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!

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence and Action, Thematic Elements, and some Disturbing Images

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Written by: Mark Bomback & Matt Reeves

Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, Karin Konoval, Judy Greer & Terry Notary

2011’s RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was far better than anyone could have expected it to be. This primate-filled prequel wasn’t perfect, but it served as a solid origin story for the ape revolution and left the door wide open for a potentially superior sequel. 2014’s DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES blew RISE out of the water on every conceivable level. This sequel to the prequel was action-packed, had a lot on its mind, and things were again left open for another installment. It’s 2017 and WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is hitting theaters. Rest assured, WAR is bleak, depressing, emotional and brilliantly executed. Who knew that a PLANET OF THE APES prequel trilogy would wind up being one of the best movie trilogies of our time?

After Koba’s attack and subsequent defeat in DAWN, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his herd of intelligent apes have been hiding from military forces for two years. Things seem relatively peaceful until a band of human soldiers accidentally stumble across their fortress. An attack is made and Caesar suffers a devastating loss. Driven by revenge, Caesar vows to kill The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), a crazed military leader who’s taken up residence in a well-guarded military base. On his journey, Caesar is warned by the few companions that accompany him that he’s in danger of becoming like Koba. All the while, the fate of ape kind and the human race hangs in the balance.

I tried to keep my plot synopsis as vague as possible, because WAR throws a lot of unexpected twists and turns at the viewer. The less you know, the more shocked you’ll be. Needless to say that director/co-writer Matt Reeves and writer Mark Bomback have found intelligent ways to tie WAR into the rest of the ape-pocalypse mythos. You might have the urge to go watch the 1968 original after this film has concluded, because Reeves and co. do such a masterful job of tying everything up in believable ways.

Though the APES films have previously wowed moviegoers with their effects by creating real-looking primates from computer graphics and motion capture performances, WAR is the peak of these special effects thus far. To say that this movie looks incredible is an understatement. Your eyes will be fooled into thinking that a chimpanzee is walking, talking, fighting, and killing. It certainly helps that Andy Serkis delivers his best performance yet as complex chimpanzee protagonist Caesar, with tons of emotion and a huge story arc to either overcome or be corrupted by. I know it’s cliché to say at this point (especially regarding this series), but Serkis more than deserves an Academy Award.

As supporting apes, Karin Konoval (playing orangutan Maurice) and Terry Notary (playing chimp Rocket) are especially great this time around. Steve Zahn (as a newcomer chimp nicknamed “Bad Ape”) delivers much-needed comic relief that never detracts from the story’s bleakness and emotional rollercoaster. WAR is very much the apes story because there are only two noteworthy human characters. Woody Harrelson plays the insane Colonel, who seems to be drawing inspiration from APOCALYPSE NOW’s Colonel Kurtz and also serving his own unique brand of evil driven by complex motivations. WAR’s most impressive newcomer is child actor Amiah Miller who plays Maurice’s adopted mute human daughter Nova. Without a single word of spoken dialogue, Miller conveys everything her character is feeling and will likely make you tear up during two of the film’s most emotional moments.

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES appropriately nails the feeling of a depressing war film, but with apes as the main characters. I caught hints of THE GREAT ESCAPE (which were intentional), alongside universal themes that can be seen in other war stories and (even) biblical epics. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES does what all great science fiction has managed to do and talks about complex real-life concepts through a fictional disguise. Yes, it’s a film about an ape trying to get revenge on an insane military commander, but it’s also about so much more than that. I don’t want to go into specifics for fear of spoiling some of the many emotions you’ll feel, but WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES made me cry, laugh, cheer, and sit in stunned silence. I’ve also been thinking about it for hours on end since watching it.

WAR is easily the most mature entry in a series that was already skilled at crafting smart, adult-aimed summer blockbusters. Action, explosions, and sheer spectacle mean so much more when there are well-developed characters, deep themes, and honest emotions carefully placed into them. No hyperbole whatsoever, I rank WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES alongside THE DARK KNIGHT and MAD MAX: FURY ROAD as one of the best 21st century summer blockbusters thus far. If you liked or loved the other APES movies, you’ll adore this one. It’s not just a great installment in one of the best trilogies to ever hit the silver screen, it’s an all-around phenomenal cinematic creation!

