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!

IRREVERSIBLE (2003)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

(French with English subtitles)

Directed by: Gaspar Noe

Written by: Gaspar Noe

Starring: Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Albert Dupontel & Jo Prestia

Often listed as one of the biggest examples of the New French Extremity movement, IRREVERSIBLE is an amazing feat of filmmaking. Originally pitched by Gaspar Noe as a tragedy done MEMENTO style, the film tells its deeply depressing story through reverse-chronological order. This means that we start the film with the end credits and end the film with an opening shot. It’s an artsy experiment that constantly keeps the viewer engaged, even when the story’s slower-paced beginning arrives at the tail-end of this emotionally draining experience.

Loving couple Alex (Monica Bellucci) and Marcus (Vincent Cassel), along with their best friend Pierre (Albert Dupontel) go to a drug-filled, alcohol-fueled party. However, the night spirals out of control after bad decisions are made and a tragic chain of events sets off that will forever shape the course of these people’s lives in a matter of hours. Think of this artsy rape-revenge flick as a rewound story of revenge-rape. We see the ultimate outcome first, then watch the events initially spiraling out of control, and then go back to the initial build-up.

IRREVERSIBLE’s reverse-chronological narrative isn’t just a fascinating experiment from a cinephile’s perspective, but it also serves as a tool to keep the viewer constantly engaged in the narrative. We want to see how things wound up where they did and it’s a tense journey, even after we know the worst scenes have passed. The final 30 minutes of this movie (a.k.a. the first 30 minutes of the story) contain lots of foreshadowing and manage to make the tragic events even more tragic through small details. There’s one horrifying revelation that comes midway through (even though we already know what’s coming) that had me floored. It’s as if Gaspar Noe thought of every possible way that he could make this film as depressing as possible and then wrote them all into a single script. Still, the backwards-foreshadowing never seems over-the-top and further gut-punches the viewer’s already damaged emotional state.

IRREVERSIBLE’s cinematography is purposely erratic and wild. It’s like they gave the cameraman a cocktail of drugs and then told him to go crazy while filming. Characters have conversations as the lens zooms in on their faces and various body parts, and scans the background. Remarkably, this doesn’t feel distracting or nearly as pretentious as it sounds. Instead, this technique helps cement the viewer into the movie and blends right into the unconventional backwards narrative. The music score seems natural to the various environments (fading in and out of a club, playing in another room as a couple tease each other in bed), while the classical score at the end of the movie (beginning of the story) hits the viewer like a ton of bricks.

The performances come off as entirely natural and the dialogue almost seems ad-libbed. Monica Bellucci’s Alex is innocent and caring, making her fate even more difficult to watch (even though we’ve already seen it happen before we truly meet her). Vincent Cassel has a remarkable screen presence in nearly every role he’s taken, but his stint as Marcus just might be one of his all-time best performances. Albert Dupontel plays supporting character Pierre, but his story arc winds up as one of the most fascinating bits of the film. Dialogue from the beginning of the story (given during the final third) highlights just how much he evolves as a character over the course of the night.

If you haven’t already guessed, IRREVERSIBLE is a tough film to watch. One of the early sequences contains a graphic piece of violence that is highly disturbing. The detailed gore effect mixed with a faint lighting of a club and the wild camera work is downright cringe-inducing. The build-up to that moment is tense too as we see lots of sexually explicit shots and get the sense that some bad stuff is about to go down. This film is also notorious for a grueling 10-minute-long rape sequence. Even though Monica Bellucci is breathtakingly beautiful, director Gaspar Noe successfully makes this scene absolutely horrifying and it won’t seem the least bit erotic to any sensible human being (unless you’re a sicko or a possible psychopath). This haunting scene lingers long after its ended (even though nothing truly terrible happens in the final third of this film).

