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!

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (1992)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language

Directed by: James Foley

Written by: David Mamet

(based on the play GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS by David Mamet)

Starring: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Pryce & Bruce Altman

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS is quite interesting for a lot of reasons. In 1984, playwright David Mamet penned the play that this film was based upon and that play went on to receive the Pulitzer Prize and a Tony. In 1992, Mamet adapted his own play for the big screen and whoever cast this film did one hell of a job in filling the roles. Pacino, Lemmon, Baldwin, Arkin, Harris, Spacey, and Pryce have all put in acclaimed performances throughout their success-filled careers. However, to see them all in one place is stunning. Even though this film bombed at the box office, it wound up being nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. If you like dialogue-driven narratives and amazing acting, then you’ll likely find something to love in GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS.

At a small real estate firm, four salesmen are competing in a high-stakes competition that will result in the winner getting a bonus and a brand new car. This competition just got more important as the company higher-ups have sent in a trainer (Alec Baldwin) to reveal that the top two salesmen will be keeping their jobs and the rest will be fired. This dire discovery puts the employees in a desperate spot. Dave Moss (Ed Harris) and George Aaronow (Alan Arkin) talk about possibly getting revenge on the company. Washed-up, has-been Shelley “The Machine” Levene (Jack Lemmon) desperately tries to close his lousy leads. Meanwhile, office superstar Ricky Roma (Al Pacino) seems to be sky-high on his sales. However, things become drastically more complicated when a burglary occurs at the firm and its clear that one (or more) of the salesman might be responsible.

Though there are crime-mystery elements in its second half, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS mainly functions as a downbeat drama and dark comedy about four salesmen desperately trying to prove their importance. As a result, this plot is purely forward by dialogue and conversations…which means the acting had better be really damn good or the viewer would be in for one long drag of a film. Thankfully, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS’s strongest qualities are its powerhouse performances and the snappy dialogue.

The best performance easily comes from Jack Lemmon as “The Machine” Levene. This character seems like a sad shell of the person he used to be. Lemmon won a Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival for his more than believable portrayal of the live-action equivalent of Gil from THE SIMPSONS. Honestly, Lemmon deserved this film’s nomination for the Academy Award and Golden Globe as well. You legitimately feel sorry for his character and you can visibly see the desperation on his face throughout damn near the entire film. You also see how cocky he gets upon potential newfound success as well. Lemmon’s Levene steals the show!

Though he’s only regulated to a single scene, Alec Baldwin dominates his sole moment as the foul-mouthed company “motivator.” Baldwin’s character’s motivational methods mainly consist of verbally demolishing everybody around him and laying on deep psychological abuse as he seems to almost revel in the fact that half of the firm will be out of jobs by the end of the so-called “competition.” Meanwhile, Ed Harris and Alan Arkin play off each other as two men who are so desperate for cash that they might put their entire futures at risk with thoughts of a bone-headed decision.

Al Pacino plays Ricky Roma, the only “good” salesman of the bunch. Roma’s devilishly slimy tactic is building trust/friendship and then unexpectedly springing his sale pitch on his newfound “friends.” Pacino’s Roma is about as scummy as a salesperson can be and there doesn’t seem to be a genuine bone in his body, unless he’s talking about screwing someone out of their hard-earned cash or ultimately benefiting himself. Jonathan Pryce pops in for a couple of scenes as one of Pacino’s insecure customers/”friends.” Also, Kevin Spacey stars as the stuck-up office drone, who coldly pisses off every single salesman at one point or another.

If nothing else, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS will make you paranoid about ever talking to a salesperson again. The dialogue is loaded with more profanity than your average Quentin Tarantino movie, but flows along in a naturalistic and witty manner. The film’s constant conversations might bore some viewers who cannot stand the idea of watching salespeople talk, fight, argue, and accuse each other for just under two solid hours. However, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS is an example of how great acting and smart dialogue can carry a film all by themselves. It’s not for everybody, but GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS should satisfy cinephiles who want to dig on an amazing cast of actors delivering fantastic performances.

