Gotti

Directed by Kevin Connolly

Starring – John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Stacy Keach

The Plot – The film follows infamous crime boss John Gotti’s (Travolta) rise to become the “Teflon Don” of the Gambino Crime Family in New York City. Spanning three decades and recounted by his son John Jr. (Spencer Rocco Lofranco), GOTTI examines Gotti’s tumultuous life as he and his wife (Preston) attempt to hold the family together amongst tragedy and multiple prison sentences.

Rated R for strong violence and pervasive adult language

POSITIVES

– While the performances certainly aren’t anything of award worthy, Travolta and Preston are giving it their all in their respective roles. My only complaint from Travolta is that his performance feels like more of an impression of John Gotti, and less of an immersion. What pushes it through to positivity for me are some of the committed deliveries that he gives to some truly outlandish dialogue that did him zero favors.

– The inclusion of real life footage does a much better job in relaying information than the film does. I would normally complain for how much this film goes to the well for the added effect, but it was the only reason why I was able to follow what was transpiring from scene-to-scene.

NEGATIVES

– This film has attention deficit disorder of the worst kind. If you can get by the first five minutes of the movie, in which there are three different timeline switches, then you will have difficulty deciphering why this film can’t tell one cohesive direction from oldest to most recent in storytelling. This never settles down, and the whole film feels like a disjointed Frankenstein project that should’ve never seen the light of day.

– It’s not often that I complain about the dialogue feeling like it got its respective film genre wrong, but that’s what we have here. Most of the lines and conversation pieces feel like they’re ripped completely out of a satirical comedy that pokes fun at the gangster lifestyle, instead of hard-hitting, moving reads that make you feel their impact. Never for a moment was I shook or even remotely moved in the way that films like Goodfellas or The Godfather films achieve.

– Where the film begins is a bit of a mystery to me, because it makes Gotti feel like a sequel to a film we’ve previously seen. There is not a single mention of John’s earlier life, or anything before this twelve year period that the film rushes through, making the presentation feel like a two-and-a-half-hour movie that was horrifically trimmed to 100 minutes. Maybe we should be so lucky.

– My job as a critic is to point out aspects in time period pieces that don’t line up to the respective decade that a particular film is trying to depict, and Gotti has two of my absolute favorites of all time. Consider first of all that this film takes place between 1977-1989, then ask yourself why acclaimed rapper Pitbull has two songs that play overwhelmingly loud during an outdoor barbeque thrown by Gotti’s mob family. If this isn’t enough, ask yourself why during a New York skyline shot, the 9/11 tribute can easily be seen. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?? Were they even remotely trying?

– There’s are these huge leaps in time that only further contribute to the idea that this film was gashed in half. Events and things just tend to happen without much planning or warning, and we as an audience are left to pick up the pieces and figure out what happened along the way. I don’t care much for audible narration, but this is a film that needed it terribly, because surviving without it is like trying to learn a foreign language on one hour of experience.

– Much of the film’s production falters, feeling like a cheap made-for-TV experiment that they couldn’t sell to F/X. One such example is in a scene in which a rival mob boss walks up the street with his henchmen and turns down the corner. The problem comes in the fact that this exact same take is played three different times throughout the film. How do I know this? The boss’s limping pattern and clothes are the same in every take. After the second time, I didn’t even laugh anymore. I became concerned for how anyone could ever give Connolly a job in the director’s chair.

– Offensive character framing. If I was a citizen of New York or an Italian, I would be more offended watching this than watching an episode of Jersey Shore. I’m not sure if Connolly’s point was to depict Italians as braindead human beings, but bravo to a job well done. The movie has this strange angle of portraying Gotti as this hero of the community, and that he didn’t deserve what he got in the end. This gives me hope for that Dahmer film in which they depict him as a vegetarian.

– Much of the push-the-envelope material feels like watered down scenes from other, better gangster movies. In fact, as I sit here not even an hour after the movie ended, I remembered very few details to Gotti’s life that even made him such a valued angle for American cinema. There is definitely a compelling story somewhere underneath Connolly’s disheveled pieces, but they never combine with one another to craft anything of dramatic pull or tension for the movie. Even the death scenes feel like temporary hiccups instead of deconstruction to the title character.

2/10

Action Point

Directed by Tim Kirkby

Starring – Johnny Knoxville, Bridgette Lundy-Paine, Johnny Pemberton

The Plot – Everyone’s favorite daredevil Johnny Knoxville is back to his hilariously painful antics in the upcoming comedy Action Point. Knoxville stars as D.C., the crackpot owner of a low-rent, out-of-control amusement park where the rides are designed with minimum safety for maximum fun. Just as D.C.’s estranged teenage daughter Boogie (Lundy-Paine) comes to visit, a corporate mega-park opens nearby and jeopardizes the future of Action Point. To save his beloved theme park and his relationship with his daughter, D.C. and his loony crew of misfits risk everything to pull out all the stops and stunts.

Rated R for crude sexual content, adult language, drug use, teen drinking, and brief graphic nudity

POSITIVES

– Johnny Knoxville has made a career out of putting his body on the line, and even in films where this feels unnecessary and slightly forced, he at least always brings his A-game. Action Point brings with it enough debauchery and life-threatening stunts to keep Johnny constantly involved in the film, whether he wants to be or not.

– The film has a surprisingly toe-tapping soundtrack to boot all of its wacky hijinks. Artists like The Clash and Roger Alan Wade compliment the energetic musical score by Deke Dickerson that always amplifies each action sequence, and gives way to the film’s off-brand humor that never relents.

NEGATIVES

– There is absolutely nothing clever or intelligent about the film’s dialogue, so the humor muscle stems from Knoxville’s bodily harm that eventually wears itself thin. By the fourth or fifth time it happens, you begin to start mapping out how every sequence is going to turn out, lifting with it a cloud of predictability that should be anywhere but a Johnny Knoxville film.

