2018 in Film

Last year, I started strong thinking I was going to watch a ton of movies, my best year yet! It was even a resolution of mine, because I was armed with MoviePass and the opportunity to watch movies as a contributor for Punch Drunk Critics.

But then… well… I stumbled pretty hard. When my mental health took a hit, I definitely didn’t go see any movies, especially when MoviePass became harder and harder to use. My PDC reviews dropped off in the summer. (Sorry Travis!)

A couple of things I noticed with this year’s movies:

  • It was a big year for superhero movies for me and I didn’t even see all of them.
  • No early screenings this year! I just didn’t have the mental bandwidth to wait in line and spend the time this past year, and I was less incentivized once I started paying for movie subscription services.
  • Despite the long stretch of time I was in China this year, I didn’t get to go to the movies while I was there,

Without further ado, here are all the 2018 theatrical releases I watched last year:

2018 in movies
Collage of movie posters for movies watched in 2018

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2017 in Film

I seem to say this every year but I didn’t watch as many movies as I wanted to in 2017. Especially as the year started winding down and the holiday season started ramping up, I stopped wanting to commit to attending movie screenings (2 hours of run time + waiting in line for a good seat + the commute to and from these theaters).

One thing that did change my movie watching this year was joining the team at Punch Drunk Critics. I am getting to watch some really cool indie flicks and documentaries that I wouldn’t otherwise be going to see and the PDC team has been so great to work with so far. I can’t wait to do more with them in 2018!

Without further ado, here are the new releases I watched in 2017:

2017 in Film

  1. Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World
  2. Table 19
  3. *Beauty and the Beast
  4. T2 Trainspotting
  5. Gifted
  6. Get Out
  7. The Fate of the Furious
  8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  9. Wonder Woman
  10. *The Big Sick
  11. Baby Driver
  12. *Spider-Man: Homecoming
  13. Footnotes
  14. Girls Trip
  15. A Family Man
  16. The Dark Tower
  17. The Good Catholic
  18. It Happened in LA
  19. The Breadwinner
  20. Thor: Ragnarok
  21. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

*Watched outside of original run (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime, on a plane)


It’s been a great year for movies and I’m excited for what 2018 has to bring. With me continuing to write for PDC and having just received my MoviePass in the mail, I hope this year I can watch more movies!

This year, I’d also like to try tracking the movies I watch on Letterboxd, since I’ve have a bit of success tracking books on Goodreads and haven’t used my Letterboxd account in about 4 years!

What movies did you love last year?  There are a lot of great ones I know I’m missing, especially with awards season happening right now. Movies this past year also got very split opinions, with people loving or hating them more than in the past.

What movies are you excited for in 2018? Personally, I’m really excited to see Black Panther and, despite how much AOU disappointed me, Avengers: Infinity War, because I’m always going to get hyped for the Avengers. I’m also really looking forward to Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians, among many other releases coming up this year.

The Dark Tower (2017) | review

Thanks to The City Vault for sending me to this early screening!

Note: I have not read the The Dark Tower book series, nor have I seen… any Stephen King movie? Or read any of his books? (Horror is not my thing. I am a scaredy cat.)

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There has been SO MUCH HYPE for this much-beloved epic book series to come to life on the big screen, but there has also been so much strife for this film to actually come to fruition. Stephen King fans have been waiting with bated breath for a movie that they knew could never match the fantastical world crafted over nine books that is the link between all of King’s other novels.

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Recognize the hotel in the picture frame?

To put it in perspective for people unfamiliar with the source material: You know how there are theories that say things like all Pixar movies are in the same universe? That’s what The Dark Tower is to Stephen King novels, on a Lord of the Rings-esque scale. So… it’s a big a** deal.

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

I learned that The Dark Tower movie is meant to be a sequel/continuation of the books, so fans who are expecting a faithful adaptation of the Gunslinger book will be disappointed. There is no man in black fleeing across the desert to open the movie; that war is done when the film begins.

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The Gunslinger (Idris Elba) is the standout star of this film. He channels so much of that Man With No Name energy that Stephen King based the character on with this immense gravitas in his eyes and his voice and his posture. And while it’s obvious, it is very worth mentioning how freaking cool he is with his forged-from-Excalibur guns.

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I’m sure the books have a lot more backstory on Roland, the last of the Gunslingers, but we don’t really know what his deal is in the movie. Why is he the last? What do you mean guns forged from King Arthur’s Excalibur? Why is he able to resist the Man in Black’s magics, and why is this not a bigger mystery to either of them?

