Kent’s Best of the Rest

Oh, you’re still here? Then take a look at some of the other things that stood out to me over 2017. They may not have made my “best of” list, but they’re definitely noteworthy.

O’Shea Jackson Jr. in INGRID GOES WEST
Ice Cube’s son may have gotten his big break playing his old man in Straight Outta Compton, but Ingrid Goes West is where he really makes his mark. The whole of the film that I called “Cable Guy for the Instagram generation” is pretty funny and fascinating, with its damning view of both social media and the L.A. community in general. But it’s Jackson as a vaping, Batman-obsessed, screenwriting landlord to Aubrey Plaza’s Ingrid, who ends up being the film’s secret weapon. He spends a good chunk of the movie charming the audience even as he’s manipulated into doing questionable things for Ingrid due to their bizarre descent into coupledom. Almost more importantly, he and Plaza are responsible for the funniest sex scene of 2017, with some laugh-out-loud, awkward, superhero roleplay.

The Fiance in ROUGH NIGHT
Rough Night didn’t make my worst of list, mostly because it has a few moments of genuine pleasure here and there. A few revolve, unsurprisingly, around Kate McKinnon as an Australian exchange student who at times feels more like she’s from another planet, but most of them come from Paul W. Downs as he completely breaks open the film as a beta-male turned diapered, caffeinated mess trying to save his engagement to Scarlett Johansson. If only the film had been about him, instead.

The Opening of KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD
Truth be told, I still don’t think LotS is a BAD movie, per se. I still think it would have been much better received if it had been presented as an original property instead of a reimagining of Arthurian legend. But it wasn’t great. Except for that opening sequence straight out of a crazy Bollywood Lord of the Rings knock off where King Eric Bana faces off against a bunch of wizards on the back of elephants the size of Mr. Stay-Puft. It’s nutty, trippy, and the kind of high-fantasy fun the whole movie seemed to be aiming for, but just didn’t hit.

Liev Schriber, Sean William Scott and Wyatt Russell in GOON: LAST OF THE ENFORCERS
The second Good film makes the series bookend the beginning and end of good-natured tough guy Doug Glatt’s hockey career. While not as good as the first (it’s too messy and the humor is too broad), these three outstanding performances anchor the film and show that Jay Baruchel should probably be directing more movies. Russell, especially, makes quite an impression as an unhinged star living in his father’s shadow, who lashes out wildly against anyone: friend, foe, or teammate. (Also, a nod to Elisha Cuthbert who makes the most of her small role and who I still have a crush on, going back to The Girl Next Door.)

Rihanna’s burlesque in VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS
Valerian mostly feels like a missed opportunity to reach the same kind of giddy pop-sci fi heights that The Fifth Element wrangled onto movie screens. Dane Dehaan is largely responsible through his lack of charisma and flat performance, but the way the screenplay picks up and drops plot threads doesn’t help either. One of the worst offenders is a character played by singer Rihanna and a lot of CGI, who serves as a plot device and ultimately goes nowhere. However, her introduction is a reminder of how Luc Besson can seemingly do things American directors couldn’t/wouldn’t as she performs a surprisingly effective PG-rated burlesque dance that features about a dozen costume changes in the span of five minutes.

Superman in JUSTICE LEAGUE
It’s not really a surprise that Superman shows up in Justice League. He’s on the poster, after all. But what is surprising is that Joss Whedon doesn’t just fix what was done to him in Batman v Superman, but puts the best version of the character ever on the big screen. While the movie itself is simply okay, it’s worth seeing for this alone, if you’re a Superman fan. I still defend Man of Steel and Henry Cavill’s performances, but it goes without saying that the writing for him in BvS was disappointing, as is the waste of the impact that a Death of Superman storyline should have. The fact that this is put right in half a movie, even despite the weird CGI smear-lip, tells me that giving Whedon a Superman film after he’s done with Batgirl would be the best move Warner Bros could make for the character.

The Spider-Man Theme in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING
Homecoming was a fun movie that made up for the awful “Amazing” films and Tom Holland does a great job as the web-slinger. There were so many moments when it was obvious that Marvel really cared about making this new series work, and wanted to let their fans know it in subtle ways. I’m hard pressed to think of a moment that put a bigger smile on my face than when an orchestral version of the theme from the ‘60s Ralph Bakshi Spider-Man cartoon series started playing over the Marvel logo. It was a small, perfect, low-key moment of fan service.

The gore effects in RAW
I described Raw as, essentially, a great werewolf movie without any werewolves. I stand by that. It wouldn’t work as well as it does though, if the handful of gore effects that mark the character’s descent into cannibalism weren’t as fantastically done as they are. They aren’t flashy, or over-the-top, but that’s what makes them work so well. The body parts and the bites look entirely realistic and matter of fact, and they’re pretty much perfect.

