Mile 22

Directed by Peter Berg

Starring – Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, John Malkovich

The Plot – In a visceral modern thriller from the director of Lone Survivor, Wahlberg stars as James Silva, an operative of the CIA’s most highly-prized and least-understood unit. Aided by a top-secret tactical command team, Silva must retrieve and transport an asset who holds life-threatening information to Mile 22 for extraction before the enemy closes in.

Rated R for strong violence and adult language throughout

POSITIVES

– Crisp, pulse-setting sound mixing. While I’ve never been a fan of being put into an action sequence visually, I more than appreciate the decision in popping up these stunning shots of ammunition and explosions that feel like they’re happening all around us. If there’s any reason to spend a little extra and see this in X-D or IMAX, do it because of the full throttling of sound that never relents.

– Brutally violent fight choreography. I definitely have my problems with the documentation of this, which I will get to later, but the fight work from star and choreographer Iko Uwais. Fresh off of his success in ‘The Raid’ series of films, Uwais continues to captivate American audiences with his fast-paced, innovative measures of violence that place him second to none in modern day stunt work. While it is slightly silly that this group is protecting the most dangerous guy in the van, I can never get enough of Iko doing what he was born to do; take names and kick ass.

– At least from a psychological toll level, this feels like the first special forces film that articulately depicts the mentality of an employee who’s been in the business for too long. Wahlberg and Cohan’s character’s in particular are loose cannons, exploding on even the smallest instance of grief that comes their way. There’s plenty of problems in the performance department here, but the portrayal of this career feels like the most honest telling of anything that takes place during the film, and I greatly commend Berg for instilling this heroes job is anything but rewarding.

NEGATIVES

– Peter, what happened? It’s hard to believe that this is the same guy that directed ‘Deepwater Horizon’, ‘Patriots Day’, and ‘Lone Survivor’, because ‘Mile 22’ is a convoluted mess of storytelling. The movie constantly feels like it is telling three different stories at the exact same time, inter-cutting back and forth between different time periods and characters without any kind of indication we’re headed that way. In addition to this, it feels like the dialogue never takes a single second of breather, blowing through valuable lines of exposition that will leave you stranded if you’re not fully committed to paying attention 100%.

– Hyperactive editing. The fight sequences in this film could be incredible if they were given the chance to grow, and not be chopped down each time this violent cut kicks in. This gives the film an overwhelming feeling of attention deficit disorder that will put your eyes through the gauntlet of physical torture, every couple seconds. Most of the fight detection in non-existent because of the angles being so tight in their capture, but the bigger toll comes in the form of these violent cuts that add nothing of versatility to the creativity behind documenting an intense sequence.

– Detestable characters. When I say that I didn’t like a single character from this movie, I’m not embellishing in the slightest. Wahlberg’s character might be my least favorite of 2018, for annoying tone of voice and motor-mouth dialogue delivery that he constantly puts us through. This is his impression of a guy with mental instability, but I call it Wahlberg turned up to eleven. In addition to him, Ronda Rousey plays a bully (Original, I know), and Cohan is doing her best to one-up the guys in her unique methods of using the F-bomb. With protagonists like these, who needs enema’s?

– Minimal character development. The only kind of character exposition throughout this whole 90 minute film is for Wahlberg’s character, and it’s during the opening credits. This is every bit as lazy as it is ineffective at intriguing audiences into his rare condition. Beyond this, you’re out of luck if you seek any kind of depth to these people without personalities. The film outlines them as unimportant, thus so should we, and that lack of care spoke volumes in my lack of concern, once the bodies started dropping.

– This film takes something as harmless as rubber bands, and makes them offensive by depiction. Wahlberg’s character has autism, so to keep him focused he keeps a yellow rubber band on his wrist that he snaps each time he feels stressed or overcome with anger. This is very much a real life technique with autism patients, but I don’t need to be reminded of it each and every single scene. Because they couldn’t just have him snap it in frame, his wrist gets its own frame of film each time he goes to reach for this relief, cutting in between important scenes that test our attention and patience at even the ten minute mark of the movie.

– Erratic without those moments of downtime to pace it all out. There is a three act structure within this mess of a screenplay, as small and ineffective as the second act is, but this presentation of disjointed scenes and derivative male pissing contests, makes it all run together as one continuous act that is in a race to reach the finish line. Bored isn’t the proper word, but rather dejected for how this film takes what feels like 22 miles of ideas and fleshes them out into a film that barely hits the hour-and-a-half mark.

– The only scene of value for me happened at the very end of the movie, when a twist is thrown in too late to even matter. This does set-up what Berg and Wahlberg are hoping will be a trilogy of films for this franchise, but will inevitably fade away because in their building of another film they forget to properly end this one. Character outcomes are left to speculation, and this inescapable feeling of regret from a bombshell that could’ve saved the movie, happens far too late to be anything but forgettable.

3/10

Alpha

Directed by Albert Hughes

Starring – Kodi Smit-McPhee, Natassia Malthe, Leonor, Varela

The Plot – An epic adventure set in the last Ice Age, the film tells a fascinating, visually stunning story that shines a light on the origins of man’s best friend. While on his first hunt with his tribe’s most elite group, a young man is injured and must learn to survive alone in the wilderness. Reluctantly taming a lone wolf abandoned by its pack, the pair learn to rely on each other and become unlikely allies, enduring countless dangers and overwhelming odds in order to find their way home before winter arrives.

Rated PG-13 for some intense peril

POSITIVES

– Exceptional cinematography continuously on display by Martin Gschlacht. While known mostly to foreign audiences, Martin’s paintbrush-like canvas here is gorgeous in immensity, and beautiful in his rubbing of colors in the sky that illuminate around the colorless drab of character wardrobes. This is a film that was made for the big screen, as much of the framing work takes advantage of the wide angle lens that articulately illustrates the immensity of a land to be alone in.

– Much of the material focuses on the comparison between man and animal, and does so without ever feeling corny or forceful. Instead, Hughes allows the audience to pick up on matters of family, growth, and survival that highlight the similarities in the next evolutional shift. These two grow together because they embrace the same challenges in their respective journey’s, and that chemistry and bond between them grows into an almost telepathic link that unites them.

– Considering he is front-and-center for 90% of this movie, Smit-Mcphee transformation is well balanced and patient with the many adversities that he faces along the way. In the beginning, his movements are very timid, causing great difficulty in his tactics to survive, but as the film goes on, you start to see his character’s intestinal hunger to survive reach limits that can only be tested under the guidance of isolation. This etches out a coming-of-age story unlike those that we’re used to, in that Keda only has his own instinct to survive.

– Hughes greatest measure as a director here is definitely the established environments that constantly shift with the seasons, while filming on location in East Coulee, Alberta. The animals, while plenty in numbers, feel very scattered out and meticulous, making the hunt for food feel very urgent. Without question though, it’s the winter scenes that really stuck out to me, channeling the worst in cold and snow that one can imagine, and immersing us with snow-cluttered camera angles that feel like we can almost reach out and touch it.

– Educational AND entertaining. This definitely felt like a throwback to the days of being in school and watching a history film about tribes and their strategy for survival, but what’s more accredited is that despite its knowledgeable depictions, it never loses focus in its appeal to capture the intrigue of the audience. The film juggles a balance of intensity and tension during scenes of peril that make for some serious moments of uncertainty for the well-being of our protagonist, testing him in ways that break everything except the human spirit.

