Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

The dreaded road trip for the Heffley family turns into ‘The Long Haul’ for Greg and his newest disastrous plot. Based on the record-breaking book series, the Heffley family organize a long-distance road trip to attend Meemaw’s 90th birthday party. But everything goes hilariously off course thanks to Greg’s (Jason Drucker) newest scheme to get to a popular video gaming convention for all of the sweetest prizes. This twisted, off-the-rails family cross-country adventure turns into an experience the Heffleys will never forget, experiencing one wacky shenanigan after another to keep the spirit of the family together forever. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is directed by noteworthy child director David Bowers, and is rated PG for some rude humor.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is cinematic birth control. What I mean by that is this is the kind of movie that adults who are becoming parents dread when they think about the kind of modern day fecal matter that is slopped up upon our children’s plates. As time has progressed, companies like Pixar have continued to test the intelligence of their youthful audiences, with colorful characters, as well as plots that challenge the mind and the heart to offer something special in memorable movies. Then there’s movies like this one that consider your precious children to be mindless idiots that only react to loud, animated noises or a barrage of physical comedy whose only punchline is that of gross-out gags, with each one vying to out-do the previous. To say that I hated this movie is an understatement. I simply gave no emotional response to the 86 minutes of bits that barely passed for a big screen script. Being that this is the fourth film in the Diary franchise, and that everyone in the movie has been re-cast, this is the kind of film akin to that of Beethoven’s 4th or Home Alone 4 that belong strictly on a video store shelf, free from the wallet pressures of adults who work hard for their money.

I myself only saw the first Diary movie in this franchise, and while I only felt that it was OK, it was leaps-and-bounds above the material that passes for plot in this movie. The Heffley’s long distance trip to Indiana somehow clocks in at 47 hours on the van’s GPS, and right away my mind pondered as to where in America takes 47 hours to get to Indiana? Beyond this, the main goal is of course to celebrate the 90th birthday of the boys grandmother, but this ambition is cast aside so much in this movie that I constantly kept forgetting where this ending was taking us. Along the way, there are subplots that deal with Greg being the subject of a vicious viral video that has made him famous for all of the wrong reasons. Compelling huh? On top of that, the film feels like a series of skits instead of one cohesive script that beats to the same drum. For instance, each scene that feels like it was written by a second grader has a setup, a conflict, and the shenanigans that follow. Because this routine became so predictable by the end of the first act, I found myself being able to constantly sniff out what was coming with each (So-called) payoff. If there is a villain or adversary in the movie, it’s with this rival family that is on the exact same road and hotel path that the Heffley’s are on. This leads to a final showdown that (I’m not kidding you) spoofed Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, complete with slashing music and shot-for-shot re-creations. If this movie didn’t have enough guts from having the words LONG HAUL in their title, the bravery to mock one of the master filmmakers of all time certainly blows my mind.

Don’t worry though, I’m sure the laughs are aplenty from a movie with no shortage of urine, vomit, poop, and fart jokes. At this point in the game, these directions feel desperate, and even in a kids movie we should be reaching a lot further. On the scale of disgust, the film certainly makes a threat to 2015’s horrible Vacation remake, testing your stomach’s limits for what is tasteful. A pet pig is introduced midway through the film. Why? so he can fart and cause a big accident. The family stops at a country fair. Why? So one of the boys can vomit all over the people riding the ride. In case you’re wondering what the urine joke is, they borrow that too from another movie, this time from 1994’s Dumb and Dumber, in which Harry keeps filling up bottles. I’d elaborate a lot more, but frankly I just don’t want to. In a nutshell, I never laughed a single time in this movie, and the single greatest emotional response that I felt was that of two once prominent stars (I know I’m stretching that term) who now have to settle for this muck.

The two who I am referring to are of course Tom Everitt-Scott and Alicia Silverstone as the very parents of the Harelly clan. Silverstone is at least committing to this role, even if her character feels to cynical to ever be a progressive parent. Her character is wound slightly too tight, and it feels like she is trying to live up to an adjective like ‘Square’ that the director told her to aim for. Her singing of Wannabe by The Spice Girls that was seen in the trailer is so damaging to my ears that I began writing her a scathing e-mail to ease the pain. Scott feels asleep at the wheel for a lot of his performance, and often only pops up whenever it feels like he is required to earn a paycheck. For a man who stole many of movies like Dead Man on Campus and That Thing You Do, Tom feels like a shell of himself, going through the motions of workaholic Father who is forced to spend 47 unflattering hours with his family. We too suffer Tom. As for the lead role of Greg, Jason Drucker doesn’t have the personality or charisma to make this an appealing lead protagonist. For much of the movie, Drucker is relegated to complaining or reacting to the comic relief around him, and the lack of emphasis on the actual diary of the movie leaves him squandering for life support to live up to those who donned the role better. Greg embraces the embarrassment of being a child, but never the energy of what goes into being the pulse of this mind-numbingly bland family.

Perhaps the single worst aspect of The Long Haul is how its producers care so little about fluid continuity or the aspects that just don’t add up. Besides the 47 hour trip that I mentioned earlier, there’s also plenty of other mistakes or poorly efficient measures of filmmaking that shows the kind of care that went into this project. I’m certainly not asking the world out of a movie like this, but when I see two characters sitting in their respective seats in one shot, then immediately in the next one that shows them together they are in different seats, I wonder. This movie also re-uses actors and actresses like they think the audience is simply too stupid to piece this all together. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if a black man in the movie who carried a Southern accent during an earlier scene didn’t pop up as a completely different character during the final act. This is as sloppy as it gets with production decisions, but it pales in comparison to that of truly awful voice editing that adorned a particular character. The actor who plays the oldest brother in this film must’ve mis-read a lot of his lines because his lips rarely add up to what is being heard from his character. The volume levels are also slightly higher in his deliveries as opposed to his counterparts, pointing to post-production nightmares that aren’t tightly fixed enough for cinephiles like me to notice.

THE VERDICT – The Long Haul runs out of gas early and finds itself running on fumes for the entirety of this humorless, lifeless picture. If the film captures just one thing perfectly, it’s the torture that envelopes being stuck in a vehicle with people who annoy you to death, with you thinking about the better things that you could easily be doing at that particular moment. There isn’t a single moment original from its gross-out material to the way it savagely borrows from greatly more impactful films, and this is one diary entry that should be scratched-out, ripped-up, and left in the same trash confines where it found its humor.

2/10

The Dinner

The main course of an evening out divides a troubled family at the seams, in The Dinner. When Stan Lohman (Richard Gere), a popular congressman running for governor, invites his troubled younger brother Paul (Steve Coogan) and his wife Claire (Laura Linney) to join him and his wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) for dinner at one of the town’s most fashionable restaurants, the stage is set for a tense night. While Stan and Paul have been estranged since childhood, their 16-year- old sons are friends, and the two of them have committed a horrible crime that has shocked the country. While their sons’ identities have not yet been discovered and may never be, their parents must now decide what action to take. As the night proceeds, beliefs about the true natures of the four people at the table are upended, relationships shatter, and each person reveals just how far they are willing to go to protect those they love. The Dinner is written and directed by Oren Moverman, and is rated R for disturbing violent content, and adult language throughout.

It’s evident to me the kind of movie that Oren Moverman was trying for in adapting the the popular novel from literature to the big screen. The concepts of our importance upon dining culture, as well as entrees that don’t completely satisfy the hunger of the company who dine on them, despite all of the time and attention to detail that went into their looks. It uses each of the seven dishes of the main course to convey a new chapter to where this story is headed, but everything flies off the rails so quickly that there’s rarely any structure to the film’s material. That bit that I explained about the design of food is the perfect edible metaphor to everything that The Dinner is and suffers from. This is very much a movie that wants to be an edge-of-the-seat thriller by the numbers, but is bogged down time-and-time again by terribly telegraphed flashback sequences that halt what should be the film’s central conflict from digesting smoothly. It’s almost impossible to screw a movie up this badly, especially considering the writer and director are the same person, limiting any kind of conflict in adapting two visions. This movie wasn’t just boring, but it allowed me the time to check up on all 13 Facebook notifications that were buzzing away at my phone while I decided to take this one in. It lacks excitement because far too many times it let me down with what could’ve been an enticing moral conundrum.

First of all is the visual presentation. Getting out of the way the single positive that I had for the movie is that of the luminous lighting and elegant backdrops that certainly depict a world of secrecy. It’s evident that the aura of this restaurant echoes that of the conversations that this family is about to take on; dark, ominous, and ever so quiet with all that they have hid away. That last compliment is also the first negative that I have for the film, as the sound mixing and editing is a little too good at its job. What I mean is that it never feels like we are there with these two couples inside of the restaurant because you don’t hear the chatter of other tables occupants despite it being a full house. I’m someone who watches film for realistic aspects of a movie, and a restaurant that quiet with that many people inside didn’t just add to my disbelief, it radiated it. The editing of the movie is also quite jarring and often times confusing to how much time has passed. Characters change positions a couple of times in the movie, contrasting the continuity of the previous shot that had them in one place and now has them in a complete other. The camera work continuously felt very shaky here, opting to slowly close-up and out frequently throughout the movie a shade quicker than the normal panning shot endures. Picture a Wayne’s World Extreme Close-Up for two hours. I’m sure you’ll just eat it up.