Grade: B+

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+

ELVIS & NIXON (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 26 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for some Language

Directed by: Liza Johnson

Written by: Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal & Cary Elwes

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Michael Shannon, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Knoxville, Colin Hanks, Evan Peters, Tate Donovan & Sky Ferreira

A meeting between Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon seems like a bit of an odd historical event to stage a movie around. Comedy Central’s DRUNK HISTORY hilariously summed this story up in about five minutes, so to make a feature out of it seems like it might be a tad excessive. Still, with a cast of A-list talent, ELVIS & NIXON is an okay movie. Amusing is a good way to describe this entire film. It’s not great or bad. It’s fun in spots and drags in others. It’s just amusing and nothing more.

December 21, 1970: Rockstar Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) becomes frustrated with the state of the country and decides that he needs to meet with the President of the United States, Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey). Talking to the country’s leader is no easy feat, but Elvis doesn’t see any problem in walking up to the White House gates and requesting an urgent sit-down with the POTUSA. As you might expect from the film’s premise, humorous circumstances arise and the meeting concludes in one of the most bizarre photographs to ever be taken within the White House walls. Also, there are a couple of subplots featuring Nixon’s advisors (Colin Hanks and Evan Peters) and Elvis’s childhood friend (Alex Pettyfer).

Credit to ELVIS & NIXON, because this film occasionally goes deeper than it would seem a story about Elvis meeting Nixon would go. The movie’s first half is devoted to the meeting’s set-up, with White House officials desperately trying to make Nixon see the benefits of meeting with the country’s most famous celebrity and Elvis’s friends trying to control his erratic behavior. The king of rock-and-roll attempts to bring guns on an airplane within the first ten minutes. There’s also a subplot involving Alex Pettyfer’s Jerry Schilling attempting to make it back home to meet his girlfriend’s parents, all while Elvis demands that he remain by his side.

The performances are solid enough to raise the material above its meager script. Kevin Spacey’s Nixon make-up didn’t quite sell on him being one of the most notorious presidents in history, but his acting abilities triumphed over the so-so make-up job. Spacey also gets lots of laughs as his potty-mouth and stern demeanor conflicts with Elvis’s cool cat demeanor. Colin Hanks and Evan Peters are somewhat funny as two of his advisors, both of their characters also had a hand in the eventual Watergate scandal.

Although Michael Shannon is a fantastic performer, I wasn’t too sure about him as Elvis and he barely (if at all) resembles the celebrity he’s playing. However, Shannon sells his role with charisma, over-the-top swagger and a laid-back attitude. The best pre-meeting scenes see him going into a donut shop (among jazz-loving African-Americans who call him out for not being original) and reflecting on how people only see him as an icon (not a human being). The latter scene is easily the best moment of the film as it brings to light something that celebrities might struggle with on a daily basis. Johnny Knoxville is disappointingly underused as one of the King’s best friends, but Alex Pettyfer is competent as Schilling.

ELVIS & NIXON occasionally gets too over-the-top for its own good. This is mainly showcased in a scene that involves Shannon’s Elvis and Knoxville’s Sonny West giving a karate demonstration to Nixon. Shannon initially protested the scene saying that it was too silly and I agree with that point. That whole moment is cringe-worthy and doesn’t fit the semi-realistic feeling of the rest of the film at all. There are still very funny bits in people’s star-struck reactions to Elvis, especially when a crappy Elvis impersonator believes Shannon’s King to be a fellow imitator.

In the short span of 86 minutes, ELVIS & NIXON comes dangerously close to wearing out its welcome. The film is seemingly desperate to fill the feature-length running time by adding unnecessary subplots. Though the Schilling storyline marginally works, it does feel cheesy and like a last-minute addition to the proceedings. The same can be said about Colin Hanks and Evan Peters, who are both regulated to a few lines after the titular meeting begins. Good acting and amusing moments considered, ELVIS & NIXON’s story is funnier and more entertaining as a brief segment on DRUNK HISTORY. This film is an okay time-killer if you cannot find anything better to watch.

