Netflix Original Movies

A few months ago I had a very stupid thought.  On a wild hair, I decided that I was going to watch every original movie that Netflix released this year.  I wanted to see more new movies this year, and I figured the best way to do that was to watch the new movies that I was already paying for with my Netflix subscription.

This was a foolish idea for several reasons. The first is that this year Netflix has ramped up the number of new releases they are putting out, which seems to be around one a week.  Since I didn’t conceive of this plan until about two months into the year, I had quite the backlog as soon as I started.  Additionally, while I knew not all of the movies would be things that appeal to me, I thought seeing different things would help expand my taste. I’ve been writing movie reviews on this blog for more than 5 years, and in the process of setting up this index, I realized that I have given a lot more positive reviews than negative ones.  I generally only write reviews of movies I seen in the theater and it turns out I am a pretty good judge of my own taste. I don’t go see movies I don’t expect to like and while this isn’t foolproof – I did see Cowboys & Aliens – it makes most trips to the movies enjoyable. It also limits exposure to new experiences.

Netflix, though, has done a lot to help me find those new experiences.  I hadn’t really watched many Asian films before subscribing to the service, but I’ve developed a taste for Martial Arts movies and Wuxia.  Zeroing in on the Netflix originals, which started with Beasts of No Nation in 2015 though they came to my attention last year with the release of the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel, seemed like a good idea. So I am not only watching the movies that interest me, like the goofy British spoof Mindhorn or the war movie Sand Castle, but also the ones that don’t appear to be up my alley, like the foreign language acquisitions or low key thrillers like Small Crimes. It turns out, however, what I am forcing myself to do is watch movies I don’t think I’ll like instead of watching some I think I will like or already know I do like, making it even more likely that I will dislike the new thing.  That has made me resent this project and that massive fool forcing it on me (ie: myself).

It hasn’t been a complete failure, though. I have watched and enjoyed some movies that I likely never would have even considered before.  I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore, unwieldy title aside, was very enjoyable.  I also really liked Win it All and Deidra & Laney Rob a Train.  I think I am going to keep going with this stupid plan, though I intend to have a much quicker hook for a movie a movie I do not like.

Below is a list containing all the movies I have watched, in order of how much I enjoyed them.  I’ve also included a one sentence review of each movie. There are still a handful of foreign language films and a documentary or two that I haven’t gotten to yet, but I hope to finish them up over the next few weeks or so.

  1. Okja – full review went up earlier. Okja is a near masterpiece that combines Steven Speilberg with Terry Gilliam.
  2. I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore – A woman gets burgled and teams up with her neighbor to get revenge; it is both charming and kind of dark.
  3. Mindhorn – a goofy spoof about a washed up TV detective desperate for one last chance at fame.
  4. Win it All – a gambling addict tries to go straight in this low key comedy.
  5. Nobody Speak – a documentary looking at the Hulk Hogan v Gawker lawsuit and the current attacks on the press.
  6. Deidra & Laney Rob a Train – two young girls rob a train to pay their mother’s bail, but its funnier than it sounds.
  7. Imperial Dreams – a newly paroled father tries to do what’s best for his son, but his past still has some hold on him. It is good if not groundbreaking.
  8. Joshua: Teenager vs Superpower – a both heartwarming and depressing look at a Chinese boy who lead protests against the Chinese government.
  9. Casting JonBenet – a documentary that examines the JonBenet Ramsay case by letting people familiar with talk at a supposed audition for a movie about it. Its pretty good.
  10. BLAME! – an anime movie about an automated city that no longer recognizes humanity as its master. It is good if dark.
  11. Handsome: A Netflix Movie Mystery – it is essentially a movie that is a fake episode of detective show that is charming but weightless.
  12. Girlfriend’s Day – a look at a fake new holiday in a world where greeting card writers are celebrities that ends just as it gets going.
  13. Shimmer Lake – a crime movie that plays out backwards but still holds few surprises.
  14. War Machine – a broad and disjointed satire of the later days of the war in Afghanistan. Sometimes it is really good, often it isn’t.
  15. In the Shadow of Iris – a sexy thriller about a faked abduction that turns into a murder. It is fine.
  16. Counterpunch – a look at the modern state of pro and amateur boxing in America.
  17. Get Me Roger Stone – a bleak look at a human cockroach. It veers a little too close to making anything the subject does sound acceptable to be good.
  18. Coin Heist – a kid’s dad is accused of defrauding a prep, so he and some friends try to rob the mint of quarters to get the money back.
  19. The Discovery – a man discovers proof of an afterlife and people deal with the consequences. I found it frustrating.
  20. Sand Castle – another modern war drama; it is perfectly serviceable but unoriginal.
  21. Journey to Greenland – two French guys go to Greenland to stay with one of their fathers, they have mildly interesting adventures.
  22. Burning Sands – a well-meaning but ham fisted look at problems prevalent in traditionally black fraternities.
  23. Sahara – a mediocre animated movie about snake racism.
  24. Small Crimes – bad people do bad things, lots of people end up dead, I don’t know why I should be entertained by it.
  25. Clinical – a horror movie that lives up to its name. You couldn’t pay me to care.
  26. David Brent: Life on the Road – a follow up to The Office with none of the humanity and an undeserved happy ending for its protagonist.
  27. The Most Hated Woman In America – this is about 3 different movies, but none of them work.
  28. Sandy Wexler – Adam Sandler appears to be trying, but this movie is too long and not very funny.
  29. You Get Me – Fatal Attraction for teenagers, but with even worse sexual politics.
  30. iBoy – a kid gets his phone shot into his face and uses his new phone powers to become some kind of would be superhero. It doesn’t really work.
  31. Tramps    – I checked out early and completely from this one, I can’t really give it a review.
  32. Take the 10 – a comedy about two kids’ attempts to get money to go to a concert or something. It isn’t good.
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The Fate of the Furious Review

