2017 in review

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Remo D
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2017 in review

Post by Remo D » Tue Jan 02, 2018 12:16 am

So... here we are again, but with one rather profound difference. You may or may not have noticed that I stopped posting individual movie reviews on-line about halfway through the year. In other news, this also applies to my individual reviews of theatrical productions. The reasons are many, the reasons are personal as well as public, and none of this is likely to change in the near future.

Now let me assure you that where there are publications who still actively seek out and welcome my writing, they will find me most accommodating. I have not permanently retired from genre journalism... just from the self-demanding field of voluntary social media reviewing. I'm not ungrateful--if you've enjoyed my reviews over the years I'm very pleased that I could contribute. Nor do I consider that I'm slowing down as such. Age is not an active factor for me... then again, I'm over halfway to 100 and I'd like to indulge other areas for which my energies might be devoted for personal benefit. Which certainly doesn't mean that I won't engage with you if you ASK me to.

I've been WATCHING movies more than ever, and it's frankly been more fun to absorb them personally without the self-imposed obligation to sit down and write about each and every entertainment. As for social media itself? It's getting more and more difficult to write a simple review without getting sidetracked into political, religious or cultural arguments that either have nothing whatsoever to do with a filmmaker's personal vision... or which I supposedly don't "get" to comment on because I'm not part of a certain community. I don't want to talk about whether or not WONDER WOMAN is 'sufficiently' feminist, whether or not American filmmakers ought to adapt Japanese properties, or how a screen entertainment should be compared to someone else's true-life experience.

Meanwhile? I believe I have served my purpose and that it's time for me to move on. Somebody's going to play the 'sour grapes' card on me, no doubt, but I rebuff that in advance. But let's pretend that we live in a world in which the Marx Brothers were all but unknown in America well near the end of the twentieth century. And you made it your mission to tell the reading public about the Marx Brothers (even though you loved and reviewed every comedy you could get your hands on). You started off as a Marx Brothers guy (without claiming to be THE Marx Brothers guy), and the works of the Marx Brothers have always been an integral part of your output (in print, on-line, on television, what have you). Twenty-five years later, you've seen your dream come true. The films of the Marx Brothers are finally getting their due in a series of awesome, thoroughly annotated Blu-Ray restorations and the fans are never going to go unaware of them. But through whatever combination of circumstances, you were never even approached to be a part of this (commentary, liner notes, introductory essays, what have you). Well, c'est la vie. The job is in more than capable hands and you should be glad that the phenomenon happened at all. Still, as Buddy Young Jr. might agree, you're a bit past "Tell me about yourself." If twenty-five years in print and sixteen years worth of horror-hosting aren't enough for one to get noticed by the industry, you won't find me waiting around for my phone to ring or for my inbox to fill up. I have other things to do.

Hey, I'm a self-starter. I want to be a writer? I write. I want to be an actor? I act. I want to be a filmmaker? I make a movie. I want to be a television horror host? I become a television horror host (Hall of Fame, baby!). I want to be a playwright? I write a play. I want to see my play produced? I produce the damn thing myself. I want to be half of a beloved musical duo? I make myself half of a beloved musical duo. I want to be the local mixology authority? I'm the local mixology authority. I want to be a... oh, wait till you see what happens next (some of you have already been dropped a private hint).

Ah, but the movie year in review is a tradition I will never drop. And I'm tempted to do this year in reverse format (as there were scarcely any true turkeys in my 2017 experience and so, SO much good stuff)... but I'm going to do it my traditional way all the same.

Because I'm me. That's Remo D.

THE GOOD

We might be breaking records with all the good stuff in the horror year of 2017. And I don't even want to pick a winner, that's how good the good stuff is.

SPLIT confirmed the M. Night Shyamalan resurgence with a phenomenal multi-personality turn by James McEvoy that's going to go completely unforgotten come Oscar time. A riveting film that ends with a promise of even more fulfillment to come.

Okay, I know I was supposed to hate RINGS for being a late-in-the-autumn franchise revival that sat on the shelf for over a year. But it had enough original ideas to escape the rehash curse, it got to the point without wasting twenty minutes on detours involving horses, and it entertained far more successfully than either the American RING 2 or the misbegotten Japanese mashup SADAKO VS. KAYAKO. If it holds my interest and doesn't make me groan out loud, it's a good movie, so there.

A CURE FOR WELLNESS defied the popcorn crowd with an indulgent running time and a medical conspiracy that ultimately revealed itself to be a Hammer Films Grand Guignol on a scale that Hammer itself couldn't have aspired to back in the day.