– One aspect to recollection storytelling that always makes me laugh, is when the storyteller recalls events that they themselves weren’t there for, and Action Point is no stranger to this error. Through D.C’s words, he is able to recount conversations between characters that don’t include him, proving that much tender care was taken in bringing to life the believability of this story.

– What drives me crazy about this film is that they have a real life story in Action Park that practically writes itself, yet this trio of writers drop the ball at every opportunity in telling a story of a past time that feels worlds away now. From the family element between D.C and his daughter, to the unity and bond created between park members, nothing feels legitimate. A good example of everything I am talking about is the 2009 film Adventureland.

– Despite this film being 78 minutes, the pacing is an arduous task. As I’ve said before, when you’re not laughing in a film, it makes the ensuing minutes that much more torturous. I never laughed, nor did I even fake a laugh in this film. I figure if they’re not going to try, then why should I?

– I hate any film that makes me cheer on the intended antagonists and has me feeling like some rich, cynical snob, especially when said group is the bigger park that is trying to step on the little guy. This war of sides starts and ends with the Action Park team provoking them, and for a group that is trying to frame them as the prized antagonists, I would sell their hick ideals up the river for a slice of cherry pie.

– This is a world inside of the film with no consequences for any of its characters. With the exception of minimal injuries leading to something bigger with a subplot, every patron of Action Park is apparently never compromised with the neglected conditions of the park, establishing an air of lies within the very events that it depicts. If you read up on the real life Action Park, you will understand the importance of the injuries and ensuing lawsuits that took place against the park, painting the crew as their own villain.

– Shoddy production quality. The film has an overall cheap quality to its cinematography and editing work that can’t escape that feeling of a made-for-TV movie. Multiple frames are distorted and out of focus, continuity errors from scene-to-scene pop up like snake grass, and the transitions never feel eased or in-sync with the proper fluidity of a Hollywood picture. I’ve seen better production from Knoxville movies like The Ringer, or even the trio of Jackass movies. What gives?

– As I mentioned earlier, Knoxville can at least bring it in a physical capacity, but the film’s charmless screenplay acts as a sort of D.D.T to any kind of personality that he brings to the role. In addition to Johnny, fellow Jackass cast-mate Chris Pontius feels like a punishment each time he pops up to show us his bulge in skimpy underwear, or present in full illustration that junkie from high school who never grew up nor quit his addictions. In fact, there isn’t a single credible performance that I can even pretend to mold. It’s all a big waste of time, both mine and theirs.

2/10

Show Dogs

Directed by Raja Gosnell

Starring – Will Arnett, Natasha Lyonne, Chris Bridges

The Plot – Max (Bridges), a macho, solitary Rottweiler police dog is ordered to go undercover as a primped show dog in a prestigious Dog Show, along with his human partner, Frank (Arnett) to avert a disaster from happening in the biggest little city in the world; Reno.

Rated PG for suggestive and rude humor, adult language and some action

POSITIVES

– What’s shocking about this film is that there’s at least an informative stance taken not only with the show dog path involving vigorous training and technique, but also in the revealing abuse that dogs take throughout it all. Forced breeding, examination of genitals (I’m not kidding), and even abandonment after aging is all covered here, and I can at least respect the film for catering to the animal lover in all of us.

– The mouth caption effect is the lone positive from the production that is otherwise an embarrassment. Even though we know plain and simple that dogs can’t speak in the same manner that humans do, the film does a great job in lining up the dialogue to the lip movements that combine for an in-sync package.

NEGATIVES

– I’ve seen all kinds of films dealing with hatred, but ‘Show Dogs’ feels like racism for canines. Because we’ve learned nothing in hundreds of years, the same stereotypes for certain breeds of dogs are brought to the forefront, leaving the material played out and predictable before it even hits the screen. If you sit your furry friend down for this film with all of its 90’s ideals towards storytelling, then there’s a great chance that dog will walk away and shit in your shoes while you’re still drooling from how mind-numbingly vapid this entire screenplay is.

– Bottom of the barrel effects work that doesn’t even try. Everything from the movements of the dogs during fight sequences, to the lack of weight in their impact when they interact with live action actors is pitiful. The studios will think it’s OK because this is a film for kids and apparently that demographic lacks imagination, but Ray Charles can spot the shoddy heart in detail that went into this truly atrocious and hollow looking production.

– What genre is this for? It’s easy to watch the trailer and expect this film to be a comedy, but upon taking in all 87 minutes of it, I can say that this dog doesn’t even come close in hitting the tree with its meaty material. It’s not funny, nor is it particularly engaging in any sense. Lets put it like this, a dog shooting scene would be the best thing for this film, and I’m not kidding at all. If you choose ‘Show Dogs’ over ‘Isle of Dogs’ (Also currently in theaters), you’re a glutton for punishment in the most agonizing way.

– Another factor in that cringing comedy is the dedication that this film has to dropping a pun every ten seconds. These line reads feel like a shock collar on a film that is already limiting its distance in progression, and I found it difficult to sit still each time one was mumbled. Some of the best to make the list are three idiotic pigeons saying Max needs them because he needs “A good wing man”, Max dispatching of some rival dogs by saying “That’s what I call doggy-style”, and my personal favorite, Max asking a female dog he likes why she’s HOUNDing him. SHUT UP, MAX!!!

– Raja Gosnell has carved out quite the career in terrible kids movies. ‘Scooby-Doo’, Beverly Hills Chihuahua’, and ‘Smurfs: The Lost Village’ were bad enough, but his presence in ‘Show Dogs’ feels almost like a ghost. Much of the direction in characters and storytelling feels like the engine is running but no one is behind the wheel. Arnett and Lyonne feel like romantic interests, but nothing is further elaborated on. Arnett has obvious flaws from something in his past, but nothing is further elaborated on. The film revolves around this antagonist and his evil deeds with animals, but NOTHING IS FURTHER ELABORATED ON!!! Because of everything I mentioned, I can see Raja Gosnell becoming the new Alan Smithee for directors not wanting to claim a credit on a film they’re forced to helm.

