Brigsby Bear (2017)

Director: Dave McCary
Stars: Kyle Mooney, Claire Danes, Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, Andy Samberg, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Chance Crimin
Runtime: 97 minutes
Viewed at: Regal Arbor 8

James, a young man recovered from a tragic kidnapping (Mooney), makes a film version of the only TV show he ever knew in this endearing indie dramedy. With a script partly by Mooney himself, McCary alternates between tender sympathy and total abandon in his direction as James awkwardly adjusts into the world, learns about cinema’s power, and finds closure with his indoctrinated past. This human, creative spirit, the least of which is embodied in charming segments of the show itself and James’ own process after, sets Brigsby apart from typical “indie film” conventions. A quirky delight. (96 words/A PLUS)

Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis (2001)

Director: Rintaro
Stars: (voices of) Yuka Imoto, Kei Kobayashi, Kōsei Tomita, Norio Wakamoto, Junpei Takiguchi, Masaru Ikeda, Takaya Hashi, Toshio Furukawa, Shigeru Chiba, Masashi Ebara, Takeshi Aono, Shun Yashiro, Norihiro Inoue, Kōki Okada, Taro Ishida
Runtime: 113 minutes

Madhouse’s epic anime feature, with Tezuka’s classic manga as its base, seems like a routine parable on the pratfalls of technology akin to Lang’s 1927 namesake, what with its primary antagonist being a megalomaniac with a new humanoid robot. Its value comes from a powerful combination of past and future unlike anything in animation. The unbelievably gorgeous visuals and jazzy score match perfectly with the eponymous city’s steampunk thrills, an awesome plot that spans every conceivable genre, memorable characters, and a spellbinding final destruction sequence set to a Ray Charles standard. Few animated films match Metropolis’ heartbreaking, intense impact. (99 words/A PLUS PLUS PLUS)

Wind River (2017)

Director: Taylor Sheridan
Stars: Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner
Runtime: 111 minutes
Viewed at: Regal Arbor 8

Sheridan’s thrilling directorial debut takes the acid wit, refreshing wisdom, and pure intensity from his first two hard-hitting scripts and moves them further Westward. After discovering a horrific crime, a USFWS agent at the Native reservation in Wyoming (a brilliant Renner) goes from hunting wolves to hunting criminals, guiding a fish out of water FBI agent (Olsen) through the freezing air. The twisty plot, hypnotic cinematography, social awareness and devastating payoff carry over from Sheridan’s previous one-two punch, but the subtle exploration of grief, survival, and consequences of violence give Wind River an edge as frigid as its landscape. (99 words/A PLUS)

The Big Sick (2017)

Director: Michael Showalter
Stars: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar, Anupam Kher
Runtime: 124 minutes
Viewed at: Regal Arbor 8

This semi-autobiographical romantic comedy treats its subject Nanjiani’s incredible story with both pathos and its subject’s dry, cerebral brand of humor. His struggles with standup, romance, and traditions in his Pakistani family are complicated further by his (ex-)girlfriend Emily’s health scare, which leads to much introspection on his part. Showalter’s well-executed direction matches perfectly with a tender script penned by Nanjiani and the real Emily, and incredible performances bring this story to life. Hilarious, heartfelt, and sensitive in every way. (81 words/A)

Atomic Blonde (2017)

Director: David Leitch
Stars: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Sofia Boutella, Til Schweiger, Toby Jones
Runtime: 115 minutes

Hot off Wick’s heels, Leitch helms a sexy, stylish espionage thriller, set at the Cold War’s end, that keeps the intrigue and visceral action going. As an MI6 agent in charge of safekeeping an incriminating KGB list, Theron shines, with McAvoy and Boutella delivering incredible performances as well. Yet, the aesthetics drop a 1989 time bomb – killer hits and a neon glow perfectly match the brutal action scenes, which freshen up the twisty, familiar plot. The third act stumbles a bit too, but Atomic Blonde is the vodka with ice to Wick’s bourbon – different, but hard and satisfying nonetheless. (99 words/A MINUS)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Director: Luc Besson
Stars: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rutger Hauer
Runtime: 137 minutes
Viewed at: Cinemark Tinseltown Pflugerville (in 3D)

Besson is back in grand, opulent form with a sci-fi epic so striking it surpasses his Fifth Element. Valerian (DeHaan) and Laureline (Delevingne) uncover a political plot on the satellite world Alpha, home to a dizzying array of alien species. Even at just over 2 hours, Besson never slows down with his ambitions, and the result is an amazing film with something for everyone: Action, adventure, romance, world-building that puts many tentpole blockbusters to shame, eye-searing visuals, and a sense of wonder sorely missing from most in the genre. This City of a Thousand Planets has thousands of spectacles. (99 words/A)

Dunkirk (2017)

Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy
Runtime: 106 minutes
Viewed at: Cinemark Tinseltown Pflugerville (70mm)

Nolan places us in land, sea, and air in his multifaceted, taut and uncompromising look at one of WWII’s most amazing events: the British rescue at the eponymous French beach. The meticulous attention to detail, particularly the practical effects and water scenes, sets his war epic apart from the rest, perfectly matched with Zimmer’s score and Hoytema’s unbelievably gorgeous cinematography – best viewed on a gigantic screen. The impeccable cast gives it their all, especially Styles, Rylance, and newcomer Whitehead. Yet, Nolan wisely lets the bombast do the talking, at times making his impeccable spectacle play like a pseudo silent. (99 words/A PLUS)

A Ghost Story (2017)

Director: David Lowery
Stars: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara
Runtime: 92 minutes
Viewed at: Regal Arbor 8

Lowery’s supernatural experiment firmly echoes Malick, with complex philosophical musings augmented by clear visual poetry. Love, loss, and pain come through the eyes of a white sheeted ghost (Affleck), and the distinct aspect ratio and beautiful cinematography keep things interesting, even during one lengthy scene where Mara eats a pie in grief. It’s a truly unique and breathtaking film, but the pace and head-trip nature make it a tough sell for those not interested in pure visual art. Still, Lowery’s Ghost Story is worthwhile viewing. (85 words/A MINUS)

Wish Upon (2017)

Director: John R. Leonetti
Stars: Joey King, Ki Hong Lee, Sydney Park, Elisabeth Rohm, Ryan Phillipe
Runtime: 90 minutes
Viewed at: City Lights 12 Georgetown

At first, second, or even third glance, Leonetti’s spin on a tired trope, where King plays a dumb teen making contact with a demonic wishing box, seems like a toothless PG-13 take on Final Destination by way of Heathers. Yet, the ridiculously unlikable protagonist, hammy dialogue (“your dad is Sriracha hotsauce” is an actual line), utterly ridiculous and predictable plot points, and chintzy Chinoiserie throughout elevate this to camp canon status. Even the death scenes make for great comedy. Wish Upon proves horror fans need to be careful what they wish for. (92 words/Z)

The House (2017)

Director: Andrew Jay Cohen
Stars: Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, Nick Kroll, Jeremy Renner
Runtime: 88 minutes
Viewed at: City Lights 12 Georgetown

Ferrell and Poehler sound like a match made in comic heaven, and the premise – two parents opening an illegal casino with their gambling addict friend to send their daughter to college – seems like a reasonable proposition. Yet, Cohen’s joyless effort reaches trainwreck status when the camera pans over the family’s really nice house, and the plot holes go deeper. Jokes stay crude, laughs remain sparse, horrific “comic” violence reaches splatter film levels, and ultimately, this aimless roulette fails to even meet the lowest common denominator standard. This House goes bust. (90 words/F)