Friday, September 22, 2017

Directorial Retrospective: Matthew Vaughn


Welcome back to another installment of Rhode Island Movie Corner’s ongoing series of Directorial Retrospectives. This is where I cover the complete filmography of any given director in the film industry. Past installments of this series have covered the likes of DCEU director Zack Snyder, the master of ‘Bayhem’ himself Michael Bay, the dark and quirky gothic genius Tim Burton, and film buff favorite Edgar Wright. And today, we’ll be looking at the admittedly brief but still Grade-A directorial career of a filmmaker who’s been well-known for producing high-quality adaptations. Yes, folks, today we’re talking about director Matthew Vaughn. His newest film, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, a sequel to his 2015 effort Kingsman: The Secret Service, hits theaters this weekend and is shaping up to be an exciting, action-packed follow-up to one of the most entertaining films of 2015. And in honor of its release, today we’ll be looking at the past directorial escapades of the famous UK-born filmmaker. As I noted earlier, the interesting thing to note about Vaughn’s directorial career is that all 5* (soon to be 6) of the films that he’s directed have been adaptations of literary works. After getting his start as a producer on some of fellow director Guy Ritchie’s films, including 1998’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and 2000’s Snatch, Vaughn has since moved into directing himself. Since then, he’s often collaborated with screenwriter Jane Goldman, who’s worked with him on all but one of his films, and comic book writer Mark Millar. And so, with that in mind, it’s time to put on your best finely-tailored suits and remember the words of wisdom spoken by Harry Hart (“Manners. Maketh. Man”) as we look at the films of director Matthew Vaughn.

LAYER CAKE (2004)


Vaughn’s directorial career officially kicked off in 2004 with an adaptation of author J.J. Connolly’s 2000 novel Layer Cake. Connolly himself wrote the screenplay for the film which, nowadays, is commonly regarded as ‘Daniel Craig’s James Bond audition tape’. Yes, it was thanks in large part to this film, in which Craig plays a drug dealer known only as XXXX who finds himself forced into doing some jobs for an associate of his, that eventually led to him being cast in the role of 007 in Casino Royale. And, sure enough, while XXXX and James Bond are entirely different characters, there are some instances in this film where XXXX’s actions feel very reminiscent of something that Craig’s Bond would do in one of his Bond films. Craig does a great job in the lead role while being backed by a solid supporting cast that includes the likes of Sienna Miller, Michael Gambon, and Craig’s future Bond quartermaster Ben Whishaw. The film itself is a sleek and entertaining crime thriller that boasts some cracking dialogue, excellent cinematography, and solid editing, which all helps to give it a stylish look and atmosphere. Sure, some parts of the story are admittedly a bit standard for the genre, but thanks to strong direction and a terrific lead performance, Layer Cake is a strong debut for Matthew Vaughn as a director. And yes, in retrospect, it’s easy to see why this film was one of the major contributing factors behind Daniel Craig’s casting as the U.K.’s most famous MI6 agent.

Rating: 4/5

STARDUST (2007)


For his next directorial outing, Vaughn turned to the works of famed fantasy writer Neil Gaiman; specifically, his 1999 novel Stardust, a story about a young man from a small village who ends up embarking on a grand adventure when he comes across a literal ‘fallen star’. This was also the first instance where Vaughn collaborated with screenwriter Jane Goldman, who’s been his most frequent collaborator ever since. I recall seeing ads for this film back when it came out in 2007. However, I didn’t end up seeing it in theaters, and that’s a shame because, having watched it now, I must say that I really loved this film. I found it to be a very entertaining fantasy adventure reminiscent of films like The Princess Bride and The Chronicles of Narnia. For one thing, the film benefits from an incredibly likable lead duo in the form of villager Tristan Thorn and the celestial being Yvaine (the ‘literal fallen star’ I mentioned earlier). Charlie Cox and Claire Danes have terrific chemistry with each other and are backed by some solid performances from the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer as the main antagonist, a witch who is looking to use Yvaine’s powers to regain her youth, and Robert De Niro as an eccentric pirate captain. I also really appreciated the film’s great sense of humor, like with the whole subplot revolving around the princes of the kingdom of Stormhold. In their efforts to become the next king, they all try to kill each other and when they do, they then appear as ghosts who basically form their own peanut gallery. Really, if I had any major gripes with this film, it’d be that some of the visual effects haven’t exactly aged well. In fact, I’d dare say that they were mediocre even for the time. Still, Stardust delivers when it comes to being exactly what it wants to be, a light-hearted and charming fantasy adventure that I’d argue is quite underrated.

Rating: 4.5/5

KICK-ASS (2010)


The other frequent collaborator of Matthew Vaughn’s is comic-book writer Mark Millar. Their first collaboration together turned out to be an adaptation of Millar’s 2008 comic Kick-Ass, the story of an average high-school student named Dave Lizewski who one day decides to be a superhero. The film, like the comic, is a satirical take on the superhero genre. It poses the simple question of ‘how come no one’s ever tried to be a superhero’ and then proceeds to answer that question in an unwavering manner… mainly by showing how dangerous it’d be if done for real because no one has the same kind of powers that characters like Superman or Spider-Man have. This farcical approach is well-handled by Vaughn and Goldman thanks in part to some of the hilarious instances in which the film juxtaposes its different bits of imagery. For example, one of the main protagonists is a young girl named Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz in her breakout role) who constantly swears and goes around killing bad guys as the vigilante Hit-Girl alongside her father Damon AKA Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage in a hilarious standout role), who wears a Batman-esque costume. And while the final act of the film basically turns into exactly what it’s satirizing, Kick-Ass is a highly entertaining riff on the superhero genre thanks to strong direction from Vaughn and an entertaining ensemble cast. Ironically, though, Vaughn’s next project would end up being a film in the exact same genre that he had just satirized.

Rating: 4/5

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011)


This is a film that I’ve talked about several times before, whether it was during an X-Men series retrospective that I did way back in 2013 or basically anytime that I brought it up while discussing its two follow-ups, 2014’s Days of Future Past and 2016’s Apocalypse. Thus, I’ll try not to repeat myself too much here other than the fact that, suffice it to say, I love this film. This was the film that effectively resurrected the X-Men film franchise after it had gone through a notoriously rough span in the late 2000’s. Part of this film’s success was due to the return of the franchise’s original director, Bryan Singer, as its producer/co-writer. However, it was ultimately Matthew Vaughn who took on the role of director for this installment of the series, and with it, he imbues First Class with a stylish James Bond-esque atmosphere. And while it does technically serve as the one thing that is commonly seen as a dirty word amongst film buffs, a prequel/soft reboot of the franchise, it does manage to be an effective take on the ‘origins’ of several of the series’ main protagonists. Specifically, the trio of Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique, all of whom are played excellently by James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence, respectively. But they’re not the only stars of the show, though, as this was arguably the first X-Men film to truly emphasize the franchise’s team element, something that was eventually perfected in its two sequels. Admittedly, some of the visual effects have dated a bit and not everyone in the cast is a perfect fit in their respective roles (e.g. January Jones as Emma Frost) but, all in all, I still really enjoy X-Men: First Class. Obviously, I know that this isn’t exactly saying much, but for being the dreaded prequel of a long-running franchise, it ends up being one of the best prequels ever made.

Rating: 5/5!

