Breakthrough

Directed By Roxann Dawson

Starring – Chrissy Metz, Topher Grace, Josh Lucas

The Plot – Based on the inspirational true story of one mother’s unfaltering love in the face of impossible odds. When Joyce Smith’s (Metz) adopted son John (Marcel Ruiz) falls through an icy Missouri lake, all hope seems lost. But as John lies lifeless, Joyce refuses to give up. Her steadfast belief inspires those around her to continue to pray for John’s recovery, even in the face of every case history and scientific prediction.

Rated PG for thematic content including peril

POSITIVES

– Mutual respect. “Breakthrough” is the rare exception in religious exploitation films, where the film states its case and its belief in a greater power, and doesn’t shun the cliche atheist character for their contradicting beliefs. The character in question is played by Luke Cage himself, Mike Coulter, and he’s depicted in a way that not only gives a strong combination of dignity and class to the character, but also never tries to change his beliefs or prove that he’s wrong. It’s a world developed that allows both sides to prosper without unnecessary confrontation, and that element alone allows the movie the kind of rare open arms treatment, where everyone is welcome, regardless of spiritual beliefs or lack there of. It’s one of the only times when a movie like this didn’t judge me or make me feel uncomfortable, and that alone brings it a step above the rest in living out God’s message.

– Soundtrack depth. When the movie begins, we are treated to pop culture toe-tappers like “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars, or “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore, and it’s enough eye-opening selections to give the film a rich sense in budget, all the while echoing the cultures of its youths. This of course eventually changes into all spiritual offerings, but the eclectic nature of the genre and composition’s inspire creativity to the conventional hymns that we’ve come to know, and instills a sense of creativity to the movie’s compositions that radiate that fresh appeal, and it allows the music to remain true to itself, all the while catering to a bigger audience based on pop culture familiarity.

– A couple of solid performances. Metz is definitely the breadwinner here, emoting Joyce with no shortage of tears or energy to the command that she has on each situation. The problem is that I detested her character, mainly because the movie hints at a transformation that never comes, but all the same, Metz harvests most of the film’s emotional registry. Likewise, Coulter has a strong on-screen presence that captures the attention in each scene that he’s in, and juggles the biggest conflict of the movie, because his own eyes and ears are failing him on everything that he believed to this point. Topher Grace was also a riot to watch, if only for the facial reactions to the movie’s events, which drew more than a few smiles out of me. In terms of likeability, Topher is the movie’s saving grace, and his hip demeanor in freshening up the old testament is something that this world could use more of.

– Iron production values. While nothing is academy award deserving, it is exceptional in terms of religious movies that sometimes diminish the power of their message with a presentation that looks like it was shot by a high school film class. That simply isn’t the case here, as the neon interiors of the hospital, combined with some breath-stealing scenery of St. Louis, conjure up a visual presentation that confirms a great amount of money was spent in post production, and the editing, while dealing with continuity issues at times, does at least keep the progression of the film smoothly running, to keep us firmly engaged. When you compare “Breakthrough” to a PureFlix movie, you see an immense difference that reminds you how strong a film can be if it has a big studio presence behind it, and it gives us a lot to look at when the film’s plot progression has kind of grinded to a violent halt.

– Big game talents. I was surprised at how much the camera work relied on the skills of the young cast to showcase their basketball skills without manipulating the shot to make them something they’re not. Long take shots offer a balance of choreographed dribbling and long range shot display that came from the hands of the cast themselves, and really impressed me for not only the confidence they display, but the confidence that Dawson has in them to get it right. These are sequences that are such a minimal use of time for the bigger picture, so it would’ve certainly been easy to cut and paste these kids in a way that would fool half of the audience into thinking these kids are something they so obviously are not, but the direction, especially with NBA star Steph Curry serving as a movie producer, commits itself to getting it right, and shows John at work with his finest skill, instead of just telling us.

NEGATIVES

– Predictable. This is the biggest obstacle that the movie faces, as aside from a trailer that gives away nearly everything about this plot, aspects as minimal as lines of dialogue were mimicked by a friend and I, who spoke them seconds before the movie did. It’s expected that the events would be told in completely honest detail, but what’s concerning is how little we learn about the character’s, which could offer some shred of intrigue during the waiting game, which is roughly 80% of this movie. It’s obviously better for people who know less about these true life events, but even then you know there’s only one certain direction that a plot and genre like this can travel, and the fact that “Breakthrough” left me with the ability to telegraph everything scenes before they happen, spoke levels to the entertainment factor of the script, that feels closer to a Wikipedia article for the covering of events.

– Pacing issues. Most of the problems that I discussed directly above this translates to the jagged pacing of the movie, which at nearly two hours feels like a stretch for how much develops during the film. For one, there’s plenty that can be removed with very little impact. Stretched sequences involving throwaway character’s outside of this family, or repetition in scenes that transpire the same way but pivot on character movements, feed into this padding for passage of time that is quite literally that. This movie’s consistency literally did feel like a hospital waiting game at times, and with some more first act exposition before the big splash, the film could ease itself from racing to a red light, which it remains parked at until the final fifteen minutes of the movie.

– Transformation issues. For this movie, there are two character transformations that inspire these character’s to become better people. First is Joyce, an overzealous control freak, whose own insecurities are exposed in the way she devalues those around her. The second is John, as he struggles with feeling the love associated with being adopted. Both of these serve a bigger purpose, but only one of them worked, and it lands in the hands of the person who stays under conscience for most of this movie. Joyce’s supposed transformation didn’t land for me because she isn’t really that different from the person she was before all of this, and even worse, her actions are justified for the sake of John’s progression. She’s a conflicted character who never cures her conflictions, and it says a lot that the kid who doesn’t speak for a huge chunk of this movie attains the things that the film’s central protagonist simply never does.

– Blunders. There were all kinds of errors in believability, continuity, and horrendous line reads that do bring forth some unintentional laughs while watching this. Some of my favorite involve a resuscitation scene where the nurse administering C.P.R is obviously not beating on the chest, nor even doing it on the correct area of the chest for it to work. Likewise during this scene, it’s fairly obvious that John is breathing, especially with the revealing camera angles used, as well as the placing of a tube on his chest, which only makes it easier to detect. This is also one of the worst hospitals in the country apparently, because doctor’s say things like “Think, Gene” to themselves during surgery, or speak negatively in the presence of the boy and mother in their hospital room. If you can get over this believability issue, a musical scene in which students from John’s school sing him to inspiration you simply cannot. The kids are not only singing at a level that would make it difficult to hear from twenty feet away, let alone three floors up on a hospital window that doesn’t open, but it’s even less believable when a piano is heard that simply isn’t there. These are just a few of my favorite things, and don’t reflect the stretches of logic necessary to understand some pretty moronic course of actions that I won’t spoil here.

– Pitiful poignancy. For my money, I could’ve used more discussion aimed at the thought-provoking of its subject matters, that the film slowly steps away from. One such discussion happens late in the film, when a character asks why miracles happen for some people and not the others. Instead of offering up some form of relief for those seeking answers for the awkwardness of the question, the scene uses it as nothing more than a brief hiccup on the way to bigger and better things. If you had no relief in the form of even opinion-based answers, then why bring it up in the first place. This movie is full of solid questions that should be coming from an atheist’s point of view, but the overall lack of energy used to support these queries makes their inclusion feel every bit as temporary as they do pointless. A cop out with no intention of supporting its believers.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

The Mustang

Directed By Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre

Starring – Matthias Schoenaerts, Jason Mitchell, Bruce Dern

The Plot – Roman (Schoenaerts), a convict in a rural Nevada prison who struggles to escape his violent past, is required to participate in an “outdoor maintenance” program as part of his state-mandated social rehabilitation. Spotted by a no-nonsense veteran trainer (Dern) and helped by an outgoing fellow inmate and trick rider (Mitchell), Roman is accepted into the selective wild horse training section of the program, where he finds his own humanity in gentling an especially unbreakable mustang.

Rated R for adult language, some violence and drug content

POSITIVES

– A wide range of emotional response. Very few films, especially today, have the kind of depth in screenplay that connects with the audience on such a personal level. To this degree, “The Mustang” brought forth, laughter, sadness, anger, and an overall sense of inspiration in me, for what I call the modern day rendering of the “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” ending. If films can invest you in a way that makes you feel one of these emotions, then it’s done a good job at connecting to its audience, but when you have a film touch you in a way that allows your own registry to ride hand-in-hand with those of the character’s, then you have something that transcends the screen, and gives us a sense of the vital importance of connection, even beyond that of a human level.

– The Roman/horse dynamic. When you compare these two lost souls coming together, you discover that they have a lot more in common than meets the eye. Both of them are captured and imprisoned in ways that take them away from familiarity. Both are well reserved in their demeanor’s, requiring the bond of the other to open up and invest in something important to feel free again. Likewise, they both come together during a time when the lives surrounding them have crumbled, leaving them leaning on the dependency of the other to get by, and redeem the level of trust that they are both capable of. I also found it interesting how Roman’s engagement with the horse is reflected upon the brief visitation interaction’s that he shares with his daughter. The first one is very well reserved and full of anger, but by the third one he seeks forgiveness and redemption for the missteps taken in his handling of the situation. It’s not accidental that Laure depicts these two living, breathing creatures so closely in movements, and it all leads to the final shots of the film, where I interpret that these two become one almost metaphorically, bringing forth a back-handed triumph in the closing moments that makes sense the more you think about it.

– Heavy-hitting turns. This is easily Schoenaerts single best performance to date, transforming himself physically and personally to becoming this shell of a convict who remains to himself. Matthias’ ability to say so little throughout the movie, yet speak so loudly in facial reactions is something that establishes a line of immersive acting that he hasn’t been saddled with until now, and despite this character being a bit of a terrible person, you engage in him because his eyes are the windows of this tortured soul that is living with a fine combination of grief and regret. It builds to a third act transformation that gives way to him being able to open up the closer he gets to his trusty four-legged companion. In addition to him, it’s always charming to see Bruce Dern’s dry delivery of wit that commands respect if only for its stern enveloping. Young phenom Gideon Adlon is also a revelation, making the most of a few scenes with unabashed anger in streaming tears, that really forces you to turn against our central protagonist. I saw Adlon in last year’s so-so raunchy comedy “Blockers”, but her turn here shows that there’s a lot of fire burning in this furnace, and with any luck in casting, we will see her coals burning for a long time to come.

– Precise editing. The tight cuts are asked to perform a bit more magic in this film, as the movements of the horses are used to manipulate audiences into thinking that we are seeing them naturally attack. This is done with a fine amount of close angles and fluid continuity in pasting different takes together, to make a presentation that puts us front-and-center with Roman, in the heat of the action. Sequences like these almost give us no time to zero in and focus on even the slightest detection of weakness, but we never find it, and it’s all a testament to Clermont-Tonnerre’s hand of magic, where she only allows you to see what you want to see. For her first feature length film, her consistency never shatters, and it makes me want to see what else she can do on a bigger scale production.

