Year Director Running Time MPAA Rating Title Comments
2016 Denzel Washington 139 PG-13 Fences This is a very good play and that is exactly what it feels like when you watch this movie. It does not seem like a movie. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you understand that is what you are getting here. Even Hitchcock had some success adapting plays to film (e.g., “Rope” (1948) and “Dial M for Murder” (1954)). The story takes place almost entirely in one place, the home of Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) and his wife, Rose (Viola Davis), in Pittsburgh, PA, in the 1950s and 60s. There’s some very good acting here, but the one big problem is that some of the dialogue, especially as delivered by Washington in the opening scene, is just too long-winded for movie dialogue. Even for an actual play it might be too much. In the story, Troy and his friend Bono (Stephen Henderson) are trash collectors. The drama comes in the form of various family conflicts involving Troy’s sons, Cory (Jovan Adepo) and Lyons (Russell Hornsby), and Troy’s older brother, Gabe (Mykelti Williamson) and of course with his wife. Other than the issue with long-winded dialogue, I think this is worth watching, if you treat it as a play.
2016 Damien Chazelle 128 PG-13 La La Land Disappointing musical romance. It’s winning all kinds of awards and praise from the critics, but it didn’t do anything for me. Give me “Moulin Rouge!” (2001) or “Fiddler on the Roof” (1971) any day. Of course there are different styles of musicals for different types of people, but this one is not my type. The songs are not what I would call memorable and the romance was rather lackluster. And they could have used better singing voices. Briefly, it tells the story of Mia (Emma Stone), an actress struggling to get a part, who becomes romantically involved with Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist looking for the perfect gig. Obviously some people like this, but I can’t recommend it.
2016 Gareth Edwards 134 PG-13 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story This episode of the Star Wars saga is notable both for its similarity and its differences from the seven episodes previously released. Those familiar with the other episodes will see similar space ships, aliens and weapons, as well as a few familiar characters. But there are also many new characters, new worlds and a story that hasn’t been told until now. If this episode had been numbered like the others, it might have been called “Star Wars 3.5” because this story takes place between episodes III and IV. “Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope” (1977) was based on the premise that the Rebel Alliance had somehow obtained detailed plans for the Emperor’s most deadly weapon, the “Death Star.” But until now it has never been revealed how the rebels acquired those plans. If you watch this new episode, you will know. The new story tells how a young woman named Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) teams up with rebel Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to find her missing father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), who was abducted by Imperial forces when she was a child. Their mission also includes the goal of stealing the Death Star plans (but you’ll have to watch the movie to find out how she knew about the plans). It’s a good action adventure that provides a nice transition between episodes III and IV. One minor disappointment is that the musical score was not composed by John Williams. And in a decision some may find a bit strange, they used the digital likenesses of two actors who were not actually present for the photographing of their scenes, one of whom died in 1994 (Peter Cushing) and one who died less than 2 weeks after the movie’s release but who had not been an actual member of the cast (Carrie Fisher). I think most Star Wars fans will enjoy this new episode, but I don’t expect it to rank as one of the best.
2016 Morten Tyldum 116 PG-13 Passengers I enjoyed this romantic science fiction drama that is, essentially, a new twist on the “last man on Earth” story. Except that this story doesn’t take place on Earth. It takes place 19 light-years from Earth on-board a spaceship named Avalon. The Avalon is transporting 5000 passengers (and 258 crewmembers) in “hibernation” to an exoplanet that will take 120 years to reach. The plan is for them to establish a colony there named “Homestead II.” But something goes wrong 30 years into the journey, resulting in the premature awakening of passenger Jim Preston (Chris Pratt). In most “last man” stories, he’s never completely alone permanently. The last man eventually encounters at least one or two other people in a similar predicament. In this case, Jim is joined by fellow passenger Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). There is also a robotic bartender, “Arthur” (Michael Sheen), who at least is someone else to talk to. That’s about as much as I can reveal about the plot. I am perhaps somewhat biased because I always enjoy seeing Jennifer Lawrence, but I was also impressed with the design of the spaceship and the special effects. The ship’s swimming pool is quite interesting. And I appreciated that their approach to artificial gravity was similar to that employed in “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), which I continue to feel is much more realistic solution than what you see in most other science fiction spaceships, even allowing for the fact that it is the future. As to whether it is a practical solution, that’s hard to say. The romantic thread of the story has a bit of a moral dilemma to it, which ultimately may have you questioning the final outcome, but that does set it apart from standard Hollywood formula. Though I was thinking afterwards that there was something else they could have done with the ending to make it even more interesting, but I’ll leave that for you to contemplate.
2016 Kenneth Lonergan 137 R Manchester by the Sea I found this to be a slow, depressing, sad story and perhaps boring could be thrown in as well. But it did receive high praise from many critics, along with a nomination for Best Picture, and Casey Affleck won for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. Best Original Screenplay was the other win. So what do I know? I’m probably not the biggest fan of Casey Affleck for one thing. Here he plays the lead character, “Lee Chandler.” The story is about Lee becoming a reluctant guardian for his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), following the death of Lee’s brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler). Lee seems withdrawn and depressed even before Joe dies, and eventually, through flashbacks, the film reveals why, but then you’ll really feel sad (also this is one of those directors who sees no need to provide any hints as to whether you are in the present or in a flashback). There is one powerful scene between Lee and his ex-wife, Randi (Michelle Williams) that stands out, but it doesn’t make up for the rest of the film.
