The Star

A collection of animals follow ‘The Star’ as a map in their quest to get to Bethlehem before it’s too late. In Sony Pictures Animation’s newest feature film, a small but brave donkey named Bo (Steven Yeun) yearns for a life beyond his daily grind of repetition at the village mill. One day he finds the courage to break free, and finally goes on the adventure of his dreams. On his journey, he teams up with Ruth (Aidy Bryant), a lovable sheep who has lost her flock, and Dave (Keegan Michael-Key), a dove with lofty aspirations. Along with three wisecracking camels and some eccentric stable animals with electric personalities, Bo and his new friends follow the Star and become unlikely heroes in the greatest story ever told; the first Christmas. ‘The Star’ is directed by Timothy Reckart, and is rated PG for some thematic elements.

Releasing a story about the birth of Jesus around the holiday season seemed like a good idea in theory, but the dulled down execution of ‘The Star’ hints that your time would be much better served doing literally anything else than this. The film isn’t truly awful, just awfully boring, and a great lack of detail paralyzes this one from ever breaking free from the pack of religious films that bring out the groaning in all of us. Thankfully, this one at least isn’t insulting or shaming the non-believing crowds for their respective beliefs, choosing instead to focus loosely on the greatest origin story of all time in Jesus Christ. From a theatrical perspective, this one lacks any clear defining trait in releasing this on the silver screen. From its minimal run time (78 Minutes), to its narrow screenplay or jarringly disappointing animated stylings, Reckart’s honorable tale falls along the way of this aridly dry journey in giving us anything memorably pleasing about the investment made towards wanting to see an original version of the classic telling.

The screenplay is so dry and free of laughs in its material that I found myself fighting off sleep throughout. In fact, my experience with ‘The Star’ makes me feel like the film had some good ideas for the night of the immaculate birth, and then decided to fill in the rest around it as they went along. I say this because the third act of the film is by far the most exciting and the most urgent in terms of my investment as a whole with the movie. It’s nothing amazing by any stretch of original storytelling, but when you consider how mind-numbingly dull the first hour of this movie truly is, you can appreciate a finale that throws as much at the screen as it can to getting audiences back into this thing. The humor inside of this script feels virtually non-existent. That’s not to just say that it is bad in delivery, but that it feels like it is never there to begin with. Considering this is basically a kids-first dominated audience, I feel like screenwriters Simon Moore and Carlos Kotkin cater more to the side of bible enthusiasts instead of the ones that will pile into the theater in droves to see an up-roaring good time. Evidence of this exists throughout the first two acts that feel like you’re being subjected to a Sunday School Hallmark offering that is posing as a Hollywood film in sheep’s clothing. I could forgive Sony Animated Studios if this was the first or second time that I have been annoyed with them, but the sour taste of ‘Nine Lives’ from 2015 still lasts to remind me of the horrors that I’ve been through with this company.

Sony’s brand of animation continues to get better in certain aspects, but still struggles in artist rendering that has it falling by the wayside of Dreamworks or Pixar for top dog. The background illustrations are beautiful here, establishing a patented desire for even the most minute detail in landscapes and buildings that sets a lively stage for our characters. The sky and clouds as well breathe a strong artistic stroke that tiptoes the fourth wall of live action rendering. Where my problem lies is still with the character depictions, especially during the day time scenes that highlight their lumbering movements and facial definitions accordingly. The mouth movements of characters are still trailing behind where they rightfully should be with their appropriate speech patterns, and there’s a great lack of life or energy behind the walking and reaching of both human and animal properties. As to where Pixar gets the little things like facial acne or wrinkles to strong detail in their films, Sony Animation is still leagues behind in this regard, giving their characters the most basic of approaches to what make them standout amongst one another.

My distaste doesn’t just end with the visuals however, it also rang persistent with the collective musical soundtrack by a collection of popular artists like Mariah Carey and Jake Owen. I should first say that the musical score by composer John Paesano is nowhere at fault here, as his accompaniment of orchestral influence gave the film the big feeling that I felt it was sadly missing for the rest of the tonal atmosphere. But with the soundtrack, I feel like this is another example of popstars trying to hip up these classic religious songs with a dose of modern swagger to appeal to a broader audience. Anytime this happens in films, I can’t help but taste the feeling of desperation that sacrifices the pitch and feeling of the story at heart. This kind of thing is nice for a kids movie, but a story about Jesus probably doesn’t require a hip hop influence to its scenes and sequences for the sheer fact that this style of music was thousands of years away. I compare it to hearing hip hop during the 2012 version of ‘The Great Gatsby’. It’s jarring to the point of ruined immersion into the film, and does nothing but play as a distraction on the whole piece.

This wide range of cast are also quite a feat to see under the same roof, even if a majority of their deliveries lack the kind of energy needed in reaching the youthful audience. With the exception of Keegan Michael-Key as Dave the sidekick dove and best friend of Bo, not one of these actors get lost in their vocal versatilities, and choose instead to play everything at face value. What makes Keegan work so well in this role besides his animated vocal tones, is that he truly samples a pitch that sounds completely different from his familiar patterns. Michael-Key’s endless energy goes a long way anytime he’s on screen, and I couldn’t thank Dave enough for waking me from a coma each time he wasn’t present. Besides him, Aidy Bryant isn’t terrible as Ruth, but her character’s one-dimension purpose limits her abilities in breaking out of the Saturday Night Live diamond that she finds herself in. Steven Yeun was very disappointing, sounding off Bo as a protagonist who is simply collecting a paycheck. Whether it’s poor writing or poor dissertation, Yeun’s turn as the lead of this film can’t quite get a grasp of what is needed from the material, and because of such, Bo makes for arguably the worst of animal leads in a year that has John Cena voicing a four hundred pound bull.

THE VERDICT – Few things shine bright with ‘The Star’, but those that do are doing so because of the limited spectrum being displayed by uneven animation, as well as a boring story that alienates quickly. Already with ‘Daddy’s Home 2’ and ‘A Bad Mom’s Christmas’, this has been a holiday movie season to forget, but Timothy Reckart’s animated telling gives us one final blunt blow with a nativity story that incorporates butt jokes and slapstick humor to its senseless direction. If this truly is the greatest story ever told, I’ll opt for fiction.

4/10

Daddy’s Home 2

Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg go another round, this time with three additional fathers in tow to their adventures of mayhem. In ‘Daddy’s Home 2’, Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) and Brad (Will Ferrell) have joined forces to provide their kids with the perfect Christmas. Through their newly found union of being best friends, the duo have the father game on lockdown, offering the best of both respective worlds to the children they love. However, their newfound partnership is put to the test when Dusty’s old-school, macho Dad (Mel Gibson) and Brad’s ultra-affectionate and emotional Dad (John Lithgow) arrive just in time to throw the holiday into complete chaos. On top of it all is the macho Roger (John Cena) who pushes Dusty through the pools of embarrassment with his own macho stature. If father knows best, these kids are truly in trouble. ‘Daddy’s Home 2’ is written and directed by Sean Anders, and is rated PG-13 for suggestive material and some adult language.

