Author: Arthur Martinez-Tebbel

Art Martinez-Tebbel is a writer/actor living in Los Angeles. For two years he saw the #1 movie in America every week and reviewed it for a project called Box Office Democracy. He can occasionally be seen doing improv comedy at a variety of independent venues. He is also a frequent guest at

Box Office Democracy: Bottom 6 Movies of 2017

6. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

If this was just about wasted potential, Valerian would easily be on the top of this list.  There are five worse movies this year but none of them have a fraction of the visual artistry displayed here by Luc Besson.  Valerian has some of the best design I’ve seen in a movie all year and two of the most inventive chase sequences maybe ever.  It also features a terrible script that meanders forever over trivial nothing and merrily skips past dense plot without a moment for inspection.  I loved watching the action but I never really understood why any of it was going on.  Toss on top some of the worst chemistry I’ve ever seen between an on-screen couple (and honestly maybe Dane DeHaan isn’t ready to be a leading man) and this is an unpleasant movie to watch at any volume above mute.

5. American Assassin

I sincerely thought that we were past making movies like American Assassin now that we’re on year 16 of the obviously never ending War on Terror.  I assumed we were past movies that seemingly exist solely to demonize and dehumanize brown people on the other side of the world.  This is a movie with no nuance or subtext or anything.  It’s predictable, dreary, and the worst kind of weighty.  It depicts a world in which people are nothing but weapons for the nation as one we should want to be in.  It also runs for 15 minutes past any events of consequence happening and expects us to sit and care about literally nothing happening.

4. xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

If you’ve ever seen those posts where someone feeds a computer a bunch of data about one topic or another and then the computer spits back an attempt at making original things of the same set, you could understand how they probably wrote the script for xXx: The Return of Xander Cage.  It’s trying to be every successful action movie of the last ten years all at once.  It has a multi-cultural cast, numerous exotic locations that all happen to be filled with parties full of white people, and a bunch of supporting and cameo roles given to people intended to draw in audience in foreign markets.  There’s nothing holding the movie together so it’s easily the most boring movie I’ve ever seen that also features trying to use an airplane to hit falling satellites.  Movies are more than the sum of their parts and XXx: The Return of Xander Cage is a great lesson in that.

3. The Mummy

I long for the days when studios would just make movies with the idea that they could make an obscene amount of money from them.  Now it seems like they don’t want hundreds of millions of dollars unless they know it directly leads them to the next 100 million.  There were fine ideas in The Mummy about a woman who would not be cast aside and wanted to seize absolute power to punish her family.  That character doesn’t get to exist on screen because we need develop Tom Cruise to be the hero of the Dark Universe and we need time for Dr Jekyll and for the people who hunt monsters.  It is needless and exhausting.  The Mummy might not be an objectively terrible movie but it is so impossibly frustrating it needs to be recognized here.

2. Ghost in the Shell

Just to get it out of the way: this movie would make it on to this list just because it’s racist and tone deaf.  Deciding, in 2017, that it’s a good idea to make a movie based on an iconic Japanese manga/film/media empire and cast almost exclusively white people is astonishing.  It’s an irredeemable failure solely from looking at the poster.  Then it’s not even a good movie.  They threw out all the stories they presumably licensed the material for and instead gave us a milquetoast cyberpunk paint-by-number.  When the studio found out the Blade Runner sequel would be released in the same calendar year they should have shelved the project until we all forgot what could be done.

1. Transformers: The Last Knight

I suppose I should have some respect for Michael Bay as an auteur at this point.  He can’t possibly be hurting for money.  Nothing would stop him from getting lazy and putting out shorter films to try and goose his grosses by squeezing in another showing.  Bay is going to make these monstrous, incomprehensible, films and they’re going to be exactly as he wants them to be and as long as he pleases.  It would be charitable at this point to call these movies pointless.  There’s definitely a point: People who know things are idiots and people who shoot things are awesome.  They’re never going to stop with these; we should all just adjust our lives to accommodate them.

Box Office Democracy: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I think The Last Jedi is my favorite Star Wars film.  It’s hard to say, these movies need so much time and will be seen over and over again.  I’m unwittingly comparing it in my head to my more recent viewings of the original trilogy and not the dazzling first ones but I have to trust it will hold up.  The Last Jedi is ambitious, and thought-provoking and fun in a way that none of the “core” Star Wars films ever have been.  This is the kind of movie someone would make if they spent their childhood loving the material but realized as an adult that it depicted a world that would never function.  Rian Johnson makes a more functional galaxy with more authentic characters and he’s made the best big-budget science fiction movie in some time.

