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The Bye Bye Man (2017)
Dead on arrival
THE BYE-BYE MAN (2017) * Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount, Cressida Bonas, Doug Jones, Michael Trucco, Jenna Kanell, Erica Tremblay, Cleo King, Faye Dunaway, Carrie-Anne Moss, Leigh Whannell. Lame supernatural thriller ala 'bloody mary' or worse 'Beetlejuice' about some such nonsense in repeating the titular bogeyman to make him appear and making you see some scary things driven to madness and death. The usual tropes involved of the genre - false starts, jolt cuts and graphic violence do not account for boring screenplay (by Jonathan Penner based on a story by robert Damon Schneck), lackluster direction by Stacy Title and bland 'actors' as the leads. Dead on arrival.
Underworld: Blood Wars (2016)
The never ending saga of lycan vs. vampire
UNDERWORLD - BLOOD WARS (2017) **1/2 Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Tobias Menzies, Lara Pulver, Charles Dance, James Faulkner, Peter Andersson, Clementine Nicholson, Daisy Head. Fifth chapter in the never-ending saga of werewolves vs. vampires with Beckinsale back in fine form as the avenger vamp attempting to prevent her hybrid daughter from the lycans hell-bent on securing her for nefarious reasons of course. Well-produced yet predictable production in spite of some serious ass-kicking sequences and well anticipated blood lettings. Pulver is a poor man's Eva Green but seriously hot and devilishly evil as the traitorous vampiress villainess. (Dir: Anna Foerster)
La La Land (2016)
Love letter to musicals; Stone & Gosling make for a poignant DynamicDuo
LA LA LAND (2016) ***1/2 Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend, JK Simmons, Tom Everett Scott. Candy colored valentine to musicals of yore with contemporary know-how thanks to filmmaker Damien Chazelle blending say a Gene Kelly love story with Busby Berkeley meets Joe Kidd choreography set in modern day LA in a star-crossed romance between a somewhat miserable yet talented jazz pianist and a wanna-be actress (Gosling and Stone make a sweet dynamic duo) who fall in love amidst the dreams and their dream-like fantasia interludes. Fun, heartfelt, surprisingly poignant and altogether wonderful. Clear-eyed cinematography by Linus Sandgren, splendid production design by David Wasco and the song "City of Stars" will hit you like a meteor.
Anti-'Gravity' - In Space No One Can Hear You Yawn
PASSENGERS (2016) ** Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia. Logy romantic sci-fi set in deep space where a ship full of colonists sent from Earth finds two of its denizens suddenly awakened way-too-early in advance (lonely Pratt and unknowing Lawrence) who fall in love and discover that life is truly a challenge in spite of the odds surmounting their cosmic journey. While the production design is handsome and sharply executed the direction by Morten Tyldum is leaden and rather dull as well as the pedestrian and far-too-predictable screenplay by Jon Spaihts. In Space No One Can Hear You Yawn; Think more like 'Anti-'Gravity'.
Hidden Figures (2016)
Crowd-pleasing historical biopic led by three wonderful actresses
HIDDEN FIGURES (2016) *** 1/2 Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge. Historical biopic centering on a trio of black women (Henson, Spencer and Monae all at the top of their games) who are enlisted into NASA for their mathlete skills to aid in the 1960s space race in getting the US astronauts into orbit. While director Theodore Melfi (who co-adapted the screenplay with Allison Schroeder based on the book by Margo Lee Shetterly) manages to use essential filmmaking trappings along a made-for-TV production he brightly puts the spotlight rightly on his trio of strong, smart and assured women who took one giantess step for womankind in their fields of physics, engineering and mathematics with deft aplomb. Costner lends concrete support as the bluffly gruff yet fair head of the awesome task force enabled to make a dream a reality.
