The Best Performances of 2017

I hope that everybody has had a good Christmas and are celebrating their respective holidays this season.  For this post, I wanted to celebrate the best performances this year.  I’ve been thinking about how I want to do this particular one, because there were a huge number of standout performances in 2017.  I didn’t get to see every movie this year, because quite frankly, that’s a lot of movies, and more than I have time for.  Sometimes, a performance can elevate what is otherwise a mediocre movie and make it worth watching.  With that in mind, let’s go over some of the best performances that I’ve seen this year.

Gal Gadot – Wonder Woman

Before Batman V. Superman was released last year, it was announced that while Wonder Woman would be a part of the film, the stand-alone Wonder Woman film was also being produced.  Gal Gadot was cast as the Amazon princess, and at first, I was unsure of her ability to carry a role of that magnitude.  When her character showed up in Dawn of Justice, all doubts were erased.  Gal Gadot IS Wonder Woman and she really does carry the stand-alone film on her shoulders.  She’s absolutely phenomenal.  Not only can she handle the role physically, but also emotionally as well.  We see the character go from a super-hopeful optimistic woman to a battle-hardened warrior.  The transition is absolutely natural and Ms. Gadot has that natural charisma that wins you over, despite all your doubts.

Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Daphne Keen – Logan

This one was somewhat difficult for me to decide.  The acting in Logan is beyond stellar.  Instead of just one performance, I decided to include three in this one.  Why?  Because they are all amazing.  Hugh Jackman turns in his best performance as Wolverine, a character that has been beaten down by the world and being slowly poisoned by his adamantium skeleton.  This is a broken man who forgot what it meant to be a hero.  Over the course of the film, he realizes he has a chance at redemption.  Patrick Stewart is just as compelling as the ailing Charles Xavier.  I have to say, seeing Xavier drop f-bomb after f-bomb is rather hilarious, but then you peel back the layers and understand what is wrong with him psychologically.  It’s heartbreaking.  The real surprise of the film goes to young Daphne Keen as Laura a.k.a X-23.  She comes across as this adorable little girl, but then you see her claws come out and she’s just as vicious, if not more so, than Wolverine.  Her connection to Wolverine is one of the best highlights of the film as you see the two characters grow closer.  It’s absolutely remarkable at how these characters come to life in this film.  It’s worth watching for the acting alone.

Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan – The Foreigner

Jackie Chan has been a staple of the action film genre for over 40 years.  His experience in the genre is almost unrivaled.  While most of his roles have been infused with his Buster Keaton-style of physical comedy, every once in a while he gets a role that allows him to flex his acting muscles.  The Foreigner is one such film.  Chan plays a former special operations soldier whose daughter is killed in a terrorist attack in Ireland.  Broken and angry, the character confronts Pierce Brosnan’s character, who may or may not have ties to the Irish Republican Army.  Chan’s performance is one of a kind.  His delivery isn’t the strongest, but his performance comes through in his face.  Don’t get me wrong, he still has what it takes physically, but it’s not your typical Jackie Chan film.  It’s more of a political thriller than anything else.  Bring Pierce Brosnan onto the project was sheer genius.  Brosnan’s performance is just as compelling as Chan’s.  The way the two characters react to each other really shows the chemistry that the two actors actually have.  Honestly, this is one of those movies that would have been pretty mediocre if not for the cast.

James McAvoy – Split

James McAvoy was going to end up on this list for one reason or another, so it may as well be for Split.  This was a movie that surprised me for all the right reasons.  Not only was the film sharply written, but it was incredibly intense and surprisingly intelligent.  James McAvoy plays a character that has well over a dozen split personalities, with a new one about to emerge.  It would have been very easy for McAvoy to just switch voices and go from there, but he doesn’t.  He plays each personality as if it was a completely different character.  At one moment he’s a nine year-old boy and the next he’s a proper English woman.  One would think that would lead to some sort of camp or cheesiness, but it doesn’t.  These personalities each have their own unique quirks.  James McAvoy is a chameleon here.  His performance is utterly unique.  I’ve seen actors try the whole split personality thing on screen, but none of them have done it as well as Mr. McAvoy.

Ok-Bin Kim – The Villainess

While I feel that The Villainess was a bit of a problematic film, the one thing that it wasn’t lacking in was a compelling female lead.  We have that in Ok-Bin Kim who plays Sook-hee, a young woman who has been trained as an assassin.  She wants to live the rest of her life with her daughter, but she has to complete certain assassinations in order for that to happen.  While the action in the film is certainly spectacular, Kim’s performance really stands out.  The emotional roller-coaster that her character goes on is very effective and pays off in a very big way.  The level of physicality that she displays on the screen is almost second to none.  She throws herself into the role and it’s surprisingly really good.