2016 Mel Gibson 139 R Hacksaw Ridge This is a terrific story of heroism in World War II, based on the real life experience of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor. There is a big caveat however, because the battle scenes are extremely violent and graphic, perhaps some of the most graphic I’ve ever seen. Nothing is left to the imagination (unfortunately), which is of course why it is rated “R.” But if you’ve developed a strong stomach for this style of war movie, you will discover a very moving drama. The film tells the story of how Doss, the son of WWI veteran Tom Doss (Hugo Weaving), joined the Army against the wishes of his father and in spite of his desire to only be a medic and not wield a gun. The military engagement depicted in the film is the Battle of Okinawa, though in reality Doss had previously served in Guam and the Philippines, but that is never mentioned in the movie. The film does take some liberties with the truth, but the essential story of Doss’ heroism is well delivered.
2016 David Mackenzie 102 R Hell or High Water A very interesting bank robbery movie starring Jeff Bridges as “Marcus Hamilton,” a Texas Ranger on the verge of retirement. But before he can retire, two brothers start a series of bank robberies in small towns in rural Texas. So Marcus and another Ranger, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), set out to track them down. The bank robbers are played by Ben Foster and Chris Pine. What makes it interesting is that these brothers aren’t robbing banks just to get rich, they have a very methodical plan for the money. There is also an unusual dynamic between the two Rangers; Marcus has a strange way of expressing his friendship with Alberto. There is a fair amount of gun violence and strong language, resulting in the “R” rating, but nothing unusual for a cops-and-robbers film.
2016 Barry Jenkins 111 R Moonlight I think it’s fair to say that I am not part of the target audience for this film. I am not sufficiently “enlightened” to appreciate its overt expressions of homosexuality. The fact that it was sometimes rather boring didn’t help either. But I will give it some points for good acting. It tells the story of a black boy who grows up in a very disadvantaged situation in Miami, Florida, and was in fact filmed in the neighborhood represented by the screenplay. Because the story spans many years, the main character, Chiron, required three actors to portray him at ages 11 (Alex R. Hibbert), 17 (Ashton Sanders) and 25 (Trevante Rhodes). Though when it transitions from Ashton to Trevante, they look so different you’re not even sure they’re the same character at first. In his school years, Chiron (who sometimes goes by the nicknames “Little” or “Black”), is severely bullied because he is gay, and it doesn’t help that he starts out as a bit of a runt. For a time, he is befriended by a kindly(!) drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali - Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role). The only person his own age that he is close to is Kevin (Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, André Holland) and even that relationship goes through some very rough times. The “R” rating is the result of the sex, drugs and very strong language used throughout. This won the Best Picture Oscar and that is the main reason I wanted to see it, but the Academy and I will have to disagree on this one.

2016 Garth Davis 118 PG-13 Lion This is a very good true story about a 5-year-old boy, Saroo (Sunny Pawar), in India, who gets lost nearly 800 miles from home and ends up being adopted by a couple in Tasmania, Australia. Great acting on the part of the young actor who fills that role. Later in the film they jump ahead 20 years and Saroo is then played by Dev Patel. As an adult he uses the Internet to find his original village in India. His adoptive parents, the Brierleys, are played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham. Of course some details of the story were changed for the movie but the real story was featured on “60 Minutes” in December, 2016. If you saw that, there won’t be too many surprises in the movie, but it is a good dramatization.
2016 John Lee Hancock 115 PG-13 The Founder A very entertaining biographical dramatization about Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), the “founder” of the McDonald’s restaurant chain. The great American success story. The first McDonald’s restaurant wasn’t Kroc’s idea, but he took the idea and franchised it across America and then around the world. But what is the price of success? Well, that is what this film is about. There were winners and losers, successes and failures. Keaton does a bang up job as Kroc. Mrs. Kroc is played by Laura Dern, and the original McDonald brothers were played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch. Lots of great acting here. Because the first few restaurants that Kroc opened were here in the Chicago area, it was fun to see all the references to local towns I know (though none of the scenes were filmed in Illinois).
2016 Pablo Larraín 100 R Jackie This is a biographical drama based on the life of Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman). It starts at a point just after the assassination of President Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson), in 1963. In what you might call the foreground of the film, Jackie is being interviewed by an unnamed journalist (Billy Crudup). During the interview we see a series of flashbacks to prior events in her life. One particularly interesting one is a recreation of the famous White House tour that Jackie did on television in 1962. The recreation of that program is extremely detailed, with Portman saying exactly the same words as in the original. Yet at the same time they somehow made the mistake of claiming it was 1961. Portman does a pretty good job of being Jackie but I was not all that impressed by the film as a whole.