The Fast and Furious series, despite its recent success, is in a state of flux. As emotional as the previous entry’s climax was, it also pushed the ridiculousness to the absolute limits and removed a vital part of the series’ appeal. Fate of the Furious finds a way to forge ahead after the loss of Paul Walker’s Brian, but the loss of his grounding presence is felt. While it doesn’t attempt to match Furious 7’s cartoonish ridiculousness, it also can’t match the movies genuine emotion. Still, there is a lot to like about this 8th entry in the series, like an increased amount of The Rock and more cohesive plot.

The Fate of the Furious starts with Vin Diesel’s Dom and Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty on their honeymoon in Cuba. After a very entertaining race, Dom meets with Cipher (Charlize Theron), who shows him something that upsets him. When the team is contacted by Hobbs (The Rock) to join him on a secret mission to retrieve an emp device from Germany, Dom turns on the team, stealing the device for Cipher. While Hobbs initially goes to jail for his part in the operation, he is soon extracted by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) along with a new forced ally, the previous movies villain Deckard Shaw. From there, the team travels around the globe trying to stop Dom and Cipher while Dom tries to extricate himself from her blackmail. There are some really good action sequences, like the prison break and an extended fight sequence on a plane that makes full use of Jason Statham’s skills.

There are some weak spots. Charlize Theron is almost completely wasted as Cipher, spending most of the movie standing on a plane looking at a computer monitor saying nonsense like “hack them all.” While Statham’s face turn is welcome, it feels like they all but ignore the fact that he killed Han. That should be a big deal. Also, once recurring character gets the rawest of raw deals. The team dynamic is also not quite what it should be. Part of that is the movie itself, with Dom being forced to play the villain, but it also due to the lack of Brian to be the counterweight to Dom’s self-seriousness. The movie tries to find a balance with more of Hobbs and an increased role for Statham, but neither of them are really playing people. They are almost cartoon characters. Completely delightful, but they are far from the grounding presence that Walker was. In a movie series that has pushed far into the stratosphere of ridiculousness as this one, having at least one character that plays it a little small really helps.

I’ve read several reviews compare Fate of the Furious to the Pierce Brosnan James Bond movies. This is usually an unfavorable comparison – because people tend to be wrong about how awesome those Bond movies were – but I think it is both apt and part of what makes the movie so enjoyable. It is a spy movie, filled with ridiculous near future technology and action that underplays its ridiculousness. While the stunts aren’t quite as crazy as the last movie, the plot coils around on itself into the pinnacle of preposterousness. The movie even manages to pull off the villain reveal that Spectre tripped over so pathetically. Fate of the Furious doesn’t come close to ascending to the heights of Fast 5, but it is still a solid entry into what the series became after the movie launched the series to the top of the action movie heap.

***1/2

Logan Review

There is a strange paradox within Logan, Hugh Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine.  Logan is a movie that doesn’t require any previous knowledge of the 9 film franchise, in which Jackman has appeared as Wolverine in each. (Not counting the only loosely connected Deadpool)  But it also a movie that doesn’t really work with affection built up over the course of the seventeen years that he has been playing the character, or with Patrick Stewart’s Professor Xavier.  This is a movie built to be its own thing, but also a movie built up to be a well-earned farewell.  

