2017 Movies: The great, good, bad, and ugly

Before I break into the good, bad, and ugly of the 2017 year in film, let me put this out there: this was an incredible year for the movies. I am talking about a versatile array of cinematic pleasures that ranged from the boldly adventureous (The Shape of Water) to the pulse-pounding thrills of music and car chases (Baby Driver) to a journalistic trail blaze (The Post).

Filmmakers didn’t have to rely on old tricks or recycle favors from decades before, instead exploring new ground with wide-eyed results (look at The Big Sick combining laughs and tears without forcing it). 2016 put out some fine films, but I felt like it got started very late and couldn’t hang with this year’s slate. Like a flashy looking car with a great engine, but a driver who can’t hang on the backroads or badlands of make-believe.

Let’s no waste anymore of your time, and get to the best and worst films of 2017. First, I will put out my top film of 2017 and then list the rest, before delving into the bottom of the barrel. Pour the coffee and let’s go.

THE BEST FILM OF 2017: THE POST

Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and Meryl Streep got together and made a film that couldn’t be more timely or affecting. At a time where the free press are having their dignity trashed by a scared President, this drama covering the Washington Post’s uncovering of documents which linked the government’s negligent actions during the Vietnam War hits you in the head and in the heart. Streep blows a torch for powerful women with her portrayal of Katherine Graham, a woman thrust into a leadership role that she was ill-prepared for. She ended up owning the night and Nixon.

Spielberg takes Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s wiz script, and doesn’t waste a second of your time, painting the war room at the paper like the beaches at Normandy, where writers and editors had to decide if the last voice in the room would belong to the President or the people. Similar to Spotlight, Spielberg’s tale is diabolical in its accuracy. He filmed this in less than a year, showing what you can do when an important idea possesses you. Hanks gives a bravura performance that we have come to expect, but don’t sleep on Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) or Sarah Paulson, This film gets better every time.

*Opens in St. Louis on Jan. 12, 2018 Continue reading “2017 Movies: The great, good, bad, and ugly”

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‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ is an unsettling abomination

Skip this movie all together.

Yorgis Lanthismos’ new film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, is going to make a lot of people very angry-and for good reason. Heart warmer or proud cynic, the end of this film is going to challenge you in a number of ways, pushing you down a staircase in slow motion. I didn’t care for it. Let me tell you why.

Steven Murphy (a disheveled yet happily Irish tongued Colin Farrell) has the American Dream in a headlock. He is a world renowned cardiovascular surgeon with a wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman), running a successful ophthalmologist clinic, and two kids, Bob (Sunny Suljic) and Kim (Raffey Cassidy), experiencing normal problems like haircuts and singing lessons.

And then there’s the mysterious Martin (Barry Keoghan), whom Steven has taken an interest in due to Martin’s ambition to be a surgeon as well and some other unknown reason that you find out later on. Something’s not right about this kid, and his literal speaking manner is the smallest problem. Let’s just say Martin kicks the leg out from under the family’s happy life and things get progressively worse. Such as sudden paralysis and bloody eyed worse.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is the first time I’ve laughed out loud in a theater at a film that was actually horrifying me. Lanthimos’ thriller is as unsettling as a two hour dental visit, with Martin’s true intentions unfolding as the running time climbs.

When Steven is faced with the toughest decision a parent would ever have to make, you will think about leaving the theater. But then you won’t, staying locked into your seat in order to see what he actually decides in the end.

The script is full of overly simplistic and literal communication that dries out the emotional connection. Even the 12 and 14 year children of the Murphy’s will seem like they have a computer chip inside their body instead of a heart. Maybe that was on purpose, or perhaps Lanthimos doesn’t want you to feel anything.

I’ll be honest with you: this movie doesn’t make for a good time. You won’t want to take your girlfriend for pie after this. Maybe a sad piece of angel food cake in a darkly lit kitchen, because this is a cold film.

After I left the theater, I was asked what I thought. At first, I had no answer. Most of the critics around me lacked an answer as well. Then it hit me on my way back to my car.

This isn’t the kind of movie you can easily call trash or gold. The film looks gorgeous and is well-made. Yes, the film’s first and second acts are thought provoking, but the third act just made me shake my shoulders in utter despair.