It’s tough to write this review after having seen the battle lines being drawn across the Internet over the movie.  People are polarized and it’s pushing opinions to the far reaches.  I believe Kylo Ren is the most interesting character in all eight Star Wars movies but that might be an overreaction.  I know that his internal struggle and strife is the only time the dark side has seemed like a real thing people would be interested in.  This is a movie that took the laughably bad Anakin Skywalker arc from the prequel trilogy and made those feeling feel real.  Here I can find the nuance and conflict that we had to paste on to the prequels with speculation and supplemental material but all here in one go.  I would say that this is probably how people thought about Darth Vader after watching Empire Strikes Back but I’ve seen that movie, there are only a handful of meaningful head tilts signaling anything at all.  For the first time I feel like I’m not being asked to fill in big gaps of narrative or run to read some tangential novel released years later.

I’ve heard people say that none of the characters changed or grew in this movie and I simply can’t agree with that at all.  If after the events of this movie Poe isn’t doing some big time soul searching, this whole trilogy is a massive failure.  Granted we don’t see him become less of a reckless hotshot but it’s certainly what I expect to happen.  You can grow and change and not have it be immediately visible.  Finn, the person who lived to be a soldier, starts to see the galaxy that isn’t in a state of constant war and starts to see the context.  His relationship with Rose is engaging and exciting.  I enjoy the look at military heroism and idealism as Rose moves from idolizing Finn for his supposed deeds in the first film and then seeing that he’s a flawed person and kind of lapping him by the end of the film.  I need more of those characters pushing and pulling on each other.  Maybe even smooching but I do not want to wade in to the intricacy of Star Wars shipping politics.

If we want to accept the premise that the entire Star Wars series is the story of the Skywalker family (and I’m not sure I do want that, but here we are) this was another smashing success for me.  Mark Hamill has spent most of his career at this point as a voice actor, and it was so apparent in his performance here.  There are lines and readings where you can still here the kid annoyed at his uncle because he wanted to go get power converters. But there’s also the person who has had to live the last thirty years in a galaxy that he didn’t change nearly as much as he thought he would.  I wish we got a little more Leia but they didn’t know they weren’t going to get another chance with her.  It’s a sad thing but it is what it is.

The Last Jedi has the inside track to become my favorite Star Wars movie because it is challenging.  It takes a universe that, for all the turmoil depicted around the margins, has been a place of very safe storytelling and shakes it all the way up.  It shows us not just the corrupt slug gangsters but the people in glittering casinos making money off of selling fighter ships.  It’s willing to show us heroes getting old and instead of being cagey or clever like Obi-Wan or Yoda, becoming kind of hopeless and despondent.  It gives us villains that are complicated and conflicted at moments before their sudden but inevitable betrayal.  I’ve never felt this excited, this alive, after walking out of a Star Wars film in my lifetime as I did after The Last Jedi.

Box Office Democracy: The Snowman

There’s a degree to which I have to respect any film that can take a thoroughly innocuous thing and make it terrifying.  Movies like Child’s Play or Nightmare on Elm Street have done this and become iconic classics partially on that basis.  If you can make something spooky that people didn’t find spooky before like a kid’s toy or going to sleep you are going to get substantial mindshare out of it.  The Snowman gets to that place with snowmen.  I walked in to the theater convinced it would be a silly device but by the end of the movie I got a bit of a charge seeing them get that little bugger in to new places.  It doesn’t save the movie— it’s unfortunately a terrible bore— but it gives it a bit of a lasting legacy as opposed to just being completely forgettable.

I don’t like when I feel I’ve been lied to by the marketing materials for a movie.  The first poster I saw for The Snowman (and most of the marketing material overall) was focused on this letter that read “Mister Police You Could Have Saved Her I Gave You All The Clues” and that’s a galling claim for a movie that has basically no clues in it.  The investigation follows one thread for the whole time for basically no reason than one person has a hunch/grudge and the suspects are creepy.  Then when this part of the investigation dead ends (because it was nothing to begin with) the movie is basically out of time and has to just tell you who did it so they have time for any kind of climax.  There’s no mystery presented to the audience at all.  To be fair the letter on the poster is not in the film at all but it still feels like I was sold a mystery and then delivered a more straightforward thriller.