It is hard to overstate how strong the opening of this movie it.  It sets the X-Men, reduced to just Wolverine and Professor X, along with a fore hire Caliban as the aged Xavier’s live in nurse, in their bleakest setting yet.  Yes, even more bleak than Days of Future Past’s nigh apocalypse.  Here, mutants have been all but wiped off the map. Logan makes his living driving a limo, while Professor X remains locked in a fallen water tower suffering from Alzheimer’s.  Logan is also worse for wear; he doesn’t heal like he used to and can’t even get his claws to pop properly.  Viewers have grown to love these actors in these roles, but here they have found an enemy they can never defeat: time.  When a mysterious nurse and tough guy Donald Pierce show up, Logan and Xavier are pulled into taking a young girl across the country to an Eden that may or may not exist.

Jackman gives probably his best performance as the aged Logan.  Every movement hurts him and his memories haunt him.  It is clear watching him that this is a man for whom every day is pain.  Stewart has always been good as Professor X, even when he hasn’t had much to do.  Here he plays Xavier as physically and mentally decrepit.  It is heartbreakingly believable.  There are some great newcomers to the franchise as well.  Dafne Keen as Laura is really good.  She is feral and believably dangerous despite her small stature.  And Boyd Holbrook is a delight as the menacing and faux amiable Donald Pierce.

Its action scenes, again especially the early ones, are really good. There is a car chase that has shades of Mad Max: Fury Road and some absurdly violent fight scenes with Logan and Laura.  This is the first Wolverine movie that really centers on the violence and more realistic mechanics of a man who fights with super sharp blades on his hands.  It is undeniably gruesome, but also completely in keeping with the rest of the film.  Logan is well shot all around, with clear action and some gorgeous shots.

Where the movie fails is in the second half, where it tries to take its themes to their conclusion.  Leaving aside the effective but just short of laughably last scene, the movie doesn’t move smoothly from its start to its conclusion.  I can’t say what Logan or Laura has learned or how they have changed from start to finish.  The movie constantly evokes the classic Western Shane, but the themes of Shane don’t really fit with the themes of Logan.  That movie ends with Shane — likely dying from a gunshot — leaving the idyllic valley because his guns have no place there.  That is not the ending this movie finds. There are a few scenes where the mutants form something of a family, but the relationship between Logan and Laura never really changes after he truly meets her. Instead of developing promising villains, Pierce is completely sidelined.  

I am happy that a superhero movie is dark and serious, but the catch with being serious is that is runs the risk of people taking you seriously.  For all that Logan deals with serious, interesting subjects, it still falls back on genre clichés at the end.  It may want to evoke themes similar to those in films like Shane, but it doesn’t have the thematic death. Logan is undeniably well made, but all it has to offer is pain and suffering.

****

John Wick Chapter 2

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The first John Wick movie was a very well executed piece of pulp. It was a stripped down, lean revenge movie with excellent action sequences and some nice bits of humor. This follow up loses a lot of the humor, but comes back strong in every other regard, fleshing out the world that first movie only hinted at and doing its best to outdo that movies already terrific action. I don’t know that it quite succeeds in being better than the first movie, but if it’s not it is really close.

John Wick Chapter 2 picks up soon after the last movie left off. Once Wick (Keanu Reeves) has gotten revenge for the murder of his puppy, he sets out to retrieve the car that was stolen from him at the same time. Once that little detail is taken care of, he returns home with his new dog to resettle into retired life, only to find another link to his time as a hitman coming back in the form of Santino D’Antonio. Wick owes him a blood debt and since Santino has heard that Wick is out of retirement, he’s decided to cash in. After some convincing, Wick takes on the mission and the movie is off and going.

The movie does a lot of more to flesh out the intricate underworld that the first movie hinted at with its Continental hotel that caters to assassins and everyone pays in gold. The rules that they all live by, most importantly that no business is to be done on Continental grounds, are fleshed out and made more clear. It does this not through rote or dull dialogue, but by having Wick take advantage of the services provided and oblique conversations that mention new concepts. It gives the viewer just enough to understand the plot and to give the feeling that there is more going on in this world than is immediately apparent. The best little Continental interlude is easily Wick’s visit to the sommelier, who instead of dispensing wines he helps match customers to the proper weapons. It is one of the few scenes that keep the first film’s sense of humor.

Where the film truly shines is its actions scenes. Few movies have actions scenes as well choreographed and realized as the John Wick movies. Much of the thanks goes to Keanu Reeves, who is able to do the extended takes that many of the action scenes here feature. Unlike many choppy action movies, John Wick’s fight scenes are frequently smooth takes that go on much longer than most and zoom out further to give the viewer a better view of scene rather than closer to hide how much of it isn’t really happening. It helps that whoever staged the action did simply an incredible job. The action is as good as it gets and that is why you are coming. It is worth mentioning, though, that the fights have incredibly graphic violence, so those with an aversion to blood or unspeakable things done with a pencil might want to think long and hard before watching this.