I commend the film’s writing for at least presenting the story boards in a novel kind of storytelling, complete with chapters and flashbacks that have us learning something new about our characters one piece at a time. The concept itself fails miserably however, as I found myself confused quite frequently at the pacing of each of these flashbacks. It’s funny because for the first two acts of the movie, these flashbacks are all over the place, often times overtaking the current day developments of this dinner scene that should serve as the foreground of the movie’s reveals. Then in the third act, they are no longer there, giving the movie a multi-writer feel for two completely opposite visions. I would’ve frankly been fine without any of the flashbacks, instead opting for this being a dialogue-driven movie that reveals what every character is hiding about the past. I’m not saying that flashbacks can’t work, but they have to be restrained so not to take over the foreground story that serves as the answer to the question. This rule isn’t even remotely followed, as there’s many examples that I can point to for proof, but I will choose one late in the second act that floored me for how it made the final cut. The movie stops to reveal a mental disease within one of our adult characters, and instead of cutting to the point, the movie gives us a figurative history lesson on this character that serves no point in the conflicts of these children, as well as a literal one in an actual history lesson about Gettysburg because this character is a history teacher. WOW!!!! The time invested into this sequence lasted for 18 minutes. At one point, there’s a flashback within a flashback, and it all confused me as to whether the adults left the restaurant and this was now modern day, or if we were still in the flashback. I couldn’t tell because it lasted so long. This was the very definition of padding to push this to two hours, and boy was it a challenge to not walk out.

The ending too was a huge slap in the face because our characters and accompanying film decide to take the easy route in tucking everything away as neat and tidy as possible, ignoring the obvious questions and conflicts that have just taken place in favor for reaching for that plot device with the conflict that their children face, which has since expired. The worst kind of movies are the ones that you walk out of mad. Not laughing at them, but genuinely mad. There’s a 95 minute decent movie somewhere in here that is dying to get out, but unfortunately it never capitalizes on the thriller aspect of its designated genre, instead opting out for a mental health study that frankly bored me to pieces. I’ve seen worse films in my life, but none with the kind of magic that was executed in this trailer for taking something so hollow on the inside and filling the audience with a sense of seductive sizzle for what was promised. As a writer Moverman left me underwhelmed, under-cooking every possible twist and turn for watered down execution.

I wish that were the worst part of it however, but then you have to understand the kind of characters that you spend two miserable hours with. The Dinner gave me that feeling of being a child and being punished for doing something bad by having to sit at the dinner table while my father and grandfather talked politics. There’s is something comically ironic to the politician of the group being easily the most honorable, and if that doesn’t open your eyes to the real winners here, nothing will. Steve Coogan delivers a terribly bland performance for a movie that basically revolves around him. I was tired of his ‘I’m smarter than you’ stick that got old fifteen minutes into the movie and made me question why I should put up with this for the long haul. As far as protagonists go, he is truly one of the most dreadful, and his lack of commitment to delivery is the kind of stuff that friends having a couple of drinks and laughs at a party are made of. As Claire and Katelyn, Linney and Hall are reduced to nothing more than table dressing for the main course of the dominant males in the movie, so their involvement in the film is nothing more than reactions for what develops. At least in Linney’s Claire there is a crossroads question for the audience in just how far they would go to protect their kids. Claire’s depths go to asinine levels, and any parent who justifies her reasoning will really make me wonder about your moral fiber. This table of everything that you hate about upper class self-pity will have you making reservations elsewhere, so just to not hear how difficult life really is.

THE VERDICT—-The Dinner overstuffs its audience with an overabundance of flashbacks and horribly written protagonists to favor it as one of the truly most mind-numbing experiences of film in 2017. There’s rarely anything on this menu that is remotely appealing, and as a directing chef Moverman the final dish of dessert with an ending that hammers home the fear that hits you early on that this is worst case scenario when it comes to the concept of book-to-film adaptations. Like most adolescent teens, I’m choosing to eat my dinner in the privacy of my bedroom, far away from any of this frustrating execution or bland personalities. (MIC DROP)

2/10

Spark: A Space Tail

Spark: A Space Tail, takes place Thirteen years ago, as the power-mad General Zhong (A.C Peterson) seized control of Planet Bana and tore it to pieces in the process. Now splintered into hundreds of shards, Zhong is Bana’s evil-overlord, ruling with an iron fist. Enter Spark (Jace Norman), a teenage monkey and his friends, Vix (Jessica Biel), a battle-ready fox, and Chunk (Rob Deleeuw), a tech-savvy pig. Spark learns of Zhong’s secret plan to take over the universe by capturing a giant space monster known as the Kraken – a beast that has the power to create black holes. If Zhong manages to harness the Kraken’s power, he’ll have history’s deadliest weapon at his fingertips, and it’s up to Spark and his friends to stop him. Spark’s journey takes him to the farthest reaches of the universe, where he encounters great dangers and discovers the secret of his true identity. An action-packed space adventure full of humor and heart, Spark is the story of a boy who takes on great responsibility and in the process discovers his rightful place in the universe. Spark is written and directed by Aaron Woodley, and is rated PG for action and rude humor.

Bad animated movies are bad for an array of reasons, but mostly it comes down to two aspects; bland animation and bland story. Most of the time, you will get one or the other, but it’s incredibly rare to find a movie that represents the worst in both. Cue ‘Spark: A Space Tail’. A film so dauntingly repressed when compared to the bigger, better animated delights of modern day that it even lacks solid justification for its big screen release. Ever since movies like Norm of the North, as well as Ratchet and Clank were able to somehow get the green lights to coax their studios into releasing these movies worldwide, we are bound to get more and more of these lifeless leftovers for the forseeable future. After seeing this film, I am left with a strong taste of two films in my mouth that accurately depicts what movies that Woodley was watching at the time he penned this script; Ratchet and Clank, and Rogue One. The former is certainly evident not only in some of the jokes that repeat themselves from that very movie, but also in the actual setting itself. You could tell me that this was a sequel and I would have no choice but to believe you. The Rogue One factor is evident in the story. Evil Empire takes child’s family to better their own situations. When child is old enough, he fights back against them, leading a rebellion of misfits. Ripping off movies isn’t a problem, but when those movies are leaps-and-bounds better than what you bring to the table, the similarities start being used as a negative, and this negative is far from the only thing plaguing the creative specter in this film.

For starters, this is a very difficult movie to get into right off of the back. The film starts with a brief two minute recap scene that not only speeds through perhaps the single most important scene of the movie, but gives us absolutely no narration exposition to get to know our characters or feel a shred of investment into their conflicts. It stays this way through 85 minutes of throwaway storytelling that misfires on more misses than hits because of its Saturday Morning Cartoon structure. If this film could take five minutes to slow down and soak in the effects of what should be some major character vulnerability, then maybe we could squeeze an ounce of audience investment out of them. The main character especially, lacks any kind of special trait or talent that makes him destined for this crown, other than him being born into it. Spark is the kind of teenager who gets by on being a slacker, and thankfully for him every adversary that he comes across is a braindead moron who you can’t believe for a second could lead an army, let alone an every planet takeover.

The comedy was non-existent for me. I remained stone-faced for the entirety of the movie, and my theater roommates who were mostly kids, did more of the same. It’s hard to get a sturdy grasp on who this movie is marketed for because the comedic material feels slightly advanced and wordy for that of a child, but far too boring and juvenile for an adult. If I were to accurately hit on it, I would say a young teenager of about twelve to thirteen years old would be the right target demographic. The only problem with it is that particular age group will be booming out of their animation phase by that time, seeking the brighter lights and bigger budgets of Summer Blockbuster action thrillers. The biggest negative for me in terms of dialogue was that of the speed bumps that become a frequent occurance as the film goes on. There are these scenes of stretched material that are either used to pull the run time closer to a big screen telling, or because the film is self-conscious about the abnormal pacing that continues to rush us along. The big showdown in this movie begins with about a half hour left in the movie, and it feels jarringly constricted because it packs so much into this third act and leaves the rest of the movie reaching for scraps that never satisfy. With no heart or sentimentality, Spark might as well be a Playstation One video game. At least then it would combine with a visual presentation that underwhelms at every turn.

I am a firm believer that you give the audience pulse-setting visuals first, above anything else in an animated feature, but the production team of this film lack any kind of energy or synchronicity to address the 1000 pound elephant in the room. I mentioned earlier the similarities of a video game, and that’s because the movements and rendering of physical features leave more than enough to be desired. For a movie that is set in outer space, that great lack of visual pizazz and ambition in backdrops can be blamed on a color scheme and shadow palate that contradicts the foreground characters with their landscapes. It constantly felt to me that the backgrounds were done by one company, and a completely other did the character designs that feel jaded and out of place. The two feel like they are moving at two totally opposite speeds, giving the characters a lagging of about a second before their actions catch up to their ideas.