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015)


And finally, we end with Vaughn’s adaptation of Mark Millar’s 2012 comic series, Kingsman: The Secret Service. This was one of several big-name spy films to come out in 2015 alongside the likes of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and Spectre, just to name a few. It’s also another film that I’ve talked about before in the past, namely via my original review of it back in February 2015. So, again, I won’t repeat myself too much here. Simply put, this film is a balls-to-the-wall action extravaganza with a completely ludicrous plot and extremely over-the-top action sequences… and yet, that is exactly one of the main reasons why it is so damn fun to watch. Another reason why it works so well is because amidst all the crazy action in this film (e.g. the iconic/infamous fight scene inside a hate group’s church that’s made up of several long takes), it’s all backed by a great origin story in which its main protagonist, Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin, works to prove himself as the newest recruit of the Kingsman. Eggsy proves to be a very likable protagonist and is played excellently by Taron Egerton in what would end up being his breakout role. He’s backed by some great supporting players as well, including Colin Firth in an against-type role as Eggsy’s mentor Harry Hart, Matthew Vaughn regular Mark Strong as Kingsman tech guru Merlin, and Samuel L. Jackson as the charismatic and highly entertaining main antagonist Valentine. In short, while Kingsman may understandably prove to be a bit too much for some, it’s also an unapologetically wild tribute to the classic spy films of the 1960’s. And in an age where spy films tend to be a bit more serious nowadays (disclaimer: nothing wrong with that, for the record), this was a great new addition to the genre.


Rating: 4.5/5

Monday, September 18, 2017

mother! (2017) review


Director Darren Aronofsky has become well-known for his work on psychological dramas that delve into the psyches of their main protagonists. However, while several of his films have done excellently with critics, they’ve also attracted tons of controversy for various reasons, usually because of how insane some of them get. His sophomore directorial effort, 2000’s Requiem for a Dream, was deemed too intense for audiences, thus initially earning an NC-17 rating from the MPAA. Aronofsky refuted the decision, but his appeal was denied and the film was instead released unrated by its distributor. While his 2010 effort, Black Swan, did earn Natalie Portman an Oscar for Best Actress, it also led to some debate over how much of the ballet dancing in the film was done by Portman herself. And as for his most recent film, 2014’s Noah, it ended up being banned in several countries due to Aronofsky’s radical take on the story of Noah’s Ark, while also turning out to be his most commercially successful film to date. And from the looks of it, this trend of Aronofsky’s polarizing output continues with his latest film, Mother. Headlined by the ensemble of Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer, Mother is a psychological ‘horror’ film that’s steeped in biblical allegories. However, that hasn’t stopped the film from attracting an extremely polarizing response from critics, and given that it was handed the worst rating possible from the marketing research firm CinemaScore, an F, it’s also proven to be quite divisive amongst audiences as well. As for me? Well, unfortunately, I find that I lean heavily towards the side that gave this film an ‘F’.

In a quaint, little-secluded area, a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) lives with her husband (Javier Bardem), who’s a poet, in their newly renovated home. The young woman has spent much of her time working on the remodeling so that they can have a perfect home, even though it becomes clear that this isolation has had a negative effect on her husband’s work. However, their idyllic home life is soon threatened by the arrival of some unwanted guests. First, a doctor (Ed Harris) arrives at the house, having been led to assume that it was a bed and breakfast. He also mentions that he’s a big fan of the husband’s work. Later, the doctor’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives as well, and while there, she begins to question the young woman about why she and her husband have yet to have kids. This, obviously, begins to freak the young woman out but, to both her surprise and dismay, her husband is extremely welcoming of their new guests. And soon enough, more people start to arrive on the premises just so that they can meet with the husband. Thus, as the young woman begins to become more and more stressed due to all the unwelcome guests in her home, it also starts to have quite an effect on her relationship with her husband, especially after she does indeed become pregnant.

As noted in the intro (and without giving anything major away from the plot), this film’s story is basically one big biblical allegory. If you’re familiar with some of the most famous stories from the bible, then you’ll probably recognize them here by way of how they’re represented in the film’s characters. This includes everyone from the older couple that comes to visit the main characters’ home to their two sons (played by real-life brothers Domhnall and Brian Gleeson) and, of course, the titular ‘mother’ and her husband. And to this film’s credit, I do think that it’s an interesting way in going about telling a Bible-influenced story in a modern context. However, the way in which Aronofsky goes about it is what ultimately ruins it. Part of this is due to the often-temperamental cinematography by Aronofsky regular Matthew Libatique. Said cinematography involves tons of close-up shots and quite a bit of erratic/shaky camera movement, the latter of which becomes a huge problem when things get nuts in this film. And believe me, this film gets nuts, mainly during its second half where to be perfectly frank, it goes off the frigging wall… which, as you might have guessed, is not a good thing in this case. This film also utilizes Aronofsky’s quick-cut style of editing that was apparent in Requiem for a Dream, though it mostly comes into play during the more chaotic moments of the narrative. So, in other words, pair rapidly cutting editing with erratic cinematography and you have a film that can make you feel quite nauseous at times because it’s moving around so much, thereby giving you barely any time to try and grasp just what the heck is happening onscreen. 

It’s a shame, really, that this film is the disaster that it is because everyone in the cast is solid in their respective roles. At the very least, they all do a fine enough job at conveying the traits of the biblical characters that they’re meant to be representing. While not necessarily the best performance of her career, Jennifer Lawrence does do a fine job in the ‘title role’. She holds her own for sure, especially given that the film mainly revolves around her, but she’s also quite good whenever she’s working off one of her co-stars, like the always charismatic Javier Bardem. With that said, though, prior to its release, there was some controversy over the fact that Lawrence’s main romantic lead in this film is 21 years her senior. However, if anything, the film does sort of address this and, again, without giving anything away, it ends up making a bit more sense once you realize who Bardem’s character is meant to be. The other couple in this film, played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, provide an interesting contrast to the main couple given their overall characterizations. Harris’ character is more of a charming stranger while Pfeiffer’s character is far colder, the latter of which is seen whenever Pfeiffer interacts with Lawrence. Both Harris and Pfeiffer are great in their respective roles, with Harris providing some nice charisma while Pfeiffer is great at conveying an incredibly uncomfortable, steely persona. Ultimately, though, these solid performances aren’t enough to save this dreadful material.

Now, to be fair, I can at least see why some have reacted positively towards this film. I can see why they’ve found it to be an artistically fascinating and refreshingly original film in today’s current market. Ultimately, though, I did not see ‘exactly’ what they saw with this film. Now, to be clear, this wasn’t a situation where I just didn’t get what was going on (for the most part…). I did, at least, understand all the biblical references that this film was conveying. However, it’s ultimately the overall execution of it all that just makes this an incredibly frustrating film to watch. Because while the cast does do a good job with what they’re given, Aronofsky’s direction and the erratic cinematography end up turning this film into a chaotic mess. I mean, for the record, I do think that this is an interesting way to do a modern take on a story that’s heavily influenced by the bible. However, as much as I hate to say it, this probably would’ve worked a hell of a lot better under a different director; say, David Fincher or someone similar. Because as is, this is just an incoherent and all-around ugly film that’s way too surreal for its own good to the point where it comes off as being extremely pretentious. Now, again, if you liked this film, then all the power to you. But as for me, though, this ended up being one of the most emotionally-draining films that I’ve ever had to sit through because of everything that I’ve covered in this review… ugh, thank god this comes out this Friday.