It was only a week ago that I saw ‘A Bad Moms Christmas’, but the disheartening memory of that film has stuck with me for a new film based on similarities that more than ring a bell of coincidence in ‘Daddy’s Home 2’. I can’t nail down for certain why ‘A Bad Moms Christmas’ decided to move their release date up from the December debut that it was supposed to receive, but my shot in the dark is that someone on their production team got an early word or screening or ‘Daddy’s Home 2’ and concluded that it was the same movie, leaving the two films fighting for who would see the light of day of originality first. Besides the fact that this is a film about burdening parents coming to visit these extreme parents themselves, both films take place on Christmas, both feature scenes involving the theft of a Christmas tree, both diminish the return of the opposite sex in their films, and both even have the same ending in direction with the elder parents. One could write this off as ironic, but there’s something that stinks terribly within two movies that are only a week apart. A formula for a wrong that must be righted for two films that will inevitably stand side-by-side in my end of the year countdown because those glaring similarities can never separate as to which mirror image is better.

For every root that finds its way back to the central plot, this is very much Gibson’s movie. The arrival of this once prominent A-lister who has decided to join the ranks of slapstick humor does a great value to the movie, playing Kurt with enough rabid testosterone to field his own Expendables sequel. Considering the original film left us off with John Cena’s Roger coming into play, it seems strange that this film shutters him until the final half hour of the movie, leaving Gibson with the majority of screen time to hold down the fort. In fact, it’s easy to see where a re-write could’ve substituted Cena for Gibson as both imitate similar character attitudes and structures that thrust them into the light of temporary antagonists. As for progression, there’s very little of it with wacky experiences basically blazing the trail for what is to come over 95 hanging minutes. It feels like the writers got together a bunch of family ideas during Christmas and decided on which direction was the lowest possible hanging fruit to make them cater to the Ferrell school of humor. The film makes no attempt to hide or subdue its obvious intention into making this a male first movie. The females of the film offer very little substance or subplot that makes their place worthy in this sequel, leaving them biding their time until one of the male co-stars remembers that they are in frame, leading to a worst case scenario in a world that is building equality in film for the first time ever.

As for humor, nothing should surprise you from the adolescent mind of man-child Anders who wrote such timeless classics as ‘Dumb and Dumber To’, ‘That’s My Boy’, and of course the original film in this series that has already overstayed its welcome. Most of this slapstick offering misses its mark on setting some kind of precedent for consistency in its physical sequences, and its predictable timing can now be related to something like horror movie jump scares when the sound lowers just before something is about to pop out. The instances of witty dialogue far outweigh the value of returns to that of something that offers an elaborate stunt of flashes and pain to get its point across, as those were the only points during the film where I garnered a chuckle or two for the way these constant professionals carry the material. As like any movie (Especially ‘A Bad Moms Christmas), the film also tries the predictably cliched heartfelt center towards the end of the movie that reaches and fails like most comedies to cash in on that dramatic impulse that could instill a valuable message to those leaving the theater. I don’t buy it, and it never works for a second because these characters as people feel damned from the get-go. The final fifteen minutes even override this direction with a bat-shit finale where it feels like all hell and logic break loose in a sequence that casts more concern than care.

Like any Will Ferrell movie, it’s status quo that the child characters are more mature than the adults, but this film took things to new heights of defined endangerment that wouldn’t stand in any household. As parents, these six units are every bit as ignorant as they are promoting to the kinds of actions that kids should be punished for, bringing to life the demonic intuitions that impressionable minds are known for. A few of the examples for this film involve the younger kids playing with the thermostat during sleeping hours, the kids getting drunk on eggnog, firing off guns in the woods, and of course incest. Thankfully I was alone in the theater because anyone who laughs at this kind of material would really make me feel sorry for them, and while this kind of thing might’ve been provocative during the 90’s, comedies today require more intelligence and less barbaric in getting that coveted reaction that comic writers so desperately crave anymore. That desperation certainly rings true here, but always for the wrong reasons, and because of such ‘Daddy’s Home 2’ feels like being witness to a child destroying property in a supermarket. We want to say something to the parents, but it feels like those kids are who they are because their grown counterparts set the stage for them to shine.

As for performances, the chemistry is still very much there for Wahlberg and Ferrell even if the film feels slightly more focused on their parental units. A majority of this as I already mentioned is in Gibson who at first feels obvious in his villainous rage, but later won me over as the seams that tear this family apart from the inside. John Lithgow is also a welcome addition, reveling as Brad’s Dad (He has no actual name in the movie) with the kind of softie innocence that accurately depicts how Ferrell’s character has come to be. I’ve never really been a huge Will Ferrell fan, and nothing in this film won me over for his brand of humor. Wahlberg continues to show a versatility for comedy to work hand-in-hand with his dramatic thrillers, and I honestly could’ve used a little more screen time devoted to his rivalry with Cena to watch these two bulls collide at the horns. The sacrifice here is definitely Linda Cardellini’s character who played basically the trophy for the two males in the first film, and is now nothing more than a side note to chime in any time an unraveling humorous sequence needs further establishing reactions. It’s a noticeably bitter pill to swallow for any females watching who would like to see a single motherly instinct reflected on screen. To that I say, well, at least there’s ‘A Bad Moms Christmas’.

THE VERDICT – ‘Daddy’s Home 2’ gave me a holiday hangover seven weeks before Christmas. With juvenile humor and the slimmest of scripts creatively to boot, Anders second chapter in this series relies far too heavily on the same inept concepts in malicious intents that overstuffed the stockings of the first movie, leaving a second film that doesn’t work overtime to get the heart beating to either of its horrific characters or benign traditions. More fathers means less time for mothers, a true representation of the male psyche that has been plaguing Hollywood for decades.

4/10

November Criminals

Two curious teenagers are on the hunt for the killer of their friend’s untimely death, in ‘November Criminals’. Based on Sam Munson’s 2010 of the same name, the story revolves around 18-year-old Addison Schacht (Ansel Elgort), a Jewish high-school senior in Washington D.C with a careless attitude and a beautiful girlfriend (Chloe Moretz) to boot. After a typical routine of coffee and conversation with her, Addison receives the devastating news that one of his closest friends has been gunned down in the very coffee shop that Addison frequented only minutes prior. After the police investigation offers little results, Addison decides to open an investigation of his own, seeking information to anyone who might know the details of this terrible tragedy. What comes of it will have him discovering new details regarding his friend, as well as a self-examination of his own life that has been through recent turmoil. ‘November Criminals’ is written and directed by Sacha Gervasi, and is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content including teen sexuality, drug material, brief violence and strong adult language.

