The Top 15 Movies I Reviewed in 2017!

List by Derrick Carter

Throughout the course of 2017, I posted 206 movie reviews on this blog. Though about a quarter of those were rewatches (covering the SAW and CHILD’S PLAY franchises before their latest installments, and also paying tribute to the passing of genre legend George A. Romero), I managed to catch plenty of fresh new films, forgotten flicks, and classics that I simply hadn’t gotten around to watching. As with last year, 2017’s “Best of” list will cover movies that I watched for the first time in my life. This means that old and new films are on the table, regardless of what year they came out. If a film was new to me and I loved it, then I’m including it with my favorite films that I watched in 2017!

Before I get into my 15 favorite films that I reviewed this year, there are some honorable mentions. I had previously seen THE EXORCIST, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, THE THING, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and ALIENS before this year. Otherwise, they would be on this list. As far as first-time watches, I truly enjoyed the groundbreaking drama MOONLIGHT and adored the 80s throwback STRANGER THINGS. Concerning new horror films, THE EYES OF MY MOTHER seriously disturbed me, THE VOID was a phenomenal Lovecraftian nightmare, and THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS was one hell of a zombie film! WONDER WOMAN also wound up as my second-favorite superhero film of 2017. As for indie thrillers, WIND RIVER was a gripping ride and GOOD TIME was a neon-lit throwback to Martin Scorsese’s early work.

Now, without further ado, onto my top 15 favorite films that I reviewed during 2017…

15. MY FRIEND DAHMER: Most serial killer films focus on chilling murders of their subjects, but MY FRIEND DAHMER is not like most serial killer films. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, MY FRIEND DAHMER is a chilling drama that chronicles the pre-murderous life of Jeffrey Dahmer and examines him as a high school weirdo. By somewhat “humanizing” this psycho, the film doesn’t attempt to elicit sympathy towards its titular cannibal killer and instead shines a light on the fact that people we went to high school might very well turn into monsters seen in news headlines. Though there isn’t a single (human) murder to be found, MY FRIEND DAHMER joins the ranks among the best films about real-life serial killers (MONSTER, ZODIAC, HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, and THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS).

14. FOUR LIONS: The idea of tackling Islamic terrorism through a darkly comic lens might sound completely misguided on paper, but FOUR LIONS is the best comedy that I sat through all year! The film follows four idiotic would-be terrorists as they attempt to execute a devastating attack, but constantly fumble over their own stupidity and reveal themselves to be bumbling morons. In my opinion, painting Islamic terrorists in this ridiculous light strips some of the power away from them in a similar way to what Charlie Chaplin did to Hitler in THE GREAT DICTATOR or what Rogen/Franco did to Kim Jong-Un with THE INTERVIEW. If you’re down for dark comedy and don’t mind totally offensive punchlines, you should give FOUR LIONS a watch in the near future!

13. HARD BOILED: Last year, LADY SNOWBLOOD wound up being one of my favorite movie-going experiences as I saw it in a packed cinema pub screening. This year, that cinema pub moviegoing experience belongs to HARD BOILED. This shoot ’em up actioner is over-the-top to the point of being ridiculous. Ridiculously awesome! Each gun fight plays out like a carefully choreographed dance and the film features one of the most jaw-dropping single take sequences that I’ve ever laid my eyes upon. Though it relies on a few cop movie clichés, it utilizes these in a loving way that makes the familiar material seem fresh. If you’re into action films and you haven’t seen HARD BOILED, then you need to remedy that immediately!

12. T2 TRAINSPOTTING: In all honesty, I didn’t know what exactly to expect from a sequel to TRAINSPOTTING. I love that film and I know that novelist Irvine Welsh wrote a follow-up novel, but I didn’t know how that might translate into a cinematic sequel. Over two decades after its predecessor’s release, T2 TRAINSPOTTING serves as an amazing companion piece to the original. Using the same cast and experimental visual style (albeit through a much more polished lens), TRAINSPOTTING 2 delivers stellar performances and naturally follows the lives of the four ne’er do wells from the previous film. If you loved the first film, then you’ll probably love this one too. For a full experience, it’s best to watch both of them back-to-back in the space of a single night!

11. NORTH BY NORTHWEST: This may be blasphemy for a cinephile, but I actually haven’t seen many Alfred Hitchcock films. I love PSYCHO, THE BIRDS, and DIAL M FOR MURDER, but the rest of his filmography is basically a mystery to my movie-craving eyes. My first viewing of NORTH BY NORTHWEST took place in the best possible environment (a packed movie theater) and I was blown away by how thrilling this film is. This is basically a James Bond film before Bond ever hit the screen. Cary Grant serves as a charismatic leading man who’s on the run for a murder he didn’t commit. Over the space of his death-defying adventure, we gets lots of suspense, action, and unexpected plot twists. I was on the edge of my seat for this entire film and walked away extremely satisfied. If the rest of Hitchcock’s filmography is anywhere near this great, then I’m in for a real treat as I continue to watch his work.