Rating: 0.5/5

Friday, September 15, 2017

Star Wars Episode IX - Colin Trevorrow Out, J.J. Abrams Back In

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Well, we’ve got yet another directorial shake-up on our hands in the Star Wars universe. Just a few months after Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were booted from the Han Solo spin-off film and replaced by Ron Howard, the same has now happened with the ninth installment of the main series, Episode IX. Originally, the film was set to be directed by Colin Trevorrow, who was fresh off 2015’s worldwide smash hit Jurassic World… and this year’s critically derided Book of Henry (more on that in a bit). However, like Lord and Miller, it was recently announced that Trevorrow had backed out of directing the film due to, what else, creative differences with Lucasfilm. But, once again, the search for a new director did not last long, and in this case, it was an old familiar face who stepped in to finish the job. Yes, folks, J.J. Abrams, the man, myth, and legend who kick-started the new Star Wars trilogy on the right note with The Force Awakens is coming back to write and direct Episode IX. Given the critical/commercial success of TFA, it seems like this would be a well-received decision, right? Well, not exactly… Yes, folks, the Star Wars franchise has been in quite a state of flux as of late due to several of the recent developments surrounding its upcoming films. This is the second time in a row now that a Star Wars director has been ‘fired’ from the job due to creative differences with the studio and producer Kathleen Kennedy (three if you count the time when Josh Trank stepped down from helming a spin-off film presumably due to his behavior during the disastrous production of the 2015 reboot of Fantastic Four). This has, unfortunately, put Kennedy in a tough situation as she’s been subjected to tons of flak that, dare I say, verges a bit on sexism. I’ve gone over this before when I discussed the Han Solo incident so I won’t repeat myself too much here other than the fact that, given her prestigious career in the industry, Ms. Kennedy doesn’t deserve all this criticism over something that could happen to any film producer.

I mean, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; film productions don’t always go perfectly. There will be times where a film will be affected by problems that may often require something along the lines of reshoots, script rewrites, and so on and so forth. However, just because a film has a troubled production doesn’t automatically mean that it’s doomed to failure. Seriously, it’s because of incidents like this that I’m extremely happy that social media wasn’t around in the time of films like Jaws and the original Star Wars; good lord, we would’ve never heard the end of those films’ production woes had that been the case. And in terms of what’s going on right now with Episode IX, at least this wasn’t like what happened with the Han Solo film where the director switcheroo occurred more than halfway through filming. Episode IX, on the other hand, hasn’t even started production yet. In fact, not long after J.J.’s hiring was confirmed, it was also announced that the film had been pushed back to the franchise’s preferred release month of December 2019, which effectively gives J.J. more time to prepare for it instead of rushing through it so that it’d be out by its original May 2019 release date. Now, granted, I am aware that these recent bits of production turmoil have been somewhat of a common occurrence as of late with the Disney-owned era Star Wars films. Aside from these recent directorial hiccups, there was also, of course, the dilemma that Rogue One faced when it had to go through reshoots, namely to rework its third act. Ultimately, though, all the hubbub surrounding these events is just a consequence of an age where we can practically know anything about a film’s production.

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With that said, though, let me make something clear; unless proven otherwise, I’m 100% confident that Trevorrow wasn’t kicked off Episode IX because of the negative reception towards The Book of Henry. I’ve talked before about how the internet over-reacted quite a bit when the film came out to the point where several articles posed the same exact question; ‘Is Episode IX in trouble?’… even though the film wasn’t even in production yet. Heck, even the polarizing reaction to Jurassic World played a factor into the hesitation surrounding Trevorrow’s hiring. It got to the point where, apparently, some people were ‘happy’ when the news broke of his departure. This ties into something that I’ve always questioned about the online film fan community and that is its tendency to focus more on films that they dislike rather than those that they did like. I mean, seriously, if Trevorrow had truly gotten canned just because of Book of Henry, then J.J. Abrams could’ve been denied from directing The Force Awakens just because of the blowback that he got over Star Trek Into Darkness’ use of elements from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Heck, imagine if this mentality was implemented with the Marvel Cinematic Universe films; I guarantee you that NONE of the MCU directors would’ve even been hired if judged solely for their misfires. I mean, after all, the director of the Guardians of the Galaxy films did write the live-action Scooby-Doo films. Or remember when the directors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, and the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War directed You, Me, and Dupree? Bottom line, the validity of a director’s qualifications for a certain project shouldn’t be judged solely because of one bad film that they made. Case in point, even though Trevorrow attracted a lot of flak for Jurassic World and Book of Henry, he did also direct 2012’s indie hit Safety Not Guaranteed.  

Thus, prior to these recent turn of events, I was optimistic about Trevorrow’s hiring and confident in his ability to make an entertaining Star Wars film. But, of course, that isn’t happening anymore so now we get to look forward to another J.J. Abrams-directed Star Wars film. Hurrah! However, as noted in the intro, the news of J.J.’s return hasn’t really gone over well with everybody and the main reason why is that some feel that he’s too ‘safe’ of a choice to direct the film. That might have something to do with the one thing that I’m sure many of you have already guessed about when I said the word ‘safe’. Yep, it’s the common criticism of The Force Awakens’ shared similarities with Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Really, there’s not much more that I can bring to this discussion other than my belief that the internet’s just beating a dead horse at this point. Heck, even Ron Howard’s hiring for the Han Solo film was deemed as a ‘safe’ pick to replace Phil Lord and Chris Miller. All this just goes to show the increasing pressure that the franchise has been under recently from fans who have been demanding that they enlist more ‘auteur’ directors who can bring something ‘new’ to the franchise. And while I’m not against that, for the record, from what I can gather, the main reason why Lord, Miller, and even Trevorrow were let go was that their directorial personalities clashed with Lucasfilm’s vision for the franchise. And as controversial as it will undoubtedly sound to some of you, I think that this was ultimately for the best. Again, I’m all for new takes on the Star Wars franchise. However, the amount of creative clout that a director is given on a film can sometimes end up having a severely negative effect on it (e.g. Batman Returns, Sucker Punch). Heck, this has even happened before with this franchise; just look at when the prequels came out.


And it’s a shame, really, that these recent ‘studio vs. director’ controversies have had a negative impact on J.J. Abrams’ return to the franchise. Given the ever-present ‘it’s just a rehash of A New Hope’ argument, it feels like the internet’s collective opinion of The Force Awakens has changed quite drastically since it came out. It’s legitimately at the point now where I’m beginning to wonder if it and Rogue One were truly the critical/commercial hits that they were. Oh sure, they both did well with critics and have collectively grossed over $3 billion at the box-office, a total which will surely increase by another $1-2 billion once The Last Jedi comes out. But in an age where shows like Honest Trailers and Cinemasins are becoming more and more prominent, it’s becoming a lot harder for films to maintain the positive reputation that they had upon their initial release. It also just goes to show how Star Wars is easily the most scrutinized film franchise of all-time, as the expectations for it are bigger than the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings franchises combined. Even when it’s doing well, there are always plenty of naysayers out there who will try and bring it down. And given these recent turn of events, it feels like this is all just putting more overt pressure on Rian Johnson to truly deliver with The Last Jedi. However, despite all the behind-the-scenes drama that’s been going on as of late, I’m still looking forward to these next few Star Wars films. Because if they do turn out great, then all the pre-judgmental backlash directed against them will have just been utterly pointless. And while I know that I’m undoubtedly biased because he’s one of my favorite directors working today, the announcement of J.J. Abrams’ return for Episode IX just makes me even more excited for it because of how much I loved The Force Awakens. In other words, to quote the classic hashtag created by popular Star Wars Youtuber HelloGreedo, #InJJWeTrust.