2016 Theodore Melfi 127 PG Hidden Figures Although NASA’s Mercury astronauts got all the TV coverage, a little known group of women with a strong aptitude for mathematics worked behind the scenes to make the rocket launches possible. This excellent movie tells their story (with some artistic license included). It focuses on three black women who were part of this program: Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe). In those days, their job title was “Computer.” Being the 1960s, these women had a difficult time fitting into a working world of white males, so that struggle is an important part of the story. A very good set of supporting actors includes Kevin Kostner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons and Mahershala Ali. Highly recommended.
2016 M. Night Shyamalan 117 PG-13 Split Disappointing thriller about a man with multiple personalities, who kidnaps three teenage girls and locks them in the basement of some building. During the course of the film, you witness at least eight of his personalities. Once the girls become aware of his condition, they try to play the “good” personalities against the “bad” ones. Actor James McAvoy plays this disturbed man and he does a pretty good job of making each of the character’s personalities very distinctive, sometimes switching between them almost instantly. But apart from this “one man” show, the rest of the story seemed weak. As a PG-13 movie, there is some violence but nothing extreme like in “R” movies. Note: there were 6 feature films named “Split” in 2016, so if you do go looking for this make sure it is the one directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
2017 James Gunn 136 PG-13 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Very entertaining sequel to the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie (2014). Full of exciting action and often very funny. This time the Guardians manage to make an enemy of Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), the ruler of a race of aliens known as the Sovereign. At the same time, they have to deal with a stranger named Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) father. If you enjoyed the first movie I’m sure you will have fun watching this one as well. I also enjoyed their selection of songs that are scattered throughout the film; these days it is rare for a movie to reach back to play the “oldies” but here they did. Be sure to watch till the bitter end of the end credits because they are interrupted multiple times by additional scenes that extend the movie.
2017 James Mangold 137 R Logan If you’ve been a fan of some of the previous “X-Men” movies, be prepared for this one to be quite different. For one thing, as an R-rated film, there is pervasive profanity and the violence is more graphic and extreme than usual. So it is not intended for the younger fans of the X-Men comic book characters. As the title suggests, this story is about Logan (Hugh Jackman), also known as “Wolverine.” It is set in the future, 2029, when both Logan and Dr. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) are “retired” and trying to live inconspicuously in Mexico. Logan tries to earn a living as a limo driver on the American side of the border. But when they discover the existence of a new mutant, their cover is blown and they are drawn into a fight for their lives and that of the new mutant. Although the running time of 137 minutes is not really excessive, it did feel much longer to me. It has a very different pacing compared to the other X-Men films. Although it has proven to be a major box office hit and a critical success, I am not as excited about it as everyone else. Perhaps Wolverine was never one of my favorite X-Men. So I would have to classify this one as overrated.
1995 Mamoru Oshii 83 NR Ghost in the Shell Japanese animation: "Kôkaku Kidôtai." Not to be confused with the 2017 live action film of the same name. I have to say I found this somewhat confusing at first, though some details still remain unclear. It is set in the year 2029, in Hong Kong (in spite of being a Japanese film). It’s a future in which many, if not all people, are at least partly cybernetic, and the main character, Motoko Kusanagi (English voice by Mimi Woods), apparently is 99.9% cyborg/android. Perhaps the fact that she is considered a “machine” explains why they so casually depict her nude at times. Her job title is “Section 9 Tactical Commander” though one of the things that is unclear to me is what exactly “Section 9” is. There is also a somewhat adversarial “Section 6” which is equally mysterious. The plot involves trying to identify and capture an alleged hacker known only as the “Puppet Master.” At the time of the film’s release it was considered very innovative in its use of the recently developed “Digitally Generated Animation” which has evolved into today’s Computer-generated imagery (CGI). So by today’s standards, it doesn’t look all that impressive, but does feature some interesting visual effects. If you can figure out what is going on, it is a pretty good story. Although not officially rated, it might qualify as a mild “R” rating, due to the mentioned nudity and occasional profanity, but “PG-13” at the very least.
2017 Jordan Peele 104 R Get Out This is a pretty good horror mystery that relies more on psychological scariness than things popping out of dark corners (though there is some of that). Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is a young black man whose white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) has invited him to meet her parents at their estate in the country. But it doesn’t take long for things to get a bit weird, starting with the strange behavior of the Armitage’s hired help and Rose’s brother, Jeremy. Of course I’m not going to tell you what’s really going on, but it is very unlikely you’d ever imagine it in advance. Be advised however that it does get rather bloody at at times and there are episodes of extreme profanity. Thus the “R” rating.
2017 Patty Jenkins 141 PG-13 Wonder Woman A very entertaining and fun action movie based on the DC Comics superhero “Wonder Woman.” It has the same origins as the TV series of the same name that ran from 1975-79, with Lynda Carter in the title role. Now we have Gal Gadot playing the role of Diana, an Amazon princess from the secret Paradise Island. Set during World War II, the film tells the story of how she happened to leave the island with the help of an American spy, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and gets caught up in the war on the front line in Europe. Although it did seem a bit long, I still think it is one of the better superhero movies out there.