– Thunderous musical score. What composers Joseph DeBeasi and Michael Stearns do for this film shouldn’t be understated. Through a use of 808 drums that repeat with increasing intensity, the musical score is anything but the Imagine Dragons putrid that we were promised in one of the most eye-rolling trailers of the season, giving us echoing vibes of isolation that haunt Keda throughout, and add life to scenes that would otherwise depreciate without energetic emphasis of the danger that is impending.

– Stays committed to its gimmick. A lesser production would have these human characters speaking in perfect English, but thankfully ‘Alpha’ keeps its characters mostly muted, occasionally reaching for the tribal language that we read in translation for one hundred percent of the movie. This element kept me firmly in the grasp of this A.D setting, and instead relied on body language to progress the relationship between human and dog. Beyond this, four bison were slaughtered for use on a skinning/hide-removal scene, and while I don’t overly support the slaughter of animals, bison are in fact overpopulated in the Alberta territory.

NEGATIVES

– Redundant to a fault. The hardest sell to audiences will definitely be the element of one man and his dog for most of 93 minutes, mainly because there’s only so much variety you can instill on routines that feel this repetitive. In my opinion, the biggest mistake is to get rid of Keda’s father and tribe subplot for easily an hour during the film, relying too much on Keda’s journey without capturing the vulnerability for the tribal leader and the kind of impact this has on his now decaying life. If you include the other side of the story, the former won’t feel as repetitive as it inevitably does.

– Again, we have another movie that doesn’t know when to end on its most impactful visual. This film has three different ending scenes when it fades to black, and each time chooses to prolong the lasting impression, which ultimately forces it to lose a noticeable amount of steam before the credits finally hit. This is becoming a growing trend in Hollywood, and makes me wish they would combine everything they want out of three scenes into one, so as to not feel as tacked-on as this cliche makes good movies feel.

– Teeth for show? The film fails to capture the sheer difficulties and spontaneity of dangerous wild animals thanks to its domestication of wolves that feels slightly laughable even by movie standards. I get that this is the first story of ‘Man’s best friend’, but there is such little struggle in the film with earning the trust of the wolf, that it might as well be a snorting pug with their lovable cross-eyes.

Bonus Points

Props to Sony for not figuring out a way to market their products in a movie that takes place in the Ice Age. I half expected a big SONY to be carved out in the ice, but I commend them for showing great restraint. We might be able to take you seriously sure enough, Sony.

7/10

Billionaire Boys Club

Directed by James Cox

Starring – Ansel Elgort, Taron Egerton, Kevin Spacey

The Plot – A modern day remake of the 1987 film by the same name, the film is about A group of wealthy boys in Los Angeles during the early 1980s, who establish a ‘get-rich-quick’ scam that turns deadly.

Rated R for adult language throughout, drug use, some violence and sexual content

POSITIVES

– If there’s any reason to see this film, it’s for Spacey’s energetic delivery as the film’s most experienced con-man. While it definitely makes me shudder to say anything complimentary of Kevin, it goes without saying that this film is enhanced whenever he enters the room, and flounders whenever he disappears. As for the rest, Elgort is terribly miscast, Egerton is failing at his best Leonardo Dicaprio impression, and Emma Roberts is completely phoning in what little material the script has for her.

– Hip 80’s soundtrack. ‘Only You’ by Yazoo is one of my personal favorite new wave favorites, but when it is presented on the same collection with Talking Heads ‘This Must Be the Place’, as well as ‘Let’s Dance’ by David Bowie, you have one of the very best assorted soundtracks in 2018. I couldn’t wait to hear what popped up next, and it’s clear that music has a very pivotal place in Cox re-imagining of this world.

– No expense spared on production aspects. The fashion trends, cars, and neon landscapes do an excellent job of elevating the important details, both big and small, giving life to the pulse of Los Angeles terrifically. This at least allowed the time period of the story to thrive visually, while almost every other aspect of the movie never lived up.

– Informative, tightly-edited 80’s montage sequences that translate the very vibe of the times. If the feature film world falters for Cox eventually, he has a place in visual storytelling in the eye of documentaries, because these instances are magnetic.

NEGATIVES

– As an adaptation of the real life events, this barely scratches the surface. The film greatly lacks the attention that is needed in depicting the transformation of Joe’s character over time with the influence of corporate greed, and truly makes him a roarschach test when it comes to gauging his reactions to the inevitable downturn that his company takes. Beyond this, subplots and character habits feel like they come out of nowhere, making this feel like a film that is cut in half, with the deleted half catering to those important bits of information.

– Doesn’t bother with backstory or character development, breezing through the first act like an afterthought. Most importantly, the friendship between Joe and Dean never feels fleshed out enough, leaving a vital bond to the story on the cutting room floor. Because of such, the third act greatly lacks the kind of impact that it so desperately yearned for.

– Tries to capitalize on the exuberance and seediness with greed that a film like ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ tapped into effortlessly. There are plenty of instances when this feels like the Redbox version of such mentioned feats, even so much as mirroring much of Wolf’s first act scenes and situations beat-for-beat, but continuously lacking the appeal in intimate details necessary to engage the audience in its schemes. Because of this, nothing in the film ever felt believable or gripping to me, and constantly gave me the overwhelming feeling that I was one-up on the intelligence factor over investors of the 80’s.

– Undercooked love interest in the film. Because every film in 2018 requires a love story, we get one here as well, and it lacks the chemistry and conviction between Elgort and Roberts for audiences to believe it. As opposed to the lack of time devoted to the friendship of Elgort and Egerton, the love subplot is given plenty of time to prosper, but simmers because of the lack of bond that never develops with time.

– Pointless voice-over narration. It is (Once again) pointless in its usage, and more importantly adds nothing to the storytelling that we as an audience can’t already interpret. You could literally close your eyes and just listen to the obvious narration, and you will have a clear vision for what is transpiring on-screen. As if you needed another reason to not watch this film.

– Abrupt, un-satisfying ending. It feels like the film is just getting going when it’s ready to say goodbye, and it makes the mistake where it tells but doesn’t show what happens to those guilty of everything that takes place in the film. The most fascinating angles of this story are those that take place off-screen, and it’s the final nail in the coffin for a story that was told so much better on a 45 minute Youtube documentary that I watched before it.

4/10

The Meg

Directed by Jon Turteltaub

Starring – Jason Statham, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose

The Plot – Five years ago, expert sea diver and Naval Captain Jonas Taylor (Statham) encountered an unknown danger in the unexplored recesses of the Mariana Trench that forced him to abort his mission and abandon half his crew. Though the tragic incident earned him a dishonorable discharge, what ultimately cost him his career, his marriage and any semblance of honor was his unsupported and incredulous claims of what caused it; an attack on his vessel by a mammoth, 70-foot sea creature, believed to be extinct for more than a million years. But when a submersible lies sunk and disabled at the bottom of the ocean; carrying his ex-wife among the team onboard, he is the one who gets the call. Whether a shot at redemption or a suicide mission, Jonas must confront his fears and risk his own life and the lives of everyone trapped below on a single question: Could the Carcharodon Megalodon; the largest marine predator that ever existed still be alive … and on the hunt?

