson, Judy Greer, and Karin Konoval
I was skeptical when learning of the reboot of The Planet of the Apes films, especially after that dreadful Tim Burton/Mark Wahlberg 2001 version! But I have to eat crow now and admit this series has been one of the best film sagas in Hollywood of late! Rise of the Planet of the Apes was OK but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was wonderful! In this installment, we find out that the human population has been decimated by a mutation of the Simian Flu virus and the last human survivors have divided into factions to try and survive (think of the present season of The Walking Dead). The most violent is lead by the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), who not only believes should be destroyed but also that any humans showing signs of the Simian Flu should be terminated. Andy Serkis, who portrays the ape Caesar, should get an award -- possibly an Oscar nomination -- for his performance. And Harrelson, with another riveting performance here (the other being The Glass Castle), proves he is easily one of Hollywood's greatest actors!
Directed by Taylor Sheridan
Starring Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene, Gil Birmingham, Kelsey Asbille, Julia Jones, and Jon Bernthal
One of THE BEST cop procedural mystery thrillers I've seen in a very long time! The story is reminiscent of a great American novel, but it is all written by filmmaker Taylor Sheridan. The plot involves U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), who finds the dead body of a young woman he knows in the frozen wild lands of Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. The investigation is soon turned over to rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), and the two team up to try and find out what events lead to the woman's death. The story has a wonderful cast of complex characters, with tense, nailbiting moments, as you're left guessing who's the culprit. By the movie's end, there is justice but it doesn't feel like it's enough -- which makes it all extremely realistic. Overall, the story is a captivating thriller with solid performances and I would easily recommend it to anyone searching for a truly good film.
Directed by Stephen Chbosky
Starring Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Izabela Vidovic, Mandy Patinkin, Noah Jupe, Nadji Jeter, and Millie Davis
The ultimate feel-good film of the year! Based on the bestselling book by R.J. Palacio, Wonder is about fifth-grader August "Auggie" Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), who was born with a facial deformity equated with Treacher Collins Syndrome and has had 27 different surgeries to correct his face, but the surgeries have left scars and deformity. Due to this, Auggie has been homeschooled by his mother until he reaches fifth grade and his parents begrudgingly decide they want Auggie to experience the real world. So, they enroll him in a private middle school, and Auggie surrenders to attending. The film follows Auggie as he is ostracized by his peers but soon finds a friend in Jack Will (Noah Jupe). What follows is a roller coaster ride of emotion, with the viewer seeing the perspective of each of the people in Auggie's life. There are plenty of heartbreaking moments but also many happy ones. What I liked most about Wonder was the realistic portrayal of Auggie's feelings when he's bullied. As someone who was picked on quite a bit at a young age, I could relate. But what is best about this film is in a time of horrid politics, administration, and division, Wonder is a story that instills hope and unity.
Directed by Patty Jenkins
Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, Elena Anaya, and Lucy Davis
I can honestly, unabashedly admit that when I first watched this film, with my wife and daughters, I teared up a bit. I looked over to my two young daughters and saw their reactions as they watched a live woman superhero take on bad soldiers and villains; seeing their attentiveness to what was going on filled me with the magic of comics and seeing the effect that superheroes have on all of us, how they add to the best of us. I was a bit skeptical when I first heard of Gal Gadot's casting but she has proven time and time again that she is the right fit. Gadot herself is a bit of a wonder woman in real life (read her personal background), and director Patty Jenkins (Monster) has accomplished what no other directors had been able to: bring THE ultimate female superhero to life on the big screen! Taking place during World War I, the story tells the tale of Diana, who is born on the island of Themyscira, in the presence of her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and the other Amazons who solely live there. One day, their peace is upended by the surprising arrival of American pilot and spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), whom Diana saves. The Amazons soon learn of World War I and are convinced it is their longtime enemy Ares, the God of War, behind mankind's bloodlust for war. Diana leaves her home and travels to London with Trevor to help in the war effort and find and confront Ares. The story, pacing, acting, action are all on point here and it's a solid entry in the superhero genre!
MATT'S BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OF 2017:
The most disappointing film of 2017, for me, was a film I thought would be good but was one big flop! And here it is:
Directed by James Ponsoldt
Starring Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, Ellar Coltrane, Glenne Headley, Bill Paxton, Karen Gillan, John Boyega, Patton Oswalt, Nate Corddry, Judy Reyes, and Ellen Wong
The cast is stellar, the story is based on a novel by Dave Eggers, and the direction was under a promising director. Nevertheless, The Circle just fell completely flat! The premise is interesting, especially given the timely relation to Facebook and other social media sites which gather too much information willingly from the public and have proven to hand it over to the government. At times, though, this story didn't know if it wanted to be Enemy of the State or Edtv. It's a shame that this film is both Bill Paxton's and Glenne Headley's last, due to their untimely deaths. What's especially tragic and crappy about this film is the ending. It could've been a good film -- and I was hoping so much for it to be great -- but the murky ending felt too inconclusive and it simply was a waste of all talents combined.