The voice work however, isn’t all terrible. The positivity can be found in that of A.C Peterson, who is having the time of his life in this antagonist role of General Zhong. Peterson’s performance is a delightful throwback to the days of past flamboyant villains whose tones brought a comfortable combination of power and fear to their releases. I got what little enjoyment that I did out of the movie when Zhong was on-screen, and that alone is a testament to A.C’s work in this picture. After doing some digging, I was able to understand why the trio of big names volunteered themselves to a movie that isn’t an eighth to their standards; the director is related to David Cronnenberg. Yes, THE David Cronnenberg. So it’s obvious that they were doing a solid to the kin of a legend, but their presence in this film collectively doesn’t get it done. Biel, Sarandon, and Stewart aren’t bad, but they’re just so brief that they never get time to make the roles their own. Stewart comes the closest, voicing a weathered captain who has clearly seen better days. Unfortunately, these characters go through noticeable gaps in screen time appearances, and their absences cause a noticeable void that grows with each passing second. As our central character, Jace Norman is decent for a kid, but trails in charisma to hold a production in his growing hands. Spark feels like a hero on accident. The same can be said for Norman’s casting at top bill.

A Space Tail would be a fine enough title, because Woodley’s picture lacks any kind of spark or positive energy to get this film past the threshold of forgettable floundering kids cinema. Plenty happens in the movie, but little of which you are bound to remember five minutes after the credits roll. Generic, charmless, predictable, and narratively unoriginal. The worst kind of kids movies are the ones that make you owe apologies to a better animated film that you at one time deemed “garbage”. To that I say, I’m sorry Ratchet and Clank. You deserved better.

2/10

Song To Song

Two youthful couples face the positives and negatives of romance on the road, in Terrence Malick’s newest visual entrancement, ‘Song to Song’. In this modern love story set against the backdrop of the Austin, Texas music scene, two entangled couples; struggling songwriters Faye (Rooney Mara) and BV (Ryan Gosling), and music mogul producer Cook (Michael Fassbender) and the waitress whom he ensnares (Natalie Portman), chase success through a rock ‘n’ roll landscape of seduction and betrayal that will rock the foundations of each relationship and business bond. ‘Song to Song’ is written and directed by Terrence Malick, and is rated R for some sexuality, nudity, drug use and adult language.

FILM FREAK JOKE: How does Terrence Malick know when to end a movie? When he runs out of film.

‘Song to Song’, the latest from critically acclaimed and panned director Terrence Malick showcases everything that both crowds have come to love and hate, and will certainly offer nothing of groundbreaking alteration for each respective opinion. It’s a look at the music scene of Austin, Texas, with the same splashes of pretentious filmmaking that Malick has perfected into crafting one of the most unorthodox methods of camera work currently going. For me, Song to Song was a two hour endurance test that felt like I was climbing the steepest mountain, when others who joined me on the journey were falling along the way. At any given time, people will walk out of a movie. But when over half of the audience of eleven people get fed up with the lack of direction or narrative from where the story is heading, there’s a great problem on your hands. Add to the fact that I saw this movie at an art house theater and it only adds insult to injury when you consider the kinds of things that these particular audiences are used to sitting through. I myself came so close to making this only the second film that I have ever walked out of, not because it is the worst thing that I have ever seen, but because it often feels like you are watching a high-school kid aiming and shooting at the most random of occasions. It lacks any kind of structure for conceptual storytelling, and I don’t mean that as a rare breed kind of compliment. Song to Song is the worst film that I have seen in a three month old 2017 that has set the bar low so early on in the year. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

First of all is the story itself and lack of narration on-screen that stunted any kind of momentum or interest for the audience to engage in. As a storyteller, Malick would rather abide by the law of ‘tell but don’t show’, so a lot of the film’s sequences feel like jumbled pieces that don’t fit well together, signaling a trimming from a possibly much larger director’s cut that fills in the blanks from scenes that quickly become incoherent. The film’s four main cast members serve as narrators throughout the movie, but their lack of delivery with emphasis in the important subplots often feels like a blink and you will miss it kind of deal, as there were many points in this film where things switched up between romantic partners without very little warning or building. On top of this, Malick lacks any kind of dual or long-distance storytelling to pace out these four characters better. There are noticeable chunks in this movie where Gosling and Mara will disappear for twenty-five minutes, or Fassbender and Portman will vanish for thirty minutes. It hinders the boundaries of entertainment when we could use this period of breath between two protagonists to see what is going on with the other two, but this film is incapable of clicking and comparing the trials and tribulations of two couples equally to ever contrast the differences and similarities. As for long term, there is so much back-and-forth in this movie from where our characters begin and end. Everything feels like short instances instead of long breaths in the creative, so most of the material is throwaway for the plot that is such a small part of what this movie really centers on.

The visual presentation for the movie featured positives and negatives that both serve as glaring examples for their dependency on Malick’s signature style. The backdrops of Austin are gorgeous. This movie could’ve passed as being a video for A-list celebrities on vacation, but unfortunately that is one of the many missed opportunities. Malick certainly has a love and passion for this geography. There’s music, luxurious real estate, and sex….lots of sex for Terrence to oogle at. I’ve always been a way at how this director can frame a shot, opting to invade the space of his central characters to put us in the thick of their engagements. That never fades even in this movie. Terrence can point and shoot as well as anyone, but where there’s style, there better certainly be substance, and as I mentioned before, this film deprived me immensely of such a concept. Where the visuals negate to a fault is in the picture editing, which is among the most jarringly disastrous since Suicide Squad, and that’s saying a lot. Malick cuts far too often for even the most simple of exchanges, instead choosing to convolute something that is completely unnecessary for. There are many times in this film where questions will be asked by the current narrator of the scene, only to move on without any answer or reminder ever again. Imagine if someone told you a story like this; Mary is ten years old. Mary’s favorite food is……her favorite movie is……. One of the biggest problems that I think my audience had with this film was how jumpy everything felt. It keeps it from ever building any scene-to-scene momentum, and feels D.O.A early on in the picture.

Kudos to the trailer editor for this movie for somehow managing to take two hours of this dreary, dreadful film and crafting it into a story that anyone would be a sucker for. I certainly fell hook, line, and sinker for a trailer to a movie that I never got. I mean, the love story and the music is there, but this film’s visual style is constantly moving in slow motion, lacking any real energy to relate it to what feels so special about these people or this town. Lines of dialogue continuously take the long route each and every time to get to their destinations, most notably in Mara’s character, who is constantly brooding like she is in a Calvin Klein perfume commercial. After a while, the act gets stale, and the story could use any kind of stimulation to remind us of the importance of losing real, honest love. The screenplay continues to stomp over every detail that could’ve used appropriate time to soak up each detail, but instead slugs its way through pacing that practically doesn’t exist at all. The film feels like it lacks the three act structure from that of a typical screenplay, and instead exerts one continuous two hour act that drowns on like a funeral proceeding. The irony of which could be the foot in the grave that this director now has for the audience through this.

There’s not much to the performances, mostly because this well-stacked A-list cast is given so little to work with. It feels like Malick just turned the camera on for the four of them to say and do anything that they please, further adding to the celebrity vacation idea that I firmly planted in the previous paragraphs. The movie was shot over a five year period, so it’s funny to see hairstyles and even personal appearances vary as the movie goes on. It works well for the weathering of time, but does very little for visual continuity. Natalie Portman’s character is really the only character with any kind of gripping exposition, but she’s never given any kind of value in screen time to act her way through it. Fassbender is wasted. One of the very best actors in the world, and his character slouches in a dense fog of sexual addiction and alcohol that sideline him for a majority of the film. He’s nowhere near the important aspect that the trailer made him out to be. As for the two main characters, Gosling and Mara rarely insight a sense of magic that makes their union believable. There is certainly chemistry, but more believable as friends and not lovers, with the way they charmingly play around with each other. One cool aspect that the sound department does to relay the importance of the movie’s title, is that there is constantly some form of music playing around them when they are together. The idea of falling in love with someone and music always playing definitely came to mind here, and even if Malick can’t direct performances out of them, he at least sets the stage for a poetically beautiful confrontation that always kept my toes tapping where my heart wasn’t.

Whether hype or heart, Malick continues to polarize his reputation, conjuring up the very worst film to date that the once prosperous director has attached his name to. Song to Song is a disjointed, disheartening, and often times incoherent rambling of the director’s personal take on modern love. With some of the worst editing sequencing to hit the silver-screen, as well as hollow pacing that served as a dull exercise in patience, Terrence’s newest flub can’t find a screenplay to equally match its gorgeous cinematography. It’s a movie that feels like more of the same for a writer who has written himself into a corner of bland pretentiousness, hitting all of the wrong notes with musical monotony.