The film’s storytelling economy that reveals its world is also put to good use introducing characters, especially since the bulk of the characters from the last movie didn’t make it out alive. John Wick Chapter 2 introduces some rival assassins in Common’s Cassian and Ruby Rose’s Ares, both of which are given fairly full sketches with only small amounts of screen time. It also introduces Laurence Fishbourne as some sort of homeless king in a fun cameo, as well as maximizing the time to the returning Ian McShane and Lance Reddick.

The title character changes the most in this second film, or more accurately our perception of him changes the most. In the first he was a retired assassin out for revenge, now he is an assassin out of retirement. Before it was kind of fun, this time it is more sad. There is no escape for John Wick, and when there is an escape he seems incapable of taking it. It changes him from a driven, talented man out for revenge to a very sad man with a death wish. He could walk away, he should walk away but what does he have to walk away to? This movie systematically strips the few things he had after the last movie away from him, leaving him with nothing.

While it is something of a downer, it is still an excellent film. It is the Empire Strikes Back to the first John Wick’s Star Wars. With a third movie already announced on the way let’s hope there is a satisfying next chapter in this tale.

****1/2

La La Land Review

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I had given up on seeing La La Land at a theater. While my local cinema had posters up for it for a while, they disappeared about two weeks ago. They pulled the same trick early in 2016 when they had coming soon posters up for The Nice Guys, which they never showed and consequently I never got to see on the big screen. But, miracle of miracles, it finally showed up last weekend. It is just as good as everyone says it is. La La Land is an inspiring romance

The movie stars Emma Stone as Mia, an aspiring actress working as a barista at the Warner Bros studio lot. She is cajoled into attending a party with her three roommates, which goes badly and her car gets towed. On her trek back home she wanders into the restaurant where Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian is playing piano. Despite some initial friction, they soon hit it off, with Seb sharing his love of jazz and Mia her love of old Hollywood movies. Both of them, however, remain unable to fulfill their dreams. Mia keeps getting auditions for lackluster parts and Seb is unable to pull together the funds to open up his desired jazz club. So when an old friend offers Seb a chance to play keyboard for his band, Seb takes him up despite not really liking the music. Meanwhile, Mia writes and performs a one woman show.

The plot is enjoyable, with a lot to say about performance and creation that I need to see it again to really unravel, but it is a secondary draw to the music. La La Land is a musical; a very enjoyable one. The opening number, with dozens of dancers breaking out in an impromptu performance on during a traffic jam on the highway is a sight. Tons of performers doing impressive routines all in one take. Amazingly, as good as that first song is it only gets better from there. There is the completely delightful “A Lovely Night” with the movie’s two stars beginning an infinitely charming romance during a song that starts with them complaining about each other. After a couple of complete showstoppers, “City of Stars” and “Audition”, it winds up with “Epilogue” a bittersweet look at what might have been.

That is what makes La La Land so amazing. It is a love story, among other things, that while it doesn’t end quite where you might expect, it is still a mostly happy ending. It is certainly not a traditional ending. That is the movie. Both Seb and Mia are fans of things that have long passed. The Hollywood that Mia loves doesn’t really exist anymore and the jazz that Seb idolizes is a fading genre of music. Much like how this movie is a throwback to old-styled Hollywood musicals. La La Land argues that it is important to remember the past, but not to be constrained by it. It is perfectly fine to love old movies or traditional jazz, but you can’t let that hold you back from change. There are certainly elements of that old thing that can be brought forward, like the musical genre itself, but maybe all of its genre trappings don’t need to be preserved. Does a romance have to end a certain way to be happy?

La La Land is a cut above most movies I see and review here. I tend toward populist genre fair. Honestly, that is what La La Land is, except its genre is not one that has shown that popular appeal recently. I don’t see how something like La La Land wouldn’t be pleasing to the majority of movie goers. It is utterly charming and uplifting.

*****

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

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xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is not a good movie. It might be the most preposterously stupid spy story ever committed to film. The acting ranges from passable to “supporting role given to a pro athlete.” The laws of physics and common sense aren’t ignored; they are pantsed and pushed into a mud puddle. Still xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is largely an enjoyable experience. It is purposefully crass, but also very inclusive, with just enough self-awareness to keep its stupidity fun instead of unbearable.

Vin Diesel stars as Xander Cage, a former secret agent who is pulled out of retirement after his mentor is killed. He is out for revenge, and to retrieve Pandora’s Box, a device which can make satellites drop out of sky on people’s heads. It has been stolen by Xiang and his team for unclear purposes. Cage recruits a new team, with skills such as marksmanship, DJing and crashing cars, to help him get it back. Once he tracks down Xiang, he learns that his foe is a former agent as well and the real bad guy is somebody different. Eventually they team up to thwart the real villain and save the day.