– Arnett deserves so much better than this. I give him credit for being a professional and being forced to endure this tasteless kibble, but his lack of energy after the opening chase scene tells you everything that you need to know about his passion for having to sign up for something that shouldn’t be good enough to sign Rob Schneider, let alone someone with the credits that Arnett has.

– Inconsistencies Vs Logic of scenario. I mention both of these because they are equally laughable and offensive when you truly think about it. For the former, the camera work and editing is so cut-and-paste that long take scenes involving dogs often just replay the same five seconds of footage instead of forcing the animals to sit still for the time needed. Is this smart? Yes, but it so obviously sticks out like a sore thumb to someone looking for such production crimes. As for logic, consider that this film revolves around a guy stealing valuable animals to sell to other people. The problem being that the dogs are only valuable in millions BECAUSE they are prize-winning dogs, and therefore alert the buyer to the crime being committed.

– As to where talking dog films will convey to the audience early on whether the human counterparts can or can not hear them, ‘Show Dogs’ lacked definition until about halfway through the movie. Something as easy as this concept is left on the hook for scene after scene of Max responding to Arnett’s character like they’re having a conversation, especially considering Max is using his mouth to deliver and annunciate perfect speaking English. Then there’s my problem with the concept of humans not being able to hear their dogs. If this is indeed the case, then why does Max intendedly speak in a whisper during exchanges when he’s obviously trying to keep humans from hearing him? Why would he lower his voice at all if no matter what the humans can’t hear him? Who cares though, because kids are stupid.

2/10

Traffik

Directed by Deon Taylor

Starring – Paula Patton, Omar Epps, Roselyn Sanchez

The Plot – A couple off for a romantic weekend in the mountains are accosted by a biker gang. Alone in the mountains, Brea (Patton) and John (Epps) must defend themselves against the gang, who will stop at nothing to protect their secrets.

Rated R for violent and disturbing material, adult language throughout, some drug use and sexual content

POSITIVES

– Usually the confines of cheap cinematography will limit a film’s visual potential, but in ‘Traffik’ it’s quite the opposite. Here, the legendary Dante Spinotti knows exactly the kind of visual entendre necessary for capitalizing on a modern day exploitation film, and because of such we are treated to dim-litted areas, a faded color palate, and an overall sense of B-movie goodness that transports us to a simpler age of cinema.

– Refreshing movements with the camera that give scenes the only personality that this one is going to garner. Some great examples involve the abrupt close-up zooms that happen when something shocking takes place, as well as the vivid flashbacks that give the film a kind of daydream-to-nightmare sense of imagination.

NEGATIVES

– Inconsistent editing that can at times intrude on valued exposition, and other times forget to spring up on scenes that run far too long.

– The film’s deep-seeded material centers around the harsh practice of sexual trafficking, and while this illegal practice certainly deserves a magnifying look, it goes unmentioned until the final fifteen minutes of the movie. This is not only irresponsible, but downright insulting considering nothing that the film wastes time on is anywhere near as compelling or important to us the audience.

– As far as tone goes, the film never fully realizes its cherished exploitation direction fully. In fact, Taylor’s jumbled direction often feels like an action flick that goes horror by the darker third act, speeding towards a dead end with two opposite tastes that contradict instead of converge with one another.

– It takes far too long to get to the thrills of this desolate screenplay, and even then the law of averages within 91 minutes isn’t enough to hold your interest.

– Speaking of thrills, the twists are totally predictable once you know the name of the game with the antagonists. Because of such, this film does reach for the low-hanging fruit of palpability that other more distinguished B-movie classics don’t have the shame to pull from. Often times, I found myself talking allowed “Don’t do that” or “Don’t go there”, and yet every time my worst suspicion was confirmed.

– Patton in particular is trying her hardest in to overcome the director’s desire to film her in skimpy clothing by carving out something of depth to her performances, but she leads an overall cast of characters and performances that collectively miss their mark. The deliveries lack conviction, and even worse, these character outlines couldn’t be any thinner if they were drawn as stick figures. Epps screams cash grab, Sanchez reads these lines in her sleep, and Laz Alonso made me laugh for all of the wrong reasons every time his hot-headed character overreacted.

– Possibly the worst musical score this year thus far. The musical influence in this film is every bit as non-existent as it is repetitive, and this creates a lack of emphasis in impact for when a big chess move has been made between these two sides. This is stock music at its finest, and I hate making that declaration because composer Geoff Zanelli has done some truly compelling work in films like ‘Disturbia’, ‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’, and even the latest ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie.

– I’ve heard reports that audiences were bored by this film’s lagging presence, and while the pacing was never really much of an issue for me, I can point to one aspect of the runtime as an issue, and that’s the minimal material that this film actually has. At 91 minutes, this is a pretty easy sit, but the difficulty comes when you realize how stretched thin the material, as well as the inhuman movements that the characters take in squeezing out every last drop of this screenplay. At it’s core, there is a solid one hour of material here, but in reaching a studio-approved runtime, Taylor never capitalizes on the areas (Like the sex trafficking that I mentioned before) that require increased screen time to dramatize effect in the material.

2/10

Tyler Perry’s Acrimony

Directed by Tyler Perry

Starring – Taraji P Henson, Lyriq Bent, Crystle Stewart

The Plot – A faithful wife (Henson) tired of standing by her devious husband (Bent) is enraged when it becomes clear she has been betrayed as a result of a hidden affair. After the news breaks, revenge is the game, and hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Rated R for adult language, sexual content, and some violence

THE POSITIVES

– Henson knows in her mind that she’s far too good for a Tyler Perry movie, but nonetheless she commits herself in omitting a truly haunting and emotionally scarred performance. Taraji was clearly given no boundaries here, and despite her filmography this year leaving slightly more to be desired, it’s clear that the talented actress gives you the most return for your dollar.

– If Perry can do one thing right, it’s that he knows how to keep his audience invested. The film is narrated throughout by Henson’s character while talking to a therapist. As the film goes on, it feels more and more like she’s really communicating with those ladies in the audience who have been down this very road a time or two, making it extremely difficult to ignore something that ties so closely to their own lives.

