I thought I’d catch up here with a few capsule reviews of movies I saw in 2017, because I saw a bunch and, while I didn’t do full reviews for them at the time, quite a number of them were what I would categorize as fine or solid.* I want to acknowledge them and celebrate it.
So here we go! Potential spoilers ahead…
Arrival: Good. I know I’m late to the game with this one, but the wait was worth it. This film unfolds nicely, traces an ambitious path (and succeeds), is pleasingly cerebral, and the reveal, which could have been cheezy at the hands of a lessor storyteller, lands satisfyingly into place. It’s symphonic and great.
Guardians of the Galaxy 2: Solid. Overall it’s a bit of a hot mess, but yet, somehow it works, no little in part because, while none of us expected it, the movie turns out to be a meditation on family. Right from the opening sequence all the way to the end, it makes sure to keep the theme both present and the driver. The best for me, though, is Rocket’s arc. When Rocket shouts “I didn’t ask to be made!” in the first movie, I was annoyed they never dug deeper into it, as there’s so much there that could have made for a good story. They don’t exactly dig fully here either, really, but they make up for it in big ways and the last shot in the movie is perfect and beautiful and gets me every time.
Wonder Woman: Solid. A proper return to golden era comic booking, with a protagonist who holds conviction and empathy and generosity and a protector’s spirit. The setting of WW1 is a good backdrop (even though the filmmakers seem determined to turn the WW1 Germans into Nazis), and many of the supporting characters are well fleshed out and thus have presence. And they didn’t dwell on the fish out of water aspect. Hindered by repetitive slow-motion shots, a forced love story that cheapens a key moment of choice, and an overpowered showdown that is both boring and lead to sequel problems (if you have that kind of power, why are you stuck now?). I can imagine what it might have been with a lighter hand from the studio overlords.
Baby Driver: Poor. I was all ready to love this movie to death, and the first moments of the film seemed like it would deliver on the promise of something stylistic and fresh. It was a tease. The rest was overwrought, cliché, predictable, and nonsensical, punctuated by dropped opportunities (why make a deal out of Baby making mixmusic if it wasn’t going to lead to anything interesting?) and unmotivated character changes. A let down.
Blade Runner 2049: Good. Oh. My. Different from Blade Runner in many ways, and absolutely a worthy follow up, asking good questions, exploring things, and with an art and set direction that’s second to none. Also keeps mysteries alive all while asking us if the answer would really matter. And the soundtrack manages to hold up mostly well to Vangelis’ masterpiece. Grand movie making.
Your Name: Good. Anime that’s a mystery, timebender, love story (kinda), coming of age story, and what is identity story all wrapped up in one. Didn’t get much play over here, and very much worth seeking out.
The Red Turtle: N/A. Something about the premise/opening just rubs me the wrong way that I felt detached for the rest of the movie.
Spider Man Homecoming: Solid Minus. Suffers from an overemphasis on Stark, both in actual appearance and in the suit (it’d be much more interesting getting to know Peter as Spidy than a focus on and the antics with the suit), and it doubly suffers from the fatal flaw of almost all Marvel films, wherein the character’s flaw is never outgrown and instead is somehow key to success. But Keaton as the Vulture is great, and there’s an earnestness throughout that holds things together well enough.
Logan: Good Minus. It’s a western. So much so, that the characters watch a western in the middle of the movie to clue you in. That aside, that framework works well, telling a story about superheroes we rarely explore, while weaving it into some ominous overtones. The end suffers from actionsequencitis, as well as a major plot hole, but unlike, say, Rogue One, the characters and themes aren’t jettisoned completely allowing it to end feeling whole. (But seriously Laura, you couldn’t have at least carried him across the border to be buried back in his home country of Canada??)
Coco: Solid Plus. It’s not Pixar at its finest (Ratatouille, Wall-E), but it’s mighty fine, with pretty good storytelling, nicely inventive, delicious to look at, and fun. With a great huge kitty to boot.
* I should clarify my rating system, since I don’t think I’ve ever done so explicitly, and I’m changing one of my terms to be clearer. When I’ve said a movie is Fair, I mean that it is a Solid and Competent movie. It is a movie where, in terms of all of its elements (idea, theme, interest, cinematography, dialogue, acting, flow, music, plot, narrative, story, and storytelling craft), it is well enough put together; it is competent. It may have certain strengths, or be weak in some areas, but it still, on the whole, comes together. It is the baseline level at which most movies should fall. (And so here, unlike what 3 stars or fair might represent in the more general world of online (especially product) reviews, I don’t mean mediocre; its satisfying)
The movies that go beyond that base level and excel in some way (be it with superb storytelling, a great premise that is well explored, inventiveness, set design, etc) head into Good territory, while the rare few that amaze and shine on numerous levels, that wow us and touch us and move us and lodge into our psyche and spirit for days upon days and beyond, those there are Excellent films.
In the opposite direction, Poor films are those that miss the/their mark for a broad set of reasons. Craft could be lacking (which is common), or the execution flawed, or the premise weak. They may be fine on some levels, but fail on the most critical ones. Or they may just be generally mediocre across the entire moviemaking/cinematography spectrum.
Abysmal movies I rarely (due to self-selection) watch, but these would be movies that are irredeemable on numerous levels, with terrible premise, terrible storytelling, terrible execution, and might make me fear for the future of humanity…
To any of these base rankings I may add plusses and minuses to capture more nuance in how I feel about a film.