It’s such a bummer that The Snowman is as bland as it is.  There’s a decent cast in here but they have nothing to work with and there’s no spark coming from behind the camera.  Michael Fassbender is an actor that I like but there’s nothing compelling about being a drunk detective that doesn’t have his life together.  That isn’t an interesting character because it’s been done hundreds and hundreds of times before.  He floats through the movie seeming barely interested (it leads to an amazingly unintentionally funny sex scene but that probably wasn’t the point) and that’s not acceptable in a movie about people being killed.  People have to care about that.  The whole movie is full of people who don’t care enough that a serial killer is plaguing their lives or that their son keeps running away, or that a dead person is suddenly in front of them.  Val Kilmer apparently was battling cancer during filming of The Snowman and they had to have someone else come in and rerecord all of his dialogue and it’s jarring and the sync is not as good as it could be.  I don’t know why you would cast someone who couldn’t deliver their lines.  I love Val Kilmer but he’s not such a transcendent physical actor that he’s good enough when his ever scene is a spaghetti western.

It would be hard for a transcendent movie full of spectacular performances and excellent directing to overcome the dreadful story work in The Snowman and with lifeless entries in all other categories this movie sinks into the frozen lake the provides so much of the plot development.  This is a movie with two compelling scenes in the first third of the film and then just a slog of bland nothing for an hour as the gloomy array of characters struggle to make me believe they care.  There are reports out that they didn’t get to shoot 10-15% of the script due to timing and budget issues.  Maybe somewhere in those gunshot pages there are magic scenes that turn this in to the compelling mystery thriller the marketing promised.  It’s just as likely there’s nothing that was going to save this film, that the adaptation was doomed from the start and it was a studio deciding not to send good money after bad.  We’ll never know and I don’t intend to lose any sleep over it.

Box Office Democracy: Happy Death Day

It would be overly cynical to say that I’m never surprised, or pleasantly surprised by movies anymore.  It happens fairly often that a movie I think is going to be mediocre or bad ends up being good.  It’s much more rare that a movie that I’m actively rolling my eyes at while the trailer is rolling becomes a complete delight.  Happy Death Day looked like a poorly conceived attempt at rehashing old ideas.  Instead it’s a fun, playful, horror movie that hits all the right notes and does a mostly good job exploring their concept.

Happy Death Day is exactly the movie you think it is.  It’s Groundhog Day but a slasher movie instead of a Bill Murray comedy.  A college student (Jessica Routhe) is murdered on her birthday and keeps reliving the day until she can get through it without dying.  There’s a bit of mystery, a bit of comedy, a bunch of becoming a better person and we’re all back in the lobby before the 100 minute mark.  The mystery isn’t particularly difficult (I had identified the culprit in less than 15 minutes) and nothing in the movie is particularly unique or groundbreaking, but everything chugs along nicely.  There are plenty of scares (jump and non) and there’s a persistent sense of tension once the general aura of menace is established.

It’s strange to have a slasher movie where only one person ever gets killed.  On one hand you can always be on the edge of your seat because you always know who is going to be attacked next and that character is always on screen.  On the other hand, you know that if the killer succeeds the movie resets and there are no lasting consequences.  They try to introduce some lasting stakes about an hour in with Theresa getting weaker each time she resets but that never feels like a real threat or a particularly persistent one as in one reset she is confined to a bed and a few resets later she’s enacting an action movie plan for revenge.

The problems with the movie are ones of over-plotting and low budget.  The movie feels the need to chase down so many red herrings that not only go nowhere but aren’t that amusing.  There’s a fun montage of failed suspects but anything that takes longer than a couple minutes ends up feeling a touch long.  The supporting cast is perilously thin and all of the suspected motives are kind of ridiculous so it drags a bunch.  There’s a particular theory of the crime that takes up a huge chunk of the second act that, had it been the true solution, would have been so far out of left field it’s impossible for it to be right just on the basis of not passing dozens of angry patrons on my way in to the building.  This is a Blumhouse film so it was made on a shoestring budget, and it’s only obvious with the fight choreography when nothing looks like it actually hurts.  It’s a little thing but what if, when they knew one of their movies was going to get a big weekend theatrical release, they juiced the budget a little bit so the climax didn’t look like a student film?