Grade: B-

NINE LIVES (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 27 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Thematic Elements, Language and some Rude Humor

ninelives-poster

Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld

Written by: Gwyn Lurie, Matt R. Allen, Caleb Wilson, Daniel Antoniazzi & Ben Shiffrin

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Garner, Robbie Amell, Cheryl Hines, Malina Weissman, Christopher Walken & Mark Consuelos

I’m not going to lie. I didn’t have high expectations for NINE LIVES. In the months leading up to the film’s release, I frequently joked about how this movie looked like one of the fake trailers in SOUTH PARK. I mean, just picture the narration: “Kevin Spacey was an Academy Award winning actor, but now he’s….a cat?!? He’s about to find out that being a cat is harder than it looks. Kevin Spacey has…NINE LIVES! Rated PG!” That sounds entirely accurate and it makes you wonder how/why this movie was made. Did Spacey owe money to the mafia and this was the quickest way to pay it back? Was his family kidnapped and held for a ransom that included 15 minutes of on-camera screen time and an afternoon in a sound booth to record his lines? The origins of NINE LIVES may go down as one of cinema’s greatest mysteries, but one thing is for sure: NINE LIVES is a terrible, woefully inept disaster.

ninelives-1

Tom Brand (Kevin Spacey) is a workaholic businessman with no time for his neglected wife Lara (Jennifer Garner), ignored daughter Rebecca (Malina Weissman), and co-worker son David (Robbie Amell). Tom is far too busy with constructing the tallest building in the northern hemisphere to make any time for his family. That all changes when he visits a strange pet shop to reluctantly buy a cat for his daughter’s birthday and through an oddly dark twist of fate, Tom finds himself stuck in cat’s body. Going by the name of Mr. Fuzzypants, Tom must get closer to his family by being a lovable cat and learning the real meaning of life…with furry hijinks and lots of strangely mature content for a children’s film (I’ll explain later).

ninelives-2

Though wild theories about this film’s production are far more interesting to think about, I’d be willing to bet that Kevin Spacey saw NINE LIVES as an opportunity for a quick paycheck and took it. He appears for a total of 15 minutes (tops) of screen time and seems like he ran through his lines during a single afternoon in a sound booth. His bored delivery and lack of emotion makes it sound like he was probably reading them for the first time as he recorded them. Jennifer Garner’s emotional scenes seem to be a direct result of starring in this dreck. At least Christopher Walken seems to be having fun as a kooky cat shop owner who also doubles as an exposition-spouting cat whisperer.

ninelives-3

Plot-wise, and I can’t believe I’m actually writing this, NINE LIVES doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. This film seems far too focused on subplots that nobody really cares about, least of all little kids, than the goofy storyline of “cat reincarnation.” Suspected infidelity, conversations about life support and pulling the plug, potential suicide, attempted murder, and a total of four(!) business meetings take place within the confined of 87 pain-filled minutes that feel like an agonizing two hours. If that isn’t enough for your five-year-old to handle, brace yourself for jokes about jailbait and castration…because that’s what everyone needs to see in a family-oriented PG comedy. I’m far from a prude, but these bits slapped me with a shocked look as they simply didn’t belong in a family-oriented comedy about a talking animal.

ninelives-4

At long last, let me address what you were likely expecting out of NINE LIVES from the trailer: lots of cat animation combined with puppetry and an actual feline “performer.” These effects look like hot garbage. Clearly, most of the budget went to the sports car that Kevin Spacey drives in the first ten minutes of the film. If you want to see a cat getting drunk off hard liquor and destroying a picture of George Bush (both of which are highlights), then NINE LIVES is the film for you. However, you have to sit through a cringe-worthy sequence of the cat wrestling with a pen and pissing in a purse too. The funniest piece of cat animation won’t be given away in this review though, because it is a potential spoiler and made me laugh my ass off during the “emotional” finale.

ninelives-5

Who was this movie made for? The cat animation and hijinks suggest little kids. However, the office politics and a would-be murder mystery element overshadow any potential for the happy family comedy to shine through to younger viewers. I cannot believe that I’m saying this but NINE LIVES doesn’t have enough story geared towards Kevin Spacey turning into a cat. Even if you were to watch this with a steady supply of alcohol, pizza and bad-movie loving friends, you’re bound to walk away disappointed or (at the very least) perplexed as to what the hell you just sat through. Thinking of the possible studio discussions and conspiracy theories behind how this movie even got thrown into production is more entertaining than the actual film itself. NINE LIVES deserves to be killed in nine different ways!