– Seeping-in musical score. The somber ingredients dispersed in the film echo such a cold sadness in the presentation of the movie, that it almost feels somewhat reflective of Roman’s interior compass. What’s impressive is patient level of volume used in post production to never overstep its boundaries on the art of the scene itself, and only becoming audibly obvious during scenes of transition, where the echo of hopelessness begins to evaporate. The man behind the callous tones is Jed Kurzel, the same man who scored “The Babadook”, one of my favorite horror films of the decade, and it was his influence that triggered much of the anxiety-ridden nightmare fuel that film had to offer. For “The Mustang”, he’s able to show a much more intimate side than horror can grant, and the confidence in his music to never strike louder than anything in the scene itself, better allows the elements of drama to simmer with the heat in orchestral engagements that he sprinkles each scene with.

– Ruben Impens. One of my favorite cinematographer’s going today is back, and it’s no surprise that his boldly beautiful frames and color filters are the very best thing that this film has to offer. The wide angles that depict the mountainside and endless deserts convey a sense of freedom being so close, yet so far away for Roman. Likewise, the sunbaked effects that reflect in the camera itself, establishes a visual metaphor for his golden opportunity that he simply can’t let slip away. These things prove that a film doesn’t need a blockbuster budget to present these visually breathtaking enchantments, and these elements better channel the mental location of these characters, in a place that feels so isolated from everyone and everything they love.

– Educative and informative. A fine line of poignancy and human commentary persists in the idea of these horses being taken from their habitat, and sold for devilish greed, and the film never shies away from this inescapable feeling of victimizing that it is truly responsible for taking. Beyond this, I appreciate that the film not only gives us the facts with this disgusting poaching, but it also takes the time to teach us the steps in gaining a horse’s trust that other films may overlook. In this regard, we are able to slip into Roman’s shoes that much easier because we are learning things on the same speed that he is, and can’t escape that feeling of uncertainty and fear that smother the initial confrontations. This film not only told me how similar the breeds of human and horse are truly are, it showed it to me, and it proves that even in a 91 minute film, it’s important for audiences to understand how unpredictable their movements truly can be if you make even one wrong move.

– True story. I appreciate that the movie never got lost in the heat of the “Based on a true story” gimmick, and instead reserved itself for the beginning and end of the movie to relay its information. The end even treats us to some real life pictures of the people that the movie is based on, but doesn’t lose itself to fully telling their stories. This may sound a bit insulting to the real life figures, but when you’re not discussing a historical event of tragedy, the people can become shaped in whatever way the script requires them to be, to further enhance the element of surprise, which this movie has a couple of.

NEGATIVES

– Unnecessary prison subplot. This angle, which distracts from the intimacy of these stirring subplots, feels every bit as tacked-on as it does compromising to the film’s pacing. This angle involving drug trading and race war’s is something that didn’t feel synonymous with something in this particular prison film, and if it was removed completely, the film would trim ten minutes and lose absolutely nothing. It doesn’t hinder the progress of my score as a whole, but these brief hiccups were the only times when “The Mustang” felt like it was trying to be something and cater to a particular subgenre that it absolutely isn’t, and this element of the script simply doesn’t mesh well with its counterparts.

– Missed opportunities. Even if we do find out the “what” and the “how” of Roman’s incarceration, the “why” seems to be a much more important aspect that the movie never fully exploits for compelling drama. There’s a scene of remorse from Roman, where he speaks to his daughter about one faithful night, but the actions of an angry man come and go with so little understanding of the situation, that it almost feels secondary to the environment surrounding it. The father and daughter do confront one another, but for it being the closing shot between them, the resolution left a little more to be desired, and if it wasn’t for an additional closing narration (Which also feels tacked-on), this subplot would leave many audiences missing the finer points of easily the most engaging material that the movie has to offer.

My Grade: 8/10 or B+

Little

Directed By Tina Gordon

Starring – Regina Hall, Issa Rae, Marsai Martin

The Plot – A woman (Hall) is transformed into her younger self (Martin) at a point in her life when the pressures of adulthood become too much to bear.

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content

POSITIVES

– Gifted casting. It’s rare that a film in 2019 will have such domination in the form of leading ladies, and even more so that those ladies make the most in elevating such predictable material, but that is the case with the trio of Hall, Rae, and Martin, who each bring their vibrant personalities to the indulgence of the audience. The comparison between Hall and Martin feels seamless for a transformation movie, with each actress sharing identical traits in speech patterns and expressions that would otherwise go unnoticed by incapable directing. Hall is definitely the best part of this film, being as nasty as she wants to be as the boss from hell, and the rest of the movie surrounding her kind of stalls when she’s gone, but the chemistry between Rae and Martin is just enough to tie us over through many scenes of mayhem that the duo get into. It’s in the reactions of these two virtual silver screen newcomers that was a delight to watch, leading to many confrontations between them that is both audibly and visually satisfying when you think about people around them witnessing it all.

– Clean cut comedy. The effectiveness of the humor is greatly surprising, especially considering it’s mostly curse word free, and nothing in this trailer made me giggle even remotely. “Little” is a film that saves its best material for the presentation, juggling a fine compromise of physical and social awkwardness that we the audience can flesh out long before the supporting character’s do, because we constantly remain one step ahead in our wealth of knowledge, and it led to a 60% landing rate for me, that did harvest some solid laughs in the material. In this regard, Rae is definitely the M.V.P, as her bold facial reactions and lewd public demeanor carve out what I describe as a female Chris Tucker, and pack a resounding punch in the area this movie needs the most.

– A second chance. It was strange to me that a kid character who gets bullied when we start the movie is the one who transforms back to learn a lesson. In most cases, it’s the bully who has to redeem themselves, but Martin’s character is one who uses the knowledge that she attained as an adult to give herself another opportunity at a childhood that she had robbed from her, and it not only leads to the contrasts of similarities between the respective era’s that she was a child through, but it also sheds a light on brutal bullying that still persists now as it ever did. This gives way to a positive message that I appreciated for how it could inspire youthful audiences to use in their own lives, and sends audiences home on a feel-good note that was earned because of the depictions of middle school being so restrictive and mentally scarring.

– Unity. It’s refreshing and a rare benefit to see a film indulge in feats that deal with black women being successful and being comfortable in their own skin. Being a woman of color herself, Gordon revels in this positive and airy atmosphere that gives her character’s power, but above all else responsibility in careers and the dependency of the film, which sadly isn’t represented enough in modern day film. From this angle, “Little” manages to transcend the silver screen, with a bunch of progressive ideals for our own corporate world that help break down barriers and give attention to corporate and social commentary where it’s immensely needed.

NEGATIVES

– Forgotten subplots. This is a sloppy script that occasionally introduces elements that are given ample screen time to feel important, yet never are given a satisfying conclusion to tie it all together. The first is the hunky teacher, whose lone scene in the film is the one that audiences are treated to in the trailer. This scene with him lasts around ten minutes, and we never see him again. Likewise, a meaningful plot involving Hall’s love interest is touched upon but never elaborated on with a late act confrontation between them that I felt was needed to satisfy their on-again, off-again relationship. The big problem here is that some scenes are given too much time, while others struggle to get the light needed to further develop them, and it leads to two uneven halves that when compared bring an obvious weak period late in the film that couldn’t hold up to the consistency of the first thirty minutes of the movie.

– Strange observations. Why does the woman’s clothes change sizes in one transformation but not the other? In a school that takes initiative with inclusion during a school play, why is there what’s labeled a “Friend Zone”, where the so-called loser kids eat lunch away from the rest of the cool elite? Why are there not one, but two instances of school bullying and violence depicted in this movie during a big event with a lot of eyes and focus on the stage, and no teacher within shouting distance? Why did the rich client (Played by SNL’s Mikey Day) show up for a pitch meeting three days later instead of the 48 hours that was originally established? Why does Regina Hall’s character have so many kids clothes in her closet, despite not having kids herself? Since the whole plot revolves around a little girl magician who turns Regina Hall younger, does it mean all of her transformations work? What about the white guy during the third act who she wanted to turn into a marshmallow out of frustration?

– Plot halting. There’s a period of about 40 minutes in this movie, where the central plot is put in park for some scenes of question that don’t exactly fit or add anything to the dynamic of the progression. A musical number, as well as the aforementioned hot teacher scene, leave very little lasting impact, and even worse stalls the fluidity of the pacing, which was solid until that point. In fact, when you really think about it, this movie should be over in twenty minutes, especially considering how easy it would be to track down this little girl magician, but because of the plot device we better spread it out for 104 minutes. This is perhaps the biggest fault with Gordon’s directing, as the tabs kept with the central conflict receives minimalist’s attention, and it forces creativity to bring Rae’s character back to the forefront.

– Television production quality. Everything here, from the lack of risks or personality taken with the cinematography, to the routine scale of angles and editing that leaves the presentation lacking inspiration, is presented in a way that screams inexperience, and while Gordon isn’t fully to blame for these decisions, the inexperience of a writer-turned-director recently does limit its capabilities. Likewise, the lack of depth associated with production design also rears its ugly head, during a few scenes when the weight of the stakes in the balance doesn’t feel quite as even as the situation calls for. In fact, the overall presentation of “Little” gave it an obvious comparison to recent films like “Isn’t It Romantic”, “Girls Night”, and “Night School”, but what makes this worse is that it comes on the tail end of those already mundane films and never finds a conscience to branch out above the pack. It’s an uninspiring product that refuses to take chances to dazzle audiences.

– Uncomfortable sexualizing. This is really the biggest bother for me in the movie, as Martin (A 13 year-old) is decked out constantly in tight, body-showing wardrobe, as well as given not one, but two scenes where she flirts with older co-stars, as well as dancing provocatively, and while the film called for it based on the dynamics of the plot, it doesn’t mean that I can accept any kind of glorifying of it. In this regard, it’s almost like they never fully commit to Martin’s youthful transformation, and still long for her to represent the elder side of Hall, which is a misstep for the comedy of the scene. If the posh Hall is reduced to wearing these cheap, ugly youthful threads, then it will better flesh out the desperation of her situation that leaves her feeling so far from the woman she’s fought endlessly to become.

– Far too predictable. This is not breaking news to anyone, but the film is heavily influenced by 1986’s “Big”, in that not only is its title a play on that previous film, but it also lifts identical plot points directly from that film as inspiration. The problem is that its inability to distance itself from the former and overall better film muddles the material down to predictably bland levels that left me being able to sniff out every resolution in plenty of time before it appeared. I can understand that the wiggle room is claustrophobic with a premise this specific, but there’s almost no point in making a film that isn’t labeled as a remake unless you’re going to experiment in ways that allows distance, and while “Little” has sprouts of flavorful delight, the overall whole had me experiencing flashbacks of Tom Hanks in his comical prime.