There are a lot of bad things to be said about the Blumhouse model of movie making.  That it creates a race to the bottom, that a successful formula can be driven in to the ground at an amazing pace, that things can feel more like a product than a work of art.  This year has shown the way that model can work very well.  Happy Death Day is a movie that wouldn’t get made without this scattershot model.  It’s not that strong of a concept, it isn’t a good pitch or a poster but it turned out to be a good movie.  The lower bar let them jump that much higher.  It’s honestly the same way Get Out wouldn’t have gotten made because a more traditional studio wouldn’t have trusted a new director nor would they have wanted to make a movie like that about race.  Happy Death Day is a half-clever idea executed all the way perfectly and it makes for a great movie, the early favorite for best horror movie of the fall season.  Don’t make a sequel though, the sequel will be a horrible train wreck; this is the money you get from this idea.

Box Office Democracy: Blade Runner 2049

I often cite the original Blade Runner as my favorite movie.  I also think having one favorite anything is kind of silly so it’s always been less of a true answer as it’s been an indication of what I like.  I like cyberpunk, I like hard-boiled detective stories, I like being asked to think about things, and I like a movie that can spawn a conversation 30-some years after it came out.  I don’t know that Blade Runner 2049 has the legs for that last part but it hits all those other bits and so I have to say I liked watching it a great deal.  It’s a challenging movie and it makes some colossal missteps along the way— but it’s been fun to think about and talk about so far.

Denis Villeneuve is quickly becoming my favorite director.  I’ve spent a lot of time both here and in my personal life gushing about Arrival and this is such a big departure from this.  Arrival felt like a quiet movie and is practically art house next to the unending spectacle at play here.  This is a stunningly beautiful and well-composed movie.  You can see all the money they spent on this movie on the screen and you can see that someone with an actual eye for cinema was composing the shots.  The urban landscapes evoke the original film while borrowing from all the cyberpunk things that movie itself inspired in a ouroboros style self-inspiration.  The baseline test they subject Joe to are an incredibly harrowing cinematic experience and that’s incredible when you think that it’s really just a white room and a skewed perspective shot.  I could talk about different things I loved about the movie all day from the images of a blasted out Las Vegas to the flyover of a Los Angeles that is so overbuilt it almost looks like farmland but the thing that most consistently got me while watching it was the view from outside Joe’s apartment window.  It’s hard to explain but between the color and the proximity of his neighbors and the way it looks like my childhood window and also most definitely the far future proved this was good science fiction.

I don’t think it’s worth getting too far in to the plot because it’s a twisty winding kind of plot and it’s best experienced in person.  Also I feel like it would take forever to recap, and I would read it back and think I was a crazy person.  It feels overly complicated and subplots start and stop seemingly at random and some of the more interesting ones are just discarded never to come back.  There are countless screenwriting books that advocating putting your story beats on index cards to get a better map and it sort of feels like Blade Runner 2049 had seven cards they knew they wanted to hit and the rest of them didn’t matter and were just made as quickly as possible.  I want more from the plot, but a lot of the individual scenes work so well.

I don’t know what Ryan Gosling does differently than other actors when playing quiet roles but he’s on a whole other level.  He doesn’t have a ton of dialogue in this but he makes every word count and the work he does with expressions and movement is superb.  It’s like he took the quiet menace from Drive and turned it in to something that works all across the emotional spectrum.  Gosling is perfect for this role, for this movie.  I’m honestly not sure any other actor could have made this movie work but he does it.  He’s better than Harrison Ford in this.  He’s better than Ford was in the original.  It’s an amazing performance that will never get the attention of a movie like La La Land but shows so much more technique.

The gender politics in Blade Runner 2049 leave an awful lot to be desired.  Every woman in the movie seems to be trying to speak to some thesis about the commodification of women and their sexuality.  This is a fine point to make a movie about but it’s not what this movie is about, so it’s an observation with no critique which ends up looking an awful lot like just doing the thing you imagine they’re against.

I don’t know that Blade Runner needed a second chapter.  I don’t know that this movie needs to be so stuck in the past; it would probably be a better film if Deckard never showed up.  I wish so much that they had done more interesting things with basically every character.  This is a beautiful movie filled with missed opportunities, but for an almost three hour movie I was almost never bored.  There’s a lot to think about, there’s a lot to look at.  I appreciate that this is an attempt to make a deeper movie instead of a quick cash-in.  I look forward to watching this movie grow in time (and seeing the inevitable director’s cut) and seeing how I think about it in a few years.  If we had to revisit this world I’m glad we got as complex a take as this and one that pushes so many visual boundaries.