10. I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE: Blending a Coen brothers style of humor with indie thriller sensibilities, I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE might just be the most underseen and underrated film of 2017! This movie won an audience award at Sundance and then went directly to Netflix, where some people talked about for a couple of weeks and then it just kind of seemed to vanish out of the public eye. This is a vigilante thriller that’s believable in how inept real-life wannabe vigilantes might be and frequently dishes out shocking spurts of graphic violence. This might be the best Coen brothers film that the Coen brothers never made and I can’t wait to see what first-time director/writer Macon Blair cooks up next!

9. BABY DRIVER: What can I say? Edgar Wright consistently makes great films. BABY DRIVER is a passion project that Wright had in the works for years. In a similar fashion to how George Miller carefully planned out every scene, shot, and effect in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, Wright constantly lets the viewer know that they’re in the hands of a visionary storyteller. This stylish crime tale about a getaway driver who (ironically enough) wants to get away from his criminal lifestyle is loaded with colorful characters, hilarious humor, and adrenaline-pumping action that’s synced up to one of the best damn soundtracks you’ll hear all year. I gushed over this movie back in June and I am still gushing about it now. If you want a joy ride of pure fun, BABY DRIVER will satisfy your cinematic craving!

8. THE DISASTER ARTIST: Never in a million years did I think that anything to do with Tommy Wiseau’s so-bad-it’s-good THE ROOM would ever wind up on any “Best of” list. Yet, here we are. James Franco lovingly adapts the nonfiction book about the creation of THE ROOM to the big screen in a way that’s not only hilarious, but also genuinely touching. THE DISASTER ARTIST doesn’t take the easy route of being a goofy comedy about a loser who fails so spectacularly that he kind of succeeds. Instead, this film takes a more complicated drama-comedy approach and shows us the more serious side of oddball Tommy Wiseau…and his strange friendship with would-be aspiring actor Greg Sestero. THE DISASTER ARTIST is a moving must-see for ROOM fans and cinephiles who just love great movies in general.

7. BLADE RUNNER 2049: I’m saying it right now, BLADE RUNNER 2049 is one of the best sequels to ever hit the silver screen. Over three decades after its predecessor’s debut, BLADE RUNNER 2049 recaptures the bleak sci-fi/noir spark that made the original into the cult classic that it is today. 2049’s cast all deliver amazing performances across the board, with supporting actors making the biggest impressions in their small minutes of screen time and Ryan Gosling serving as a fascinating new antihero. Besides delivering a complex mystery that unpredictably shifts directions as it goes along, 2049 also has one of the most beautiful romantic subplots in years and it features a literal “one-dimensional” character. For those who were bummed out by this film’s disappointing box office returns, remember that the first BLADE RUNNER was a box office flop and is now considered to be one of the greatest science-fiction films of all time. A similar classic status will undoubtedly follow BLADE RUNNER 2049 in future years!

6. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES: Seven years ago, if you had told me that a PLANET OF THE APES prequel trilogy would be one of the best cinematic trilogies ever, I would have laughed in your face. It turns out that’s exactly the case though. 2014’s DAWN drastically improved upon the minor flaws of 2011’s RISE, but 2017’s WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is stellar storytelling from beginning to end. Themes of revenge, survival, and forgiveness are examined throughout the film’s ever-changing plot. Performance wise, WAR fully shapes out intelligent ape Caesar (played wonderfully by Andy Serkis) as animal protagonist who’s more compelling than most human protagonists in films and also introduces Woody Harrelson as a monstrous villain who we want to see die in the most painful way possible. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES was the best possible way to conclude the APES prequel trilogy and is one of the best summer blockbusters I’ve ever sat through!

5. IRREVERSIBLE: I originally heard about Gaspar Noe’s rape-revenge drama from a podcast in 2008, but hadn’t bothered to give it a look until earlier this year. Though not strictly a horror film by any means, IRREVERSIBLE is a terrifying cinematic experience as events are told backwards. Unlike other linear rape-revenge stories, we see the revenge come first and travel backwards through the moments that eventually lead up to the violent act of justice. As the film plays out in reverse (ironic considering its title), we put pieces of this depressing puzzle together for ourselves and this already tragic event becomes even more tragic with each new revelation. This isn’t a film for the faint-hearted and it’s about as bleak as they come, but IRREVERSIBLE is an uncompromising masterpiece that deserves to be seen by anybody who loves the serious artistic side of cinema!

