Blair Witch

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Let’s get this out of the way.  2016’s Blair Witch is pretty much unwatchable.  Coming in at a 36% Rotten Tomatoes score, I didn’t expect much of it.  Really, the only reason I even watched was because it’s directed by Adam Wingard, whose last film The Guest was my #2 of 2014.  If a director makes something that I fall in love with I tend to give them the benefit of doubt for their next couple projects.  Wingard’s follow up to The Guest could have been “Pencil: The Movie” and I would watch.

This Blair Witch sequel takes place 15 years after the original, again using the found footage viewpoint.  Apparently, snotty-nosed Heather left behind a kid brother named James when she vanished in the legendary woods of Burkittsville, MD way back when.  Haunted with the gut feeling that she’s still alive, now college-aged James sets out to those same woods with five pals to see if they can find any clues to her whereabouts, of course bringing along a variety of video gadgets to document any evidence.  Anyone who’s seen 1999’s The Blair Witch Project can probably guess how the rest unfolds.  A part of me hoped that Wingard would bring some sort of unique nuance to the story, but this never occurs.  It’s not at all scary, I could give a shit about The James Gang, and the continuously speedy cuts back and forth between the found footage devices seems to churn everything up into visual gibberish.  I guess it’s just hard to make something scary again that has been parodied a thousand times over (case in point Paranormal Activity).

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All that said, I can’t fault Lionsgate and Wingard for making Blair Witch.  From a fiscal standpoint, there’s really no safer route to a high yield on investment than a horror movie (assuming you don’t own Star Wars or Marvel intellectual property to mess around with).  Horror significantly cheaper to make than other genres (partly because it doesn’t require pre-established movie stars), and a sufficient number of 18-35 year-olds will predictably turn up at the theater for a promising scary trailer no matter what.  Just take a look at the horror results of 2016: Don’t Breathe’s $89M box office on a $10M budget, The Shallows $55M on a $17M budget, Lights Out’s $67M on a $5M budget.  Even the 10% Rotten Tomato scored The Forest made $27M on a $10M budget.  I’m not cherry picking here.  These are normal returns for horror this decade, however this doesn’t apply to the other genres.  Whiskey Tango Foxtrot made $23M on a $35M budget.  Keanu made $20M on a $15M budget.  Allied made $40M on an $80M budget!

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Please note these production budget figures do not factor in marketing, but the box office returns I used are domestic only so I figure it evens out.  In case your curious, Blair Witch made $21M domestic, good for #102 on the 2016 domestic box office top earners.  By eclipsing Keanu, Edge of Seventeen, and Birth of a Nation with this shitty of a movie on a $5M budget, I chalk that up to a mild financial success.  Hopefully it allows Wingard the clout to make a sequel to The Guest next (Guest Who?) and leave Burkittsville, MD alone for good.  Grade: F

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Rats

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If Steve Harvey surveyed 100 Americans to name an animal they’d most like to watch a documentary on, it’s safe to say “Rats” would not show up anywhere on the Family Feud board.  Sharks?  100%.  Chimpanzees?  Probably.  Kangaroos?  Perhaps.  Rats?  No chance in Fedex Field (for the record my answer would have been Hippos).  Nonetheless, here comes Rats, a new horror documentary from Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame.  This garnered some buzz after premiering in the very fitting midnight madness slate of the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival and was subsequently purchased by Discovery, just in time for Halloween showings.

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Rats dissects the most rat infested areas on Earth and details what lengths humans will go to in attempting to gain some sort of control over snowballing rodent populations.  The obvious starting point is New York City, but Spurlock also brings viewers to New Orleans, Mumbai, Cambodia, and in the most twisted section of the film, Cheltenham, UK, where otherwise cute, high-pitched packs of terriers are enlisted as the resident exterminators. If all of this sounds like a disgusting viewing, well, that’s because it is.  But I also found it to be equally fascinating.  The overall theme of the film, “Every action on our part will cause a reaction on their part,” is echoed by a badass Brooklyn exterminator by the name Ed Sheeran (pictured below), who if there’s ever a movie made about him will absolutely be played by Ron Perlman.  Leaning back, cigar in hand in a dimly lit basement, Sheehan recounts his many tactics battling these unrelenting rodents over his 40 years of experience, ultimately admitting that there’s really nothing we can do to significantly curb them.