THE NEGATIVES

– Continuity errors. It’s funny that while the two love interests are in high school, the female is noticeably two or three inches taller than the male, but ten years later their characters have morphed to give us a depiction of the man now being at least five inches taller. That’s a huge swing for post-adolescence.

– Jarring Green screen backdrops. There are some beautiful shots of the city engulfed in fog that seems to hint at the unforeseen troubles ahead for these characters, but anytime a character is shown in front of this area, the outline of their bodily properties is so terribly shaded that you’re constantly reminded of this cheap presentation by a director with tight pockets.

– The run time of two hours is far too long for this screenplay. This isn’t because the film is terribly paced or boring, but rather the perils of repetition that could easily use another edit in keeping it closer to that 100 minute mark.

– In addition to that repetition, the film is also prolonged by convenient plot devices that pop up out of nowhere. These scenes puzzle me even further because they often feel like they accompany a scene that is missing from the movie. One such example is a woman’s purse that shows up in our leading man’s truck, but the scene before that one the woman mentions how she refuses to be alone with him. So did she change her mind, or do purses fly all of a sudden?

– I had to check how many different writers penned this script because I refused to believe that the sharp turns in character logic were written by a single author. Much to my surprise, Perry also wrote this film, leading me to believe that he himself suffers from mixed personality disorder. Characters switch sides at the drop of a hat, and the film’s third act flies so far off of the rails that it feels like we’ve stumbled upon a completely different film all together. Just more proof of the man’s genius.

– This film is every bit as manipulative as it is morally bankrupt. If you saw the trailers, they made it look like Taraji’s character was taking revenge on a former lover for cheating on her and giving the new love all of the things that she deserved. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the last act of the movie convolutes character motivation so drastically that it almost approaches the clutches of Stockholm Syndrome with arms wide open, refusing to ever punish those who laid the groundwork for such conclusions.

– ‘Acrimony’ was made in eight days, and it clearly shows. In addition to the missing scenes that I mentioned before, much of the dialogue feels sloppily rushed and overall in a hurry to get to reach its destination without cutting to the psychology involved in spousal abuse. Any person with a shred of logic can comprehend that no sane adult would ever make these movements. On top of this, the film takes the time to visually define what Acrimony as well as other words associated with the script mean. That’s great because the only thing that can top laughably bad dialogue is an English lesson. SWEET!!!

– This is a thriller that for the most part lacks the thrills. We get one scene of action early on in the movie, then nothing until the final twenty minutes that I mentioned above. Perry as a screenwriter relies upon frantic dialogue reads by Henson, instead of the unchained Taraji that was promoted. For my money, watch the final twenty minutes. You could probably fill in the blanks as to what happened even without the rest.

2/10

Samson

Directed by Bruce Macdonald

Starring – Jackson Rathbone, Billy Zane, Taylor James

The Plot – A Hebrew (James) with an unusual gift of strength must respond properly to the call of God on his life in order to lead his people out of enslavement. After his youthful ambition leads to a tragic marriage, his acts of revenge thrust him into direct conflict with the Philistine army. As his brother mounts a tribal rebellion, only Samson’s relationship with a Philistine seductress and his final surrender, both to the Philistines and to God, turns imprisonment and blindness into final victory

Rated PG-13 for scenes of violence from battle sequences

THE POSITIVES

– At this point in the game, if religious films can’t even get costume and set pieces correctly, there’s no point in even trying. ‘Samson’ certainly continues this trend with a fine line of dissection between the Palestinians and the Hebrews that visually tell the difference in wealth distribution.

– Perhaps the best introduction scene to one of these films that I have ever seen. It actually felt like there was an attempt to insert some personality into this movie with the inclusion of quick-cut takes from a heist plan, as well as witty banter that actually brought a smile out of me.

THE NEGATIVES

– In retort to that dazzling intro scene, the rest of the film falls into the mundane category of familiarity. For what started on such a high note, eventually grinded into a slow drafting bible tale with none of the confidence in its characters or events to boot.

– The performances are all around laughably bad, but no one can hold a candle to Jackson Rathbone as the evil Rallah. What Eddie Redmayne did in ‘Jupiter Ascending’ can only be described as amplified to eleven with Rathbone’s unintimidating stature and uninspiring line reads that constantly fall short in carving out a meaningful antagonist. On the other side of the coin, James title character is written as an all brawn and no brain kind of hero who is constantly outwitted to the point of cringing in your seat for how easy his predicaments are to get out of. Even the often times over-the-top Billy Zane is in this film and they do nothing with him or his character. Some enthusiasm from Zane could’ve honestly made this sit a lot easier for me.

– God’s power is reduced to being a magical genie who pops up whenever Samson needs him. So if the rules are this easy to master, why not (Oh I don’t know) ask for food and drink for your starving village in the same ways you destroy a brick wall or bring down a stone building with your hands? I guess spectacle matters over livelihood.

– Consistently dropping the ball on establishing dramatic impact. Much of Samson’s adversity is disposed of within a few seconds, even taking out multiple 30 and 50 man armies by himself with ease. This is only in the first half of the film, mind you, so the second half wants us to believe that he will fail against one puny prince who may be the key to silencing this mystical Hebrew. Give me a break.

– Terribly choreographed fight sequences. Much of the reason for Samson being able to take down these huge armies by himself is because these soldiers only approach him one at a time, waiting in a neat and tidy line for their turns to meet their maker. There are many times when they could easily dispose of this one man army, but they would rather dogpile on him than take a knife to his chest when he’s pinned down. STUPID!! If that isn’t enough, the graphic material is so watered down here, free of blood or much graphic violence to really linger with the audience. An all around dry presentation.

– Uneven pacing plagues this film over and over again, turning a modest 105 minute film into what feels like a two-and-a-half hour plunge. Much of this can be blamed on just how much they try to squeeze into this film, limiting a majority of scenes to under three minutes so we can constantly keep moving. Where this harms the fluidity is in the bubbling feeling that this film garners no consistency in momentum for itself in bringing along its audience on the edge of their seats.