GET OUT. Oh, my goodness. To brutally tackle contemporary racism with a bright and imaginative horror plot that actually had little or nothing to DO with race (but which required its participants to bend over backward to NOT seem racist all the same). Best Original Screenplay of 2017 in my book and beautifully executed by Jordan Peele.

Then the arthouse took over for a few weeks. RAW was the Chas. Balun "chunkblower challenge" of the year (a young veterinary student is forced to discover herself and forego her vegan identity) in a shocker that even came with its own barf bag.

On the opposite side of the coin? Chas. would never have sat still for PERSONAL SHOPPER, but this subtle ghost story boasted Kristen Stewart's best performance to date and some of the most intelligent insights into the relationship between genuine ghosts and psychic energy since THE HAUNTING itself.

THE VOID gave you "Fulci-esque" to a turn as it converted ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 with a hospital setting into a trip into Hell. That's three of the seven doors we've accounted for now, methinks.

And THE TRANSFIGURATION duly acknowledged MARTIN before it as it told the tale of a young urban vampire with no supernatural powers whatsoever. It also featured one of the year's very nastiest and most unexpected shocks...

...while DAVE MADE A MAZE might beg the question "Is this a horror film?" even though it offered monsters, inventive demises and indy thrills to spare.

You far more likely saw ANNABELLE: CREATION, which survived the sophomore jinx and supplied a frequently frightening prequel to the obligatory CONJURING sidestep that inspired it.

Darren Aronowsky's 'mother!' was the berserk nightmare of the year. Sure, the Biblical allegories are on its sleeve, but knowledge of the metaphor does nothing to slow down the increasingly intense, surreal and uncontrollable scenario as Jennifer Lawrence is forced to realize more and more that she just... doesn't... matter. This one left me breathless, 'zero' score or not.

Speaking of series entries that you probably did NOT see on the big screen? VICTOR CROWLEY proved a riotous 'roadshow' preview for something most of you are going to see direct to disc... while CULT OF CHUCKY admirably held together the continuity of the entire CHILD'S PLAY series to date.

As far as Australian Christmas-themed horror films released out of season go? BETTER WATCH OUT was the "better" of the two. I was ready to dock it a few points until a most satisfying ending made it all worthwhile.

HAPPY DEATH DAY is easily described as GROUNDHOG DAY as a PG-13 slasher film. Doesn't matter a bit... it was delightfully entertaining.

The flip side of RAW? THELMA gave us another young lady finding herself at a distant school, but with zero splatter. Some tried to make this into a 'superhero' movie as opposed to a horror movie. No. There's enough to qualify it for inclusion here, and it was beautifully done.

And THE SHAPE OF WATER gave us Guillermo del Toro's 'grown-up' take on both PAN'S LABYRINTH and THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. Lushly envisioned, superbly acted, deserving of awards across the board... but it can't reign supreme in a world that already has PAN'S LABYRINTH after what THAT film did to me.

My top pick sounds too easy. I already acknowledged GET OUT as the Best Original and 'mother!' as the most relentless nightmare. Then GERALD'S GAME went straight to Netflix as THE most faithful Stephen King adaptation yet set to film... and that for a most unlikely property.

But we all know IT. And I don't have to expound on IT. You should already know that I lived with Stephen King's printed output since my junior high days. That I consider him one of the great American storytellers. And that I consider IT one of his very best stabs at the Great American Novel. I liked the Tim Curry miniseries just fine... but the new IT (despite updating the setting and only telling the first half of the story) stands as the best Stephen King adaptation I have ever seen. So it's IT as Best Adaptation, and it's GET OUT as Best Original Horror. But the 'gun to your head' crowd gets IT as my top choice as 2017 for strictly personal reasons.

THE MIDDLE GROUND

RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER, and not a moment too soon. By no means the best film in the series. But it still has Milla Jovovich as Alice. So end it here and I'm happy.

THE BELKO EXPERIMENT gave us a Serling-esque exercise in intensity and personal loyalty and turned the dial up on the gory brutality... but it forgot to come up with an ending.

LIFE was a perfectly serviceable deep-space horror story with nothing new to offer.

IT COMES AT NIGHT credited us with the intelligence to not require a detailed explanation for whatever apocalypse pitted the last few survivors of humanity against each other. Exactly why one would want to subject oneself to so much of humanity at its depressing worst was another question.

The latest take on THE MUMMY was an unfortunate attempt to force an entirely new cinematic universe on us all at once. And now it'll never happen. But this glorious mess certainly didn't bore me.

47 METERS DOWN was one of the better shark movies. It only stumbled with its new ending, apparently meant to thwart those lucky few who already had it on its quickly-recalled DVD release.