Whether you like or dislike a film, it usually succeeds in leaving a lasting memory with that one watch. Then along comes a film like ‘November Criminals’, and totally swerves the concept of such logic with a movie so inept and ineffective that it fails to garner any kind of remote emotional response that hammers home the proof in its result. This film belongs exclusively on Freeform, a cable television channel geared towards teenagers who embrace a show like ‘Pretty Little Liars’. However, unlike that show, Gervasi’s crime drama comes across with such miniscule effort that drowns it in a sea of obscurity as a result of a tone-deaf atmosphere and entertainingly lagging screenplay. This is a script that knows it suffers from the simplicity of its plain direction, and because the majority of the film rests on Gervasi’s shoulders, he requires the addition of two Hollywood starlets in making it interesting for his teenage audience. But this is one lesson that will mature those moviegoers fruitfully, as ‘November Criminals’ is arguably the most boring film that I have seen this year.

Most of that distinction falls heavily on a script that is all over the place in terms of tonal complexity, as well as firmly planted feet in calculation that keep it from ever reaching above and beyond. Clocking in at 80 measly minutes, ‘November Criminals’ never puts in the time and effort in establishing the unions all around that establish the dramatic circumference of the film’s emotional material. The loss of Addison’s friend comes and goes without much resonance internally because the film rushes through the set-up that anyone who watches the trailer or reads the plot knows is coming from a mile away. On top of this, the film is constantly trying to establish itself as the lost chapter of a John Hughes movie that was never good enough to see the light of day. I say this because the mood of this film feels like it is appealing to a hip perspective that feels parallel to the events that transpire. With a more committed approach to drama, this could’ve benefited not only the versatility of the story that constantly remains on one-layer, but also in the performances of the cast that are often the deer reacting to the bright headlights above.

On the subject of some of those cast members, the chemistry within Elgort and Moretz is certainly evident, but the film’s script gives them such little wiggle room in free range of character deposition that they almost have to approach these people as self-representations. Elgort’s Addison is easily my favorite character of the movie, reeling from an emotional surrender to his own life prior to the loss of his fallen friend that paints a fragile being. My problem is that the film only hints at this blurry past and doesn’t exactly give us a illuminating epiphany in drawing the two events of past and present together to reflective territory that bring to light their ironies. Moretz plays Phoebe in the same way that she has approached every teenage character not named Hit-Girl, with a lack of great concern and gravity that establishes her influence on the role. Moretz warming smile and endearing soft delivery appealed to her tender side, but the character never has the energy or passion from within to ever make this feel like anything other than a paycheck role. It was great to see David Strathairn and Catherine Keener as the parental units of the previously listed, but this is a teen story first and foremost, so the brief offering of adult influence is something that is unfortunately only for the temporary.

Perhaps the strongest in terms of negatives for the movie is in that of its mystery that leaves much more to be desired. This is first and foremost a crime mystery, yet Gervasi as a screenwriter approaches this aspect as uninterested, pursuing the film’s greatest possible strength at nothing more than face value. Tweeking with the aspect of possible suspects and scenarios could’ve done great wonders in enhancing the conundrum of this fallen friend, as well as padded out the runtime to give the film that big screen presentation that it greatly lacked. As a result of no mystery, there also feels like there is this noticeable void of urgency that the film could never find itself on the same side of. There was never a point during this film when I felt like the movie was building to anything bigger, and because of such, it’s often difficult to determine when one act begins and another one ends abruptly.

Not all is a negative however, as Gervasi’s presentational aspects lend themselves to some of the more capable perks within the film’s properties. There is exceptional framing within the film, especially considering there is an array of scenes that involve more than one character. There’s also not a lot of cuts or overdone edits between scenes that build the chemistry of Addison and Phoebe, bridging together what feels like some impressively done long-shots in manipulation that could impress the right kind of film lover. The shooting locations were also eye-catching and quite synthetic to the kind of details in the novel that painted a vivid detail in imagination. The high school itself looks like a college because of its immensity, bringing to mind the ideal that this masked gunman’s identity promote on a wider scale. These aspects didn’t champion in a film that was anywhere near as strong as promoted, but they did make the sometimes enduring challenge of a heartless sit that much more appealing by proxy.

THE VERDICT – It is criminal to think that Gervasi’s film is anywhere up to the kind of intrigue in teenage dramas that are getting smarter with each passing generation. ‘November Criminals’ is a film that is lacking mystery in development, identity in character, and satisfaction in an ending that is every bit as conventional as it is dull. Elgort and Moretz are appealing, but the lack of depth in script hinders them from ever elevating their character’s lasting power. There are certainly worse films this year, but very few as boring as this drama that tries to be smarter than it rightfully is.

4/10

A Bad Moms Christmas

The trio of bad moms return to the silver screen, this time to bring in the holidays in ‘A Bad Moms Christmas’. Under-appreciated and overburdened moms Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) rebel against the challenges and expectations of the Super Bowl for Moms: Christmas morning. As if creating the perfect holiday for their families isn’t hard enough, they’ll have to do it while hosting and entertaining their own respective mothers (Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines and Susan Sarandon) when they come to visit. Fill the glasses, enjoy a night out on the town, and put the kids to bed. These mothers are on the prowl of mayhem to their community. ‘A Bad Moms Christmas’ is written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, and is rated R for crude sexual content, adult language throughout, and some drug use.

When will they ever learn? Traditionally, comedy sequels are often so underwhelming because they take what made the original effort so enticing, and run it into the ground in repetition so heavily that it takes down two movies into the pits of hell for the price of one. ‘A Bad Moms Christmas’ continues this tradition, doubling down on notable cast members and slicing in half the effective comedy that made it a standout hit for the 2016 movie season. The hardcore fans of the original will still flock to this sequel, but I think even they will admit that this film misses severely on the magical impulse and social satire that Mothers everywhere screamed out loud in unison to with a much better original effort. As is the case for that first movie, this is what I like to call ‘Mom porn’. That meaning doesn’t point to what you imagine from its sound, but instead the desperation that reeks in this film’s material in the same way that action films are ‘Male porn’. This one has near-naked buff Santa dancing on a bar, fantasy montage sequences that do nothing but halt the progression of the story, and enough raunchy humor to make even a marine blush. As far as comedy sequels go, it’s not detestable, but it is another in the growing list of mistimed second chapters that does a brutal disservice to its original mayhem.

The story, if you can call it that, revolves around Christmas of course, with the mothers of mothers coming into town to spice things up around the holiday. That’s it, that is everything that this film’s hollow material offers in spades. The kind of plot where you could fall asleep for a half hour during the movie, wake up, and realize you missed absolutely nothing and have managed to stay on board for the continuity of what is going on. If it isn’t a bit of a stretch that all three of these women are in town simultaneously from their out of state locations, then the idea that their grandchildren are all now well behaved angels is one that I found to be a bit unbelievable. To a certain degree, I commend this film for not taking the easy way out like most comedy sequels do, and rehash old material and jokes that are reheated for a second helping. Because of that, ‘A Bad Moms Christmas’ does succeed in standing on its own two feet, creating a chapter for the series that doesn’t require us to delve into the previous installment, but one that overall could’ve provided

This film can often feel like about twenty minutes of solid material that is stretched to rubber-like levels because of its sneaky tricks that fool us into thinking it has an ounce of depth to its script. I mentioned the musical montage sequences earlier for a reason. There are three of them in this film, and while it worked in the first movie because this trio were lashing out against their miniature counterparts, in this sequel it just brings out the worst in these three awful people who have nothing better to do than destroy a mall full of innocent people who did nothing to spite them. On a side note, do they really serve beer at a mall? If so, please comment below which mall because it would make shopping around the holidays ten times easier. Besides this, there’s nothing original to the structure that we’ve seen in family holiday films a million times. Yes, you know there will be awkwardness because of the intrusion. Yes, you know there will be a fight because the growing pressures are too much for our protagonist. Yes, you know in the end they will reunite in the spirit of Christmas. And yes, I managed to tell you everything that you need to know without giving away actually anything that you didn’t expect after being fed this same approach over and over again in modern day redundancy.