RJ Cyler – Power Rangers

Power Rangers was a very surprising superhero film.  I was surprised at how well thought out the characters and the story were.  The acting across the board is awesome, but the one that really stands out is RJ Cyler as Billy, the blue ranger.  RJ Cyler’s portrayal of Billy Cranston is really good.  His character is a little autistic, but as the film goes on, we see Billy progress the most out of all the kids here.  He goes from this introverted nerd/outcast to someone who is willing to put his life on the line for his friends, and Cyler really infuses the character with his own brand of humor and humanity.  I loved this movie anyway, but RJ Cyler really stood out for me among the others.

Michael Fassbender – Alien Covenant

Michael Fassbender has always been a fascinating actor for me.  He’s just one of the best actors out there today.  He’s also part of what made Alien Covenant not as bad as it could have been.  Michael Fassbender plays two roles in this film, both of them androids: Walter and David.  David is the android from Prometheus and Walter is the new droid.  On their own, the two characters are pretty good, but when the two droids actually spend time together, that’s when Fassbender is at his best.  His portrayal of David is vastly different than that of Walter.  David has developed a sort of god complex while also being a rogue droid.  Walter is a little less….idiosyncratic, but still very believable.  Michael Fassbender’s performance in Covenant is nothing less than amazing.

Vince Vaughn – Brawl in Cell Block 99

I gotta be honest here, I’ve never been a huge fan of Vince Vaughn.  At least, not his comic roles.  But when he flips the switch from comedic to serious, we have ourselves a very different kind of actor.  He’s extremely talented.  I’ve been paying attention to his more dramatic roles like in Hacksaw Ridge.  His dramatic performances are through the roof.  His performance in Brawl in Cell Block 99 is quite possibly his best and most memorable performance to date as Bradley Thomas.  I haven’t reviewed the film yet, but I’ll get to it.  Brawl is a very character-driven action film and Vince Vaughn just throws himself into the role.  His immense size really gives him a serious physical presence.  But it’s what he does with the character that really stands out.  He does nearly all of his own stunts and the smaller more dramatic moments are just astounding.  I haven’t paid attention to Vince Vaughn for years, but I am now.

These are some of my favorite performances of the year and I hope that some of you will agree.  If you don’t, that’s fine too.  This year had some of the best acting I’ve seen in a long time, and I can’t wait to see what 2018 will bring.  I’ve got more stuff about the films of 2017 coming, so please stay tuned for those.

 

The Martial Arts Kid 2: Payback IndieGoGo Crowdfunding Campaign!

For those of you who may not remember, I reviewed a charming little film called The Martial Arts Kid some months ago, starring Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock.  I have interviews with those two if you want to check them out by clicking the Interviews tab.  For this post, I got word that the upcoming sequel: The Martial Arts Kid 2: Payback will begin crowdfunding through IndieGoGo starting on January 15, 2018.  The purpose of this campaign is to raise extra funds so the cast and crew can craft a larger movie with more action, more danger, more locations and a larger cast.  The film will also feature the largest gathering of real-life Grand Master, Master and Champion martial artists.  It is going to be an extraordinary film and the film-makers will need your help to make it happen.  Once the campaign begins, I will try and post regular updates on its progress as well as any other news related to the project.  For more information about The Martial Arts Kid 2: Payback campaign you can check out the website here: The Martial Arts Kid 2: Payback IndieGoGo Campaign.

The Martial Arts Kid 2: Payback will reunite Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock as Uncle Glen and Aunt Cindy, respectively.  Legendary martial arts actors Chuck Zito and Sasha Mitchell will also be a part of the project with TJ Storm reprising his role as Coach Laurent Kaine.  Michael Baumgarten returns as director, with James Lew returning as Stunt Coordinator.  I will let everybody know when the campaign starts and as I said, will provide regular updates.  I’m really excited for this movie and I hope everyone is too.  The first Martial Arts Kid is currently available for digital streaming as well as DVD and Blu-Ray, and I highly recommend you check that film out as it is a really good little family action film with a solid message about the use of martial arts in day-to-day life.  With that in mind, my fellow Space Cadets, stay tuned!

The “Surprisingly Not Crap” Movies of 2017

Yesterday, I posted my most disappointing movies of 2017.  While it was a fairly easy post to write, some of the films on that list were painful to put up, because of their massive potential.  For THIS post, I’m going to discuss the movies that probably should have been crap, but really weren’t.  In fact, some of these are some of my favorites of the year.  I was genuinely surprised at how good some of these films really were, despite the lousy marketing or negative press.  So….let’s dig right into the “Surprisingly Not Crap” movies of 2017.