2017 Luc Besson 137 PG-13 Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets A science fiction adventure that is mostly confusing and somewhat disjointed but at the same time is quite spectacular to look at. Director Luc Besson has brought to the screen his very vivid imagination that some of you may recall from his 1997 film, “The Fifth Element.” Lots of unusual alien species on exotic distant worlds, employing strange future technology. For most of the film, it was very unclear to me what was going on, though late in the story when the explanation is finally revealed, the conclusion did actually make some sense. In this future, some 700 years from now, Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his partner Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are assigned to solve a mystery at a ginormous space station known as “Alpha” (the origins of “Alpha” are revealed during the fairly amusing opening sequence of the film). Apart from the confusion, the dialogue often seemed poorly written and/or poorly delivered by the two principals. If you liked “The Fifth Element” you may want to see this for the similar “eye candy” but don’t expect it to be as good a movie.
2016 Robert Zemeckis 124 R Allied Very good and beautifully photographed World War II story of spies and romance. In 1942, Canadian Wing Commander Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) meets up in Casablanca with French spy Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard), to conduct a secret mission against the Germans. It doesn’t take long before they become romantically involved. As the war progresses, the action moves to England and France, while their relationship becomes more complicated. The writer claims his original screenplay is based on a true story told to him long ago, but the reliability of his unnamed source is not known. In any case it seems unlikely these exact events really took place, so don’t expect complete historical accuracy regarding the war or the period. The casting of Pitt and Cotillard was a great combination. The “R” rating is for the sex, strong violence and definitely gratuitous profanity.
2016 Kelly Fremon Craig 105 R The Edge of Seventeen Very good “coming of age” comedy about a 17 year old high school girl struggling to cope with the many stressful things happening in her family and social life. Very good acting by Hailee Steinfeld as the lead character, “Nadine” (if you saw the 2010 remake of “True Grit,” Hailee was “Mattie Ross” in that film). The film also features Woody Harrelson as her very understanding history teacher, “Mr. Bruner,” in a nice comedic role. No complicated plot, just a series of ups and downs in her life, including a flashback at the start of the film to recount her early childhood. It received an “R” rating for sexual content, profanity and teenage drinking, but no violence. There were also times when the teens would say things that most adults would probably consider very inappropriate or shocking.
2015 Yorgos Lanthimos 119 R The Lobster I had expected this film to be somewhat unusual, but I was not prepared for how truly bizarre it really is. As bleak as it is most of the time, it is actually a romantic comedy. However, I was so perplexed by the unusual nature of the story, as well as disturbed by the cruel nature of some of the violence, most of the time I did not find it funny at all. Filmed in Ireland, the premise is that there is this hotel which people go to if they have lost the love of their life and they are given 45 days to find new love amongst the other hotel guests. If they fail at this task, they will be turned into an animal of their choosing. Is that strange enough for you? David (Colin Farrell) is the newest hotel guest because his wife has just left him. The plot centers around David’s experiences with the other guests and his attempt to find new love. The film also stars Rachel Weisz as “Short Sighted Woman” and John C. Reilly as “Lisping Man.” You’ll either love this or hate it (I’m leaning towards the latter). With the “R” rating, you get sex, graphic violence and a lot of F-words (and other potentially offensive language).
2016 Edward Zwick 118 PG-13 Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Although I found the action entertaining, this sequel to “Jack Reacher” (2012) was a weak and often predictable story. Jack (Tom Cruise) is an ex-Army Major who lives “off the grid” and has a habit of showing up unexpectedly at the right time to solve a crime. In this episode he takes a romantic interest in Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), but soon learns she is in some kind of trouble and so he can’t help but conduct his own unofficial investigation. Naturally the bad guys don’t want Jack poking his nose where it doesn’t belong, making his investigation rather risky and placing other people in danger. They even used the old cliché of having people use a parade as a way to hide from a pursuer. Even if you liked the 2012 episode, I would caution that you may find this one disappointing.
2016 Peter Berg 133 R Patriots Day An impressive dramatization of the events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Even if, like me, you saw the nonstop live TV news coverage of this horrific event, this will give you a more intimate perspective of everything that was going on, especially those things that were not caught on camera. The story presented is mostly built around the perspective of police Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg), who was working near the actual bombing, and became intimately involved in the subsequent investigation. The film also stars John Goodman, J.K. Simmons and Kevin Bacon, each portraying real people in this story. There is some fairly intense violence and graphic depictions of bombing victims, so the “R” rating is no surprise, but it also was given because of pervasive use of the F-word.
2017 Michael Showalter 120 R The Big Sick A very good romantic comedy and somewhat of an emotional roller coaster as the plot takes you through the developing relationship between Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and Emily (Zoe Kazan). Kumail Nanjiani is actually portraying himself, since the screenplay was co-written by him, based on his own experiences. Kumail is a Pakistani immigrant, living in Chicago, working as a stand-up comic (though not terribly successful). He meets Emily when she attends one of his performances. Although he is attracted to her, his parents (Anupam Kher & Zenobia Shroff) are adamant that he follow tradition and accept an arranged marriage. Along the way, Kumail meets Emily’s parents (Ray Romano & Holly Hunter), though not under the best of circumstances. I thought Holly Hunter was great as Emily’s mother. The only caveat I have about this is the excessive use of the F-word (rated “R” of course).