Despite me not being the target audience for this picture, the film did deliver on a few hearty chuckles that gave me moments of its original fluidity. I don’t pertain this to clever writing, but instead the timing of some elite female comic actresses who know how to push the boundaries successfully with each R-rated set-up. On the overall spectrum, the film’s humor muscle does tend to overreach on more than a few occasions, delving in on the same punchline with the kind of repetition that grants us cinematic deja vu. The unfortunate aspect is that a lot of this humor shouldn’t require an R-rating, but does so because it feels like it is necessary to take advantage of its adult screenplay. There isn’t a problem with removing the adult language from the surface and still receiving the same kind of reaction from us the audience, mainly because the material itself isn’t as clever or provocative as it tries so desperately to be. To me, this film is most comfortable when it is depicting therapeutic satire for all of the mothers watching in the audience. Unfortunately, those instances don’t come as frequently in this second effort, and I would be greatly concerned if anyone watching can relate to these characters with unabashed earnestness.

My feedback on this ensemble of six respective actresses is half and half. For the most part, I despised most of their characters, mainly because the film reaches for some transformations in the predictable third act that it never feels like it rightfully earns. In particular, Christine Baranski’s Ruth is an insufferable bitch to the most extreme degree. That same outline seems stuck to a majority of our cast because none of them ever feel like actual people, and rather trait outlines that don’t make up a human being. The one thing we remember about Cheryl Hines Sandy is that she’s clingy and obsessed with her daughter. Now tell me one other thing that you learned about her in this movie. I’ll wait. The trait outlines are great for about five minutes, then I demand that the movie force us to learn a little more about these women, but it never does. The inclusion of these three noteworthy actresses add nothing of substance to a franchise that was already lacking it. As for the original three of Kunis, Bell, and Hahn, they’re still a charismatic parade when they’re together, but they don’t seem to hold up in entertaining nature while separated. Hahn is still definitely my favorite of the three, but her stick has reached its limit when we waste two valuable minutes of screen time on a joke about waxing vaginas and balls. On the latter, do guys actually ask for that? OUCH!!!

THE VERDICT – Two films in this series, and not one of them have occurred on Mother’s Day, what logic. If ‘A Bad Moms Christmas’ shows up in your stocking this holiday season, it’s likely that you’ve been a bad person over the previous year. The few random sparks of laughter will give you flashes of the original lightning in a bottle, but soon the confine shackles of repetition and constant halting of progression will have you reaching for the spiked egg nog. During the season of giving, directors Lucas and Moore present us with a lazy, noisy, uninspiring, and unnecessary second helping, and it’s the gift that keeps on giving all the way to the bathroom where this toilet humor belongs.

4/10

Same Kind of Different As Me

Appearances aren’t everything. That’s the message from the newest film from alias writer and director Michael Carney. The film is called ‘Same Kind of Different As Me’ and centers around international art dealer Ron Hall (Greg Kinnear), who meets and befriends a homeless man (Djimon Hounsou) in hopes of saving his struggling marriage to Debbie (Renée Zellweger) after Ron has been caught cheating with another woman. Debbie is a woman whose lucid dreams of the foretelling future will lead all three of them on the most remarkable journey of their lives, and challenge each other to see the good in those less fortunate. Additional cast includes Jon Voight who plays Hall’s father, with whom he reconciles thanks to the revelations and lifestyle changes of his new lease on life. ‘Same Kind of Different As Me’ is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some violence and adult language.

Another religious movie, another day. But what makes ‘Same Kind of Different As Me’ any (pardon the pun) different? Well, this film based on real life events harvests a strong positive message that moves miles in how we view those who we deem as different because of race, well-being, or even social predicament. It’s a valuable watch for anyone looking for a feel good kind of story that forces us to take a look at our own comfortable lifestyles and choose to give a little more, giving into the kind of heart that everyone needs. This kind of social commentary fits in appropriately with the ever-changing world of today and poverty rates reaching unprecedented new heights, but it stumbles its rich narrative with a forceful spoon-feeding of religious propaganda that at times feels unnecessary to the material. Why does this trend continue with these kind of films? Just because something is classified as a religious movie, a film will choose to rest on those low hanging pieces of fruit that jumble these films all together in the same grouping, wasting precious minutes of valued screen-time to satisfy an agenda within itself.

That agenda crumbles the more I think about it. The profit of sorts for this film is Zellweger’s Debbie whose own conscience desire to help out is valid, but when she gets husband Ron involved, you start to see the glaring holes in this narrative. For one, Ron is forced to be a better person because of his unfaithful deed against his wife that has left him sleeping on the couch. To get things back to normal, Ron is forced against his own free will to help out at the local church serving meals. I guess when all else fails, blackmail and see if they will profit on the valuable lessons that you are desperately trying to instill. The second problem that I have is a majority of this film is told in flashbacks for Hounsou’s flimsy exposition that feels like it has to fill in the gaps to understand his hatred against others. It’s a fine tool to use once or twice in a single movie, but to go back to this trick on four separate occasions really slowed down the progression of the story for me that was already sloppily being told through a flashback itself. That’s right, it’s a flashback within a flashback. The running narrative for the movie takes place two years prior to where the film starts off, and made even more confusing by Hounsou’s character needing to tell us a story about his rough past every ten minutes. It’s a convoluted track that goes off road in repetition, and because of such, it makes the film a sloppy sell to feel immersed in.

Then there’s the major glaring problem that takes out the authenticity of the message. So much of the story is based on giving back to others who are in need, but the film doesn’t feel bashful in showing us how this family is only really helping one person in the overall bigger picture, as well as their lavish lifestyles that involve holiday cabins in the woods and Mercedes automobiles at their disposals. Certainly there’s nothing wrong with enjoying nice gifts, but it seems phony when the very people preaching about what the less fortunate deserve are the same ones who are obviously living well above their means. The film kind of writes itself into a corner by understanding this jumbled intention, and about midway through the movie decides to pay less attention to what its characters are doing to help bridge the gap of divide, and focus solely on a surprising subplot that comes out of left field and gives the film the dramatic depth that it finally deserved to a somber finish.