Rated PG-13 for action/peril, bloody images and some adult language

POSITIVES

– I’ve heard plenty of complaints about the 150 million that was spent on this film, and how it makes little effect on the grand scheme, and that couldn’t be more wrong. Aside from the shading and graphing C.G work of the shark feeling more authentic in design, the set pieces breathe an air of futuristic style and technology that makes the most bang for its buck. This makes the very career paths of these brave souls that much more believable, and with the dependency on innovation comes the heated nature versus technology confrontation that we are treated to throughout.

– While much of the cast is easily forgettable to me because of their lack of personality and depth, Statham skates by as the hero of the day. Besides an overabundance of charming bravado, Statham knows how to deliver the most in each line of dialogue, carving out a shape of the blue collar heroes we all grew up on. My favorite parts of the film were Statham’s interaction with a little girl (Played by Shuya Sophia Cai) that channel his inner sensitivity, a rare occurrence for the roles he’s become saddled with.

– Much of the first act felt slow to me, but it quickly picked up once the human characters took a backseat to their rival mammal. Once The Meg comes into focus, the film’s pacing glides by, and the run time of 100 minutes feels just right in this tug-of-war for power that barely ever relents in cooling down periods. Bottom line, if you want you want two hours of pure escapism, ‘The Meg’ is your catch of the day.

– Even though this is a movie about a gargantuan shark, much of the decisions in tow by the characters feel grounded in intelligence. If you can factor in that these characters are constantly on edge while being chased by this deadly creature, then you can take mercy that sometimes they are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. What is commendable here, is that they know what they are dealing with, and rarely ever seem to underestimate their gigantic opponent, despite one selfie scene that qualifies for dumbest decision of the movie-going year.

– I do have problems with some of the camera angles, particularly underwater, that I will get to later, but the capture of the imagery above water sparkled an air of artistic violence that occasionally made me want to pause the movie to adore closer. My favorite single frame of the movie involves a big swallow by Meggie, and it’s in that particular frame when the audience truly understands how subtly off-the-wall this one-of-a-kind creature truly is, and how vulnerable the crew is, whether in the water or on a boat.

– Turtletaub’s directing breathes life into the very concept of Summer Blockbuster’s that have sadly faded away in recent years. Everything from the jaunty dialogue, to the paperweight characters, screams big budget cheese in the most delicious form, and what Jon does to push it one step further is develop a movie that doesn’t necessarily have to be constantly ridiculous to please his audience.

NEGATIVES

– Ultimately, the biggest stab against this film will be how forgettable it is because it chose to take itself too seriously. For shark movies, there’s a healthy blend somewhere in the middle, that allows you to indulge in enough menace with violence, as well as silliness in its title character’s movements, to create something for everyone. Sadly, if you’re watching ‘The Meg’ to laugh, you will be bored out of the theater, as it is far too mature to sizzle the cheese of its story. This one has a serious case of identity crisis.

– Rating captivity. Once again we have a film’s potential limited by a ratings classification that renders the gore and violence virtually non-existent. When you make a movie about something as dangerous as this huge shark, you have to shake our seats and rattle us hysterically by throwing enough limbs and blood at the screen for us to soak up. On the whole, this is a relatively dry film in that perspective, and it’s in that obvious element that will serve as the first noticeable disappointment for a movie like this.

– I mentioned earlier of my disdain for some of the camera work underwater, and I blame this on two things. The first is the angles of the shark being far too close to ever properly digest just what we’re seeing on-screen. I found great difficulty making out the fates of a couple of characters, because the zoom lens is taken advantage of far too often. My second problem is in the lack of depictional scale for this mammoth creature that the film rarely capitalizes on. This is where a wide-angle shot can allow us the audience to perfectly compare and contrast the immense size difference between predator and prey, also allowing us the psychological tease of what lies in the shadows of the deep blue sea.

– Who is the protagonist? One of the reasons why audiences take pleasure in watching Jaws get defeated in those series of films, is because Jaws invades human land to start the conflict. This is also the case in a majority of shark related movies, but in ‘The Meg’, it’s the human characters who invade the underbelly of the ocean, provoking the giant creature to take the fight to them when they press their luck a time too many. Why I think this is a problem is because I never felt that air of triumph each time the humans tortured this shark, and without that intrigue that comes from seeing a bully defeated, ‘The Meg’ just kind of comes and goes without much emotional investment, throughout the film.

6/10

Slender Man

Directed by Sylvian White

Starring – Joey King, Javier Botet, Julia Goldani Telles

The Plot – In a small town in Massachusetts, four high school girls perform a ritual in an attempt to debunk the lore of SLENDER MAN. When one of the girls goes mysteriously missing, they begin to suspect that she is, in fact, His latest victim.

Rated PG-13 for disturbing images, sequences of terror, thematic elements and adult language including some crude sexual references

POSITIVES

– Creepy visuals that are very well edited and pasted together. For this reason alone, I wish this film was a 30 minute short to capitalize more on the lore aspect of Slender Man, instead of being a jump scare fest that feels drawn out even twenty minutes into the movie. When the focus is on this viral video to capture the essence of the character, it’s so much more unnerving than something we can predict the formula to.

– If one thing stands out above the rest in this film, it’s definitely the atmosphere of Slender Man’s woods and surrounding landscapes, that properly set the mood. Almost immediately, we’re treated to cheap production qualities that include blurry out-of-focus lenses, and dimmed lighting to properly set the mood, and it’s something that I would normally call out for a negative, but in films like this you need the presentation to look so far from anything else in its respective genre. This measure is valuable in a visual metaphorical sense as well, because it constantly feels like this virus or plague continuously follows around these ladies in their everyday routines, and they just can’t shake it.

NEGATIVES

– Shameless Sony as usual. For those who have read my reviews about Sony produced films, you know that I have no problem calling them out on the obvious promoting that they do for their products in films, and ‘Slender Man’ is more of the same. Nothing keeps you more in that terrifying frame of mind from horror than your concentration being broken when you notice the obvious Sony logo on a Vaio laptop or cell phone that the characters have. Maybe I wouldn’t mind as much if the name brand was edited out of the frame, but it’s so obviously intentional the way a particular frame zooms in on the outer layer of a screen.

– Terrible acting all around. My problem with the main four girl protagonists in this film is that they know they’re in a horror movie, and that constant over-reaching to make up for a lack of overall personality shows in spades. Long before Slender Man ever comes into the story, these ladies talk and act like they are the victims of some terrible tragedy that has plagued their family, worse of which being Botet, who couldn’t summon one ounce of dramatic depth to her often numbingly-dull facial reactions.

– No scares equals boredom. If you are searching for cinematic Nyquil, look no further. Because of its lack of capitalizing on an already established atmosphere, as well as a desire to play towards the cliches of thoughtless jump scares, the film loses its fresh factor quick, feeling a condemning of redundancy that keeps it from ever evolving. The film is hoping that this imagery that is completely out of context will satisfy the easy-to-please horror fans who don’t need meaning or even remote psychology to what they’re seeing.

– Something is missing. Considering this is a film that has sat on the shelf for almost a year now, it definitely feels like some judgemental cuts were made that hinders its exposition. Aspects of subplots come out of nowhere in the film, like the offering to Slender Man, as well as what comes from a love interest that completely goes nowhere, leaving me frequently scratching my head where this opposite direction even stems from. I felt this way a lot in ‘The Bye Bye Man’, although not quite to that damning of a level. ‘Slender Man’ just feels like a director’s cut that suffers from amnesia, for the way its shapeless pieces never fit the rest of the puzzle.