My Grade: 4/10 or D

After

Directed By Jenny Gage

Starring – Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Selma Blair, Josephine Langford

The Plot – Based on Anna Todd’s novel of the same name, the film follows Tessa (Langford), a dedicated student, dutiful daughter and loyal girlfriend to her high school sweetheart, as she enters her first semester in college. Armed with grand ambitions for her future, her guarded world opens up when she meets the dark and mysterious Hardin Scott (Tiffin), a magnetic, brooding rebel who makes her question all she thought she knew about herself and what she wants out of life.

Rated PG-13 for sexual content and some college partying

POSITIVES

– Perhaps the most surprising thing about “After” is that it is at least technically sound in the presentation department. Soft, subtle lighting cast against beautiful scenery, compliments of cinematographer Adam Silver, and a tight precision in editing, which constantly keeps the flow of the movie moving at comfortable levels, are two of the beneficial aspects that this film indulges in, and proves that style was certainly heavier than substance in this vapid delivery of teenage fan fiction. If anything, the film will perhaps stand as a stepping stone for much bigger works by this production team, which simply feel far too advanced for anything it combines with in this movie that weighs down the law of its returns.

– A hidden narrative. One aspect of the film that is briefly touched upon, but never fully realized, is the sexual awakening of Tessa that springs forth her college curiosity. The aspect of first love’s for young women not living up to everything you expected, will offer strong relatability to the youths that take this film in, and even give them a general outline of what not to do when in that similar situation. In this regard, the film garners just enough responsibility to take Tessa down this road of self-identifying, and in turn carves out just enough ambiguity for beyond-the-screen companions right by her side. Very few films capture the complexity associated with love at such an early age, but “After” tackles it head on, juggling enough social commentary about the dating world along the way to give it substantial reasoning for its existence.

NEGATIVES

– No pulse. As far as modern day romances go, the bond between Harden and Tessa might be the single worst that I’ve seen in terms of chemistry or remote spark that helps convey their attraction. First of all, these are both terrible people in terms of how they treat everyone else around them, the dialogue between them is certainly nothing that makes us the audience feel weak in the knees, and the romantic scenes lack the kind of passion necessary to feel satisfaction in their mutual finding. I can imagine that watching a brother and sister romantically involved couldn’t be far off from what we’re presented, because there’s nothing fun or remotely engaging about two people who the movie wants to log-jam into fitting so perfectly together, yet what transpires in 97 minutes between them couldn’t be any further from the truth.

– Teenage fan fiction doesn’t translate well to the silver screen. For those who don’t know, this story is originally based off of One Direction (Yes, that One Direction) fan-fiction, that was originally switched up to instead depict every day people. As for the film itself, it can’t escape these obvious cliches that make it still feel like it’s being commanded by an adolescent girl. The irrational decisions, the over-abundance of easy listening like The Fray or Avril Lavigne, the barrage of red flags that are casually ignored by our ignorant protagonist, and the way the scenes stay with Tessa 100% of the time. It’s a modern day teenage fantasy that caters to the slimmest of audiences, and the ones it does haven’t lived through the kind of situations depicted to fully understand how maniacal they are.

– The cast. Nobody in the lead cast is redeemable, and what’s even more tragic about this is film veterans like Peter Gallagher or Selma Blair are subjected to such waste. I hate trashing actors who are trying to master their craft, but the reality is Langford and Tiffin wouldn’t be cast as even supporting character’s in a halfway decent film, due to their overall lack of commitment in each line read, as well as the flat emotional registry that lets each scene of connection to the audience slip away. I understand that the roles called for these kids to be introvert’s somewhat, but the complete lack of charisma made each interaction slug along with the kind of performance depth of a Charmin bathroom tissue commercial. Even Christian Grey and Anastasia committed themselves to the ridiculousness of the situation. These two never made the most of their most likely one and only chance.

– Redundancy in character’s. There are too many of the same kind of character personalities in this movie, and what’s even worse is the exposition between the leads could easily be summarized in a Wikipedia plot summary. For Harden, adjectives like “Quiet”, “brutish”, and “Bad Boy” could be inserted, but very rarely a character outline for who you see before you. If I’m not picking on Harden, then it’s Tessa’s cryptic roommate, who is introduced to the film early on, and then rarely tapped into again, and it speaks levels to the problems associated with sticking with two character’s for so long that you often forget that there’s a world that exists beyond them. That complete lack of initiative made it so difficult for me to invest in a single person, and even care remotely for what will become of them.

– Watered down rating. I myself haven’t read the book that this movie is based on, but I did read a material summary that gave me the finer points of the story, and immediately I can say that PG-13 was not the right way to go to remain faithful to the literary origins. The rating is obviously to cater to more younger fans to feed into the profits, but those kind of kids shouldn’t be watching this movie anyway, and the ones who are old enough to are left with deflated content that feels like an after school special, instead of something that is compared to being the teenage version of Fifty Shades of Grey. When you look at that property, you understand that there’s no way it could be done with anything less than an R-rating, and that’s the case here, where vital scenes of sexual interaction are shot so tightly that you don’t properly register the kind of body language that comes with such passion.

– Not even unintentional humor can save us. The best parts of movies like these, often defined as so bad they’re good, is the ability to laugh at the struggle of script and filmmaking incompetence, but there’s never anything in the way of lunacy in the former, or amateur in the latter, and it makes the sit that much more intolerable because of it. What’s left is a vacuum of entertainment-sucking where even unintentional humor wipes away the sands of therapeutic cinema for relief. “After” is one of the worst films of 2019 in this regard, and if there’s much more like this, it will be a bleak year of pretentious filmmaking that inspires a new generation.

– Padding out time. I mentioned earlier that the pacing is acceptable enough because of the on-the-nose editing that remains consistent, but 97 minutes for a movie with this much repetition in musical montages or date montages between our two leads, makes me feel like fifteen minutes could’ve easily been trimmed from this movie to not make it feel so obvious in reaching a time destination. To remain at 97 minutes, perhaps more character development, or a bonding of relationships outside of our two lovebird protagonists to up the stakes once the conflict’s start could’ve offered a satisfaction of variety that could’ve also done wonders for spicing up what is otherwise 80% a mundane screenplay. For my money, these two meet and fall in love far too quickly in the film, and I feel like more restraint could’ve better planned for those eventual third act twists that take a lifetime to arrive.

– Speaking of which, the curiosity that I had with about a half hour left did present a fine line of interest as to what kind of direction this story is headed, but sadly I was letdown by the film’s flimsy final message and closing sequences that had my eyes hurting from rolling so much. Without spoiling anything, this film could’ve had so much fun with Harden’s character, in how he responds to the foundation’s in his life that are crumbling around him, but the twist comes and goes, feeling every bit as inconsequential if two people could sit down and talk, as it does contradictory with the film’s closing moments. What’s even more frustrating is there is a push for a sequel, which will inevitably go unfulfilled, but leaves the ending of this film feeling anti-climatic because of final imagery that leans one particular way.

My Grade: 2/10 or F-

Hellboy

Directed By Neil Marshall

Starring – David Harbour, Ian McShane, Milla Jovovich

The Plot – Hellboy is back, and he’s on fire. From the pages of Mike Mignola’s seminal work, this action packed story sees the legendary half-demon superhero (Harbour) called to the English countryside to battle a trio of rampaging giants. There he discovers The Blood Queen, Nimue (Jovovich), a resurrected ancient sorceress thirsting to avenge a past betrayal. Suddenly caught in a clash between the supernatural and the human, Hellboy is now hell-bent on stopping Nimue without triggering the end of the world.

Rated R for strong bloody violence and gore throughout, and adult language

POSITIVES

– Charming ensemble. While he will never be no shadow-filler for Ron Pearlman, I can say that I found a lot of redeeming qualities about Harbour’s delve into Anung Un Rama that kept this film interesting at times when the story failed endlessly. David’s timely deliveries for comedy, as well as his registry as a tortured soul aching for belonging, is everything different that Ron Pearlman’s brute demeanor didn’t convey. Instead, Harbour instills a sense of vulnerability to the character that we often don’t see, bringing him closer to humanity as he tangles with this immensely powerful adversary. Speaking of which, Jovovich is serviceable enough as well, even when the dialogue she delivers does her no favors in terms of intimidation along the way. Milla is giving her all to play an antagonist for the first time, and there’s a lethal dose of seductive sting that she offers to the role that makes her dangerous for all of the things that comic book movies are afraid to attempt, especially with PG-13 renderings. It was also great to see Sasha Lane getting a big stage presence, as I’ve felt for years that this girl is an eventual Oscar winner in the making.

– Make-up and prosthetics work. It’s amazing that a film with such dominance towards computer generation has a secret weapon thriving underneath it all, in the form of practical character designs that channel everything we love about Hellboy, while establishing that this is a fresh start for the character. The amputated horns are still there, but the facial structure supports more of a slouching outline for Harbour’s take, giving way to an aging process that didn’t feel possible before in the previous two films. In addition, the cheek prosthetics stretching out Harbour’s familiar facial traits is something that allows the actor to transform properly with very little reminder of who is underneath because of the complete picture of it all. It proves that while a lot is lost in translation in the decade-and-a-half since the previous film, the work of some highly skilled cosmetic magicians behind the scenes still pump as the heartbeat of this franchise.

– Coveted R-rating. This is a film that knows its audience. It’s the very same people who grew up with the 2004 film, and are now full-fledged adults, who have since been craving an edgier sequel to compliment the character. It comes in the form of mature material in language and brutal violence that cater to the rock-and-roll lifestyle of the character. The violence and blood splatter satisfied the deep-seeded horror nut inside of me, and the inclusion of some personal favorite curse words improved the bumbling dialogue in a way that made it feel human instead of manufactured. R-ratings in third installments don’t typically work, but I feel that the spike here better elevates the impact of the action, all the while fleshing out the growth of the character that mirrors that of his faithful audience.

NEGATIVES

– Lifeless computer generation. To say the effects work in this film are bad would be a compliment. No, this is the kind of lifeless digitalization that was present in the 90’s, during a period when that could be forgiven for our complete inexperience with it. This is a film made in 2019, whose backdrops and violence feel about as real as claiming I.T.T Tech for a major college degree. Scenes that are supposed to show Hellboy as a badass are nothing more than a humorous exercise in ridiculousness, and for the majority take much away from the impact of what should be these scenes of visceral devastation. I could forgive a film’s effects for playing into the mayhem transpiring with the film’s other technical deficiencies, but nothing on screen is a pleasure to look at, and I’m simply not going to allow weak post production a pass when it comes to creating a one-of-a-kind feel that is anything out of this world for comic book movie adaptations.

– What narrative? As a story outline, “Hellboy” might be the sloppiest screenplay that I have endured in quite sometime. When the movie isn’t stacking another log on the pile to see what burns with effectiveness, the beatdown of rapid fire sequencing makes it very difficult to accurately interpret what is taking place right in front of us. There is no slow down period to soak everything in. It’s a near two hour long-winded delivery of breath that feels seconds away from fading to black at any moment because of exposition overhaul. I myself am not a fan of the original two Hellboy films by Guillermo Del Toro, but I can say in those movies that there is at least a straight and narrow line of storytelling that keeps us firmly in-tuned with what is transpiring. In this movie, I felt like a child was making up their own version of story time, where no two ideas rub together to feed into a lone cohesive unit.

