Friday, December 30, 2016

2016: The Year in Reviews

I have my "top ten" for the year on track for tomorrow, but in the meantime here's an overview of all the movies I did full reviews during calendar year 2016, with a little blurb from each. This was a big year for me, as I reviewed more flicks than ever before. (This doesn't include retro or archival reviews, of which there were also a few.) Catch them all after the jump!

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Once the thirteen hours of the title begin to unfold (in what honestly feels like an interminable real time slog), we certainly feel the weight of the struggle, but we lose the context necessary to understand the whys-and-wherefores behind the attack itself. Why did it happen? Who did it? Why did they do it. We don't get any of that.
The script does justice to the character's snarky streak (and his propensity to break the fourth wall and talk to the audience), as does Reynold's inhabiting of the role. All of this will no doubt come as a relief to the fans who've helped make Deadpool one of the few latter day Marvel characters to have much of a footprint with the publisher.
London Has Fallen

I may not have liked Olympus Has Fallen very much, but it felt like All The President's Men compared to this sequel. Really, there's something downright toxic about this thing.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Batman v. Superman is a joyless, tedious slog. It goes out of its way to create a superhero universe so weighted down in portent and pomposity, so awash in grit and grime and nastiness, that it forgets to make it a place we'd actually like to visit every couple of months.
Though the central McGuffin (an ominous computer program called "the Wormhole") feels like a lot of nonsense, it does give the third act some necessary propulsion. Ultimately, Criminal is a harmless, if disposable piece of pre-summer entertainment.
The Jungle Book (2016)
Throughout The Jungle Book's 111 minutes there was rarely a moment when I wasn't staring at the screen in rapt awe. The Iron Man helmer's knack for composition is near flawless, as is his seamless merging of practical and digital effects to make Mowgli's computer-generated environs seem so real you want to run your fingers through the grass.
The Huntsman: Winter's War
The biggest problem with The Huntsman is how rote it feels. Having wrapped up in a reasonably satisfying manner last time, there wasn't any inherent necessity to tell this story. And so the whole thing ends up feeling even more mercenary than usual from a big studio.
Captain America: Civil War
The movie leverages our familiarity with and fondness for these actors in these roles to present a conflict that's far more internal (and thus far more engaging) than the "buildings falling over, blue beam shooting into the sky" stuff that this genre has sort of conditioned us to expect.
X-Men: Apocalypse
This should all be riveting stuff given the life-or-death stakes that are in play, but despite a threat that's supposedly so dire, there's just something very ho-hum about the whole thing.
Money Monster
Unfortunately, Money Monster goes for the low-hanging fruit offered up by being a by-the-numbers potboiler. The kind that will get the audience wound up enough to stay engaged for the hundred minute runtime, but not think about it much past the time they leave the theater.
The Nice Guys
The old school sensibility -- a grounded aesthetic and whip-smart dialogue -- is the precise key to its charm.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
In the very best sense of the word, this feels like an episode of that show come to life on a larger scale. As paradoxical as it sounds, by embracing the inherent absurdity of its own premise, it ends up taking the concept more seriously -- the same way kids do.
The film is so indentured to its own voluminous backstory that I have to imagine the experience of watching it is a lot like being stuck in the middle of a bunch of folks playing the game.
Independence Day: Resurgence
I'd like to believe I'd have been pretty unmoved by director Roland Emmerich's long-in-coming follow-up, which ups the spectacle and CGI whiz-bang, but leaves you longing for the (seriously) subtlety and (I'm not kidding) restraint he practiced with the first one.
The Legend of Tarzan

While it isn't particularly bad, it's also doesn't really do anything to stay with you. What should have been a triumphant reclamation of one of the last century's most indelible icons becomes just another reminder that all heroes eventually fade away.
Ghostbusters (2016)
At its core, just like the first one, Ghostbusters '16 benefits simply by putting a supremely talented comedic director and cast together and letting them do their thing. This is the kind of film that lives or dies by its ensemble, and Feig picked the perfect people to occupy these roles.
Star Trek Beyond
Star Trek Beyond is a welcome refresh that again grounds the series in the spirit of idealism and optimism that were at the forefront of creator Gene Roddenberry's thinking, and which have no expiration date.
Jason Bourne
In hindsight, it might have been better to maintain The Bourne Retirement.
Suicide Squad
What Suicide Squad gets right is to make the universe it exists in a living, breathing place with a living, breathing backstory that's already in place beyond the borders of this story, and continues existing afterwards.
More than anything else, Sully is yet another showpiece performance by its star, Tom Hanks, and it's worth watching just for that.
The Magnificent Seven (2016)
[Antoine] Fuqua's new vision of the 1960 John Sturgess oater benefits from strong production values and an imminently watchable cast (not to mention comparison with the numerous misbegotten remakes noted above).
This third entry boasts the usual panoply of ancient mysteries, elaborate puzzles, and beautiful travelogue shots of several European locales, but also gives a greater sense of who Langdon is as a character, filling in his backstory to the extent that we actually feel something for him beyond the normal fondness that Hanks effortlessly engenders.
Doctor Strange
I don't think the Disney/Marvel team has to worry about their brand faltering if Doctor Strange is an indication of what's on the horizon.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
It's important to remember that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them arrives with a deep and wide audience already primed and ready for it, which is certainly a good advantage to have in the blockbuster game.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Rogue One is, at its core, a down-and-dirty wartime drama, set just before the events of the original ’77 installment—and finally depicting onscreen the events that had, until now, only been alluded to via that opening crawl.

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