Box Office Democracy: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Kingsman: The Secret Service was such a breath of fresh air when it came out.  It was an action comedy that didn’t decide it could skip out on the action choreography part.  Matthew Vaughn made a movie that was all the way both things.  It was honestly a bit shocking to experience after so many Austin Powers movies where not giving a damn was basically part of the fabric of the movie.  Obviously there’s no element of surprise with Kingsman: The Golden Circle but the formula is still solidly there.  This is an action comedy that wants to have it both ways and while it’s perhaps a little worse on both ends there’s a solid movie in here anyway.

While Kingsman: The Secret Service was taking the piss out of the cliche British spy tropes, for Kingsman: The Golden Circle Vaughn decides to invent some American ones to lampoon.  Instead of being prim and proper buttoned-up bespoke suit salesman the Statesmen are rough and tumble cowboys who make whiskey (and bicker with their UK counterparts on whether that last e belongs there).  It’s fun and more importantly I think it underlines for the American audience how absurd the characters are in the first movie.  An audience raised on James Bond movies might think that’s actually what England is like so having that mirror held up can make all of the original jokes hit a bit harder.  Is an electrified lasso that cuts through anything it touches completely ridiculous? Yes, but not that much more than the see-through umbrella nonsense from the first movie.

I’ve been sitting here for more than five minutes trying to figure out how I would end the sentence “Kingsman: The Golden Circle is about” without completely failing.  On one hand it seems to be about how drug prohibition is ineffective as public policy but the people involved in the drug trade are universally unlikeable.  It might be about how hypocritically we deal with illegal drugs versus legal ones like alcohol but there’s no actual condemnation of alcohol use and, in fact, even in the closing minutes we are asked to celebrate the liquor industry.  Maybe it’s about the nihilism at the heart of political debate surrounding drugs but they don’t hit that very hard.  I appreciate that I wasn’t beat over the head with a message (especially one about drugs) because I don’t need to be preached to but this movie kind of exists in a nebulous in the middle which feels more like a fear of committing or, perhaps, like a slew of studio notes.

The standout scene in the first Kingsman is the fight scene in the church set to an ever quickening version of “Freebird” and there’s no scene in this movie that’s better than that.  I don’t understand why you would make a sequel if you weren’t prepared to do a heightened version of the signature scene from your first movie.  There are two attempts to top it and they come close with a fight during a car chase in the beginning but the third act melee is obviously their main attempt and it’s flat.  I’ve seen spies effortlessly deal with nameless mooks dozens of times before and it isn’t special like a church full of drug-fueled nobodies did.  The sequences aren’t bad or anything and in a generic movie I would probably be gushing about them, but to be in a movie called Kingsman it needed to be better.

I’m cautiously optimistic on Kingsman as a franchise.  There’s good bones here and as long as every spy movie has to constantly race to be the most serious it can be, having a release valve like this is essential.  Serious action combined with a ludicrous backdrop makes for a winning combination and I can even accept a romcom-esque meeting (the parents scene) dropped in in the middle.  The high body counts mean it’s easy to churn in new talent (and maybe eventually Channing Tatum will have time to actually be in one of these) and their willingness to hand wave any consequences with super-science means that they only have to be as macabre as they want.  The franchise needs to push itself, Vaughn can’t rest on his laurels like he sort of did with the action sequences in this one, but as long as this is willing to be arch and wry while James Bond is stuck trying to out-grim himself every time out, Kingsman is going to continue to feel like a breath of fresh air.

Box Office Democracy: American Assassin

I don’t really know what it’s like to be an actor and even less what it’s like to be an aging actor, but I have to wonder what made Michael Keaton take this role in American Assassin.  He signed on to play this role after being nominated for an Oscar for Birdman and having wrapped production on The Founder, so he had done two big meaty acting roles in a row and he chose…this.  Maybe the money was too good (and he didn’t know he would sign to be The Vulture a month later), maybe the phone just isn’t ringing off the hook for older actors if you aren’t in the Clooney-tier.  American Assassin is a bad movie and it makes Keaton look like a dime store Liam Neeson.  He should be doing better things than this, everyone in this movie should. Movies should be better than making movies like this.