2/10

The Shack

Light spoilers ahead. I needed them to make my points. Apologies

One troubled and haunted man seeks clarity after an unpredictable accident leaves him with memories of The Shack. The film is Based on the best-selling novel by William Paul Young, which was originally published out of a garage by Brad Cummings and Wayne Jacobsen. After his young daughter is murdered during a family camping trip, Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) spirals into a deep depression causing him to question his innermost beliefs. Facing a crisis of faith, he receives a mysterious letter urging him to the shack where the crime occurred, deep in the Oregon wilderness. Despite his doubts, Mack goes there and encounters an enigmatic trio of strangers led by a woman named Papa (Octavia Spencer). Through this meeting, Mack finds important truths and lessons that will transform his understanding of his tragedy and change his life forever. The Shack is directed by Stuart Hazeldine, and is rated PG-13 for thematic material involving violence.

I’ve had my trysts with religious films over the course of six years as a film critic, and I have to say that ‘The Shack’ is among the worst in religious offerings. That’s not to say that I am against religious films as a whole, it’s just that more times than not they over-complicate unnecessary steps to tell an intriguingly gripping story. Good religious films like ‘Captive’ or ‘Son of God’ don’t feel it necessary to use two plus hours to give a sermon that is sure to test your moral fabric, as well as your patience along the way. ‘The Shack’ takes preaching to a completely new level. This is 127 minutes of a story that definitely could and should have been half of that. At face value, the idea of losing a child, complete with mysterious circumstances and the progression of grief is certainly more than enough fire power to hook me into any story. The problem mainly comes with the fact that the actual shack side of this story, including the haunting disappearance, becomes less and less important to the direction of the picture, the further it goes on. Choosing instead to halt the progression of a narrative to stop and show the astonishing power of Christ. Something that those who believe in already know, and would much rather figure out details to this mystery of the little girl.

That mystery is rarely ever addressed, nor answered. There is a conclusion towards the end of the film that at least offers a conclusion to her situation, but does very little in answering the who or the what. If the book is like this, it is some truly terrible structure that does very little to smooth the pacing of this overcrowded story. In addition to this, it turns out in the opening minutes that we find out Mack is a murderer himself. Surely this will be deemed wrong in the eyes of God, and he too will seek judgement, right? WRONG. The only time that this is brought up again is during a brief scene in which said murder is treated like he stole a Snickers bar from the local grocery store. That’s a huge problem within this film; it deems what is appropriate and what is not to properly tell its story. Mack is forced to deal and forgive this dark shadow that is plaguing his life, never once having to deal with his own personal demons that had more than a few reasons for his lack of faith at the start of the film. Of course anything is easy to forget when you have a film that overstays its welcome at every turn.

To say that there is so much that isn’t necessary to the structure of this plot, is a gross understatement. This film feels like a director’s cut that the director decided to keep for all of the cutting edge green-screen work that he could show off to the occasional moviegoer. Once Mack ventures into the forest, we never again see his friends or family until the very end of the picture. That lack of dual storytelling diminishes any kind of possibility for crafty narration that goes above and beyond. At least Hazeldine’s backgrounds are beautiful, despite the fact that most of them aren’t physically there. The third act is suffocating, slugging us through a variety of possible conclusion points that would’ve been more than enough to properly finish this narrative. But no, the movie instead deems it necessary to include what I can only imagine is every single aspect of the literary counterpart. That’s the problem with most book-to-film adaptations; you either cut too much, or include too much. ‘The Shack’ never finds that comfortable balance between those two doomed directions, and tap dances through some of the worst pacing that I have dealt with in 2017 so far.

Leaps and bounds above the rest of the offensive material, was the idea that grief can be easily forgiven and appropriately timed. Everybody’s reactions are different to losing a child or anybody in their lives, so to say for a second that forgiveness is as easy as saying you’re sorry, is a gross exaggeration that is of poor responsibility to the youth who will watch this film. Forgiveness is more about feeling that anger and regret slipping away. Anything is easy to say, but you have to feel it out when the time is right, and nothing about Mack’s journey from start to finish in this movie ever feels warranted with where he ends up. Especially considering he, nor the audience, ever find out the complete details of his daughter’s last days. Leaving out details like that will play a HUGE part into the battle with forgiveness and what kind of demons that this character chooses to hold onto. The film tells us that man or woman was never supposed to play God with someone else’s life, and that they are to blame for the bad things that happen in the world. That might be true for that particular instance, but what about AIDS? or cancer? or any other life-threatening illness that plagues the world? Is that blamed on humans too? I guess none of this matters when you manipulate and crafts a script into any kind of way that your audience will eat up. Ultimately, this whole thing feels like it was written by a five-year-old who watched one too many Hallmark Channel movies about the power of God. Believing is cool, force-feeding is irresponsible for the other side of the audience who come to just watch a good movie play out. A wish that goes unfulfilled quite often.

As for performances, there’s plenty of positives and negatives to dissect. Octavia Spencer can practically play this role in her sleep by now. The idea of playing a savior is certainly nothing new to Spencer, and her soft, admirable personality shines its way through every delightful bit that rarely sprung up for me. Tim Mcgraw is also decent, despite not being in the film for too long. Mcgraw feels like the kind of friend to Mack that he desperately needs during this trying time, and I was saddened to learn that his material is as short as my patience was for this film to get going. Sam Worthington continues to be the previous decade’s Jai Courtney for under-performing each opportunity. Sam’s emotional register feels cold, and often times needs musical accompaniment to reach into the hearts and tears of the audience, lessening his quality for capturing those gut-wrenching moments. On more than one occasion, Worthington’s Australian accent cracks the surface and totally took me out of each moment I was invested. Worthington isn’t alone however, as one of Spencer’s henchwomen was truly out of place for her casting in this particular film. This actress (Sumire Matsubara) is in her first movie, and it clearly shows, as her delivery left quite a few uncomfortable scenes when clashing with Worthington’s character. There’s a lot of awkward sexual chemistry between them that is unwarranted, and Sumire plays all of her line reads far too softly in distinguishing herself from the other two spirits. The scenes involving her beg for spoofing, and i fear another Marlon Wayans comedy will be glad to take the reigns. Another reason ‘The Shack’ will inevitably make me sour.

‘The Shack’ overclouds itself with unnecessary exposition and subliminal religious undertones, over-thinking an interesting enough mystery genre film and replacing it with sermon verses. My resentment over two hours of Hallmark Channel lessons and Bollywood style pacing, left me dispirited over the death of the movie I was hoping I would get. This one is preaching entirely to the choir of ears who will undoubtedly invest in those simplistic Sunday school lessons that will otherwise be a collection of yawns and groans from everybody else.

2/10

The Bye Bye Man

Sin against others and The Bye Bye Man will come to get you. People commit unthinkable acts every day. Time and again, we grapple to understand what drives a person to do such terrible things. But what if all of the questions we’re asking are wrong? What if the cause of all evil is not a matter of what…but who? From the producer of Oculus and The Strangers comes The Bye Bye Man, a chilling horror-thriller that exposes the evil behind the most unspeakable acts committed by man. When three college friends stumble upon the horrific origins of the Bye Bye Man, they discover that there is only one way to avoid his curse: don’t think it, don’t say it. But once the Bye Bye Man gets inside your head, he takes control. Is there a way to survive his possession? The Bye Bye Man is directed by Stacy Title, and is rated PG-13 for terror, horror violence, bloody images, sexual content, thematic elements, partial nudity, some language and teen drinking.

If you seek a horror movie that is as equally entertaining as it is informative on providing all of the answers in closing up each and every plot hole created in its screenplay, then The Bye Bye Man is the movie that you should stay the furthest away from. After being on the shelf for close to a year, this film has been the subject of much negativity online, from its over-the-top trailers to its embarrassing, awful title that couldn’t be anymore practical if it was called “The Man Who Kills People”. Being a critic, I am subjected to so many awful horror movies and January movies, so when they combine their powers, they make for something truly special. The problem certainly isn’t going to be me thinking or saying The Bye Bye Man, the problem is going to be trying to forget that this movie ever subjected its audience to something rudimentary in terms of filmmaking that it truly astonishes me how this ever got a big screen release. The Bye Bye Man is an anomaly of sorts in the way it seems to complicate a genre that is certainly nothing challenging in terms of creating enjoyable entertainment in popcorn thrills. The film isn’t remotely scary, even in the simplest idea of jump scares, it has a very contrived and confusing screenplay, and it feels ten years too late for the 8 Films You Could Die For muck that plagued our screens many moons ago.

First of all there’s the antagonist himself; The Bye Bye Man. With a character as cryptic and mysterious as this one, surely there’s some kind of backstory that really brings the story all together and makes his pain relatable, right? WRONG. Considering he is in the movie completely at around 4-5 minutes, I am not embellishing in the slightest when I say we learn absolutely nothing about him. Imagine in A Nightmare on Elm Street we learn nothing in eight movies about Freddy Krueger. On top of that, the very concept and execution in idea for us to not say his name or think about him is not only a rip-off of the movie that I just mentioned, but also one of Candyman, Boogeyman and any other horror movie that homage their genre much better than this one. So on top of knowing nothing about him after 91 minutes, is his presence worth something? I honestly couldn’t tell you. Considering he only stays on screen for more than five seconds at the very end of the movie, it feels like introducing a new character to a movie that is supposed to be centered around him. Origins? Well apparently this force that we don’t know where or how it started plagued the mind of a man in the 70’s and he killed everyone around him who he told about The Bye Bye Man, so to end the spreading of it. This doesn’t seem like a difficult solution, but people throughout this movie repeatedly keep bringing him up. To say that this is the dumbest collection of characters that I have endured in quite some time, is underplaying it even from a horror standpoint. These kids deserve everything they are getting.

