A Bad Moms Christmas

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I get that famous Hollywood performers need to pay the bills too, but there should be some kind of time-out given to them when they sign up for projects as idiotic, painfully unfunny, cringe inducing and flat out insulting as this one.

D-

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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

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I imagine a screenwriter shopping his work around Hollywood, the Breakfast Club meets Indiana Jones, with no luck. Then it occurs to him: brand recognition, duh doi! So the screenwriter slaps the name Jumanji to the top of his script, he peppers some lazy references to it throughout the 120 pages, and boom! Movie deal.

C+

Phantom Thread

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Decades from now, when somebody inevitably makes a documentary on genius filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, they will settle on The Master as a title inspiration. Having already bestowed upon the world one of the greatest motion pictures in history (see: There Will Be Blood), the director has achieved what few ever do. With this privilege, the question arises: what’s next?

The answer is a film that follows the tumultuous romance of a fashion designer in post WW2 London. I don’t know where he got the inspiration for something that, on paper, sounds like it should be a total bore. And then the title card appears on screen, and for the next two hours you sit entranced by the talent of the man. Paul Thomas Anderson has complete control over every aspect that makes cinema masterful, and you cannot help but be envious. He wrote the intoxicating dialogue, on wild display during fiery exchanges and in haunting monologues delivered by the inimitable Daniel Day-Lewis! He shot every frame, the camera sneaking behind his characters, on the characters faces, on the laces, socks, bows and pins that adorn the picture! He chose the score, continually present during the entire movie, the design, out of a film the likes Hollywood does not make anymore, the settings, almost entirely confined to the House of Woodcock, as much a living protagonist as anybody.

I do not love Phantom Thread, nor is it going on my list of favorite films ever. Yet, I cannot help but be enthralled by the enormity of the craft on display. Delicate and perfect, it is what cinema should aspire to.

A+

The Post

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Sometime last year I made a commitment to only read pieces and articles that did not feature any mention of Donald Trump. I was sick of any coverage, good, bad, and wanted to take a break. It proved more difficult than anticipated, as writers were sticking the man in everything from lasagna recipes to box office reports. After about a month, I gave up. I just clicked on less features.

But now we’re having full blown movies that reference the president. It makes reading reviews of The Post very problematic. I hope this stops, but I fear it’s only going to increase, Hollywood making very clear where the industry stands in terms of politics. Which is fine. I just would like to spend two hours lost in stories that don’t reference contemporary American politics, because I already get that in my cereal.

B+

Top Characters in Film 2017

A film character is defined by several traits. The first and perhaps most prominent one is the performance by the actor hired to perform the role. And while movies rise and fall on the strength of its performances, solid acting alone is not enough to sell me on them. So beyond acting chops, I consider the setting these characters are in, their backgrounds and contexts, and how they must feel in the adventures that play out for my viewing pleasure.

The following 10 characters provided me with memorable lines, great story lines, wild entertainment and above all, reminders that it is not how much money is put into a project that matters, but how much heart.

In alphabetical order:

BEN—CAPTAIN FANTASTIC

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When Ben (Viggo Mortensen) tells his six children that their mother has just committed suicide, he utilizes the same tone of voice and manner that he employs when he is teaching them about Noam Chomsky and lecturing them about Lolita. As most loving parents do, he believes this to be the right way to raise his children, but the film argues that love is not a good enough excuse to do certain things. Ben, we come to discover later, is kind of a kook. This is his journey of realization, occasionally moving, hilarious and insightful.

DOROTHEA, JULIE, ABBY, JAMIE and WILLIAM—20TH CENTURY WOMEN

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The greatest film narrator of 2017, Dorothea Fields (Annette Benning) cares so much about everybody that she invites strangers over to her house for dinner. It’s a house where she already lives with two girls and two guys, and though only two of them are still teens, everybody is in the process of growing up. The film, which appears lyrical at times, presents the interactions between them as almost poetic, tinged with wisdom, sadness and the hope of a freer tomorrow.

BROOKE and TRACY—MISTRESS AMERICA

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For somebody who utterly loved Frances Ha, it took me a while to finally get around to this Greta Gerwig/Noah Baumbach collaboration. But when I did, there was nothing I wished more than being witness to the writing process of this acting/directing duo. The witticisms they make their characters express! The last stretch of the film, when Brooke, Tracy, and some of her friends invade a rich guy’s house with a business proposition, is absolutely genius and one of the funniest moments I’ve had at the movies all year.

K—BLADE RUNNER 2049

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Nobody does dejected misery better than Ryan Gosling. What he accomplishes as an android with dreams of a soul in Blade Runner 2049, however, stirs the heart so that the only appropriate response is silence, astonished at the sacrifice.

LOGAN—LOGAN

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Delivering the performance of a lifetime, Hugh Jackman is a wounded, depressed and alcoholic Wolverine in a film that’s almost uncomfortable to watch. The opening frame makes it clear that Logan does not want to be in this world anymore, and for the next two and a half hours he will slice, dice and cut up fools who want to help him get to his final destination quicker. Therein lies the tragedy of Logan: in its inability to see beyond the scars and blood, deep into the soul that is worthy of redemption.