– Far too long. Marshall’s chapter of Hellboy clocks in at 110 minutes, and while that might not seem like a huge investment for comic book audiences who have endured nearly three hour epics, the combination of forced flashback’s and simply too many big set fight sequences, make the sit an uphill endurance test. For the former, I mentioned this problem in my review of “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”, but here it feels much more padded and unnecessary, especially when the use of audible narration is already telling us everything that transpires visually before us. It’s a strange breed because I feel the film could easily be trimmed, but I think this would only further compromise the cyclonic storytelling, whose speed has us seeing only streaks. I guess you’re simply damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

– Mundane heavy metal score. Composer Benjamin Wallfisch (Real name) has honorable intentions here, but the lack of royalty in track selection dooms his opportunity to make “Hellboy” the rock-and-roll opera that we deserve. With the exception of a couple key inserts, like “Kickstart My Heart” by Motley Crue, the majority is a DVD stock composition that is used when a studio doesn’t want to pay for commercial rights to sample the proper song. There’s even traces of what Wallfisch wanted in each scene, whether it be in the form of familiar metal guitar riffs that borders plagiarizing because of what I previously mentioned. It gives the film an easily identifying trait of cheap production value that doom the art of some eye-catching visuals, and teaches us to pay extra when the scene calls for it.

– Distracted editing. There’s no big surprise here: too many cuts and too little consistency in visual storytelling. In any single sequence of action, you can expect three different angles to watch the same scene, giving me this inescapable feeling of dementia that made me question reality. There’s also this annoying trait, where a scene cuts far too early, and the dialogue from scene one bleeds into the dialogue from scene two. I get artistic expression, but this feels like an unnecessary transition effect that cuts into the focus of the previous scene. Likewise, the editing during scenes of explanation or exposition take a page out of Guy Ritchie’s “King Arthur”, where frames are inserted that don’t add anything to what we’re hearing. For instance, one heartfelt scene between Hellboy and an old acquaintance comes and goes with many visuals of the details in the kitchen that houses them. Filmmaking attention deficit at its finest, and it hinders even the smallest shred of momentum that the audience gains for investing into this story at any particular moment.

– Tonal clashing. If this was a film that was firmly committed to being a cult comedy, then I could forgive it for ridiculous levels of material and production that do it no favors in gaining an audience, but there are deeply dramatic scenes in the film that revolve around love and loss that speak to a totally genre of film, and in turn make the dominant direction in this film feel even more jumbled because of it. The humor in the material is far too juvenile far too often to render the transition needed for some deep-seeded moments of heart that the film calls on late in the movie. In turn, these scenes of dramatic pulse take away everything that everyone was enjoying about the character up to that point, and it all feels like a balance of power behind the scenes from a studio that didn’t know what they truly wanted from this legendary figure. As to where the previous two films were dominant action movies with an occasional speck of dark, twisted humor thrown in for good measure, this installment feels 70% comedy and 30% the occasional speck of drama, and it never worked at finding a comfortable balance for all to enjoy.

– Continuity flaws. This more than conveys the hack-and-slash finished product that we were left with. Consistency in scenes is a constant problem for this film, especially one involving Hellboy and a cocky agent late in the first act that made me do a double take for its documentation. Hellboy and the agent are talking on top of a building, then the scene cuts to the agent taking the elevator to the ground floor to meet another agent, and Hellboy is now there with this secondary character. It’s possible that Hellboy jumped off of the building, but why? What purpose would this even serve? I wish I could say that a scene like this is rare, but it happens frequently throughout, making me wonder just how long the first draft of this film was before the editor removed the threads that binds the continuity together.

My Grade: 3/10 or F+

Missing Link

Directed By Chris Butler

Starring – Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana, Timothy Olyphant

The Plot – The charismatic Sir Lionel Frost (Jackman) considers himself to be the world’s foremost investigator of myths and monsters. The trouble is none of his small-minded high-society peers seems to recognize this. Sir Lionel’s last chance for acceptance by the adventuring elite rests on traveling to America’s Pacific Northwest to prove the existence of a legendary creature. A living remnant of Man’s primitive ancestry. The Missing Link (Zach Galifanakis).

Rated PG for action/peril and some mild rude humor

POSITIVES

– Flawless animation. Laika Studios continues to be my single favorite animation design company, if only for the vibrant dimensions that they add to inspirational stop-motion animation. Aside from the impeccable attention to detail that has been documented at taking hours to frame a single shot, Laika adds weight and reaction to elements of water and cold, that are often overlooked in animation properties. The liquid itself not only splashes with layers of believability, but also affects hair and make-up on character’s that seamlessly transcends this manufactured art form. Likewise, the cold locations in the screenplay thrive with rosy red cheeks and breathing clouds of exertion, that better help contrast the rapid geographical movements that are present in the film. It proves once more that nobody works even half as hard at Laika, and they deserve our money in truckloads.

– Exceptional casting. Everyone meets the mark of desired impact here, but a few in particular stand out above the rest. Jackman and Galifanakis establish in chemistry with vocal work what some duo’s don’t master side-by-side in multiple film installments, and it’s the interaction between them that helps better flesh out the personalities of their character’s that sometimes goes undeveloped. Jackman’s straight man routine and Galifanakis’ bumbling goofball vocal ranges are perfect for the illustration’s of the character’s, establishing an outline of transformation before our eyes that distances your mind from thinking that anyone else’s deliveries could work so fittingly with the combination of sight and sound that is playing out. The big steal for me however, was Timothy Olyphant, as a bounty hunter with a raspy southern drawl. There’s just enough familiarity in his delivery to identify who this is, but Timothy has the time of his life in giving raw, untapped energy to the role, that is sure to open more doors for him in animation opportunities. There isn’t a single actor who didn’t offer something compelling in the way of personality, and what’s more important is that none of the character’s ever rub together in striking similarities.

– A rare presentation. “Missing Link” was shot with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and stands as only the sixth animated film to indulge in such an expansive lens. Aside from properly capturing the depth in scale of these visually compelling territories of the globe, it also allows the character’s to play to the backdrop and never vice versa. The opposite can be said in movies where the people are usually the focus to what’s transpiring in establishing shots, but here the opposite can be said in the form of visual storytelling that better convey the distance traveled for Frost and Link, as well as the vulnerability for the latter, in being out of his comfort zone for his whole life. It’s a striking variation that will go overlooked by the casual film fan, but stands as the first thing you can take note of when you lose yourself in Laika’s visual hypnotic canvas.

– Fluid pacing. “Missing Link” clocks in at a measly 85 minutes. A piece of cake in terms of animated movies in 2019, which are known for overstaying their welcome. That never happens here, as aside from the opening ten minutes, which are used to set-up the central protagonist’s career of choice, the film progresses at a speed that constantly keeps moving without sacrificing the important themes and emotional response triggered by the journey of knowledge. There’s nothing in the film that I would cut or trim to further enhance my unflinching attention to it, and I feel it’s a testament to Butler’s dedication to the project to know just how much juice he can squeeze from a story that has peaks of familiarity as far as road trip movies are concerned.

– Positive hard-hitting message. Without spoiling anything, this is a screenplay that centers around the concepts of identity and acceptance, and it’s in these two themes where I feel that different age brackets will interpret differently, allowing plenty of conversation between generation’s looking for mutual interest. The pull of the surprisingly heavy third act was something that I didn’t fully see coming, especially with the movie’s dedication to humor, but I feel like it stands as a moral epiphany for Frost, all the while solidifying what’s important to Link, in terms of finding a place where he belongs. I always give animated movies extra points for sending youths home with a desire to make the world a better place, and I can’t credit this film enough for such a concept of reminder that digs deeper.

– Badass female lead. Saldana’s Adelina isn’t just a damsel in distress who is looking for a man, she is very much a commanding presence over the story’s movements, that one could argue develops into the strings that ties this trio together on their adventure. Further steps are taken to better flesh out her character, instill a sense of surprise with her movements playing against male counterparts, and even selling to the audience a branch-out sequel that would establish her at the helm of it all. What I found refreshing about this is the movie goes against history, especially in kids movies, where they feel routine in outlining a female character only to be rescued or serve as a love interest for the much further developed lead protagonist, and Adelina is someone who is every bit as intelligent as she is lethal, and I feel will have a bigger hand than anyone or anything else in bringing little girls in search of reflection, to the theater.

– Easter Eggs. Again, there is something for the youth, as well as something for the older audiences, that will get a kick out of connections to other properties that you might miss if you blink. The first one is in connection to Laika’s previous release “The Boxtrolls”, in which Frost has a report on the creatures of that movie. What’s cool about this is it confirms a Laika extended universe, and makes me wonder where other previous installments could play into in terms of the timeline of this story. As for the more obscure reference, 1984’s “A Passage To India” is mentioned in one scene, and even if this doesn’t make sense with the 19th century setting of this story, it is cleverly inserted in its dispersion into the dialogue.

NEGATIVES

– Forceful humor. More than the other four Laika films, there’s this overwhelming desire of comedy that rarely ever fit or connected with the intended reaction. I do think that this film can be funny, but it’s in the small doses of reactions transpiring in the background (See Monty Python), rather than lines of dialogue, which can sometimes feel far too juvenile when compared to the movie it’s playing against. I get that this is a movie that plays to a mostly younger audience, but I would be doing a disservice if I tried to convince my readers for a second that I came out of this film with an ample amount of hearty laughter. It never truly materialized, and I only hope that Laika can get back on track with investing in sight over sound, when it comes to gripping audiences.

– Too many villains. There’s little weight or attention donated to the film’s antagonist, which there are no shortage of. At one point early in the third act, we are dealing with three different antagonist’s sharing the screen at once, and it sort of feeds into the problem that none of them have been fleshed out in a way that makes any of them feel like an essential threat, nor pivotal presence to the entertaining integrity of the rapid-fire pacing. Every time they appear, they just feel like the proverbial conflict in the road to inevitability, and for my money I wish they would’ve removed two-thirds of them, and followed the other one closer, in terms of motives or connection to Frost.

– Uncomfortable stereotypes. This was one of the big problems I had with my favorite Laika film “Kubo and the Two Strings”, in which character’s of a particular geography are depicted in a way that isn’t the most complimentary. For “Missing Link”, it’s even worse, as a Himalayan family eat nothing but Yak to survive, and talk in a way that pushes the envelope to be funny rather than educational about different cultures. I’m not trying to label Laika as insensitive in their intentions, but once is an accident, twice is a shame, and three times is a pattern. If you absolutely require this direction in your movie, do it in a way that honors their traditions while making them comparible to the protagonist.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

The Aftermath

Directed By James Kent

Starring – Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgard, Jason Clarke

The Plot – Set in postwar Germany in 1946, Rachael Morgan (Knightley) arrives in the ruins of Hamburg in the bitter winter, to be reunited with her husband Lewis (Clarke), a British colonel charged with rebuilding the shattered city. But as they set off for their new home, Rachael is stunned to discover that Lewis has made an unexpected decision: They will be sharing the grand house with its previous owners, a German widower (SkarsgĂ„rd) and his troubled daughter. In this charged atmosphere, enmity and grief give way to passion and betrayal.