At least the production value feels like feature length film quality for once, and not the kind of movie that seems ripe for a picking in a Hallmark Channel movie of the week. The film takes the time to construct some real beauty from within, garnering some artistic landscape shots that cast a beautiful parallel to the story’s heartfelt intention. In addition to this, The subtlety of the lighting feels warranted for the the interior shots, and never gives off that vibe of too much intrusion by a cinematographer trying to place beauty in scenes where it doesn’t feel natural. The editing isn’t amazing, but it’s certainly better than religious genre movies prior to this one that kept the camera running a bit too long for certain scenes. That same problem happens here a few times, but it’s more of the finished running time of 114 minutes that could certainly use a trimming for the final cut. That lengthy investment of sermon does start to wear itself thin during the second act, when there’s no shortage of exposition repetition that could be cut for the better of the fluidity of script.

There was one solid performance amongst the sea of phoned-in deliveries that are simply collecting a paycheck until their next big project ship comes rolling in. That person is Hounsou’s emotionally triggered range as Denver, the homeless man whom we come to understand through some utter devastation from his past. So much of Djimon’s release feels against tone here because he doesn’t have much in the face of dedicated actors who he can bounce off of, but this man steals scenes endlessly every time he is on screen, engaging us with enough energetic passion that feels like it comes straight from the heart of an actor who tries to make something more of this chance. I should explain that Zellweger and Kinnear aren’t terrible, it’s just that their characters don’t have a lot of depth in this kind of story. They are pretty much left to play the plain types that are living out God’s plan without interruption, and while that may be great for the definition of a protagonist, it simply doesn’t give them anything challenging to commit themselves to in terms of noteworthy roles that they will come to be known for when their careers are winding down. Voight is decent as the alcoholic father of Kinnear’s character, but he’s written as quite one-note, as once you’ve seen one scene with him, you’ve seen them all.

THE VERDICT – There’s not a lot that makes ‘Same Kind of Different As Me’ standout as a worthy warrior for the genre that tries to play against stereotypes. The redundancy of problems like a heavy-handed script or lack of subtlety when it comes to the subject matter are still there, leaving Carney’s film the same kind of different crap that the genre has been known for. Hounsou’s enigmatic performance, as well as solid production quality are good starts, but we’re going to need more originality to see the light of these life-affirming messages that constantly miss their mark.

4/10

The Snowman

The disappearance of a local woman sends a team of investigators on the hunt for a killer with a chilly side, in ‘The Snowman’. Michael Fassbender , Rebecca Ferguson and Charlotte Gainsbourg star in this terrifying thriller from director Tomas Alfredson. Based on Jo Nesbø’s global bestseller of the same name, the film begins when an elite crime squad’s lead detective, Harry Hole, yep that’s his name, (Fassbender) investigates the disappearance of a victim on the first snow of winter. Harry fears an elusive serial killer may be active again. With the help of a brilliant new recruit, Katrine Bratt (Ferguson), the cop must connect decades-old cold cases to the brutal new one if he hopes to outwit this unthinkable evil before the next snowfall. ‘The Snowman’ is rated R for grisly imagery, brutal violence, some adult language, and sexuality involving brief nudity.

History has proven that novels are often the winner in their often times inevitable showdowns with the big budget adaptations. More times than not, a book can grant you the kind of freedom from restrictions that hinders a film cold from keeping up the entertaining factor. No sentence will better define ‘The Snowman’, as this jumbled, melted mess that limps its way to a finish that had me questioning where it all went wrong. It is my opinion that much of the problems that screenwriters Peter Straughan and Hossein Amini encounter is in their desire to over-convolute a story that doesn’t require a thinker’s approach. The case within this story is your basic serial thriller, so when the film tries to demand that unnecessary reach to intelligence, it comes up short in its returns that bore you out of your seat. At nearly two hours, so much of ‘The Snowman’ can be trimmed or edited to fit its narrative, but this film is so poorly directed that it makes it easier to understand the negative side of when a film is left in improper hands, the making of such a decision that soils Alfredson’s often prestigious name and leaves him out in the cold for a story that fumbles at nearly every given chance.

The story for the film makes the conscience decision to craft this as a dual narrative for the first half of the movie. This second tier is led by Val Kilmer as an alcoholic detective nine years prior whose own obsession for The Snowman Killer ruined his life. I see the importance of what this arc played to our story in the bigger picture, but its insistence upon eating up valuable minutes of exposition comes at quite a hefty price. This could’ve easily been used in various flashbacks throughout the film, but every fifteen minutes or so, we are reminded of its existence by a brutal shoving in the script that doesn’t distinctly signify when this flashback happens or give any kind of indication of the time switch. Elsewhere, this screenplay feels gobbled up by a series of gaps and holes in sequencing that leave its audience struggling when trying to keep up. Things just kind of happen without any rhyme or reason, leaving me to wonder if a bigger director’s cut is lurking on a shelf somewhere. Either way, I’m not interested. As for the mystery itself, it’s somewhat intriguing, particularly during the early third act when it does start to feed into its ambiguity, but it’s ruined on one brutal shot of spoiler with about twenty minutes left in the film, that gives away everything without reaching a beneficial shock in its reveal. The final fight sequence is so underwhelming in its conclusion that I found myself asking repeatedly if that was it.

Possibly my biggest problem with the film is in the editing that can’t possibly be justified at a professional level. I’ve already mentioned that it feels like this script is subject to holes in progression that make it feel like an entire movie is missing, but the true horror comes in the fact that somewhere someone lacks that kind of personal imprint from the director that tells them when a scene should be shortened or ran longer. With ‘The Snowman’, there are many scenes left in this final cut that had me scratching my head for what pivotal role they played. There are also scenes that I felt were finally getting us somewhere, but were jarringly ripped from the screen with malicious intent. The editing is so devastatingly awful in this film that it in its own way is responsible for the mind-numbingly dull pacing that never bothers to pick up momentum or move cohesively as one continuous movement. Until the third act when things start to somewhat pick up in mystery, I was bored to tears because of the lack of energy or impressionable character that exerted itself into this movie.

On the latter of that concept, the performances within the film are about as good as they could be considering this top notch cast is getting no direction beyond the camera. Considering this is a film that takes place in Oslo, Norway, not one character speaks with the proper accent or even remotely struggles in speaking English. Fassbender can only do so much, despite being one of the most versatile actors working today. As Harry, we hear about a legend that has done so much, but there’s nothing about him that ever makes you understand why he is depended upon so much. To me, I feel like Harry’s biggest positive is that he’s in the right place at the right time, and that’s about as underwhelming with a protagonist as you can get. Val Kilmer is depressing because you can see on-screen how much life has worn him down, and shitty films like this will only make it worse. Kilmer’s painfully obvious ADR voice-dubbing is something that adds a jarring aspect of immersive break for me in each scene, and Kilmer can barely move at this point, let alone invest every emotional muscle to giving a performance for the ages. It’s just not there. J.K Simmons and Charlotte Gainsbourg are wasted in the bigger picture that doesn’t involve their characters holding weight within the complexity of this screenplay, and sadly Chloe Sevingly is only in one scene for the movie. Possibly the only actor who gets away with a passing grade is Rebecca Ferguson. Her performance at least feels like one with the proper kind of motivational pull, and there were times in the film where it feels like this should definitely be more of her movie than Fassbender’s Hole (Sounds terrible) because of this perspective. Ferguson commands Bratt with the kind of intensity in vengeance that has me screaming out to Hollywood and begging them to put this woman in a STARRING role for once, atop her own movie. To make something out of this hodge-podge, we owe her at least that.