4. LOGAN: There will never be a better Wolverine than Hugh Jackman. I’m saying that right now. Over a decade has been spent watching Jackman in the role of this weaponized mutant, so LOGAN serves as a suitable final chapter for Jackman’s reluctant do-gooder. The future X-MEN films have a tough act to follow, because LOGAN is a special kind of superhero story. Relationships between the small cast of characters drives the emotional core of this film forward, whilst the R rating finally delivers something that X-MEN fans have wanted to see since 2000: a bad-ass Wolverine slicing and dicing his way through bad guys. This film also has shades of Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD crossed with a comic book story that’s about as unconventional as they come. Now that Disney is in talks to own the X-MEN franchise, we likely won’t see another film like LOGAN coming from this mutant-based series. LOGAN is a one-of-a-kind superhero film and one of the best comic book movies ever made!

3. EYES WIDE SHUT: Stanley Kubrick’s final film is an underrated masterpiece about the way in which people delude themselves into believing that they’re happy…and also there’s a creepy sex cult involved too. The entire film has a dream-like atmosphere as we watch the main character (Tom Cruise) venture through a single night odyssey that explores the sexual possibilities of cheating on his wife. Kubrick masterfully shows the dire consequences that might result from following our instinctual desires, whilst also putting us into the place of Cruise’s character. This is especially true of the ending which offers two distinct possibilities: one of them is easy and comforting…and the other one is ambiguous and dangerous. Whatever you might think of it or how you might interpret it, EYES WIDE SHUT is sure to keep you talking about it long after it’s over.

2. YOUR NAME: Eat your heart out Studio Ghibli! YOUR NAME just might be one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever sat through. This film has gorgeous animation from beginning to end, while also delivering an entrancing tale of emotions and body-swapping. It’s initial set-up sounds like the anime equivalent of FREAKY FRIDAY, but drastically becomes something far more charming and moving as its complex plot moves along. This might be one of the strangest love stories ever put to the screen, but its emotional resonance is undeniable! The characters are all built up to the point where the viewer feels for their struggles and deeply cares about them. This makes the film’s final third into a very suspenseful and gripping ride. Also, the climax is utterly perfect. YOUR NAME is a masterpiece and deserves every bit of praise it has received so far (and will continue to receive)!

1. MOTHER!: Much like my favorite film of 2016 (HIGH-RISE), I know that there will be people who loathe and downright detest MOTHER! Some will hate it for its sheer artsy nightmare-logic style and others will despise its controversial message, but I adored every single frame of this fucked-up little ditty. The film follows a woman and her husband in an isolated countryside house. After a strange couple pop in and just decide to stay, their lives are shifted in horrifying ways. I can’t get too into details, because it would spoil some of the film’s nasty surprises and metaphorical madness. I will say that MOTHER! is my favorite horror film of the 2010s so far and one of the ballsiest films to ever receive a nationwide theatrical release. People either really love this film or totally hate it. There isn’t much middle ground to be found and you will likely walk away with a very strong opinion about it. One of the film’s trailers promised that “you’ll never forget where you were the first time you saw MOTHER!” and that statement is completely accurate. I’ve been thinking about this unforgettable horror film since its release and I can’t wait to dive into it again and again in future years to come!

Well, 2017 was a wild year for me…both on this site and in my personal life. I’m currently in the process of moving, so reviews will resume sometime in January! I plan to keep this little movie blog rolling, with plenty of reviews (both old and new) being pumped out on a mostly regular basis! A huge “thank you” to anyone who’s read this blog at all during the past year or any new readers who are discovering it for the first time. There was plenty to love in the world of film during 2017 and here’s to a just as great (if not better) 2018!

BABY DRIVER (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 53 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence and Language throughout

Directed by: Edgar Wright

Written by: Edgar Wright

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Bernthal, Eiza Gonzalez, Jon Hamm & Jamie Foxx

Since the mid-90s, director/writer Edgar Wright has been imagining BABY DRIVER. This action flick would serve as a passion project for years as he fine-tuned every detail and constructed the plot. In 2017, BABY DRIVER has finally arrived! There’s no other way of putting it: BABY DRIVER is awesome! The blend of music, action, and relentless storytelling that is lovingly placed into every scene, fleshed-out character, and carefully placed song is a wonder to behold. BABY DRIVER has cemented its place as one of my favorite action films and I guarantee that this will go down as a celebrated classic or (at the very least) gain a passionate cult following.

Young tinnitus-stricken getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) has spent years repaying a substantial debt to mob boss Doc (Kevin Spacey), all while blasting tunes to keep his “hum in the drum” at bay. With his affairs finally caught up, Baby believes that he’s out of the crime-filled lifestyle for good and begins to go legitimate. To further boost Baby’s upbeat look on life, he’s found a loving relationship with waitress Debora (Lily James). Unfortunately for Baby, Doc comes calling and the driver finds himself stuck in a heist that has unexpected, potentially deadly curveballs. As Baby attempts to escape his life and runaway with his girlfriend, bullets fly, engines rev, and music blares. It’s a cinema lover’s dream and will surely please loads of action fans.