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I just really love Idris Elba, okay, he deserves more, always

Speaking of the Man in Black, Matthew McConaughey plays the villain I never knew I wanted him to be all these years of watching his career grow from the rom-coms I loved him in to an Oscar-winning actor. He has this eerie stillness to him, a complete control of the situation, and a psychopathic way of getting in people’s heads while having zero empathy for them.

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Despite all of that, the Man in Black in The Dark Tower falls victim to the same fate as many blockbuster movie villains: A poorly fleshed out motive and a, there, uncompelling foil to our protagonists. Walter (as his real name is, apparently) is this all-powerful man with at least hundreds of minions at his fingertips. He has magic that allows hims to stop bullets and tell people to stop breathing and do some straight-up Matrix-type stuff. But why? Why does he want the Dark Tower to fall? Why does he want to allow hellish creatures into the universe? And my personal beef when it comes to magical powers is always: What is the limit of these powers? (Still mad about Elsa’s vague but frighteningly limitless ice powers…)

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Tom Taylor‘s Jake Chambers showed a lot of very real emotions for the anchor of this story: he’s frustrated that no one is taking his dreams seriously, he’s mad at his stepfather for wanting to send him away to get help, he’s terrified of the monsters in his dreams coming after him in real life, he’s disappointed that even the heroes of his dreams aren’t what he expected, he’s sad about having lost his father.

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Unfortunately, with Jake, we are literally only TOLD that he has great powers, but we really aren’t shown this. Before he crosses through a portal, he has to fight off some kind of demon in the woodwork of the house and, apparently, the reason he is able to do so is because he has mega-strong psychic abilities? But we see no real indication of this until we’re told that he has these powers. It’s not like Harry Potter talking to a snake or Anakin Skywalker using the Force to win a race. We really don’t get an inkling here, and it’s a rather big failure to show, not tell by the movie, since it is the reason that Jake is important as a character in the context of the events of this story!

TL;DR The movie falls short of the epic potential it promises, and does some strange and unnecessary showing without telling. (Indicative of some strange editing decisions, maybe?) It also leans a bit too much on the fish-out-of-water humor to get by. It’s still a good time to watch, but I don’t feel compelled to watch a sequel or even the potential TV show to come based on this film.

But it is a lot of fun to watch Idris Elba and his revolvers.

The Dark Tower is in theaters today. Spoilers below the trailer.

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A Family Man (2017)

A version of this review originally appeared on Punch Drunk Critics.

A Family Man movie poster

I never know quite what to expect when I watch a Gerard Butler movie. He’s been an opera phantom, a Spartan king, a Secret Service agent…
I do, however, know almost exactly what to expect when I watch a movie about a man struggling to balance his work life and his family life.

There’s nothing wrong with A Family Man. It’s just that it’s pretty predictable: Dane Jensen (Gerard Butler) is a headhunter, the kind that has become very successful by occasionally treating ethics like suggestions and being on his phone all the time. It’s a character we’ve seen before, in this type of movie, and from Gerard Butler, where he is a bit of a douche-bro gunning to run the company when his ruthless boss, Ed Blackridge (Willem Dafoe) announces his retirement. Despite us seeing that he does care for his family, we are introduced to his dynamic with his oldest son via telling him to run with him on account of getting fat. The kid is in elementary school.

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As it turns out, Ryan (Maxwell Jenkins) isn’t getting fat; he has cancer. The timing is unbelievably inconvenient for Dane, who is competing with equally ambitious Lynn (Alison Brie) for the top spot at work. Despite how tired it is to watch a dad fail at juggling increased responsibilities at work with his increased responsibilities at home, Jenkins really shined as little Ryan, who wants to be an architect. My favorite scenes are the ones of Butler and Jenkins exploring Chicago architecture together, quietly enjoying iconic buildings together. These moments are really sweet and really help to draw you in emotionally as a viewer.

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Again, there’s nothing particularly wrong with the story or the movie, but I had a few issues with it. First, Alison Brie’s talent is basically completely wasted. I don’t know if her scenes were cut from the final edit of the movie, but she is hardly in it. You have to assume that Lynn is also very ambitious only because she is the person competing with Dane for Ed’s job, but we don’t really see any sign of her ambition. All we know is that her opinion of Dane and his team of bros is fairly low because of their sketchy methods, although she does admit that Dane is the hardest worker at the firm. Willem Dafoe also didn’t have very much screen time, but he was able to do a lot with the little that he had because his character was simply written to be a much more dynamic and to have more weight in his scenes. It just seemed like a really big waste of Alison Brie.