Not all was terrible for me however, as the film’s visual compass was stunning in its overall cinematography and tonal volume that visually appealed to me. ‘The Snowman’ is very much an absorbing kind of movie that locks you into its setting almost immediately, and you can’t help but feel transfixed by the seclusion in immensity of the grand scale being depicted in the film’s opening shots. The sound mixing could’ve been better in audibly immersing me tighter in the experience, but the landscape shots and shooting locations were used superbly in setting a stage that unfortunately lacks the fire in material to combat the ever-enveloping cold around us. What this setting does wonderfully is replicating in detail the kind of character response that eats away at our main cast almost entirely. It feels like Harry and company have lived here for too long, becoming a product of their cold, harsh environment that has swallowed them whole and left them bitter.

THE VERDICT – ‘The Snowman’ collapses under a series of devastating plot holes and contrivances that leave it struggling to reach air from its numbing series of unnecessary plot contrivances. This underdeveloped mess of a film wastes its talented cast almost entirely, and leaves itself falling as the latest victim to being inferior to its multimedia predecessor of the same name. Adaptations can be done with excitement, but Alfredson’s dreadful direction here leaves this snowman without a base to prop itself up on.

4/10

9/11

The most devastating day in United States history hangs A group of strangers together in the balance of ‘9/11’. Based on Patrick James Carson’s award winning play “Elevator”, which premiered in October 2011 at the Red Barn Theater of Tucson, Arizona, the film takes place On the morning of September 11, 2001. A messenger (Wood Harris) sings “Happy Birthday to You” to his daughter, a billionaire (Charlie Sheen) argues with his wife (Gina Gershon) in a divorce hearing, a maintenance man (Luis Guzman) begins his day, and a young Russian (Olga Fonda) decides she’s breaking up with her sugar daddy. When the first plane hits the World Trade Center, these five elevator passengers find themselves trapped. Forced to band together, they fight against all odds to escape before the imminent and inevitable collapse occurs. ‘9/11’ is written and directed by Martin Guigui, and is rated R for adult language.

Films like ‘World Trade Center’ and ‘Reign Over Me’ are fine examples of screenplays that have entertained the masses with A compelling screenplay alongside its dark and devastating day in American history. What worked so fluently for these pictures is that they focused almost entirely on the characters and stories first that you don’t know and are meeting for the first time, and let the rest peek in from time to time. During the most opportune times, these films provide us with the ensuing crumbling backdrop in details that we are so enriched in from already knowing about them during the last sixteen years, and increases the dramatic pull as to how it plays into that original telling. Along comes A film like ‘9/11’ and the desperation for compelling drama is what is needed most to generate any kind of intrigue to this bare bones script and the audiences who see it. Considering I found out about this film only two days before I saw it, should tell you everything that you need to know about the faith that these five (Yes five) production companies had in it. It isn’t the worst movie that I have seen this year, just possibly the most pointless because of its increasing nosedives of missed opportunities to present what we already know from an original angle.

The movie begins by introducing us to these five strangers, most of whom have no affiliation with one another, and all of whom simply do not have A single piece of credible exposition beyond these flimsy outlines that do nothing to jar our investment into them. Depth doesn’t even come into focus with these characters. These are basically shadow puppets commentating on the life-changing event around them, and what they have to say is frankly exhausting. Harris’s character is A racist, that’s it. Sheen is rich and involved in A divorce hearing with Gershon, that’s it. Guzman is A janitor, that’s it. Fonda is A prostitute I guess?? And that’s it. The screenplay doesn’t invest enough of its interest into these characters, so they never come across as anything other than expendable, feeling like A biding of time between inevitable disaster movie victims that have overstayed their welcome. A film like this increases its value when the peril that the characters come across impacts us significantly because we wish to see more of their stories continue. With ‘9/11’, I couldn’t care less, and you can tell about halfway into the movie how desperation sets in on Guigui’s screenplay, and his desire to remind us of the events that we already know pushes through boundaries of tasteful exploitative.

For my money, this film makes two major mistakes with its pacing; it rushes to get to the first attack on the Twin Towers, and it approaches the sequence of events in real time. On the former, I would’ve preferred the entirety of the first act focus more on the importance of the characters, as well as the environmental tones around the campus that day. It is seriously only ten minutes into the film when our characters become trapped, so film’s attention span feels to be limited to the inevitable climax. The attack is what everything that follows revolves around, so why not build up more of the drama in tension to that devastation? We know what’s coming, but our characters don’t, so why not take your time to get into the elevator? By focusing on the after, we miss the value in the before, and because the majority is post-impact, the film is far too routine and limited in its tight setting to ever spread its creative wings as anything beyond A secluded disaster film.

Production value certainly isn’t A perk for this film in the majority sense, but there is one aspect that brought A pleasant surprise to the rest of the disappointment; shot composition. Because so much of the elevator scenes are shot in tight spaces, the close ups in each conversational piece accurately depicts the kind of claustrophobia that comes with being stuck in the same place with four other bodies taking up their own share of the mass volume. It’s difficult to ignore that this film has an overall cheap look in design, but the pressing angles make up for A lot of the laughably bad effects in C.G design smoke, shaky camera touches to replicate action sequences,  and A painful lighting filter that is sometimes far too overbearing to present A film with that rich texture that we’ve come to know by the 21st century. If it wasn’t for some of the valuable camera work and plotting, this film would serve as nothing more visually than A Syfy movie of the week.

Dean E. Fronk and Donald Pemrick also make their presence felt, conjuring up A cast of past due celebrities for this film that consistently do not meet the bill. Once you’ve seen what Charlie Sheen has done in his real life shambles, it’s difficult to ever look at him the same way as A serious actor again. ‘9/11’ wants us to view Sheen as A protagonist who values life and love as two important aspects to his happiness, and it couldn’t feel more phony because of this casting. Sheen for the most part sleeps through his performance as Jeffrey Cage, juggling funny facial reactions with uninspiring line reads that makes this feel like A cash grab for the main star. Guzman is good, but the problem is he’s playing Luis Guzman, the same actor who approaches each role the same way in every movie. The worst without A doubt is Fonda though, as the RUSSIAN Tina. The reason I capitalized that one word in the last sentence is because I can’t understand where the plot got that she was Russian anywhere in her performance. The film doesn’t mention her being Russian, and there’s definitely no accent at any point in her depiction. Her real life name is Olga, and she can’t play A Russian? We’ve got some real problems here.