If I had to compare this film to another, it would be Darren Aronoksky’s recent film, the highly controversial Mother! That film was equally maddening and got more extreme as the plot twists stacked up, but the writer/director knew what he was doing and more importantly, where he was going. When the end came, it fit the previous act. The Killing of a Sacred Deer’s ending did not and carried zero purpose. 

It just made me mad.

Avoid this film unless you want an unsettling,  unintentionally funny, and ultimately pleasure-less experience. Save it for that time when you have a high fever, stomach ache and bad back all at once. The look on your face will match this film’s heart: angry and hollow.

Watch Mother! instead.

‘Lady Bird’: A triumph for Greta Gerwig

Honesty is this film’s key recipe

Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is having a tough time. She constantly butts heads with her sweet yet thorny mother (Laurie Metcalf), along with the constant boy drama and decision making that hits a woman in her senior year of high school, and her doting father (Tracy Letts) may be suffering from depression. All the while, Christine wants to break out of small town boredom in Sacramento, California to a college far far away. She’s dealing with a lot.

You’ve seen this story told before, but Greta Gerwig makes it feel fresh and personal again in her directorial debut, Lady Bird. Gerwig is a fine actress, but she is a much better filmmaker. You’ll leave this film feeling every single emotion that Gerwig intended.

I love a film that can be heartwarming without pointing its arrow directly at the viewer’s heart. Instead, a film may simply trigger something inside of you, awake a memory perhaps-or make you suddenly relive a part of your past that had been buried for quite some time. Lady Bird does that and wisely blends drama, comedy, and some romance into a realistic portrait of teenage rebellion.

“Lady Bird” is what Christine desperately wants people to call her, like a private shield to deflect attention to where she lives-“on the wrong side of the tracks-while trying to understand whether her mother loves or dislikes her.

The chemistry between Ronan and Metcalf as two women who have way too much in common but are too blinded emotionally to notice it makes the film what it is. They share the most scenes together in the film and create a devastatingly honest portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship. Right when you think Gerwig’s tale may dip into easy going melodrama and try to manipulate the audience, a sharp cut of dark humor slices through the film.

Lady Bird reminded me of The Perks of Being a Wallflower in that it warmed you up while being honest at the same time. Most films have to stretch outside the border of realism to make you feel good; this film does not. Gerwig’s tale has confidence, and a fair dose of humor to balance out the heavier themes in play.

The supporting cast is potent without trying to do too much. Outside of the exemplary work from Ronan and Metcalf, Letts is very good as the afflicted yet loving father whose “good cop” nature balances Metcalf’s cold streak. Beanie Feldstein is very good as Christine’s best friend, Julie. The two of them share a few hilarious scenes, including a tearful rendition of Dave Matthews Band’s hit song, “Crash into Me”.

I mean, any film that plays a great D.M.B. song three times pushes it closer to a thumbs up review from this critic. Thankfully, Lady Bird is a lot better than the last time I heard Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash” in a movie, which was 1997’s Excess Baggage.

A big part of Lady Bird is about the difficulty of a bird flying away from its nest, aka a teenager breaking off from her hometown and family for bigger and better things. As much as Christine hates to admit it, Sacramento is a part of her no matter what, and that really affected me. Growing up in South City, I carry parts of my hometown wherever I go, and it simply never goes away.

Movies are extra special when they don’t just help you escape, but also relate to something in your personal life.

There’s a moment towards the end where Christine talks about the feelings she had when she first drove through her hometown. It’s a subtle yet emotional part of the film that you know was a method process for Gerwig. It made me think about the first time I drove down Kingshighway and Chippewa, looking at my old neighborhood (and current one) with a new pair of “lenses”.

Lady Bird isn’t another teenager lost in translation flick; it’s a brutally honest take on the ties that bind a young person to their family and childhood. How no matter what, we are our past, for better or worse.

Greta Gerwig’s film made me feel something. Go see if it has the same effect on you. There may be a few laughs along the way.

‘All I See Is You’ is one of the worst movies of 2017

You’ll never get these minutes back

What if you had the chance to restore something in that life that had been unfairly taken away at a young age?

Marc Forster’s latest film, All I See Is You, explores these questions with meandering and rather unpleasing results. Imagine an empty bottle floating down a lake endlessly, and that’s this movie.

All I saw here was absolute incoherent shit.