– There is a satisfying twist at the beginning of the third act that involves a character betrayal, but it’s quickly ruined for the lack of intelligence and logic that went into it. I can’t give away everything, but a character is outed because she turned the cell phone on herself when she’s talking to another person, and this makes no sense for a couple of reasons. For one, why even do this? If you’re looking to not get caught, the only way would be to keep the camera on the other person. For two, how is she even turning the camera on herself this cleanly without it stumbling or feeling shaky? For three, why have I already put more thought into this than the director did?

– After coming out of the film, I feel like I know even less about Slender Man than I did going in. The lack of overall conviction and energy lended to this urban legend is something that only makes me shake my head, and leaves me appalled for how they could’ve made this terrifying figure their own. No backstory in legend? CHECK, No consistency in rules for how to suppress him? CHECK, Nothing that makes you root against him, especially with stupid kids who are dumb enough to mock his legend? CHECK

– The sound mixing in this film is every bit as deafening as it is ineffective. The idea here is to blare as much loud noise and buzzing as possible, whenever Slender Man appears, taking audiences completely out of the moment every time they have to clutch their ears in agony. I guess if they can’t conjure up any meaningful scares, the only way to have people running out of the theater is to make the auditorium sound like the worst Sweedish death metal band you’ve ever heard.

– Attrocious C.G effects that stick out like a sore thumb more because everything else in the production feels so grounded. This is sloppy levels of post-production even for an afterthought horror movie that is nine years past its shelf life, but it does beat the many times we are constricted by the PG-13 rating that does us zero favors. For the first half of the movie, we are treated to a barrage of cutaways that offer horror hounds nothing in the way of satisfying gore or violence, and in the second half it’s C.G effects that wipe away anything and everything from the imagination and practicality of the picture.

2/10

BlacKKKlansman

Directed by Spike Lee

Starring – John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace

The Plot – It’s the early 1970s, and Ron Stallworth (Washington) is the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. The young detective soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Driver), into the undercover investigation of a lifetime. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organization aims to sanitize its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream.

Rated R for adult language throughout, including racial epithets, and for disturbing/violent material and some sexual references

POSITIVES

– One of my favorite aspects of film is how it has this overwhelming power to push this string of emotions out of you, and ‘BlacKKKlansman’ is certainly no stranger to this. I can’t recall the last time when a film has made me this angry and disappointed in our nation from refusing to learn from our torturous past. Lee conducts this on-screen story that takes place in the 70’s, all the while offering the modern day comparisons of the incidents that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, and the resemblance between the K.K.K and the so-called “White freedom chasers” is uncanny. The final moments of the film are a stern warning to the kind of impacts inequality and racism continue to cast great urgency on our own society.

– As a director, Spike is still one of the master experimentalists, carving out a combination of crooked,, unorthodox personal still frames and slow character pans that both pay homage to the 70’s Blacksploitation films that have left an obvious impact on his style. Because of this, the immersion into this particular time frame feels rich in authentication, and layered to the tee in complex filmmaking.

– Much of the humor in the film works because of the absurdity of the situation that would otherwise make you want to scream. As a screenwriter, Lee knows when to pace these valued moments of positive release out, conserving them between scenes that blur the line of reality vividly with vicious surrealism. One such example is the big two hour payoff that this film continuously builds towards, and it makes for one stunning moment of reality that forces the world of one character to come crumbling down.

– Plenty to provide from a dominantly fresh-faced cast. The work of the two male leads in Washington and Driver definitely made the movie for me, both offering an equally poignant approach to infiltrating two different gangs that ironically are similar for an array of ways, as well as preserving this chemistry of brotherhood that we’re treated to, the deeper it goes. For Washington, his borderline arrogance due to his constant naive demeanor is one that builds and burns bridges within the police force, but it was Driver’s constantly raising stakes in this purely evil assembly of middle aged white men that brought this film the real conflict. Driver’s character, a Jewish descendent, deals with standing against his family traditions, transforming him into this Klansman that challenges him ideally and morally. Topher Grace is also surprisingly smooth as David Duke, bringing a different take on such a monstrous personality that otherwise gets you to comprehend how easy it is to fall for his sinister pitch.

– There’s always that one scene that stands out in a Spike Lee movie more than the others, and the trophy here definitely goes to the history lesson that visually depicts the birth of the Klan. Without spoiling much, there’s this side-by-side comparison shot that very much shows the impact of the Klan’s pride in consequence to that of the African-American’s well being. It’s riveting to say the least, and serves as a reminder that our history has treaded through some very shallow waters.

– Perhaps Lee’s greatest triumph is the film is that he marries the relationship between anger and intensity with the restraint that he’s usually known to hold in visual poetry of editing. Why it works so wonderfully here is that those gentle brushes continuously build until the bigger picture of displeasure is seen in its completion, and it’s never preachy like Lee has been known to be, because the very proof is in the pudding that he dishes out.

– Despite the many themes that the film covers, the tonal balance is well maintained throughout. As is the case with other racially uneasy movies this year like ‘Sorry To Bother You’ and ‘Blindspotting’, this one feels capable of transitioning through each of those valued tiers of material seamlessly. Perhaps you can blame that on the two hour run time that the film harbors, but I believe it is Lee’s constriction to this being a true story that doesn’t allow him to get too fantastical with it. This keeps the film and its respectable material very grounded, leaving our teeth firmly gripped into the message at hand.

– While ‘BlacKKKlansman’ isn’t my favorite Lee film, I can value it as arguably his most important to date. This feels like Lee at his most focused, and a lot of that can be contributed to a career that has spanned 21 feature length films all leading to the kind of media attention that this film and respected director has gathered. It proves that in the clutch Lee can deliver in the most provocative of ways, and that the line between satire and reality is blurring with each passing day of social injustice.

NEGATIVES

– While I more than admire the film’s stance against racism and objectifying how wrong it truly is, Lee’s morals still feel a bit outdated due to the way his antagonists AND protagonists bash the gay community with their version of the N-word repeatedly. This can be contributed to the 70’s setting, but when you’re speaking to a 2018 audience, it blurs the line of right and wrong viciously, conjuring an air of hypocritical stance that the characters become saddled with.

– The romantic subplot in the film felt so forced and underdeveloped in what the film required from it. Particularly late in the third act, the film relies on this angle to play a pivotal role in Stallworth’s urgency and vulnerability, and yet it simply isn’t anything close to that level, besides the increasing racial tension that the whole film is about. With the exception of one brief scene where Stallworth and Patrice (Played by the beautiful Laura Harrier) discuss 70’s Blacksploitation heroes, it goes relatively unheard of for the better part of 45 minutes, and it’s the one glaring flaw from this otherwise well-maintained film.

8/10

Crazy Rich Asians

Directed by Jon M. Chu

Starring – Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh

The Plot – The story follows Rachel Chu (Wu), an American-born Chinese economics professor, who travels to her boyfriend Nick’s (Golding) hometown of Singapore for his best friend’s wedding. Before long, his secret is out: Nick is from a family that is impossibly wealthy, he’s perhaps the most eligible bachelor in Asia, and every single woman in his ultra-rarefied social class is incredibly jealous of Rachel and wants to bring her down.

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and adult language

POSITIVES

– For a movie that centers around riches, the very production qualities of the movie more than express that rich vibe. ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ was shot on location in Singapore, so we are treated to the vibrant cultures imbedded in the fashions, as well as luxurious traditions in ceremonies that are second to none in terms of beauty. I swear that this movie had the most imaginative wedding ceremony in a film that I have ever seen, making it impossible to not exhale when you find yourself transfixed in its luring qualities.

