For those that know me, it is no secret that I love to go to the movies. This year, I was lucky enough to watch about 24 movies (mostly) in theaters. In these last few days before the new year, I will be sharing my thoughts on these films, from the good, to the bad, to the mediocre. To keep things manageable, I will be breaking things up into a few different posts based on the original release dates for the films. I do have to be up front about one thing, most of the films on this list are popular releases, unfortunately I didn’t have as many opportunities to see “indie” and “art house” films as I would have liked, and I have only seen a handful of films that would actually be nominated for awards.
In terms of structure for looking at these films, I will give my brief take on the synopsis of the film, provide my initial thoughts that I had when I first watched the film, and finally share some thoughts I have had since seeing the film initially, sometimes providing links to videos or articles that may better articulate my feelings.
August, September, and October gave us some morally questionable types slinging guns and working to save the world, an idiot savant with a penchant for killing, and forced us to examine both masculinity and sexuality.
Fair warning, I will try not to get into story details but there may be some spoilers ahead.
Released: August 5, 2016 | Director: David Ayer
Synopsis: In the wake of incidents tied to Superman and extraterrestrial enemies, the US government opts to bring together a group of super villains to take on the next threat to the planet.
Initial Thoughts: (Taken from Facebook) Wasn’t nearly as bad as critics made it sound. Some messy bits, pacing, and storytelling, but some enjoyable characters, great visual choices, and overall pretty entertaining.
Reflection: Don’t get me wrong, Suicide Squad is not a good movie, but, it is not the worst movie ever. There is some entertainment value in it, but it is ultimately another bland, passable, and forgettable superpeople movie, despite the efforts of Will Smith and Margot Robbie to save the film. Those two, who played Deadshot and Harley Quinn respectively, were the most interesting and complex characters in the film, both seemed to have sufficient character motivations and arcs, and I would actually enjoy seeing those characters return in future DC movies. Outside of the flashbacks and highlights for those two characters, no other scenes in the movie were really that memorable.
Honestly, it’s not worth me saying much more about this when the crew over at Screen Junkies does such a great job of making fun of the film in their Honest Trailer for it.
The Magnificent Seven
Released: September 23, 2016 | Director: Antoine Fuqua
Synopsis: Seven unlikely characters are brought together to help liberate a town from a greedy industrialist intent on bleeding the town dry.
Initial Thoughts: This is a serviceable action movie with some good performances, but it ultimately comes short of the films it is a remake of.
Reflection: Sure it is cool to see Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke be reunited with Training Day director Antoine Fuqua, but that does little to save this film from being forgotten. Due to a lack of development and time with each, all seven of our titular characters end up feeling undercooked. In particular, I felt like we weren’t given enough time to get to know or understand Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s Vazquez, and we got a cool introduction but not much else for Martin Sensmeier’s Native American exile, Red Harvest. Vincent D’Onofrio, who is a chameleon going from role to role these days, gives us a really interesting performance as the God-fearing outdoorsman, Jack Horne. His performance really ran the gamut in the film, from seeming insane to adding an awful lot of heart, and, for me, he was easily the most interesting of our seven.
Denzel Washington is always fantastic, and it was great to see him as the lead in this film, but I felt like his character’s motivations were an after thought that probably didn’t get the number of scenes necessary to making it more poignant. Chris Pratt is fine, but he is basically the same character he played in Jurassic Park, which was very similar to his character in Guardians of the Galaxy. I really hope he doesn’t start to find himself doing the same role over and over again since it seems he is a better and more nuanced actor than that.
Goodnight Robicheaux, played by Ethan Hawke, and Billy Rocks, brought to life by Byung-hun Lee, were one of the most interesting pairs to me. Goodnight was a war hero but now has PTSD which strikes when he least expects it, and Billy Rocks is his traveling companion who not only takes care of Goodnight, but also helps the two win money by engaging in competition with gunmen using only knives. I really enjoyed the subtlety to their relationship and how it was acted out on screen, as well as the highlights during the action that both of these characters were given.
One thing I do have to make note of is the diversity of the cast. At first, it may seem like the casting decisions and diversity were simply ways to modernize the story, but in interviews, Fuqua spoke to the diversity that existed during the time period, citing Asians working on the railroad, the undeniable Mexican presence, the fact that Native Americans aren’t a new thing, and that black cowboys did actually exist. Whether it was done to represent the times or to update the story for today’s audiences, I thought the casting and make-up of our seven was one of the highlights of the film, despite wanting more from some of them.
Not as good as the original, but hell, the original wasn’t as good as its original. It’s hard to touch the mastery of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, though we keep trying. Take a minute and enjoy Every Frame a Painting’s video on how Kurosawa composes action, because, dammit, you need to appreciate it!
Released: October 14th, 2016 | Director: Gavin O’Connor
Synopsis: An accountant has a particular set of skills that he is forced to use when one of his jobs brings him under fire.
Initial Thoughts: This movie is really cool and has some great sequences, scenes, and symbolism, but some of the structure and storytelling are a bit shaky.
Reflection: I feel like I need to see this one again. The acting was pretty good from pretty much everyone in the film with no one really coming across as over the top, and I really enjoyed Ben Affleck as our lead. He did a good job of portraying his character’s rigid high-functioning form of autism without coming across as insulting or overplayed. Jon Bernthal played a perfect counter-point to this as a flamboyant yet precise killer and strategist.
From a story standpoint, I would actually say that it is another superhero origin story and hits all of those beats plus has an incredibly predictable “twist” thrown in for good measure. It’s enjoyable and entertaining, but a little dumb. There are some awesome moments, but you don’t have to think about it too much and it doesn’t stick with you long after you’ve seen it. Look, if you like Bourne movies, Taken movies, or anything like that, you’ll probably like it. Also, I forgot that Anna Kendrick was in this, so here is a clip of Ben Affleck coming to her rescue.
Released: October 21, 2016 | Director: Barry Jenkins
Synopsis: We explore the life of a boy as he grows up and contends with his own sexuality and the societal construct of masculinity.
Initial Thoughts: (Taken from Facebook) So Moonlight was an artfully done exploration of black masculinity. Hard to watch at moments, but a damn good film.
Reflection: So this is one of the films that I have watched most recently, so I may need some additional time to reflect but I will try my best. This movie, for me, is the best of the year. It is an amazing story and exploration that needed to be had. In a world that constantly defines what a black man should be, this movie dissected that idea. It looked at the games we play and how masculinity is a performance better than any other film I’ve seen has. It’s challenging and for those uncomfortable with who they are or struggling to find it, this movie can be unsettling and challenging.
In terms of performances, there are a few central characters and they are all portrayed fantastically. The three actors who play Chiron, Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes, all do an amazing job of capturing who he was at that particular stage in his life. Janelle Monáe’s time as Teresa is an understated yet welcome visit as she helps to provide Chiron the much-needed mothering that he wished for at home. Naomie Harris, on the other hand, delivers a powerfully devastating performance as Chiron’s addict mother Paula who torments her son throughout different points in his life.
In my viewing of the film, it was Mahershala Ali’s Juan who had the biggest impact on the film. Ali brilliantly brought the dealer turned father figure to life, and it was his guidance early in the film that helped establish an interesting and poignant trajectory for Chiron’s life. The sequence at the beach, pictured above, is by far one of the most beautiful and touching moments I’ve seen in a long time and I need more people to take the time to appreciate it.
So what are you thinking? Did Suicide Squad tickle your fancy? Did you think our seven should have been more magnificent? Did The Accountant find the right numbers for you? Was Moonlight this year’s winner? As always, share your thoughts with me here or on social media!