Gina (Blake Lively) is a gorgeous and young blind woman who is suddenly granted sight in her right eye by her doctor (Danny Huston) due to a cutting edge procedure. Her husband, James (Jason Clarke), is initially supportive of her new ability and life, but becomes skeptical when Gina’s behavior begins to change, and her freedom blooms.

As her sight gives way to certain paranoia and trepidation in their home in Bangkok, Thailand, Gina and Clarke are stricken with the idea of change and control. What if the person closest to you only preferred you a certain way? James’ problem with Gina runs deeper than pure sight, as Forster’s movie messes up a bed that is made up of jealousy and betrayal.

The problem is you don’t care much about Gina or James, so their future prospects become more dim as Forster’s two hour film climbs towards its climax and resolution. Clarke and Lively don’t build an ounce of chemistry, so the audience is grasping at straws in the end.

At first, you will sympathize with Lively’s Gina, who is encountering a brand new world full of color and opportunity. Then, you’ll wonder about James’ position for a scene or two. The two try to put suture after suture on their union, but it doesn’t work.

All I Can See Is You can’t decide what it wants to be, melodramatic obsessive drama or slow moving thriller, and that lack of focus cripples your investment in the characters. The trailer and plot description make it out to be some mad moving thriller, but it’s painfully slow. It’s half drama with a squeeze of thrills that all fall flat to the screenplay’s (written by Forster and Sean Conway) lack of direction and identity.

Forster could have turned James into something sinister or presented something fresh, but instead he just made an unlikable guy more invisible. A major plot twist is seen from a mile away 45 minutes before the rest of the film catches up, and the end of the film just stops abruptly without resolution.

The acting isn’t bad, but doesn’t contain much flavor to elevate the material. Lively is gorgeous and willing to dig in, but she’s working on hollowed ground here-and she doesn’t have the chops to hold this film up. Clarke is very talented, but he’s stuck playing a well-known stereotype that moviegoers will frown at. The supporting cast contains a bunch of stray faces that seem recognizable from more interesting movies.

The pacing resembles a snail sprinting, which only pushes the viewer further away, while the imagery and cinematography belongs in a traveler’s guide. The music is hopeful, but doesn’t push the story much.

When I left this film, I told the Allied rep waiting for feedback, “what was that?!”

If I were you, I’d skip All I See Is You altogether, because all I saw was nothing.

‘A Ghost Story’ is a passionate exploration on life after death

Slow moving yet ambitious take on grief

I’ll warn you up front, ladies and gentlemen: A Ghost Story is a slow moving yet ambitious piece of filmmaking. It takes aims at what we leave behind after death, and the idea that one could get the answers in death that he couldn’t find in life.

David Lowery recruits his Ain’t Them Bodies Saints team of Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara to portray C and M, a couple that go through a traumatic process when one of them dies unexpectedly. Without a ton of dialogue or moving parts, Lowery directs from his own script a tale about the many ways people grieve. Affleck’s C returns to his house as a ghost, complete with the white sheet and eye holes, to look after his wife and the home that he left. There are certain things that C needs to know before he can pass on, and they don’t have to do with M alone.

The great thing about ghost stories is the countless ways it allows a filmmaker to be inventive with. Once he returns as a ghost, C’s story line doesn’t have to deal in a pure linear form. He can visit his wife in the present, or go back to one of their existential fights, or battles over whether to move or stay in a home that carries special meaning to C. Continue reading “‘A Ghost Story’ is a passionate exploration on life after death”

‘The Big Sick’: The feel good laugh out comedy event of 2017

The realistic version of While You Were Sleeping, but with more edge and humor.

It’s a rare occurrence for a film to come out of nowhere and blow me away. The Big Sick, featuring a magnetic performance from Kumail Nanjiani, did just that when I screened it last month.

Here is a film that will make you laugh out loud at its raunchy yet inspired humor and then make you feel emotion that you weren’t expecting. The best parts of this film are the ones you won’t see coming, because this may be the only time you hear me put “feel good” and “raunchy comedy” in the same sentence, but The Big Sick fits that bill to a tee. This is the best movie I’ve seen this year, and to think, I almost skipped it to do laundry at home.

