Thursday, January 11, 2018

2017: Some Odds and Bitter Ends

As I look back on 2017, I find it is time to search for my Odds and Ends, separate categories that I think merit a brief look. Unlike my Ten Best/Worst Films of 2017 So Far List, I don't think this requires updating.


Perhaps people may think that because I am a Christian (flawed, doubting and struggling as that may be), I would give Christian films a pass.  Oh contraire, mes amis.  I am an 'art before theology' reviewer, not one to let a bad film get a positive review even if I agree with it.  For far too long, evangelically-bent filmmakers have made bringing the Cross over more important than crafting something worthy of praise.  We can forgive early Christian films like Second Glance or End of the Harvest or any other Christiano Brothers films for their low quality and generally poor acting (save for David White, who is almost required to be in any film with a Christian-related theme and who can actually act).

What is harder to accept is that with more resources at the disposal of a new generation of Christian filmmakers, they still can make pretty lousy movies.  I look at the Kendrick Brothers oeuvre and shudder at how lousy some of their films are: Facing the Giants and Courageous were not only poorly acted and badly-written, but up to a point almost racist.  It wasn't until War Room, where these WASP filmmakers realized that African-Americans are fellow believers (and David Kendrick took himself out of the central role) that they managed to stumble into a good film.

I think Christian films are improving, and The Case for Christ has to be a high watermark for this Renaissance.  Lee Strobel's journey from antagonistic atheist/agnostic to a spiritual awakening was a portrait of a good man who found he was not as good as he thought he was.  It touched on real-life issues of abandonment and disappointment to reach his embrace of faith.  The Case for Christ did two things right: first, it looked as issues we all face.  Too many Christian films present a world without sin from believers: no cursing, no drinking, no sex.  That's not the world of the church I go to.

Second, it hired professionals to do their job.  The Case for Christ had actual actors, those who have training in giving performances, rather than believers who recite lines.  I don't think the actors are believers, and I don't expect them to be.  If they do their job, they will convince me they are the characters they are portraying.


My late friend Fidel Gomez, Jr. was dead-set against Spider-Man: Homecoming (no puns intended).  I know that we had planned to see it when it reached the second-run theaters, especially over his very loud objections. However, the film was so successful that by the time it did, he had already died.  As such, I went to see it in the first-run theaters in its final weeks a week after the funeral.  There was simply no reason to wait anymore.

One could make a case that such terrible circumstances would color my view of Homecoming, but no, I found this reboot to be a little too self-aware.  Homecoming was determined to get 'representation' in all the high school characters, but sometimes there can be too much of a good thing: I don't know what the overall racial/ethnic makeup of Queens is, but is Peter Parker the only white guy there? I felt they were trying to check off as many boxes as they could, and soon it was getting comical.  Flash is now a Latino?  As a Hispanic, I don't care, but this Flash was rather weak as a bully.

Too jokey for my tastes, too much fan-servicing, with only Tom Holland's turn as Spidey worth anything, I felt so let down by how smug Homecoming was.  If I want a John Hughes movie, I'll see a John Hughes movie, thank you very much.


There are always candidates for the most overrated.  For a while, Spider-Man: Homecoming was it.  Then there was Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.  I thought that Blade Runner 2049 and mother! had a strong case for most overrated.  However, I think the one that has to be the winner here is The Last Jedi.

I don't think any Star Wars film has divided fans as The Last Jedi.  I am not one to know the nuances of Star Wars lore, and frankly I don't care who shot first (Han did, by the way).  I found The Last Jedi better than Star Wars: The Remix (aka The Force Awakens), but this is nowhere near the level of The Empire Strikes Back.

The wild hyperventilating that The Last Jedi has caused my fellow reviewers, to the point that they rank it among the best Star Wars films of all time, is what makes it the Most Overrated Film of 2017.  The fans don't agree with their view, with some even calling that it not be considered Canon.  I really do not care about things like that, but calling The Last Jedi the equal of or even superior to Empire Strikes Back is just beyond what I can stand.

That, and what they did to Admiral Ackbar...


Oh yes, Geostorm is a lousy movie.  I am not defending Geostorm or saying that it is worth anyone's time apart from its eventual late-night repeated showings on FX or TNT.

However, part of me cannot bring myself to hate it as much as others did.  I don't think it's a crime against cinema or something to draw one's ire.  It's actually just a dumb, witless movie that one can derive camp pleasure out of.  How can one hate a film where we're asked to think of Gerard Butler as a scientific genius?

Geostorm is so delightfully daft with its odd plot points (one brother has a strong Scottish brogue while the other doesn't), leaps of illogic (at the Democratic National Convention, not only does the Vice President follow the President in speaking, but when the convention is getting vaporized by a machine in outer space, not one Secret Service agent bothers to save him...he pretty much has to fend for himself), and crazy inconsistencies (in the opening scene, a security guard recognizes Butler's character, but three years later, the men and women aboard the satellite he essentially created don't know who he is...with one thinking he was dead).

I simply cannot hate a film that has a bit about how someone with highly important situation will meet someone at a specific time and place, all but telling us said character is not going to make it.   I simply cannot hate a film that plays like a misguided Spaceballs.

Truly, I saw films I thought worse than Geostorm, films that my brethren loved (Blade Runner 2049, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and some whose popularity escapes me (Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Last Jedi).  I think the last two are better than Spaceballs: The Unintended Sequel, but I would rather see this bit of fluff to the pseudo-pretensions of the first two.

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