Armie Hammer in FREE FIRE
I was prepared for Sharlto Copley to give a crazy performance in Ben Wheatley’s one-building action experiment. What I was not expecting was for Armie Hammer to steal the whole movie for me as an independent agent who remains the epitome of cool in a crisis, even as tempers flare and bullets fly. I hate that he’s had so much bad luck with big budget films thanks to that Lone Ranger debacle of years ago, because he’s more talented than he’s often given credit for.

The apartment fight and ensuing car chase in ATOMIC BLONDE
Even with a strong sequel to John Wick, some great Marvel films and a new Kingsman movie, I’m hard-pressed to think of an action sequence that blew me away like the abject brutality of a scene in Atomic Blonde when Charlize Theron and a communist goon destroy each other in an abandoned apartment building. It is an all-timer in the middle of an already solid action flick. The choreography makes it look like one of the most painful altercations since The Raid 2. Then, they added a top-notch car chase on top of it.

Charlie Hunam in THE LOST CITY OF Z
I’m the first to call Charlie Hunam a block of wood. While that didn’t stop me from loving Pacific Rim, and it didn’t completely ruin Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur for me, he certainly doesn’t add much to most of the films he’s in. Imagine my surprise then when he gave a fantastic performance in the historical exploration drama, The Lost City of Z. A throwback to the kind of British pictures that actually celebrated brave men who would venture into the unknown for knowledge, he is able to be noble, obsessive and desperate in equal measure as he makes trek after trek to the jungles of South America to try to find a lost civilization that he believes may have rivaled the celebrated empires of antiquity. Let’s hope we see more of this from Charlie in the future.

Trey Parker in DESPICABLE ME 3
Animated sequels are often the victims of diminishing returns and Despicable Me 3, while still having plenty of gas in the tank, definitely finds itself succumbing to the usual clichés as an unknown twin brother for Gru is unearthed and trotted out like an Eastern European Cousin Oliver. However, the filmmakers did themselves a huge favor by casting South Park creator Trey Parker as an 80s obsessed villain, Balthazar Bratt, out for revenge over his cancelled TV show from 30 years ago. While Parker and Matt Stone certainly keep themselves busy with their South Park empire, occasional film projects and a hit Broadway musical, I can’t help but hope this will open doors for Parker to do more voicework outside his own projects, as he’s just plain great at it.

The No More Catholics Song in T2: TRAINSPOTTING
2017 was the year of the long awaited sequel, and many of them were much better than they had any right to be. But the one that decided to be as meta as possible, by simultaneously wallowing in nostalgia while pointing out how gross, false and irresponsible such an act can be, was the follow-up to Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Trainspotting. T2 catches us up on everyone’s favorite Scottish derelicts as they reach crossroads in their lives. The stand-out scene is when Renton and Sick Boy infiltrate the lair of an anti-Catholic group, still celebrating a military victory from hundreds of years prior, in order to steal their debit cards from the coat room. In a darker spin on the “sing the blues” bit from Adventures in Babysitting, they find themselves on stage and forced to perform. As they make up a tune on the spot in order to keep from being found out, and effectively whip the crowd into a frenzy, I was cackling like a maniac. (This despite being raised Catholic, myself.) It’s proof positive that Danny Boyle still has that magic touch to make something profane and crazy work like a charm.

The remote car chase in THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS
The eighth movie in the F&F cycle was the weakest one in quite some time. Who knew Paul Walker was so important to the films’ chemistry? However, it continued the series’ tradition of finding new, crazy stunts to pull. When dozens of unmanned cars begin chasing a security convoy while even more rain down from parking garages onto the street like a hailstorm, it’s hard not to admire their commitment to fresh automotive carnage.

Cake in JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
“I explode if I eat cake.”

That’s all, folks. Agree? Disagree? Think I missed something? Feel free to let us know on our Facebook Page!

<Best of 2017 (#5-1)                                                      The Worst of 2017 (Back to Start) >

Kent’s 25 Favorite Damned Movies of 2017 (#5-1)

5. STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI- I don’t care how loudly the geek chorus against this film howls; I loved it. While I am on record as being a fan of The Force Awakens, I definitely had some issues with it, finding it a bit of an exercise in gimcrack. Yes, it was well made, but any digging showed some big flaws in the plotting and there were forced edits to the story, existing only for the purpose of obscuring the last 30 years of the mythology, which were more than a little maddening. I was actually more of a fan of Rogue One’s more straightforward (and somehow more original) approach. For me, Disney’s time as caretaker for the Lucasfilm franchise has been a steady uptick as Last Jedi is my favorite of the three. While it doesn’t reveal enough that was set up based upon the previous film (though I’m ironically glad writer/director Rian Johnson wasn’t beholden to JJ Abrams’ stupid mystery box) there’s little chance to worry about it, as the story, despite admittedly being overlong, manages to book for most of its runtime. Can I understand and even appreciate the complaints? Yes. But I enjoyed myself immensely nonetheless and, in some cases, I even found the film’s flaws quaint. Luke’s arc feels like a natural extension of his warring nature we saw at the end of Return of the Jedi. Rey, Poe and Finn become much more fleshed out than the rough sketches they were in Episode VII. The humor worked for me. The way Johnson finds new angles to explore in the Star Wars universe leads me to be much more excited about his upcoming trilogy than I was when it was announced. In essence, it delivered almost everything I could have hoped for in a Star Wars movie, and does not leave JJ Abrams any impediments towards going back and answering his own questions in Episode XI. Like Empire Strikes Back, I’m hoping time will be kind to this one, allowing it to overcome some initial fan-backlash and become a classic.