Rated R for sexual content/nudity, and violence including some disturbing images

POSITIVES

– Strong ensemble. Knightley continues to shine under tremendous pressure, channeling a combination of loneliness and longing that gives much of her character arc the emphasis of urgency. Likewise, her tremendous chemistry with Skarsgard is unavoidable, blazing a trail of obviousness between them that grows shorter with each intense interaction. What truly amazed me however, was Clarke giving arguably his single best performance to date. Kent’s direction here should be applauded, because he brings emotional heft to Jason in ways that no other director has to this point, and we’re rewarded with a third act collapse that has him confronting the demons from his past in ways that is every bit unsettling as it is effective to us the audience. This trio combats some glaring holes in material that make you question the moral fiber of their characters, and are each a delight to watch for how the war has shaped each of them in noticeably different effects.

– Gorgeous cinematography by Franz Lustig. Being a product of Germany himself better prepares Lustig for the style in scope that he delivers in each valued frame, indulging us the audience to immersive establishing shots of breathtaking scenery, as well as intimacy in scenes of passion that glow before our eyes. On the latter, this is something that a movie like “Fifty Shades of Grey” should take notes on, because the love is not only believable, but intense because of the limited window that we are given, which for better or worse, makes us feel a part of the scene with them. On the former, the snowy countryside of Germany feeds much into the circumstances establish by this cold, damp marriage on the rocks, as well as establishing this inescapable feeling of defeat in the air that shapes much of the mentalities from the movie’s various personalities.

– Originality in the war genre. We get a war film once every season, but it’s rare to be presented with the unique opportunity to see the effects from the cause, especially in the case of a once powerful faction like the Axis Powers, which would’ve re-shaped the world. What’s commendable about what “The Aftermath” does, is it explores the shade of grey between good and evil that both sides possessed, and takes valuable time in teaching us that very honorable people like the ones we’ve been believed to have, are also present on enemy lines. It’s not afraid to explore the side of conscience from people we’re not used to delving deep into, and conveys that no one really wins when the smoke of devastation clears.

– Atmosphere put to music. Composer Martin Phipps instills a combination of violin and piano that better triggers the tragedy in the air that binds people of two entirely complex sides together, and it makes for an overall musical score that plays wonderfully synonymous with the highs and lows of this arrangement. I usually don’t go for the classical side of compositions, but when you have a depicted era that calls for it, anything else would alienate these scenes of passion and tragedy with great underscoring on the pulse. Phipps’ work here is also every bit as absorbing as it is adaptive for Rachael’s newly-lit fire that burns for the first time in a long time, presenting us with an audio commentary of sorts for the ball of uncertainty that resides within her, and it’s never obvious or leading, remaining tasteful with its distance between the audience and the film they are engaged in.

NEGATIVES

– Distracted. The biggest problem with the romantic triangle plot is that it often feels like a subplot in a movie that centers around it. There are no fewer than three other on-going narratives taking place simultaneously, and it renders the material that everyone came to see limited in its appeal to further develop the characters and blossoming romance effectively. The additional stories are certainly nothing that I would waste an ample amount of time with, and to be honest, if they were cut all together, it would only create more lasting positives to the attention needed to render the plot more impactful than what we’re left with. Because of such, the thrills of the seduction feel lukewarm, and never provide anything of substance to override the overly-telegraphed movements that we’ve seen in literally any other film about cheating spouses.

– Unlikeable leads. Is it wrong that I related to Jason Clarke’s character the most? I detested Keira Knightley’s character, and no, not because I’m a white male who constantly blames the woman. In this case, the woman is in the wrong, balancing a life of complaining about her husband’s absence to protect the citizens of this country in favor of putting together a rich dinner party for friends, as well as her noticeable prejudice towards German’s that does her no favors in the empathy department. If this wasn’t enough, she cheats on Clarke, and we’re supposed to understand why because of what I previously mentioned and sudden character shifts that come out of nowhere. For instance, Clarke’s character is caring and supportive of German’s who he views as “Victims” in the first act, but then grows to feel inaffectionate when the story requires him to, at the drop of a hat. Skarsgard, not to be outdone, mentions that his daughter is his whole world, yet only spends time with her in the presence of Knightley, and doesn’t have a clue about her going off to join a radical Nazi group plotting to seek revenge. With character’s like these, who needs enema’s?

– Uneven pacing. This is a 104 minute movie, and a majority of the first half of that runtime moves at a snail’s pace of development. When you truly think about it, we as an audience stand in place for roughly the first forty minutes of this film, refusing to plan for future direction’s that pop-up with very little notice. It stays this way until the final forty minutes of the film, when I guess the movie realizes it has built very little inside of this triangle, and decides to get busy with a virtual machine-gun of exposition that almost feels like a different director as a whole is at the controls of. The good news is I was never bored with “The Aftermath”, the bad news is the undercooked dramatic elements never materialized to leave me anywhere near fully invested into what was transpiring.

– Too many cornball cliches. I mentioned earlier that this is typical cab fare for anyone who has seen a Lifetime or Cinemax movie in the last twenty years, but the real tools of tantalizing are so obvious that they craft an inescapable laugh. Let’s go through the list: Shacking up with a hot stranger, each of them has what the other is lacking, husband leaves wife alone with good looking guy for long period of time, film doesn’t condemn or shame cheating couple for their romantic tryst. There’s plenty more, but I’m seriously getting carpel-tunnel typing them out, and if it hasn’t already been proven, this movie goes where plenty of films went before it, leaving nothing in the way of originality or surprises to make it memorable for longer than ten minutes after seeing it.

– It’s a personal nag for me when the movie declares twice that the citizens forced to go against their will to join the Nazi party was worse than the thousands that lost their lives in England attack bombings. No film should ever be about weighing the devastation of two completely different subjects, but “The Aftermath” does this without hesitation, offering a layer of social opinion that doesn’t reflect the film in ways that are complimentary. Just stating the facts is more than enough to lay the impact at the feet of uneducated audiences, but this necessity to compare is something that is insensitive to anyone who was unfortunate enough to be alive during such a dark and scary time for the world’s bleak future.

– No pay-off to the conflict. To say that the ending was underwhelming is being nice. The film’s resolution comes and goes without any long-winded speeches, without any tearful confessions, and without anything that even remotely resembles the impact promised from such a tense and finely edited trailer. Without spoiling anything, I will say that the closing scenes are not only padded for extra time, but also nonsensical when you consider where we started and ended with this pivotal scene, and will lead to audiences either feeling disappointed because of what was teased the whole way, or defeated from the waste of time that everything took to get to this point. What’s more concerning is that the loser in this triangle doesn’t feel remotely affected by it, and it stands as the lone scene where the audience and character’s are on the same page, with neither feeling impacted by where we conclude.

My Grade: 4/10 or D-

Pet Sematary

Directed By Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer

Starring – Jason Clarke, John Lithgow, Amy Seimetz

The Plot – Louis Creed (Clarke), his wife Rachel (Seimetz), and their two children Gage (Hugo Lavoie) and Ellie (Jete Laurence) move to a rural home where they are welcomed and enlightened about the eerie ‘Pet Sematary’ located nearby. After the tragedy of their cat being killed by a truck, Louis resorts to burying it in the mysterious pet cemetery, which is definitely not as it seems, as it proves to the Creeds that sometimes, dead is better.

Rated R for horror violence, bloody images, and some adult language

POSITIVES

– Contrasts from the original. The point of any remake is to experiment with the property in ways that separates itself from the legend of the original, and thankfully there’s enough here to recommend in this regard. During the first half of the film, I shamefully will say that I was nearly falling asleep because of how safe to the chest this film presented itself, but the best was yet to come. Once the third act kicks in, the film takes some unexpected steps in finality that I truly didn’t see coming, and offers an ending, which for me, was exceptionally more satisfying than that of its predecessor, all the while paying tribute of sorts to the deranged nature of the novel. Likewise, the film also rewards fans of the original movie with a couple psych-out scenes, that make you think you know where the action is headed, but in reality spins a different take with these deviating wink-and-nod’s to the faithful fan in all of us. My only problem with these is the terrible trailer reveals far too much with them, and anyone who sees it will already know what’s to come because of its burdening spoilers.

– Deeper meaning with the material. One thing that has always glued me to the Pet Sematary concept is this unshakeable feeling of mourning, and how difficult it can be, especially for a parent, in letting go, and that’s certainly the case once more, as Kolsch and Widmyer make the grief feel every bit as thick and suffocating of that of the fog that surrounds the Pet Sematary itself. It justifies the premise of such a preposterous idea by tapping into our psyche, and asking if we would risk it all to get one more chance with the person we love most, and it’s really in that question where so much of the material compartmentalizes itself with, minimalizing the line of rationality that we usually call a movie out for, in favor of understanding for someone going through something so tragic, so recent.

– Imaginative set designs. This is the aspect that makes me gleam with pride the most, as the cemetery and surrounding woods capture Stephen King’s descriptive vocabulary to a tee, with a combination of props and effects that sustain that aura of uncertainty all the way to the finish line. I mentioned earlier about the flow of never-ending fog, but it’s the way the fog interacts with the creativity associated with the grave structures that adds emphasis to such an ominous setting. There’s also great telegraphing of each layer of the woods itself, and I was never struggling to keep up or left subdued with the versatility of where the story took us and how deep we pursued.

– The kid steals the show. Jason Clarke continues to harvest the emotional registry of a celery stick, garnering a complete lack of emotions during a pivotal moment of loss that should cripple him. Lithgow is solid enough, but his performance is consistency on one level, that never elevates or adds to the pacing of the material. Seimetz contains both emotion and fragility, but a mother becomes a supporting character in a film that she co-leads. Where this statement turns into a positive is in the nearly flawless work of Jete Laurence, who has many leading roles ahead of her. Here, it’s her emotional as well as her physical performance that gives the film grit in circumstance, and allows the young phenom to have fun with the role that doesn’t require clever editing or manipulation like Gage in the original film. Laurence is a thrill to watch, and breathes life into the movie’s much better second half, giving us the single best child performance since Jacob Tremblay in 2016’s “Room”.

– Blood thirst satisfied. This is an unnerving film in regards to bone-crunching sound mixing and brutality accentuated by make-up detail, and both of those things go a long way in lasting impact for how they’re used sparingly. What I appreciate about the spread out nature of these is it not only makes you appreciate them more when you do see them, but their sudden inclusion forces its audience to wince in depiction because they pop-up out of nowhere in a scene that is otherwise tranquil. This also points to the gore making up a majority of jump scares for the movie, conjuring up a combination of consistency and impact that make them necessary for inclusion, and I don’t say that often. This is an R-rating that doesn’t go out of its way to remind you why it’s given the coveted honors, but the lasting permanence of some jaw-dropping blows sneak up on you in a way that occasionally earns it.