And, just for the hell of it, it’s time for the return of a classic meme that I created prior to the release of The Force Awakens. Feel free to use it as you see fit.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Favorite Films of Summer 2017 - As Voted by You!

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Well, I’m happy to report that I haven’t been experiencing the same situation that I kept seeing when I did this last summer. As you might recall, almost every major media outlet expressed disappointment at last year’s slate of summer films. And while I will admit that perhaps, in retrospect, it wasn’t the best summer ever, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as everyone was saying it was. Thankfully, that isn’t the case this year… well, unless you count all the articles recently that have been pointing out some of the mediocre box-office records from this summer. But I’m clearly not cut out for the box-office analyst industry so instead, I’m just going to highlight the, well, highlights of Summer 2017. We got some more great entries in the superhero genre in what has arguably been one of the genre’s best years ever. We got some quality franchise efforts from the likes of Planet of the Apes and Pixar. And for those who crave more original films, we got some high-quality outings from some of the biggest names in the industry like Christopher Nolan and Edgar Wright. Thus, today on Rhode Island Movie Corner, I’m compiling the results of this year’s annual ‘End of Summer’ fan poll. As always, I want to thank everyone who helped spread this poll around on social media the past two weeks. We had another strong run this year as we managed to tie with last year’s count of 58 votes. Said votes were awarded to 22 different films, a record for this annual event. So, which films ended up earning your votes? It’s time to find out! Without further ado, these are the results for Rhode Island Movie Corner’s fourth annual End of Summer Fan Poll.

10 FILMS RECEIVED 1 VOTE

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD


While director Guy Ritchie has been in the film industry for several decades now, admittedly he hasn’t had much success from a commercial standpoint. Save for films like Snatch and the Sherlock Holmes duology starring Robert Downey Jr., most of his films have underperformed considerably at the box-office. And his 2017 outing is no exception, as King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was unable to earn back its massive $175 million budget. Reviews weren’t too kind either to this radical interpretation of the myth of King Arthur, as it amassed a mediocre 28% on Rotten Tomatoes. That and, apparently, this was trying to set up its own cinematic universe a la Marvel. Clearly, it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen now, but while I’ll admit that I didn’t see the film in theaters, I thought that it looked okay based on the trailer. Nothing special, mind you, but it did look like a decently entertaining medieval action fantasy film. Still, even while watching the trailers, I kind of figured beforehand that this would be one of the big box-office bombs of the summer. And, to be clear, I don’t like doing that because I do hate seeing films do poorly at the box-office regardless of their quality. Still, given Ritchie’s track record at the box-office and the generally ‘meh’ reactions that I was seeing from others online, it was basically a given by the time that it finally came out. But it doesn’t look like Ritchie’s bad luck will last for long, though, as he’s currently working on the live-action remake of Disney’s Aladdin. Sure, it could go either way given that Ritchie tends to be a polarizing director but regardless, it will no doubt be one of the better-performing films of his career.

SNATCHED


Back in 2015, director Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck ended up being one of the most popular films in that year’s poll. The film was written by its main actress, Amy Schumer, who had become a big star thanks to her Comedy Central show, Inside Amy Schumer. However, it seems like her critics have become a lot more vocal since then, like when her Netflix special, Amy Schumer: The Leather Special, was panned by alt-right trolls (disclaimer: Yes, I know that not all the negative reviews were from the alt-right, but let’s face it, a considerable amount of them were). And this trend continues with her big summer release this year, Snatched. In it, she plays a recently dumped woman who decides to go on vacation in South America with her mother, played by Goldie Hawn in her first big film role since 2002. However, the vacation soon turns awry when the two of them end up getting kidnapped. Critical reception was mixed for this film, stating that while Schumer and Hawn are great together, the film itself is generally hit-or-miss with its humor. And while I’ll admit that I wasn’t that interested in it, it didn’t look that bad to me. If anything, it was being directed by someone with decent experience in the comedy genre, Jonathan Levine. Levine’s done a lot of great comedies in the past, including 2011’s 50/50, one of the best dramedies to date, and 2013’s charming zombie rom-com Warm Bodies. And while this film ultimately may not have fared as well with critics as his other films, I’m guessing that Schumer’s fans were generally satisfied with it.  

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE


Who would’ve guessed that, of all films, Captain Underpants would end up being one of the most faithful film adaptations of any written source material ever made? The last DreamWorks animated film produced under the 20th Century Fox banner (now, they operate under Universal), this adaptation of author Dav Pilkey’s silly but charming series of children’s books perfectly captured the tone of its source material. It is completely wacky and full to the brim with admittedly immature toilet humor (figuratively and literally, in this case, as the main villain creates evil, sentient toilets to form his army). And yet, through it all, Pilkey’s books always managed to be more than just a strange series of misadventures about a superhero that only wears his underpants and a red cape made from window curtains. The film maintains this tradition, primarily through the always strong friendship between main protagonists George Beard and Harold Hutchins. These two, voiced excellently by Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch, respectively, are the heart of the film. Plus, the film also does a great job of implementing some of the best running gags from the books. They even managed to incorporate the classic Flip-O-Rama segment into the narrative; that’s amazing! Simply put, as someone who grew up with these books, I was incredibly satisfied with this film. And while DreamWorks is working with a different studio now, I do hope that this gets a sequel someday. I mean, I know it wasn’t one of their most commercially successful outings, but after such a strong first entry in a potential franchise, I’d say that there’s room for more adventures with these wacky but charming heroes. TRA LA LA!!!

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT


Despite what it may seem, there are still fans of Michael Bay’s Transformers films. Heck, you’re reading content from one of them right now. Yes, folks, I did like Transformers: The Last Knight, which somehow managed to do even worse with critics than its immediate predecessor, Transformers: Age of Extinction. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that this film is remotely perfect. This was genuinely the first instance where I did agree with the consensus of these films having nonsensical plots. Though, in this instance, I’d say that part of the problem is that the film rushes through its plot even though it boasts the franchise’s typical two-and-a-half-hour runtime. And unlike previous Transformers films, which only focused on one or two Transformer-related conspiracies at a time, this film basically throws the book at us with all sorts of new ‘background information’ on the Transformers. And in doing so, it legitimately sidelines the Transformers in favor of the human characters; this is another common criticism of the franchise and it’s at its most egregious here. Still, despite being another mindless sci-fi action film, Bay continues to deliver on the impressive visuals and action sequences. Recently, Paramount has been working to develop their own Cinematic Universe based around the Transformers, which is news that clearly isn’t going over well with those who dislike these films with a burning passion. However, I’ll admit that I’m still sort of interested in where they’re going to go from here. Unless he decides to change his mind again, it seems like this truly is Bay’s last Transformers film, which will allow new filmmakers to bring their own unique vision to this franchise moving forward. Case in point, a spin-off film centered around the best character from these films, Bumblebee, is in development right now directed by Kubo and the Two Strings director Travis Knight. And sure, it’s possible that this could turn out exactly just like Bay’s films. But, since this is the first instance of a non-Bay Transformers film, who knows?