Grade: F

A BUG’S LIFE (1998)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

BugLife poster

Directed by: John Lasseter

Written by: Andrew Stanton, Donald McEnery & Bob Shaw

Voices of: Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Hayden Panettiere, Phyllis Diller, Richard Kind, David Hyde Pierce, Joe Ranft, Denis Leary, Madeline Kahn, Jonathan Harris, Bonnie Hunt & John Ratzenberger

Since its inception in the mid-90’s, Pixar has been entertaining both adults and children in equal measure. They’ve produced some of the best family films of all time and simply dazzled us with beautiful visuals along the way. So it’s a bit disheartening that their sophomore effort feels like a mixed bag when one looks back on it today. There are very good theories for why A BUG’S LIFE isn’t up to the quality that we have come to expect from Pixar, but the biggest (and most plausible) of which is that the studio rushed the film’s production in order to compete with DreamWorks (who released ANTZ that very same year). This is actually one of those rare cases where DreamWorks knockoff beat Disney to the punch with an idea and executed it slightly better. A BUG’S LIFE isn’t bad, but it’s just an okay flick. This is colorful, harmless fun that will entertain far more kids than parents.

MSDBULI EC001

Loosely based on Aesop’s ANT AND THE GRASSHOPPER, A BUG’S LIFE follows Flick. He’s an outcast inventor who’s become an annoyance to his ant colony. After accidentally ruining the food offering left for a band of evil grasshoppers, led by the intimidating Hopper (voiced wonderfully by Kevin Spacey), Flick asks to leave the colony in order to find warrior bugs to defeat Hopper’s gang. Thinking that this idea will buy the colony some time with Flick out of the picture, Princess Atta decides to grant his request. Lo and behold, Flick returns with a band of circus bugs mistaken for “warriors.” The circus bugs soon discover the truth and try to concoct a plan to defeat Hopper as well as keep Flick’s mistake under wraps.

MSDBULI EC010

A BUG’S LIFE is very by-the-numbers in terms of the story. You pretty much know how everything is going to play out as soon as Flick returns home with the circus bugs. While other Pixar films have shaken up their plots into something far more noteworthy and creative, A BUG’S LIFE feels simple and straight-forward. This is especially a disappointment when you consider that Pixar was just coming off of TOY STORY. The animation is astounding to look at though. This is a beautiful film where textures and all sorts of insects are brought to colorful life. The scenes in which Flick ventures into the bug city stand out as some of the best in the entire film. It should also be noted that A BUG’S LIFE turns something as innocent and sweet as a little bird into a beast that you could easily compare to the T-Rex from JURASSIC PARK. Those qualities are very well done.

MSDBULI EC008

Science geeks will have their funny bone constantly tickled with bug-related puns and jokes throughout. These bits include flies complaining about their short life cycles, a flea being insulting by the term “parasite” and a mosquito drinking a drop of blood (Bloody Mary, O positive) at an insect bar. These are just a few of the many (arguably, too many) pun-heavy bits of dialogue that you can find in this film. These jokes really come out of nowhere and don’t have much to do with our main characters (save for a caterpillar who desperately wants to become a butterfly), but they provide a couple of chuckles. The characters of Flick and Princess Atta simply aren’t that interesting though. In fact, I’d go as far to say that none of the ants are very good characters. This is slightly compensated by Hopper being a great villain as well as the circus bugs receiving a majority of solid laughs.

MSDBULI EC007

Overall, A BUG’S LIFE is okay. This is a colorful and, at times, funny Pixar adventure that mostly sticks by a well-worn by-the-numbers sort of plot. Out of all of the films in Disney and Pixar’s catalogue, I can’t imagine that many people would list this as their favorite or anywhere near the pillar of excellence they’ve become known for. There are a few good laughs to be had and beautiful visuals to see, but a predictable plot and bland characters keep this one from not being as nearly as good as it might have been if more production time were spent on it (and not rushing to release it in the same window as ANTZ). It’s okay, but winds up one of the lesser Pixar movies as a whole.