– Exceptional camera work. There are some breathtaking eclipse shots involving entrancing architecture and exotic landscapes that paint a gorgeous backdrop of the high stakes being portrayed within this family, and we as an audience are treated to these circling establishing sequences that feel like they’re constantly opening their arms to us. What I appreciate even more, is that these angles take their time before we step inside, allowing us a video postcard look inside of foreign scenery.

– Faithful casting that as a whole delights. This is the first American produced film in 25 years with an exclusive Asian cast, so finding the right pieces in bringing these personalities to life was no small feat. Thankfully, they hit the nail head on here, as Wu and Golden dazzle as these two lovebirds with these very grounded ideals despite the riches they have inherited in this story. They have amazing chemistry together, and never shed one ounce of believability through this two hour feature.

– There’s a lot of flare and poise in the on-screen text that takes us through the many island locations in a storytelling-like delivery. These big, bold letterings are an homage to the golden age of Hollywood, when title screens and location cues were such an important part of the transformation within the story. Aside from the lettering, there is also a map graphic visually depicting the distance traveled by the two leads that relates how far they are from their safe zone of home.

– Immersion even in music. The film features many classic pop favorites performed by an Asian artist with Asian translation of the lyrics, and I commend this because it transports us as an audience to the very sights and sounds that you would hear under these circumstances. It’s a personal touch that is greatly appreciated and nearly perfect, if not for two English translated songs that slipped under the radar.

– If this film doesn’t make you hungry from all of the tight, focused shots on Asian cuisine, then you don’t have a pulse. Not since 2014’s ‘Chef’ has a movie seduced me so effectively with a variety of dishes that truly triggers the care that this family puts into feeding their guests. In many ways, this aspect puts us in the shoes of Rachel, satisfying our pallets with champagne wishes and caviar dreams. It’s all that and dim sum.

– Romantic comedies are probably the hardest sell for me in terms of genres, but ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ earns its heart with a two hour journey that pushes you to see the growth in these characters. During the first act, this film is definitely a comedy, echoing the very awkwardness in first impressions that movies like ‘Meet the Parents’ and ‘Coming to America’ took the ball and ran with so effortlessly. But in the second half of the movie, something different happens. The film puts away its humorous material in favor of these bittersweet developments that test this couple far more than just the typical third act conflicts. We start to understand why there’s such a divide in the upper and lower class tiers, and this growing bump in the road brings the confrontation to such boiling levels in the form of a decision that will alter Nick’s future forever.

NEGATIVES

– Even though the film would be considered “White-Washing” if it took this method, I feel the conflict of Nick dating an American woman would’ve been far greater if he actually dated an American born character. Rachel is every bit as Asian as Nick’s family are, so the disdain doesn’t feel as grand as it would if he legitimately dated someone so different. Especially after you see the first scene of the movie, involving Nick’s family interacting with some borderline racist white folk.

– It’s a little strange to me that the film takes place in Singapore, surrounded by a 95% Asian ensemble, and yet every single one of them speaks perfect English. With the exception of the grandmother, no one even remotely uses their native tongue, and I find that hard to believe from an authenticity standpoint. This is the time when subtitles are appreciated and understood in a film, but the stretch of everyone accommodating American audiences in Asian territory is a bit far fetched.

– In my opinion, there are too many characters for the film that simply don’t offer enough to justify their existence. I get that this is adapted from a trilogy of books, but I would’ve liked to have seen the editing button achieve a greater presence in the film adaptation, as even midway through the movie we are still being introduced to new characters to the story who are never given proper time to develop. This aspect of the film is perhaps the greatest test for Rachel and Nick’s relationship, as there’s a brief period where it feels like the importance of their plot takes a backseat to another couple’s wedding.

7/10

Dog Days

Directed by Ken Marino

Starring – Nina Dobrev, Vanessa Hudgens, Finn Wolfhard

The Plot – Follows a group of interconnected people in Los Angeles who are brought together by their lovable canine counterparts.

Rated PG for rude and suggestive content, and for times of adult language

POSITIVES

– Knows its audience very well. This movie is what I like to call “Aww-proof”, in that it has plenty of cute visuals where the dogs are doing humorous things, to make viewers shriek in delight. Manipulative? Absolutely, but ‘Dog Days’ is a love letter to the Youtube generation, who take big chunks out of their day to watch dog and cat videos as an escape from the real world.

– Personably grounded ensemble cast. While Marino doesn’t do a strong enough job in establishing some of the finer points in personality, most noticeably in a doctor character who changes at the drop of a hat, this crew of energetic B-listers bring radiance to their portrayals. Hudgens charms with that classic Hollywood smile, Wolfhard has charisma well beyond his years, and Ron Cephas Jones was single-handedly my favorite part of the movie, for his chances in dramatic pulse that the film fought so hard to constantly diminish.

– Breezy pacing. For the most part, the film sails by in the winds of progression that never stumble nor stilt with the many on-going subplots. Despite a third act that I’ll get to later on, the movie’s first half flourishes by building the many different relationships that these characters have with their furry counterparts, and does so in a way that honors importance in animals without dumbing the movie down with unlikely stunts or situations that dog movie writers love to include.

– Raises awareness on its own terms. Never does the film feel meandering in the slightest with this aspect, instead bringing light subtly to the over-crowding of dog shelters by valueing their importance. What’s even more appreciative in this aspect, is that there’s no over-the-top antagonist landlord character to bring down the mood of the picture once it is revealed that the shelter is closing. That alone is something I greatly commend the movie for, as the spanning of a lot of characters already casts a great divide in the fight for screen time.

– Much of the interactions scattered throughout the film are rooted in realism that many dog owners can relate to. Examples range in the form of rude wake-up calls, to the barking reactions of loud noises around them, to an overall lack of eating etiquette that proves no food is safe. ‘Dog Days’ is very grounded in this respect, allowing the humans to narrate us through, while letting the dogs be the comic relief that the film depends on so persistently.

NEGATIVES

– Mind-bashing music. I can’t believe that in a movie about dogs that I have to bring up music, but it’s a painful headache constantly throughout. There’s a band named Fronk in the film, led by Adam Pally’s character, and they somehow take these AWFUL one hit wonder jams like ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ and ‘I’m Too Sexy’ and make them even worse with their funk renditions. I’ve heard less agonizing listens during a Kidz Bop CD, and what’s even more unfortunate is the film goes back to them no fewer than four times.

– Generic production qualities. Besides the fact that the film casts this imitation lighting that many films today like to use to throw off the authenticity of natural lighting, the movie also slices scenes prematurely with terrible edits, and brings back what I thought was a forgotten relic of Hollywood Cliches. In that regard, the final setting of the movie takes place on a painted backdrop that doubles as downtown Los Angeles, and it couldn’t be any more obvious if the wind in the studio shook its images to the point that they flowed like a flag.

– Constant predictability. When I say that there was nothing original or remotely surprising about this movie, I really underplay it. Once you’re introduced to each character and their respective dispositions, you begin to comprehend where they will be once the film ends. Because of this, I constantly felt like I was ten minutes ahead in the film, and was continuously waiting for them to catch up.