American Assassin has all the narrative nuance you would expect from a movie based on a book written by a consultant on 24.  Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) is a man haunted by the murder of his fiancée by terrorists and turns himself in to a one-man terrorist vigilante.  He can speak Arabic, do MMA, and shoot a gun so he’s definitely capable of single-handedly infiltrating big secretive organizations and immediately talking to big-name terrorists.  He’s arrested in the middle of one of his operations and recruited in to a secret CIA terrorist-hunting squad led by Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) who also does not play things by-the-book but also hates Mitch for not following the rules.  There’s a big hunt for a nuclear weapon that is being sold by a former protege of Hurley’s who also does not like following the rules.

The CIA depicted in this movie is an organization full of people who constantly belittle each other, don’t follow procedure or even direct orders, and play fast and loose with each other’s lives and the lives of millions of people if we take the whole atomic weapon thing seriously.  It’s kind of inconceivable to imagine this organization is capable of stopping any kind of foreign plot.  I understand that they want our protagonists to feel like rugged individualists (why else put “American” in the name honestly) but there’s never any contrast.  I can appreciate the plays-by-his-own-rules characters only if I have a baseline to compare them to.  This works in cop dramas a lot more easily because I know what a standard police officer looks and acts like; I have no such standard for black ops CIA operatives.  If all you ever show me are the iconoclasts they don’t stand out at all.

I honestly thought we were past the point of making movies as overtly racist as American Assassin but it would seem I am just naive.  There is one Middle Eastern person in this movie with lines that is not working with terrorists, and even he is working directly contrary to the interests of the US government but is just honorable about it.  Moreover, while all of the bad guys who get few lines and exist just to be chased and die are Middle Eastern, the grand schemer behind the whole plot is another white guy.  They made a movie about how all these brown people are evil and didn’t even have a meaty villain role to give to an Iranian actor.  It’s insulting, it’s sad, it makes the movie more predictable, and it shouldn’t be ok in this day and age.

Even if the politics weren’t a garbage fire, American Assassin just doesn’t have interesting action beats.  The very best scene in the movie would be the worst action scene in the most recent Bourne movie.  There’s a sequence where an agent gets murdered in the field and it leads directly in to a car chase where nothing happens and there’s no interaction between the two cars.  There’s an MMA-style fight that features someone getting a full mount on their opponent and then that same opponent immediately kicks them in the face.  I’m not a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu expert but that doesn’t seem possible.  Even the big finale featuring a live nuclear warhead doesn’t seem particularly important or impactful and I cared so little about the characters that as soon as the effects shots were over I was ready for them to fade to black.  I could not make myself care about the fates of these characters.

There’s no shortage of spy thrillers out there right now— I can’t imagine what made anyone look at the movie landscape, then look at this script, and think they had something worth making.  The best thing I can say about this movie is that it’s usually boring and only occasionally racist and/or confusing.   American Assassin is a movie with nothing interesting to say, nothing interesting to show you, and only a couple of reasonably interesting ways to point a camera at something.  This is a movie everyone involved with should be embarrassed about and if we’re lucky maybe everyone will just forget it ever happened.

Box Office Democracy: It

The original It miniseries came out when I was in first grade.  My parents, being reasonable people, didn’t let me watch it, I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know it existed back then.  But an elementary school has kids in it so much older than six and while I wouldn’t want my 10 or 11 year-old watching It they were certainly out there.  The imagery from that miniseries became the urban legends of our school.  The unused fifth floor had an evil clown living there and on an on.  Why did an elementary school in a busy urban area have an entire unused floor? I assume to make urban legends easier to stick.  I saw the miniseries myself in middle school and honestly was still probably too young to deal with all that stuff.  I’ve been scared of It for as long as I can remember.  I don’t think they should make movies based on It, I think all the copies of the book should be put in some giant box and never be touched again.  It scares me to the bone with almost no provocation needed and this new movie is spectacularly terrifying, I believe even to people without all the built-in baggage I brought to it.

It’s basically impossible to adapt an 1100 page book and not have to leave an awful lot out.  Luckily adaptation is an art form and not just a mechanism for translating a movie literally to the page (Peter Jackson I’m still quite angry with you for those Hobbit movies).  It leaves an awful lot out on the way to a 135 minute version of half a giant novel but it certainly gets the gist of it right.  There’s an evil clown trying to kill a bunch of kids and said clown has probably been doing it at this same spot for a good long time.  Bullies are terrible and adults don’t really care about the plights of children.  Oh, and the whole thing is balls-to-the-wall scary the entire time.  The atmosphere of menace only lifts for fleeting moments and it took every ounce of my willpower not to watch those moments though my fingers.