THE BIG SICK


This year’s most critically-acclaimed romantic comedy came in the form of director Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick. The film was written by its main star, Kumail Nanjiani, and his wife, Emily Gordon, and was based on a real-life experience that they had during their relationship. In the film, Kumail stars as himself alongside Zoe Kazan as the fictionalized version of Gordon. When Emily is forced to be put into a medically-induced coma due to a lung infection, Kumail finds himself having to connect with her parents (played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) while also hoping that his parents will be accepting of his relationship with a non-Pakistani woman. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to see this film yet, but from what I’ve heard, it’s quite excellent. In a genre that could often yield predictable results, it looks as if The Big Sick stands strong thanks to the strong lead performances by Nanjiani and Kazan as well as a story that is steeped in authenticity and great themes, such as the acceptance of one’s cultural identity even when it’s against their family’s traditions and the strength of a romance through the good times and the bad times. Clearly, this has been a huge success for everyone involved, including Nanjiani, who’s recently become a breakout star thanks to his role on the hit HBO series Silicon Valley. After debuting to critical acclaim at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, it then went on to win the Audience Award at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival. It boasts an excellent 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and I have the feeling that we’ll be seeing it attract a lot of buzz come awards season.   

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES


The new Planet of the Apes series has managed to become one of the most surprisingly effective franchise revivals in recent memory. Thanks in no small part to the terrific lead performance from Andy Serkis in the role of genetically-enhanced ape Caesar, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was one of the surprise hits of 2011. The bar was then raised even higher with its 2014 sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. And with the third entry in this new PotA series, War for the Planet of the Apes, Serkis and Dawn director Matt Reeves manage to cap off this ‘Caesar trilogy’ with one of the best ‘third installments’ of any franchise to date. Just like its predecessor, Reeves’ excellent direction makes it so that this film’s story and characters are just as strong as its amazing visual effects. It’s both a fitting conclusion to the story of Caesar as well as a natural follow-up to the events of Dawn. Caesar’s actions at the end of Dawn end up haunting him throughout in what may arguably be his biggest arc of the entire trilogy. And yet, at the end of the day, he and his fellow apes are still the protagonists we love to root for as they go up against a vicious human colonel, especially after he does something that crosses the line on an emotional level. The colonel is an excellent and deeply-layered villain and is played brilliantly by Woody Harrelson. And thanks to its strong script, War for the Planet of the Apes boasts an incredible amount of emotional depth that’s consistent all the way to the finale. On that note, it’ll be interesting to see if they decide to continue from here. Could we possibly see this iteration of the series do its version of the original Planet of the Apes storyline? It did sort of tease this way back in Rise, after all. Ultimately, though, if it doesn’t, then at least this new series goes out on one of the best notes ever with a film that’s on par with its immediate predecessor… perhaps possibly better, even!

THE EMOJI MOVIE


Don’t look at me, folks, I’m just listing the votes here. Someone did, indeed, vote for this film; as such, if they genuinely liked it, then all the power to them. They don’t deserve to be ridiculed for liking this film. Of course, the reason why I’m saying this for ‘this’ film is that, well, it sure hasn’t been a popular film amongst critics and audiences. This film was outright panned months before it was even released by people who were just dumbfounded that there was going to be a film based on the colorful symbols that we use in text messages. And that seamlessly translated into the film’s critical reception upon release. With an 8% score on Rotten Tomatoes, it was clearly the worst reviewed film of this summer. But personally, I didn’t pay much attention to it. I mean, to me, it looked like, at worst, a knock-off of Inside Out. It is, after all, a film based on characters who live inside something used by a young kid. Thus, I basically ignored this film when it came out because, clearly, there were far better films out there. Though this does raise an interesting point about all the attention that it was getting once it was released, specifically from those who ranted about it online. The thing is, I have a feeling that quite a few of the people who got angry about it… didn’t even go see it. And at the end of the day, why get so obsessed with a film that you weren’t even going to see in the first place? It’s not like it was the only film out there. Moments like this seriously make me wonder why the internet always tends to focus more on the bad films than the good ones. Anyway, onto a better-received film…

DETROIT


Detroit was the third major collaboration between director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal. Together, these two have amassed tons of critical acclaim thanks to their previous outings, 2009’s Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker and 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty. With their newest film, they tackle the infamous 12th Street Riots which occurred in Detroit in 1967. Specifically, they center on one of the most controversial incidents from the riots, a gruesome assault at the Algiers Motel where a bunch of racist cops murdered three innocent young African-American men. These events are portrayed in such an unflinching manner that it makes the middle section of the film, where the incident occurs, quite unsettling to watch. As many have pointed out, it’s practically a horror film during this part. Ultimately, though, while the film admittedly isn’t completely successful in eliciting all the emotional depth that it’s trying to spark, Bigelow’s direction is excellent and the ensemble cast does an excellent job, highlighted by newcomer Algee Smith as one of the harassed witnesses at the Algiers and Will Poulter as the despicable leader of the racist cops that got involved. All in all, compared to Bigelow and Boal’s previous outing, Zero Dark Thirty, I feel that this film did a far better job of telling its true story. The main reason why is simple, as it allowed us to have a much stronger connection with the main characters that got caught up in this whole ordeal, something that unfortunately never came to fruition with Zero Dark Thirty. Thus, I think it’s safe to say that this film will most likely get some attention during this year’s awards season, and rightfully so. 

KIDNAP


The first major film to come from this year’s write-in section is Kidnap. Directed by Spanish filmmaker Luis Prieto, who previously helmed a remake of Nicholas Winding Refn’s 1996 film Pusher, the film stars Halle Berry as a waitress who embarks on a very personal search when her son is taken by a group of kidnappers. And that’s really all that I know about this film; it was released during the first week of August but I didn’t really hear much about it at the time. That same weekend saw the release of the adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower along with the nationwide expansion of Detroit. This film, on the other hand, just became lost in the crowd as an ‘end of summer’ release. From the looks of it, it seems like this film is very reminiscent of another film that Berry did called The Call. That film was released back in 2013 and shared a similar plot based around abductions. And it did quite well at the box-office amidst mixed reviews. The same can generally be said about Kidnap, for the most part. I mean, at the very least, it made its low budget back despite all the competition that it was facing at the time. Critical reception was mixed, for the most part, citing that Berry was solid in the lead role despite the plot being a mess. And, again, that’s all that I can say about this film, really, as it just came and went without much fanfare.

WIND RIVER


Another film coming from the write-in section is Wind River, a mystery thriller written and directed by Taylor Sheridan. Sheridan has made quite a name for himself these past few years thanks to the many critically-acclaimed films that he has written, including Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, which will be getting a Sheridan-penned sequel next summer, and last year’s Best Picture nominee Hell or High Water. This time around, Sheridan is the one behind the camera for what looks to be another strong outing from him. The film stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen (insert ‘Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch crossover joke’ here) as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent and a rookie FBI special agent, respectively, who investigate a murder that has occurred at the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, hence the title of the film. Like The Big Sick, this film initially debuted at Sundance back in January before it was released in the middle of August. And while I’ll admit that I haven’t seen it yet, it looks like this is another great thriller from Sheridan. Sheridan has frequently been praised for imbuing his stories with strong bits of character development, and it seems like this is the case with Wind River as well thanks to solid performances from Renner and Olsen. The film even boasts music from legendary musicians Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. All in all, it looks like we have another strong awards contender with this one.