It is easy and almost inevitable to draw comparisons to Vin Diesel’s other big franchise, Fast & Furious. Like in that series, this motley gang of spies forms a makeshift family. This one is even more diverse than F&F’s already multi-racial crew. While they remain only vaguely fleshed out, there is a lot to like about this team. The marksman Adele is the highlight, aside from maybe Donnie Yen as Xiang. Like Rogue One, this movie will leave you wishing it had more Donnie Yen. They don’t have the deep connection to each other that F&F crew has, but as they form a formidable team over the back half this movie really takes off.

This would truly be a trash masterpiece if it weren’t for some shoddy special effects and a third act that can’t quite top the previous over the top action sequence didn’t stall it out. There are a ton of moments of unnecessary slow motion or jumbled actions scenes that keep this from being pure over the top nonsense. But still, it hits close enough to the mark to be satisfying. Plus, there is a last minute reveal that nearly brought cheers.

It can’t be overstated just how gleefully stupid this movie is. It introduces Xander Cage as he skis and skateboards down a tropical mountain to steal cable for a poor Brazilian neighborhood so they can watch a soccer match. At one point Diesel and Yen get into a dirt bike race that ends with them racing them on the ocean. One of Xander Cage’s recruits only skill is being a DJ. During a footrace, Diesel and Yen are hit by about 4 cars apiece. They keep running. I’ll not mention Cage’s Bondian sexual exploits but they are over the top, though still PG-13. From the device they are after to the plot they are unraveling, this entire movie is all nonsense.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is the action movie for people who find the Fast & Furious movies to be too high brow. It is James Bond for dirt bags. It is also nearly a fun as it is silly. This is not a movie for everyone. It is certainly not a good movie. But by certain measurements, it might just be the best movie.

**1/2

Movies to Watch Early 2017

It is a new year, so it is a good time to look at what movies coming up over the next few months look checking out. I’ve had to widen that scope to fill up enough space to actually make this worthwhile as movies like The Dark Tower have been moved to later in the year. Still, there are a handful of intriguing titles on deck over the first third of 2017 that should provide ample reason the head to the movies.

January

Underworld: Blood Wars – The year gets started with this fifth (!) entry in the Underworld series. As great as Kate Beckinsale is, I have never found these movies to be anything dull, turgid messes. I am not especially interested in seeing this.

Live By Night – Ben Affleck directs this movie set during Prohibition. His previous directorial efforts have been very good, so I am hopeful about this one. Plus, I am always a sucker for that between the World Wars setting, so this looks right up my alley. I know this was technically released at Christmas, but it isn’t getting wide release until early January.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage – The first xXx was pure nonsense in a (somewhat) good way, something of an extreme James Bond sort of way. The trailer for this looks stupid, but the kind of stupid that can be entertaining.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter – I put this series as kind of a spiritual sister series to Underworld, both being horror themed action movies and also both being terrible. Still, as terrible as they are, the Resident Evil movies could maybe claim to be the best video game movies. The subtitle claims that this is the last movie in the series and I certainly hope so.

February

Lego Batman – Batman is great, the Lego Movie was great. This looks like it could also be great. The trailers, which are numerous, have been funny so far. I am really hopeful that this turns out well.

John Wick Chapter 2 – It looks bad ass. The first movie as good and this looks to be more of the same in a very good way.

The Great Wall – Mat Damon is great and I’ve enjoyed several Zhang Yimou movies. I hope it has plenty of wuxia style action and not just the usual CGI monsterfest. I don’t know that I am precisely excited for this, but I am definitely interested in seeing it.

March

Logan – Maybe the third and final Wolverine solo movie will finally get everything right. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a goddamn mess, but The Wolverine was mostly pretty good, even if it couldn’t stick the landing. This one is based off of one of my least favorite Wolverine stories, but it did have a great trailer. Plus, it is supposedly the last time Jackman will play the character, so I am definitely going to see it.

Kong of Skull Island – I hesitate to get well and truly excited for this movie, but I really like the trailer and I love the cast. Also, I love monsters and King Kong in general. I’ve got my fingers crossed and haven’t seen anything yet to make me doubt my excitement.

Beauty & The Beast – I haven’t been a huge fan of Disney’s animated to live action conversions, but I do love Emma Watson. Also, Beauty and the Beast is Disney’s best animated movie, maybe this version will be similarly excellent.

Power Rangers – Misplaced youthful affection for Power Rangers was just enough to get me through the miserable trailer. This looks like another Fantastic 4 situation, but sometimes you really feel the need to watch the train accident.

Ghost in the Shell – This is another one kind of like The Great Wall, with its controversial casting of a white performer in an otherwise Asian movie, but while I don’t disagree with those complaining about that, I still want to see both movies. I really liked the Stand Alone Complex anime series and I liked the trailer. Here’s hoping this turns out.