Nanjiani (who also co-wrote the screenplay) is the star of this flick that is marketed as “an awkward love story”, and he is resonates unexpectedly as an aspiring comic in Chicago trying to make it to the next level. Kumail (yes, he keeps the same name in the film) goes on a stage for five minutes in a small nightclub with his fellow comics(played by real comedian Bo Burnham and SNL star, Aidy Bryant), and they are all vying for spots in a Montreal comedy festival. Continue reading “‘The Big Sick’: The feel good laugh out comedy event of 2017”

The Monday Rant 

Let’s punch Monday in the throat with a stream of consciousness.

Live from the Tesson Ferry medical clinic–

I’m tired. Let’s just start there. 

The wife is having surgery on her wrist-round 2 if you are counting in the waiting room-and I’m uploading coffee into the system as I type. No, a nurse isn’t holding a cup near my mouth, but I’ll check if that’s in the insurance plan. 
Since I don’t have wifi in the lounge and the April issue of Sports Illustrated doesn’t interest me, I’ll come here and rant. Off the cuff chat. Monday morning musings. The Wakeup Blues. 

It has been said that the more we talk shit out, the easier we sleep. Who knows if that is true, but let’s go ahead and tap into my stream of consciousness:

*Bethalto isn’t that bad. I mean, there’s a Schnucks grocery store with a Shop n’ save pharmacy and there isn’t a movie theater for miles, but it’s a quiet place to get away. It’s not like you can be driving down I-44 towards Webster in STL and get shot or anything. 

*I hate going to bed early, so I often don’t do it. You’re told what to do outside your house, so why obey the rules inside your four walls? Even when there is a reason to, like today. The wife tells me to get some sleep and I tell her not to worry. I watch Rocknrolla and Knight and Day instead. Bad idea. I’m very tired and they make these rooms at the clinic super bright. Like, do they not have respect for Italian vampires?

Sidebar: Hey Guy Ritchie, what happened to that Rocknrolla sequel you promised us back in 2008? The part before the end credits where the screen teased, “Coming soon, The Real Rocknrolla.” Well, nine years later, and you sir are a real fucking liar. The first film cost just 18 million to make. A sequel would have been a better investment than that King Arthur turd you shat out this past spring. Yeah, I did type SHAT. 

*Ready for a medium hot take: A radio show shouldn’t have more than three hosts. Then it turns into an overcrowded party where people talk over each other constantly and the listener gets confused about who is saying what. When people decide to turn their dial towards your stream, don’t take that shit for granted and pack the room full of voices. I don’t care who the hosts are, it’ll be a mess. 

*The NFL starts in two months. Kickoffs abound and fantasy leagues launch. Husbands and wives lose their spouses for undisclosed periods of time. Owners sit in suites and talk about building new stadiums they don’t need and possibly moving the team if they don’t get what they want. Money is earned. I mean, stupid money. So much cash. Football returns in two months and I couldn’t care less. Fuck you Roger Goodell. When I look up gutless scumbag whore in the dictionary, your picture pops up. 

*In eleven days, I move into my new house. So exciting and also not. Like getting a massage from someone who needs to clip their fingernails. My wife and her sister are already planning to fix the electric, which means possibly gutting the walls. Don’t get me wrong, a mean demolition is quite fun, but not in my house. A new home means one thing: projects. Fuck. Me.  

Side note: I’m writing this on my phone, and I’d like to tell my iPhone for the hundredth time that I do want to type “fuck” and not “duck”. 

*There are four hours of Kingdom left. That’s right folks. The MMA series has officially entered its Gettysburg movie status. Four hours. I can’t tell you how sad I am that this series is closing up its doors at Navy Street after the August finale. There are certain TV shows that you wish would have stopped a long time ago (Grey’s Anatomy, Bones, etc.), and this one simply isn’t one of them. Frank Grillo and Jonathan Tucker deserve Emmy awards. Matt Lauria and Kiele Sanchez are so great. The goal of this TV series was to dive into messy parking lot that is a fighter’s mental state. Imperfect people who trip over themselves in an imperfect world. Four more hours left people. 

*Whenever I mention Grillo’s name around people, I get a certain look. An aggressive eye roll type move. Like they are expecting me to wax poetically about him again. And I think to myself-yeah, so what? Don’t be jealous that my favorite actor to watch is also a friend who I admire as a person and a performer. I bet half these eye roll people don’t even take the time to watch a Grillo movie or show. They just don’t. Try it out. See if I’m wrong. I’m not alone. There are Grillo addicts everywhere and for good reason. In a landscape stuffed with egos and false personalities, Frank is as authentic as they come. And he could kick your ass. And your dad’s ass. And your brother too. You get the point. 

