Uncle Buck (1989, Directed by John Hughes) English 8

Starring John Candy, Jean Louisa Kelly, Jay Underwood, Macauley Culkin, Gabby Hoffman, Amy Madigan

Image result for uncle buck

Heart and humor overflow when John Candy’s rascally Uncle Buck is asked to take care of his nieces and nephew while their parents are away. He’s in over his head, especially since the oldest, his niece Tia, is determined to make everyone miserable. There’s nothing original in this material. It’s all a matter of execution, and Candy and Hughes are simply better at this stuff than the rest.

The Void (2016, Directed by Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie) English 5

Starring Aaron Poole, Kenneth Welsh, Daniel Fathers, Ellen Wong

Image result for the void

Sporadically effective low-budget horror film following a cop and other assorted guests trapped inside a hospital as unexplained forces terrorize them and a mysterious otherworldly cult surrounds them. The effects are impressive, not even condescending to the film’s budget, the effect are scary and thrilling. The emotional build-up with the characters is less compelling, and the wild ending suffers.

Highlander (1986, Directed by Russell Malcahy) English 4

Starring Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Clancy Brown, Roxanne Hart

Image result for highlander

I’m amazed that this film is as favored as it is. Highlander is a poorly executed action flick with a handful of good ideas. Lambert (a Frenchman) plays an immortal Scottish warrior in the 16th century who lives out his eternal life mourning the loss of a loved one and battling his archenemy, The Kurgan. There’s, of course, more to it than that, but I stopped caring. The acting is bad (even Sean Connery is squandered playing an Egyptian in a film about Scots). The camera trickery is cool at times, before it becomes ultra-gimmicky.

Justice League (2017, Directed by Zach Snyder) English 5

Starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, J.K Simmons, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons

A DC counterpart to Marvel’s The Avengers, Batman and Wonder Woman construct a team that consists of Victor Stone a.k.a Cyborg, Barry Allen a.k.a Flash, and Arthur Curry a.k.a Aquaman to combat the nearly unstoppable Steppenwolf from destroying Earth with his army of “parademons.” A film that oscillates between good and bad at every turn, I was once again (as has been the case for most superhero fare) bored to death by the plot and its villain. I was, however, mostly happy with the cast (though Miller as Flash was overly silly at times). The members of the Justice League were given distinct personalities, and that in itself makes the proceedings much more enjoyable. Fisher and Momoa especially do a nice job with what, in my opinion, are lame characters. The CGI was weak though, and that’s shocking for, “one of the most expensive films of all-time.” I’m willing to watch more adventures with these characters, but find a filmmaker with some unique ideas.

 

The Snowman (2017, Directed by Tomas Alfredson) English 4

Starring Michael Fassbender, J.K Simmons, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Rebecca Ferguson, Val Kilmer

Something about me: A murder mystery has to be extremely bad for me not to enjoy, and so, full disclosure: I was entertained for much of this 8% on Rotten Tomatoes travesty. Michael Fassbender stars as Harry Hole, the lead detective from a series of novels by Jo Nesbo, this time out chasing a serial killer who stalks wanton women and leaves snowmen as his calling card. The tone is lifeless, Val Kilmer’s brief role is bizarre (his dialogue is dubbed over), the mystery reveal is contrived, as all mysteries are, but generally with more skill, and there is a whole segment of the film (a side-plot, I guess) that’s left completely unanswered. I believe the director when he says that a large chunk of the film’s script was unshot due to budget concerns and lack of time. The Snowman is, at times, skillfully made, but the lack of coherence makes the central gimmick come off as silly rather than scary. Overall, I’d say The Snowman is in need of a director’s cut that unfortunately will never come.

Murder on the Orient Express (2017, Directed by Kenneth Branagh) English 6

Starring Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley

A man, who turns out to be a violent and repulsive criminal, is found dead in his locked room aboard the Orient Express, a train travelling from Turkey to Europe. Unfortunately for the killer, Hercule Poirot is also on the train, and, in his own words, he is probably the greatest detective ever. It’s a classic whodunit scenario: everyone’s a suspect, lots of red herrings. As the second major adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel, after Sidney Lumet’s star-studded take on the material, Branagh’s film follows much of the same formula: a cast full of A-listers with luxuriant art direction and beautiful visuals to bolster Christie’s incredibly clever murder mystery. This film succeeds on many of those same notes: it is truly a gorgeous film, the cast is well-matched to their roles, and the technical skill of the production team is plainly on display at every turn. The main issue here is that it is a whodunit in which I already know the solution (from reading the novel and seeing the previous film adaptation). Branagh does his best to alter the material just enough to feel fresh without being unfaithful to the material. He adds some depth to his understated take on Christie’s greatest detective. I liked his performance. He also adds two red herrings to the story, to some effect, but mainly this film feels too much like a cover band. It’s fine, but not completely necessary.

American Made (2017, Directed by Doug Liman) English 6

Starring Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright, Domnhall Gleeson, Lola Kirke, Jesse Plemons, Caleb Landry Jones

Barry Seal, a TWA pilot in the ’70s, spirals into the ’80s as a gun and drug runner for the CIA, Pablo Escobar, and much of Central America. I knew none of this, and as a story, apparently true, I found it fascinating. As a movie, I found it competently done, but rather safe. Tom Cruise plays Seal, and he still has enough star power and charisma to guide us along the course of the film. I feel American Made aimed for some of that Wolf of Wall Street chaotic, stranger-than-fiction true story energy and it only partly comes off. It’s a good film, but not one you need to see twice.