Edgar Wright directs the hell out of this film with attention to detail in every frame and a style that perfectly feeds into the fast-paced storytelling. The soundtrack blares, blasts, and plays through the entire movie, making the music an essential ingredient to this adrenaline-pumping cinematic recipe. When Wright occasionally removes the music as certain characters threaten Baby or he drops an iPod in the middle of a chase, tension immediately erupts as the music (and its absence) takes the viewer into reluctant criminal’s head and lets us experience the world as he does. The action choreography and flow of scenes to the music is perfectly matched up, making for one hell of a thrilling, funny, and thoroughly entertaining ride.

To boot, BABY DRIVER’s action sequences are stellar. The car chases will have the viewer hooked as Baby pulls off insane moves and proves himself to be “Mozart in a go-kart.” I’m sure that certain moments were undoubtedly aided by computer generated effects, but these all appeared practical and it wouldn’t surprise me to find that BABY DRIVER had an insane stunt team of adrenaline-junkies who wanted to aid Wright’s action-packed art. The gun fights and heist sequences also have emotional stakes thrown into them as little details come back in big ways. Even when the film integrates well-worn action clichés (you can see certain plot points coming), it does so in a loving manner that fully embraces the genre as opposed to merely using them as lazy developments.

As the titular getaway driver, Ansel Elgort delivers the best performance of his career yet…turning Baby into a charming Steve McQueen type action hero and instantly winning the viewer over. Lily James has fantastic chemistry as Baby’s newfound girlfriend and their relationship seems totally natural on the big screen. As far as villains go, Kevin Spacey brings his usual high-caliber acting as an intimidating mobster who has a sense of humor and a genuine connection towards Baby. Meanwhile, Jamie Foxx is scary as the stone-cold psycho of the bunch. Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez are perfect as a Bonnie and Clyde pair, who are likable in moments and threatening in later scenes as their dark sides come out. It’s also worth noting that Jon Bernthal, Flea (from Red Hot Chili Peppers), and Lanny Joon are all very fun to watch as side thugs who only receive a few minutes of screen time.

To put it simply, BABY DRIVER is an action movie lover’s dream come true and also serves as an adrenaline-pumping masterpiece for cinephiles everywhere. It’s a film that weaves excitement, romance, comedy, and a quasi-musical score into the space of two glorious hours. Edgar Wright’s passion for this project comes through in every second of screen time and you’ll likely be listening to the soundtrack on repeat for days after sitting through this film. I’m gushing over BABY DRIVER, but it really is that amazing. BABY DRIVER is one of 2017’s best movies so far, it might be Edgar Wright’s best film (in a filmography that’s loaded with tough competition), and it’s easily one of the best action pictures that I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting through. See it!

Grade: A+

SLEEPLESS (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Language throughout

Directed by: Baran bo Odar

Written by: Andrea Berloff

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Clifford Joseph Harris Jr., Michelle Monaghan, Dermot Mulroney, David Harbour, Gabrielle Union & Scoot McNairy

SLEEPLESS had every indication of sucking. It was a remake of an acclaimed French action flick SLEEPLESS NIGHT (which I haven’t seen), it had a foreboding January release date (a dumping ground for studios), and I’d heard nothing but negative things about it since its release. Still, something kept me interested in watching this flick and I’m glad that I did. Don’t get me wrong, SLEEPLESS isn’t necessarily special or outstanding. This is a simple, fun action flick with slick visuals and some smart storytelling; along with a healthy dose of silly clichés and dumb decisions.

Vincent Downs (Jamie Foxx) is a corrupt Las Vegas policeman who indulges in robberies from time to time. His latest stick-up happened to be 25 kilos of cocaine that belongs to casino owner Stanley Rubino (Dermot Mulroney). Things seem to be going fine for Downs until Rubino’s men kidnap his disgruntled teenage son (Markell Watson) and demand their illegal white powder back. A simple exchange of drugs for a hostage becomes far more complicated and dangerous, because two internal affairs officers (Michelle Monaghan and David Harbour) show up looking for Downs and a psycho gangster (Scoot McNairy) comes into play.

For a majority of its running time, SLEEPLESS takes place in Rubino’s large casino. Certain characters interact with each other on one floor, while other characters attempt to avoid detection or kick ass in a different area. There’s a constant threat of enemies coming from all sides and different subplots weave in and out of each other. The two cops are on his tail, his son is being held hostage, and there’s the psycho drug dealer’s contentious relationship with the casino owner. As you might imagine, a few twists make their way into the mix. Some of these developments are unexpectedly clever, while others are silly and a little too convenient.

