10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg – 2016) A-

I really loved this tight, well-made flick. Michelle gets in a car wreck and wakes up in a bunker she of course freaks out! Howard tells her it’s for her own good, the world outside has sort of ended…the air is toxic. He’s a survivalist and he was prepared. Sure he seems like a creep but maybe he is right. It’s a locked room drama with only three characters and it could’ve been very conventional and predictable but this one is much smarter than that. Michelle is smart, Howard, played brilliantly by John Goodman, is terrifying but weirdly paternal at times. The twists and turns work very well and -with one small exception- the ending is just brilliant.

Night Train to Lisbon (Bille August – 2013) B-

A lonely professor in Geneva. A suicidal girl in a red jacket whom he stops from jumping. When she ups and disappears he sets off on her trail to figure out who she was and where she went. Lisbon, as the name of the film indicates, is where she came from and we follow him as he digs deeper into the life of a Dr. and revolutionary who died a while back and fought against the dictator Salazar. As he learns more and digs deeper we follow him along through various flashbacks and interviews. It’s a decent movie with good performances, a lovely setting and interesting plot.

Logan (James Mangold – 2017) A-

This film is one of the best treatments of a comic book character since Dark Knight. It’s a solid movie about loss, love, friendship, family and lots of sharp long Adamantium claws slicing through people. Logan is set in 2029 and seems a far cry from the Marvel universe. It’s a movie that stands very well on its own and shows us Wolverine who is aged, hulking and tired. He is not saving the world or travelling through time. He is just trying to take care the the very old Charles Xavier. The X-Men are all gone and really there is no mission here. He is not going to spring back into action and start hero work again. He’s winding down…The plot centers on a little girl named Laura who possibly might be a mutant. She is basically thrown at him and he has no real choice but to try an get her to a meeting spot near the Canadian border. There are a lot of excellent action scenes here and the performances by everyone, especially the young actress who plays Laura and Patrick Stewart as Professor X are perfect. What really makes it work though is how human and character-focused it is. Mangold did not make a superhero movie, he made a movie about a character we like and showed us how great he can be when there is no formula to follow.

The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos – 2015) A

There is good news and bad news if you do not find a person to marry within 45 days in this world. The bad news is that you will be transformed into an animal. The good news? Well, you can choose what animal you want to be. See it’s very important to belong and find a mate in Lanthimos’ weird, brutal and sometimes funny film. It’s also important to find someone with whom you have something in common like being short-sighted or that both you and your prospective mate get occasional nose bleeds. If that sounds too bizarre, it is and we have just scratched the surface! It’s also like no other movie with its tone and plot. The film gets darker as the story of David (Colin Farrell) and his search for a partner at the “hotel” progresses. It’s not a film that will work for everyone but it is a unique vision. It’s very well-realized, deliberately and confidently directed and the actors all do a very good job. It lacks love and compassion in most of its run time so when we actually see glimpses of those emotions they are a welcome relief until reality sets in and the film gets to its inevitable bleak conclusion.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi – 2015) A-

When Ricky shows up at his latest in a series of foster families in the wilderness of New Zealand I was not sure what to expect from this film. The family is made up of just a couple, probably a bit older than you’d expect. The man is dour and sullen and played perfectly by Sam Niell and his partner is jovial, hard-working and seems to care for Ricky. Before we know it though Ricky is forced to go on the run with his dour foster uncle into the woods. They are being chased by the government and CPS! It proceeds to be a charming, exciting, sweet and really funny film. Really high marks go to the young actor who plays Ricky as well.

Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra – 2015) B+

A unique film set in the Amazon jungle of Colombia in two time periods, early and mid 20th century. It’s a film someone like Werner Herzog might make and that is high praise. Through the journey of a shaman in both timelines, as a young man and a wiser older one, whose tribe is going extinct the film shines a light at cultures few have ever heard of. It’s a tragedy that so many of those have existed and got decimated -by progress, disease, rubber barons or Christianity- without anyone noticing. Filmed in black and white the film really looks and feels timeless. It could have been filmed in the 30’s or 60’s instead of the 21st century.

The Witch (Robert Eggers – 2016) A-

This is an unconventional creepy horror film that is genuinely scary at times. It is not out for the jump scares and over-the-top violence (both of which I do not like much). Instead it immerses us in a world of religion, witchcraft and just the type of moody horror that makes your skin crawl because it is not fully understood or explained. It is so well shot and even better performed by the small cast. It is set in the 1600s and has a cast of 2 adults and their 4 children living alone in the woods of New England. They were more like banished to the woods by their community because the father believes he is more pure and more God-fearing than his neighbors. It goes downhill in the woods and slowly the family starts losing members literally and maybe figuratively. We start getting the sense of dread, chaos and evil. We are really not sure of what we are witnessing as the pious father tries to keep his family together. We know this will not end well even before we see it happen. This all works incredibly well with amazing performances by those kids and period-specific olde English dialogue.