4. KONG: SKULL ISLAND- Skull Island is pretty much everything I could hope for from the modern Hollywood blockbuster machine. It is pulp done right. Lean, and surprisingly mean (a Cannibal Holocaust reference?!), it gives the audience plenty of genuine thrills and a surprising amount of violence before its done. Let’s just say it’s edgy enough that kids will probably feel like they’ve gotten away with something after they’ve watched it. True, Brie Larson is completely extraneous, and Tom Hiddleston doesn’t have much to do either, but it’s the rare blockbuster that gives us a crazy exposition character who we really can enjoy (an incredible John C. Reilly) and a more complex than normal bad guy (Samuel L. Jackson). There’s great work from John Goodman and a bunch of other character actors to boot. A strange combination of giant monsters and Vietnam-war era tropes, it really makes every second count and puts every dollar of its budget on screen to its benefit, giving us everything many of us had hoped for in the pretty good, but sort-of disappointing, 2014 version of Godzilla that focused on humans who were largely uninteresting and didn’t give the Big-G a chance to be a real character. Jordan Vogt-Roberts, thankfully, gives Kong enough screentime and personality to shine, as a gruff ape that manages to beat the living tar out of some pretty crazy stuff. Even better, it gives us a more thorough look at Skull Island, the mythological locale that has fascinated movie goers since the 30s, with dinosaur skeletons, giant insects and most of the things we’ve come to expect thanks to the sequels and remakes over the years, but somehow feeling fresh thanks to the updated context. This is a world, and a film, I want to revisit again and again.

3. DUNKIRK- Dunkirk is where Christopher Nolan puts together most of his best attributes, while managing to drop many questionable habits, and because of that, it soars. In a lot of ways, it is almost the exact opposite of everything you’ve come to expect from both Nolan and war movies in general. Clocking in at under two hours long, it doesn’t overstay its welcome or lean on an inflated running time to seem epic. It has a mixed-up time structure, and it may be a bit extraneous, but it’s worth it, because it’s one of his rare recent films that manages to hold together in its final act. Its action is present in short, controlled bursts and it carries a PG-13 rating, but it doesn’t take away the trauma and the tension of the situation. Nor does the violence, which excites but is never glorified, even necessarily feel muted because of it. The sound design is also fantastic and feeds just as much into the effectiveness of the film as the visuals. The impressive sights on display are worth every extra cent you may have paid for the IMAX screenings which took advantage of the 70MM format it was filmed in. Is it stoic? Yes. Is it matter of fact? Yes. Is it even cold? Maybe some people feel that way. But to me, it feels like Nolan is capturing the feeling that pervades of how Britain, to steal from the ridiculously overused slogan that has permeated culture again 70 years later, faced forward with a stiff upper lip and carried on during a time when history could have easily gone another way.

2. WIND RIVER- In the middle of summer, I had chills going up my spine from Wind River. Dare I say that, between the plot and the way it is shot, Wind River may be the most effective film at making you wish you were wearing a coat since John Carpenter’s The Thing. However, it’s not just the landscape that’s cold. A tale of murder in the sparsely populated Wyoming Rockies, Jeremy Renner gives one of the best performances of his career as a Fish and Game officer teaming with a young FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) and a tribal police chief (Graham Greene) to bring a girl’s killer to justice. In a refreshing change of pace, there are no pissing matches over jurisdiction here; and while none of them are perfect, our principles don’t waste time trying to tear each other down. They are professionals doing a job and, as the land get colder, the tale grows darker. The story is almost secondary to the rich characters, but that doesn’t mean it’s given short shrift. It is masterfully plotted and the ending is so visceral that I felt like it grabbed me by the shirt and shook me in my seat. In some ways, this feels like the greatest episode of Longmire never made, weaving between the survivalist nature of living in the mountains, the pride and desperation of an Indian reservation, and the isolation that invades when someone is so far removed from “society” at large (while avoiding the pitfalls of getting overdramatic and silly.) I feel no hesitation in calling this a great rural neo-noir, a fantastic modern Western, and one of the best crime films in recent memory.