A Monster Calls (2016)
Devestatingly uplifing and poignant
A MONSTER CALLS (2016) ***1/2 Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebell, (voice of Liam Neeson), Geraldine Chaplin. Poignant fantasy coming-of-age story with newcomer MacDougall (scary good) as a bedeviled adolescent plagued by bullying, a cold grandmother (defrosting Weaver) and the terrible plight of losing his long-suffering, dying mom (Jones very strong), who discovers his creative sparks summons a ginormous tree creature (voiced and motion-captured performed by the always welcome Neeson whose baritone suggest from a tomb) who comes to the lad's aid by telling him three tales in exchange for one final one. Wonderfully directed by J.A. Bayona with a true visionary's eye including some wonderful animation of the aforementioned fables and a clear-eyed and heartrending screenplay by Patrick Ness based on his novel inspired by an original idea by Siobhan Dowd.
What Is Your Purpose On Earth? Very meta sci-fi; Adams excels
ARRIVAL (2016) ***1/2 Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg. Intriguing alien invasion sci-fi drama with bereaved linguist Adams enlisted to decipher the indistinguishable language of the ambiguous creatures who have come to Earth with unknown reasons and instead discovering even more than she has bargained for. Based on Ted Chiang's story "Story of Your Life" the script by Eric Heisserer explores some very meta ideas ("What is your purpose on Earth?" to begin with) while director Denis Villeneuve balances the near documentary-like aesthetic employed thru out. A chill-inducing production design by Patrice Vermette also underscores the prickling sensations of the unknown. Kudos to the nicknames of Abbott & Costello given to the alien duo.
Disappointed Scorsese project
SILENCE (2016) ** Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Ciaran Hinds, Shin'ya Tsukamoto. Martin Scorsese's Herculean effort to adapt Shusaku Endo's novel about Christianity under fire during the 17th century in Japan where Jesuits find themselves persecuted for their imposing their religious beliefs on the populace involving a pair of young priests (Garfield and Driver) to journey into the darkness to find a mentor (Neeson) and instead become immersed in the hell on Earth enforced. Riddled with torture, violence and questioning your faith is all old school Scorsese (who co-wrote the script with long-time collaborator Jay Cocks decades in the making) for sure but the film is a laborious slog-fest and very tedious in repeating its message and theme over and over. Garfield who usually excels has the whole film on his slender shoulders and fails to provide any real empathy for a character you basically want to scream at "Just Do What They Ask You To Do Already!"
Exceptionally well produced adaptation; strong work by Washington & Davis - one of the year's best films.
FENCES (2016) **** Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney. Exceptionally well produced adaptation of the classic August Wilson play with career high turns by Washington (who also deftly directed) and Davis as a married couple in 1950s Pittsburgh at odds with the past and the present and a questionable future. Washington's Troy Maxson, a former baseball player who had talent but no chance for the big-time, struggles with his personal demons bubbling at the surface in every waking moment with regret, anger, and disbelief at what his life has been reduced to as a rubbish collector ; hard-bitten and rash. Davis is equally memorable as his long-suffering wife Rose who attempts to be the balm to the open wound that is her husband but often is at odds with her own existence as a woman who wants the best for them all including their athletic son, Cory (newcomer Adepo who acquits himself nicely) who is often the brunt of his father's disdain. One of the year's very best; poignant and real.
Manchester by the Sea (2016)
Affleck is Oscar bound in one of the year's very best films. A must see.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016) **** Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams, CJ Wilson, Gretchen Mol, Matthew Broderick, Tate Donovan, Josh Hamilton, Kara Hayward, Anna Baryshnikov, Heather Burns. Affleck gives an Oscar worthy performance in a career defining performance as a New Englander handyman, Lee Chandler, who prefers to keep others at arms' length in an everlasting downward spiral wrestling with personal demons that comes to a head when his beloved brother Joe (Chandler) suddenly dies leaving him as guardian in trust to his nephew Patrick (aspiring newcomer Hedges who gives good thrust and parry with Affleck in dynamite chemistry) who also is dealing with his teenage hood and growing pains. Filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan (who has a funny cameo as an insulting bypasser) truly gets at the heart of what it means to grieve in piercing, poignant aplomb while letting his actors get at their inner core of feeling. Gorgeously shot with picturesque cinematography by Jody Lee Lipes suggesting Norman Rockwell's America and an unlikely source for one's personal hellish homecoming. Remarkable in its relative low-key balance and appreciative peppering of much welcome humor to an otherwise glum storyline. Affleck is truly remarkable and his reunion with Williams is one for the film vaults; one of the year's very best films and a must see.