2017 Ridley Scott 122 R Alien: Covenant Although titled as if it were a sequel to the previous “Alien” films, this is actually a sequel to “Prometheus” (2012). So if you’ve never seen “Prometheus” or need to refresh your memory on its storyline, I recommend seeing that before you watch this new film. “Covenant” takes place 11 years after “Prometheus” and 18 years before “Alien” (1979). It is anticipated that one or more additional films set in this same fictional universe will be produced to fill the story gap between “Covenant” and “Alien.” The new film starts out looking very interesting but once they start exploring another planet with aliens, mass stupidity takes over. It does feature two characters from “Prometheus” (played by the same actors in both films), but otherwise “Covenant” features a whole new set of space explorers, including a very strong-willed woman, Daniels (Catherine Waterston). I suspect she is a substitute for Sigourney Weaver’s character in the original “Alien” films. The story has a lot in common with both “Alien” and “Prometheus” including the very gruesome interactions between humans and aliens. So if you’ve seen those earlier films, you know what kind of assault to your visual senses will appear. That of course is why it is rated “R” (and also for excessive use of the F-word). It’s not the best film in this series, but if you are invested in the overall story arc, you may want to see it just to keep abreast of things.
2017 Jon Watts 133 PG-13 Spider-Man: Homecoming For my money, this is probably the best of the movies about Spider-Man. It should be understood, however, that this is not actually a sequel to any of the previous Spider-Man films. In fact, it is considered a spin-off of “Captain America: Civil War” (2016). This is because the new film includes the character Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), and the recurring characters, Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and May Parker (Marisa Tomei) are played by the same actors as in “Civil War.” So if you are a committed fan of the previous actors who played Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield or Tobey Maguire), you may not be ready for this interpretation of the character. But I enjoyed Tom Holland’s performance which was energetic and funny. The new story also includes Michael Keaton as “Adrian Toomes,” who is a very interesting character and Keaton is very good in this role. Gwyneth Paltrow appears very briefly as “Pepper Potts.” And of course Peter Parker has a new love interest, Liz (Laura Harrier). Another film that “Homecoming” is closely connected to is “The Avengers” (2012), because the first 5 minutes of “Homecoming” depicts New York City in the aftermath of the alien attack (the “Chitauri”) in “The Avengers.” I didn’t remember the Chitauri attack, so the opening of “Homecoming” almost made me think I was watching the wrong movie! All around, a very exciting action film. You must watch the end-credits because after about 2 minutes they insert a 1-minute extra scene that is an important extension of the story and possibly a hint of the basis for some future film. And when the credits are almost complete, another 30-second scene appears but does not add anything to the plot.
2016 Aisling Walsh 116 PG-13 Maudie A touching and remarkably engaging biographical drama about the Canadian painter, Maud Lewis (1903-1970). Maud (Sally Hawkins) was afflicted with arthritis her entire life and her family never expected her to amount to anything. But her life changed dramatically after she took a job as live-in housekeeper for a bachelor fishmonger, Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke). They lived in rural Nova Scotia, though it was actually filmed in Newfoundland. Both Hawkins and Hawke gave excellent performances. It’s a quiet romantic story with a good sense of humor. The film’s distribution seems to have been limited mostly to film festivals, but thankfully is now available on DVD. Highly recommended.
2016 Gore Verbinski 146 R A Cure for Wellness A very unusual horror thriller which tends to be somewhat predictable but does throw some unexpectedly weird stuff at you. And at nearly 2-1/2 hours, it feels a lot longer given the somewhat slow pace. The main theme is an old cliché that I won’t identify because it would reveal too much, but if you’re paying attention, you’ll be able to spot a giveaway clue fairly early in the film. What I can tell you is that it involves a young man, Mr. Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), working at a company whose CEO, Roland Pembroke (Harry Groener), has gone to spend time at an exclusive spa for the wealthy, located in a remote part of the Swiss Alps. But when he fails to return and the board of directors needs him back at work, they send Lockhart to Switzerland to retrieve him. The spa is strangely reluctant to give Lockhart access to Pembroke, so Lockhart ends up staying there much longer than he intended and starts to get curious about how the spa is treating its patients. And what he discovers isn’t pretty. In fact, some of it is quite repulsive. In addition to some scenes being hard to watch, some are likely to be offensive. So of course it is rated “R” for that as well as nudity and some profanity and violence. Not recommended (just to be perfectly clear).
2017 Edgar Wright 113 R Baby Driver Here’s an idea: make a cops & robbers movie and choreograph the scenes to fit the beat of a selection of old songs. But don’t make a musical. And this is the result. So it’s not your typical crime drama, but it does have some pretty exciting car chases. The central character, “Baby” (Ansel Elgort), is a youthful getaway driver for a small criminal enterprise masterminded by “Doc” (Kevin Spacey). A defining characteristic of Baby is that he is always listening to music from his iPod. And his musical selections are heard during many scenes, which as I indicated, define the pacing of those scenes. He always seems to be in a different world from the rest of the criminal gang and as a result, they like to pick on him. It’s a good story but be prepared for a lot of gun violence and profanity (rated “R”). There was another film about a getaway driver called “Drive” (2011, starring Ryan Gosling), which I would say was a better movie overall, but the violence was quite extreme. So “Baby Driver” may be more palatable than “Drive” for some viewers.