6 FILMS RECEIVED 2 VOTES

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES


The adventures of our favorite eccentric pirate, Jack Sparrow (“Captain Jack Sparrow!”, Sorry!) continued in the fifth installment of Disney’s global hit of a franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. And I do mean a ‘global hit’ because even though this film was the lowest-grossing of the franchise, domestically, it’s grossed nearly $800 million worldwide. In other words, while some critics feel like this franchise is running on empty at this point, it is clearly still a big hit with audiences. And as someone who isn’t afraid to admit that he’s liked all four of the previous Pirates films (yes, even the previous three sequels), I liked this one just as much. I mean, sure, despite its efforts to initiate a ‘soft reboot’ of the franchise, this film still tends to suffer from some of the same issues that many have had with these films as of late. Namely, a plot that sometimes gets overly complicated primarily through an over-abundance of characters. Still, at the very least, it never gets to the complicated levels of, say, At World’s End. And thanks to the strong direction from co-directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, along with the always terrific visual/production design, this is ultimately just another fun summer popcorn flick. But what’s next for this franchise? Despite one of the trailers proclaiming that this film was going to be the ‘final adventure’, the film’s post-credits scene suggests otherwise by hinting at the return of one of the series’ classic antagonists. At this point, however, we’re just going to have to wait and see if there are going to be any more adventures on the open seas.

ALL EYEZ ON ME


As some of you may have guessed from the title, All Eyez on Me is a biopic focusing on one of the most legendary rap artists of all-time, Tupac Shakur. Demetrius Shipp Jr. takes on the lead role of the man himself as the film, named after Tupac’s 1996 album of the same name, explores his career, from his early successes to some of the controversial incidents that he ended up in, like when he was put on trial for sexual assault in 1993. And, of course, it all culminates with his tragic death in 1996 at the age of 25 due to a drive-by shooting. However, unlike 2015’s big music-oriented biopic, Straight Outta Compton, All Eyez on Me has not fared well with critics. With a measly 16% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the site’s consensus notes that while Shipp Jr. is fine in the role of Tupac, the film itself is a by-the-numbers biopic. The film has also attracted some criticism from some of Tupac’s former associates over its portrayal of certain events, namely Jada Pinkett Smith, who befriended Tupac while they were at the Baltimore School for the Arts and is played in the film by Kat Graham. In short, those mediocre reviews and bad publicity, paired with the fact that I’m admittedly not very familiar with Tupac’s music, is why I didn’t really bother seeing this film when it came out. And from the looks of it, even if I was more familiar with Tupac’s work, it seems like this just didn’t do the man’s story justice.

BABY DRIVER


After his tumultuous exit from Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man, Edgar Wright came back swinging this year with another great directorial effort in the form of Baby Driver. Inspired by a music video that he directed back in 2003 for the band Mint Royale, Baby Driver is the thrilling tale of a young and innocent getaway driver who runs into trouble when he tries to get out of the business. This then leads to some amazing car chase sequences, all of which were done practically. And, of course, it’s all backed by Wright’s trademark visual flair, effectively making this one of the most visually appealing films of the year so far. The other great thing about this film is its soundtrack, which features tons of classic songs like ‘Tequila’ and ‘Bellbottoms’. And not only does this film feature a great soundtrack but the soundtrack is also tuned perfectly to the action, making these great car chases and shootouts even more epic. Pair all this with an excellent ensemble cast, highlighted by Ansel Elgort as the film’s charismatic title character and a scene-stealing Jamie Foxx, and you have a highly entertaining summer popcorn flick that has given Edgar Wright his most commercially successful directorial effort to date with over $208 million worldwide. Because even though Wright has become a fan favorite amongst film buffs thanks to films like the Cornetto trilogy and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, his previous directorial efforts have admittedly only been mildly successful at the box-office… or, in the case of the latter, an unfortunate box-office flop. Not this time, though…

GIRLS TRIP


Delving into a personal story for a moment, back in July I went on vacation to California, where I toured the various Hollywood studios, went to Disneyland, etc. At one point, I even went to a taping of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, where one of the guests was actress Regina Hall. She was there to promote her new film, Girls Trip, and while I didn’t really have much interest in seeing it, it has clearly been a solid hit with critics and audiences. The film was directed by Malcolm D. Lee, who’s had several critical/commercial hits in the past including 1999’s The Best Man, its 2013 sequel The Best Man Holiday, and last year’s Barbershop: The Next Cut. Hall stars alongside Tiffany Haddish, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Queen Latifah as a quartet of friends who get into all sorts of hi-jinx when they travel to New Orleans for a music festival. This raunchy, R-rated comedy has done quite well with critics, who have praised the film for its strong humor, layered characters, and its terrific ensemble. It’s also done quite well from a commercial perspective. Having earned over $127 million at the box-office, it’s the first comedy of the year to have a domestic gross of over $100 million. Simply put, it’s fared far better with critics and audiences compared to the other raunchy R-rated comedy from this summer that revolved around a group of women, Rough Night. As I know many have pointed out already, you can primarily chalk that up to the fact that this is a comedy centered around four African-American women which, sadly, is something that you don’t see very often. In other words, this film has been a huge and well-earned success for all involved.

THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD


Despite being released at the tail-end of the summer, The Hitman’s Bodyguard has proven to be a solid commercial hit. For one thing, it’s only the third film this year to have maintained the number one spot at the domestic box-office for at least three weeks in a row. Now, granted, it could be argued that this is because it was doing this during the latter half of August but, nevertheless, it’s fared quite well with audiences, and rightfully so. As I stated in my review of it a few weeks back, this is far from being a film that’s going to get a lot of attention during this year’s awards season. Instead, it’s just a simple but entertaining action extravaganza bolstered by its two main leads, Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson. Simply put, with these two big onscreen personalities paired together, you can bet that this film will have them go through all sorts of wacky scenarios as they mow down bad guys along the way. And they do work excellently together which, for the most part, makes up for the fact that, again, this is an action film with a straightforward plot and some rather obvious plot twists. Still, for what it’s worth, the film does have some solid action sequences, and unlike his previous directorial effort, The Expendables 3, director Patrick Hughes doesn’t have to limit himself by toning them down so that the film can be rated PG-13. Nope, instead this film is R-rated and as such, it uses the charismatic personalities of its two main stars to full effect. Yeah, it’s still a rather mindless action flick at the end of the day, but for a film that came out during the final weeks of the summer, this was a decent way to close out the summer season at the theater.

BRIGSBY BEAR


Hands down the most popular film from this year’s write-in section, Brigsby Bear is a dramedy developed by several big-name filmmakers. It was produced by not only the trio of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer (AKA The Lonely Island) but also Phil Lord and Chris Miller (who now have a LOT of free time on their hands). It was also co-written by its main star, Kyle Mooney, who is currently one of the leads on Saturday Night Live and worked on this film alongside the fellow members of his comedy group ‘Good Neighbor’. In the film, Mooney plays a man named James who obsesses over a children’s show named Brigsby Bear. However, when he finds himself uprooted from his current living situation (i.e. he learns that the two people whom he thought were his parents were just holding him captive all these years), he embarks on a journey to give his beloved series the ending that it deserves. While I haven’t yet seen this film, it seems to me like it’s the 2017 equivalent of last year’s Swiss Army Man. By that, I mean that this is a film that’s undeniably strange but, at the end of the day, also benefits from a heartfelt story. In this case, it’s the story of a man who’s always lived a sheltered life as he’s now forced to adapt to living in the real world. Also, did I forget to mention that his ‘surrogate father’ is played by Luke Skywalker? Yes, Mark Hamill also stars in this film as James’ ‘father’ Ted alongside other big names like Claire Danes, Greg Kinnear, and Mooney’s SNL co-star Beck Bennett. In short, it seems like Brigsby Bear is one of those films that may not be everyone’s cup of tea but will most likely win over those who decide to give it a chance.