IRREVERSIBLE is a fascinating experiment in filmmaking and storytelling. If a fan were to edit this film in chronological order, I feel it would still make a deep impact. The reverse-chronological order adds to its depth and gets the viewer thinking about this rape-revenge tale in new ways (revenge-rape). The acting feels completely natural and the frenetic camera work adds to this film’s sheer artistic power, never once feeling pretentious or distracting. This film is amazing, but it’s not one that I’m likely to stick on much in my lifetime. IRREVERSIBLE is a work of art that repeatedly pummels the viewer’s emotions, sometimes in ways they least expect. To put it simply, IRREVERSIBLE is a stunning masterpiece of transgressive cinema!

Grade: A+

TALE OF TALES (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sexuality, Nudity, some Violence and Bloody Images

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Directed by: Matteo Garrone

Written by: Edoardo Albinati, Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone & Massimo Gaudioso

(based on the PENTAMERONE by Giambattista Basile)

Starring: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, John C. Reilly, Toby Jones, Shirley Henderson, Hayley Carmichael, Bebe Cave & Christian Lees

Three Italian fairy tales serve as source material for director/writer Matteo Garrone’s beautifully grim English-language debut TALE OF TALES. Despite its whimsical sense of imagination, this fantasy is strictly for adults only as lots of gruesome violence and seedy sex are prevalent in the seemingly simple storylines. This is an anthology, so I will briefly review each tale on its own merits before summing up my thoughts on the film as a whole. What remains consistent through all three tales are breathtaking production values and stunning visuals. Lots of real Italian castles and unique locations were used throughout the filming process. The atmosphere of TALES is a brilliant mix of whimsical humor and dark violence throughout. Without further ado, I’ll make my way onto the tales themselves…

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THE QUEEN: In the kingdom of Darkwood, a selfish Queen (played by a remarkably cold Selma Hayek) only wishes for a child and shows absolutely no affection towards her husband (John C. Reilly in an unusually straight-faced role). When a mysterious necromancer arrives at the castle, the royal couple are given a magical alternative method of conceiving. As with most morality tales, things don’t quite go according to plan. This story takes a few enjoyably dark twists and turns as it goes along. It seemed like multiple fairy tales were combined into a single tale and somehow didn’t overwhelm the narrative. The conclusion leaves a bit to be desired though, because it comes and goes so quickly that the viewer is left scratching their head. The lack of a solid ending slightly diminished what might have otherwise been the best story in this anthology. B

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THE FLEA: In the kingdom of Highmountain, a quirky King (Toby Jones) becomes fascinated by a flea that grows to enormous size. Meanwhile, princess Violet (Bebe Cave) longs to get married and see the world outside her father’s walls. Little does she know that her father’s obsession with the gigantic parasite will offer her a way out of the castle, but not in a “happily ever after” way. This fairy tale is my favorite of the three. It perfectly balances the mixture of fantasy and horror that the movie seemed to be aiming for. This segment constantly shifts as the narrative becomes darker, but also manages to maintain a PRINCESS BRIDE sense of whimsy. Though Toby Jones is great as the borderline insane King, the best performance comes from fresh-faced Bebe Cave as Violet. She’s a cross between Disney princess and slasher final girl, which is a winning combination in my book. If the other two stories had measured up to this tale’s quality, then TALE OF TALES would be a potential masterpiece. A

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THE TWO OLD WOMEN: In the kingdom of Stronghold, the lustful King (played by a wonderfully smarmy Vincent Cassel) tries to quench his sexual appetite through countless orgies and one night stands. He may have finally found a future Queen when he hears lovely singing from a nearby cottage. The beautiful voice actually belongs to one of two elderly sisters. This would-be romance (in which the King attempts to woo his love through a wooden door) results in trickery and abuse between the sisters…and there’s also a bit of magic involved. I love the ideas behind this story, but feel that a couple of important scenes were missing. This is especially true of the final moments. While the ending itself is a perfect way to cap off this dark fairy tale, there were a couple of incomplete scenes before it arrived. The occasionally distracting jumps in narrative keep this story from being as stellar as THE FLEA. As a result, this is the second-best of the three tales. B+

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As you might have guessed from the plot descriptions, you’ll want to keep the kiddies away from these cinematic fairy tales. If you’re hungering for a fantasy that contains dark themes, morality tales, creatively horrific visuals, and a sense of wonder, TALE OF TALES will more than likely satisfy your craving. The special effects, visuals, and acting are great and I never quite knew where these twisted fairy tales were heading, in spite of their familiar set-ups. Though a couple of narrative stumbles that keep it from perfection, TALE OF TALES is a wonderfully weird creation that should satisfy fantasy and horror fans in equal measure!