April

The Fate of the Furious – While the rest of April looks barren, the next Fast & Furious movie is almost enough to sustain a month by itself. While I doubt that the series can return to the heights of Fast 5, this looks more than good.

Did I miss anything? I know I passed by some comedies that might be promising because I know I won’t end up seeing them. While the spring looks kind of sparse, next summer should be jam packed if everything currently scheduled actually hits cinemas. There are some good looking superhero movies coming up and a new Edgar Wright movie to look forward to in 2017, along with several updates of classic sci fi movies and a few new ones. I hope people who are more in the know can lead me to the legitimately good movies instead of just the promising genre stuff that I am tuned in to.

Top 10 Movies of 2016

This year’s top 10 is nowhere near as top heavy as last year’s was. There was nothing this year as phenomenal as Mad Max: Fury Road. And I don’t see a movie I liked as much as Inside Out falling anywhere near 7 on this list, though if I were to do last year’s list again I don’t see Inside Out falling to 7. Still, the movies I’ve seen this year have had a fairly high floor even if most of them didn’t rise above middling. I definitely saw a lot more movies, though a lot of that was me making a point of seeing new stuff that came to Netflix and the like. So my list of new movies seen stands closer to 50 than last year’s 20, but I would say I liked to some extent or another about 30 of those movies. Here are my Top 10:

bvsp10: Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Cut – This is only the so-called Ultimate Cut, the extended version. After seeing it I have a hard time understanding how they ended up with the cut they originally released. The long cut – 3 hours – fixes nearly all of the story problems that the original had and provides a lot of context for many of the movie’s more incongruous scenes. Most of what it added back were scenes showing what Clark and Lois were up to throughout the movie, which makes Superman’s journey through the movie actually work. With this cut I really enjoyed the film.

zootopiampmoana9: Moana/Zootopia – I can’t choose between the two of these movies. Disney is on a hot streak, and both of these films continue it. I’m not sure Zootopia’s metaphor holds up to scrutiny, but it is a charming world with fun characters. Moana’s limited number of characters is more than made up for in the just sheer delight that is on the screen. They are both excellent.

cacw8: Captain America Civil War – This one kept sliding down the list as I made it. I remember liking it quite a bit coming out of the theater, but the few times I’ve thought of it since haven’t raised my opinion of it. I guess I really need to see it again, but right now all that are really sticking in my mind are a few outstanding scenes.

kuboposter7: Kubo and The Two Strings – There are some parts of this movie that didn’t quite work for me, but animation is so beautiful and the parts that do work are so strong that I can’t bring myself to get hung up on the quibbles.

 

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6: Arrival – Smart, methodical science fiction with an excellent star performance from Amy Adams. It is good to see a movie like this that doesn’t rely on explosions to tell its story.

 

stb5: Star Trek Beyond – I gave a solid review to Into Darkness, but upon rewatching I think I side more with the general opinion of that movie than I did a few years ago. This Star Trek feels like an amped up episode of the show. Sure, things are bigger than they need to be and there seems to be one scene missing with the villain to make his whole deal really work, but the rest of it is so good it doesn’t matter. This was the most fun I had at the movies all summer.

rogueone4: Rogue One – Recency bias maybe, but this was one of the most purely pleasurable movie going experiences of the year. The only thing holding it back from being among my favorite Star Wars movie is the downplaying of the music. Still, a Star Wars movie that emphasizes the war part of the title is just different enough. It has lots of great performances – I loved Donnie Yen – and one of the best climactic battles scenes I’ve ever seen. It is just great.

hcmp3: Hail, Caesar! – Even a lesser Coen Brother’s movie is a treat. I’m not even sure how lesser this one is. It won’t be counted among their masterpieces, but I can see myself going back to watch it much more readily than True Grit or Burn After Reading. It is mostly an excuse for a bunch of big name actors to play out bad versions of classic Hollywood movies and it is just a lot of fun to watch.

1b: The Nice Guys – I am really sad I missed this in the theater. It is does just about everything right as these two detectives do everything wrong. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are great and the rest of the movie just works.

landfmp1a: Love & Friendship – Unlike anything else on my list or anything else I saw this year, this movie is amazing. It is hands down the funniest movie I saw this year, with a lot of funny actors giving performances that are at the same time restrained and hilarious.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Like last years The Force Awakens, Rogue One is a Star Wars movie that exists to comment on Star Wars. Specifically on Star Wars: A New Hope. The Force Awakens was a restatement of purpose. It was A New Hope again, consciously and purposefully. It gave viewers new, immediately iconic characters to root for, but it didn’t break a lot of new ground. It was Star Wars as you always remembered it. I wonder how that is going to age, but it was the right move for last year, for getting people back into the series ten years after the middling prequels. Rogue One, on the other hand, seeks to remind viewers of A New Hope by filling in the cracks around that movie. It is a movie about how that movie came to be, with as many reminders as possible. It nears the ghoulish at times, like with its digital recreation of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin, but for the most part it works at putting the viewer on the margins of the grand saga and giving a different perspective on the series.