WELL, FOLKS, FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, I'M ABLE TO DO A RANKED LIST FOR THE TOP 5 VOTE-GETTERS (TECHNICALLY 6 AS TWO FILMS ENDED UP TYING AT THE NUMBER 3 SPOT)

5. SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (4 VOTES)


Despite being the second reboot of the Spider-Man franchise in half a decade, Spider-Man: Homecoming has been a much-deserved success for all involved. For the beloved web-slinger and his current distributor Sony, it was their most well-received franchise outing since Spider-Man 2 way back in 2004. And as for Marvel Studios… well, it was just yet another whirlwind success for them as always. Yes, this was a co-production that was released under the Sony banner but still counted as an entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After making a stellar franchise debut in Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland’s excellent iteration of Peter Parker transitioned into the lead role for this film. And he does so in glorious fashion, with Spider-Man: Homecoming serving as another fun entry in the MCU while also doubling as an entertaining high school comedy reminiscent of John Hughes flicks. Plus, while the film is still part of the larger MCU, it doesn’t have the same kind of overall scale compared to something like the Avengers films. This ends up helping the film maintain a more suitable, grounded atmosphere, which I guess you could say ties in perfectly to the main bit of advice that Tony Stark (who’s used excellently in the film without ever overshadowing Holland) gives to Peter, ‘Stay Close to the Ground’. Really, aside from the film being perhaps a tad bit overlong (e.g. when it gets to the actual Homecoming for which the film is named for, we still have at least a half hour to go), Spider-Man: Homecoming is a great start for this new franchise of Spider-Man films. And yes, I know that Sony’s current plans for the franchise are a bit odd given that they’re working on some spin-off films that are apparently unconnected to the main series, but as for the adventures of our favorite neighborhood web slinger, I’d say that he’s back in good form.

4. THE GLASS CASTLE (5 VOTES)


One of the most unexpectedly popular films from this year’s poll was The Glass Castle, based on the 2005 novel of the same name by author Jeannette Wallis. The film, like the novel, is a memoir detailing Wallis’ early life when she and her family lived a nomadic lifestyle, even though it was a period that was often spent in poverty due to her father frequently being out of work. Brie Larson stars as Wallis while Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts star as Wallis’ parents Rex and Rose Mary, respectively. Released in the middle of August, the film admittedly didn’t fare too well with critics upon release, with just a 49% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics noted that while the cast was great and the story was worth telling, they felt that the overall execution wasn’t as strong as it could’ve been. From what I’ve read, it seems like their biggest gripe with the film was its decision to try and have the audience sympathize with Wallis’ parents despite their questionable parenting techniques. Still, given how many votes that this film got in this poll, it seems like audiences felt far more positively about it by comparison. Thus, while The Glass Castle may not end up being a major awards contender this year, it looks as if audiences were, at the very least, satisfied with this dramatic true story.  

3. DESPICABLE ME 3 (6 VOTES – TIED)


Illumination Entertainment clearly had a hit on their hands with the original Despicable Me back in 2010. Since then, these Despicable Me films have turned the studio into one of the biggest animation companies in the industry, even though their films haven’t exactly been that popular amongst critics. This trend continued with the third installment of the main series, Despicable Me 3, which, at the time that I’m writing this, just crossed the $1 billion mark at the worldwide box-office. And while I haven’t seen any of the previous films in the series, I’ll admit that this one managed to attract my attention in the months leading up to its release, and that’s mainly because of who they got to play the villain. For the role of 80’s obsessed supervillain Balthazar Bratt, they cast none other than South Park creator Trey Parker. This is quite mind-blowing, if you ask me, given that these two franchises couldn’t be any more different in terms of their target audiences. Though with that said, I’m a little disappointed that they didn’t give Parker’s SP co-creator Matt Stone a supporting role as one of Bratt’s henchmen. The film also saw the introduction of main protagonist Gru’s long-lost twin brother, Dru. And that’s all that I can say about this film, really, as I’ve yet to see it. From the looks of it, it just looks like another enjoyably wacky albeit rather basic-plotted animated film that delivers on everything that fans love about this franchise, including the strong relationship between Gru and his adoptive daughters and, of course, the scene-stealing Minions. In short, while several animation fans that I know aren’t too happy about this series’ continued success, at the very least it continues to be a hit with audiences. And given that this is the series’ second installment in a row to gross over $1 billion worldwide, I think it’s safe to say that this franchise isn’t done yet.

3. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (6 VOTES – TIED)


One thing’s for certain with this annual poll, and that is that Marvel Studios’ films are always going to be amongst the front-runners of any given year. That is once again the case this year with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the highly anticipated follow-up to the studio’s smash hit Guardians of the Galaxy, which managed to land one of the top spots in the 2014 poll. And while this didn’t end up taking the top spot this year, it seems like many of you agree with me that this was, in fact, better than the first film. This certainly isn’t a sentiment shared by most critics, though, because as I’ve noted before, many felt that while the film was good, it just wasn’t ‘as fresh’ as the original. But with all due respect, critics, I strongly feel that you’re undervaluing this film just because it’s a sequel. Because even though it is a sequel to one of Marvel Studios’ most beloved installments, it manages to have a stronger story compared to its predecessor. From the well-layered themes of fatherhood and how it all ties to Star-Lord’s character growth to all the great character development that the other Guardians are given, this film’s story helps to make it even more emotionally poignant than the first. Seriously, the finale of this film is quite arguably one of the best things that Marvel Studios has ever done. Simply put, writer/director James Gunn manages to raise the bar once again with this sequel. And while he does retain several of the things that we loved about the first film, including the great soundtrack, colorful visuals, and lovable characters, he doesn’t just completely rehash what we saw before in a fun but ultimately lackluster sequel. Instead, he further develops the Guardians in all the right ways to make another thrilling, humorous, and all-around emotional sci-fi adventure through the cosmic side of the Marvel universe. Thus, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 somehow managed to overcome its equally fantastic predecessor to become my new number one favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe film.

2. WONDER WOMAN (7 VOTES)


Remember a few weeks back when I published the announcement post for this year’s poll, in which I stated that I speculate that there’d be a clear front-runner this year? Well, I figured that Wonder Woman was going to be that film given how big of a critical/commercial hit that it’s been. But, surprisingly, it was outdone by another film by just a single vote. Still, there’s no denying how much of a success that this has been for all involved. It’s the highest-grossing film ever to be directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins, who’s just recently signed on for the sequel (hurrah!). It was the long-awaited solo outing for one of DC’s most famous heroines as well as being the first big female-led superhero film of the genre’s modern era. And, of course, it was the first big critical success for the DC Extended Universe after the franchise suffered an especially brutal 2016 due to the extremely harsh and negative reactions to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Simply put, Wonder Woman is just a phenomenal film in every sense of the word. Gal Gadot proved several of her critics wrong with a terrific lead performance in the title role. Said role is incredibly well-layered to showcase Diana’s growth as the naïve young woman raised away from the rest of the world who gradually learns about humanity’s dark side when she becomes involved in World War I. She’s paired excellently with Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, who manages to be more than just a simple love interest without overshadowing Diana in her own film. Add in some awesome action sequences and a great tone that effectively balances light-hearted antics with serious and emotionally affecting wartime tragedies and you have a fantastic entry in the superhero film genre that has undeniably inspired millions of people both young and old.   