Grade: B+

CHILD 44 (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 17 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, some Disturbing Images, Language and a scene of Sexuality

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Directed by: Daniel Espinosa

Written by: Richard Price

(based on the novel CHILD 44 by Tom Rob Smith)

Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Vincent Cassel, Paddy Considine, Jason Clarke, Josef Altin & Sam Spruell

CHILD 44 sounded promising from the very beginning. The case of Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo is disturbing beyond words and a lot of praise was being thrown on Tom Rob Smith’s best-selling novel. The big name cast made the film look even better and the trailer gave a promise of this being a potentially awesome thriller. However, the film’s wide release was abruptly cut to a mere 500 screens at the last possible second. This didn’t bode well and neither did some of the early reviews. Taking both of these signs with a grain of salt, I walked into CHILD 44 hoping for something that was reasonably well-executed. Over two hours later, I walked out frustrated beyond belief. CHILD 44 isn’t terrible, but it’s definitely the biggest disappointment of the year so far.

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Leo Demidov is an MGB agent in Stalin’s Soviet Union. His daily routine consists of taking his job very seriously, chasing down accused enemies of the state, and returning home to Raisa, his loving wife. When his best friend’s son is murdered and the MGB claims that the boy was hit by a train, Leo isn’t convinced and finds himself going down a rabbit hole of a vicious serial killer preying on children all across Russia. Things get more complicated when he finds himself disgraced by his superiors and his wife accused of treason. Leo races against time to stop the child killer from striking again…in spite of the overwhelming opposition surrounding him.

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I have not read CHILD 44, so I cannot fairly compare this film adaptation to the acclaimed novel. What I can say is that this script tried to pack too much into one movie. There are way too many plot threads and characters populating the film. As a result, the story feels muddled and unfocused. An argument could be made that CHILD 44 might have fared better as a miniseries (airing on HBO or Showtime) as opposed to the big budget flick that’s being set up to flop hard at the box office. Despite everything going on in this film and the high stakes of the mystery, I never felt fully drawn into any of it. The screenplay focuses too much on conspiracy angles and blunt political commentary as opposed to the main hunt for the serial killer who, you know, is slaughtering children across the country. The killer takes backseat to Soviet politics and that’s probably not the best way to sell you on this film.

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Aside from a couple of good performances, most of the A-list cast is totally wasted in throwaway parts. Over the years Tom Hardy has proven himself to be a dependable actor. That doesn’t change in his role of Leo, but the character is a cut-and-dry protagonist. There was a potentially difficult arc that could have been fleshed out in Leo turning from government enforcer to disgraced hero, but this is briefly glanced over. Noomi Rapace plays one of the most annoying and unlikable female characters that I’ve seen in quite some time as Raisa. Meanwhile, solid performers like Gary Oldman, Vincent Cassell, Jason Clarke, and Charles Dance are unceremoniously forgotten in small parts. Paddy Considine starts off as legitimately subdued and creepy in the role of the killer, but quickly devolves into a clichéd one-note villain delivering a groan-worthy monologue full of tired clichés. The best performance actually comes from Joel Kinnaman as a corrupt MGB officer who serves as the main antagonist…instead of, you know, the serial killer who’s murdering children.

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There are some nice things to say about CHILD 44. The film looks great and has a good atmosphere to it. A few scenes are well-executed, in spite of unnecessary shaky-cam moments. A confrontation on a train served as my favorite bit of the entire film and moments of Considine picking his victims are chilling. I was never totally bored during CHILD 44, mainly due to the political corruption angle lending a slightly interesting alternative to the tried-and-true procedural approach. However, the unfocused script and dreary pacing certainly didn’t do the film any favors.