– Third act problems. This is where the film really starts to overstay its near two hour run time. Because of the structure in having so many leads splitting time, each of them is treated to a set-up, conflict, and resolution that rides the waves of redundancy. Once everything has been put away neatly, the film loses a lot of its momentum by not understanding where to end the film. There are no fewer than three different endings in the film. All of which would’ve been fine enough to roll the credits, but none of which actually do, and needless to say I didn’t stay for the credit blooper reel that only further prolonged the dragging.

– The only times I laughed in this film were with the reaction shots of the dogs, because the human material had me questioning what age group this movie is marketed towards. The adult directions used for some of the set-up, including themes of cheating significant others, as well as a barrage of sex jokes, combined with these very animated deliveries, made for an uneven strategy that very seldom paid off. The imagery of the four legged friends was very beneficial, but I never have a reason to watch ‘Dog Days’ again, because it does nothing to stand out from the rest of the pack.

5/10

The Darkest Minds

Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson

Starring – Amandla Stenberg, Bradley Whitford, Mandy Moore

The Plot – When teens mysteriously develop powerful new abilities, they are declared a threat by the government and detained. Sixteen-year-old Ruby (Stenberg), one of the most powerful young people anyone has encountered, escapes her camp and joins a group of runaway teens seeking safe haven. Soon this newfound family realizes that, in a world in which the adults in power have betrayed them, running is not enough and they must wage a resistance, using their collective power to take back control of their future.

Rated PG-13 for violence including disturbing images, and thematic elements

POSITIVES

– Stenberg is leaps-and-bounds above the material she is given to work with. As a star in ‘The Hunger Games’, Amandla is no stranger to Young Adult adaptations, so in being a veteran she knows how to bring a combination of likeable personality and feminine strength in her role as Ruby. She isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, and I appreciate an actress who takes command and keeps the attention on her throughout. I can’t wait till the day Stenberg is old enough or successful enough to pass on scripts like this, but for now we can adore a rising star who adds a presence of range to the forefront.

– There is a real hearty third act scene, part in thanks to the two leads, that really reached hard for the heartstrings of the audience. This scene involving memory erasing was among my very favorite for the movie, and proved that it did earn the depth needed to send this film out on a positive note. Part of this relies on sacrifice for Ruby, in that she must give up everything she has come to know to fight the greater good. It finishes the first (And likely only) installment of this franchise on a somber epilogue that really makes you feel for her jaded disposition.

– As a first time director, Nelson is someone who definitely proves that she deserves another chance, next time with a property that doesn’t have so many restrictions. In her competent command, Jennifer not only utilizes Stenberg to a meaty performance, but also establishes the power of adolescents, who together have the capabilities to do anything they want. In this regards, art imitating life is something that our own real world so desperately needs right now, even if our own youths lack the ability to breathe fire from their mouths. Nelson makes this distant future feel somewhat relative by today’s standards, and that alone establishes her guided presence behind the lens.

NEGATIVES

– Law of diminishing returns. Ever since ‘The Hunger Games’ became a rousing success at the box office, Young Adult adaptations have been all the rage. Unfortunately, each of them have decreased in quality ever since, and ‘The Darkest Minds’ is a victim of this problem. Despite the fact that this film could easily qualify as a sequel for ‘The 5th Wave’, or television knock-off of ‘Divergent’ or an ‘X-Men’ side story of sorts, there’s nothing about this movie that stands out as remotely poignant in substance, nor terribly original in story outline. Love triangle? CHECK, Evil Grown-ups? CHECK, Slave camps? CHECK. Interchangeably fault.

– For those who didn’t comprehend or forgot about the many meanings of ranks of the teens in ‘Divergent’, this movie dumbs it down using colors to determine who is the most powerful. The orange and reds are the worst (Because ya know, danger), and the Green’s (Intelligence) represent the lowest on the totem pole. If this wasn’t enough, the film never allows you to forget each person’s rank for a single second, beating us over the head with colors in character’s eyes throughout the film to remind us of what is otherwise easily forgettable. They know it and now so do we.

– Once you understand the rules of Ruby’s powers and what she can do, there is absolutely no tension or suspense left in the many conflicts she comes across. This character is essentially God, so what is there that regular human beings can do to stop her? Even worse, it brings to light some of the inconsistencies that the film portrays. Ruby can read the minds of character’s pasts when she touches them, but why not during the scenes when she holds hands with a character or when she’s dancing with them? Ruby can move trains and bend titanium, so why can’t she unlock a van door? Ruby erases her parents memory of her, but how can she do this when she never touched her father? Does this include pictures, videos, and keepsakes?

– This is a post-apocalyptic movie of sorts, but the small scale always kept this from immersing me in this kind of environment. There’s one big budget set piece throughout the film, but otherwise most of the set designs and backdrops feel infantile when compared to their counterparts. In other YA adaptations, we see visual examples of deteriorating landscapes or something that commutes how far the cancer has spread, but with ‘The Darkest Minds’ there’s nothing to challenge the thought that this isn’t a society in any sort of immediate danger, instead carving out an ‘Us versus Them’ focus towards the evil government. Yawn.

– Choppy action sequences. When you are fortunate enough to get an action scene, the editing feels far too intrusive with far too many cuts to ever properly digest what is taking place. Two character suicides aren’t shown all together, but a chase sequence involving a falling tree is completely wiped away with an overzealous editor who instead prides angles over impact.

– Lack of overall resolution. It’s obvious that any movie these days fishes itself for a sequel, but I couldn’t escape this lack of satisfaction for a third act that is basically inconsequential, despite having no shortage of minutes donated to it. There are essentially two different endings in the movie, and the one that was more satisfying to me revolved around the love story that I referred to in my positives. For the conflict itself, it comes and goes like the wind, leaving about as much of an impact as a breezy cloudless day. If honesty serves ambition, a sequel will never see the light of day, leaving many unanswered questions for die-hard fans of the book, who deserve better.

– Too clean to a fault. Considering the novel is filled with lots of language and teenage personality to humor its audience, it feels like the movie isn’t being faithful in how it adapts the finer points of why people found these characters fascinating in the first place. There is a need for studios to market a film a certain way, but without the edginess in experimentation, that could’ve saved this film for better or worse, the movie doesn’t feel bold enough to live up to its own marketed age group, therefore it doesn’t feel rooted in the finer points that brought these characters to life in the books.

3/10

Christopher Robin

Directed by Marc Forster

Starring – Ewan Mcgregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael

The Plot – An adult Christopher Robin (Mcgregor), who is now focused on his new life, work, and family, suddenly meets his old friend Winnie the Pooh, who returns to his unforgotten childhood past to help him return to the Hundred Acre Wood and help find Pooh’s lost friends.

Rated PG for some live action

POSITIVES

– Considering the immense shoes that ‘Christopher Robin’ has to fill, the movie’s overall imagination and innocence come through in the clutch. This inescapable range of heart that tries to bridge the gap between the inevitability of adulthood surrounds this film, leading to many moments where Christopher’s past and present collide in a fight for clarity. In this regard, we too as an audience can lose ourselves in 97 minutes of light-hearted material, with the very same furry characters who were such a big part of our childhoods as well.

– The visual effects are charming in their subtlety. Much of the movements of the animals feel authentic without sticking out like a glaring attention-grabber, and the attention to detail with their shaggy designs grants a stuffed animal concept that really grounds the illustrations in realism. Likewise, the gloomy and often times dimmed lighting filters of the film also does wonders for the graphs in effects work that more times than not can relay feelings of counterfeit reflection, in how it bounces off of the live action setting around it.