I am a bit of a pushover when it comes to horror movies.  Even bad ones where you 100% know when the jump scare is coming can get me hunched down in my chair and averting my gaze.  It probably isn’t enough to tell you that I was scared during It but so was everyone else in my theater.  From my seat in the third row I could see that the entire theater was cringing and averting their eyes.  Statistically there must have been some horror mavens in that theater and no one was having an easy time.  This is the director of Mama, a movie I’ve often cited as the least comfortable I’ve ever been in a movie theater, finding new and more cunning ways to manipulate feelings of terror.  I never want Andy Muschietti to make another horror movie.  I can’t stand the idea of him getting better at this.  I will be there for It Chapter 2 the day that it opens.

I lived the last month of my life dreading seeing It.  I had to stop watching Nick at Nite when I went to bed because they would run commercials for it and it was too much for my subconscious to bear just before asking it to cook up some new dream ideas.  It ran a brilliant marketing campaign and backed it up with the scariest movie I’ve seen since Crimson Peak.  In a perfect world the story would have had a little more time to breathe but this is already on the long side for a horror movie and I can’t figure out what I would cut.  I’m anxiously awaiting the second part and planning what show I will have to watch on Netflix while I go to sleep because I won’t be able to stand those trailers either.  I’ll never quite be free of It but at least the rest of the world can live in the same mental hell as I do now.  Hooray!

Box Office Democracy: The Hitman’s Bodyguard


I have to imagine production of The Hitman’s Bodyguard started with director Patrick Hughes gathering the whole cast together and giving them some kind of speech along the lines of “Look, we all know this script is a piece of garbage but if we pull together we can elevate it way past tolerable” and then there was some big cheer and they ran out to the set like a sports movie.  It’s a laughable script that doesn’t hold together under the smallest bit of scrutiny, but the cast absolutely crushes it.  It’s the best bad movie I’ve seen all year and I don’t mean that as faint praise.  The world is full of people doing average work with average material but seeing fantastic work come from a wretched foundation is something special.  This is a diamond found in a coal mine.

The chemistry between Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson is basically driving the whole movie.  We’re getting a Deadpool-lite version of Reynolds thick with meta commentary on the events of the movie and sort of action movie in general.  This plays well with the standard action-comedy version of Jackson we’ve been seeing since Die Hard with a Vengeance.  This interplay drives the whole movie dragging a murky nonsensical plot and a seemingly endless numbers of big pauses for jokes that just aren’t that funny.  Everything that’s Reynolds and Jackson bickering is great, every scene that has Selma Hayek in it is good, everything else is pretty bad.

The action in the movie is good enough, but it feels more like a greatest hits compilation than any kind of new composition.  The best sequence in the film is one where Jackson is walking through a Dutch square seemingly oblivious to potential attackers while Reynolds stealthily takes them down.  It’s a good sequence but it feels an awful lot like a knock-off of the Waterloo Station sequence in The Bourne Supremacy and while it’s 10 years later feels a bit slower.  There’s also a reasonably thrilling chase through a canal with Jackson in a boat being chased by bad guys in SUVs while Reynolds on a motorcycle harasses them.  It’s a nice idea salad mixing bits from a number of other movies.  Maybe greatest hits is too reductive, more like a remix of some old favorites, you ought bop your head a few times but odds are you’ll go back to the original.

Most of the story of The Hitman’s Bodyguard is just low-level stupid.  You know, stuff like trial scenes that were written by someone who has only experienced the legal system from their drunk friend describing Law & Order episodes to them.  But then toward the end they try to pretend like there’s some big moral quandary between a life spent protecting terrible people versus a life of killing bad people for money.  For one, I don’t believe that you can make a great living as a contract killer just sitting around and waiting for bad people to need killing that badly.  Also, people who decide to hire assassins to deal with their problems aren’t people who are on the highest of high grounds to start with.  It’s not an interesting moral quandary, and it directly detracts from the stuff that’s actually entertaining in the movie.  Wikipedia says that when this script was named to The Black List it was a drama— maybe this is an artifact from those days, but it has no place in this movie. (I also can’t imagine this was a better movie as a drama.  I’m bored just thinking about it.)