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Second, the movie is just too long. There is really no need for this story, which has been done so many times and doesn’t really bring anything new to it, to be a nearly 2-hour picture. The pacing itself was actually fine, I didn’t feel it dragged too much at any point, but it could’ve been snappier. Maybe it’s the movie forgot about the great acting talents it had in Brie, Molina, and Dafoe and tried to shoehorn them in. While I love those actors, I don’t think the overall story would have suffered very much without them, and that’s pretty unfortunate.

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Third, and this is a personal grievance, but I felt tricked by this movie because I thought something VERY SAD had happened but it wasn’t quite what I was led to believe. I was so relieved through my TEARS because I only had set so many feels aside for this movie, so this moment really went deep into the reserves, and then it turned out I misunderstood the whole scene. Watch and let me know if you felt similarly emotionally manipulated or if I am just foolish (and salty).

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The performances from the cast are really quite good considering the kind of overdone premise, and the beautiful scenes of father and son admiring architecture together are enough to make you want to visit Chicago in person to see it all for yourself. I just wish there was a little more of what was lacking and a little less of what we have more than enough of in theaters these days.

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A Family Man comes out in US theaters today, June 28.

Baby Driver (2017) + Edgar Wright Q&A

Thanks to Sony Screenings for allowing me to see Baby Driver before its release and to Edgar Wright for a great Q&A session afterwards!

Movie poster for Baby Driver starring Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Eiza Gonzalez Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx

A few weeks ago, I was able to attend a really special advanced screening for Edgar Wright‘s latest film, Baby Driver, made special because the director himself was available afterward to answer questions! I’ll go into more detail about the Q&A after I talk about the movie itself (spoiler alert: Jake Tapper moderated!) so let’s get right into it!

Honestly, the reason this movie was on my radar was because I follow Ansel Elgort on Instagram and he promoted the movie. When Ben and I first saw the trailer, I was like “???” and Ben was very interested until the title appeared on the screen, at which point he went, “Aw, what, the title is Baby Driver are you serious I wanted to watch this movie, too…”

Baby Driver is about a getaway driver named… Baby, and he’s played by Ansel Elgort, whose incredible charm I had somehow underestimated despite following him on social media. (The boy has a great smile.) He listens to music on a variety of iPods virtually constantly because the car accident that killed his parents also left him with debilitating tinnitus – the permanent ringing in the ears that, in some people, can drive folks mad. He helps Kevin Spacey‘s Doc drive in his various heists because he owes Doc money from stealing from him in the past. The other members of the heist crews always change, leading Baby to meet characters like Bats (Jamie Foxx), the batsh*t crazy one eager for a fight, Buddy (Jon Hamm), the cool and easy-going one who is in love with Darling (Eiza González), the beautiful and troublemaking member of the lovebird duo.

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I’ll just say outright that the story and its progression are just okay, but it is very easy to forgive because this movie is not a movie.
It is an incredibly fun, nearly 2-hour-long, beautifully-styled music video.

Baby getting ready to drive in Baby Driver

The movie does not exist without the soundtrack. We listen to whatever Baby is listening to and that frames our experience of the film, just as it frames Baby’s experience. There’s a great one-take long-shot of Baby walking down the street to get coffee while listening to music, but of course, and the sounds in the background begin to sync up with the instrumentals and beat of Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle”. During the Q&A, I actually learned that this scene is a bit of a lyric video, where the lyrics of the song playing can be seen in the background! I hadn’t noticed at all, but there is graffiti that shows the lyrics, and when Baby walks back over, the graffiti has already changed to reflect the new lyrics.

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That’s the way the entire movie feels. It is how the movie was written in fact: Edgar Wright listened to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms” and imagined a car chase scene every time he listened to it, praying for years and years that it wouldn’t be used in a car chase scene by another director before he could use it as the soundtrack for the opening heist scene.

Awesome car chase scene

The moments of the movie hit the beats of the songs. High-action moments come with high-action beats, and slower, more intimate moments are accompanied by slower jams.

So don’t get caught up in the dialogue. Don’t get caught up in “why would they do that”? Don’t get caught up in the things that usually break a movie.

This isn’t just a movie. It’s a highly-stylized, super fun series of music videos that tell a large story. And it was so much fun. And it was so well-done.

Baby and Debora tapping their feet listening to a song
You’re free to attempt to not do this while watching, but it’s much more enjoyable if you let yourself have fun.

Baby Driver is in theaters June 28. I’ll talk about the great Q&A session with Edgar Wright and Jake Tapper after the trailer.

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