AND THIS YEAR’S WINNER, WITH 8 VOTES…

DUNKIRK


Yes, the two biggest summer hits this year from Warner Bros. managed to be the big frontrunners of this year’s poll. And to make this scenario even more coincidental, both films’ stories are based around a World War; World War I in the case of Wonder Woman and World War II for director Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Dunkirk. It’s the true story of the perilous evacuation of over 400,000 Allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk across the British Channel. And while Nolan did get some flak initially for making this a PG-13 rated war film, he more than makes up for it by establishing a terrific amount of tension without ever getting gory with the action sequences. Of course, like any Nolan film, it also boasts several of his directorial trademarks that highlight his passion for old-school filmmaking. Whether it’s by using practical effects and real battleships/planes for all the combat sequences or shooting the film on 70 mm film to give audiences an even more immersive experience when viewed on a big IMAX screen, Nolan continues to be one of the best directors in the industry because of this. He even maintains his tradition of creating non-linear narratives by having the film focus on three separate moments from this incident that all take place over the course of different periods of time. Sure, it may be a bit confusing at times to keep track of everything, but never to the point where you’d get completely lost, either. Thus, I think it’s safe to say that Dunkirk has been Nolan’s most critically successful directorial effort since The Dark Knight. Because while some were disappointed by The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar, Dunkirk is currently being touted as one of the major frontrunners for this year’s awards season.


And those were the results of Rhode Island Movie Corner’s fourth annual End of Summer Fan Poll. Once again, I’d like to thank everyone who either voted in the poll or helped to spread it around on social media. Until next year, folks!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

It (2017) review


In 1986, author Stephen King released what has arguably become one of his most famous stories, It. The story of a group of young outcasts who band together to fend off a terrifying creature that feeds off their fears became a major best-seller upon release. Four years later, it was adapted into a two-part miniseries which aired on ABC and starred Tim Curry in the role of the main antagonist’s primary form, Pennywise the Dancing Clown. However, due to some of the changes that were made to condense a book that is over 1,000 pages long, namely by toning down some of its darker moments to make it more suitable for television, the miniseries admittedly hasn’t aged very well. And thus, here we are now with a new adaptation of It, released 27 years after the previous adaptation (and yes, folks, if you’re a fan of the novel, then you’ll know that this number is an important one in the context of the story). Director Andrés Muschietti takes the helm this time around for what is shaping up to be the first part of a duology. Because unlike the miniseries and novel, which both intercut between events that take place 27 years apart from each other, this film focuses solely on the main protagonists when they are kids, whereas an impending second installment will shift focus to them as adults. And unlike the miniseries, specifically, this film is a dark, R-rated horror flick that’s able to delve further into the most disturbing elements of the novel. Ultimately, though, the horror elements of this new It isn't the only thing that helps make it one of the greatest horror films in recent memory. 
 
In the quiet town of Derry, Maine, seven kids begin to bond during the summer of 1989. This includes stutterer Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), overweight Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), parental abuse victim Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), loudmouth Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), germaphobe Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff), hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), and homeschooled Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs). Together, they form ‘the Losers’ Club’ as they all go through the perils of growing up, including the uncertainty of first love and the daily struggle of dealing with bullies. Unfortunately, for the lot of them, part of that peril also involves a terrifying creature known as ‘It’, who frequently manifests as an evil clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). As the group soon learns, ‘It’ has existed for several years, always causing chaos in Derry every 27 years by hunting children. The situation ends up getting even more personal for the group when Bill’s younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) ends up being one of It’s many victims. Thus, when they realize that they’re the only ones who can stop the creature, the Losers’ Club bands together to combat ‘It’, as they learn that they stand a stronger chance against the monster when they stick together.

While I usually try to avoid making comparisons between different adaptations of a source material, I must say that this film immediately establishes itself as the superior take on It right out the gate. Compared to some of the cheaper-looking elements from the miniseries, this film is incredibly well-shot and boasts an excellent visual/production design, which helps to produce a chilling and suspenseful atmosphere throughout. I mean, there’s only one real instance in this film where the cinematography isn’t very good, and that’s during a fight scene near the end (don’t worry, this isn’t spoiling anything) where it gets a bit too shaky, which in turn is paired with some rather hasty editing. Ultimately, though, that’s just one brief instance in a larger film that’s so well-polished on a technical level. And as for this being a horror film, It does deliver when it comes to having plenty of hair-raising scares. Many of these scares come from the fact that, as noted earlier, the film has far more creative reign to delve into some of the darker elements of the novel compared to the miniseries, which couldn’t really cover any of that stuff being a miniseries that aired on a nationwide network. Sure, it doesn’t include everything from the novel (i.e. the infamous orgy scene which, let’s be honest, was rightfully left out in this adaptation) but, suffice it to say, there are quite a lot of disturbing moments in this story; heck, some of them don’t even involve Pennywise. For the record, though, that’s not to say that Pennywise isn’t properly utilized in this; it’s just that he’s more of an additional layer to this film’s overall creep factor.

But, of course, the key to this whole film is its ability to make us sympathize with the members of the ‘Losers’ Club’ in their endeavors against ‘It’. As such, the main protagonists are arguably the film’s greatest strength. These seven leads, predominantly consisting of newcomers save for lead Jaeden Lieberher (who’s been in several big films recently like Midnight Special) and Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard, are all fantastic in their respective roles. Their camaraderie is terrific which, in turn, strengthens the Losers’ Club’s unity in the narrative while also giving us some bits of temporary reprieve from all the horrific moments that occur (e.g. Richie’s constant smart-ass remarks). Now, admittedly, because there are seven members in this group, some of them are focused on more than others. This is namely the case with Bill, given the whole plotline about his brother, Beverly, the lone girl of the group, and Ben, with the latter two sharing a sweet ‘young romance’ subplot. However, the film does still manage to establish all seven of the main characters and what they’re afraid of, which is then utilized by Pennywise to scare them. And on that note, what of Bill Skarsgård in the role of the Dancing Clown? Because after all, while several elements of the 1990 miniseries have aged poorly, Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise is still considered to be the best part about it. Ultimately, though, I’d say that Skarsgård has managed to top Curry in terms of performance. Sure, Skarsgård’s Pennywise isn’t exactly humorous like Curry’s Pennywise was, but that just makes him creepier whereas Curry’s version was a tad more charismatic… well, as charismatic as a demonic clown can be, for the record.

I’ve previously stated that I’m not that big a fan of horror films. And yet, that’s the beauty of this new adaptation of It. Even someone like me who isn’t really into this genre can get something out of this film, and that’s mainly because of how well-made it is. It has its creepy moments, for sure, and they’re handled excellently thanks to Muschietti’s strong direction and a brilliantly dark atmosphere. And while I still haven’t read the original novel yet, it seems like this is a far more faithful take on it; for one thing, it isn’t afraid to delve into some of the more demented parts of the book. But ultimately, this film’s biggest strength isn’t any of its horror elements, surprisingly. Instead, It succeeds primarily because of its well-written story about a bunch of kids, portrayed excellently by the film’s young leads, who go through a traumatic experience together which effectively parallels the journey of growing up. Thus, in a time where several modern horror films often turn out to be quite mediocre, this stands as one of the genre’s greatest efforts as of late. As such, I’m very much looking forward to the planned second installment of this duology which, as stated before, will take place 27 years after the events of this film with the main characters all grown up. I do hope, though, that it ends up turning out better than the second half of the 1990 miniseries which, as I noted last time in my review of it was, unfortunately, the weaker half of the story. But if they bring back the same crew from this film for the sequel, I’d say we’re in good hands.


Rating: 5/5!