ENJOY THE SHOW
We are well into the 2018 summer movie season, and it's a good time to step away from the extraordinary heroes, superhuman villains, and dangerous technology that generally make up the blockbuster fare seeing release. Instead we'll be discussing Upgrade, a film about, well, an extraordinary hero, some superhuman villains, and dangerous technology but on a shoestring budget by comparison with the gigantic franchises inundating multiplexes. As if the cost of a film has no bearing on quality (spoiler: it never does), Upgrade is an absolute blast of an action/sci-fi picture, an uproariously entertaining experience that delivers break-neck excitement and morbid humor with a heaping dose of caution. In a nutshell, it's the perfect, and a welcome, experience for fans of blockbuster films who are looking for something outside the franchise box.
In many ways 2018 is both the best and worst period of time to be a fan of the Star Wars franchise. On one hand, with Disney and the Kathleen Kennedy-led Lucasfilm in charge of the slate of new films, there are more stories set in the tumultuous galaxy being told than ever before. On the flipside, the notion of burnout with all these Star Wars films can be felt to say nothing of the turbulent manner in which many fans find themselves. There is more conflict among the fan-base than there ever was under George Lucas' control, the catalyst of which stems from Lucasfilm's concept of going back and forth between stories set in the main Skywalker saga, and extra standalone stories set elsewhere in the time and place of the Star Wars galaxy.
18 movies, 10 years, 10 Academy Award nominations, 6 Infinity Stones, and one mad Titan. Those are just some of the numbers the Marvel Cinematic Universe (aka the "MCU") is working with going into its 19th and latest film, Avengers: Infinity War, directed by Anthony & Joe Russo. All roads have certainly been leading to this, the culmination of the ever-expanding MCU and the adventures of the countless superheroes found therein. But Infinity War is unlike any of those adventures in which all of our favorite comic book characters have found themselves involved before. With Marvel Studios seemingly having perfected the superhero formula, it seems now is the perfect time to shake things up, and the MCU doesn't disappoint. Infinity War not only leaves the entire MCU shaken, it works to leave fans of this universe shaken, as well.
There's been something of a horror-sance (a horror renaissance) at work so far in 2018. Never mind the fact that a horror film (The Shape of Water) won Best Picture at the Oscars, and another horror film (Get Out) was a very strong candidate for the trophy. The genre output so far in 2018 has been stellar with filmmakers delivering effective chills and believable characters through quality storytelling. In a nutshell, it's a good time to be a fan of horror cinema, and the good time continues with A Quiet Place. It has everything fans of the genre would want: likeable and well-written characters; decent pacing throughout; and, most importantly, an absolutely terrifying premise with equally scary moments. A Quiet Place is a monster movie that plays the sub-genre to a T, and shows once again there is still some art to be had in the horror genre.
Board games and charades take a deadly yet funny turn in dark comedy Game Night. This kind of social gathering has become more and more popular in recent years and seems ripe with potential for a cinematic setup. Enter the directing duo of John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein, who take the premise up a notch with real-life kidnappings, real-life gangsters, and real-life dangers which all fall on the heads of the suburban characters involved. It's an obvious take for a Hollywood comedy, but the team behind Game Night utilizes the ensemble cast to the best of its abilities and never allows the twists or the humor to fall flat. Game Night ends up being a riotous time at the movies that may perhaps serve as a better evening
Meanwhile, back in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, director Ryan Coogler is schooling everyone on how it's supposed to be done. The Oakland-born filmmaker made waves, huge waves, right out of the gate with his feature debut, Fruitvale Station (2013), and then again with the Rocky spin-off, Creed (2015). There's a natural apprehension anytime an up-and-coming filmmaker steps in to take on a blockbuster project, but Black Panther, Coogler's first endeavor into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, defiantly puts any doubts to rest. The film successfully sets a new bar for not only comic book movies, but also action movies as a whole. Smart, stylish, and with a ton at work under the surface, Black Panther is an exhilarating addition to the MCU and one more indication that Coogler is a filmmaker worth taking note of.