2016 Jim Jarmusch 118 R Paterson A quietly amusing look at one week in the life of a city bus driver, who happens to be an amateur poet on the side. Paterson (Adam Driver), by coincidence, lives in Paterson, New Jersey (pop. 147,000), with his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and their dog, Marvin. Marvin is often a scene-stealer. Laura is obsessed with painting things, but only in black and white. From one day to the next, Paterson’s life is very routine, but he fills his free moments writing poetry. This film is all about the details, the little things, so be observant. It is unfortunate that this is rated “R” because there is really very little profanity and no sex or violence. But there’s a rule that if you use one too many F-words, it has to be “R.” Paterson may not be the life of the party, but this “fly on the wall” view of his life is an enjoyable diversion.
2017 Matt Reeves 140 PG-13 War for the Planet of the Apes This is part 3 of the current “reboot” of the “Planet of the Apes” film series. It is very good but perhaps a bit too long. In this episode, the surviving humans are still trying to wipe out the apes, but the ape leader, Caesar (Andy Serkis), really just wants it all to end and migrate to someplace where the humans won’t bother them anymore. But after an attack by the “The Colonel” (Woody Harrelson), Caesar decides to take matters into his own hands. And thus begins a long journey to seek revenge. Some additional ape characters also continue their roles from the previous episode, including Koba (Toby Kebbell), Maurice (Karin Konoval) and Rocket (Terry Notary). And an interesting new one known as “Bad Ape” (Steve Zahn), who provides some good comic relief. The film makes several interesting references to the original “Planet of the Apes” films, so those fans will be rewarded for paying attention. The added length that I referred to is largely because there are many long scenes without much action. These probably could have been shortened without degrading the story by very much. Other than the slow parts, the only other annoyance here was poor coordination of the use of sign language by the apes who either couldn’t speak or chose not to, because often the ape being spoken to wasn’t even looking at the signs!
2017 Taylor Sheridan 107 R Wind River Thrilling murder investigation on the Wind River Indian Reservation, “inspired by actual events” (but not any one specific event). Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a wildlife tracker for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Wyoming. His ex-wife, Wilma (Julia Jones) is a Native American. When Cory discovers the body of a young woman in the frozen wilderness, a rookie FBI agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is sent in to represent the government’s interest in the case. Full of suspense and shocking confrontations. Great acting and a haunting musical score. One of the best movies of the year. Be advised that the “R” rating is for profanity and strong violence, including rape.
2015 Denis Villeneuve 121 R Sicario A high-tension action film set in the context of the war on drugs. Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is an FBI agent who specializes in hostage situations. After participating in a raid in Chandler, Arizona, the government invites her to volunteer for a special operation in the drug war on the U.S.-Mexican border. But she soon realizes it was not what she signed up for. Participating in the operation with her are her FBI partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya), along with Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) and Matt (Josh Brolin). Naturally, given the subject matter, there is a good deal of violence and shocking images. Along with plenty of profanity, so of course an “R” rating. Very good story, written by the same screenwriter who wrote “Hell or High Water” (2016) and “Wind River” (2017), both of which were also very good films.
2017 Denis Villeneuve 164 R Blade Runner 2049 A very good but also very long sequel to “Blade Runner” (1982). Whereas the original sci-fi classic was set in the year 2019 (still the future as of this writing), the new film is set 30 years later in 2049. Although three of the original actors have returned in their original roles, most of the new story involves new characters. If you saw the original you will remember Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), Rachael (Sean Young) and Gaff (Edward James Olmos). Those actors are 35 years older and yet strangely one of them looks like they haven’t aged a day (obviously by way of some very good computer graphics). You might enjoy the new film without having seen the original, but you’ll miss the meaning of some important content. The original story featured Deckard as a special “blade runner” cop whose job was to “retire” (kill) rogue replicants (artificial humans). This time the central character is another blade runner named “K” or “Joe” (Ryan Gosling). And he stumbles across a big mystery after visiting a suspected replicant. The evidence points to a long kept secret that Joe tries to unravel, often at great risk. The look and feel of Los Angeles is very similar to the way the city was presented in the first film, and some interesting advances in technology are revealed. There are many complexities to this story, so if some details remain muddled at the end, you’re in good company. You can read an online synopsis afterwards to fill in the blanks, as I did. But that only makes me want to see it again to get the whole thing clearer in my mind. However, at 164 minutes, I’ll wait for the DVD. The “R” rating is mostly for graphic violence and some profanity and nudity.
2017 Marc Webb 101 PG-13 Gifted A charming and moving story about a child prodigy caught in the middle of a custody battle. Mary Adler (McKenna Grace) is a math genius but is only in first grade (though the actress was 9 when the movie was filmed). Her guardian is her uncle, Frank Adler (Chris Evans), because her mother, Frank’s sister, died when Mary was an infant. The problem presented is that Frank and his mother, Evelyn Adler (Lindsay Duncan), are at odds over how Mary should be raised and what sort of school she should be attending. Also featured in the cast are Octavia Spencer as Roberta, Frank’s apartment manager; and Jenny Slate as Mary’s 1st grade teacher, Bonnie Stevenson. A very enjoyable light drama and little McKenna is quite talented.