Split

If we’re talking about surprises, then Split is the biggest one I’ve had this year.  I’m going to be honest:  I’m not a fan of M. Night Shyamalan.  I don’t like the fact that his ego basically dictates what movies he makes, because a lot of them were crap.  Now, I know that Shyamalan is a talented director.  He really is, but again, he picks some really bizarre projects and a lot of them don’t pan out the way he intended them to.  That is where Split changes the game a bit.  This is a very tight and smart little thriller.  This film has to deal with guy that suffers from a split personality disorder.  While most people that suffer from that affliction, tend to switch between two to three personalities, the main character of the film has well over a dozen.  The surprisingly sharp writing is also bolstered by some really fantastic performances, especially James McAvoy.  While the film does tend to fall into some typical Shyamalan shenanigans, it’s still a white-knuckle thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat.  Bravo, Mr. Shyamalan.  Bravo.

Power Rangers

Now, here’s another film that I was very skeptical about.  I’m a huge fan of the original Power Rangers tv show from 1993.  I even enjoyed the 1995 theatrical film, even though it was clearly not good.  Dean Israelite, the director, takes the premise of 5 dysfunctional teenagers who become superheroes and gives them a much needed make-over.  The main 5 characters: Jason, Billy, Zack, Kimberly, and Trini, are truly teenagers with attitudes.  Each character has his or her own unique backstory and problems that makes them sympathetic.  While the film does have some pacing issues, the story is really good.  Bryan Cranston plays Zordon and Elizabeth Banks plays the villainous Rita Repulsa.  I was not prepared for how well this film worked.  It shouldn’t have, but it did.  When the kids become the Power Rangers, it feels like they earned it.  Even though the box office take of Power Rangers was less than spectacular, I still hold out hope for at least one good sequel, because the movie needs it.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Disney’s been making a habit of doing live-action adaptations of some of their beloved animated features.  Not all of them were good.  I didn’t care for The Jungle Book at all, but Maleficent was decent.  Enter 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, adapted from the 1991 animated adventure.  I was very surprised at how visually stunning the film is.  It has some fantastic visual effects, costumes, set designs and creature designs.  The Beast himself is extraordinary.  Thankfully, the cast was more than up for the challenge of adapting such a classic.  While Emma Watson had some auto-tuning issues, the other cast members were phenomenal in terms of performing the musical numbers.  There’s a new song, “Evermore” which has a very operatic feel to it that gives it such grandeur and Dan Stevens just knocks it out of the park.  Luke Evans IS Gaston and at times channels Richard White in his performance.  Josh Gad is wonderful as LeFou.  While the film suffers from some pacing issues, Beauty and the Beast is one of the best live-action adaptations of an animated feature I’ve seen in a long time.

Justice League

The reaction to Justice League has ranged from mixed to very negative, and it’s not necessarily hard to see why.  In spite of the film’s glaring issues, I found myself having a hell of a time here.  Instead of the really dark tone of Batman V. SupermanJustice League is much more light-hearted affair.  It’s got a lot more humor than I was expecting, but most of it lands.  The film introduces Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg into the DCEU.  Oddly enough, this bunch of super-misfits works.  The way Superman comes back is also pretty cool.  This is a film that needed more than 2 hours to really work, so that was a little disappointing, but the action is awesome.  Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck are awesome in their respective roles.  Jason Momoa was pitch-perfect casting as Arthur Curry/Aquaman.  Yeah, the movie’s got a lot of problems, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t have fun with it.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Oh, man, this one’s a riot and a half.  If it wasn’t for Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, this film would have been utterly forgettable.  Thankfully, the chemistry between the two actors is absolutely spot on.  Both characters are smart-asses, good at what they do, and are constantly trying to kill each other.  While The Hitman’s Bodyguard won’t win any REAL awards, it certainly is one of the most entertaining movies of the year.  It’s absolutely worth checking out.

Wolf Warrior 2

A lot of people complained about the first Wolf Warrior being far too nationalistic.  For the Chinese, it was a very patriotic film, but I think some of that got in the way of what could have been an entertaining film.  Thankfully, the second film, also helmed by Wu Jing, is a much better film.  It also has a much better fight against the main villain, played by Frank Grillo.  It still has some of that patriotic flair that the first film did, but thankfully, it was dialed back a bit in favor of a more personal story for the main character.  The action is intense, bloody and has a lot of explosions.  Wu Jing has definitely improved as an actor as well as a director.  It’s not perfect and has some issues, but it’s a surprisingly decent action flick that really shouldn’t be missed by fans of the genre.

Those were some of the most surprising movies that I’ve seen this year.  While they aren’t perfect, they aren’t bad movies at all.  So, yeah, these surprised me a great deal.  I’ve got a few more lists planned for the rest of the week, so stay tuned.

The Most Disappointing Movies of 2017

With Christmas literally right around the corner as of this writing and 2017 coming to a close, I figure it’s about time to go over the movies that were released in 2017, both good, bad and disappointing.  I would’ve done this last month, but there were still some movies that I needed to see before I start making these lists.  For my first list, I want to go over what I consider to be the most disappointing movies of the year.  Keep in mind that these movies aren’t necessarily awful, but there were some real issues in these films that really kept them from achieving their true potential.  So, with that in mind, let’s go over some serious disappointment.