THE VERDICT – Overcooked by A helping of exploitative material and lackluster exposition, ‘9/11’ is yet another reason why this painfully tragic day will continue to haunt for decades to come. No one will ever forget the sacrifices laid by the men and women of New York during this devastatingly trying time, but Guigui’s watered down drama is better left in the closet of obscurity from this point forward for its lack of resiliency in presenting A fresh perspective to play into its crushing opposition. The assembly of the cast of opposites would make for A better story than what unfolds in this soggy “Tribute” that wastes away.

4/10

Tulip Fever

It’s been three long years with three different release dates, but America finally experiences ‘Tulip Fever’. Set In 17th Century Amsterdam, an orphaned girl Sophia (Alicia Vikander) is forcibly married to a rich and powerful merchant named Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz). Their union is an unhappy “arrangement” that saves her from poverty, so needless to say the love simply isn’t there. After her husband commissions a portrait of his wife to cement their union, Sophia soon begins a passionate affair with the painter Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan), a struggling young artist commissioned for his biggest payday. Seeking to escape the merchant’s ever-reaching grasp, the lovers risk everything and enter the frenzied tulip bulb market, with the hope that the right bulb will make a fortune and buy their freedom for A life together of eternal happiness. ‘Tulip Fever’ is directed by Justin Chadwick, and is rated R for sexual content involving nudity, and adult language.

‘Tulip Fever’ has sat on the proverbial release date shelf for three years now, and at A time when I began to wonder if this film would ever see the light of day, I can now understand the entire picture now that it’s come into focus. Speaking of focus, this is A movie that has none, jumping between A dual narrative path between two stories that jumbles and over-extends the necessity of telling one competent plot that feeds the purpose of many characters. The plot that I described above is only approached at surface level. Hell, even the trailer focuses entirely on just the love triangle that plays out on-screen between Vikander, Dehaan, and Waltz, ignoring the majority of the actual film that is narrated by Holiday Granger, A supporting character whose story herself is thrust into the mainstay of this picture, and takes every opportunity to halt the progression of the movie’s attention span. Granger serves as the narrator of the film, which presents us with A difficult narrative to see things in the same way that she did; from the outside, but Chadwick’s film often feels too cozy with this direction, focusing too much on throwaway characters and events, and not enough on the dramatic pull of A love triangle that brought the butts into the seats with A trailer that focused solely on that aspect. Film trailers offering false advertising are certainly nothing new, but ‘Tulip Fever’ takes the concept to new heights, presenting us with A finished product that doesn’t feel anything like the movie that I was promised even so much in tone.

To its credit, ‘Tulip Fever’ has something for everyone. If you’re here for drama, you will soak your intrigue into soap-opera like atmospheres that build to something great only to leave you unsatisfied at the grasp of underwhelming direction. If you prefer comedy, well this one’s got that too, orchestrating the most complex plan of deceit that I have seen in A long time. Movies are all about suspending disbelief, but if you bought into this plan of Vikander’s for one moment, your intelligence clearly comes at a cheap price for these screenwriters. I sort of found myself laughing louder with each passing moment late in the second act for the sheer ridiculousness that unfolds the petals of complexity to something that could’ve been told with such ease in simplistic outlining. As I mentioned earlier, the film doesn’t even find this triangle to be the most fascinating aspect of its material, so it becomes this sort of hack-and-slash Frankenstein mold that feels like it has been through the editing room floor one too many times, leaving us with these stand alone scenes that never gel together as one cohesive bond.

A lot of this reasoning comes in the form of sloppy pacing that carves into the introductions early on of this stellar A-list ensemble cast. The first twenty minutes were definitely the most difficult to stay in-tuned to, and that’s asking A lot considering the first act of any movie is used to build your internal investment to these characters, but Vikander, Waltz and Granger come in and out of frame without even the slightest backstory or exposition to feel like you understand their mentalities for future actions. This never ceases to get any better as the film goes on, and I found myself having great difficulty in trying to side with anyone who remotely resembled A human being. When I was ignoring the aspects in plot that felt violently shoved into this dramatic threesome angle, I did come away with some cheap thrills of momentum leading into the finale, but once again the movie fumbles this blessing with such an anti-climax that you can actually hear the increasing drama slowly sinking out of. Maybe it’s the wide range of plot holes that they’re elating out from, but that’s another review in itself to get into those stretches.

The performances aren’t half bad, but the majority just kind of serve as A giant missed opportunity for one of the best put together casts that I have seen in A single picture this year. To that perspective, Dehaan is once again terribly miscast here, Granger never gets her moment to shine, and the appearances of Zach Galifanakis, Cara Delevigne, and Judi Dench are nothing more than afterthought cameos who occasionally pop up to remind you of their presence. With this much facial firepower, this film could’ve easily caught A lot of buzz amongst mainstream moviegoers looking to get into independent cinema, but their purpose (If they ever had one) feels violently shaped here to limit them from ever stealing the stage, and that is A Major missed opportunity. Vikander can do much with very little character direction, and that ideal rears itself aplenty here, as Vikander’s cold eyes emote A woman who is longing to be free with the kind of love that she knows she deserves. It’s unfortunate that we’ll never really know what makes Sophia tick internally, but any chance to see Vikander is A blessing to this critic, and Alicia does wonders even in her worst role to date. Waltz is disgustingly delightful, reading some truly wincing dialogue lines that only he could made entertaining by his unflinching commitment. The love sequences between Vikander and Waltz are portrayed with such A lack of passion intentionally, and would do wonders in comparison with Vikander and Dehaan if the latter didn’t lacked any kind of chemistry or passion between them to get the hearts pumping of the people watching in theater. Without that drive in comparison, the film gravely lacks A satisfying payoff worthy of its many big names.

If you do look at my score and wonder why I rate this movie higher than it sounds, it’s because the aesthetic touch is certainly there, radiating A soft touch of natural lighting and cinematography that do more than enough to articulately craft the setting of this period piece. There’s A kind of hazy feel to the exterior shots in the film, granting us the surroundings that can only be made authentic by Europe during the 17th century. The set pieces are very intricate, detailing the posh and lavish lifestyles of the rich when compared to the tight and closely depicted camera angles of the poor to represent their limitations. The editing as well is A major benefit to the ideal of obsession that Dehaan’s character portrays for Vikander’s, and I greatly enjoyed their movements accordingly to seeing the actress in many different settings during her self portrait scenes with Dehaan. It’s kind of cool to see things in the same vein that he sees them here, relaying that A painter must ingest what he is depicting to bring to life the very color of that character.

THE VERDICT – ‘Tulip Fever’ is A constant reminder that sometimes the worst things aren’t worth waiting for. Director Justin Chadwick’s forgettable anti-drama set during the 17th century is one that lives up to aesthetic production challenges, but fails miserably at crafting a cohesive three-act structure that keeps its eyes on the prize. This one is the very definition of the term ‘Disjointed’, limping itself between two stories so opposite in approach that they often limit the potential of the other. To be considered A fever, the subject would need A pulse, and the lifeless motions of the film’s finale hint that this shell of A film was better left in the closet of obscurity than to see the light of day at A cost like this.