2016 Sean Ellis 121 R Anthropoid This is a powerful dramatic recreation of an actual event in World War II, known as “Operation Anthropoid.” After the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, a man named Reinhard Heydrich (Detlef Bothe) was placed in charge of what was then called “Bohemia and Moravia.” Heydrich was best known as one of the principal architects of the Holocaust. During this time, a group known as the “Czechoslovak government-in-exile” based in London, planned an operation to assassinate Heydrich in Prague. They sent nine Czech soldiers, including Jan Kubiš (Jamie Dornan) and Jozef Gabčík (Cillian Murphy), who were flown to a site near Prague on December 28, 1941. The movie shows how Jan and Jozef made their way into Prague and planned their attack with the help of local members of the Czech resistance. I watched the film not knowing the story, so I’ll give you the opportunity to view it without knowing also, if you don’t already know how it turned out. You can decide for yourself whether to look up the history ahead of time or read about it after seeing the movie. Some historical details have been changed for dramatic purposes but otherwise I believe it is a pretty accurate account. There is some intense violence and disturbing graphic images, making it a serious “R” movie, so take that into consideration. It is a very good film and a good history lesson.
2016 Matt Ross 120 R Captain Fantastic Don’t let the title of this amazing comedy fool you, it’s not about superheroes. This is a story about a most unusual family, or rather, an experiment in raising a family. Ben (Viggo Mortensen) is the father of six children (3 boys & 3 girls). They literally live in the woods, somewhere in the state of Washington. The mother, Leslie (Trin Miller), has been hospitalized for some time and so is not seen in the early part of the film. The children have been intensely home-schooled and have also been subjected to a vigorous physical fitness program. But when circumstances force them to visit mainstream society, they find that they lack the skills to fit into the real world. The film also features Frank Langella as Leslie’s father, and Kathryn Hahn as Ben’s sister. It’s a wonderfully original story. Now for the caveats: there is a lot of profanity, even from the children; there is nudity, ranging from partial to full frontal. And while probably not a factor in the “R” rating, the opening hunting scene is very graphic. So it’s a very good comedy with some rough edges; it may be about children but it’s not for children.
2017 Andy Muschietti 134 R IT I don’t usually say this, but this film struck me as a complete waste of time. The story is based on the novel by Stephen King, though apparently only half of it, since a “Chapter Two” is planned for release in 2019. I have not read the novel so I cannot make a comparison. And although I saw the TV miniseries version of the story (1990), I have no memory of that at all. The essence of the story is that in the small town of Derry, Maine, a powerful monster is terrorizing children and abducting some of them, and has been doing so for many years. This monster most often appears to them as a scary clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), but sometimes takes on other frightening forms. Several teenagers spend their summer vacation collaborating to try to figure out what is going on and look for some of the missing kids. There are some very violent scenes and the children swear a lot, so it has an “R” rating. Pennywise (aka “IT”), in all his forms, is suitably scary and creepy, but nothing about the story was very surprising, though towards the end the children do discover something quite unexpected.
2017 Bonni Cohen + Jon Shenk 98 PG An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power In this documentary, former Vice President Al Gore provides an update on what is and isn’t being done to combat the global warming effects of climate change. Rather than being a direct revision of his original “slide show” that was “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006), in this film he shows how he is educating people to spread his message. Many scenes in this film show him speaking to groups attending “Climate Leadership Training.” He also shows some of the more recent effects of global warming, such as the periodic flooding of Miami, Florida, at high tide. The 2016 Paris Climate Agreement is also featured prominently. Anyone who is concerned about global warming should see this film and so should anyone who doesn’t understand it or thinks it is wrong. However, in terms of the understanding part, the first film is a better place to start on this topic. The new film is more about spreading the word and illustrating the problem than in teaching it. So, as documentaries go, this is really only average, but an important contribution to the subject.
2017 Christopher Nolan 106 PG-13 Dunkirk Dramatic reenactment of “Operation Dynamo” - the mass evacuation of Allied troops who were trapped on the beach at Dunkirk, France, starting May 26, 1940. The Germans had occupied parts of France that left the British Expeditionary Force with no way out but by sea (French and Belgian troops were there also). The problem was that they were basically sitting ducks for German aerial attacks. The thing that made it interesting and saved many lives was that many ordinary citizens of Britain crossed the English Channel in their private boats to help with the evacuation. Although this was a real historical event, the specific details and people portrayed in this film are fictional. There really isn’t a plot as such, and not much dialogue either, just a close-up accounting of the evacuation, alternately focusing on a few select soldiers, pilots and boat personnel, without making any single one of them the star of the show (so if you’re looking for a strongly character-driven plot, this isn’t it). It’s definitely easier to watch than some of the more intense and graphic World War II films, such as “Saving Private Ryan” (1998). This film is rated “PG-13” and so while you will see a lot of gunfire and bombings, you won’t have to watch bloody mutilated bodies. The camera keeps a respectful distance from the victims. But it does place you right in the boats and the cockpits and on the beach and gives you a real sense of the danger and fear they were experiencing. Well done.