*Annoying pack of jack-wagons #407: the ones who say they are done watching Cardinals baseball after a bad loss. Don’t kid yourself. A bad loss just makes you watch more. Watch harder. Closer. Become more addicted. These are the needy types too. The LaVar Balls of baseball fans. 

*Speaking of LeVar, maybe I can have Grillo knock that oversaturated athlete parent the fuck out. I mean hard too. Ball gives all dads at the little league game a bad name. Just shut it down dude. Let your kid play. 

*Let me ask a question. Why can only one website write about a player or topic? This is so common in sportswriting these days. I don’t get it. There’s enough room at the table for hundreds of websites, but if a website writes about a topic covered two days or two weeks after another site covers it, they are bad. Scorned. If the world got rid of all the sports oriented know-it-alls, it would be a better place. Here’s the thing: they are as full of shit as the next person. They don’t know it all. Not even close. They got their information from someone else and basically reformatted it for their own discretion. The realty is we are all staring into the looking glass pondering the next thought. You know who you are if you read this part. Give it up. 

*Hey, did you hear about that NBA trade? Oh cool. I couldn’t give a shit if I was paid to. Well, it depends on the money I guess. I get more arousal out of the back 9 of a golf game than I do an NBA contest or off-season gaming. 

*Can we get a good winter this year, because the mosquito bites that I’m getting this summer are brutal. They aren’t just taking a bite; these bastards are taking a pint. So selfish. And I know bugs play a part in our way of life. But I didn’t agree in the “Bugs Occupation Package: Volume 2017” for mosquitoes to bite the shit out of me. 

*As much as I liked doing the battlegrounds, I don’t need to do it again. Once you get in the mud for a couple hours and go to that extreme, a good run or workout suffices. Never say never, but I don’t think I need a repeat. 

*Favorite dinner food. Simple surf and turf. Give me a ten ounce strip streak cooked medium and shrimp or a slab of Atlantic salmon sautéed on a stove. Here’s another medium heated take: I’ll take steak and shrimp over brisket and pulled pork. BBQ is overrated. 

*When it comes to chicken wings, the skin must be crispy. If not, no thanks. There’s no place in this world for slimy skinned wings. 

*Pineapple doesn’t belong on pizza. Ask any chef in Italy. It’s no good.  

*Game of Thrones starts in six days. Since I don’t have premium cable, no Thrones for me. 

*Here’s the shitty part about exercising: it makes you want to eat more. As you get older, the mantra is that you need to take care of yourself. I’ve been doing that since I was 17 years old, so it’s not headline news to me. But they don’t warn you about the food desires that rise up as you increase your activity. And sometimes a bowl of veggies won’t cut it. An example: last night at 11 p.m., I absolutely destroyed a bag of Cheez-it’s. Gone. Working out just increases the need for a larger food intake. Fuck you appetite. 

*To the people who drive 45 minutes or more to work in the morning or at night, I applaud you. That’s tough business. 

*This week will mark my first week as an Uber driver. I’m trying to make money and not work a shit job that makes me miserable, so I’m trying this. I’m not messing around, so I got gum, mints, water, and other small goods for my passengers. The better the reviews, the more customers come your way. Also, it’s a great chance to explore the city. Here goes nothing. 

*Full confession. I love to talk, but there are times where an extended period of silence is just golden. The need to fire away constantly is a drain. Shut up and listen. Or just appreciate the quiet. 

*Beautiful women of the world, don’t be so hard on yourself. I know it’s tough. You’re pretty enough. Yes, your makeup is subtle. The dress doesn’t look too tight. The hair is done up just right. Your breasts are perfect for your body type. Sure, yoga pants are acceptable outside of a gym. As judgemental as we are-and we all are-a little “you” is always needed. 

Side bar: The ass remains the most seductive part of a woman while the eyes cut us off at the knees. 

One last thing: protect your knees. As a guy who runs on hard concrete, I can assure you that making sure your knees receive care is of the utmost importance after the body turns 30. Aging isn’t always classy. 

Also, the only thing better than people watching is spotting other addictive people watchers.  

Okay, I’ll shut up now. Back to your regularly scheduled programming. 

-D.L.B.