SLEEPLESS’s biggest problem is its reliance on some really stupid character decisions to further its plot along. These aren’t egregiously annoying as the film tries to write their dumb mistakes off in “smart” ways. However, a few plot developments are somewhat unbelievable. It does help that the performances are solid across the board though. Jamie Foxx makes for an interesting protagonist, who initially tests the viewer’s empathy by being corrupt and kind of a jerk towards everyone around him. Michelle Monaghan is great as a do-gooder antagonist in this plot. Her decisions will likely make the viewer throw their hands up in frustration, but in any other movie, we’d probably be rooting for her. David Harbour brings his usual level of quality as Monaghan’s partner and is easily become one of my favorite modern character actors.

As the casino owner, Dermot Mulroney comes off as a bland baddie. He’s not the main antagonist though, because Scoot McNairy’s psycho gangster easily steals the show. McNairy is so good at playing scumbags and delivers one of his most unhinged characters to date. From his torture-happy introduction to his bullet-filled final scene, McNairy is downright scary. Meanwhile, Markell Watson is okay enough as the kidnapped kid and Gabrielle Union seems to be phoning it in as the concerned mother (who conveniently keeps a gun in her glove box, of course).

SLEEPLESS’s has a variety of action-filled moments and no two scenes seem alike. There’s are a few hand-to-hand confrontations that involve a glass table (which, of course, has somebody being thrown through it) and kitchen utensils (which, of course, results in a surprisingly anticlimactic knife fight). There are gun fights and a broken champagne bottle becomes a deadly weapon in one of the film’s best kills (wasted on a poor random henchman). Also, a showdown in a parking garage gets increasingly ridiculous, but remains entertaining the whole way through. Of course, the gangster would have a gas mask and smoke grenades in his car…because what psycho gangster wouldn’t have those readily on hand?

SLEEPLESS has more than its fair share of clichés and increasingly convenient plot developments that arise as the fast-paced running time chugs along. For all of its faults though, I had fun watching this movie. The acting is solid from damn near every cast member, with a few delivering outright terrific performances. The action is mostly well-executed (with minimal shaky cam) and the cinematography is visually pleasing. The premise of setting the film almost entirely within a casino is cool and the storytelling does a lot with this colorful environment. If you want a dumb little actioner and don’t mind noticeable silliness, then give SLEEPLESS a look.

Grade: B-

MIAMI VICE (2006)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence, Language and some Sexual Content

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Directed by: Michael Mann

Written by: Michael Mann

(based on the TV series MIAMI VICE)

Starring: Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Naomie Harris, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Justin Theroux, Gong Li, Luis Tosar, John Oritz, Ciaran Hinds, John Hawkes, Tom Towles & Eddie Marsan

This is one of the most baffling projects to be conceived by a big name studio. Michael Mann, who worked on the original 80’s MIAMI VICE television series, was interested in turning his hit show into a gritty summer blockbuster with a huge budget. Though Mann had his share of stellar movies up to this point (most notably HEAT and COLLATERAL), MIAMI VICE was a misfire on pretty much every conceivable level. The final product winds up as a tinkered with and undercooked would-be actioner that almost seems like a single episode of the series was stretched for over two full hours and every bit of excitement was surgically removed.

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I am not a massive fan of the original TV show by any means, but I did watch some episodes in the last year. They’re cheesy now, but there’s a sense of fun to the silly cop-drama. This 2006 reboot follows Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs, two undercover agents who get deep into their work. Though they’re both rough around the edges, the duo still manage to excel at catching bad guys. After one of their informants is compromised, Crockett and Tubbs are assigned to infiltrate a highly sophisticated drug ring. The cartel operation is a lot bigger than originally expected and the two cops find themselves confronted with a huge amount of danger, especially when Crockett begins romancing the drug lord’s girlfriend.

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From everything I’ve read, the production of MIAMI VICE was not a happy one. Apparently, the actors were difficult to work with and Michael Mann didn’t make the wisest directorial decisions (filming in questionable weather conditions and going to areas that were dangerous to his actors’ well-being). I wish I could say that this all paid off in an action-packed, intense thrill ride that’s exciting from frame one until the closing credits. However, that is not the case as MIAMI VICE seems to actively keep the viewer at a distance from the simplistic storyline and its main characters. I was never sucked into the movie the way that I should have been. The story also drags its feet with a bloated running time that’s made worse with an excess of unnecessary montages that use so-so music. It almost felt like this movie consisted of 60% music video footage.

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The story isn’t much better as it feels like Mann picked a dusty 80’s MIAMI VICE episode script off his shelf and sucked every ounce of fun from it. Jamie Foxx is okay as Tubbs, pulling the tough guy act that he has revisited in later roles (THE KINGDOM, DJANGO UNCHAINED). Colin Farrell is horribly miscast as Crockett sporting a laughable hair-style and non-convincing raspy voice. It certainly didn’t do either of these actors any favors that their characters are so bland and unlikable. A few recognizable faces pop up and are quickly forgotten. These include Eddie Marsan as an informant, Ciaran Hinds as an FBI agent with ulterior motives, and Luis Tosar as the forgettable kingpin.