2016 Tom Ford 116 R Nocturnal Animals A tense crime thriller presented as the centerpiece of three alternating stories. One, representing the present day life of art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams); second, a visualization of a novel Susan is reading; third, her past life with her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). And it so happens this novel she is reading is a manuscript written and sent to her by Edward. We see the novel play out in Susan’s mind as she reads it. Interestingly and at first confusingly, the main character in the novel, Tony Hastings, is also played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Edward’s novel is a terrifying tale and Susan is losing sleep over it. Other characters featured in the novel include Tony’s wife, Laura (Isla Fisher), his daughter, India (Ellie Bamber) and policeman, Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon). The “R” rating is primarily for the violence, nudity and pervasive profanity in the visualization of Edward’s novel, but also, I assume, for the grotesque nudity during the opening credits. I cannot stress enough how revolting that part of the movie is, and it almost made me stop watching, but I hoped the rest of the film would be better, and it was. Much better. I can’t understand why they did that. I realize it represents Susan’s art show, but I see no reason her exhibit had to be so shocking, as it has nothing to do with the rest of the film. So what I’m saying here is that I recommend all but roughly the first 4-1/2 minutes of this movie, provided you accept the “R” content of the main story. Unfortunately the only way to avoid seeing the opening sequence is to turn away from the screen while monitoring a stopwatch. Remember what they say: you can never un-see something.
2017 Patrick Hughes 118 R The Hitman's Bodyguard A very busy action comedy that is quite exciting at times, especially in the big chase sequences, but depending on your tolerance for gun violence and F-words, it may be too much for some viewers. There’s hardly a scene without somebody getting shot or screaming profanities. This also probably can be classified as a buddy film (perhaps you remember “Midnight Run” (1988)) . Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is a high-end (“triple-A” as he calls it) personal bodyguard. But one day he is involuntarily assigned to protect a very high-profile and dangerous convict, Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), who also happens to be an important witness against an evil dictator, Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). Bryce’s girlfriend, Ameilia (Elodie Yung) and Kincaid’s wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek), also play important roles in the plot. Dukhovich’s thugs will stop at nothing to prevent Kincaid from testifying at court in Amsterdam, so Bryce is faced with one of his most difficult bodyguard jobs ever. The source of most of the comedy is from the pairing of Bryce and Kincaid, who barely tolerate each other at first. The action is almost nonstop, but builds up to a satisfying conclusion. Rated “R” for reasons already explained.
2017 Greta Gerwig 94 R Lady Bird I have mixed feelings about this coming-of-age comedy. Mostly because I didn’t find the comedy bits all that funny. Other members of the audience did laugh out loud at some of it, so I’m probably not the audience the writer had in mind. On the other hand, I did find the last half-hour to be very good and quite moving. The title character is played by Saoirse Ronan, who was very good in “Brooklyn” (2015), so that is also in its favor. “Lady Bird” is what this typically rebellious high school senior calls herself in preference to her birth name, “Christine.” The story simply follows her through her senior year (class of 2003), in Sacramento, California. So you get a mix of child-parent conflicts, boyfriend problems, planning for college, etc. Earlier this year I saw “The Edge of Seventeen” (2016), which is the same type of story, but which I found more entertaining overall than this. But I do seem to be in the minority here. Rated “R” mostly for profanity and a bit of nudity.
2017 Martin McDonagh 115 R Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri This is an excellent and very original “black comedy” in the context of a murder investigation. Mildred (Frances McDormand) lives in Ebbing, Missouri, and is frustrated that the murderer of her daughter has not been caught by the local police. So she gets the crazy idea to purchase advertising rights to three lonely billboards on the edge of town, to publicize her anger with the police chief, William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). And that’s just the start of her crusade. Things get really crazy and you can’t predict where this is going. Can’t reveal any more than that. Rated “R” for almost non-stop profanity. By the way, Ebbing is not a real place, and it was filmed in Sylva, North Carolina, which explains why the scenery doesn’t look much like Missouri.
2017 Rian Johnson 152 PG-13 Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi This new episode of “Star Wars” is a direct continuation of the story in “Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens” (2015). If you haven’t seen that episode, but plan to, you might want to skip this review until later. We last saw Rey (Daisy Ridley) at the point where she found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), but before Luke could say anything, that movie ended. Now, after the huge space battle that opens the film, he speaks his first words since “Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi” (1983). It is Rey’s task to convince Luke to join the fight against the First Order. Other important characters appearing in this episode are Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Leia (the late Carrie Fisher), Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern), “DJ” (Benicio Del Toro), Finn (John Boyega), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), Yoda (voice of Frank Oz), R2-D2 (Jimmy Vee) and the BB-8 robot (no actor involved). I enjoyed most of this episode except for the fact that it is so long (152 minutes - there should have been an intermission). Plenty of action and surprises, though some important questions, disappointingly, are left unanswered. To borrow a popular expression, “this is not your father’s Star Wars.” It’s not quite up to the George Lucas standard, and may not even be as good as “The Force Awakens,” but if you are a long time Star Wars fan, I think you will want to see this episode.