– Clunky dialogue that could double for even softcore pornography. Perhaps my favorite of these lines takes place between Samson and a woman he is courting during the beginning of the third act, in which she tells him that there is no way she could even bond him from leaving. Samson looks at her like he ripped gas and says “You should use the finest rope, that way I couldn’t fight it much” UGGHHHHHH!!!!

– Hallmark Channel level C.G in landscape establishing shots. Thankfully this is about 95% of the computer generation used in the film, but I couldn’t help but wince each time a new scene began.

2/10

Fifty Shades Freed

Directed by James Foley

Starring – Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Arielle Kebbel

The Plot – Believing they have left behind shadowy figures from their past, newlyweds Christian (Dornan) and Ana (Johnson) fully embrace an inextricable connection and shared life of luxury. But just as she steps into her role as Mrs. Grey and he relaxes into an unfamiliar stability, new threats could jeopardize their happy ending before it even begins.

Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, and adult language

THE POSITIVES

– This film at least knows that its material is thin, and because of such takes a step back from the two hour flicks of the previous two installments and makes this an appreciated 96 minutes.

– The series continues to be a beautifully shot one, coveting within it a barrage of landscape porn and elegant lighting design in overall cinematography by John Schwartzman. This at least immerses us into this world of rich tastes that visually seduce you in the same way they do Anastasia.

THE NEGATIVES

– Not a single credible performance amongst the bunch. Even Dornan, who proved his worth in 2016’s ‘Anthropoid’, feels in a rush to elude himself from the Grey persona for the future of his promising career. Everything feels very phoned in at this point, never straying far or improvising away from the plot points of a mundane screenplay.

– Because the personalities are so thin with these characters, none of them ever interest me to the point of feeling remote emotion for them. This is why by the third film in the series there is no shortage of infused dramatic subplots to offer something of a spark to keep the audience firmly in grip.

– Speaking of those subplots, the long term writing here is terribly choreographed and minimally discussed in the bigger picture of lagging sex scenes and Ana’s blossoming stupidity.

– There is nothing subtle about the obvious foreshadowing for where this chapter is taking us. I didn’t predict everything revealed in the painfully tacked on final ten minutes, but I knew what direction we were heading because their introductions feel so shoehorned in during a scene where it shouldn’t be deposited.

– Atrocious dialogue. Even for this series, ‘Freed’ still has the capability to make us cringe so hard that you will debate faking a bathroom break just to free yourself from the auditorium.

– The sex scenes have absolutely no sizzle or sensuality to them because of the void in chemistry between the two leads. Credit can be given that this film at least trims the length of each sex scene dramatically, but it’s all for nothing because there is still such an overabundance of them. Even porn collections know how to pace themselves better than this fan fiction dribble.

– Three movies and nearly six hours of screen exposition and I feel like I know very little about Christian Grey, except that he is the world’s biggest douchebag. I was told that the third book reveals much about Grey, but nothing revealed in this film is actually about him when you think about it. Instead, we are treated to more of what female audiences should be vetoing in a ‘Time’s Up’ society.

– Considering the first two films built to the wedding of these two, it’s used as such an afterthought here, speeding through a montage of scenes during the opening three minutes that give so little back to the faithful fans who have been waiting for these moments of indulgences.

– Even the music is offensive. While this soundtrack is an assortment of credible pop artists, their instilled numbers to the unappealing sex scenes conjures up an aura of childish atmosphere that are lyrically so awkward in trying to be sexy. What’s worse is that Danny Elfman scores it with his most invasive approach to date, channeling through the best of his C-side material with such ear-shattering volume, as well as an overall lack of environmental subtlety that spoil what’s coming long before it happens.

2/10

Boo 2!! A Madea Halloween

Everyone’s four favorite elderly’s return to once again do battle with another sinister force on all Hallow’s Eve, in ‘Boo 2! A Madea Halloween’. Written and directed by Tyler Perry, the film joins Madea (Perry), Bam (Cassi Davis), Viv (Chandra Currelley), and Hattie (Patrice Lovely) when they take a vacation to a campground with their family members. Unaware that the grounds are haunted, the group must band together to fight the terror, evil, and wacky hijinks of their mysterious opposition. When monsters, goblins, and the boogeyman are unleashed, Madea and company must fight it out with them in a laugh-out-loud battle to the death. ‘Boo 2! A Madea Halloween’ is rated PG-13 for sexual references, drug content, adult language and some horror imagery.

Going through back to back years with a Madea Halloween movie is a lot like getting over diarrhea and then coming back down with it only days later. It’s a real shitty time that keeps you planted for an excessive amount of time and stinks of the toxins that you put into your body. I apologize for the nasty description there, but ‘Boo 2!! A Madea Halloween’ is the perfect checklist for why Tyler Perry and I have been at odds since I began reviewing films in 2011. It’s without question Perry’s cheapest and least entertaining film to date, exchanging in the usual laughter involved in a comedic offering for shallow improv humor that stretches these scenes out longer than the pancake batter that Perry and friends don to immerse themselves in these truly wretched individuals. And there’s no benefit to ripping it to shreds even in the slightest. Making fun of a Tyler Perry movie is like making fun of a three legged dog who is humping a fire hydrant, it’s painfully low-hanging fruit that makes you feel stuck up for even having the audacity to rip it. I could think of much better ways to spend 96 minutes with my life, and most of them involve fitting myself for a noose and testing the strongest board in my house for durability. I didn’t think for a second that this film could possibly be worse than the original chapter that came out last year, but Perry proves once again that I should never doubt him when it comes to how truly low he will go.