– Like Marvel after credit sequences, we’ve come to expect Easter eggs in a Stephen King movie that ties some of his properties together, and this film is no exception. Without spoiling anything, there’s a sign displaying a familiar town in King novels being close by, and adds only further speculation on a Stephen King shared universe that all of these stories are tied together by. As is the case especially by some recent King stories like “It”, “Gerald’s Game”, and “1922” getting the big screen treatment, it feels pretty cool to think that all of these crazy things are taking place within the same realm of this twilight zone that feels not too far from the familiarity of our own world.

NEGATIVES

– Clunky exposition. The film takes a bit too long to set up the Pet Sematary lore, as well as family back stories, that often make the progression of the current day narrative feel a bit stalled because of it. What’s even more revealing about the strain it causes is in Lithgow’s character knowing everything there is to know about the area, and yet still choosing to live there regardless, creating a hole in logic that we’re just forced to go along with. Finally, because this is a 96 minute movie, the detail discoveries feel far too quickly paced to race to where this story is inevitably headed, and not given the typical few days before weird things start going bump in the night for this family.

– Obvious green-screen effects. Two scenes in particular stand out like a sore thumb for me, and create the usual darkened background when compared to our character in focus that we’ve come to expect with cheap digital effects. This screams artificial during the scenes when supreme filmmaking is supposed to impress us, and it let me down for how little the directing influenced what is transpiring on film, leaving far too much to imagination during one of King’s most gruesome stories. If a scene looks fake, it takes my immersion completely out of it, and suddenly I’m only focusing on the strings and lack of fully rendered textures that especially stand out in a film this grounded in budget effects work, and it makes me wish that practicality was more of a distinguishing feature, even if it is at the expense of child actor risk. It’s so poorly directed that I felt nothing for arguably the film’s biggest emotional gut-punch.

– Limited directing capabilities. Lack of actor handling, ignorance in its lack of use with the set designs, poor character decisions for the sake of script progress, choppy narrative overall, and lines feeling completely out of place. On the latter, one such line involved a female medical student shrieking “I CAN SEE HIS BRAINS!!!” and we’re supposed to believe that a woman who trained her whole life for this career never thought that she would see gore in her life. These are all examples of these two guys feeling so inferior for the importance of the material, giving it in some aspects a made-for-TV remake feeling that I couldn’t escape because this film never reached the potential that it truly could’ve.

– Not enough deviation. Perhaps the biggest problem that plagues this film is it inevitably does nothing to free itself from the shadow of an only decent original movie. In my opinion, I could’ve used more dark humor, especially after the final shot of the movie confirms every feeling that I had in this respective direction. The tone, the story movements, and the pacing are all very similar to the 1989 original that was so conventionally made, it practically begged a remake to make everything right, and this just isn’t that film. It plays itself far too close to the belt to ever stand out in its own unique perspective, and just settles far too often for soulless horror tropes that make all of these movies interchangeable.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

The Best of Enemies

Directed By Robin Bissell

Starring – Taraji P. Henson, Sam Rockwell, Wes Bentley

The Plot – Based on a true story, the film centers on the unlikely relationship between Ann Atwater (Henson), an outspoken civil rights activist, and C.P. Ellis (Rockwell), a local Ku Klux Klan leader who reluctantly co-chaired a community summit, battling over the desegregation of schools in Durham, North Carolina during the racially-charged summer of 1971. The incredible events that unfolded would change Durham and the lives of Atwater and Ellis forever.

Rated PG-13 for thematic material, racial epithets, some violence and a suggestive reference

POSITIVES

– Eye for detail. With an on-going story that is based entirely during the early 70’s, Bissell’s finest quality as a director is the attention she channels in generating the proper aesthetics. Beyond articulating the heat of the sunbaked temperature, which vibrantly reflects that of the underbelly of tension by a group refusing to change with the times, the film also uses its budget for wardrobe and automobile choices that were literally ripped from 70’s pop culture. What’s important is that nothing feels out of place or remotely counterfeit to where it’s plucked and placed, and this makes the story setting transition feel that much more fruitfully realized, keeping with the consistency of recollection that is out of this world in terms of its depiction.

– Charismatic performances. While the casting of Henson and Rockwell is a bit too gracious in terms of visual likeness to their real life counterparts, the duo do a magnificent job in juggling the complexities that each battle in the face of change. For Rockwell, the transformation is obvious: we have the leader of a racist organization, whose ignorance is eventually silenced the more he learns that color is merely only that, and that these are real people who he’s hurting. Rockwell maintains the air of energy associated with his comedic roles, all the while combining it with the dramatic pulse for long-winded speech deliveries that have made him a sought-after commodity. Henson herself has a flare for the dramatic, instilling a personality in Ann that brings the elements of bravery and resiliency to the forefront. The film thrives the most when the duo are on-screen together, but the ever-changing complexion to the way they view each other is better documented during scenes of isolation, and it establishes a twinkle of magic between two Hollywood heavyweights that each bring the thunder for such an important story, especially to a world still dealing with racial inequalities.

– Simmering soundtrack. Music plays such a pivotal role to the very pulse of the events that transpire in the script, and each insertion of audible familiarity is deposited without so much as an ounce of topical or obvious nature, that often take away the message of its inclusion. Roy Orbison, Al Green, and my personal favorite: Bill Withers are just a few of the names that play against what feels like such a lawless and evocative setting, and it adds a layer of depth and nuanced intensity to the tonal inconsistencies, which can sometimes feel overwhelming in the heart of the material. Setting a film in the south during a 70’s can be daring in what it’s trying to depict, but if it gives us one more chance to soak of that Southern sizzle of collective song stimulation, then I will be in every single time.

– Surprises within the screenplay. Some things that I commend this film for is in the touches of originality that left me appreciating as so much more than a two person show. For one, the supporting cast themselves are anything but one-dimensional characters, and the over two hour runtime gives more than enough opportunity for each of them to breakout of the subdued shadow that supporting roles can sometimes force. Two such actors, Babou Ceesay and Gilbert Glenn Brown, stole the show for me, breathing these articulate, open-minded people, who provide a sense of social commentary for each respective side of the color spectrum. Also, the necessity to include Ann’s flawed moral compass is another aspect that I give the film great respect for. It would be easy to focus solely on C.P., and what needs to change from within him, but Ann is someone whose darkest adversity has also rubbed off on her, and it’s led to a female protagonist who battles just as many demons as her white male adversary. Race subgenre films are usually one note when it comes to who leads and who follows, but “The Best of Enemies” reminds us of the condemning similarities that bind them.

– Strength in adversity. After a movie like “Green Book” taking Best Picture honors last year for feeling a bit too shielded of its material, it’s nice to see a film like this come along and remind us that the sweetest rewards of unity are only fully realized from the deepest conflicts, and it gives the story that much more of an urgency from within, because this town could literally burn to the ground at any moment. For my money, films depicting racism should always offer a gut-punch to audiences that endure them, and while “The Best of Enemies” isn’t a knock-out blow in this regard, it leaves enough damage on the complexion of audience feelings to leave you feeling stimulated by it, long after you leave the theater. For a PG-13 movie, there are scenes of daring nature, and it doesn’t balk whenever it starts to feel the weight of its daring impact.

– Insightful post credit offerings. If you’re seeing this film, definitely stay in your seats for the film’s epilogue, which includes footage taken from real life interviews between C.P and Ann that better paint the vibes in friendship that the film otherwise stops too early to fully realize. What’s so effective about these vital inserts is that the air of rivalry from between them didn’t die, even all the way to both of their final days on Earth. In particular, there’s a scene of the two dancing that reaches back into the arms of time, and allows the two aging figures on-screen to emulate their youthful strides for even one more minute, and it’s proof that the memory of these two touched so many people, yet it was the work that they did on each other that carved out two monumental figures with racial integration in Southern schools.

NEGATIVES

– Dry spots. The first hour of this film was a bit of a challenge to get through for me, not because of the pacing of the film, mind you, but because outside of C.P’s introduction, we go so long without a flare for the dramatic in the pulse of this story. It almost gives a sense of what’s transpiring outside of this group is less important to the context of the story, only to be put on pause until the film absolutely requires it. Thankfully, the final forty minutes of the film is easily the highlight for me, but it’s such a task in getting there that some might turn back before making the upward climb through 128 minutes of dialogue driven material.

– Convenient and manipulative plot device. C.P Ellis did in fact have a mentally handicap son, who lived his life in a group home, but my problem is more with how this tier is included into the film, making it feel every bit as predictable as it is assisting. On that second adjective, I mean that the film only cuts to it when it needs reason to tie clunky storytelling together. Likewise, this subplot is the breath of air that the film gives us to never completely hate Rockwell’s character, allowing him enough wiggle room to get out of the ties that he binds himself in early during a disgusting scene that tests your first impression of him. What’s so obvious is that his son is brought into the fold in the immediately next scene after this introduction, making me roll my eyes because I knew that this kid was only going to be called upon for the meandering.

– Technical issues. While not the biggest of blunders here, the editing to me felt a bit too strained, as well as yearning for the two hour plus runtime that would otherwise be unnecessary. Anyone who knows me, knows I love long-take sequences in a film, but here their only intention is to halt the audience from looking away from a facial reaction (Particularly from Henson) after engaging in something humbling for her character. There are honorable intentions in this kind of visual creativity, but the reaching scenes never pull anything of depth for the performances themselves, and as a result, we’re left with with sequences that feel a bit delayed in their transition, instead of converging in one fluid movement that solidifies consistency.

– Tonal inconsistencies. I feel weird asking if a film about racism is a comedy, but the first half of this film plays its terrible events with a sense of ironic dark humor that is confirmed in the gleeful musical score and lively line delivery that could’ve definitely used another take. On a whole, the tone of the film never blends together as one cohesive unit, often feeling like a film of two halves, where each of them blend about as well as a train-wreck approaching each other at full force. In my opinion, the film should’ve remained faithful to being a drama. The humor itself never worked for me, and only adds confusion to scenes and sequences that are anything but humorous.

My Grade: 6/10 or C+

Mrs. Doubtfire

Directed By Chris Columbus

Starring – Robin Williams, Sally Field, Pierce Brosnan

The Plot – Eccentric actor Daniel Hillard (Williams) is an amusing and caring father. But after a disastrous birthday party for his son, Daniel’s wife Miranda (Field) draws the line and files a divorce. He can see his three children only once a week which doesn’t sit well with him. Daniel also holds a job at a TV studio as a shipping clerk under the recommendation of his liason. But when Miranda puts out an ad for a housekeeper, Daniel takes it upon himself to make a disguise as a Scottish lady named Mrs Doubtfire. And Daniel must also deal with Miranda’s new boyfriend Stu Dunemyer (Brosnan).