– While the live action performances are just alright, it’s the voice acting of some of our favorite animated characters that truly steals the show. Jim Cummings is one of the most infamous voice actors in the world today, and his double duty as Pooh and Tigger radiates with personality when the film so desperately needed it most. As Pooh, you notice the vocal transformation over time, that begins as a somber whimper but eventually leads to thriving adventurer, and we start to feel meaning in his life once again, now that Christopher Robin has popped back up. Brad Garrett as Eeyore is also a dry delight. Garrett was born for this kind of delivery, channeling an unlikely humorous side of depression that the film relies on him for each time they need a sarcastic reaction.

– Much of the introduction in storyboards are done with a storybook animation that pays homage faithfully to these character’s origins. Each meaningful moment of Christopher’s life is given a page-by-page visual enhancement to introduce the moment that is about to play out, and with it comes dream-like animation on the pages being lifted, in the form of the books we used to read growing up. My only complaint is that the movie never does this again after the first few minutes. I really think it could’ve added to the presentational aspects of the film.

– Proper location majority. Because we’ve already seen the Hundred Acre forest in the original Pooh offerings, it’s nice to see this film wasn’t afraid in setting most of the film in the real world. What this does is allow us to not only examine and solidify if these animals talking are just a figment of Christopher’s imagination, but also how they interact with other grown-ups around them. It bridges the film on so much more than a metaphorical level, forcing the characters of this man’s youth to collide with the responsibilities that he harbors as an adult.

– The musical aspect of the film is hit AND miss for me, but not giving respect to Jon Brion and Geoff Zanelli’s glimmering tones would be a crime. So much of the numbers are filled with such wonder and soft encroaching among the story, solidifying that sometimes the most effective musical pieces are those that are patient and never overbearing. These two each have more than twenty years of scoring between them, and that wisdom of experience is on display repeatedly for a film that never settles for just one consistent tone.

NEGATIVES

– Lack of chances or originality. ‘Christopher Robin’ certainly isn’t breaking any new ground. Every single trace that the script takes us through feels like it was derived between ‘Return To Oz’ and especially ‘Hook’. But I can get over similarities in story. What I can’t get over is how safe Disney continues to be with the sequel/remake formula that is all the rage over the last five years. If you’re going to bring a respected property back to life, add something memorable to this new chapter. Otherwise, the lack of creativity becomes evident, and it loses the chance to rid itself of the immense shadow before it has even started. A fine example is last year’s ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’, an unaffiliated-with-Disney film that explored the psychological effects of Robin’s time in the war, and why he lacked the connection with his adopted daughter.

– I mentioned earlier that I have my likes and dislikes for the music department in this film, and my problems rely with the lack of musical numbers that we get. With the exception of a line of ‘Wonderful Thing About Tiggers’, there isn’t a single familiar track in the film, leaving much of the whimsical side of the Pooh environment stuffed in a box, like the very memories that Christopher goes through with such forgetfulness.

– Songs aren’t the only thing ‘Christopher Robin’ lacks, as an overall lack of humor adds only further weight to the second act pacing that occasionally stands still. ‘Paddington’ is a great example of a movie that balanced heart and humor alike, without ever feeling confrontational of one another, but ‘Christopher Robin’ greatly lacks the confidence in its delivery, instead settling for cramped slapstick humor during the closing moments that highlighted its desperation. I laughed once during the movie, and that’s saying nothing. The real problem is with the children in the audience who grew restless with material that looks beyond them instead of right in the eyes.

– This film lacks such conflict in plot that it must create its own, with about twenty minutes left in the movie. The emerging subplot with Robin’s work comes out of nowhere, and only points out the silliness when kids movies try to depict big-wig corporations. I’m supposed to believe that this company will go under if they don’t find a way to sell more luggage? I’m also supposed to believe that they’ve never thought about selling to lower class incomes, and THAT is the big break needed to turn it all around? Do poor people not have luggage when they go on vacation? Who cares, because they’re kids, and kids are stupid.

6/10

Hot Summer Nights

Directed by Elijah Bynum

Starring – Timothee Chalamet, Maika Monroe, Alex Roe

The Plot – Daniel Middleton (Chalamet), a likable but socially awkward recent high-school graduate, is spending the summer before college visiting his aunt on Cape Cod. Neither a “townie” nor a wealthy “summer bird” dropping in for the season, Daniel struggles to find his place-until he meets Hunter Strawberry (Roe), the local bad-boy who peddles marijuana to well-off vacationers when he isn’t protecting his younger sister McKayla (Monroe) from overzealous male suitors. Sensing an opportunity, Daniel persuades Hunter to go into business, dealing weed up and down the Cape together as the summer heat intensifies. Newly confident, Daniel falls for McKayla, keeping their relationship secret until it becomes explosive. Set in the summer of 1991 against the backdrop of a looming hurricane

Rated R for drug content and adult language throughout, sexual references, and some strong violence

POSITIVES

– Concise editing that visibly narrates the free-flow of the film’s narration as told by an off-screen character. The establishing shots of Cape Cod offer a distinct tone of personality and escapism that many of the town folk adopt, and the endless energy with the introductory scenes really builds a pulse from within that gets you excited for what’s to come.

– As for the narration itself, it speaks vividly for the rumor mill of gossip within the town and how they perceive certain characters as legends of stories handed down. There’s plenty of interview style perspectives initially, that we compare and contrast for the similarities and differences that only we can piece together, since we are getting the entire spectrum of speculation. In this regard, its storytelling reminds me of ‘The Virgin Suicides, in that it speaks of a time and a place that feels light years behind us, and one that might be too late to confront this Summer that almost blew the town off of the proverbial map.

– Excellent soundtrack of summertime classic rock favorites. Are the tracks invasive from time to time in their deliveries? YES, but the catalog in full transcribes the exhilarating feeling to be a teenager and be alive again, with the world at your fingertips. Throw in some beautiful sky map transitional sequences to channel the spirit of Summer, and you have a one-two combo that easily immerses you back into the psychology of adolescence.

– Vibrant overall cinematography that channels the post-80’s style smoothly in presentation. In addition to the film feeling like one big love letter to VHS technology, where the hazy coloring filters and neon graphics marry in a union of outdated bliss, there’s an overall presence of fog that fills the air, speaking volumes to the drug trade that the boys are thoroughly embedded in. Because of this, the colors are able to pop out even more and seduce you in a way that very few time period films correctly capture anymore.

– The performances are mostly satisfying enough, particularly that of the male and female leads. This is Chalamet’s second coming of age film set during the summer, but one he differs with greatly because of the nuance in control he exudes over the boredom and awkwardness that comes with being a teenager on the brink of Summer. Monroe as well is vivacious and seductive, even if the mumbling, bumbling dialogue does her zero favors. The two don’t have the strongest of chemistry connections, but they make up for it personality radiance that captures completely two of the biggest rising stars in the Hollywood landscape.

NEGATIVES

– Because much of the meat in this story is derivative from other films that did it better, the weight of consequences are every bit as timely as they are predictable. Once you know the set-up in the dynamics of relationships and coincidence, you can easily navigate through where this story is headed. It’s disappointing that a film this similar to other coming-of-age narratives of the subgenre doesn’t project anything of originality to stretch its lasting power. In fact, I have already forgot so much of this movie, and I watched it less than an hour before writing this.