Sofia Coppola's new take on THE BEGUILED certainly boasted a strong cast... but the switch in emphasis to the perspective of the female characters as opposed to that of Colin Farrell's intrusive soldier ultimately castrated the effect of the Don Siegel original.

And speaking of Colin Farrell? THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER gave us a modern take on Greek tragedy with otherwordly distance and relentless cruelty even as it provided a perfectly reasonable answer to the question "Who the hell died and made THIS creep God?" As with IT COMES AT NIGHT (also an A24 release) it was quite well done but nothing I'd want to subject myself to again (and I'm well aware that I preferred the machine-gun intensity of the equally mythologically-derived 'mother!').

WISH UPON was pure "Monkey's Paw" formula with high schoolers and a magical wishing machine. But it went through its paces efficiently enough and scored with a particularly good ending. That can really help.

On the other hand, FRIEND REQUEST started off as something much better than the RING knockoff it could have been... until it wound up as the RING ripoff it turned out to be all along.

THE DARK TOWER? Well, outside of THE LAWNMOWER MAN, here’s the LEAST faithful afterthought to have Stephen King’s name slapped on it. Considering the epic it SHOULD have been, this was a joke. Still, Matthew McConaughey was kind of fun and the film was much too short to be boring.

Oh, yeah, they remade FLATLINERS, didn't they? At least it wasn't scene-for-scene and had a few new thrills to offer, but it all went to pot by the finale.

JIGSAW may have been a gratuitous, unbelievable and completely unnecessary extension to the SAW franchise. But it was still better than SAW 3D.

And also just in time for Halloween? THE most controversial horror film of the year and the one I dreaded acknowledging more than any other was JEEPERS CREEPERS 3. But after months of being promised that I, myself, would be branded in infamy if I so much as bought a ticket to a film made by a man who unquestionably did horrible things in real life... the damn thing just went straight to SyFy for free. And if that's not enough, it was in a new rendition completely re-shot by Christopher Plummer. For all the ruckus? It's an action film more than anything else, focusing as it does on the Creeper's indestructible car and its tricked-out booby traps. And for some reason it takes place BETWEEN the first two films, so you STILL don't know what happens when the Creeper wakes up under Ray Wise's vigilance. Really. That's all.

THE BAD

So little to choose from this time, and that's a very good thing. THE BAD BATCH begs for inclusion based on its title alone, but it's not really a horror film. It DOES have some post-apocalyptic cannibal gore stuff in the early going, though. And it perks up whenever Jason Momoa is on screen. The trouble is the two hours worth of material in which absolutely nothing happens, unless your idea of a good time is listening to Keanu Reeves wax rhapsodic about tomatoes.

RED CHRISTMAS (the 'other' Australian Christmas-themed horror film released out of season in 2017) might have been Mike Pence's wet dream of a pro-life slasher film, or it might have been a sick joke based on that premise. Whatever it was, it utterly failed to entertain me.

But no, it was THE BYE-BYE MAN that squandered its entire potential on a 'gimmick' horror film that couldn't even explain its own gimmick. We got that one out of the way PLENTY early in 2017 as they cut the R-rated film into a PG-13 to make it even less effective. Sorry, but when the doggie in the wallpaper turned and snarled, there was absolutely no coming back. And the first dump-off of 2018 is a fourth INSIDIOUS nobody asked for. Can't wait.

Unseen by me: Yet another UNDERWORLD movie. And TRAGEDY GIRLS (because I was never offered a matinee and because the damn thing still isn't available on-demand).

Okay... fantasy, action and miscellany. And you wonder why I didn't find time to write 60-plus individual movie reviews for a private blog this year?

Superhero movies. My favorite this year might well have been the truly hilarious and genuinely touching THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE.

WWE tried its best to sell us on SLEIGHT, which was essentially a junior SUPER FLY in which a young, reluctant drug dealer with a heart tries to survive 'one last job' with a combination of street magic and science-fiction devices. It just doesn't work.

I liked GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2 even more than I did the first one, although twenty minutes of sentiment was a rather high price for ninety minutes of action and fun.

WONDER WOMAN? The best new DC Universe film to date, acknowledging that Christopher Nolan's BATMAN movies don't count here.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING? Okay, the most PC-accomplished high school yet set on screen... but genuine empathy for the working guy. You actually care while you watch Peter Parker grow up too quickly, but Michael Keaton steals the day again.

THOR: RAGNAROK was one of the very best in the Marvel Universe series to date. What's more to say? Jeff Goldblum, that's what.

And JUSTICE LEAGUE? If you go by the hideously unimaginative villain and his winged-monkey plot, it's every bit as bad as you heard it was. But when the good guys get together it's great fun, and this was the first time I truly enjoyed Henry Cavill as Superman. That's big.

Fantasy/sci-fi?