Then there’s the very presentation of this flub. The only positive point that I am giving this movie is at least the locations of Eastern Ohio certainly more than give off that eerie feeling of something chilly and demented in the air. The house that most of this movie centers around is hauntingly majestic, omitting a kind of tragedy in the air that plagues the air of our cast. Beyond that, this presentation feels very hollow and empty for a finished product. I always negate a movie for too many jump scares, but I actually feel like this one doesn’t have enough for the teenagers rushing out to see it. There were three attempts in the movie at jump scares, all of which missed their mark, and none of which merited any concept of their inclusion in the script. For 91 dull minutes, the film feels like it focused on making a movie but forgot the scares that justified its genre designation. We go long spans without our boogeyman or an attempt at creeping out the audience that a dread of underwhelming cant help but make its way into your tasting of all it’s worth. The ending is confusing based on the rules it set up, and it feels predictable based on the idea that the only way to stop this monster is to simply forget about him. A concept that is so difficult to understand for our cast that they repeatedly poke the beast with a stick that will eventually bite back.

Speaking of that cast, with the exception of Carrie Anne Moss, this is an entirely fresh cast and crew of new faces, some of which making their initial impressions on their audience. This isn’t a surprise in the slightest because their deliveries and emotional release is lacking in so many scenes throughout. It’s not entirely their faults. These kids had little to work with in terms of character direction or depth in dialogue to boot, so it always feels like the wrong person is in control of theirs and the movie’s respective fates. There’s an actress in this movie whose real name is Cressida Bonas, and I certainly mean no personal harm to her career, but maybe acting classes could help her in emoting whatever range she is trying to accomplish. Her underwhelming release and shaky dialogue reads ruined more than one scene for me, and in an environment full of terrible actors and actresses, she undoubtedly takes the cake. Everybody always feels bored throughout this movie, and I can certainly understand that. When no answers are given, it feels like the cast is constantly moving in circles through repetitive setups and finishes, so how many times can you honestly expect them to remain patient before the whole thing tastes stale? And stale it definitely feels about twenty minutes in.

The dreaded PG-13 tag for horror also strikes again, as there’s very little blood or gore anywhere in this movie. What’s made even more apparent is how much this movie left off of the table to achieve that cheap rating. There are gun-shot wounds to the head and torso in the movie, and yet not one drop of blood splashes the walls or floor of the respective areas. I’m not saying that PG-13 horror can’t be a success. There are more than a few examples of those ratings that constantly raise the bar so well that it’s hard to believe they were ever PG-13 in the first place. The problem here is logic always wins out, and the feeling of an empty void is obvious early on in the movie, when computer generation takes away any chance at quenching the thirst. This is clearly a victim of a hack-and-slash in the editing department visually, but it didn’t have to suffer for the sins of a company that wanted something less. There’s just no effort or logistics for what they produce, and because of that you’ll never feel even slightly invested in any way for this picture.

The Bye Bye Man is dreaded January cinema that like its central character should never be mentioned or thought about ever again for the safety of moviegoers alike. It’s a dry hour-and-a-half of empty brutality and thrills that never come close to even scaring the softies in the audience. Held together by uninspiring performances or any kind of narrative for its villain, the movie feels like the very definition of the term “Not trying”, and the evidence feel assured from a title that is anything but creative. Bye bye indeed, and good riddance.

2/10

The Disappointments Room

A family’s venture into their own household paradise unlocks a room of demons known as “The Disappointments Room”. Hoping to repair their failing marriage, Dana (Kate Beckinsale) and Dave (Mel Raido) move, with their son Lucas (Duncan Joiner), into a dilapidated countryside manor near an aging Eastern seaboard town. In the course of renovating their new home, Dana discovers a small locked door in the corner of the attic that hadn’t appeared in the house’s blueprints. Intrigued by what’s beyond the unorthodox designed door, Dana is pushed by the apparition of one of the house’s previous guests. The ghost of a young girl named Laura (Ella Jones) appears and beckons her to open the door. But the spirits of those who protect the room’s terrifying secret return to make sure that the room remains closed forever. “The Disappointments Room” is written by D.J Caruso and Wentworth Miller, and is directed by the former. It is rated R for violent content, bloody imagery, some sexuality and adult language.

“The Disappointments Room” is a lazy, lackluster offering that has barely any redeeming qualities among itself as a horror movie. Considering this is a movie that is getting a big screen release, there are going to be a lot of angry moviegoers this weekend, for the few who decide that the trailer intrigued them enough to give it a shot. Whoever designed that trailer deserves an award for manipulative editing, as this movie is void of any kind of excitment or stimulation for the audience that sits through 91 minutes of bone dry material. Perhaps its most overbearing quality is that this movie serves as a checklist for what cheap horror films in 2016 currently encapsulate, and I never got tired of counting the cliches. Scary house of secrets? CHECK, Tortured family looking to move away for a fresh start? CHECK, pointless jump scares? CHECK, Confusing, ridiculous ending that makes absolutely no sense? CHECK CHECK CHECK. Considering this film had a 0% critical score and 22% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes before I saw the movie, I knew I was in for a treat. And perhaps that is the only thing that doesn’t disappoint about this movie. It is truly the worst horror film of 2016, and lacks any real clarity as to how this thing got made with a 15 million dollar budget. WHERE DID IT ALL GO? Seriously.

First of all is the wonderful characters that fill the script of such a movie. Led by the great Kate Beckinsale, whose performance is the soul positive for the movie. While I hated her character just the same as I did everyone else in the movie, I can say that Beckinsale gives her all for this movie, and should be commended on making the most out of a career-killing situation. In her role as Dana, we see a woman on the brink of madness after everything in her life seems to be resting on her strength and dominance over the household. If you commend Dana for her leadership, you equally detest her husband Dave for his decision to be the laziest on-screen spouse that I have ever seen. In Raido’s performance, we don’t get a lot of praise-worthy moments, and a lot of that is more on a script that doesn’t paint him in the most positive of lights. Midway through the movie, the film gets wise to the fact that this character is one of the two most important characters in this story, so it eliminates him in another cliche horror method of leaving town for work for a few days, in favor of introducing the audience to Lucas Till’s character. And this guy is truly a piece of work. In the method of establishing a new character worse than the previous one, Till’s Ben is raging pervert or horn-ball emotions. He’s only in a couple of scenes, but you always wait for the other shoe to fall any time he starts to feel like an intelligent character. This trio is who you’re stuck with for 91 minutes, so be ready to detest.

Now onto the material. By the end of the film, I felt very much like I was being presented two films. One a psychological thriller and the other one a ghost story. With the direction into horror, the movie abandons any shell of a decent scare or menace of threat within the house, because a lot of the scares early on are just dream or fantasy sequences. This is another in the list of popular horror tropes, and God does this movie overuse this idea. By the time the fourth or fifth hallucination happened, I started questioning to myself whether this movie was going to turn a corner and present some REAL terror before our eyes, or if the screenplay was as flacid as its characters. It turns out the answer was closer to the second option. The whole film feels like un-connected scenes that never really merge to make one cohesive script. There’s clearly a first and third act to the movie, but nothing really in between. The ending is a frustrating twist on everything we have learned to this point. I’m not even sure that it qualifies as a plot twist considering 1) It’s noticeable from a mile away, and 2) it abandons the logic of this supernatural entity that has haunted these characters up to this point.

The very idea of a disappointments room comes and goes in the movie without presenting any kind of scary or haunting visuals for the audience to soak in. More than anything, this room feels like a subplot in a movie that it was named after, and that is perhaps the biggest glaring negative for the movie’s creativity. Very little time or narrative is donated to its presence, so the important aspect feels more like a flimsy haunting backstory of these character’s past, and the room of something totally unrelated just happens to be there. The film attempts to base a history on the house’s former occupants, but the problem here feels more that our human protagonists are haunting them on THEIR land instead of vice versa. SPOILER WARNING – Nothing would ever happen in this story if Dana didn’t unlock the door which was so cautiously blocked off by someone else. This story happens because of the stupidity of our characters, and that stupidity doesn’t feel any more reduced by the end of the movie because no one is changed for the better. Do you know how there’s always that instance in the end of every movie where you feel that this family will be better now that they’ve confronted their demons and won? Yeah, it’s not in this movie. These people are every bit as hollow as they were when the 50 seconds of studio cards opened the movie for us.