NADINE—THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

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Sometimes we are the asshole. Far too often movies present the hero of the story, making us relate to the hero’s righteous indignation, in one shape or another. With Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), we are forced to relate to a person who’s not all that likable. Nadine is such a fantastic creation not because she is cruel and insensitive for meanness sake, but because she is so human. Her flaws and follies are the ones of all of us, and by seeing her we can confront ourselves with the question: “am I in the wrong here? Should I be the one asking for forgiveness, instead of demanding it?” It is no easy feat of course, but the movie makes clear that though the path to redeem oneself is tough, at least it’s there for everybody to embark on.

REY—STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

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Rey (Daisy Ridley) is what happens when writers are allowed to explore characters motivations and be bold with their behaviors. I did not care much for Rey when she was first introduced, seeing her as a bland Luke Skywalker rip-off. Now, however, she has truly come into her own, and it is exhilarating to watch. “You’ve got spunk”, somebody tells her in the movie. She does, and you wish more characters around her did too.

RICK BLAINE—CASABLANCA

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In a perfect world, men would be like Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart). Selfless and brave, he recognizes that his demons don’t amount to a hill of beans in this messed up world, and he lets the woman he loves fly away to a better world. In a perfect world, men would not be like Rick Blaine. Bitter and grieving over the loss of the only woman he has ever loved, he shacks up in Casablanca, sticking his neck up for nobody. Bogart perfectly encapsulates the duality of love, its heroic deeds and restless nights.

SOUTHEAST TEXAS CHEROKEES—EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!

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I’ve never watched a single baseball game in my life, but this made me want to join a team. More than any other experience in 2017, the shenanigans of the Southeast Texas Cherokees are so damn fun its near impossible not to have a good time.

TERRY MALLOY—ON THE WATERFRONT

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Single handedly transforming acting forever, Marlon Brando is something to behold. Sure, there’s the “I could’ve been a contender” monologue, devastating and memorable, but Brando was such a gifted performer that even in the most mundane shots, like picking up a glove from the floor, he appears as if he is a god among mortals. By the time he enters the warehouse bruised, battered but victorious, Marlon Brando has become a legend.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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In the immediate aftermath of the release of The Force Awakens, I felt like the most ignorant movie watcher in all of God’s green kingdom. Critics, fans and audiences alike were in unison singing the movie praises, and for the life of me I could not understand why. Had I maybe seen a different version of it? Was I on some type of drugs that did not let me fully appreciate the nuances and subtleties of this new space opera?

Thankfully, time has put everything in its right place. Since then, there’s been countless of pieces written on the deceitful effects of nostalgia and how it tricked many a great writer, high on the exciting memories of their childhood, into calling The Force Awakens a great film, instead of the series of recycled, uninspired, nostalgia infested pop machine it truly is.

Needless to say, I  had my reservations going into Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Now, a day removed from the experience, and having already established myself as immune to Hollywood’s emotional manipulation of childhood memories as a means of storytelling, I can safely say that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a thoughtful, occasionally moving, ultimately epic blockbuster that is light years ahead of what came before it.

Gone are the insulting callbacks for callback’s sake, replaced by characters and motivations that feel organic and even necessary; gone too, are the beat by beat repetition of fan loved moments that, while temporarily pleasing, just weigh the picture down. Of course this being a Disney production the creators cannot stray too far away from the conventional, but even in this limited creativity vacuum director Rian Johnson, helmer of the fantastic and perceptive Looper, finds new and thrilling ways to excite us.

The result is a film that lives in the now, that feels immediate and therefore earns my emotions. And while being in the present might prove too problematic at times, the uncertainty of what’s to come eating away at you, I find it is much more fulfilling than looking back through the rose tinted glasses of our memories, where only the thrills, on which man alone cannot subside on, live.

A

Rango

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Refreshingly creative and wickedly funny, Rango is the animated film I wish oh so very much there more of. Just take a look at one of the many hilarious visual gags: as Rango (Johnny Depp) gives his John Hancock to a young fan, he hands his gun to the boy. The boy says, “There’s a bullet in there”, while staring down the barrel of the gun. Then he puts the barrel in his mouth. Then he aims it as his mother.

Nobody is harmed,except our bellies from laughing too much.

A-

The Disaster Artist

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When I was bored sometimes I would go to The Room`s Wikipedia page to read about the most surreal movie making experience I was aware of. It was very funny, and its creator, the now legendary Tommy Wiseau, struck me as nothing but a nutcase.

The Disaster Artist still portrays Wiseau as unhinged, dangerously so sometimes, but it also does something else with him. It shows he had dreams. We tend to romanticize those with dreams, thinking of them as noble and inspiring, but what about those with dangerous ones? The power of cinema lies in its ability to get us to care for dreamers, and The Disaster Artist makes us care about Tommy Wiseau’s intentions, even when they were not the best ones.

It was clear to anybody around him that he should have never been allowed in the same building as a movie camera, and one can easily imagine a different scenario. One in which this Dracula looking director is not the kooky, outsider hero, but a disturbed maniac that almost suffocated an entire production crew.
By painting dreams not as the beautiful ideals Hollywood constantly sells audiences, but as the desires harbored by people that could either turn the world a better or world place, The Disaster Artist is much more than just a comedy. One suspects is a similar work of art as that which inspired Tommy Wiseau to move to Hollywood in the first place.

A-