1. BABY DRIVER- I have enjoyed a lot of trips to the theater in the last 12 months, but few can compare with the experience I had while Edgar Wright’s latest wonder unspooled. Complaining about Baby Driver’s plot is almost antithetical to the concept of Baby Driver, itself. Slick, musical and soulful, Baby Driver is a masterpiece of moving pictures. And while I’ve heard people complain about the thin plot, you may as well complain about the story mechanics of Singin’ in the Rain or Drunken Master 2. It’s about the rhythms of the filmmaking coming together with music and physicality to create something new. If George Lucas made American Graffiti to be a “musical without singing,” then Baby Driver would have to be the next step in that evolution, and if nothing else, it moves me because when I close my eyes and listen to music, this is the kind of experience that goes through me. Back in the 80s and 90s, the old guard shook their fists at the new generation of directors that were emerging, shouting that some films were turning into “feature length music videos.” Perhaps they wouldn’t have complained so loudly if they knew the kind of care and artistry could be brought to them that exists in Baby Driver. While many of the auteurs I follow started out with “Jukebox Musical” soundtracks, many of them have stepped back from the practice. Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson, for example, may still season their films with a peppering of obscure oldies, but they’ve largely phased out of wallpapering their films with them. Wright has filled the void in their absence and charged full-bore in the other direction, almost throwing more deep cuts at the audience than they can handle, but always in service of the film at large. As important as they are, however, the film wouldn’t work if the rest of it wasn’t just as on board: the stunts, the cinematography, the actors… each of them firing on all cylinders. The only thing that doesn’t work here is the name. I recommend taking the Bard’s advice and remembering that it smells the same, regardless. Don’t let the “Baby” of the title fool you: Baby Driver is superlatively wonderful and my pick for film of the year.

Best of 2017 (#10-6)                                                                          The Best of the Rest >

Kent’s 25 Favorite Damned Movies of 2017 (#20-16)

20. MINDHORN- The “Three Amigos” formula has been kicked around for about thirty years now, with variations like A Bug’s Life and Galaxy Quest being particularly memorable. Now another joins their ranks. Mindhorn, a cyberneticly-enhanced detective who is equal parts Steve Austin and Michael Knight, is a relic of the 80s. Richard Thorncroft, the actor who portrayed him, is as well, after leaving his hit show at the height of his fame for a film career that never came to pass. When a murder suspect has trouble separating fact from fictional cheese, he sees a chance to help (while getting some good publicity along the way) by bringing back Mindhorn to help with the police investigation. From that premise, The Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barratt manages to create a singular character that is somehow still likable despite being the greater part of a narcissistic knucklehead who has managed to alienate everyone in his life, his professional community, and most of the Isle of Man. Considering how despicable he can be, and what the film is willing to do for an uncomfortable laugh, it’s actually a pretty major accomplishment that he can still wring sympathy from the audience. While I’m usually not much for cringe-inducing comedy, I can stomach it when it’s well done, and this one struck me pretty much head on.

19. HAPPY DEATH DAY- There’s an understandable knee-jerk reaction to automatically assume the worst from PG-13 rated horror films. After all, the field is littered with bad examples of genre fare that have been watered down to meet that “magic” rating, due to the strange fact that it’s seen as a sure-fire formula for higher revenue. A formula that is wrong so often, it is more than a little surprising so many executives still try to make it work. (Does anyone else think there’s an odd trend going around where it’s easier than ever for teenagers to see R-rated and adult material at home, but harder than it’s been since the 70s to see it in the theater? But I digress.) When it comes to such a specific horror subgenre as the stab-happy slasher film, being dubious seems doubly logical. However, Happy Death Day, a crackling mix of Student Bodies and Groundhog Day, is one of a handful of recent entries that manages to overcome whatever shortcomings it may be hobbled with by the studio. It turned out to be good, old-fashioned fun, even as some gore fiends confuse it’s lack of viscera and sense of humor for “childishness.” A case of having your birthday cake and eating it too, the film is relentlessly inventive as our heroine, inexplicably named Tree, manages to have a fully-fledged character arc, complete with understandable, frustrated backslides, while still getting the everloving crap killed out of her in a hundred different ways. Rather than focus on what could have been, what IS turns out to be a blast, having a ball with slasher conventions and actually turning in a mystery that’s better than the vast majority of the 80s Halloween knock-offs that make up the crudities of its DNA.

18. BATMAN VS. TWO-FACE- The Lego Batman Movie was a fine tribute to the Dark Knight in all his various forms, but an even better one slipped under the noses of many as the “Bright Knight,” Adam West, gave his last performance as Batman in this stellar animated feature that also brought back Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, and introduced William Shatner as the title’s Two-Face. Even better than last year’s similarly Direct to Video “Return of the Caped Crusaders,” it makes West’s passing this year even sadder, as this is obviously a film series that could have lasted much, much longer. Taking advantage of the animated medium, it captures the technicolor shenanigans of the ‘60s animated series and its characters perfectly, while forgetting about budgetary limitations and throwing in forty years’ worth of references from the depths of Batmanalia. (In this regard it is a kissing cousin of the also-excellent “Batman ‘66” comic book that DC published for a while once the TV series rights were ironed out at last.) Eschewing the grim foundations for one of Bats’ most iconic bad guys is a risk, but Two-Face’s new, and frankly bizarre, origin is more befitting of the show and the way they would lean heavily on a villain’s gimmick, so it works. And while there are a few too many eye-rolling jokes about the dynamic duo’s relationship that feel like a 20-year-old SNL bit that shall not be named, they aren’t nearly enough to impede the fun in any way. It’s hard to think of a better send-off for the man that embodied the concept of Batman for so many.