How do I love DEATH RACE 2050? Let me count the ways. This is EXACTLY the sequel we wanted as only Roger Corman could serve it up. Yeah, I still like the Statham movie. But not as a sequel to DEATH RACE 2000.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND didn't try to cram us into a new universe immediately (like THE MUMMY did). We got a sock-bam-pow KONG movie with plenty of monsters and action to thrill us, starting with pure revenge for that little Empire State Building incident). NOW bring on Godzilla.

GHOST IN THE SHELL didn't suffer for casting Scarlett Johansson (the mechanoid character was SUPPOSED to have American-European features in the original anime). But in attempting to translate one of the most thoroughly immersive anime concepts of all into live action, the overall effect still stumbled in BLADE RUNNER territory.

Speaking of which? BLADE RUNNER 2049 was exactly the provocative, deliberate and thoughtful epic with which to ruminate on a Ridley Scott stunner that many people hated back in the 1980s. This can't be dismissed or accounted for with a mere review. It will live.

As, I imagine, will Scott's ALIEN: COVENANT, in which artificial life once again takes center stage over those pesky acid-spewing monsters. This isn't cash-hungry overkill, as some see it... this is a follow-up to PROMETHEUS as opposed to a disposable AvP knockoff. I, for one, still want to see what happens next (or what has already transpired).

One of my absolute favorites of the year certainly qualifies as a "monster" movie, but COLOSSAL has different cards to play even as a couple of behemoths are stomping Korea. In its own way, this is an even deeper and more personal look at the relationship between normal people and the monsters their minds create than the works of... dare I say it? (The guy who made PACIFIC RIM and THE SHAPE OF WATER.)

I knew from the moment I saw the trailer (and Woody Harrelson) that WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES would be one of the year's best films. It was.

I so wanted VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS to be a worldwide smash even as I knew it was not to be. Luc Besson at his most visually indulgent and loving.

On a much smaller scale, BRIGSBY BEAR struck a chord as it detailed how only closure with a fantasy with which one has been raised can bridge the gap to a wrenchingly sudden reality. And it had Mark Hamill.

So did STAR WARS EPISODE VIII: THE LAST JEDI. Long story short, I like this new series better than anything that happened since Episode V.

Having appeared in a local adaptation of A CHRISTMAS CAROL this past year might have prejudiced me, but THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS (a fanciful look at Charles Dickens and his creation of that very classic) will probably be my favorite Christmas movie for some years to come.

And the fantasy year wrapped up with the thoroughly entertaining and delightful JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE. It's all that because the human characters (and, of course, their avatars) are every bit as convincing as the epic special effects action.

Speaking of action?

FREE FIRE was the buried treasure of the year. Highly recommended to any fans of RESERVOIR DOGS for a start.

BABY DRIVER was a sheer delight from its perfectly-synched soundtrack to its affection for its characters above and beyond typical convention. Oh, and Paul. Freaking. Williams.

THE VILLAINESS and BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL both had their moments (particularly at the beginning and end) but left me flat in the middle; while THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD was superficially amusing and about as empty as could be. I so much preferred the ambitious ATOMIC BLONDE and the ferocity of THE FOREIGNER, in which Jackie Chan acted his age to nonetheless devastating effect.

Drama? Back to the arthouse. Remember when TRAINSPOTTING was a sensation? In 2017, the long-delayed followup T2: TRAINSPOTTING was denied a mainstream release and died a quick death on these shores, despite being every bit as good as the first one.

Nobody liked the Google paranoia thriller THE CIRCLE, and not even Emma Watson and Tom Hanks could save it at the box office. But aside from a painful last look at a decrepit Bill Paxton, it worked for me.

LADY MACBETH had nothing to do with Shakespeare and everything to do with an ambitious young woman who decided that the noble family into which she married would not determine her course of action or power. Florence Pugh is a fresh name to remember for great things.

Meanwhile, Aubrey Plaza has already claimed her fresh title between her caustic supporting turn in the hysterical convent comedy THE LITTLE HOURS and her lead role as a desperate social media stalker in INGRID GOES WEST.

The same people who branded GET OUT a "comedy" for the sake of award recognition would rather you see THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI as a serious drama. Which it is. Which does not negate its very human humor or its status as one of the most heartfelt and sympathetic takes on human emotion ever.

And while THE DISASTER ARTIST couldn't capture the typical Franco/Rogen audience, and while I have yet to see THE ROOM for myself, the obsession of someone who wants to make a movie when the rest of the world tells him he can't do it resonated with me. AND made me laugh. No, I wasn't involved in THE ROOM. But I was there all the same.

See you next year. Or I might surprise you earlier.

Remo D.


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