I make this list every year, for fun and as a reference. As always, it only reflects things seen for the first time. “POLTERGEIST on TV, 14th viewing” doesn’t make the list. Nor do films not viewed in their entirety, for example, Guy Ritchie’s THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E, which got ejected from the Blu-Ray player after 15 minutes. I’d never seen Henry Cavill in anything before but he seems to emit some kind of anti-charisma particle.
I didn’t bother making a numbered best-of list this year. But if I had, LOGAN would be at the top. It’s perfect. Damn you James Mangold, for making me cry at your Wolverine movie.
Some of my other favorite releases of 2017 include THE BEGUILED, COCO, ATOMIC BLONDE, THOR: RAGANOK, and THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES. Of course, DUNKIRK was impressive – but cold, as is Christopher Nolan’s way. MOTHER! is a movie, alright. Darren Aronofsky swings for the fences. And whatever you think of the film, Jennifer Lawrence and Michelle Pfieffer were very good. The BLADE RUNNER sequel was amazing, and very nearly great: only Jared Leto’s messianic super-villain seemed out of place, like a character from a different, dumber movie. THE LAST JEDI: wonderful, about 50% of the time. The compelling Rey/Kylo/Luke storyline almost makes up for how they couldn’t find anything interesting for Poe, Finn, or Rose to do. (Yeah I get that the casino plot is a critique of capitalism and arms dealers and yes intellectually that’s interesting for a Star Wars movie but dramatically it was a big bag of nothing and visually it looked cheap & reminded me of the prequels and like this sentence that movie is too long.)
Linked titles take you to my review, or more info on the film.
MOVIES ON THE BIG SCREEN
Manchester by the Sea
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (live from the Old Vic)*
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Dave Made A Maze
Dawson City: Frozen Time
The Big Sick
Blade Runner 2049
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Coco (saw it January ’18)
MOVIES ON THE SMALL SCREEN
The Jungle Book (2016)
The Nice Guys
Shadow of a Doubt
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
The Trip (Steve Coogan, not Dennis Hopper)
Back To The Future III
Eat Pray Love
The Meyerowitz Stories
The Godfather (pretty good! why didn’t anyone tell me about this flick sooner?)
The Good Place
Game of Thrones
I Love Dick
Last Mom Standing
Star Trek: Discovery
POV: What Tomorrow Brings
Big Little Lies
Abstract: The Art of Design
BOOKS and OTHER READING
Other People’s Trades – Primo Levi
Broken Frontier (graphic novel) – Various
Lightspeed Magazine – Various
A whole bunch of screenplays
*I am calling this a movie. I saw it at a movie theater. Harry Potter guy was in it. It counts.
- Caught FANTASTIC BEASTS & ETC over the weekend. Despite a few moments I liked, I’d still rate the experience as “mostly unpleasant”
- So, Eddie Redmayne. Is there a reason he played the lead as a creepy weirdo? Or, is he just a creepy weirdo?
- Also there’s a dour missionary-type char. who hands out anti-wizard leaflets & mistreats her pack of creepy orphans. Ick.
- Colin Farrell, villain, is trying to steal one orphan away for evil purposes. He meets him in dark alleys and hug & caresses him a lot. Ick.
- Colin’s big villain monologue: he doesn’t want magic to be a secret. As evil plans go, not super compelling. On his side, kinda
- In this universe it’s REALLY important regular people don’t learn magic people exist. Witnesses get mind-erased a la MEN IN BLACK…
- Nevertheless there’s a huge skyscraper full of wizards/magical stuff right in dwntwn NY. Sure hope nobody walks in looking for DMV or whatev
- Not a Potter fan so this went over my head but at the end SPOILER? Colin Farrell turns into Johnny Depp w/an Aryan Nation haircut.
- Look for him in the sequel, I guess
- I did like subplot lumpy bakery guy, who falls in love with cute floozy sister-wizard. Anytime I didn’t have to look at Redmayne = +.
- So. Much. CGI. This is virtually an animated film w live-action elements. Climax is an exhausting light-show of black clouds & lightning.
- Act 3: one vial of memory eraser (b)rain-washes all NYC. Wave a wand, devastated city reassembles. Ho-hum. Magic sure makes things easy.
2017 Goal #1: Finish my feature screenplay spec BARTENDER OF THE YEAR and submit it to the Nicholl Fellowship in April.
Goal achieved? NO
Not only did I blow past the Nicholl Fellowship and every other contest deadline this past year, I am nicely on-track to miss a bunch of 2018 deadlines too. I’m currently 100+ pages into a terrible, no good, very bad first draft. Writers sometimes call the first draft the “vomit draft,” the goal being getting it done, not making it good. But rather than a full-throated purge, progress on BARTENDER OF THE YEAR has advanced in a series of minuscule puke-belches.
BARTENDER is a comedy-drama about a popular local mixologist who runs for office in his small town. It’s also my challenge to myself to write a movie outside my comfort zone: one with no science fiction elements or high-concept gimmicks to propel the story. And it’s propulsion, sure enough, that has been lacking. In my darkest moments of plotting this thing I’m convinced I know nothing about writing, human nature, normal human speech, or how the everyday affairs of human beings are conducted. I feel as if I’m bluffing my way through everything.