Alien Covenant

There were quite a few disappointing films this year, but Alien Covenant hurts the most.  I’m a huge fan of the Alien films, even Prometheus.  So, when I heard that Ridley Scott was going to direct another genuine Alien film, I was excited.  This was the franchise that really launched the director’s career.  Oh, man.  When I left the theater, I was legitimately angry for a number of reasons.  One, the story-line from Prometheus was quickly swept under the rug with that film’s main protagonist getting killed between movies.  With the exception of maybe one or two characters, the characters in Covenant were cannon fodder, essentially.  The original film was effective, because you got to know and connect with that film.  We don’t get that connection here, except with David, Walter and Tennessee.  Another issue was this film essentially being an origin story for the franchise’s key monster, the xenomorph, and it was…..lame.  I’ve warmed up to the film over the course of several viewings, but this was my most anticipated movie of the year.  It let me down considerably.  7 months after the film’s release and I still haven’t forgiven Ridley Scott for fucking this one up.  I was hoping that maybe a director’s cut on Blu-Ray would help sort some issues out, but alas, no such luck.

Ultimate Justice

I’m not the kind of guy that wants to rip independent films to shreds, far from it.  I can see the potential in that field and some stuff that comes from indie film makers are legitimately good.  Ultimate Justice should’ve been one of those 80’s-style action films like The Expendables.  Here’s the problem:  It’s not.  The film features a strong cast of physical actors like Mathis Landwehr, Matthias Hues, Mike Moller and Mark Dacascos, but it doesn’t really take advantage of these folks, with the exception of Mike Moller, but he can’t carry a movie like this on his own.  On top of that, the German-speaking cast members were dubbed over and it’s painfully obvious.  The dubbing really brings down what is otherwise on okay action film.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

I like Tom Holland as the new Peter Parker/Spider-Man.  I like Michael Keaton as The Vulture.  I like the fact that the film is not another origin story for the character.  What I don’t like is being handed another mediocre Spider-Man movie that fails to expand on what we already know about the character.  I also don’t like the fact that Tony Stark has to be a major player in nearly every MCU movie.  He just distracts from what’s going on.  I honestly prefer the Andrew Garfield movies, because I’m not liking the whole “awkward Peter Parker” shtick anymore.  It’s old-hat and it’s not amusing.  Sorry, guys.  This one just didn’t do it for me.

Birth of the Dragon

This is another one that should have been a knock-out punch.  Instead, what we get is a movie about Bruce Lee that doesn’t focus on Bruce Lee.  The blatant bait-and-switch by the director to focus on one of the character’s students was a really stupid move, and audiences were quick to nail Goerge Nolfi to the wall for it.  So much so, that he had to re-edit and shoot more scenes featuring Bruce Lee, played by Philip Ng.  The damage was already done, and the film was already mired in controversy long before it was released.  When Philip Ng is on the screen as Bruce Lee, that’s when it’s good.  When he’s not on the screen, that’s when it sucks.  Again, like other films on this list, Birth of the Dragon isn’t a terrible movie, but it fails to capitalize on the one thing that should have made it stand out a bit more:  Bruce Lee.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Guy Ritchie is usually a pretty reliable director with films like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, and Sherlock Holmes.  But with King Arthur, Ritchie was way out of his element.  Never mind that movies about the legendary King Arthur have existed before this one.  The problem with this film is not with the cast.  It’s with the direction of the film and the story.  It takes the most memorable elements of the legend and throws them out the window or it subverts certain ideas to try and craft something new.  But what really gets my goat is the whole Rock’N’Roll approach to the film.  The music, the editing and the visuals just don’t mesh with what Guy Ritchie is trying to convey.  It has its moments and is kind of fun, but this was a missed opportunity.

The Villainess

In spite of a strong opening and closing sequence, The Villainess is let down by an extremely bloated and slow-moving middle act.  Some of the advertisements led people to believe that this movie was a combination of Kill Bill, La Femme Nikita, and John Wick.  Quite frankly, those were much better movies than what we ended up with.  Don’t get me wrong, the good parts in this film are very, very good, but you have to slog through some really slow-moving parts to get to them.  Honestly, and this comes down to personal preference, but I don’t like the direction went in, and I don’t like the way it ended.  I love good Korean films, and The Villainess could have been one of them, but decisions on the part of the director keep it from reaching those heights, so to speak.  It could have been so much more.

There were a lot of movies that were released during the summer of 2017 and the majority of them were clunkers like The Mummy and Transformers.  But those were really obvious targets.  I wanted to focus on ones that shouldn’t have disappointed me but did.  So, those were my most disappointing movies of 2017, at least the ones that stuck out the most.