“The Disappointments Room” is a litany of embarrassingly flawed aspects that was better left on the development shelf that it stayed on for three years. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back in Relativity Studios going under, and that alone should communicate that some cheap horror films simply do not deserve your money. In a stroke of life imitating art, the only disappointments room that I endured was the one that I saw this derivative failure on, and I feel like the movie itself can’t relate to that kind of horror.

2/10

Nine Lives

The life of an every-day workaholic is about to get a little furry. In “Nine Lives”, Tom Brand (Kevin Spacey) is a daredevil billionaire at the top of his game. His company FireBrand is nearing completion on its greatest achievement to date: the tallest skyscraper in the northern hemisphere. But Tom’s lifestyle has disconnected him from his family, particularly his beautiful wife Lara (Jennifer Garner) and his adoring daughter Rebecca (Malina Weissman). Rebecca’s 11th birthday comes, and she wants the gift she wants every year, a cat. Tom hates cats, but he is without a gift and time is running out. His GPS directs him to a mystical pet store brimming with odd and exotic cats, where the store’s eccentric owner, Felix Perkins (Christopher Walken), presents him with a majestic tomcat, named Mr. Fuzzypants. A bizarre turn of events finds Tom trapped inside the body of Mr. Fuzzypants. Adopted by his own family, he begins to experience what life is like for the family pet, and as a cat, Tom begins to see his family and his life through a new and unexpected perspective. Tom will have to learn why he has been placed in this peculiar situation and the great lengths he must go to earn back his human existence. “Nine Lives” is directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, and is rated PG for thematic elements, language and some rude humor.

If you have a cat who is disobedient and seems to cause nothing but mischief around the house, I guarantee that sitting them through a watch of “Nine Lives” will have them wishing all of their lives were spent. Where does a studio have to even go wrong to create something this dreadful? It’s terrible for adult crowds, it’s too dull with long spans of boredom for small crowds, and doesn’t even succeed as a cute animal film at the very least. No, what you get here from Barry Sonnenfeld of all people, is a presentation that barely can be classified as a movie. Seeing the trailers will set the mood for the kind of purrrrrgatory (See what I did there?) that you will under-take in 82 minutes of cinematic coma that awaits you in this movie, but you will never know the full extent unless you hate yourself enough to see it. The visuals are cheaply produced, the dialogue is strangle-worthy, and the script, what little there is, never establishes enough of an argument to justify its existence. How can I relate the level of sheer torture this movie involves? Let me count the ways.

The film feels so lazy, mostly because it seems to take the easy way out on every single aspect. With the story, this whole ordeal that turns Spacey into a cat is never explained in the slightest detail. The movie knows how ridiculous a concept this is, but to even hint that there will be a solution later on to how our main protagonist wakes up to be a feline is even more insulting. By this, Walken’s character in the film specifically states “You want to know how you got like this. You are just going to have to find out”. THAT’S IT!!! That’s the most we ever hear about this transformation ever again. The rest of the movie is mostly stupid cat problems to fill in the time opposite of this subplot that is somehow even worse than the main premise of this movie. That entails Spacey’s son (Played by Robbie Amell) fulfilling his Father’s wishes to have the tallest building in Chicago. That’s plot adversity in this movie; which business downtown will have the tallest building. If you can talk yourself into believing this bizarrely stupid concept in the first place, you won’t even waste time trying to decipher what Spacey’s business actually sells. The whole movie, from news pieces to board meetings, is about figuring out a way to push their building even higher to the sky. If a six year old wrote about the cut-throat world of the seedy underbelly of the financial world, this is what they would come up with.

The visual presentation gives a lot of laughs. Unfortunately none of them are intentional. This is the kind of computer generation and background visuals that we would expect in a Purina commercial, but somehow this movie that was made for $500,000 got a big screen release. That is the only brilliant decision that the production of this movie made, because inevitably this one will make its money back, but oh at what cost. The movements of the cat feel foreign to anything that you have ever let into your house. His movements with the outside scenes feel sloppy, and a lot of that is on the very coloring alteration between what is real and what is added post-shoot. The shading on the outline of the cat with the live action backgrounds casts this one as a borderline cartoon. Some films will make an attempt to movie the mouth of the animal that the actor is voicing, but not here. No effort is preserved at the slightest hint, and this is made even more apparent when the live actors are forced to physically react to an animal actor who is dominantly computer generated. Nothing feels believable or inspiring about the interactions here, and several scenes are made even worst with some shoddy editing. Scenes just end without any rhyme or reason to their creative direction, and because of this nothing ever flows smoothly in transition from one scene to the next.

I want to talk about the performances, and what will be the last big screen role for a lot of actors for their immediate futures. Kevin Spacey is currently one of the biggest stars in the world, riding the success of “House of Cards”, so I couldn’t even fathom why a man of his caliber would even partake in such garbage. Then it hit me: Spacey in human form is in this movie for no longer than ten minutes. So there’s very little that Hollywood will actually hold against him when his career shudders off someday. Spacey enjoys very little excitement throughout the film. His character is a grouch, but his energy feels light even for Spacey’s usual soft-voiced demeanor. The hardest part to investing yourself in this movie is to feel bad for someone who is filthy rich and fighting over building size. This right-off-the-bat made it an uphill climb with actually taking this movie seriously for five minutes, but it only gets worse with his family. Jennifer Garner continues to give screen reactions that make me laugh-out-loud in an otherwise quiet auditorium. Her delivery feels so forced considering she has to be the film’s serious side, and it just doesn’t blend well with the slapstick tone in the movie around her. She’s that character that will always make you say in embarrassment “Ohhhh Jen”. Christopher Walken I’m pretty sure portrays the same character he did in 2006’s “Click”. They seem to just cast him in anything that involves something highly ridiculous that you can’t explain, and let him loose on a camera. His scenes were what little I did enjoy about this movie, and that’s not much. The worst of all the performances however, comes from two female child actors (Played by Weissman and Talitha Bateman). I have been told before that it’s wrong to demean a child’s performance, but if they want to avoid these kind of mistakes again, they will listen to the Freak’s advice. That advice is simple; immerse yourself in human contact for as long as you can before you take on your next role. These two girls who are portrayed as best friends, do things in overreaction that will beat a laugh or two out of you. To believe that anyone is this uneven with human emotion is frightening.

Overall, “Nine Lives” is an insult to cats and audiences alike. This film claws on early for dear life, but ends up becoming the anti-catnip during a second act that struggles to find any conflict within this spoiled group of characters. This box needs changed NOW.

2/10

Cell

John Cusack and Samuel L Jackson team up once again in another parallel universe, with Stephen King’s “Cell”. For aspiring artist Clayton “Clay” Riddell (Cusack), catching a big break has never been his strong suit, and only put undue stress on himself and family. Sick of teaching art instead of making it, he’s finally seeing his dreams come true. As he finalizes a big deal in the city of Boston, Clay prepares for a new life ahead, welcoming a change of pace. But that’s all about to change on one October afternoon, when at one single moment, everyone answers their cell phone, inevitably changing the face of humanity forever. The Pulse as it will be known, reverberates through every cell phone in the world, causing a deadly chain reaction of events. Users suddenly become ultra-violent, homicidal maniacs and begin attacking anyone within proximity. Now all Clay can do, is band together with other survivors and prepare for a new world ahead where society is no more, and replaced by homicidal creatures, who are only beginning to transform into something far worse. But for Clay, the worst is yet to come as he makes the trek across a world changed and into his Maine home, to a wife and son he hasn’t been able to reach after the cataclysmic events that followed.

“Cell” is possibly the very worst Stephen King adaptation that I have ever seen, and that’s really saying a lot considering most of his films get the magic and aura of the books wrong. What is even more eye-opening is that King himself penned the very screenplay to this movie. So what the hell happened? Apparently background on the film set had a lot of communication problems as Cusack wanted to make the film a certain way, and the producers wanted something else all together. All of these problems together made up one of the most truly dreadful and grim movie experiences for me in 2016 so far. The movie lacks any kind of appeal or charm in its story and cast, and really fails to produce anything memorable in the effects department from a production value that was scraping the very bottom of the barrel. From a completely wasted main cast, to an in-cohesive script that got even the tone for the story wrong, “Cell” is one film that you should drop instantly. It’s not even fun for its ridiculous premise or small-screen release to where you could have a little joking humor with it. This one is simply a bore, and there are many directions that I wish to take this review to cover why it truly failed.

First is the script itself, a very mundane and entertainingly inept 98 minutes that feels like it runs out of ideas midway through the film. I actually don’t mind the absurd premise to the film that much, as there’s the potential for fantastic social commentary on our real world and how we depend on phones. Unfortunately, the movie isn’t smart enough to realize this potential, and instead prides itself on being just another zombie film in the post-“Walking Dead” era. What surprises me is how little we truly get to know and understand the backstory and motivations for our characters. Minus Cusack, these often don’t feel like real people; just mindless drones who are every bit as entertaining as the Phoners (Yes, that’s the zombie names in this movie) who travel and screech in repetition. To be honest, I disliked this film, but I didn’t hate it until the final ten minutes. It’s in the ending of this movie where you truly come to terms with just how much time and money you have wasted on this puke. The film leaves a lot open to self-interpretation, and that would be fine if it didn’t feel like the film made zero attempts to answer even one conflict heading into the third act. Nothing is answered, and you received an hour-and-a-half of egg on your face because you subjected yourself to something that totally pisses on the spirit of the novel, which is actually a pretty solid read.