Grade: A+

My Top 10 Films of 2014

List by Derrick Carter

2014 has been a solid year for cinema. As with every film critic (freelance or professional), there comes a time of decision-making as to what the best movies of the year were. This list is all opinion based (like my reviews) and I can understand why people might not (and probably won’t) completely agree with every choice. In deciding how to rank my top 10 of the year, I noticed there was an equal amount of independent/foreign fare and big studio hits. This was unintentional, but is a nice detail that highlights how balanced this year really was for cinema all around.

Before I get into my actual list, it bears mentioning that I have not seen/reviewed every single film from this year (I plan on covering FOXCATCHER, INHERENT VICE, and AMERICAN SNIPER eventually). I’m only one man after all, so my selections come from the films that I’ve watched and reviewed this year. That all being said and without further ado, here are my 10 favorite films from 2014!

Honorable Mentions: BOUND BY FLESH, UNDER THE SKIN, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, FURY, THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2, and A MOST WANTED MAN

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10. BIG BAD WOLVES: I wasn’t terribly impressed with Aharon Keshales’s and Navot Papushado’s directorial debut, RABIES. BIG BAD WOLVES serves as a drastic improvement. At first, the story seems relatively simple. However, the diabolical screenplay toys with the viewer in injecting a pitch-black sense of humor that works wonderfully and a dark tone that isn’t the slightest bit funny. Things aren’t as simple as they originally appear and a haunting conclusion ensures that this film will stick with you. I originally saw/reviewed it in January and it has held up on multiple viewings throughout the year. If you’re up for a disturbing tour-de-force of horror that defies expectations, BIG BAD WOLVES should be on your radar!

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9. THE LEGO MOVIE: On New Year’s Day, I was chatting with a friend about how much I thought THE LEGO MOVIE was going to suck. This concept seemed doomed from the beginning and I was reluctantly dragged to the theater at the urging of my younger siblings. In all of 2014, I have never been so happy that I was so wrong about a film! Blending meta-elements, rapid fire jokes, and a hilarious storyline, THE LEGO MOVIE is 2014’s biggest surprise! The animation (which appears to combine stop-motion and computer graphics) is stellar. Tons of jokes are present so that it takes multiple viewings to catch every little piece (pun intended) that the movie has to offer. LEGO MOVIE is not only the best family film of 2014, everything about it is awesome!

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8. X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST: The X-MEN movies have a good vs. bad ratio of 5 to 2. Those are fantastic odds for any blockbuster series. DAYS OF FUTURE PAST delivered the best entry in the mutant saga to date. This much-anticipated comic book storyline was fantastically brought to life by returning director Bryan Singer. In lesser hands, FUTURE PAST could have become a standard blockbuster with the gimmick of time travel used to combine both casts of the franchise. Instead, this film was a delight to sit through for myself and many film goers this past summer. Easily the best comic book film since Christopher Nolan graced the silver screen with his take on Batman. Definitely count me in for APOCALYPSE in 2016!

NIGHTCRAWLER, Jake Gyllenhaal, 2014. ph: Chuck Zlotnick/©Open Road Films/Courtesy Everett Collection

7. NIGHTCRAWLER: Scarier than any true horror film that I saw in all of 2014, NIGHTCRAWLER is a truly disturbing movie. Disappearing completely into the main character of Lou, Jake Gyllenhaal delivers an award-worthy performance that creeped me out to the point where I was wriggling in my seat as he manipulated everyone around him. In a sense, Lou is a vampire sucking the moral decency out of everyone he comes across. As a dark, disturbing, and unflinching masterwork, NIGHTCRAWLER serves as cinematic nightmare that I can’t wait to revisit in the near future.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, Andy Serkis, 2014. ph: David James/TM and ©Copyright Twentieth

6. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES: This was the summer blockbuster that delivered on every possible level. It had grand action and amazing effects (those monkeys look so real), but also incorporated them into a smart story and complicated characters. While RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was a huge surprise for everyone, DAWN has cemented itself as my personal favorite APE movie. DAWN blended spectacle and a fantastic plot so perfectly that it makes me shake with anticipation for the newest upcoming APES film (Summer 2016). Having seen RISE and DAWN, I’m more than prepared to bow down to our future primate overlords. This movie rocked!

