1. The Purge: Election Year - Enjoyed the first one, the second one was actually pretty good, but this one is just terrible. The first one had a shitload of problems, but the second one fixed a lot of them. Yet, the second one didn't explore the story enough, so I was hoping that the third one would have learned from both previous films and would give us a solid story - and a satisfying trilogy of films. It doesn't. At all. This one takes place during a big election (how fitting) and it makes the same mistake as the first - which is - WHY wouldn't this politician take the ultimate precaution and lock herself in a panic room? Like, why rely on this huge group to "protect" you, when it's already been made clear that you can't trust anyone during The Purge? And why would this guy have a plan in place to escape if things went bad, but not a place to actually escape to? Also, it doesn't make sense that The Purge is used as a way to save government money. Since it's a government funded event, wouldn't it cost them money to clean up the country afterwards? They show these big dump trucks that are cleaning up dead bodies, and just think of all of the fire damage!!! Are we supposed to assume that everyone has "purge" insurance? I'm pretty sure that would just make everyone broke. And, one last thing that bothered me (out of about a dozen), why not just throw a mask on and carry a flamethrower through the streets? Everyone participating in "purging" would just assume that you are "one of them" and leave you alone. Anyway, even on a basic level of a horror movie, I didn't find any enjoyment out of it. There were no intense scenes or moments, no surprise kills, no jump-scares, nothing memorable at all.
2. The Birth of a Nation - I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about the controversy surrounding this movie. On one hand, I feel like it's necessary to separate the art from the artist, and it's hard to know "the truth". If we protested against every actor/director based on accusations or even in some cases proven criminal acts, we would have to avoid every movie starring Sean Penn, Alec Baldwin, Mark Wahlberg, Johnny Depp, Christian Slater, or directed by Woody Allen, Bryan Singer, Roman Polanski, I could literally go on and on, but I think you get my point. The common trait among these men....yup, all white. So, yes, I do think that race had a large influence as to why people turned on this film so quickly. The buzz for this movie was incredibly high until the Nate Parker story surfaced, and it all came crashing down. It was going to be an Oscar contender, among the best of the year, instead it was quietly released into mostly independent theaters and never spoken of again. On the other hand, I'm so fucking sick of men not only getting away with raping and abusing women, but are then also allowed to continue to make millions of dollars and becoming more and more powerful. It's disgusting. So, I watched this movie with a lot of preconceived hatred in my heart for the world that we live in. Of course, the subject-matter of the movie only solidified this hatred. There are a lot of wonderful aspects to the film, in particular, the acting. Aja Naomi King is astonishing. I've only seen her in How to Get Away with Murder, in which she is also very good, but it's not a particularly hard role to play. But this performance is...just...wow. I really hope she starts getting lead roles very soon. Armie Hammer is also really good (possibly his strongest performance ever), and I was relieved that his character did not turn into a "white savior" character. The end of the film is filled with some harrowing images that will crush your soul (if you're human). There are a lot of things that I feel this film misses the mark on, though - and not surprisingly, one of them is the representation of women. I realize that it's not a female story, but maybe it should be? Or maybe, they should have been given more dimensions other than being victims of rape and a catalyst for male revenge? I appreciate that the rape isn't shown onscreen (very smart), but I'm just exhausted by this representation. I looked up a few things about this real-life rebellion, and it seems the revolt happened because of Nat Turner's deeper involvement in religion and interpreting scripture; not because of the raping of female slaves (although, this was common practice). It would have been a stronger story to show the women as part of this rebellion instead of silent victims. Overall, I think a lot of the story is over-simplified, and even without the controversy, I don't think it was one of last year's best.