Rated PG-13 for some sexual references

POSITIVES

– Taboo subject matter. It’s refreshing, especially in the early 90’s, that a children’s movie takes the time to convey the complications and effects from a distanced marriage that has run its course over many years, and what “Mrs. Doubtfire” preserves in originality, it also brings with it an underlying tug at the heartstrings for compelling drama that every member of the family can enjoy. This is very much a story that is reflective of the kind of things that were going on in my household, and what’s even more commendable is that the film maintains its set of consequences all the way till the end, choosing never to relent on the real problems that originally existed within this marriage for the sake of a happy ending. What’s even more accredited is that my opinion of importance for the film has changed as I’ve gotten older. I used to think it was Williams alone that made the movie, but as I got older I realized it’s the believability of the relationship dynamics that preserve a level of heart rarely seen in a movie for all ages.

– Elevation in the material. The humor in the movie is alright, but made even better by Williams’ endless raw energy to the commitment of the role, that would otherwise stop these gags dead in their tracks. Daniel’s personality transcends that of the animated characters who he voices, juggling a double threat of sarcasm and quick wit that make it easy to depict the perfect father and testing husband in the same breath. For my money, it’s the times of vulnerability over the changing complexity of Daniel’s world, like the Children’s Services interviews, that left more of an impact over me than the physical humor ever could, bringing with it some unforgettable one-liners that couldn’t be quoted or remembered without Williams’ one-of-a-kind familiarity.

– Plenty of material to fill two hours. For a comedy in the 90’s, 120 minutes might be asking a lot, especially in the waning attention span of younger audiences, but “Mrs. Doubtfire” is all about dynamics that ultimately lead to Daniel becoming a better person for himself and his kids. So it’s in the time dedicated to these dynamics that better materialize this transformation, and help better establish the characters surrounding the film’s dual protagonist. My favorites are Doubtfire’s interaction with Stuart, depicting a virtual tug-of-war where only one man sees all of the cards laid out on the table, as well as Daniel’s personal time with his kids, in which each of them displays a different emotion towards their father. It proves that not only is Daniel fighting a physical battle within himself and the Doubtfire persona, but also in many battles surrounding him that demand him to try harder in ways he never could’ve imagined.

– An important lesson. Many people have a favorite line from this movie, but the one throwaway line that I’ve always taken with me in my critic career is the one at the dinner meeting, in which Daniel describes to Mr. Lundy (Played warmly by Robert Prosky) what it takes for kids shows to succeed. He says “Don’t patronize kids. They’re little people, you have to personalize. Make it fun and educational. If it’s something you’d enjoy, they’d enjoy”. What’s so important about this line is it establishes what so many kids movies (Especially in modern day) get wrong about the children’s genre of films. Boisterous explosions and fart noises are on display instead of heart, and this is something that I’ve always tried to communicate to my readers, who think that judging kids movies so personally is ridiculous.

– Firing on all cylinders. This is a very utilized cast on every end of the age spectrum, and far just beyond Williams’ dual threat dedication to the role, that sometimes required as many as twenty takes and multiple cameras per scenes, due to Williams’ constant improvisation, there is much depth as well in the supporting ensemble. Sally Field’s Miranda juggles a complexity of what’s right for her children versus what’s right for her heart, and even though she is the responsible one, we never take anger in the mature decisions that she is forced to make. Likewise, Pierce Brosnan is also an exceptional antagonist for Daniel without becoming a cartoonish version of a character. Brosnan’s charm and articulate demeanor is something that moves him miles in feeling like a perfect suitor for Miranda’s now empty nest, and Columbus masters him with being everything that Daniel is not. The kids are also surprisingly on-point, especially that of 8-year-old Mara Wilson, who was at the height of her career during this picture. Wilson gives some shall we say adult line reads, but is delivered in a way that doesn’t feel forced or manufactured like most kid actors do. Mara’s range is right at eye level with her respective age, and that helps these scenes of engagement feel all the more natural because of it.

– Academy award winning make-up. This is obviously the staple for the movie, as the whole plot is based on the transformation from Daniel to Mrs. Doubtfire. While there are some believability issues on the very size of Doubtfire’s physical profile, particularly in the immense shoulder structure, I can say that the prosthetics involved do a solid job of making Williams familiar face virtually disappear in the role. What’s even more credible is that the movie takes three minutes of a montage sequence to show you everything involved in the behind-the-scenes tweaking of the actor, an aspect on camera that you rarely get to see, if only during DVD additional extras that are never anything but tacking-on for special features. The facial wrinkling feels authentic of the natural aging pattern, and the wig and wardrobe combination are the perfect closing notes on bringing to life this complete elderly immersion. An interesting note is that Robin Williams own real life son didn’t recognize him in the costume until he began speaking, cementing that the work was years ahead of its time in terms of attention to detail.

– As an adaptation. Many people never knew that the movie is based off of a novel by Anne Fine in 1987, called Madame Doubtfire, and when comparing the two forms of media, the movie is around 90% faithful, all the while changing the things necessary to translate it smoothly to film. Of the major differences from the novel, Natalie (Mara Wilson) is the first child to find out it’s her father in costume, the children as a whole are more rebellious and almost always act out in self-interest, and Daniel is an actor, not a voice actor. On the latter, I think the change is necessary because it makes it easier to believe Daniel’s voice distortion as much more versatile when you consider he has been doing it his whole life. Likewise, we would never have such great scenes as the prank calling one to Miranda, in which he sports no fewer than seven different voices while calling.

NEGATIVES

– Third act problems. Aside from the fact that Daniel commits to two different people in the same place on the same night at the same time, the believability in changing four hour prosthetics with such ease in such a confined space is something that I have a great strain in coming to terms with. At the very least, this would take around ten minutes to completely strip off what he’s currently wearing, then another ten minutes to change in to the next costume, and that would seem a bit suspicious to two parties that are patiently awaiting his arrival. This set-up as a whole is a desperate attempt at bringing every on-going plot to a head, for the convenient third act wrap-up Not to mention how not one single person asks a single question as to why Doubtfire is carrying in a gigantic gym bag to an elegant restaurant in the first place.

– Conventional filmmaking constantly on display. Part of what has always bothered me about Columbus as a director is his complete inability to include any form of excitement or experimentation to his presentations, and “Mrs. Doubtfire” is surely no different. The camera work is mundane, operating at the usual character eye level frame that we’re used to, as well as nothing of tantalization with long takes or unorthodox editing style in pasting everything together. Likewise, the musical score from Howard Shore is about as uninspiring and par for the course as you can imagine, garnering a balance between flute and piano music that is sure to be playing the next time you are fortunate enough to spend more than ten seconds in an elevator or dental office. For me, lack of style is the one glaring negative that the movie features, and if it managed to even attempt to carve out a 90’s niche in cinematography personality, then I think it would better prove that not just anyone could’ve helmed Robin Williams in drag.

– Too many liberties with the final cut. I watched the DVD special edition of this film, and was shocked and dismayed to see that some of the most important and character-driven scenes were left on the cutting room floor, leaving some obvious holes in development once you’ve seen them. For one, there isn’t a scene in the movie where we truly witness Daniel’s misery without being around his kids, but the deleted scenes features such a scene, and on top of it does a strong job in displaying the case for Williams as a serious actor, a fact that was unknown in 1993. We also rarely get enough opportunities at seeing the negatives of divorce from a child perspective, and that too is included in a scene that primarily focuses on the effect of the kids hearing the cause of parental squabbles. Scenes like these could’ve better supplanted “Mrs. Doubtfire” with more of a much-needed dramatic pulse to better illustrate that real lives were hanging in the balance here. Without them, there’s the unshakeable conclusion that no matter what, everything will be alright, and I think it’s a huge disservice to the paralyzing nature of a child’s world crumbling down.

EXTRA

– Robin Williams in real life divorced his wife to marry his nanny. In the film, his wife divorces him, and he becomes her nanny. Strange.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

The Beach Bum

Directed By Harmony Korine

Starring – Matthew McConaughey, Snoop Dogg, Isla Fischer

The Plot – Moondog (McConaughey) is a fun-loving, pot-smoking, beer-drinking writer who lives life on his own terms in Florida. If he can put down the drugs for just one minute, he may finally be able to put his talent to good use and finish the next great American novel.

Rated R for pervasive drug and alcohol use, adult language throughout, nudity and some strong sexual content

POSITIVES

– Stylish cinematography. Korine as a filmmaker has always had his own brand of visual flare that cements the idea that this is indeed one of his films, even if you’re walking into it late, and “The Beach Bum” continues this trend, tasting the Florida essence with screen-reflective visual trances to lock you in. The sunbaked daytime scenes offer plenty of reflective light and glow reflecting off of the screen without ever compromising the integrity of the shot, and the nighttime scenes radiate with a combination of gorgeous sunsets in the backgrounds and neon ambiance in the foreground. If nothing else strikes you about this movie, the lavish visual presence of an experienced director most certainly will, and it allowed me to get lost in aspects of the film where others simply didn’t add up.

– Symbolism in editing. When you first begin the movie, the jumps forward and back might alienate you into fully investing into the unfurling of this screenplay, but I quickly saw an uncanny intention with it that brought everything together psychologically. Korine is showing us things from the mind of his cloudy protagonist, full of choppy, non-linear memories, that often feel like a bad drug trip from the man trying to recall a lifetime of memories. Too many cuts in films often instills a sense of distraction for me personally, but it’s certainly easy to understand here why so many scenes overlap and even intrude upon the current day narrative that we’re experiencing, making everything feel like a vivid fantasy instead of reality, which feels so very far away.

– Korine loves his music. Another continuing trend from Harmony in this film, is his collection of genre-vapid favorites that make up arguably my single favorite soundtrack in 2019 to date. Besides obvious artists like Jimmy Buffet or Snoop Dogg (Both are in the film), the inclusion of Waylon Jennings, Eddie Money, and even my second favorite song from The Cure (Just Like Heaven) all pop up, and help establish a line of audible clarity for understanding Moondog’s often foggy demeanor with experiencing certain events. In that regard, the soundtrack serves a far greater purpose than musical incorporation for this film, it basically feels like the non-stop narration that is constantly on repeat in our protagonist’s cerebrum, meant to enhance our connection to someone who feels planets away from what we’re used to.

– Positive deep-seeded message. Because this feels like a sequel to McConaughey’s character in “Dazed and Confused”, you can easily comprehend what will come with all of this madness and debauchery. Late in the movie, Moondog explains that “Life is too short, and I’m going to ride this motherfucker all the way to the finish line”. A little expletive in explanation, but honorable when you consider how much those of us take life too seriously. In that regard, it’s easy to compliment a filmmaker like Korine for making (Above everything else) fun films first. and leaving everything else to award-hungry filmmakers, whose only purpose is to pad their reputations. More than any film he’s done before, this feels like the most responsive from Korine, if only to instill his life’s purpose into a character who sports go-go boots and women’s dresses.