 

17. THE SHAPE OF WATER- A meditation on The Creature from the Black Lagoon in which the question is asked, “but what if the girl actually loved the Gillman?”, I’ll admit, I have some misgivings about the plot of The Shape of Water. Thankfully, any issues with the presentation of the late 50s/early 60’s, or problems with the characters’ behavior can largely be dismissed due to its nature as a modernized fairy tale. As beautiful a film as has been released all year, Guillermo del Toro continues to show he is a master of mixing fantasy and horror in varying amounts to varying results. It is charming, yet grotesque. Depressing, yet optimistic. Funny and unsettling in equal amounts. Wonderfully cast and gorgeously shot, it is a film that inspires big feelings, even as I wasn’t always sure what they should be. See it and weep over the fact that he turned down Universal’s offer to let him oversee the revamp of their horror universe.

16. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2- It would be purely within James Gunn’s rights to rest on his laurels after taking a rag-tag team of Marvel’s former C-listers and turning them into box office gold. He could have simply repeated the formula of the first film and most audiences would probably have been satisfied. Thankfully, he doesn’t know how to do anything conventionally. Heck, he won’t even let you get bored during the closing credits. In Guardians 2, we find Peter Quill’s father, the living planet Ego, and see that his daddy issues are there for a reason. Between Kurt Russell’s predictably strong turn as Ego, and Michael Rooker tearing into his breakout role of Yondu, Quill has more than enough to cause him anxiety. Strangest of all, with Russell, Rooker, Chris Pratt, Karen Gillan and more of the cast putting forward some very strong work, Dave Bautista practically runs away with the film thanks to his comedic timing being sharper than Gamora’s swords. Shockingly, he’s supported by a much bigger portion of dramatic chops to boot. What a long way he’s come from his days in Riddick. While the first one may be stronger overall with its simple space opera pleasures, the second film is a richer, more complex experience (mirrored by the increasingly obscure, and all-important soundtrack) that delves into the nature of family and what we expect from those in our lives who’ve been thrown together with us, by blood or fate.

<The Best of 2017 (#25-21)                                                       The Best of 2017 (#15-11)>

Kent’s 25 Favorite Damned Movies of 2017 (#25-21)

Now that the other stuff is out of the way, let’s look at my favorite films of 2017. The ones that, for various reasons, I connected to or appreciated in a pretty major way. Was I able to see everything? Of course not. I have a full time job and a reasonable social life for someone that spends a ton of time absorbing media, you weirdos. (And sometimes have to drive an hour to see obscure releases in the theater.) So take this for what it is: a heavily biased, personal opinion meant to sway you.

LET’S GET STARTED!

25. JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2-  I started out as an admirer of the film  John Wick, but it was repeat viewings that really drove home just how good it is.  If there’s a flaw in the sequel, it’s that it’s so effective in trying to provide a breathless follow-up to the original sleeper hit, that it ends up being exhausting. Beginning a short, but undefined, time after the end of the first film, it finds his recent revenge coming at a high cost as he is drawn back into the belly of the death trade he left behind. There are few pleasures in action films equal to seeing the faces of men who underestimate Mr. Wick, and there are many such pleasures to be had in this slam bang sequel. The world building is well done, drawing out details of the underworld he inhabits, but never overexplaining things. It also does a good job introducing us to new characters played by genre favorites like Franco Nero and Laurence Fishburne. As what is obviously supposed to be the middle installment of a trilogy, it certainly delivers on putting the titular character through the wringer and leaving him on the other side, broken, battered and in a worse place than he started; the viewer may just end up a wreck as well.

24. WONDER WOMAN- How good was the majority of Wonder Woman? So good that even a CGI clusterfuck of an ending couldn’t ruin it. And so good that it alone will almost single-handedly keep the current iteration of the DCU afloat, despite Justice League having to be a massive financial disappointment for Warner Bros. Gal Gadot is absolutely transcendent in the role, giving me the kind of “my Wonder Woman” feelings that others describe Michael Keaton and Christopher Reeves with, for their respective roles. Chris Pine takes to Steve Trevor with aplomb, showing us a character who exists in shades of grey, but is never an antihero. In the end, we can see why a literal goddess would catch feelings. Even the switch to a World War I setting manages to work, thanks to some deft wrangling of the film’s themes. The bold use of color alone, with her iconic outfit blazing in a sea of monochrome, puts this a step ahead of its brethren. (Or is it sistern?) Patty Jenkins deserves a lot of credit here, for making a movie that just plain works in an era where origin stories are often dismissed out of hand as old hat. It’s even grown on me through repeated viewings, elevating itself onto my list.