Grade: C+

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

HorBoss2 poster

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.

HorBoss2 1

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.

HorBoss2 2

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.

HorBoss2 3

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.

HorBoss2 4

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+

AUSTIN POWERS: GOLDMEMBER (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sexual Innuendo, Crude Humor and Language

APowers3 poster

Directed by: Jay Roach

Written by: Mike Myers & Michael McCullers

Starring: Mike Myers, Beyoncé Knowles, Michael York, Michael Caine, Robert Wagner, Seth Green, Verne Troyer, Mindy Sterling & Fred Savage

AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY received lukewarm reception in its theatrical release and became a quick cult hit on home video. A couple of years later, THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME came out to delight many fans of the groovy swinging spy from the 60’s. After the hit of that sequel, it took three years for GOLDMEMBER to come out in the summer of 2002. Unfortunately, this is a lackluster installment to say the least. Jokes that were funny in the first two have gotten stale in this third outing. It almost seems like success got to the heads of Mike Myers, Michael McCullers and Jay Roach. A cameo loaded opening full of Oscar winners and pop stars is a sign that this entry had far more of a budget this time around. That’s apparent in many areas, but more money doesn’t necessarily make for a better movie. A majority of GOLDMEMBER either comes as bland or forced.

MCDAUPO EC030

Austin Powers has finally apprehended Dr. Evil and tiny clone Mini-Me. However, Austin faces a threat from the past in the form of a 70’s disco-dancing Dutch madman by the name of Goldmember. This lunatic has kidnapped Austin’s neglectful father. It’s up to the shaggadelic spy and a newly found afro-touting sidekick Foxxy Cleopatra to take down Goldmember, save Austin’s dad, and stop another ridiculous plan from Dr. Evil. What happened to Felicity Shagwell of the last film? Did she go back to the past? Was she actually a Fembot? Is it possible that Heather Graham wasn’t contractually obligated to appear briefly in a third film to close off her romance with Mike Myers? All of these could be a possibility, but the real answer is never given to the audience. This is an early plot hole that’s a sign of some seriously lazy writing (even Vanessa got a good send off in SPY WHO SHAGGED ME).

MSDAUPO EC047

GOLDMEMBER may be a weak ending to the impromptu AUSTIN POWERS trilogy (did anybody seriously expect this to become a three-film series), but it’s the slickest in cinematography. The make-up on Dr. Evil, Fat Bastard, and Goldmember looks good. The film does obviously spoof more 007 flicks (GOLDFINGER for example), but more references to other movies (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS in a specific scene) and pop culture (a Britney Spears cameo and rap music video in the middle of a jail scene). These latter bits aren’t very funny and come off as awkward. Also unneeded are flashbacks of young Austin and Dr. Evil. Michael Caine is a welcome addition as Austin’s deadbeat father, but he’s essentially wasted for a majority of the flick. Also Scotty and Mini-Me are given story arcs, but neither are as hilarious as the material in the previous films.

MCDAUPO EC018

Mike Myers plays four different characters this time around. Of course, he’s Austin Powers and Dr. Evil. He also returns as Fat Bastard and the newly added Goldmember. Goldmember is also a wasted villain too. This baddie’s over-the-top Dutch accent, penchant for commenting on how tight people are, lack of genitalia, and snacks of pancakes with cigarettes come off as completely lame. None of his jokes are very funny and it’s clear that Mike Myers was going into a bad spot of his comedic abilities (this was only a year before the disastrous CAT IN THE HAT).  Most of the other jokes (including returning bits from the previous entries) are dusty this time around. A more blatant example is the dirty name of a sexy woman. In the first two films it was Ivanna Humpalot or Alotta Fagina. This time around the joke has been regulated to the easy cheap Fook Mi and Fook Yu. It’s insulting how much it appears that everyone phoned it in both acting and writing. One saving grace comes in a solid set of three scenes in Japan that I was laughing hysterically at. If everything had been up to the par of those 15 minutes, than GOLDMEMBER would be a solid conclusion to an entertaining trilogy of spy-comedies. Also, Beyoncé Knowles isn’t much of a love interest. She lacks the charm of both Elizabeth Hurley and Heather Graham.