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If it’s not already clear, I should warn you that this documentary is graphic. You know those “no animals were harmed during filming” you sometimes see in movie credits?  Rats cannot claim that.  In addition, it’s a very one-sided approach to the subject, with no mention of any positives rats bring to the ecosystem (I have no idea, but I’m assuming they must bring something to the table more than spreading disease and mentoring mutant turtles).  Then again, the purpose of this film is clearly not to inform, but rather to freak you out and motivate you to take out the trash. Currently streaming on Netflix. Grade: C    

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Goat

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Rated Greg’s Top 5 Fictional Frat Brothers

  1. John Blutarsky – Delta Tau Chi (Animal House)
  2. Frank The Tank – Lambda Epsilon Omega (Old School)
  3. Teddy Sanders – Delta Psi Beta (Neighbors)
  4. Steve Sanders – KEG (90210)
  5. Booger Dawson – Lambda Lambda Lambda (Revenge of the Nerds)

While movies geared around fraternities have traditionally been lighthearted, boys will be boys comedies, Goat takes on a much darker portrayal of greek life, focusing particularly on hell week.  It’s based on a memoir from author Brad Land who recounted his experiences pledging a fraternity at Clemson University in the 90’s (Goat takes place present day at a fictional college in Ohio).  Where each of the characters listed above were troublemakers but had hearts of gold (well with the exception of Booger. Sidenote – Similar to Barney Stinson’s theory that Daniel LaRusso was the true villain of Karate Kid, I’m starting to think the Lambda Lambda Lambda’s were the true villains of Revenge of the Nerds. That movie is soooo dated! If the nerds pulled those “pranks” in real life they’d certainly all be registered sex offenders and Lewis would probably still be in prison for his devious funhouse dalliance).

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Wait where was I?  Oh yeah, so where each of the characters listed above were troublemakers but had hearts of gold, Goat’s frat boys seem to lack that good natured quality.  Rather, director Andrew Neel does a great job of exposing the appalling behavior young men are capable of as part of a pack mentality without proper guidance.  Make no mistake, you will be disturbed for long portions of this movie and Neel is not subtle in his views on the Greek system.  There’s a very off-putting dynamic on the screen and it’s pretty interesting how they created it. Apparently, Neel had his own little Stanford Prison Experiment going on and when the cameras were not rolling, he kept the pledge actors completely separate from the actors doing the hazing on screen.  To increase the tension, the pledges didn’t know what they would be made to do once action was called and just had to roll with the punches (though they were obviously assured that they would all be safe).

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You know who’s really good in this movie?  Nick Jonas!  I wasn’t even aware he was an actor but he’s very convincing and can probably quit his day job should he choose to. James Franco is also marketed as part of the main cast, however he’s really just a glorified cameo playing an alum (not that that’s a bad thing, Franco has a knack for hitting pinch hit home runs).  The rest of the cast is filled out by slightly beefier versions of Steve from Stranger Things.  All in all Goat is a decently acted, unique film but because it’s so tough to watch at times it won’t be high on my list.  Grade: C  *Please note the key below, I’m switching things up a bit this year.    

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The Year in Movies – 2016

2016 was the year of the sad movie.  You’d be hard pressed to find more depressing films in the past several years than Manchester By The Sea or Other People. Both fantastic works of art, but man they treat your gut like a punching bag. To a lesser extent the same can be said of Moonlight and Arrival. Moonlight embodies the life struggle of someone never quite comfortable in his own skin and Arrival is hands down the most emotional “alien” movie of all time. Another concept that spread like a virus throughout the cinematic landscape is darkness. Green Room brought levels of terror that I’ve never seen before on the big screen, with Nocturnal Animals and Don’t Breathe close behind.   Even this year’s Star Wars chapter was the franchise at it’s most grim since Empire Strikes Back and Demolition made a comedy out of a husband losing his wife.