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5. THE RAID 2: I watched the original RAID at its Sundance premiere and thought it was an impressive action flick, but a tad overrated in the end. This exhilarating sequel pulls out all the stops to one up the original in every possible way. While APES blended spectacle with an intelligent story, RAID 2 blends an intense gangster thriller with mind-blowing action scenes. I was exhausted by the end of this film and that’s the biggest compliment I can give any action movie. Each fight scene has its own unique spin so none of them blended into one another. A few that stick out in my mind are a prison yard fight, one of the most intense/realistic car chases that I’ve ever seen, and a stunning confrontation between two highly skilled, deadly men. Those are just a few of the phenomenal sequences that this epic-length modern action classic has to offer. It plays like THE DEPARTED had a baby with a Bruce Lee movie. It’s friggin’ nuts and I loved every second of it!

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4. WHIPLASH: How do you turn a protégé story about a young man trying to be a successful drummer into a nail-bitingly thriller? Apparently, you get Damien Chazelle to write and direct it. Though he is a young newcomer, Chazelle struck gold in this fantastic and deep drama. I didn’t like Miles Teller before watching this movie and now appreciate that he has some serious acting chops on him. J.K. Simmons, usually a side character or background actor, is given room to be the most intimidating antagonist that I saw in a film all year. He plays a conductor, but Simmons is downright scary as hell and entertaining to watch at the same time. Well shot, well written, well acted, and all around well constructed, WHIPLASH is a masterpiece!

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3. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL: The evening that I spent watching this magical film was an enchanting experience. Evoking a sense of classic comedies and a fairy tale color palette, Wes Anderson’s GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL sucked me into its oddball world from the first frame. Ralph Fiennes’s Gustave H. and Adrien Brody’s villain had me breaking into hysterical laughter throughout this whole film. Besides the humor, there’s a unique sweetness to BUDAPEST as well as a compelling storyline (background happenings reward repeat viewings). GRAND BUDAPEST is sincere in its story, humor, honest emotions, and ridiculous nature. Cinematic heaven!

GONE GIRL, from left: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, 2014. ph: Merrick Morton/TM & copyright ©20th

2. GONE GIRL: Going into 2014, there was one film that I was highly anticipating. That was David Fincher’s adaptation of the best-selling mystery, GONE GIRL. The novel is acclaimed, for good reason, of having a nasty sleight of hand that trips up the reader’s preconceived notions. Fincher masterfully transfers that level of Hitchcockian suspense onto the screen in this deeply disturbing and haunting thriller. I didn’t spoil anything in my review and I won’t spoil anything here either. If anyone does try to give away the plot, slap them in the face before they can give away any detail. Though it’s really your fault for having not seen this film yet. Go see it! Seriously! It’s the smartest, entirely compelling and most intense thriller that I’ve seen all year. Once you’ve seen GONE GIRL, you’ll know why everyone is raving about it so much.

BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE), (aka BIRDMAN), Michael Keaton, on set, 2014. /TM

1. BIRDMAN or (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE): What do I even say about this film? When I saw the trailer for BIRDMAN, I felt iffy on it. This looked to be a quirky comedy that could potentially be good, but might rely far too much on the gimmick of having a washed-up former superhero actor playing a washed-up former superhero actor. Nevertheless, I walked into the movie theater hoping for a good flick. In less than 10 minutes, I was under the film’s spell. This wasn’t just good or funny, this was fantastic and amazing. Telling the story in a stylistic choice that appears to be caught in one take (through various hidden cuts) and containing some of the best performances that this entire year had to offer, BIRDMAN is an extraordinary piece of cinema. I’ve bad-mouthed Michael Keaton for a couple of crappy movies he did earlier this year, but his performance really is something to behold in this film! There’s never been anything quite like BIRDMAN before and there’s never going to be anything quite like it again. BIRDMAN is perfection!

2014 was a solid year and produced a lot of phenomenal films. I hope 2015 is even better!