MCDAUPO EC025

An overly convoluted script is just one of the many things that GOLDMEMBER suffers from. Did we really need an intricate mythology to how Dr. Evil and Austin Powers met? There are a couple of really funny moments (my favorite part being three scenes in a row in Japan), but they are few and far between. Most of the humor is far too forced. The entire film is disappointing and the end result is a purely middle-of-the-road experience.

Grade: C

AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 2 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sexuality, Language, Violence and Drug Content

AB poster

Directed by: Sam Mendes

Written by: Alan Ball

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, Chris Cooper, Peter Gallagher

There are some movies that go above and beyond the scale of how one measures films. These classics are on the highest pedestal that make them exempt from criticisms. This is because these are perfect movies and they remind me of the reason I enjoy watching this art-form to begin with. If I had to pick one movie as my absolute favorite of all-time, then AMERICAN BEAUTY would be it. This is a masterful piece of art that can be taken from many different angles all at once and each one is compelling in one way or another.

MSDAMBE EC020

Lester Burnham has been a slave to his job for fourteen years and seems like a normal family man from the outside. Carolyn, his domineering wife, puts success in her career before the needs of anybody else. Their teenage daughter, Jane, hates both of them and has low self-esteem, which is made worse by Angela, her gossipy best friend. This seems to be the all-too-familiar American family dynamic that we’ve seen so many times in the media and the real world. The slate all begins to change when Lester goes through a mid-life crisis. He quits his job in style and begins to do things that make him feel happy (both legal and illegal). I don’t want to go any further, because there are so many things that happen in this movie and it would criminal to give too much away. To keep it vague, the film doesn’t just focus on Lester, but dedicates the equal amount of time to every character making this supposed dysfunctional Norman Rockwell painting that much more fantastic.

AmBeauty 2

AMERICAN BEAUTY is beautifully constructed all around. The film begins with an introduction to a perfect looking neighborhood complete with white picket fences. This entire story could be seen entirely as a deconstruction of the American ideal and that’s just taking it on the surface. The story itself isn’t merely satirical, but offers deep emotions as we view the transformations that each character takes. Thus, the entire thing is far more complex than just a hilarious dark comedy. This is the perfect drama! It was originally written as a play and the script passed around through many acclaimed directors in a lengthy process. Good things come to those who wait and AMERICAN BEAUTY is simply a perfect film. In fact, this is my favorite movie of all-time! No hyperbole, this is my number one movie and I could never get sick of watching it.

AmBeauty 3

Kevin Spacey’s Academy Award for Best Actor speaks volumes of his performance and everybody else’s acting is on the same sublime level of perfection. Even Chris Cooper’s character, who may be seen as a tyrant, has a sympathetic side to him. Intricate care went into the writing and creation of these characters, not to mention the various journeys they make internally throughout the film. I felt that all of the characters were understandable on some level, if not relatable. It may be a controversial statement given the ending, but I felt that there wasn’t really a villain or a clear bad guy in this film. It was just the events of this chapter in these people’s lives playing out and we get to witness them.

AmBeauty 4

For all the uncomfortable material covered, everything is shot and told in a beautiful way. Besides some tragic irony, plenty of dark comedy is thrown in that provide hearty laughs. In the end, what I feel AMERICAN BEAUTY tackles first and foremost is the view of happiness. Most of the characters wind up doing things throughout the film that make them happy and they suffer the consequences. The fate of each every single character range from happy to downright devastating, but are all poetic in one way or another. This is one film that is meant for multiple viewings and deep conversations among fellow cinephiles.

AmBeauty 5

It’s true that there is an underlying dark nature to the American dream. AMERICAN BEAUTY analyzes this in a carefully constructed manner of interlocking plots and memorable characters. It’s my favorite film of all-time and the perfect example of the highest pillar fantastic cinema can reach. Plainly put, it’s a masterpiece! If you’ve never seen it, watch it as soon as you possibly can. If you already have seen it, watch it again. This is the kind of film that ages like fine wine!

Grade: A+

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