First of all is the screenplay and material, or lack there of. So much of this script relies heavily on improv comedy to run up the clock and make the most out of basic outline drafting. When I really think about it, there’s only six different setting changes in this film, and while that may feel like a lot for an hour and a half, it is very minimal when you consider the progression that comes with multiple parties of characters and group conflicts. What this film desperately needs is an editor who doesn’t serve as a Perry enthusiast and straight up tells him when to cut the shit. Scenes drag on for an eternity, and while I remember this being a vital negative to my overall grade for the original movie, it doesn’t even make it into the top five of mind-blowing decisions that went into this production. The screenplay structure is basically the same as the first movie, proving just how little diversity went into this horror spoof that even lacks the kind of versatility for something in that putrid genre. I wouldn’t be surprised if this script was five pages long and used a lot of captions that involved the word IMPROVISE because it feels like Perry has no grip or enthusiasm to treat his audience to anything more, and why should he? this man continues to steal money from the pockets of his enthusiasts the same way that armed robbers do, except a robbery gives you the satisfaction of having an emotional response in being scared to death for your life.

So we know the comedy sucks, but what about the satisfactions with the genre it is spoofing; horror? Well, that direction doesn’t even take place until there is fifty minutes left in the movie, making the opening act and a half feel like you’re watching an entirely different film that just so happens to take place around this night of supposed terror. The shift from one tone to the next is so rough and jagged with the transitioning that there never is any defining moment of exposition when this takes place. As for the scares themselves, this cheap production makes the backdrops and landscapes of fog and woods feel so outdone and often times unrecognizable that I don’t fully grasp what particular movie that they are spoofing. There is a ‘Get Out’ reference that is seen in the film’s trailer, but with a few more of these clever instances, the film could’ve done a better job in subverting our attention to the waning interest in these sequences of the very cheapest denominator. Even for spoof or satire, ‘Boo 2’ offers very little to justify its existence, omitting the taste of a Madea movie that is being force-fed a Halloween motivation.

The performers who make up this complete ensemble offer nothing of any noteworthy praise or momentary break in monotony that they provide in their phoned in performances. This is definitely still Perry’s show, as he commands three different characters in the movie, but oddly enough for a movie that has her name in the title, Madea is relegated to kind of a supporting role in her own movie. A majority of what Perry puts his time and energy into is in the character of Joe, a horny, drug-smoking, horny, immature, horny, man-child who repeats the same few lines over and over to the point that I thought I was suffering from deja vu. In addition to Perry, his supporting cast of characters are equally as agitating. For whatever reason, Tito Ortiz is cast in this as Perry’s best friend, and if Tito is believable in just one thing, it’s that he is an MMA athlete who is trying to make the transition to film. His line reads lack any kind of commitment and visually give off the impression that he is holding in a fart so as not to ruin a scene that they have no money to waste. Yousef Erakat and his collective fraternity of date rapists made me uncomfortable in every stretch of the imagination. Seriously, every time these douchebags are on screen, it has the same feeling as the nerds from a Saved By the Bell episode, complete with cringe-worthy music that narrates every scene they choose to grace us with their sleazy romantic sides. My least favorite without question, yet oddly enough the only positive point that I can give this movie, is still Diamond White as Perry’s spoiled daughter Tiffany. If she does one thing well, it’s in the ability to invest your reasoning to the adults, because the way she treats her Father deserves an ass kicking. Characters like Tiffany are everything that’s wrong with today’s youth, and while she doesn’t do anything different from the oral garbage that she spewed just a film ago, White deserves all of the credit in the world for at least doing what the script asked of her.

All of what I’ve previously mentioned is a walk in the park compared to the cheap production qualities that completely make this film unwatchable for someone looking to escape into good times for even a brief amount of time. The lighting coming from windows surrounding our scenes ruin shots because their volume in brightness doesn’t register well on cheap camera equipment like this. What this does is give off several blurry scenes that are left in the film because they either had no time to reshoot, or they just didn’t have the motivation to fight it. But the most obvious error in this film is the handicap of its PG-13 rating that does no favor to the vicious ADR that takes place in this film. What I don’t understand is characters do cuss in this film. There’s an F-bomb, and several shits left in the line reads, but there’s so many curse words that are edited out of this movie without a smooth overlap that makes it beyond obvious. Think television edits when it comes to movies like ‘Snakes on a Plane’ or ‘The Breakfast Club’, but so much worse. The volume of the replacement word spikes so highly during their edits that you can’t help but notice their rocky inclusion when compared to the lips of characters who are obviously saying a word entirely different to that of what we’re hearing.

THE VERDICT – Any film with the word “Boo” in the title has some unbelievable balls to it. ‘Boo 2!! A Madea Halloween’ is a 96 minute Russian Roulette campaign that has Tyler Perry digging with a shovel to new lows in his already tumbling career. It’s obvious that this film was never going to be good, but the cheap production qualities and noticeable similarities in structure to its predecessor, breathe new life to the nightmares that Perry giftwraps to me every year without fail. What’s scary isn’t anything in the movie, but in the box office numbers that his fans will inevitably drive up, proving that dollar bills do float in toilet water.

2/10

Til Death Do Us Part

All is fair in love, marriage, and life-threatening war, in the newest dramatic thriller, ‘Til Death Do Us Part. Michael (Stephen Bishop) and Madison (Annie Ilonzeh) Roland had planned to spend the rest of their lives together after getting married, until one day Michael’s scary controlling ways turned their perfect marriage into a hostile game of escape for Madison. With the help of her best friend, Chelsea (Robinne Lee), Madison decides to get away. After adopting a new identity, she meets Alex Stone (Taye Diggs) and learns to love again. All is well, until Michael discovers Madison’s whereabouts, and recreates the nightmare she once lived all over again. ‘Til Death Do Us Part’ is written and directed by Chris Stokes, and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving domestic abuse, violence, some sexuality and adult language.