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence and Action, and brief Strong Language

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Directed by: Matt Reeves

Written by: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

Starring: Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Andy Serkis, Judy Greer, Toby Kebbell

I never loved the original PLANET OF THE APES series. Originally based on the French novel by Pierre Boulle and scripted by TWILIGHT ZONE creator Rod Serling, the 1968 film may be a noted classic in the science fiction genre, but plays out like a feature-length TWILIGHT ZONE episode. Plenty of sequels followed and a slightly underrated remake by Tim Burton attempted to jump-start the franchise again. When Fox announced a reboot/prequel in 2011, it seemed like this project was doomed from the start. After all, how can you make a solid story out of a scenario that we all know ends in such a nihilistic fashion? RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES surprised everyone and was one of the best films that the 2011 summer season had to offer. DAWN has the same end result. Not only is this one of the year’s best summer blockbusters (so far, it’s on the same level of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST for me), but one of the best films of 2014 so far. Who knew it could happen?

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, Andy Serkis, 2014. ph: David James/TM and ©Copyright Twentieth

A decade after the Simian flu (released in RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES) has wiped out most of humanity, Caesar and his fellow apes have formed a civilization of their own. Contact with humans has been nonexistent, but that’s about to change. A group of survivors in the crumbled remains of San Francisco are desperate for a power source to communicate with the outside world and their only hope lies in a dam near the ape village. A man named Malcolm and a small group try to form a peaceful co-existence with the apes to get the power supply running in a few days’ time. Forces on both sides push things in negative directions. Tensions rise between and within both simians and humans. Needless to say that you already know where things wind up in PLANET OF THE APES and this is one step closer to that horrible fate.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, from left: Kirk Acevedo, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke, Kodi

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is a story that doesn’t follow any specific formula that could be considered predictable from frame one, but has just enough familiarity to make everything being viewed play out in an enjoyable “I think I know where this might be going” way. The entire experience is a blast a kin to something like (it’s already been mentioned in plenty of other reviews and there’s definitely a strong case to made for it) the original STAR WARS trilogy. Running at just over two hours, not one solitary moment drags or is included for merely being filler. DAWN is exciting and (for me, at least) the best APES film so far in the franchise. Effort, care and heart was thrown into every frame on the screen. That’s what brings out true cinematic gems (not cashing in on the brand name of some nostalgic toy/cartoon from the past, trying to launch a new series to sell toys, or treating your audience like idiots). DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES has the stuff to go down in film history as a phenomenal summer blockbuster that will delight future generations to come.

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Obvious parallels and power struggles are viewed in both the ape and human societies. I liked the inclusion of this and that it wasn’t too understated either. It showed that both sides in this ongoing battle have their faults. In the human society, the struggle is between Malcolm (played very well by Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (the ever-talented Gary Oldman). Though this battle of wills isn’t necessarily given a huge amount of screen-time, the main focus is where it should be: the apes themselves. That’s part of what made RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES so unexpectedly amazing. Returning to the front lines is Andy Serkis (reprising his Caesar role) and it’s been said everywhere else, but I’d just like to echo the sentiments that this man deserves an Oscar nomination. It’s a motion capture suit performance, but you can see his work in the body language and facial expressions of Caesar. A welcome addition is Toby Kebbell (who I mainly know as Johnny Quid in ROCKNROLLA) as the menacing Koba. Koba appeared in the first film as a memorable part of Caesar’s revolution and has a huge part to play here.

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The effects of the apes themselves (which was quite good in the first one) is even more stunning this time around. These CGI-animated animals look very real and in some cases, frightening. The action scenes don’t fill every minute of running time. In fact, there are a handful of them (a few of them lengthy), but every second has meaning behind them. The terrifically exciting finale has upped stakes to huge degrees as everything plays out in an exhilarating way. DAWN is made of compelling storytelling with spectacular effects, solid acting, and I felt like watching it all over again the minute it ended.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, Andy Serkis, 2014. ph: David James/TM and ©Copyright Twentieth

The closing minutes of DAWN aren’t necessarily filled with hope, as we all know where things eventually wind up, but turn out infinitely satisfying nonetheless. I can’t find a single complaint that I can level at DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. It’s one of the best movies of the year. I’m also glad that this is going to bank and that another film is due in 2016. It fills me with joy when films like DAWN and X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST do well at the box office. It’s a sign that intelligent, carefully constructed summer blockbusters still have a place in the movie scene. They always will. Fox packed a surprising one-two punch with X-MEN: FIRST CLASS and RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES in 2011. They did with the same this year and hopefully, will deliver with another knockout in 2016. Films like DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES will last in the same way that the original STAR WARS trilogy, BACK TO THE FUTURE, E.T., and other celebrated summer blockbusters have stuck around. This is a perfect movie all around!

