By: Henry J. Fromage –
Week three of my 365 Days of Movies Challenge is an amalgam of documentaries and acclaimed independent films from the last year, as I desparately attempt to see everything that could pop up on MovieBoozer’s post-Oscar Top 10 of 2016 lists (why make a list until you can actually see everything, right?)
19. Zero Days
If you want to be scared of World War III all over again, Alex Gibney has you covered, but it’s not the fireball we figure we’ll get when Trump takes the “football” literally, but a techno-Cold War we’re now fully in the midst of thanks to our unleashing of Stuxnet on Iran, ushering in a new age of state-sponsored hacker-driven threats that could escalate fast.
20. Prophet’s Prey
Disgust and deep sadness are what awaits in Amy Berg’s latest chronicle of the awful things perverted homegrown systems are capable of, as she builds a horrifying case against break-off Mormon cult leader Warren Jeffs, polygamist, child rapist, and maybe the closest thing to a demon we have walking among us today.
21. The Alchemist Cookbook
Joel Potrykus is as punk rock a filmmaker as we have, and this unsettling almost one-hander about a young recluse in the woods trying to conjure up something terrible and losing his mind in the process is as punk as its cassette-driven soundtrack often is.
22. Live By Night
This is both as bad as and better than you’ve heard. Affleck still has his talent for staging bruising action, but in making himself some sort of sainted sinner (or, much worse, White Savior) in the lead, he completely whiffs on any dramatic potential this wanna-be Godfather had.
Justin Tipping and the young cast, boosted by 2016 good luck charm Mahershala Ali, make this stylish entry into the inner city drama genre into a real standout calling card for all involved.
24. Jane Got a Gun
So, this clearly isn’t the punk rock punch to the teeth Lynne Ramsay would have made this into, but Gavin O’Connor does just fine on short notice. There aren’t many Westerns being made these days, and this one is a perfectly fine, if not terribly memorable entry in the genre, full of recognizable faces and some surprisingly brutal violence. Admittedly, some pretty purple dialogue and unsubtle themes, too, but at least they tried.
25. In a Valley of Violence
Well, Ti West has clearly been watching his Sergio Leone, but Ethan Hawke, as much as I like him, is no Eastwood and West is, I feel pretty safe in saying, no Leone. Hawke plays it straight while pretty much the rest of the cast thinks they’re in some amateur stage production of the producer’s son’s Western farce. Surprisingly grating, and that’s even before John Travolta shows up.
There’s some hackneyed sports drama bits here and there, but also a surprising unifying style from Stephen Hopkins, a intriguingly complex moral decision at its center (listen to what Chrisette Michele is actually saying and get off your high horses, people), hopefully the step towards starmaking role for Stephan James that 42 gave Chadwick Boseman, and very engaging performances from Jeremy Irons and a somewhat serious Jason Sudeikis. Watching a spectacularly gifted black man stick it to the Alt Right, errr, Nazis (sorry, I honestly can’t tell the difference) on January 20th had its own particular resonance as well.
27. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
I know essentially everyone’s made the same joke, but fuck if it isn’t apropos. Really, never go back, Jack Reacher. How they took what was a pretty entertaining Tom Cruise action vehicle and transformed it into this boring, draggy, annoying teen daughter-sporting mess is beyond me. Sure, Cruise gets a few good lines and punches in, but just go watch literally anything else he’s been in over the last decade and you’ll get more satisfaction out of it.
28. Captain Fantastic
I was expecting something a lot more twee and reductive from the marketing. Viggo really is great in this, as is the youthful cast making up his children, and while, yes, it’s awful Capital ‘L’ Liberal and Sundancey in places, it doesn’t shy away from the contradictions in their unique lifestyle and finds a surprising emotional undercurrent in a film where they literally flush their mother’s ashes down a toilet (per her express wishes).
29. Haemoo (Sea Fog)
This Korean film, as with most good Korean genre flicks, keeps switching up on you, including a real nasty turn late in the second act, which sends it explicitly into genre territory. Polished and dynamic as always, I could have gotten into it more if not for the genuinely fucked up sexual politics at play essentially throughout the film, which don’t feel so much like social commentary as the backbone of the screenplay.