One thing that adds even more to the awful ending and the film all together is the very laughably bad CGI and prosthesis work that adds nothing to the creative spectrum. The effects work and green screen developments would’ve been bad for a 1992 Apple Desktop presentation, and really communicate the kind of little value that went into this film. As for the zombies themselves, there really isn’t much that makes them standout, and I kind of felt that leaving them with no makeup actually was a valuable asset to the surprise factor. There aren’t any jump scares in the film, but I think the movie benefits at least slightly from the zombies looking very much like the humans in terms of skin tone and decomposition, so our main characters would always have to be on the lookout in determining who is affected.

Sadly, the performances also offer very little in the rewards department. Cusack is decent, keeping his performance close to home as the everyman protagonist who suits our needs, but it’s his usual shtick by now. He is one of my favorite actors, therefore I fairly knowledgeable about when he sleeps through a performance, and that’s what you have here. Over the last ten years, Cusack has made some questionable choices with the roles he accepts, and “Cell” will be perhaps the biggest of regrets. Jackson is completely mistreated and relegated to a mere supporting role for the entirety of the movie. Nothing makes his character stand out or even make this seem recognizable as a Samuel L Jackson role. You could’ve had anyone portray this silent walker, not the king of loud charisma. Isabelle Fuhrman brings the strongest of emotional depth to her role, but she isn’t in the movie nearly half enough to make her turn remotely memorable.

Overall, “Cell” deserves a busy signal. It’s a disappointing adaptation that misfires on nearly every single capacity from its much greater literature counterpart. With many films hitting the Video-On-Demand format, this is one whose big screen absence is justified in spades. As a King fan, I’m offended at this movie and Stephen for thinking this was ever acceptable.

2/10

The Darkness

A suburban family brings home more than they bargained for, in the newest scare-shriek “The Darkness”. After the Taylor family returns home from vacation at the Grand Canyon, they unknowingly bring home a supernatural force that preys off their own fears and vulnerabilities, threatening to destroy them from within, while consuming their lives with terrifying consequences. What starts as strange behavior from the son, Michael (David Mozouz), as well as mysterious black handprints around the house, quickly escalates into full-bodied apparations that makes their home a house of horrors. The film also stars an A-list cast of Kevin Bacon, Radha Mitchell, Lucy Fry, Matt Walsh and Jennifer Morrison. Directed by “Wolf Creek” director, Greg McLean and written by McLean, Shayne Armstrong and S.P. Krause, the film was produced by horror kingpin Jason Blum, Bianca Martino and Matt Kaplan. “The Darkness” is rated PG-13 for disturbing violence, some light sensuality and minor adult language.

Perhaps the biggest challenge that a horror movie faces in 2016 is to avoid the easy temptation of cliche jump scares instead of impressing the audience with atmospheric terror. Sadly, Greg McLean has fallen victim of the same repeated muck that directors less talented than him feel excited with. I didn’t have much faith for this film going into it, but I figured McLean could possibly be enough reason to think that “The Darkness” could go a lot further than its minimal expectations. Couple this with a complimentary cast of big-screen personalities, and you could have a surprise. Unfortunately, Greg presents us with his first real stinker of his reputable career. “The Darkness” slugs its way through 87 minutes of the bare minimum of PG-13 horror, complete with no gore or no legitimate scares to make this anything other than forgettable ten minutes after you leave the theater. The ending left me surprised, considering how much it takes from other better horror films, and doesn’t add even the slightest bit of bang for your buck. Instead, McLean’s unimpressive script and shady direction leaves this mess a film that came out four months too late, where the rest of the laughably bad horror films belong.

First of all is the style choices that McLean decided on for the movie. After sending chills down the spines of audiences in 2005’s “Wolf Creek”, Greg showcased a fine skill for relating the terror of being lost out in the middle of nowhere, with a knife-wielding antagonist who hunted his prey, as well as the audience. “The Darkness” doesn’t attempt any of these feats, instead presenting the most beautiful of shots within the opening five minutes of the movie. We do get some impressive landscapes of the Grand Canyon, but they certainly don’t last long. Animals like snakes and wolves are CGI, and cheap ones at that. This computer generated touch is spread even thinner when you see the greenscreen backgrounds of the driving scenes, and just how off-putting they are. Now, I know that most movies use greenscreen backgrounds for their driving scenes, but what makes this one different is just how differently the light on the skin of our characters mixes with the sun that is supposedly shining through their windows. The inside of the car is dark, as the outside shows nothing but radiating sun.

This isn’t the only laughably bad creative touch however, as the movie on more than one occasion shows off choppy editing work that really cuts into the creative advancement. Scenes either end too early, or cut out after a long period of actor silence. The latter is clearly from the end of a dialogue scene, and the editors just didn’t make a crisp enough transition into the next scene. This made the very mood of the movie impossible to ever immerse myself in.

On that subject, the film’s shrieks and scares offer nothing to reward any audiences who can predict these jump scares from a mile away. It amazes me that movies can still follow the same tedious formula for generating these jump scares, and people will still yell in terror. Quite often in this movie, as well others for the genre, you will take a scene that gets noticeably quiet out of nowhere, and an experienced viewer of this can time exactly where the scare will happen. This movie is nothing different, as the film blasts ear-shattering audio into the auditorium on scenes where it completely doesn’t make sense. Scenes like a boy standing still when he comes into focus, as well as a handprint appearing on the wall have the same audio firepower as a truck blasting through a nitro-glycerine factory. It’s a cliche that I would love to see wiped away.

As for the non-horror material, the film has some good ideas but never anything past an initial introduction to make it go further. I loved the idea of this little boy having autism, and that trait being used as an easier method to how the monsters invade his psyche. That alone should’ve been all the movie needed to induce terror. “Pet Cemetary” used our own children against us, and despite the good foreground idea, this film doesn’t do anything to make our worst nightmares come true. Instead, we get handprints and strange happenings around the house. For demons who we are told like to rip a family apart, they sure do have time to play these cute games around the house. Nothing feels life-threatening, and that is the biggest creative gap that I had to suspend in order to keep my viewing smooth till the end. Unfortunately, those last twenty minutes are even worse than I could’ve ever imagined. I’m not sure if the writers of this movie knew that they were beat-for-beat ripping off “Insidious”, but it is like watching a SyFy channel knock-off. If you can ignore this fact, you are treated to the easiest monster fight that I have ever seen. Considering this is the only time in the movie where you see the monsters at all, I can only assume that the production of this movie only had enough to rent out the costumes for one day of shooting. Once you figure out the direction that the ending is headed, you will scratch your head as to wonder why this movie was ever over ten minutes long. The film just kind of ends without anything to make us feel like the investment in money or time was worth it….IT WASN’T.

As for the performances, the film doesn’t really give anything that makes this a fun watch. Kevin Bacon is largely missing for a majority of the first act of the movie, and his character is very unlikeable, especially when his son’s autistic condition is blamed for things around the house that clearly no child (especially with autism) could ever accomplish. Radha Mitchell is the best performance of the movie, but her character becomes a weak one when we really need that brave mother the most. It feels like her and Bacon switch creative places midway through the film, as the second half of the movie leaves her univolved. Jennifer Morrison and Matt Walsh are only in the movie for one scene. End of story. “Gotham’s” own David Mazouz gives a pretty solid performance as this autistic little boy. Nothing feels insulting about his performance, and I would certainly like to see more from this boy wonder moving forward. Then I get to the really bad of this movie; Lucy Fry. Let me just say that I enjoyed Fry in Hulu’s “11-22-63”, so I know that she has some legit acting chops. But her delivery for horror had me pissing off the audience members all around me, as I couldn’t help but laugh loudly at her overbearing teenage attitudes getting the best of her every scene. Her character is so flat, that you could easily just cast the part under “Bitchy teenager” without a name or background. The film starts to experiment with some ideas for her midway through, but these come out of nowhere too late, and are left in the dust far too early.

“The Darkness” is best kept away from the creative light of any big release studio. It’s a ghost of a much better genre movie, and never justifies its ideas or existence. This title would’ve been more insightful as a documentary for the long-forgotten rock band of the same name. Truly terrible.