My opinion for the most overcrowded subgenre of films is in that of black stalker dramas that give us three or four of these similarly structured plots each year. Already this year, ‘Unforgettable’ made its presence felt, but the magic enveloped in ‘Til Death Do Us Part’ makes that previous film feel like ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. This is an awful movie, highlighted by the cheapest of production qualities that give it that VH1 Sunday Night Drama visual enticement. I didn’t even learn about the existence of this movie until two days ago, and I debated even seeing it until I saw the laughably bad acting and redundant plot that instantly made me yell out “Another one of these?” ‘Til Death Do Us Part’ feels like walking down the aisle with a property that you truly know in your heart is doomed for failure, but you’re forced to love it all the same even when the red flags pop up like weeds all over this film. Is there anything salvagable about it? Only the positivity of laughing at its unintentionally benign ideas for how the real world works, exchanging common sense for scandalous propaganda at every mind-numbingly sufferable turn. It all makes a case for possibly the worst movie that I have seen of 2017, and that is saying a lot to compete with the gutter offerings of this underwhelming year.

First of all is the character framing for the film that really made me question who truly was the villain in a movie that centered around female domestic abuse. The first act of the movie showcases Michael in a way that any of us can understand and reason with. Sure he’s a little too fake in personality on the outside, but never anything that feels like a foreshadowed warning for events to come. Madison is presented as a pushy, self-centered, and even forceful protagonist that wants, needs, and has had to have a baby since she was five years old. If you think I am embellishing here for the sake of a review, you’re sadly mistaken. I found it disgusting that right up until Michael laid a hand on Madison, that I was fully in his camp of thought process considering he has given her everything up to this point. Despite how little I believe that no signs of Michael’s abuse have popped up to Madison up to this point, I find it even more difficult that these two have anything in common with the lack of internal chemistry or bumbling line reads that omits between them. It goes nowhere often, and each scene feels worse than the previous one because of the kind of dialogue that beats the obvious intention of direction over the head of the audience with each crushing blow.

The tide is turned about thirty minutes into the film when Madison (Spoiler) decides to fake her death in the most elaborate scheme that I have ever seen. She hires a male friend to play her doctor, he renders her unconscious with a medicine that stops her heart for two minutes, and somehow the hospital stands by without asking any questions? Considering they have to use an actual hospital room for the procedure, I don’t see how this secret was kept successfully. You know what’s even more asinine? How did Michael not once ask to see his wife pre or post death announcement? The movie doesn’t care about these questions because it has to keep going with painfully mangled storytelling that often feels out of place from scene to scene. I say this because there is one scene where Madison is beaten up by her husband, only to be happy and talkative in the next. Yet the scene after this will show her as battered and bottled up because of the events of two scenes prior. NOTHING MAKES SENSE. If a film’s story is a straight and narrow line, this film’s sequencing looks a kid with a disruptive bladder is drawing on an etch-a-sketch. It’s so hard to stay invested in something that is constantly moving and doesn’t slow down in order to soak in the weight of each pivotal (If you can call it that) moment of plot details.

Refusing to be outdone by the flawed screenplay, is the visual presentation that truly made me furious on how a film of this amateur level got funded. The editing is so choppy that it often feels like it cuts out just at the moment when we’re making up some ground on character development or maximizing the dramatic tension. An example of this poor editing is a scene early on in which Michael is visiting the graves of his deceased Mother and Father. After he’s done talking to them, he walks away, the scene cuts, and the next scene is him back at his house knocking on the door. Without a new establishing shot, this feels like the scene is trying to tell us that he has two buried parents in his backyard amongst a field of other unrelated tombstones. If you think this is bad though, it doesn’t hold a candle to the music video style of artistic direction that the film’s soundtrack and cinematography takes us through. For some strange reason, the film feels like it is being forced to sell the soundtrack, because we get these uproaring musical cues in each scene that play at such an ear-shattering level that I couldn’t help but clutch my head from the voices that were seeping in. If this isn’t enough, we can’t go literally two minutes or two scenes without a lyrical song playing in the background to strike up the mood of a particular scene or to introduce the first in a series of musical montages that we are treated to in this film. The worst of this offering definitely comes from Taye Diggs workout regimen that includes him listening to deathgore metal unlike anything you’ve heard in the movie. It’s funny enough to envision Taye Diggs enjoys music where you can’t understand the lyrics because of thunderous guitar chords, but it’s even funnier when you consider this is a soundtrack that includes Flo-Rida’s ‘My House’ and ‘Son of a Preacher Man’.

As for performances, there’s nothing worthy enough to even remotely save this flop, but Taye Diggs in always enjoyable to see in the few scenes he pops up in late in the movie. Again though, there’s no chemistry between he and Ilonzeh to match her previous establishment with Bishop, so the film is missing the kind of depth in heart from these performances that make you invested in th well-being of their characters. Ilonzeh and Bishop trade in demeanor and commitment to character for the ability to yell their dialogue every few minutes into the camera. Somewhere this is considered acting, but here it feels annoyingly childish in representation for how real people act. Is there yelling in relationships? Of course, but you build to that moment, you don’t start off with the amps on 10 to begin with. Bishop has the visuals of a prominent psychotic antagonist, but his delivery often makes his register feel forced and hollow of the establishing anger that is buried deep beneath his discovery of betrayal. Stokes often writes him into a corner, taking him down roads of unoriginality that many more established actors have traveled down years before him.

THE VERDICT – There was never a minute where I was convinced that I was going to enjoy ‘Til Death Do Us Part’, but the uninspiring overall presentation and lack of emotional center make this campy thriller a death sentence for staying awake. Stokes surgically removes logic from his story, parading us through one event after another of implausable consequence that doesn’t even remotely touch base with the human spirit. Could I be taking this a bit too seriously? Perhaps, but if a B-grade thriller flick can’t even embrace the fun within its own inane concepts, why should I feel light-hearted for it wasting 96 minutes of my life? Til Death Do Us Part? Why wait?

