Once upon a time, the Cheese Fry meticulously posted "Knee Jerk" reviews to each and every film we saw in a theater. As the Fry family grew and extra-curriculum responsibilities expanded, that level of commitment became harder and harder to maintain.
We want to turn over a new leaf. Whether that's actually possible remains to be seen. But we would like to at least play catch-up on the movies we saw in 2017 that lacked a "Knee Jerk" review.
Split is far more entertaining and satisfying than it has any right to be. We've all seen this sort of thing before: the sociopath kidnaps pretty girls and locks them up, forcing them to dig deep and plot their escape, yadda yadda. But the villain has multiple personalities, only a few of which are the "real" kidnappers. This is surely not medically accurate, but it gives the female victims a chance to work the other personalities to get out. More importantly, writer-director M Night Shyamalan gets us out of the basement with a whole other subplot that shows the kidnapper out in the real world interacting with his kindly, if slow-to-catch-on, therapist. A home run movie, even before the clever tag that links it to Shyamalan's 2000 film Unbreakable.
Logan stands out in a marketplace completely crowded with loud, noisy, cookie-cutter superhero movies. We used to loved superheroes, but Hollywood has just about worn us out. The Wolverine character - and Hugh Jackman's clenched-teeth, bad-boy-with-maybe-a-heart-of-gold performance - was always one of the best things about the X-Men movies. This sequel - looking ahead to Wolverine's last days in a bleak, dead-end future - can only be described as feral. It's a gritty, ferocious R-rated cry of pain (and splattering of blood) as Wolverine begrudgingly decides to be a hero one last time. For those who always wanted to know how deadly those claws could be.
Captain Underpants is no Pixar classic, which one might surmise from the title. The film's got a fun and distinctive cartoon style, sure, but it's a mostly manic and silly story about a mean vice principal who thinks he's a superhero. Or something like that. The movie lurches and careens forward with a palpable desperation to be exciting! and fun! and hilarious! Without question, the unending string of bathroom gags means it's squarely aimed at young boys. We actually dozed off halfway through it. Probably not a pull quote the studio would want to use.
Wonder Woman is a joy. Many of the familiar superhero origin tropes are there, but there's no way to shake the feeling that this is a movie directed by a woman. It just feels... different somehow. The World War I setting certainly helps in the way casual chauvinism of that era underscores how far women still have to go in 2017, as does the matter-of-fact way Wonder Woman is presented. She's attractive but the camera doesn't leer and linger. She's more a symbol of strength and goodness (if only the Superman of 2013's uneven Man of Steel had taken that approach) than sex appeal. The winning, charismatic performance by Gal Gadot is how a movie star is born. Yes, the ending is way over the top and goes on way too long. But of the movies on this list, it's our favorite by far.
War for the Planet of the Apes is the first Apes movie that we paid to see in theaters. The first two we watched at home. We picked poorly. The first two are vastly underrated films, surprisingly effective thrillers that offer layered and thoughtful commentary on freedom and prejudice and warfare. And while this sequel is certainly a technical masterpiece - it's simply amazing to imagine that these creatures live only inside a computer server - it's ultimately a big disappointment What begins as a fun sort of primate take on a traditional Western (small group of apes travel rocky plains looking for revenge) soon turns into a dour POW movie as the apes suffer under the heel of warden Woody Harrelson (always love him). If that's not bad enough, the apes' climactic escape involves a most unsatisfying deus ex machina rescue. Sigh.