The Taken series of movies allowed for Liam Neeson's transition into an action star, an idea that has only been solidified by the once-dramatic actor's collaborations with director Jaume Collet-Serra. Films like Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night have not only entertained action-craving audiences with high-octane thrills, they've established Neeson's place as one of the go-to action stars of the modern era. The latest movie to come from this filmmaker-actor collaboration, The Commuter, is an action-thriller loaded with that particular brand of Neeson badassery. Despite a clichéd and overexposed narrative that weighs it down, the film delivers precisely what fans of the newfangled, action star expect and ends up being a fun time at the movies. Yes, you will see Liam Neeson punching more than a few unfortunate souls in the face.
Another year, another stellar slate of motion pictures seeing release. Despite what others might say about it (once again) being an off year at the movies, there were definitely some true winners worth seeking out. All you had to do was find them. Films that moved us, resonated with us, and out-and-out blew us away all saw release in 2017, so much of them, in fact, that, as with previous years at the cinema, it was difficult coming up with the 10 best. Here you will find my Top 10 Films of 2017, those motion pictures that spoke to me more than others, but someone else's Top 10 could just as easily be a completely different set of movies. It's a testament to just how strong a year is for movies that the Best Of lists are so diverse (view Adam's here).
A closeup shot of Tonya Harding's skate crushing a lit cigarette serves as a visual representation of the figure skater as a whole in I, Tonya, a biography of her life and the events that led to her controversial end in the sport. Harding was a force in the skating world: unrefined, rebellious, and unapologetic but with a raw talent that world had never seen before or since. It makes sense Harding's tenure in the figure skating world ended in controversy. I, Tonya, directed by Craig Gillespie, doesn't shy from the darker turns her life took, the film's screenplay working from rumor and the unreliable narration of the people around her. It's a stunning story, dark and comical in equal turns, and the film relays the events in splendid fashion as well as giving us a star-making turn by Australian actress Margot Robbie as the eponymous character.
It doesn't take much knowledge of the horror genre to realize a final chapter hardly means anything. Just as many franchises that have had a "final chapter" have carried on with gleeful bloodletting as if nothing of finality has ever even occurred. So it's no surprise the Saw series has returned. Seven years after the series' apparent conclusion, the games are rigged back up, the unwilling participants are again in imminent peril, and the mysteries surrounding the Jigsaw killer and his legacy are at it once again. While the return of this franchise could have been used to shake things up, though, those traps and the mystery they bring offer little freshness or a sense of the new to the proceedings. Fans of the series will be happy with the franchise's return, but the Spierig Brothers' Jigsaw and its latest game won't be winning over any new contestants.
Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead are a filmmaking duo that have quietly made some of the best genre films the indie world has seen in recent memory. Their first film, Resolution, switched up the game when it came to stories about storytelling, and Spring, for all its interesting & intelligent monster movie elements, is a heartfelt and beautiful tale of love. Their latest, The Endless, goes back to a storytelling well the team dipped into with their first film, but it plays on such an elaborately greater level that it becomes a beast completely unto itself. The Endless is a horror/sci-fi film like nothing the cinematic world has seen thus far and only serves to prove Benson & Moorhead as some of the strongest voices in the world of indie cinema.
A heist-style drama about genius high school students and their task to pull off the ultimate, cheating scam on behalf of dozens of wealthy peers doesn't quite sound like the nail-biter Bad Genius ends up pulling off, but here we are. The Thai film we do get, which is directed by the very talented Nattawut Poonpiriya, not only brings with it a whip-smart screenplay, it's an incredibly intense caper loaded with crackling dialogue and impressive performances that ranks up there with recent, instant classics like Moneyball and The Social Network. Poonpiriya keeps your attention from beginning to end and ends up delivering one of the tautest thrillers (without really being a thriller) to come along in some time.