2/10

The Emoji Movie

Those characters that we control with the tip of a finger come to life in Sony Animation’s ‘The Emoji Movie’. Hidden within the messaging app is Textopolis, a bustling city where all your favorite emojis live, hoping to be selected by the phone’s user. In this world, each emoji has only one facial expression, except for Gene (T.J Miller), an exuberant emoji who was born without a filter and is bursting with multiple expressions. Determined to become “normal” like the other emojis, Gene enlists the help of his handy best friend Hi-5 (James Corden) and the notorious code breaker emoji Jailbreak. Together, they embark on an epic “app-venture” through the apps on the phone, each its own wild and fun world, to find the Code that will fix Gene. But when a greater danger threatens the phone, the fate of all emojis depends on these three unlikely friends who must save their world before it’s deleted forever. ‘The Emoji Movie’ is written and directed by Tony Leondis, and is rated PG for some rude humor.

For whatever reason, movies will often get a bad word of mouth through the grapevine of gossip, so nobody after will give that movie a fair read. More times than not, films that are given the dreaded 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, or a 1/10 by critics everywhere, are often the victim of unfair critiques from critics who clearly have not seen enough bad films and just want in on all of the fun of bashing. With that said, ‘The Emoji Movie’ is that rare film (if you can call it that) that deserves all of the beating that this word of mouth is dishing out. For my experience, this is as shameless as it gets for product placement. Films have been raked over the coals for less than this, yet here is a movie based entirely on the IPhone and all of its emojis and apps that take up valuable time in our days. This of course comes from Sony Animation Studios, the studio responsible for the very definition of whoring out your product, so it comes as no surprise that this lifeless garbage lacks the kind of inspiring or original story to hold its own amongst the growing field of smart kids movies that are popping up. Lets put it like this; There are films that I hated more in 2017, but none of those gave me as dull and lifeless of a time like this one did for 84 mind numbing minutes that I will never get back.

You will realize just how flat this story falls when the gears start to turn and you see the kind of repetition in direction that this film takes with other movies like ‘Wreck It Ralph’ or ‘Inside Out’. This definitely feels like a cheaper coming-of-age version to those plots, ripping off the very minimal of what fits their dreaded narrative that we’ve all see before. Gene is an underdog, Gene loses something valuable to him, Gene goes on a long distance journey, Gene befriends some wacky characters, Gene succeeds on a road to redemption. To me, this plot falls very flat because its evidenced by its lack of emotional depth or investment by the audience at home just how unimportant it feels when it stands in the way of the humor. More on that in a bit. For so much of this film, it just kind of stands in place because you see so much of what is coming long before they actually get there. It’s a math problem that you can do on a piece of paper, made even worse by clutching pacing that left a phone imprint on my hand from all of the times that I checked to see how much was left of the movie.

As for humor, I didn’t laugh once in the entire film, mainly because I find it difficult to believe that this film was trying anything beyond the wink-and-nod to the audience for the kind of things they see daily on their phones. It’s remarkable just how few actual setups for long-term laughs that there are in this movie, and instead the film would rather focus on these overused puns that continue to inform us of each Emoji’s personality. There is an attempt to poking fun at the awkwardness of teenage conformity to technology, but the only time that humans are seen in this film is when their phones start freaking out and making noises from the chaos going on inside of them. A trait that doesn’t make sense when you consider that the main kid in this movie could easily turn off his ringer to quiet the disturbing things that his phone is saying to him. The funny bone is really pinched tightest though, when it began taking us in and out of apps like Youtube and Candy Crush to sell time and eat up some precious minutes. Because of this, it doesn’t feel like this script was anything remotely more difficult than someone with a typewriter looking at their phone for the few spare ideas that rarely have the kind of cohesive flow to feel like anything other than a collection of moments instead of an acceptable whole. The kind of film where everyone is dumber for having watched it, and if laughs are a measurement of mental capacity, my auditorium sounded like everyone’s reactions were on vibrate.

The cast too is left with wasted efforts because of so little to work with within the material that always keeps them firmly grounded. I love T.J Miller, but it’s clear that the man isn’t getting the kind of scripts that bring his R-rated demeanor to life. As Gene, Miller doesn’t feel like the right man for the job vocally to match the facial reaction of his emoji, a point that does come out in a subplot early on in the movie, but continues to waste away the personality of one of Hollywood’s greatest scene stealers going today. In addition to Miller, we get turns from James Corden as Gene’s friend Hi-5, Anna Faris as Jailbreak, and Maya Rudolph as the antagonist Smiler who left me uncomfortable at every appearance. None of these valued actors have anything above conventionalism to bring to their roles, and never for a minute did I feel glued in on their changing situations. Faris is probably the only one who sounded any different from her normal delivery, but Jailbreak’s backstory is virtually ignored for the entirety of the plot, hinting at possible scenarios that we never get closure on. In a perfect world, Faris would rightfully steal this movie, but she doesn’t even want it when the others are gladly handing it to her on a platter, and the wasted efforts all around are a glowing reminder of what could’ve been from a film idea that feels outdated even in 2017.

If I do have one back handed compliment to say about the film, it is in its animation, which isn’t nowhere near the quality of a Pixar presentation, but is an improvement on past Sony animation films that feel jarring in their shading for character illustrations. ‘The Emoji Movie’ does have a deliciously appetizing color scheme that at least takes us on a visually stunning field trip of ambitious backdrops and energetic landscapes. The character outlines could use more definition on their physical outlines, because sometimes their colors will blend together when put in front of a backdrop with the same color, but it’s hard to fault them so much about this process when everything else is frankly so terrible about this presentation. The animation at least held its own in bringing to life the every day visuals from our smart phones that we have come to know, and while my mind was drowning in a sea of stupidity from everything mentioned prior, I at least had a spectrum that kept the film in beautiful surroundings.

THE VERDICT – Leondis’s ‘The Emoji Movie’ is the kind of film where writers and directors are never heard from again. A lumbering, lazy lack of intellectual fortitude whose only intention is the callous cash grab that does nothing for any age group. The visuals offer momentary bliss between the overwhelming lack of trying that plagued this film at every other turn. Emoji’s are meant to be the time saving methods of expressing emotions to other people, maybe too is this movie for the basic concepts of storytelling and entertainment value that it doesn’t find as remotely important.

2/10

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