Grade: A+

CLOVERFIELD (2008)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 25 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violence, Terror and Disturbing Images

Cloverfield poster

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Written by: Drew Goddard

Starring: Michael Stahl-David, T.J. Miller, Odette Yustman, Jessica Lucas, Lizzy Caplan, Mike Vogel

The found footage genre seems tailor-made to tell stories on a small-scale. How else might one explain all those terrible backyard horror flicks that populate this unique subgenre spawned from a somewhat creative storytelling technique? What sets CLOVERFIELD apart from its handheld brethren is that this one is set on a massive scale. If told in a traditional narrative, this J.J. Abrams produced project would have been just another blockbuster giant monster movie. Told in this POV way, we are stuck following a group of civilians stuck on ground zero. These people would have been regulated to a single moment (probably involving either being squished or eaten by the monster) in the usual Hollywood picture, but we’re stuck with them on a thrill-ride that is being enjoyable enough. It also has some major flaws that stick out like a sore thumb.

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A title card informs us that this is footage recovered from the site formerly known as Central Park. We then cut to the recovered recording itself. A group of friends and relatives are throwing a surprise party for their buddy Rob. He’s going away to Japan for business and his best friend, Hud, is recording his farewell party so there will be a little piece of his friends to go to Japan with him. The party is interrupted when a minor earthquake rumbles across the city. Turns out that it’s something much worse. A giant creature has risen from the ocean and is terrorizing New York City. This nasty beast is doing all sorts of crazy shit. This includes but is not limited to: leveling buildings, devouring bystanders, and ripping Lady Liberty’s head clean off her shoulders. Rob, Hud, and a few other friends in tow make their way across the toppling city to rescue Rob’s secret lover. The massive creature isn’t the only threat around though and the viewer witnesses all this destruction through the lens of the recovered camera.

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Taken at pure spectacle value, CLOVERFIELD is a visual rollercoaster ride. Part of this is because the camera always seems to conveniently capture a shot of the mayhem we want to see from clear angles. Plenty of explosions, action involving the titular monster, and over-the-top scenarios play out much to the entertainment of the viewer. This is absolutely a style over substance film, but it satisfies as a wild time (this movie will always play much better on a giant movie theater screen). The creature design itself (caught in bits and pieces) is pretty damn creative. When I originally caught this film in the movie theater (all the way back in January 2008), the actual look of the monster thankfully hadn’t been given away in any of the promotional material. So I was surprised when I saw it. CLOVERFIELD did a solid job of getting my adrenaline pumping (even though I’ve seen it multiple times by now). The entire film plays out as a ride and should be enjoyed as such.

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CLOVERFIELD does falter in three key areas that are essential to making a good film. The characters aren’t given much personality. Though they were guiding me through this adventure, I couldn’t have cared less if they all died. The actors came off as cut-outs whose only notable trademark is that they were either yuppies or hipsters that just happened to get caught up in this otherworldly disaster. To make things a bit more tedious, the film plays out as a series of beats. Between hitting these moments, the pacing is tedious. Some stretches drag longer than others, but they all have the capacity to bore in some way. Hud’s frequent attempts at comedy relief are hit or miss. At times, a few of his quips got a laugh out of me. Other times, it was plain annoying. The frenetic camera work is essential to the found footage technique, but things get downright migraine-inducing at points.

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In the end, CLOVERFIELD works as a blast of big dumb fun. It’s pure B-movie entertainment that was supplied with a much higher budget than these kind of films usually have. The large-scale of the story is impressive, but the viewer also has to deal with hollow characters, dull patches, and frenetic camera work. It’s just a giant monster movie that happens to be told through a found-footage style. The mysterious and overblown marketing tactics wound up disappointing many viewers who were expecting something else. This one comes recommended, but be ready to put up with some noticeable flaws.

Grade: B-

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