Our contributor Renard N. Bansale has completed 10 more contemporary film reviews for your consideration. The rating system he'll use is devised primarily to give those who are trying to decide which films to see, a fun and easy way of (hopefully) choosing a more pleasurable movie-going experience. For a more thorough introduction to this series please see 21st Century Treasure Quest #1. (A.G.)
1 chest: Definitely worth missing
2 chests: Okay to kill some time
3 chests: Not a complete success, but rewarding
4 chests: Well-crafted, creative and memorable
5 chests: A real treasure, deep, profound and original
Buddies in India (2017—Director: Wang Baoquiang)
Chinese actor Wang Baoquing makes his directorial debut approaching this unique cultural subject with raw enthusiasm. These traits cannot, however, begin to substitute for this unsophisticated, over-the-top action adventure comedy, riddled with cheap special effects and shoddy editing that results in discontinuity, not to mention the incongruous English subtitles or dialogue.
The Bye Bye Man (2017—Director: Stacy Title)
There’s little substance to this adaptation of 'The Bridge to Body Island' (a chapter from Robert Damon Schneck's novel The President's Vampire) presenting itself as a cut-rate It Follows from 2015, which would make this offering hardly worth recommending. There is, however, strong redemption from the smooth, spectral, and bold cinematography of James Kniest (Annabelle, Hush). Bye Bye Man could have gone forgettably “bye bye” along with the other cinematic horror dross of 2017, if not for Kniest who has single-handedly elevated this to a more respectable tier of modern horror cinema.
A Dog's Purpose (2017—Director: Lasse Hallström)
This delightful adaptation of the 2010 novel of the same name by American humorist, and co-screenwriter, W. Bruce Cameron, hearkens back to the heartfelt, old-fashioned, and family-friendly bygone days of Hollywood storytelling. Director Lasse Hallström (My Life as a Dog, The Cider House Rules, The Hundred-Foot Journey) effortlessly guides the journey allowing neither the cuteness of the canine (voice of Josh Gad) or the mature themes surrounding his various human companions, overwhelm each other. Neither do these elements dilute the undeniably poignant lessons the audience will surely take to heart afterwards.
I am Jane Doe (2017—Director: Mary Mazzio)
Documentarian Mary Mazzio takes a direct and informational route in laying the background for the ongoing fight against illegal sex trafficking perpetuated by the online classifieds site Backpage.com. In covering a legal timeline too extensive for its 82-minute length, several interviews exhibit rough sound editing when transitioning between them. Composers Alex Lasarenko and David Little have furnished a heavily emotional score over portions covering the documentary's three main victims, whereas a subdued approach would have been more dramatically effective in allowing the girls' testimonies to speak for themselves. Still, the issue Ms. Mazzio's documentary presents is undeniably relevant, informative, and posits broader implications concerning humanitarian justice and society’s values especially in our advanced age of the Internet.
Kung Fu Yoga (2017—Director: Stanley Tong)
Despite having reached his autumn years, Jackie Chan (along with writer-director and longtime collaborator Stanley Tong) never fails to bring a smile to action fans with his peerless fighting and stunt choreography, seamlessly combining dramatic force with invigorating slapstick, even when the surrounding plot material demonstrably lacks his immeasurable finesse. Such is the case with this enjoyable but throwaway action-adventure comedy mashup of some lesser Indiana Jones and National Treasure 2 plot devices, with a car chase from a Fast & Furious installment tossed in for good measure.
Monster Trucks (2017—Director: Chris Wedge)
Director Chris Wedge (Ice Age), makes a confident transition from animated to live-action features, perhaps too confident, as the results here seem heavy-handed. Despite a competent lead turn by Lucas Till (X-Men: First Class, Television’s MacGyver) and workable special effects to bring the unattractive but cuddly monsters to life, what could have been a charming youth-bonding family adventure keeps pumping the gas and floods the engine.
Rings (2017—Director: F. Javier Gutiérrez)
As one who admires the original 1998 Japanese psychological horror film, this third instalment of the American franchise first inspired by Kôji Suzuki's 1991 novel, severely disappoints in comparison, indulging in some of the worst series of cheap jump scares this critic has witnessed. Director F. Javier Gutiérrez presents a curiously innovative take on this otherwise familiar horror lore of a professor farming the effects of the cursed video to his students, only to later discard this preferred story element in favor of a predictable small-town sleuthing expedition conducted by the lifeless lead couple (Matilda Lutz and Alex Roe).
Sleepless (2017—Director: Baran Bo Odar)
Director Baran Bo Odar (Who Am I: No System Is Safe) often relies on standard genre cliches and plot contrivances in remaking the 2011 French-language action-thriller Nuit Blanche in his first English-language outing. Nevertheless, he manages to trim most of the narrative filler that exists in other films of this nature. Additionally, director Odar together with screenwriter Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton) effectively substantiates and builds character identification by limiting the last two-thirds of the story to one evening at a large casino resort. This single-setting additionally provides the narrative with stronger dynamics and impressions. The result is a distinctive and enjoyable action sampling with a tempting re-watchability factor.
The Space Between Us (2017—Director: Peter Chelsom)
A romantic science fiction adventure that starts off with both an intriguing concept and the promise of its strong execution, sadly deteriorates just like the physical body of lead character Gardner (played by a stiff Asa Butterfield). Allan Loeb’s (Things We Lost in the Fire, Collateral Beauty) screenplay languished in developmental hell for nearly two decades before being resuscitated. Director Peter Chelsom (Hector & the Search for Happiness) fails to capitalize on the story's potential and generate any emotional depth, resulting in a laborious middle act that eventually overruns and causes the film’s entirety to crash and burn into a heap of melting cheesy melodrama.
Split (2017—Director: M. Night Shyamalan)
Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, The Visit) seems to have recaptured box office success, but his filmmaking ability could still incorporate a bit more restraint, balance, and refinement. He deserves recognition for permitting lead star James McAvoy to command the screen with his take on two dozen distinct personalities, spanning various ages, genders, habits, and demeanors. On the other hand, McAvoy's ostentatious performance(s), coupled with Shyamalan's off-kilter shooting and editing style, significantly detracts from the dramatic impact and individuality of the trio he kidnaps, especially 2016’s breakout star Anya Taylor-Joy’s lead female victim.