23. DAVE MADE A MAZE- This may at least partly be the result of a Kickstarter project, but don’t let that fool you; it’s a real movie and you may even recognize some of the people in it, if you watch the same TV that I do. It would be easy to call this the Michael Gondriest movie that Michael Gondry never Gondried, but that’s not giving it enough credit. This is the story of a man who wants to make something great, and gets swallowed up by his project as it spirals out of control and takes on a life of its own. Most of us try-hard artists can certainly relate. In this case, he creates a cardboard labyrinth in his living room, which takes on magical (and dangerous) properties. It’s one of a few movies this year (see my top 10) that do a great job examining the various reasons a person feels a need to create. In this case, it’s a warped frustration, lashing out against feelings of mediocrity and not having accomplished anything major. (This is possibly why one of my favorite bits is when some of the characters roll their eyes over the idea that the maze is “powered by imagination.”) It’s a wonderful pairing of subject matter and filmmaking, as the low budget feel adds to the home-made quality that permeates the entirety of its being. And there are definitely some fun things on display, with a production design that really manages to wow, using nothing more than acres and acres of cardboard, string and paint. Again, that doesn’t give it enough credit, however, because it also manages to incorporate stop-motion, animation and any and every type of practical effect you can think of to create this extraordinarily ordinary world of deadly whimsy. (How often do you get to use that descriptor?) Ultimately, even though I identify with it, I acknowledge there are plot threads left dangling and it can be a bit messy, character-wise. But if you’re the kind of person that loves inventiveness, you’ll find it worth watching just due to the visuals and wackiness on display. Hopefully, you’ll find that you’re like me though, and you’ll appreciate it in a broader way.

22. BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99- A strange movie that breathes the same air as 70s prison exploitation films, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is every bit an update of that kind of skewed message movie. The underlying current seems to be a pretty big statement against the prison system and the still continuing war on drugs. The harshness of the visuals matches the tone as a noble “loser” seems to be smacked down every time he tries to do the right thing, and finally goes crooked. Even then though, he can’t keep from being punished for having a conscience and the licking the universe seems intent on inflicting upon him begins to take on more and more vicious physical representations as he ends up on the bad side of a drug lord. The thing that makes the character surprisingly endearing though, is that he’s developed quite the tolerance to the utter heaping of pain that is constantly being dropped on him, and he can rage back against it with a righteous fury. Vince Vaughn has shown to have more range than people expect of him, going from broad comedies like Dodgeball to more dramatic fare like True Detective, but Brawl uses him in a way few people probably ever expected. Taking advantage of his size, something that is often overlooked thanks to his relaxed demeanor, the film reimagines Vaughn as a physical powerhouse. The kind of character Jack Reacher probably should have been on film, should he have been captured as he exists on the page: a quiet, thoughtful, imposing hulk who can overcome nearly any physical trauma due to the single-mindedness of his purpose. It’s his performance that helps keep the movie on track from its start as a fairly grounded drama, through it’s methodical morphing into something more pulpy, ending with a sudden burst of unreal ultraviolence.

21. THE HERO– Sam Elliott needs to be the star of more movies. That one sentence honestly should be all I need to say about this film, wherein he plays an aging actor, renowned for his Western roles. Typecasting, right? He spends his days getting high and ambling towards obscurity and the grave with an ex-wife, an estranged daughter and a legacy of one film that he is truly proud of in his wake. There is a great supporting cast here, with Nick Offerman, Krysten Ritter and Laura Prepon, but it all comes back to Elliott and you can see that, like his character, when given a choice to rise above commercial voice overs and crappy Netflix sitcoms, he is doing the best he can to really sink his teeth into a role that had to have been written just for him.

< THE WORST OF 2017                                                       THE BEST OF 2017 (#20-16) >

Five (or six) More Movies I (and Possibly I Alone) Want to See on Blu Ray

AMP1. The Absent-Minded Professor- This is more of a call to Disney to finish their promise from years ago to release the Fred MacMurray classic in hi-def. (If they include the sequel, Son of Flubber, even better!) I love black and white movies on blu ray and this is one that Disney said was coming a long, long time ago. They can include the colorized version if they want (yuck!) but I would buy the crap out of the original version of this movie. I loved it as a kid and always recognized its superiority to both the big-screen remake, “Flubber,” and the small-screen version with Harry Anderson. Judging by the DVD, I’m guessing the materials are in pretty good shape, so let’s see that lunatic basketball game and flying jalopy in all its glory, Mouse House!

poster 70x100 Slither nl nieuw 5.indd2. Slither- With James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy dominating the box office, how about we finally get a winning release of his horror comedy that provided a bigger role than “girl Steve Carrell hits on” to Elizabeth Banks, featured Nathan Fillion in one of his best roles and starred some Gunn regulars that populate his instant Marvel classic. (Michael Rooker, anyone?) To call Slither a true classic would be a bit of a stretch, admittedly. But it’s damned solid and it deserves better than the treatment it’s gotten, which is to say a Canadian blu ray that isn’t even in true 1080p. After watching Shout Factory’s excellent Lake Placid release, I sent them a suggestion to pick up the title since it would be perfect as part of their Scream Factory line. I would humbly request you do the same. More Gunn is always a good thing.