– So much of the supporting cast is greatly underutilized. I point to a subplot involving Hunter’s girlfriend (Played by Maia Mitchell), where this girl is virtually glossed over as nothing more than an afterthought to the weight of this story. For someone with the greatest tie to arguably the most important character of the movie, the film reduces her to nothing more than eye candy, leaving an air of regret for this actress who will undoubtedly be one of the biggest surprises of 2018. Beyond this, film veterans like Thomas Jane and William Fichtner are entirely wasted in terms of what they provide this movie. Fichtner is only in one scene in the film, and Jane’s presence is completely omitted from the very aspect of tension that goes noticeably missing when it’s required the most.

– In addition to what I just said, certain scenes feel like they’re missing from the third act developments. Particularly with Jane’s police character, he seems to have figured out that these two characters are selling drugs without us ever witnessing his air of discovery. Two other characters in Daniel’s Mother and Aunt go missing all together after their introductions. Also, another inevitable confrontation finally happens only two scenes after it seemed smoothed out and repressed. How did things get so bad so fast? Where is the missing pieces in between that relate to us what is coming?

– For my money, the second half of this film was nowhere near as entertaining as the first. Snail’s pacing comes as a result of too many musical montages, and the unearned dramatic pull from forced confrontations ,that I mentioned above, are never remotely satisfying because of the lack of build and time donated to them. The film just kind of ends on speculation instead of certainty, providing the most frustrating aspect to donating nearly two hours to this story and characters.

– Bynum as a director feels promising enough with his edginess in style, especially for a first time director, but in also writing the script he may have worn himself too thin. It pains me to label a movie all style and no substance, but ‘Hot Summer Nights’ is the definition of that phrase because it lacks the kind of sizzle from the steak to ever live up to such a promising title. A plot is the first step to your audience indulging or not in a movie, but beyond that surface level, nothing ever continues to build on the suspense, leaving a thirst for a direction that feels tone deaf from the get-go

5/10

Eighth Grade

Directed by Bo Burnham

Starring – Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson

The Plot – Thirteen-year-old Kayla (Fisher) endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school; the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year before she begins high school.

Rated R for adult language and some sexual material

POSITIVES

– ‘Eighth Grade’ feels like an authentic experience that goes far beyond being an entertaining piece of cinema. This movie immersed me right away to the very feelings of isolation and awkwardness that plague early adolescents, and lifted some of those repressed memories from my own developing childhood that were stored in the back of my psyche. Burnham never relents in his documentation for this important time, placing it ideally right in the final steps of middle school, before the change takes full course in high school, where you can re-create yourself. That idea of metamorphosis surrounds this film, and leaves our youthful protagonist drowning in this sea of change that feels laps ahead of her.

– My biggest respect to this first time Youtube star-turned-director, is what he manages to accomplish in terms of atmosphere, that constantly shapes differently throughout similar set-ups. Burnham doesn’t turn away from those down-time moments of boredom where a kid is shown playing with their face, or a random voice yells something to throw a teacher off. Instead Bo frames them to feed more sternly into that authenticity of environment that I mentioned earlier. What is so brilliant about this take is that it establishes a layer of relativity to Kayla’s own experiences with social anxiety, forcing us to see things in the same way that she does without sacrificing storytelling elements.

– The performances couldn’t be better, most notably from Fisher and Hamilton, who live and breathe these vital roles. Fisher’s timid posture speaks volumes to what she’s feeling inside, but it’s the way her facial expression reads and how they study and react to a room that truly captures this lamb being led to slaughter. Hamilton as well channels the sometimes intruding parent, who just seeks answers without trying to diminish the cool factor in how his daughter views him. When these two are together on-screen, it’s pure magic, especially that of a long-winded exchange in the closing moments that really tugs at your heart strings. Aside from these two, I also greatly credit the supporting cast around, as every child actor looks and feels synthetic to that of the role they are supposed to be playing. This is nothing like other movies who cast 18 year olds models to play 13, this is the real deal. As to where aspects like facial acne and bodily scars would be taken out of a typical sterilized Hollywood rendering, Burnham embraces the struggles of teenage growth, giving a feeling at times of a documentary instead of a picture with a script.

– Much of the musical score by Anna Meredith in the film also strikes a similar chord in mirroring the ever-changing atmosphere that Kayla partakes in. Sometimes it is loud and abrasive to commute Kayla’s dread, and other times it can be tender and smooth when she sees a certain boy she has a crush on. Even more beneficial and cerebral is how it only pops up when Kayla is full steam into a situation that has previously been playing out, serving the film as more of an extra emphasis factor instead of something that caters to the presentational benefit of the film. Enya’s “Sail Away” is the only familiar song played in the film, and even its gentle strokes balance Kayla’s escapism into the internet perfectly, in an almost hypntozing sense.

– As for the self-help Youtube element itself, Kayla disappears in this recorded personality that differs so far from who she is in her own real life. This gives the subplot an intentionally hypocritical, yet therapeutic feeling, in that all of this advice she dishes out is really more for her than it is her sparse social media following. She knows how fake her demeanor comes across on-screen, yet can’t escape this overwhelming demand from within to conform to what society wants her to be, creating this battle for struggle with the real Kayla lying somewhere in between. I love my flawed protagonists, and this one is the very definition of that angle.

– This film is time-stamped to this particular generation, most notably in the measures that adults take in trying to relate to kids, with all of their “cool lingo” like slang and dabbing, but its intended humor succeeds despite the fact that Burnham was nowhere close to growing up in today’s scholastic landscape. His greatest ability as a screenwriter is his handle on the material, and how it constantly feels like he wrote this while shadowing an actual middle school. It’s second to none in terms of its genuineness, and highlights Burnham as a major force to be reckoned with in the Hollywood landscape.

– When you speak of important movies that should be shown to our youths, ‘Eighth Grade’ is certainly among the best and most important in this regards. Its message is easily transmitted without feeling spoon-fed or forced, and it’s one that isn’t afraid to show the decay of interaction because of dependency upon social media. Like our very kids growing up in 2018, there is advancement, yet great warning that comes with great technology, and as a screenwriter Burnham perfectly expedites this by comparing this delve with the ages-old wish of wanting to be popular, marrying the two in a frought ceremony that only further advances and enhances the inevitable confrontation that Kayla is faced with, and who better than one of Youtube’s own (Burnham) in capturing that pressure.

– While I could be wrong, ‘Eighth Grade’ feels like the first movie that takes a touchy subject such as the struggles of junior high, and orchestrates it in such a way that is entirely serious regardless of the sometimes humorous experiences. Because of this mature approach, it stands out from plots similar to this in approach, that market itself as the very same comedy that diminishes the importance of what it’s documenting. ‘Eighth Grade’ instead feels comfortable in what it is, and never backs down in putting the moment first.

– While I don’t fully understand why this film is rated-R, I support that stamping because it will require adults and kids to see it together.

NEGATIVES

– A24 always has problems ending their film, and unfortunately ‘Eighth Grade’ continues this direction. I won’t say the ending was entirely unsatisfying to me, but it feels every bit as unresolved as it does unaddressed. One could interpret this as adolescence more times than not as feeling unsatisfying, but there’s a subplot involving Kayla in a car that never gets addressed any further. It’s an important scene because it underlines the issues of truth to our youth, but its lack of weight or consequence feels irresponsible in its teaching. The rare blunder that I had for this otherwise outstanding film.

9/10