2017 Cinema: Few Diamonds, Lots of Rough
The final quarter of the year is upon us. Having drudged through the prosaic dross of cinematic releases up to this point, we enter the fall film season with an unfortunate dearth of expectations. We started strong, but eventually paled in comparison to the monumental film year 2016. Granted, there are a few acclaimed films I haven’t seen yet (The Big Sick, Okja, War for the Planet of the Apes, The Beguiled) and a few we’ve already talked about (Get Out, Logan, Beauty and the Beast), but the slew of uninspired reboots, regressing sequels, and a startling amount of mundane horrors left our cinematic taste buds longing for flavor.
That’s not to say there’s been a complete absence of quality films. Here are some brief opinions of the good ones you may have missed:
Wonder Woman: Officially the highest grossing origin-story film in history, Wonder Woman is a charismatic and affecting narrative, well-paced and balanced between gripping superhero action sequences and the charming chemistry between Chris Pine and Gal Gadot. Luckily, the movie is still playing for a few more weeks at select theaters, such as Academy, Valley, Laurelhurst, and the Empirical Theater at OMSI.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: With the gang back together and introductions behind them, this sequel explores and develops the original’s loveable characters in hilarious ways. The second GotG creates and entertains bonds that drive the film through its conflict-heavy storyline (and keep an idiotic grin on your face throughout). Also playing at the the Empirical.
Spider-Man: Homecoming: Continuing the deluge of superhero gems, Spider-Man: Homecoming is arguably the most relaxing and refreshingly juvenile superhero film to date, showing us just what we have always wanted to see: a goofy teenager getting to understand his powers with the help of his best friend. Not to mention the relatable and understated villainy of Michael Keaton as the Vulture. Still showing at Valley, Avalon, Joy Cinema & Pub, and Mt. Hood Theatre in Gresham.
Baby Driver: The most musically integrated film I’ve ever seen, Baby Driver’s script was written around the soundtrack. Every click of the cars, crack of the guns, swish of the clothing, scrape, step, and punch is synced with the music. Completely engrossing character relationships, exhilarating action, and infectious tunes drive (pun intended) the film to high acclaim. There are still plenty of opportunities to see it in theaters, at Valley, Laurelhurst, Academy, and McMenamins Kennedy School.
mother!: Fraught with tension and theological allegory, mother! is Darren Aronofsky’s visionary reimagining of the story of Genesis. It’s as tense as it is demoralizing. The underlying themes and how they are portrayed through realistic expression make for a sobering depiction of humanity’s vain tendencies. Still screening at Living Room Theaters and Regal Tigard.
Wind River: A refreshingly modest crime/mystery thriller that doesn’t saturate its plot with clichés and glib investigators. Quiet yet stimulating, Wind River subtly curdles the viewer’s blood through its morbidly emotional narrative and sharp, evocative script, with Elizabeth Olsen putting out an Oscar-worthy performance. Still playing at most of the Regals.
It Comes at Night: Speaking from personal experience, It Comes at Night was one of the most fraught, engrossing, and emotionally staggering film experiences of my recent years. An incredibly artful and ambiguous apocalyptic mystery film that leaves a profound amount of the overall narrative up to the interpretation of the viewer, all while chronicling the inexplicably precarious lives of a family of three as they fight to survive against an entity unbeknownst to them. By the end of the film, I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat in awe. I kid you not. This one’s out of theaters, but you can get the DVD at the library.
Logan Lucky: A witty and satirical heist film surrounding two misfit brothers who muster up a remarkably motley crew in an attempt to rob the international speedway. Virtually devoid of conflict, the idiosyncratic characters and the banter they provide are what raise this film to a higher pedestal. Still showing in Laurelhurst, Academy, Valley, and Liberty Theater in Camas.
For the purpose of being candid and critical, here are some of the celebrated films that I felt did not meet expectations, or fulfilled their poignantly low expectations:
Kong: Skull Island: An overhyped, two-hour montage of monotonous reactions and predictably ill-informed endeavors. Immaculate visual effects do not make up for the redundancy of the story and the insipid nature of each and every character. Sporadic shooting at huge monsters does not pardon the lack of rationale or morality in any of the protagonists. Conversely, the grisly slaughtering of the copious amount of characters does not somehow endow them all with purpose or validity. But if grandiose spurts of action and pristine images of Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston running through the jungle are what you’re into, hell, don’t let me stop you.
Life: Just another extraterrestrial horror film in which every progression of the narrative is prompted by nonsensical decisions made by, in theory, the most competent and rational of us all: astronauts. In essence, the film is a modern hand-me-down Alien spin-off, with far less substance and literally no character development. Just deaths. Stupid, stupid deaths.
Alien: Covenant: Ironically, the new extension of the Alien series was also a letdown, for eerily similar reasons: a crew of the most credentialed pioneers forsaking reason to indulge in fleeting vanity. Though the characters have at least some history and foundation, which creates a relatively frail connection to the story, the narrative’s exponentially increasing convolutions leave every connection behind in its ceaseless absurdity.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales: Yikes. I don’t even remember enough about this movie to explain why it’s so awful, which, frankly, is all I need to say. Stick with the original trilogy, or just the first two, for that matter.
Atomic Blonde: Surprisingly drab for a film that touts a fetish for brawling. Charlize Theron plays Furiosa as a spy (though neither as intimidating nor as affecting), in a storyline that runs out of chronological order, like Pulp Fiction but not as sharply juxtaposed. There’s also a forgettable performance from James McAvoy. Confusing enough to not be worth the couple uninspired fight-scenes.
The remains of the year
With the year nearing its end, the stragglers of the industry are preparing for an intriguing finish to 2017 and run-up to Oscar season, introducing some new and highly anticipated franchises while also closing out long-standing trilogy favorites. Keep an eye out for the hits of the fall–winter season: Thor: Ragnarok, Coco, Happy Death Day, Justice League, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Murder on the Orient Express.