It’s hard to say what measure of the cynical nature of 2016’s film slate was due to the current political climate. These films take years to develop, however most would argue that the situation this country is in was also years in the making. Doesn’t really matter I guess, but it is crazy to me that Arrival came out the same week of the election given how closely the film’s message relates to everything that has happened since. Maybe all of this is why Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some, easily the jolliest film of the year, stuck out to me so much and became my favorite film of 2016 from April onward. For the most part, this spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused is just a bunch of college kids shooting the shit and having a good time. A breath of fresh air, its alternate title might as well be Saturdays Are For The Boys.

If you’ve kept up with my blog posts you’ll recall that I’ve often griped about the quality of this year’s films. But now that the year is over I think I jumped the gun a bit. There wasn’t a movie that absolutely blew me away like Mad Max: Fury Road or Whiplash in years past, but I’ll still put 2016’s Top Tier as a whole on par with the others of the 2010’s. And who knows, much like music albums it sometimes takes awhile for a movie to be fully appreciated, so maybe a few of these will reach new heights down the road. And with that, you can find Rated Greg’s Superlatives below.

Favorite Films of 2016 – Ranked

  1. Everybody Wants Some!!
  2. Hell or High Water
  3. La La Land
  4. Green Room
  5. Moonlight
  6. Other People
  7. Manchester By The Sea
  8. Nocturnal Animals
  9. Arrival
  10. Weiner
  11. American Honey
  12. Rogue One
  13. Popstar
  14. The Nice Guys
  15. 13 Hours

Please keep in mind that “favorite” may not necessarily be widely considered the best.  I fully realize Moonlight and Manchester By The Sea have artistic merits that far outweigh Everybody Wants Some and it makes sense why those are Oscar contenders, but there was no movie I enjoyed more in 2016 than Richard Linklater’s latest.   Also, I have not yet seen Fences, 20th Century Women, Patriot’s Day, Hidden Figures, or Live By Night (it’s annoying that the most acclaimed movies always all come out at the very end of the year or early January).

Best Lead Actress

  1. Amy Adams – Arrival
  2. Emma Stone – La La Land
  3. Ruth Negga – Loving
  4. Gillian Jacobs – Don’t Think Twice
  5. Margot Robbie – Suicide Squad

Best Lead Actor

  1. Casey Affleck – Manchester By The Sea
  2. Ryan Gosling – La La Land
  3. Ryan Gosling – The Nice Guys
  4. Chris Pine – Hell or High Water
  5. Jake Gyllenhaal – Demolition

I’m not sure why comedic performances are rarely recognized in the awards circuit, but Gosling’s turn as a slapstick goofball P.I. in The Nice Guys really needs to be applauded.  This is clearly Affleck’s Oscar race to lose but I feel like Gosling did an equally impressive job with the role of Holland March, even if they are two completely different things.

Best Supporting Actress 

  1. Molly Shannon – Other People
  2. Naomie Harris – Moonlight
  3. Huma Abedin – Weiner
  4. Riley Keough – American Honey
  5. Michelle Williams – Manchester By The Sea

Yes, I fully realize that Weiner is a documentary and Huma Abedin wasn’t acting.  But she’s fascinating in it nonetheless.  Michelle Williams is getting a ton of Oscar buzz for Manchester but it seems like she has about 8 minutes of screen time in the 137 minute movie.

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
  2. Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Nocturnal Animals
  3. Shia LaBeouf – American Honey
  4. Glen Powell – Everybody Wants Some
  5. Ben Foster – Hell or High Water

This is such a loaded category.  Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), Craig Robinson (Morris from America), Tyler Hoechlin (Everybody Wants Some), Anton Yelchin (Green Room), John Malkovich (Deepwater Horizon), Daniel Radcliffe (Swiss Army Man), and Shia LaBeouf’s rat tail are all also deserving.