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CHILD 44 is a shrug-worthy effort that could have possibly been a great thriller. Aside from a handful of brief spots, the film never builds up any real suspense. The frightening serial killer (inspired by the real case of Andrei Chikatilo) takes a back seat to political corruption. This angle is interesting enough, but made the film feel messy. Tom Hardy and Joel Kinnaman deliver good performances, but the rest of the A-list cast members are totally wasted. To me, CHILD 44 is the biggest cinematic disappointment of 2015 thus far.

Grade: C

DERAILED (2005)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Disturbing Violence, Language and some Sexuality

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Directed by: Mikael Hafstrom

Written by: Stuart Beattie

(based on the novel DERAILED by James Siegel)

Starring: Clive Owen, Jennifer Aniston, Vincent Cassel, Melissa George, Addison Timlin, RZA, Tom Conti & Xzibit

DERAILED, based on James Siegel’s novel of the same name, is a typical thriller. You’ve probably seen enough similar films to establish a good idea of where things are heading before the movie reaches its halfway point. This being said, it’s truly amazing how some quality actors and a couple of decent twists can make standard material into something far more enjoyable than it should be. DERAILED is more of a guilty pleasure than a solid piece of cinema or quality thriller, but I mean this in a way of back-handed praise. I had a fun watching this in the only way that a cinephile can enjoy a relatively well-executed B-flick.

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Charles Schine is a loving husband, caring father and troubled businessman. Through the simple mistake of missing his usual train, Charles meets a good Samaritan named Lucinda. Despite both of them being married and parents, Charles and Lucinda decide to go against their better judgment and have a fling that becomes an affair. Before the two can go through on the actual affair portion of their fling, a violent stranger breaks into their hotel room with a gun. After beating the crap out of Charles and raping Lucinda, this thug, LaRoche, decides to blackmail both of the potentially unfaithful spouses for all that they’re worth. With stakes increasing and danger taking its toll, Charles must resort to drastic measures in order to protect his family and Lucinda.

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I respect that a significant amount of time was set aside to develop Charles as a likable character who makes a costly mistake. Clive Owen was a great choice for the role and shows a side that we rarely see from him. I usually picture Owen as a badass or tough guy, but his DERAILED character is a bit of a wuss and emotional wreck. He gets the crap kicked out of him on multiple occasions, which makes the shift in his overall shift in attitude that much more satisfying later on. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Jennifer Aniston was embarrassingly miscast as Lucinda. She isn’t given a whole lot to do other than be a cowering, scared damsel in distress, but Aniston doesn’t exactly show a range of emotions to be a compelling character. This is made up for in the villain of the piece. Vincent Cassel seems to be having a blast playing LaRoche, injecting a cruel playfulness in his evil that makes him a lot of fun to watch. As LaRoche’s side thug, Xzibit shows up with a perma-scowl and his performance is enjoyable as well. Cassel and Xzibit chew the scenery together like it’s going out of style.

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The story in DERAILED is overly familiar, but key moments are effective. One suspenseful sequence in which Clive Owen is stuck in a very comprising situation, all while a cop patrols nearby, milks every bit of tension that it can out of this threatening scenario. A couple of the smaller twists did actually surprise me. However, there are arguably a few too many surprises and the final few become increasingly far-fetched. A big plot revelation that happens close to the final third is also way too predictable. So much so that I had correctly guessed the outcome of this show-stopping plot twist in the initial plot set-up. It’s not that big of a shock, especially when certain comedies have made fun of this clichéd twist plenty of times (e.g. IN BRUGES and FANBOYS).

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This all being said, there’s silly fun to be had in DERAILED. The main plot is definitely too predictable for its own good and Jennifer Aniston was miscast. Neither of these problems derail the movie (pun fully intended). There are a solid moments and a couple of twists did catch me off guard, even if they do get pretty preposterous by the conclusion. Clive Owen shows a softer side that I’ve never really seen in his acting, while Vincent Cassel dominates the film as the snarky villain. DERAILED comes recommended as a guilty pleasure thriller. It’s suspenseful fun, but just remember to turn off your brain before watching.

Grade: C+

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