Rogue One does have a completely different perspective than other Star Wars movies. This is not a tale in the grand saga of the Skywalker family and the force, while it is mentioned and plays a role in the movie, is not a big part of it. This is a grittier look on how the Rebellion got well and truly started, with Jyn Erso, the daughter of an Imperial scientist, conscripted by the nascent Rebel Alliance to find a message from her father that might give them information about the secret project he is working, which is in fact the Death Star. She is joined by Cassian and K-2SO, a rougher take on Han & Chewie to seek out her old mentor Saw Gerrera, who is said to have the Imperial Pilot that carried the message. Eventually this leads to them and a small handful of others taking on a dangerous mission as a last ditch attempt to give the Rebels a chance to stop the Death Star.

Perhaps the movie’s greatest flaw is that it doesn’t truly flesh out Jyn. It gives her a starting point and an endpoint, but it never really shows her change. Rogue One doesn’t do a great job of letting the viewer in on her thoughts, so it is hard to understand her changes. For the rest of the impromptu crew it works. The Viewer is meant to question Cassian’s loyalties at times, so his remoteness makes sense. The others from K-2SO, an amusing combination of C-3PO and Chewbacca, who is all quips to the badass duo of the force attuned blind warrior Chirrut Imwe and heavily armed Baze Malbus, are side characters with simple or no arcs, we are given all the information we need to sympathize with them. But Jyn, the protagonist, is kept just as far from the viewer as the rest. She gives a rousing speech before the start of the third act. It is a great speech, but it doesn’t really follow what we’ve seen from her character. It seems like there is a scene missing where she lets go of her reluctance to commit to the rebel cause.

Around the dangerous covert missions is the second point of Rogue One, which is that it works as connection tissue between the prequels and the original trilogy. That is where the numerous references to A New Hope come from; the movie is determined to set its place in the timeline to just before the original trilogy started. But there are also references to the prequels, like Jimmy Smits resuming his role as Bail Organa, adopted father of Leia. It is certainly a Star Wars movie, but while it does do anything to further the saga, it is a great story in its own right while also providing some much needed connective tissue.

Rogue One is deliberately not the crowd pleaser that The Force Awakens was, but for all that is was a movie about the series past, I think it delivered more new Star Wars moments. The characters, while in some cases reminiscent of other Star Wars characters, actually felt new. I don’t mean to denigrate The Force Awakens, which laid the seeds for the future of Star Wars and its character are sure to stick with viewers for a long time, but they also feel like there were created with more in mind than the story of just the movie. Rogue One just feels more impactful. As a one off, its character’s stories are told all in this one film. Between that and some of the best action scenes in the series, Rogue One is one of the most satisfying movies of the year.

****1/2

Summer Movie Preview

I know it is still the middle of spring, but the first summer popcorn movie opens this week and that means it is time for my yearly Summer Movie Preview. As usual, I spent the better part of an hour trolling movie sites (imdb.com and boxofficemojo.com) to find the movies that I am excited to see this summer. To keep things interesting, I’ve also included some that are just the opposite; they are the movie that I have no intention of seeing and am appalled or disgusted by. I’ve got them on here in release order, with a few thoughts about each film and the likelihood of my seeing it (Certainly, Likely, Unlikely or Fat Chance). So what is on the docket for 2016? Let’s find out.