Best Action Sequence 

  1. The last 30 minutes of Rogue One
  2. The apartment complex shootout in Triple 9
  3. The car chase towards the end of Jason Bourne
  4. The 13 Hours climax
  5. The airport fight in Captain America: Civil War (I guess)

This was the toughest category to come up with 5.  Action movies are just in a bad place right now because of the surplus of capes and CGI.  The biggest action movie bust this year was clearly Batman v Superman.  I mean, what the hell are the stakes of Batman and Superman exchanging punches?  Theoretically, couldn’t Superman just grab Batman’s arms and pull the whole “stop hitting yourself” move that every big brother in the history of mankind has used at one point in his life?  I miss the days of Nic Cage’s Ferrari chasing down Sean Connery’s Hummer in the streets of San Francisco, but I guess 90’s movies like The Rock are never coming back.

Favorite scenes in no particular order- Non Action (I’ll be vague)

  1. Jeff Bridges and the waitress in Hell or High Water
  2. Casey Affleck Michelle Williams scene in Manchester
  3. “Embrace your inner strange” –  Everybody Wants Some
  4. The beginning of Arrival
  5. Star and the three cowboys in American Honey
  6. The DMV in Zootopia
  7. The highway scene in Nocturnal Animals
  8. The TMZ spoof in Popstar
  9. “Tell somebody who gives a shit” – Green Room
  10. Shirtless Ben Affleck weight training montage.  Unintentional comedy gold.

I could have picked a dozen different scenes from Everybody Wants Some but they all kinda run together just like each day of a fun long weekend tends to run together.

Best Villain

  1. Aaron Taylor-Johnson  – Nocturnal Animals
  2. Anthony Weiner – Weiner
  3. John Malkovich – Deepwater Horizon
  4. Idris Elba – The Jungle Book
  5. Patrick Stewart – Green Room

Most LOL’s

  1. Popstar
  2. The Nice Guys
  3. Sausage Party
  4. Rogue One (all the K-2SO scenes)
  5. Keanu

Best Looking Movie (Scenery + Cinematography)

  1. Hell or High Water
  2. Moonlight
  3. La La Land
  4. The Neon Demon
  5. Nocturnal Animals

Best Use Of Music

  1. All of La La Land
  2. Deadpool – Chicago’s Your The Inspiration
  3. Arrival – Max Richter’s On The Nature Of Daylight
  4. American Honey – Mazzy Star’s Fade Into You
  5. Sing Street – Up

Biggest Tearjerker

  1. Arrival
  2. Manchester By The Sea
  3. Other People
  4. Loving
  5. Demolition

Scariest Movie

  1. The Conjuring 2
  2. Green Room
  3. Don’t Breathe
  4. Nocturnal Animals
  5. The Witch

Best Movie to take a toddler to 

  1. Zootopia
  2. The Jungle Book
  3. Moana

Best Documentary

  1. Weiner
  2. 13th
  3. Amanda Knox

OJ: Made in America is going to win this Oscar even though I don’t understand how it’s considered a movie.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing, but at 8 hours long it’s a mini-series not a movie.

The worst movie I saw in the theaters

  1. Independence Day: Resurgence
  2. Doctor Strange
  3. X-Men: Apocalypse
  4. Hacksaw Ridge
  5. Money Monster

This most inaccurate Rotten Tomatoes score of the year is Doctor Strange’s 90%. That makes no goddamn sense.  It’s soooo corny.  I also really disagree with Hacksaw Ridge’s 84% but at least in that case I understand why it did well with critics given the past history of Oscar bait movies.  But aside from two very well made battle scenes I found it to be pretty unwatchable.

Revised Top 10 of 2015 

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. Creed
  3. Sicario
  4. The Revenant
  5. Straight Outta Compton
  6. The Hateful Eight
  7. Ex Machina
  8. Mississippi Grind
  9. The Big Short
  10. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

As mentioned in the intro sometimes it takes months or even years to fully grasp how good a movie was.  Hateful Eight and Mississippi Grind are two movies I like much more than I initially thought I did.  Star Wars Episode 7 on the other hand has fallen off.

Most Anticipated in 2017 

  1. Dunkirk
  2. Blade Runner 2049
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2
  4. Okja
  5. War for the Planet of the Apes
  6. Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Fashion Project
  7. American Made
  8. The Fate of the Furious
  9. Get Out
  10. Life