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There’s a halfway decent action scene that kicks off MIAMI VICE, but the film quickly boils down to one boring moment after the next with no excitement or tension. The climactic showdown is also a half-heartedly executed (and rewritten) series of incoherent shots of people firing wildly in certain directions. The handheld, sometimes shaky, camera work doesn’t work for this film either. Mann has used this style before in better projects (e.g. COLLATERAL), but it feels very cheap this time around. It’s annoying when the camera seems to be shaking for no discernible reason, especially as it’s focused on the face of someone having a simple conversation.

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This 2006 version of MIAMI VICE might have been good if there were a sense of fun, excitement, or even a pulse to the movie. It feels like everyone was phoning it in to bank on a well-known TV series of the 80’s. That’s not exactly a novel concept, but other movies based on TV shows are far better than this lifeless flick (e.g. 21 JUMP STREET or STARSKY & HUTCH). Hell, even DUKES OF HAZZARD was slightly more accomplished. I realize that all the films mentioned were comedies, but MIAMI VICE could have benefitted from better characters, better action, and all around better writing/directing. This is especially disappointing coming from the same man who gave us HEAT and COLLATERAL. Overall, just watch three hours of the original TV show instead of this unwanted, unneeded reboot that nobody asked for (aside from Mann and Jamie Foxx).

Grade: D

HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Crude Sexual Content and Language throughout

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Directed by: Sean Anders

Written by: Sean Anders & John Morris

Starring: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx, Chris Pine, Christoph Waltz, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Banks, Keegan-Michael Key & Kelly Stables

In Summer 2011, HORRIBLE BOSSES came out. I found it to be a hilarious film that blended workplace humor with dark comedy. It was almost like THROW MAMA FROM THE TRAIN and OFFICE SPACE got thrown in a blender. It’s over three years later and HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 has made its way into theaters over Thanksgiving weekend. After watching the sequel earlier today, I can safely say that the more I dwell on it, the less I like it. It isn’t bad, but it certainly doesn’t live up to anything close to the original film. It’s a typical sequel that suffers from failing to live up to a solid predecessor. HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 should be entertaining for fans of the first movie just to a lesser degree.

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In the first film, Nick, Kurt and Dale tried to kill their three awful bosses. This led to one of those bosses actually dying, another winding up in prison and the last being forced to attend sex addiction meetings. Now, Nick, Kurt and Dale (the last of whom is married and has triplets) have started up their own business. Doing a deal with the rich and powerful Burt Hanson, it seems like life is going on the right track as the guys are now their own bosses. This changes after a sneaky falling out by Hanson and his snot-nosed punk son. The trio are left with possible foreclosure and destruction of their company….which results in them being forced to take desperate measures in order to stay afloat. As we’ve seen in the previous film though, these guys are horribly inept criminals which leads to wacky antics.

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HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 tries to shake things up from changing the crime of choice from murder to kidnapping. It’s less daring in the crime and also less risky in its sense of humor. While the first film had a lot of dark laughs (since the whole movie was playing out like a funny version of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN), this sequel ups the stupid humor a few notches to an (at times) annoying level. It’s also written/directed by two people who had nothing to do with the first film and that became pretty apparent while watching it. In fact, Sean Anders and John Morris have been involved with two so-so sequels to acclaimed comedies in the space of a single month (they’re two of six screenwriters for DUMB AND DUMBER TO). HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 does contain some good laughs, but nearly overstays its welcome and betrays a couple of its leads.

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Jason Bateman is serviceable enough as level-headed Nick (who was a bland character to begin with), but Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day have been regulated to total morons in this second outing. They were dumb in the first film (resulting in some of its biggest belly laughs), but they weren’t all out idiots. These two started as legit and likable characters, but they’ve now been turned into bumbling jerks whose sole purpose is to throw out punchlines. To make up for a woefully underused Christoph Waltz as the chief antagonist, Chris Pine is a welcome addition as the kidnap victim. Kevin Spacey returns for a nice cameo, but Jennifer Aniston and Jamie Foxx nearly steal the show. Aniston is hysterical as the (still) sex addicted Julia. However, Jamie Foxx is back as Motherfucker Jones and he’s given a whole lot more screen time to use in this sequel. Every scene featuring either of those two at least got a chuckle out of me.

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HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 is alright when taken on its own merits, but a disappointment next to the stellar 2011 comedy. I was cracking up throughout all of the first movie, but only found myself really laughing during this sequel when certain characters were on-screen or in other select moments. Replacing the dark humor with stupid humor and dumbing down two of the best characters into punchline spewing idiots kills some of the energy. These were both bad decisions on the part of two people trying to latch on to the 2011 hit without grasping what really made it so successful to begin with. Given the poor consensus and small box office receipts for this sequel, I wouldn’t expect a HORRIBLE BOSSES 3 any time soon. If you want to laugh hysterically at a HORRIBLE BOSSES movie, then just stay home and watch the original again.