  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Some rumblings about WB’s nervousness and that first tone deaf trailer aside, I am pretty pumped to see this tonight. I am an easy sell for Superman and while I wasn’t enthralled with Snyder’s first take on the character I have (probably delusional) hopes for this one. March 25 Certainly.
  • The Jungle Book It has an all-star cast and doesn’t look too shabby, but I wonder if this live action version will have anything to add to Disney’s animated classic. That worry really only comes to mind since this is clearly a live action take on that specific version of the story. Favreau is directing and he’s got some good films under his belt. I’ll give it a look. April 15 Likely.
  • The Huntsman: Winter’s War – The first movie, Snow White and the Huntsman, was surprisingly good. It had the feeling of an 80’s fantasy movie more than one of LotR’s progeny. I have no idea what to make of this sequel, but I am intrigued. Especially by the cast. Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt. April 22 Likely.
  • Keanu – Key and Peele doing a movie about two guys trying to save their kitten from gangsters? Yeah, I’m in. April 22 Likely.
  • Ratchet & Clank – This is a video game adaptation, so precedence suggests it will crap, but the games tend to be really fun and funny, with a set up that translates pretty easily to the big screen. I’m holding out hope for this. April 29 Likely.
  • Captain America: Civil War – This looks good. Avengers Age of Ultron was initially pleasing, but it felt bloated and unfocused, so hopefully this one is more cohesive and satisfying. It should be, the last Captain America movie was the best Marvel film yet. May 6 Certainly.
  • The Nice Guys – I was sold on this one, starring Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe as PIs, with the trailer I saw before Hail, Caesar! It looks to be really fun and I hope it doesn’t get lost in the summer shuffle. May 20 Certainly.
  • Alice Through the Looking Glass – I know the first live action Alice in Wonderland made a ton of money, but did anyone really want a sequel? A sequel not directed by Tim Burton? I don’t know, this does not sound particularly promising. But it is worth at least paying a little attention to given the massive success of the first one. May 27 Unlikely
  • X-Men: Apocalypse – The last X-Men movie was the best yet, hopefully this one can continue the trend. It does return a lot of the most famous X-Men to the team and is looking pretty good. Maybe this take on the core X-Men team will be more faithful and interesting than the first pass, even without Wolverine. May 27 Certainly.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows – Holy shit does this look terrible. The previous movie was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen in a theater. This one brings in a lot of fan favorite stuff from the cartoon, but it looks to be as much as a miserable piece of shit as the first one. June 3 Fat Chance.
  • Warcraft – I haven’t been a fan of this series since Warcaft 2 way back in the day, but I am a fan of cheesy fantasy movies I am somewhat intrigued. The trailer doesn’t look that good; it looks like a bad cartoon. John Carter did giant green men better a few years ago. Still, this could be a lot of fun. Normally I’d be on the fence with something like this, but the rest of June is a wasteland, so I’ll probably end up there. June 10 Likely.
  • Finding Dory – A sequel to the Pixar movie that I seem to like less than anyone else, starring the character that is the biggest reason I didn’t really like it. It sounds like we’ve got another Cars 2 on our hands. Still, I trust Pixar despite their one miss so far. I’ll be there. June 17 Likely.
  • Independence Day – Another sequel, this time to a movie that was never good in the first place and missing the one thing people would actually want to see come back. I really don’t know what the point of this sequel is. Does anyone actually want it? I can’t say that I do, but the trailer seemed to excite some people. June 24 Fat Chance.
  • The BFG – Steven Spielberg directing a Roald Dahl adaptation? Sounds good to me. The worst we could expect is what, Hook? I’d take that. I don’t know enough to be excited, but I like Spielberg. July 1 Likely.
  • The Legend of Tarzan – I am a sucker for Edgar Rice Burroughs and this is looking pretty solid. I like that it doesn’t appear to just be doing the original Tarzan story, which is the only one that anyone ever does. This should be interesting. July 1 Certainly.
  • Ghostbusters – This has a great cast and Ghostbusters has always been an excellent concept. Hopefully it brings something new to the table rather than just a remake of the first. As long as it has some of the charm it should have I am in. July 15 Likely.
  • Star Trek Beyond – The last Star Trek movie was dumb and an awkward retake on Wrath of Khan. I don’t know what to make of this one, other than it seems to keep not really being much like Star Trek. For all of its flaws, I kind of enjoyed Into Darkness. Of course, I don’t have much attachment to original Trek. July 22 Likely.
  • Jason Bourne – I’ve got to be perfectly honest, while they are exactly the sort of thing I should like, none of the Bourne movies have done anything for me. I want to like them, but they just sort of wash over me. Still, I am at least somewhat intrigued to see this, if only because it has an excellent cast. July 29 Likely.
  • Suicide Squad – This movie has a great concept and a great trailer. It is straight up a supervillain Dirty Dozen. While it might disappoint, it might also turn out something like Guardians of the Galaxy. I am really eager to see which way it goes. August 5 Certainly.
  • Pete’s Dragon – Why is there a remake of a 40 year old kids movie that wasn’t all that good to begin with? Maybe it could be good. August 12 Unlikely.
  • Kubo & the Two Strings – The previous highly intricate stop motion movies from these people have been good, but they have also all had a ghoulish bent that really doesn’t do anything for me. This one looks to be more of straightforward adventure, I really looking forward to a Laika movie that I can really enjoy. August 19 Likely

What movies did I miss? Disagree with me about any of these? Well, write me a comment. I know I skipped by a lot of comedies, but finding comedies that I expect to enjoy enough to see in theaters has been increasingly hard as I get old and humorless. It looks to be shaping up to be a lopsided summer, with a lot of good stuff in April and May, but almost nothing in June or August with an okay July wedged in there.