The Hitman’s Bodyguard is good because you get to see Deadpool interact with Nick Fury.  They had to file off all the serial numbers, superpowers, and sci-fi gadgets— but that’s what it is.  We’ll never get the actual pairing because of all the various rights headaches (and honestly, what would need to be happening in the MCU for it to even happen) but we can get it here stitched on to a wretched story about the trial of a dictator who commands an army of mercenaries while imprisoned at The Hague.  Come for the cast, stay for the cast, leave with a smile on your face, pick it on Netflix 18 months from now, never think about it after that.

Box Office Democracy: Annabelle: Creation

There’s a part of me that can’t help but admire the whole Conjuring franchise.  They have their main series movies directed by James Wan and starring Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, huge stars for mid-budget horror movies, and then in the off-years they can make these spin-off movies like the Annabelle movies or the two forthcoming spin-offs from The Conjuring 2 and just harvest money from their big ideas using lower budgets and less-known talent.  It’s brilliant.  It doesn’t make for a particularly good movie in this case, but I can’t knock the hustle.

Annabelle: Creation is supposed to be a prequel to explain the origins of the haunted doll from The Conjuring.  Interestingly, three years ago they released Annabelle which was also an attempt to tell the origin of the same haunted doll and it started with the titular doll being a mundane non-evil object.  They have to go a long way to make this movie work with the second one and I’m not sure why you would bother as you have an infinite amount of time in the future where you could set this film.  Worse, they set up an even further prequel suggesting that the origin of the demon nun from The Conjuring 2 lies even further in the past.  At this rate we’re sure to have a movie about how a demon-possessed rodent pooped out the seed that grew the tree from which Annabelle would one day be carved.

It’s hard to say what Annabelle: Creation brings to the horror table that wasn’t already there.  It’s a movie about a young girl targeted for possession by a terrible demon and I feel like I’ve seen that story 100 times in the last five years.  It’s a group of orphans in a haunted house this time, that feels new.  It does pose a lot of questions like “if this guy didn’t want to be nice to kids why did he invite six of them to live in his house?” There’s a nun living with them so there’s a more present clerical authority figure but they do seem to have found a nun that does not care at all if small children are screaming in the middle of the night, maybe the ghost is deafening her or something.  Other than that it’s fairly standard fare, people getting haunted, other people not believing that it’s happening, sudden escalation when the movie realizes it’s running out of film.  Wash, rinse, repeat— but this kind of error is mostly bloodless, so you don’t even need to pretreat.

There’s a reasonable sized subplot about a haunted scarecrow that is so out of place in this movie I wonder if it’s an artifact from a movie that ended up being scrapped.  It doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie or the franchise and doesn’t even interact with any of the main characters.  It’s like they paid for the effects work and never made a full-length scarecrow movie and plugged it in here to fill the run time.  A substantial part of the third act is spent with a supporting character running away from a demon scarecrow and it’s a character that isn’t even likable.  I suppose I didn’t want to see anyone killed by evil farm equipment but this was a character who spend most of the previous 80 minutes making life difficult for a girl with polio and her friend.  The strangest part was there were characters I cared much more about who were dealt with quickly and off-screen to make room for this other stuff.  I bet a demon scarecrow could kill all sorts of people.  Or even that a demon with vast telekinetic powers wouldn’t need to inhabit a body made of straw to do work.

The effects are maddeningly inconsistent.  There’s some great work with creeping shadows and some character design with the demon.  There is also an entire sequence that’s supposed to be scary that I believe was just done with a person standing under a sheet.  Having an unmoving doll show up in a lot of places like a creepier version of Droopy is somehow less impressive in a modern horror movie than it was in a 1940s cartoon.  The movie still gets scares in, but they’re more through atmosphere and score than through anything that feels innovative or fun.

It’s hard to come up with a context in which I would recommend anyone else see Annabelle: Creation.  Like, if you absolutely had to see a horror movie and it was the only one you had access to due to some combination of geographic circumstance and catastrophic internet outage it’s certainly a horror movie.  Or if you’re a Conjuring superfan and want to get all the references they’ll seed from this in to next year’s The Nun or whatever comes out after that.  Other than that it’s basically impossible.  You would have more fun with most of what you could drag up on Netflix or whatever comes out in a month, or just doing something else for two hours.