2/10

The Brothers Grimsby

The Brothers Grimsby

Two brothers reunite to stop a gang of brutal crime lords, while re-establishing their loving relationship as “The Brothers Grimsby”. Written by Comedic chameleon Sacha Baron Cohen, the film stars his latest look of gut- busting delight. Nobby (Sacha Baron Cohen), a sweet but dimwitted English football hooligan, reunites with his long-lost brother Sebastian (Mark Strong), a deadly MI6 agent, to prevent a massive global terror attack and prove that behind every great spy is an embarrassing sibling. Nobby has everything a man from Grimsby could want, including 11 children and the most gorgeous girlfriend in the northeast of England (Rebel Wilson). There’s only one thing missing: his little brother, Sebastian, who Nobby has spent 28 years searching for after they were separated as kids. Nobby sets off to reunite with Sebastian, unaware that not only is his brother MI6’s deadliest assassin, but he’s just uncovered plans for an imminent global terrorist attack. On the run and wrongfully accused, Sebastian realizes that if he is going to save the world, he will need the help of its biggest idiot. “The Brothers Grimsby” is rated R for strong crude sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, language, and some drug use.

What do you say about a movie that pokes fun at such topics as pedophilia, sexual abuse involving rape, incest, and a five minute scene involving two cows that gets as visual as you can imagine? You say that Sacha Baron Cohen has reached the very bottom in his once prosperous career. That’s not to say that Cohen’s films have ever been the beacon for class, but at least in films like “Borat” or “Bruno” the joke is pointed towards everyone else. Those films offer great social commentary on how we treat the gay community, as well as foreigners when it plays against our fears. What “The Brothers Grimsby” does is offer 78 minutes of truly detestable filth that never resignated even a single laugh from inside of me. Sasha is simply too far along in his career for roles like this. We saw just how radiant he can be in films like “Hugo”, and yet he keeps going back to trash like this.

The film’s comedy touches on every single gross-out factor that it can reach for in it’s grasp. The jokes last for FAR too long, and its evidence that the film’s plot and the development of its characters was the least important thing to Cohen. So much happens within the first twenty minutes of the film, and it’s done in a fast-forward method of storytelling, never allowing the audience to slow down and soak everything in. You can see every gag (great word) coming from a mile away, and because it’s predictable, the joke carries on and on. I found myself praying for an edit button many times in my showing. The material constantly stays at an intelligence level of a five-year-old, full of disgusting results for every setup. There is a scene that I kind of touched on already earlier in the review that is so gross that I constantly considered walking out. If anyone has seen “Freddy Got Fingered”, you’ll know the kind of level I am talking about with humor that consistently feels like you missed the clever punch line about the joke.

Immediatly, I noticed that for a movie that centers around England, the film’s actors portray quite possibly the worst English accents I have come across. Mark Strong is the only one who sounds accurate in his vocal portrayal, and he should since he comes from that country. Cohen too is british, yet his accent is stuck somewhere between Australia and Scotland. This pales in comparison though to whatever accent Rebel Wilson was trying to perform. I almost wish the movie would’ve added in an Australian history to her character, but she’s in the movie for so little, so who cares?

Screen time is also lacking for other big name actors who were in the film. Most notably, Isla Fischer is reduced to a desk job, with a romantic chemistry for Strong’s character. This plot device comes out of nowhere, and it feels like scenes or a backstory is missing to make their reliance on one another believable. Gabourey Sidibe is in one scene for the entire movie. They need her for fat jokes (Hardy har har), so there’s nothing else for her character once that’s done. Hell, Penelope Cruz is the mastermind vilain of the movie, and she’s in the film at the beginning and the end. They only bring her back when it’s appropriate to the plot. The film is so out of touch with its audience that I was actually rooting for Cruz’s terrorist character after I heard her motivation for doing what she did.

The action scenes are solid for a comedy film. There’s a lot of nice sequences that really pack a punch with sound editing and mixing. It’s all for short though, as the artistic delivery of each scene is shot so poorly. When the characters run, we are subject to the very same running camera style that aggravates me in films like these. It makes it so hard to register the kinds of things action on-screen, while forcing the audience to rub their eyes in agony repeatedly. This is made even more evident in the opening scene of the film that had a POV style of camera work for a shootout scene. This problem is what worries me about the upcoming “Hardcore Henry”, but that’s another story for another day.

“The Brothers Grimsby” clobbers viewers over the head with a steady stream of Sacha Baron Cohen’s edgy not-for-all humor, but too many gags hit the wrong side of the line between audacious and desperate to ever warrant a watchable experience. Cohen should be very careful with his next movie role. The potential is slowly slipping away for one of Hollywood’s better character actors, and that is perhaps the biggest shame with this spy spoof smut.

2/10

Norm of the North

Norm of the North

Tourists from across the world think about moving to the Arctic, but one big roadblock stands in their way; “Norm of the North”. Splash Entertainment’s big screen debut is about a polar bear named Norm (Rob Schneider) who is a breed of many words. Norm’s greatest gripe is simple: there is no room for tourists in the Arctic. But when a maniacal developer (Ken Jeong) threatens to build luxury condos in his own backyard, Norm does what all normal polar bears would do…he heads to New York City to stop it. With a cast of ragtag lemmings at his side, Norm takes on the big apple, big business and a big identity crisis to save the day. Along the way, Norm becomes a pop culture icon, creating the ultimate underdog success story while raising the negative approval rating of the developer’s failing firm. The animated feature film is also loaded with celebrity cameo voice work from Heather Graham, Colm Meaney, Bill Nighy, and Gabriel Iglesias doing dual work as two of the three lemmings.

There’s a point at about ten minutes into “Norm of the North” when you realize that this film isn’t going to get anymore entertaining. It’s a film that is stuffed with about twenty different situational humor gags for Norm to make the most of, without really resembling a plot structure that truly does stand out. I was bored about halfway into the movie because of the movie’s lack of humorous content. I managed one laugh which was a surprisingly unexpected gay joke that came out of left field. I guess it’s just further proof how reaching the screenplay was at all times. The material is so thin that the movie inserts several dance numbers into the movie so it can reach the flimsy 84 minute run time that it has set for itself. While I’m not the biggest fan of musicals, I NORMally (see the word I used there?) wouldn’t care so much if this movie wanted to make itself a musical. The problem comes in the film repeating the same song over and over again without even an attempt to change it up a little bit. The song is hard to find an artist to match it to. Probably because no artist wants to own up to this wreckage, but it’s called “Dance Out of Control”. Whoever wrote this got some serious promotion out of it because this song will have you holding a grudge over your children for years for them making you hear it. I will leave a link below this paragraph so I can share the magic that I got to experience SEVEN DIFFERENT TIMES.
Death to Eardrums

One thing that you can usually count on in children’s animation movies these days is the big Hollywood budgets that go into these movies. Sadly, “Norm of the North” does nothing but leave me wondering whose pockets have holes in them for the 18 million dollars they spent on this film. It’s certainly not in the animation, whose definition and color shading are reminiscent of late 20th century Playstation video games. The backgrounds and landscapes are quite gorgeous, and gave me what little enjoyment I had from the movie, but the character designs themselves make this film a shame that they ever tried to market it to theaters. None of the different characters whether it be Polar Bears or Lemmings ever have visual characteristics that make any of them stand out from the others. If it weren’t for talking monologue scenes, I might never know which character is witness to what storyline development.  The look of the main protagonist might be the worst of all of them though. From afar, Norm’s design doesn’t seem like anything that stands out as a negative, but with the up close shots you see a lot more of the problems. This character’s nose looks like its not made for his head type. Its color tones that followed Norm’s head movements often reminded me of a video game when your character drives off road through a body of water that the game never finalized because you’re not supposed to be there in the first place. Truly disgraceful. It’s not enough that he looks like he doesn’t belong anywhere in this world because the lighting of his fur never matches organically what could be expected when trying to blend in with his backgrounds.

So maybe the price tag isn’t involved in the art direction, but in the vocal work of such a committed cast. That would be wrong as well. Nobody here ever truly stands out, despite all of them never doing anything truly terrible. Rob Schneider does fine, but I often felt that his voice just doesn’t match what I could see coming out of a polar bear. Friendly voices are fine, but I would’ve cast someone with light bass tones. Schneider is just too whimpering to play an animal so towering. Heather Graham is passable, but her character doesn’t have enough to do to make her ever stand out as anyone more than just someone reading lines. Really Ken Jeong is the only actor who sounds like he wants to do something with his part, and boy did he ever. I can’t quite decide, but his vocal work is something between a cat being skinned alive and a high powered vacuum after sucking up a few marbles. It is truly agonizing to listen to his character shriek through every plan that Norm foils in his way. Jeong does good as a villain, but that doesn’t make it any easier to dry the blood that was dripping from my ear by the time the credits rolled.

Overall, “Norm of the North” reminds me just how dangerous the Arctic is and why nobody lives there. If I had to look out my window and see an eight foot tall Polar Bear dancing to the same song over and over again, while being made up of body movements that can only be described as Robocop malfunctioning, then I would probably need 18 million dollars just to get me out of therapy. This film is such a mess that a once-in-a- lifetime situation happened to me tonight. I was joined in the theater by three other families of parents and children. I believe there were ten people in total. Anyway, by the time the movie reached the final twenty minutes, they were all gone. I was left alone in the theater wondering how much I truly hated myself. If kids are asking their parents to go home, then that should be all the evidence you need to stay away from this movie.

2/10