NEGATIVES

– Incoherent mess of a screenplay. For 90 jumbled minutes, this is really just a collection of scene instances where Moondog experiences certain things. They rarely add up to anything bigger than just that, and manage to carve out a film plot that makes the television show “Seinfeld” feel like it’s full of depth. It feels like Korine had an idea for a movie, abandoned it, instead filmed celebrity interactions in the Florida Keys, and then remembered he was there for a reason once it was all too late. There’s evidence in this with how the story weaves its way in and out of Moondog’s conflict, which receives a resolution that is every bit unbelievable as it is unsatisfying for anyone seeking a character transformation or redemption of any sort.

– Speaking of unbelievable, the people and world that surround Moondog nearly eclipse him in terms of how they treat him. If you want me to believe for even five seconds that this guy is a critically acclaimed poet based on some of the most crude vocabulary ever put to pen and paper, fine, but I can’t in good conscience believe that this man lives in a near lawless society, full of strangers who view him as a god. There’s a scene during the film where Moondog kisses another man’s wife, and the man basically shrugs it off as a lightning bug that landed on his shoulder. I guess I wish that there was a secondary reality that eventually eclipses Moondog’s as the film progressed, leading him to see things in ways he wouldn’t otherwise, but it never comes. I might not do drugs, but I would enjoy living in a place where there are essentially zero consequences to your irresponsible actions.

– The lack of performances. There’s nothing of acting merit from this exceptionally collective ensemble of actors, minus perhaps Jonah Hill as Moondog’s southern accent pervert agent, and instead only preserves the familiar personalities from these people that we’ve come to expect. These are amplified versions of McConaughey, Snoop Dogg, Fisher, Zac Efron, and Martin Lawrence in particular, without any kind of chance or experimentation to recommend to curious moviegoers. I can at least say that these actors are having fun with the material, but the lack of actual acting going on with the transformations of their roles is something that gives this film an unmistakable feeling of a vacation-first film that we’ve come to expect from Adam Sandler films.

– Floundering comedy. It’s tough enough dealing with a film with almost zero comic effect, but when a movie makes you feel like a grumpy old man in response to it, I hate it that much more. With the exception of a Martin Lawrence shark attack scene (You read that right) that completely made me lose my mind in laughter, the rest of the film feels like one big weed smoke-out that I couldn’t possibly understand because I didn’t partake in it. Credit for it being able to let the bad jokes go, but the material as a whole is so consistently underwhelming that it comes off more as tragic for Moondog than it does as something that enhances his personality. If you’re expecting laughs from a trailer that edits together the best moments in the movie, DON’T.

– Bad social message. This might be perhaps in contradiction to the positive ideological message that I mentioned earlier, but the pretentiousness associated with rich middle-aged cheating white men being praised for doing absolutely nothing might not blend well with the current progressive era of filmmaking with a social backbone of its own. Hell, one of the things that made me curious after the trailer was how this awful poet became rich in the first place, but it was quickly revealed in the film that it comes from his wife’s family fortune. So now we have all of those things on top of being a provider who essentially doesn’t provide. This aspect alone makes the movie feel two decades outdated, with no presence in the current day landscape of films that demand more for change.

– Twists that amount to nothing. There’s no real weight brought into the fold by some pretty shocking revelations during the film. Essentially, it feels like these drops of awareness to make sure the audience hasn’t fallen asleep, before the thin narrative continues to overstretch its boundaries. This also feeds into the hope I had that the film would go somewhere dark and ominous in the same way “Spring Breakers” eventually did, but they are these throwaway moments of pointless exposition that have no redeeming value to the progression of the hazy narrative. If you don’t believe me, consider taking them all out of the film all together, and see how different it makes the film.

My Grade: 4/10 or D

Hotel Mumbai

Directed By Anthony Maras

Starring – Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi

The Plot – A gripping true story of humanity and heroism, the film vividly recounts the 2008 siege of the famed Taj Hotel by a group of terrorists in Mumbai, India. Among the dedicated hotel staff is the renowned chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher) and a waiter (Patel) who choose to risk their lives to protect their guests. As the world watches on, a desperate couple (Hammer, Boniadi) are forced to make unthinkable sacrifices to protect their newborn child.

Rated R for disturbing violence throughout, bloody images, and adult language

POSITIVES

– Picture perfect documentation of the real life events. There are many different variations of heroes in this story, and the movie’s dedication in taking time to cover every end of the respective spectrum from this hellish nightmare is something that I commend Maras’ style of filmmaking greatly for. In addition to following our big name actors throughout this hotel, the film brings along no fewer than ten other pivotal characters, each with their own obstacle to face as a result of this terrorist group, and all of which inbedded with extreme engaging qualities from personality to heart that makes each of their tiers to this story feel vitally important. Most movies can’t carve out two interesting characters, but “Hotel Mumbai” brings for the single best ensemble that I’ve experienced so far this year. In addition to this, the film is obviously based on real life, so the predictable factor and endless cliches are thrown out the window in favor of finely tuned vulnerability all around, and it further elaborates that the less you know about this story, the better it will be for your indulgence in its unraveling.

– Versatile shot composition. The deviation from handheld to still frame is something that normally feels uncanny to me in the worst kind of way, but here it utilizes and stitches together both aspects fruitfully, thanks to pacing in photography that never overstays the benefits of either. The unnerving angles and sequencing add strong anxiety to the movie’s developments, crafting a sort of mouse maze within this hotel, in which two sides of the moral compass are heading down two different hallways that will eventually meet up, and only us the audience see the future on this inevitable confrontation. It tiptoes on this trepidation repeatedly throughout, and never grows stale or repetitive because the heartbeat of the action remains firmly gripped with what’s transpiring.

– Sizzling social commentary. Beyond the night’s mental tug-of-war that keeps each guest and employee on their toes, the inclusion of racism in the form of spiritual symbolism in clothing is something that I appreciated the screenplay greatly for, in its ability to turn the mirror of reflection against us, the very same people who displayed it towards the innocent after 9/11. This side thread is really just that: A momentary hiccup in the film’s much bigger picture, but its mere mention offers a poignant open door that helps us further realize what the victims deal with on a daily basis, which only provides yet another obstacle for them to contend with in their lives. I commend any film that takes valued minutes to try to carve out a better and more conjoined world, and it reminds us of the valued connection that movies can serve if we only stop to listen at what’s being said.

– A unique approach. I’ve always said that the best kind of antagonist is one whose intentions are clearly defined and given ample time to comprehend for us the audience. That couldn’t be more true here, as the film’s opening five minutes begin by following this terrorist group to India, as they prepare for the dangerous mission that awaits them. They all know that death is inevitable, yet because of everything they feel they’ve had robbed from them by supposed money hungry corporations and business time greed, we see the line of visibility in understanding. We are put in their shoes: hearing the message of hate from an unforeseen leader, and seeing what clues only further allude to such preaching by him. In a strange sense, the group themselves are the main character’s of the movie, and this mindset goes a long way in understanding the who as well as the why in a way that other films aren’t brave enough to capitalize on.

– Transcendence of film. A special touch that blends the worlds of real life and film seamlessly is the use of real life footage taken from the unfolding scene itself, which constantly reminds us that there’s a world much darker than the one that takes place in that magical realm of fantasy. The combination of news broadcasts and cell phone footage helps rivet these impactful scenes exceptionally so much more than actors and convenient editing ever could, and the choice to include chronologically with the transpiring film speaks volumes to such a tragic event holding such a place with the world that even 11 years later hasn’t been forgotten.

– Hard-R material. The violence is certainly there, even with the gunshots taking place with a wide angle lens, but the coveted rating does more for the dialogue and enhancement of the personalities in terms of distinguishing each character’s respective demeanor with the crippling drama that surrounds them. Jason Isaacs character is probably my personal favorite because of it. Here’s a guy who coerces prostitutes in the most charmless of methods, as well as insults hotel patrons unapologetically, and it humanizes the interaction aspect between these people much clearer and synthetically than a lesser rating more than likely would allow. Likewise, the make-up work gets a lot of time to shine, garnering enough wounds and dislocations to document the effect after the cause. This is the best kind of way to harbor an R-rating, and it cements the thought of how much weaker its devastating punch would be if it were taken down a letter or two.

– Technical achievements. The cinematography by Nick Remy Matthews is every bit as gritty as it is suffocating, emitting that overall dirty feeling of needing to take a shower after seeing it. Likewise, the tight angles and claustrophobic compositions speak volumes to the confines of the hotel patrons limited spots of relief from their pursuers. Finally, the editing is precise, keeping the consistency in entertaining pacing of each scene firmly gripped through two hours of pulse-setting action and conflict that constantly helps elevate the redundancy in material. I went into this film dreading it because of the questionable run time that I didn’t think possibly matched what transpired at the scene, but each scene included holds valued significance to the integrity of the victims, and brings forth the single easiest two hour sit that I’ve had in years.

– Featured players. It’s great to see Hammer and Patel again, as they’ve become two of my more sought after actors for the variety in projects they attack with two prestigious careers. Hammer is once again given a chance to play an action role, but this one really sees him commanding more of the Bruce Willis vibes involved with rescuing family and outsmarting terrorists that the story treats him to, while Patel juggles enough heart and nuance to establish himself as the glue that holds the story and group together. Without question though, the breakout is Tilda Cobham-Hervey as the babysitter of sorts for Hammer and Boniadi’s child. She doesn’t have a major role in the script, but the emotional stratosphere of this woman is something that simply cannot be ignored, displaying a command of endless tears and shook demeanor that truly echoes the effects of this invasion. Her more than anyone articulately taps in to the victim mentality, and it’s something that provided a roller-coaster of range that frequently covered my arms in goosebumps.

NEGATIVES

– Contrast to originality. I mentioned earlier that the film focuses primarily on that of the antagonists, and one backlash from this different style of following comes from the protagonists feeling so brutally underwritten that other than the tragedy itself, you find it difficult to indulge in any of their characters. When you really think about what you’ve learned from each of them, you come to understand that exposition in each of them before they ran into the hotel is deemed unimportant, and it’s a big mistake, as I feel that focus is needed to better draw out the drama in some of their untimely passing. Without it, the ambiguous victims in the film don’t fully realize the intended reaction required to sell the weight in consequences, unfortunately leaving over one hundred victims left without a character outline.

– Of the three films covering this touchy subject matter, “Hotel Mumbai” is the one that covers the most ground, yet ironically is the most assuming of the trio. What’s dangerous about this is it blurs the line creatively as to what’s legitimate and what’s speculation, forcing me to dig a little deeper if I want to disprove what is created just for the sake of the screen. I understand that there’s really no way to solidify the complete spectrum of events that took place with something behind closed doors, but I wish a film wouldn’t try as forcefully to force what doesn’t fit. In this exception, plot holes are appropriate, because I’d rather not tread where eyes and ears haven’t, if it means respect to those unable to speak.

My Grade: 8/10 or B+