And then other days… it’s better. A lot better. Experience has taught me the only way out is through. Push, work, WRITE until the work becomes the thing that occupies your mind instead of the fear.
Goal #2: Search for material
Goal achieved? YES
Itching to get a project into prep, this year I decided to put on my producer hat and start looking for screenplays. I didn’t find anything I wanted to option, but I made the effort and read a pile of scripts. (I’m still itchy. If you’re interested in sending me something, please read this to learn more.)
Goal #3: AFX training
Goal achieved? NO
This year I bought myself a nifty (and pricey) new MacBook with the intention of updating my knowledge of Adobe After Effects. The ability to create pro-level motion graphics and visual effects “in-house” would hugely expand the range of projects I can execute DIY-style. And, it’s never a bad thing to have more marketable skills. But I had an ambitious list of goals for 2017 and something had to give, so this one resides on the back-burner. I needed a new computer anyway, honey. Really.
Goal #4. Take a beginning improv class
Goal achieved? YES
Every Monday for 10 weeks this past year I stood up with a group of strangers, playing silly improv games with them and making up scenes on the spot. I said and did the first stupid-ass thing that came into my mind. Something different, to maybe blow some cobwebs out of the brain. Not as embarrassing as anticipated. Signing up for the intermediate class in January.
Goal #5. Other writing
Goal achieved? YES
OK, admittedly “other writing” is a pretty nebulous goal, so it’s easy to call this one a win. I did work on things besides BARTENDER OF THE YEAR in 2017… and even finished some of them. For instance, an 8-page short called FROG, which I’m pretty happy with. It’s a two-hander about a disabled intern who befriends the super-intelligent frog she meets one night in a university computer lab. It was written expressly for the Jameson First Shot contest and if it had won, the script would have been produced with actor Dominic West providing the voice of the frog. Alas, that didn’t happen, but FROG did quarter-final in the ScreenCraft Short Screenplay contest in September.
One of the best writing experiences I had this past year happened at the day job, imagine that: Armstrong Creates, the agency I’ve worked at for mumble-mumble years now. I’m a generalist there, which means I might be retouching photos one day and cooking up an ad campaign the next. When a client (a manufacturer of corks for the wine industry) decided they wanted a concepts for a promotional video, I whipped up a script for a comedy sketch that takes place entirely inside a wine bottle. The wine and the cork are personified (think the Fruit of the Loom guys), best buddies who’ve grown very close over the years as the wine ages. They even sing a duet together. Like so many concepts, this pitch never made it out of the conference room. Too bad: I think it would have turned out well. Would have been an absolute blast to shoot, too. Given that, what exactly made this a good writing experience? Well, I got paid, for one thing. But more to the point: starting from zero I cranked out a completed script – one I was really happy with – in the matter of a couple of hours. It was exhilarating, and a welcome reminder that I don’t really need inspiration. I just need a deadline. So sure, my concept got rejected, but I went home happy that day. And the experience helped me shake off the torpor I’d been fighting much of the year.
Back at home and re-energized, I finally wrote up a first draft of ANAESTHESIA, another short film idea that I’d been kicking around for too many years. I’m also compiling notes for a new feature script, the one I’ll write once BARTENDER is in the bag. I don’t know the title yet. But it’s a sci-fi comedy about an alien invasion. Yeah, back to the comfort zone. I gotta be me, I guess.
- The cast. Kidman, Fanning, Dunst, Farrell & the young ‘uns too. Everyone’s good. No weak links.
- It’s dark. The rural south, losing the war & suspended in a timeless, perpetual dusk.
- It’s quiet. Shhhhh. (A salve for the headache BABY DRIVER gave me)
- It’s squarish. 1.66 aspect ratio. Perfect for this film.
- Virtually no musical score. The girls sing a bit. One plays a violin. In other moments: distant cannons, like drums.
- The restraint. This film is 9/10ths delicious anticipation. Often funny; flirting with horror.
- It’s short. 94 minutes TRT! The End.
- Given COLOSSAL’s fun premise, the film that unfolds is not quite the romp you might expect.
- COLOSSAL puts Kaiju monsters & indie-film slackers into a genre blender. Like many smoothies the result is a bit lumpy & faintly sour
- The lumps: Characters poorly defined. Plot threads meander. Some end abruptly and add little. Even the monster origin story is half-baked.
- The sour: characters aren’t typical indiefilm losers. Not clever/charismatic enough. The range is more like “pathetic” to “pathological”
- Premise pulls you through the rough patches, even as COLOSSAL turns darker. One scene evokes mass carnage without showing a drop of blood.
- And as stakes rise, COLOSSAL rallies. The film deploys its cleverest notion near the end, delivering a satisfying resolution.
- LIFE is not a bad movie, but it’s a B-movie. #LIFEmovie #rental
- So yeah, if you liked the trailer that’s what the movie is. No more, no less.
- There IS a long, lovely single-take intro that’s maybe the best zero-g scene ever in a space movie
- There’s also a major action scene toward the end that just doesn’t work very well, IMO
- But there’s tension/suspense, gross-outs & scares. Things zip along in a 10-little-Indians way that can’t help but remind you of ALIEN.
- The ending (SPOILER!) reminded me of the ’70s when big studio pictures more often than not went “tails” at the end instead of “heads”