Grade: C+

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 22 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Sci-Fi Action/Violence

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Directed by: Marc Webb

Written by: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci & Jeff Pinkner

(based on the SPIDER-MAN comics by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko)

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field, Chris Cooper, Martin Csokas, B.J. Novak, Martin Sheen, Chris Zylka, Denis Leary & Felicity Jones

Sony’s questionable decision to reboot SPIDER-MAN wound up in the 2012’s mixed bag THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. I appreciated that the reboot was attempting to take things in a more serious direction, but the tone was schizophrenic to say the least. The first half of the film and the second half didn’t mesh well at all, not to mention that the Lizard was a poorly constructed villain. It’s two years later and 2014’s summer movie season is kicking off with THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2. Though the general consensus from critics has been slightly lower than that for the 2012 installment, I found this sequel to one-up its predecessor in every possible way. There’s a more cohesive story being told. The villains are far better developed and the viewer is given reasons to feel for Peter Parker’s struggles. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a solid kickoff for Summer 2014 and a sequel that could ultimately shape this new series into being one of the better superhero sagas out there.

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Peter Parker has just graduated from high school and his relationship with Gwen Stacy is on shaky ground. Peter made a promise to her dying father that he would keep Gwen out of his life, due to the risk that comes with his crime-fighting. Naturally, Gwen is sick of their on-again-off-again status and breaks up with Peter, which gives him a whole lot of mixed emotions. Meanwhile, an old childhood friend (Harry Osborne) has returned to town and has taken a special interest in the web-slinging Spider-Man. To make matters even more dangerous, a new villain has been (accidentally) created. This glowing baddie is named Electro and has bad feelings towards Spider-Man. Peter Parker must choose where he wants to stand with Gwen, all while battling the electrifying Electro and another emerging menace found in the mentally unstable Harry Osborne.

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I doubt a Spider-Man film will ever be completely serious. The material doesn’t lend itself well to being a dark gritty tale like THE DARK KNIGHT. It can result in a good popcorn flick that will thrill audiences of every age. That’s squarely where THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 falls. Spider-Man does have his usual sense of humor (which I found a lot more enjoyable this time around) and there are comedy relief scenes. Most don’t stick out like a sore thumb (as they did in the 2012 film) and actually lend themselves to the story being told. One example of this comes in Peter Parker stalling a few henchmen in a hallway. The tone is serious enough to create a lurking sense of danger for both Peter and those around him.

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With a total of three villains presented in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, one might assume that it would suffer from the same overcrowding that killed SPIDER-MAN 3 (though that film also had many other problems contributing to its terrible quality). Rhino only appears for a total of about 5 minutes. Ironically, he was the villain I was looking most forward to seeing in action. I’m sure he’ll be back for some sequels, because Paul Giamatti is clearly having a blast as this Russian-accented thug. Electro and Green Goblin are the centerpiece bad guys of the story. I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Electro (he’s one of the lesser villains in my eyes), but Jamie Foxx did a competent job playing him. The special effects are pretty good, but he does get cartoony in the big showdown (going as far as to play a dubstep version of the Itsy Bitsy Spider).

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Finally on the evil side of things, there’s Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborne/Green Goblin. We’ve seen this villain before portrayed by both William Dafoe and James Franco. Let it be known that I consider DeHaan’s Goblin to be far superior to either of the previous incarnations seen in Raimi’s trilogy. The motivations driving what eventually becomes Spider-Man’s biggest nemesis make complete sense and I loved where they went with Harry’s turn into the psychotic Goblin. The molding of this character contained some of the best scenes in the entire film, though this isn’t to discredit the competent handling of Electro as well.

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As to be expected Andrew Garfield has become a lot more comfortable in the skin of Peter Parker and the suit of Spider-Man. He inhabits the character fully this time around. Emma Stone has great chemistry with him and the complicated relationship is done in a fashion that’s worth paying attention to. This didn’t feel like filler in the slightest, but an integral piece of the story. Some ballsy moves are made near the end that might propel the entire franchise into a brand new world for the web-slinger (there is serious build up for the Sinister Six, which have been announced to appear in a future film).

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The noticeable irks came in some silly looking effects (near video game graphics) in the final showdown between Spidey and Electro. There are a couple of eye-rolling moments in some failed comedy relief, but only a handful this time around. I didn’t completely believe how pieces of the mystery around Peter’s absent parents were revealed. One of the most ridiculous scenes of exposition is featured in an entirely unnecessary stretch that felt like the filmmakers were trying to cram a little too much into this sequel. However, these flaws can be easily forgiven due to just how good everything else winds up being.