3. Jackie - Honestly, I am severely disappointed. While I was unsure of the movie, I thought that Natalie Portman was going to blow me away. And while she is really, really good - it's not spectacular, or even among her best work. It's certainly not the best of last year (that would be Soo-an Kim from Train to Busan, followed closely by Jessica Chastain for Miss Sloane). Jackie O has this really distinct accent that is definitely hard to repeat without sounding like a bad impression - and Portman definitely gets it right, I was worried that it was going to be more like Michelle Williams trying to portray Marilyn Monroe (I know, I'm the only one who hated this performance). However, just because she gets the accent right, doesn't mean the whole performance is noteworthy. I don't think I'll remember it at all a few years from now. I was also expecting to be impressed by Mica Levi's score (because Under the Skin's score is unforgettable), but I found the score to be incredibly distracting and it didn't fit the tone of the film at all. As for the rest of the movie, it's really quite boring. The editing is purposefully choppy, the story offers nothing new, and it focuses on these "grand" moments that just scream Oscar-bait, and it's really unsubtle. I was actually really happy that they didn't show the assassination, instead they focused on the aftermath...but then they did, and it ruined the only thing I liked about the story.
4. Lion - There is a lot I like about this movie. The story is incredible, and as devastating as it is, it's probably a relatively common tale (which is confirmed in the end - the credits state that 80,000 children in India go missing every year. I repeat, 80,000. Just let that sink in.). Having just visited India a few months ago, I can completely understand how this is so common. It's a very overwhelming place - the best way to describe it is "sensory overload". And if the train stations are anything like the airports, then yeah, children can disappear very easily. Personal space does not exist, lines do not exist, politeness does not exist. However, this story becomes incredible because this little missing boy finds his family after 25 years (sorry, is that a spoiler? I mean, he obviously finds them, otherwise a movie would never have been made about him...). He uses Google Earth to locate his small town, which is really fascinating. I love that technology is shown as something great (as opposed to most movies - technology = scary!). I think Dev Patel was great, but that little boy (Sunny Pawar) definitely stole the movie. People seem to be loving Nicole Kidman nowadays, and she seems to be EVERYWHERE right now, but I've always been a fan. I'm hoping she just continues to take challenging roles and not ones like Bewitched. She always comes off as a little bit cold to me, but for the most part, that works for the roles that she plays. This role required a warmth and a hopefulness, and she far succeeded the challenge. I think that there is a GREAT movie within this story, but I'm not sure this movie really explores it enough - and therefore, I don't think it's an Oscar-nomination worthy film. I wish they explored more of the brother's story, and how difficult it was for his parents to handle the extreme differences in their personalities/experiences. I think it would have been stronger to focus on his family than his girlfriend. I found Rooney Mara dull in the role, but I also just found her whole character unnecessary plot-wise. It's weird that she's even featured on some of the poster designs considering how inconsequential her character is. I get that the intent was to show how his experience has made him closed off, and how his obsession with finding his real family had taken over his life, but that could have been shown with his interactions with his family. Anyway, I liked the movie a lot, but I think it could have been better.
5. John Wick: Chapter 2 - Very satisfying sequel. I was very nervous considering that the whole reason the first one worked so well is because it was about getting revenge for the murdering of a dog. I mean, they can't just murder another one of his dogs - that would be dumb. They did find a satisfying reason for the story to continue, though. For an action flick like this, there are a surprising amount of layers and interesting characters. I would love for a spin-off for several different characters. Winston or Bowery King would be the most obvious, but I would even enjoy prequels for some of the characters that died, or even some of the smaller characters like Charon. Really, an entire universe exists in this story and it is all so fascinating. The action sequences are obviously perfect, just like the first one. There were only 2 scenes that bothered me - the one that took place in the fun-house mirror museum. It was just so stupid, and reminded me of a bad horror movie. The other one took place in the super white transit station because I thought it was really terrible to pretend like such a clean place exists in NYC, but then I felt really stupid after I looked it up and found out that it is actually the new Oculus station at the new World Trade Center. I obviously have yet to visit, but it is sublime looking. It's only a few years old so just give it time for NYC to dirty it up.