GCHI3. Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?/The Girl Can’t Help It – Frank Tashlin, the Looney Tunes director extrordinaire, made what would commonly be considered his best live-action films in the 50s when he partnered up with Jayne Mansfield for these loopy reels full of as many cartoon hijinx as he could muster for the era. (It helped that Mansfield was basically a cartoon version of Marilyn Monroe that seemed like she could have been dreamed up by an animator, and I mean that as a sincere compliment.) The films, besides still being fairly hilarious send-ups of the music/film/advertising biz, are Technicolor wankery at its finest, just begging to pop out of your screen in a cavalcade of eye-melting hues.

AoD4. Army of Darkness (Director’s Cut)- Call me old-fashioned… or a primitive screw-head… but I hate it when we see a step backwards from one generation to the next. I have a two-disc DVD set with both versions of Sam Raimi’s “Medieval Dead” capper to his trilogy and the differences are fascinating. I actually prefer a good portion of the theatrical cut (one of the main reasons being the inclusion of some of Ash’s best lines, for example “Good. Bad. I’m the guy with the gun.” as opposed to the underwhelming, “I ain’t that good.”) but the end battle with the army of the dead works better in the director’s cut than the chopped up theatrical version, giving you a much better sense of an actual battle with a plan rather than a chaotic free-for-all. Now, honestly, I’m sure the director’s cut is in pretty sad shape. Let’s just call the spade what it is. But it still stinks that on the blu ray release, we only get one version of a film that has already seen multiple releases of multiple cuts. I realize you and Anchor Bay like milking us for all it’s worth to try to recap your losses on this one since it’s a cult favorite, Universal. But, despite the fact that it would certainly decimate the worth of my limited edition set, let’s finally get a definitive hi-def release of this puppy with both versions and all the suppliments. Mm-kay?

cutie-honey-logo15. Cutie Honey- A live-action adaptation of the popular Japanese anime, Cutie Honey is directed by the creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion. But you wouldn’t know it to see it. There is no incoherent religious subtext or endless ocean of ennui here. Instead, it is absolute bonkers animated insanity cranked up to 11 and kawaii as hell. My personal favorite parts are the strange, photo-animated effects sequences as, for example, Honey dodges missiles shot out by the crazy-make-upped bad guys. Just in general, it operates along that bizarre “WTF” level that is occupied by films such as Detention. The eventual American DVD release was pretty meh, even by anime release standards, so an upgrade would be nice. More than that though, this is a film that has a visual look to it that deserves to be seen in a high quality format. Those who have seen Speed Racer on blu with a nice, big TV have an inkling of just what kind of visual crack can be achieved with a movie that exists in such a stylized universe. I’m not saying Cutie Honey is on that level (it wasn’t nearly expensive enough), but to my eyeballs, it is akin to Crazy Harry dynamiting a Katy Perry concert. Like Speed Racer, it is very, very close to being a cartoon, despite being populated with flesh and blood humans. This is my favorite kind of movie imagery to suck into my view-holes, like a filterless Lucky Strike for my visual pleasure centers. I want to see it as it deserves to be seen.

Five (or Seven) Movies I (and Possibly I Alone) Want to See on Blu Ray

Just for fun, I thought I’d make a list of some movies that I, as an avowed physical media die hard, would love to see finally get pressed on that most sweet of plastic discs, the blu ray. This is probably the first of many of these lists. Though at least I don’t have to add Hercules and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad since Disney is finally down to the stuff that they’ve been putting off forever.

5. Tropic Thunder: The Theatrical Cut tropicthunder-bannerSure, we have the “director’s cut” of Ben Stiller’s masterpiece on blu ray, but damn it, I want the version that I originally fell in love with. The one that includes the immortal line, “When we get back to the world, I’ma finally teach you how to juggle.” Like most comedic director’s cuts, especially those from the post 40-Year-Old Virgin world, the recut slows down the great pacing and includes material that had originally been cut for a reason. Take Anchorman for example. I loved that film from the first time I saw it, but the “unrated” (aka R-rated for language) cut practically ruined the movie for me. I honestly don’t mind including unrated or director’s cuts on blu ray. Hey, it’s a great extra and simply adds value to your purchase. In fact, the ability to do that is one of the reasons I love the format and continue to support it. It still blows my mind a little bit having worked at a video store stocking VHSs for idiots who would complain about “them black bars” for widescreen titles that people can watch multiple seamless versions of movies. But it drives me absolutely bonkers on those few occasions when studios make a seemingly arbitrary decision to not include the original film you went to see. In this case, the one for which Robert Downey Jr. deservedly got nominated for an Oscar.