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THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 does what many (including myself) weren’t quite expecting. It’s a superhero movie that mixes realistic teenage angst into the traditional comic book formula and does it very well. The villains were far better than the schlocky Lizard. There was clearly more heart/creativity thrown into this sequel and its way more exciting/interesting than the 2012 reboot. This is solid superhero entertainment. Will it be the best comic book movie of the year? Not even close (CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER is leagues better than this), but it’s a highly enjoyable ride! Well worth the price of admission!

Grade: B

RIO 2 (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

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Directed by: Carlos Saldanha

Written by: Don Rhymer, Carlos Kotkin, Jenny Bicks & Yoni Brenner

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Leslie Mann, Bruno Mars, Jemaine Clement, George Lopez, Jamie Foxx, Will.I.Am, Rodrigo Santoro, Tracy Morgan & Miguel Ferrer

As far as family entertainment goes, the first RIO was nothing to write home about. I thought it was a purely middle-of-the-road movie and many better animated productions have come since. That’s why the decision of making a sequel to RIO seems a little weird. It’s not so strange when I took into consideration that the first movie made bank at the box office. RIO was popular for some reason or another, so I guess one could hope that the sequel might try to improve on the former film. RIO 2 flies in a couple of areas and crashes in nearly every other aspect.

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Picking up a few years after the conclusion of RIO, Blu and Jewel (the endangered Macaw couple) are parents to three young birds. Things seem fairly routine and life is good. This changed for Blu when some unexpected evidence surfaces that Blu and Jewel may not be the last of their kind. The family journeys into the Amazon jungles to find a whole flock of Blue Macaws, including Jewel’s long-lost relatives. Blu finds himself drastically out of his domesticated element as he tries to bond with his strict father-in-law. Meanwhile, the scarred Nigel is back for revenge with a poisonous frog sidekick. To make matters even more complicated, humans Linda and Tulio stumble across an illegal logging operation that threatens the trees where the colony lives, all while Blu’s friends hold a auditions for new musical talent.

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That synopsis alone should give you an idea about the main problem with RIO 2. There are four credited screenwriters and the movie jumbles together four different plots. It’s almost as if a different script was written for each storyline and then the studio mixed the pages together. That’s exactly how it felt as I was watching this whole thing play out. The running time may not be excessively long, but the movie did drag. One might find this an odd statement given all the stuff happening, but none of it was given enough time to properly develop or capture the viewer’s interest.

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Credit where credit is due, I was interested during the first 25 minutes of the story and liked the direction things were moving in. Blu trying to impress his newfound relatives, which plays out like MEET THE PARENTS with birds, could be decent enough. Even the idea of Nigel coming back for revenge was entertaining. However, the logging subplot (which introduced an unnecessary second antagonist) had echoes of FERNGULLY (or more recently, AVATAR). The one subplot that didn’t work for me at all were the birds voiced by Jamie Foxx and will.i.am auditioning jungle animals for talent. Every single time those two wise-cracking feathered friends popped up, I felt like letting out a loud groan.

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Speaking of how unfocused the film is. The musical numbers ranged from great to sadly annoying. The film didn’t need a three-minute-long scene of Nigel singing “I Will Survive” with plenty of pop culture references thrown in. The best two songs in the film belong to the jungle birds. There’s also another moment featuring the easily most entertaining character: Gabi the poisonous tree frog. She sings about lamenting how she loves Nigel but is unable to touch him due to her toxic skin condition. The best scenes in the more dull section of the film falling apart all involved Gabi.

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The voice cast all do a decent enough job in reprising their roles, but I didn’t really care about the characters that much this time around. Most of this can primarily be blamed on the sheer familiar storyline. We’ve seen this kind of thing play out in many other movies and adding four different plots didn’t keep my interest, but rather made for a sloppy final product. The film’s visuals are quite beautiful to look at, even if the humans look like they could be rendered a tad more (perhaps Pixar just spoiled us with fantastic animation all these years).

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RIO 2 is harmless kiddie fare that will keep the young ones occupied for just under two hours. However, the predictable plot, lame jokes, muddled execution, and heavy-handed environmental message (that makes FERNGULLY seem subtle in comparison) make this out to be a bit of a chore for the grown ups to endure. Fox is most likely trying to milk a new franchise out of RIO, much like they completely crashed the ICE AGE series into the ground with each sequel. I though the first RIO was a middle-of-the-road experience and RIO 2 does the typical sequel thing (as MUPPETS MOST WANTED says “the sequels never quite as good”) by lowering the quality significantly. RIO 2 doesn’t come recommended at all. If you want a good piece of family entertainment, MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN and MUPPETS MOST WANTED are far more deserving choices than this lame sequel.

Grade: D

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