4. The (original) Star Wars Trilogy SWtrilogyThis one I know I’m not alone on, though I’m much, much less rabid about it than many fans. We did get the option of getting the original release trilogy on DVD after all, even if it wasn’t animorphic, so I don’t feel like Lucas was trying to screw fans as much as a lot of people. I’m not a fan of everything that was done in the Special Editions. The Sarlaac Pit in particular just felt like the wrong way to go. But I also feel like there were a lot of things that I would consider improvements. Like almost everything that was done in Empire. Still, having the original films, warts and all, makes for a fascinating historical record of what made people fall in love with these movies in the first place and it would be great to have them in the best format available. Lucas has claimed they no longer exist in those forms, but that’s undoubtably hyperbole. Good prints certainly are out there. Hell, the Library of Congress has at least one of Star Wars and one of Empire since they were both selected for preservation under the National Film Registry. Now that Disney is in charge of the materials, I have a surprising amount of optimism that they will partner with Fox to release them. Maybe it won’t be right away. They are concentrating on creating new content after all. But there’s too much money to be made from them to not see it through. If the Batman TV show rights can finally be hammered out, this definitely can.

3. Fiend without a Face fiend lobby
One of my favorite old horror films, I want to see this atmospheric Cold War creature feature in hi def. Especially from Criterion, since they put out a great DVD of it. It would make a great companion piece to the fantastic Blob release they did. I love the brain monsters with their spinal chord tails and slug-like eye stalks. I love the creepy stop motion they use for them when we finally see them in the end. I love the jelly-like blood that comes out of them when they get shot. And I love the nonsensical but awesome origin for them. Blu is mostly known for producing fantastic color images, but I honestly feel it sometimes is even more impressive when it’s used for a great black and white transfer that makes the shadows inky and the whites pop. I long to see many, many classic monster/horror/sci-fi films on blu. I also would enjoy seeing Cat People, Them, War of the Worlds, The Thing From Another World… the list goes on. Fiend could be seen as a placeholder for them. But it is near the top of the heap for me and hopefully because of its association with Criterion it’ll see release someday.

2. The Iron Giant the-iron-giant-posterSpeaking of the Cold War, IG may have tanked at the box office due to the poor efforts of a confused Warner Bros marketing team, but it is widely beloved by those who’ve fallen under its spell. Besides simply being the most gorgeous animated film to come out of Warner Bros’ short-lived animation department with its wonderfully stylized character design and beautiful 2D animation (with some CGI assistance that is not overpowering), the film is important for being the debut feature of Brad Bird, who went on to create Pixar classics and direct the best Mission: Impossible film. So you’ve got exactly what blu-ray was made for: fantastic visuals, historical and artistic significance and a great story all coalescing to be worthy of a truly special release. Sure, if Warners releases the film as a bare-bones disc people would probably just be happy to have it. (Assuming it has a top-notch transfer.) But given how important it is and how underappreciated it was, it screams for context. Give us some commentaries! Give us some deleted scenes in hi-def! Give us production art! Give us features that are actually special and don’t just put it out as a kiddie title. Please. This film deserves more.

1. Baseketball Baseketball
This movie did not do very well when it was released to theaters, though I went and was immediately a fan. I don’t know that it did that well when it was released on DVD, though I bought it. I haven’t seen the sales figures. But dammit, this weird little attempt to turn Matt Stone and Trey Parker into live action stars is the Top Secret of it’s era. A Zucker parody film that actually sticks it to a genre instead of slapping together disparate scenes and/or characters from other movies in unclever mash-up scenarios like most everything we’ve gotten lately. In addition to the South Park guys being widely involved in something they didn’t create for what feels like the first and only time, you are basically getting the only anti-bro sports movie ever made. You have a host of great character actors appearing, some of which we’ve now lost. Ernest Borgnine, Robert Stack and Robert Vaughn among them. There’s Yasmine Bleeth showing she’s better at comedy than fake lifeguarding. I had a poster of her pretty much because of this movie. You have Jenny McCarthy back when MTV was determined to make her a star and she was game to do some impressively weird and crude stuff. And thankfully was not yet a crazy anti-vaxer.baketl
The appearances of Reel Big Fish as the Milwaukee Beers’ house band immediately sealed its legendary status with us third-wave ska kids. But mostly, the movie is actually really funny. While not everything has aged well (does anyone still remember Women Who Run with the Wolves?) I still quote lines from it. “No you don’t, you like Taco Bell” and “It certainly does seem to be raining sh@t on Joe Cooper right now” being a couple of notable examples. It’s a perfect encapsulation of who I was and what I loved when I was 18 years old. Some people have Animal House. Some people have Breakfast Club. But for me, it is calling people in khakis “cock,” jamming to Beer and dicking around in the driveway playing games with your friends.