4/10

The Dark Tower

Stephen King’s most epic saga of novels comes to life in the big screen adaptation, ‘The Dark Tower’. Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is an ambitious 11-year-old adventure seeker who discovers clues about another dimension called Mid-World. Upon following the mystery, he is spirited away to Mid-World where he encounters a Gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), who is on a quest to reach the “Dark Tower” that resides in End-World and reach the nexus point between time and space that he hopes will save all existence from extinction. But with various monsters and a vicious sorcerer named Walter o’Dim, A.K.A the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) hot on their trail, the unlikely duo find that their quest may be a difficult and deadly one to complete, saving the world from a man worse than the devil himself. ‘The Dark Tower’ is directed and co-written by Nikolaj Arcel, and is rated PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action.

It’s difficult to gage where the big screen adaptation of the super popular novels was supposed to appeal to. For the people who have read what is critically acclaimed as his “Magnum opus” of books, this is as cheap of a knock-off as you could possibly get. A brash disappointment to the kind of fantasy dreamscapes and supernatural aspects that make it an irresistible piece of immersive literature. For those who have not read the novel, there won’t be much to grab onto either, as the film kind of requires that its audience must know the bare minimum of rules and logics within this world. Otherwise, the new fans will be clinging to any kind of explanation for something they don’t understand, making their first intake to this story one that is heavily flawed in storytelling concepts. ‘The Dark Tower’ feels cheap in every possible way because it cuts itself too short time-and-time again, choosing instead to follow the cheap and limited boundaries of a PG-13 young adult constriction rather than the R-rated Science fiction thriller that it should’ve been. As far as book-to-film adaptations go, it might be the most disappointing of all time, and feed into the theory further by some of the novels fans who claim that this series is impossible to adapt faithfully.

After doing some studying, I found out that this film is actually supposed to be a sequel of sorts to the novels itself, and not a take from the first novel, one of my personal favorites in the series. So already we as an audience are taken on a trek of betrayal by the film’s producers who have been promoting this like the next big series for quite sometime. Even this direction is heavily flawed in logic because the film takes characters like Jake Chambers and makes them a pivotal point in this story, while stripping them of anything that makes them remotely identifiable. In fact, this film is introduced by playing into Chambers story rather than Roland’s, and I found this to be a dramatically huge mistake that blazes a trail of displeasure much further than how terribly underwritten these characters really are. The narration feels like we should already know everything about these worlds and characters, and chooses to educate the new fans any further on what questions they might have. One that I myself as a fan of the novels brought up was the explanation for why The Dark Tower is essentially pointless in this film. The idea is that the destruction of this tower will cause hell to be unleashed upon our world, but that makes no sense when you consider that McConaughey’s Man in Black is already doing that, piling up body after body in his wake of devastation. In fact, the more you think about it, the bigger the flaw is that an antagonist who can click his fingers and kill people would need any further help in getting the job done.

This constantly feels like a movie that is being played in fast-forward, moving along with pacing that never stops once to take anything of the culture in to further the fantasy elements to the plot. Such an example of this is in nearly every single scene that involves Roland or Jake, as they are constantly preparing to travel somewhere other than where that scene is. If you wanted a terribly shitty cliff notes version of The Dark Tower folklore, then this will be right up your alley because it feels like the three different writers within this film have the attention span of an 8 year old child, choosing instead to speed their way to a final act and conclusion that set this thing at right under 95 minutes, the basic average of studio offerings. Imagine that you’re told by a studio to adapt the epic thousands of pages of material that you have written into 200, and try to make that compelling. That’s what the film is asking of us as an audience right here. If there was one benefit, there are some satisfying Easter eggs thrown into the film from time to time that range anywhere from other King novels like ‘1408’, ‘IT’, or ‘The Shining’. It was in this aspect and this one alone where this feels anything like its literary companions because The Dark Tower serves as the universe of sorts to the entire Stephen King Universe. So it feels like a tragic misstep when you consider how these eggs don’t even begin to scratch the surface of a much bigger picture.

The action is quite limited, but appealing when on-screen to some average CGI designs that are at least responsible enough to keep most of the shading problems of its creatures in the dark. The computer generated backdrops do work wonders for what little few chances that we do get to see the midworld, as well as the tower in this film, but it’s just a big shame that they are such a miniscule presence in a film that would rather base a majority of its visual compass in New York, a place with no shortage of big screen settings in film. The final inevitable showdown between The Man in Black and Roland feels so distanced between them, opting instead for the magic of both characters to their arsenal. What this lacks is that personal taste of vengeance for both of them that really sets it all off and leaves the audience on the edge of their seats, leaving an ending that was every bit the reminder of the previous acts that told me to never trust Hollywood again with timeless artistic expression.

As for the performances, there was definitely one shining example among the other miscast choices, and that was Idris Elba as The Gunslinger himself. Whether people want to admit it or not because of their color preferences, Elba embodies everything about being a magician behind the gun; heart, strength, and most importantly precision. With a gun, Roland simply cannot be stopped, and some of the trickery that the film focuses on with his hands make up for the lack of personality or backstory that they dispel upon him or any of the other two main leads in the film. As Jake, Taylor isn’t terrible, but there simply isn’t enough charisma in his deliveries to give this character the attention and the majority of runtime in the script that he so desperately craves. Again, possibly call it bad directing, but I lacked the empathy that I felt for Jake in the novels, especially considering his Father isn’t anywhere to be found in this story. It pains me to say this, but McConaughey was terrible as The Man in Black. Matthew underperforms every line of dialogue and sinister delivery to never make him feel like anything supernatural or unstoppable in his register. Even more apparent was just the lack of commitment that his line reads deliver, making me question several times if this really was the best read that the director decided to go with. To that theory, funny enough, there is a line where he talks about death always winning in the trailer, and it’s given with much more energy and emphasis than the scene used in the actual film. I can never understand why these kind of decisions are made in post production, but they do no favors for the legitimacy of a man who is deemed “Worse than the devil”.

THE VERDICT – Bad Stephen King adaptations are certainly nothing new to this critic, but ‘The Dark Tower’ feels like the first slap in the face of fans who have waited decades to see this epic play out on the big screen. The unlimited levels of potential are traded in for a rushed script that only borrows key aspects to the story without context, bland performances besides Elba, and a plot hole so big that you could fit an entire tower inside of it. When given the option to see this one, take the bullet and read instead.

4/10

Paris Can Wait

Eleanor Coppola writes and directs her first film in “Paris Can Wait”, adding to a prestigious legacy of filmmakers in her decorated family. The movie stars Diane Lane as a Hollywood producer’s wife who unexpectedly takes a trip through France, which reawakens her sense of self and her joie de vivre. Anne Lockwood (Lane) is at a crossroads in her life. Long married to a successfully driven but inattentive movie producer, Michael (Alec Baldwin), she finds herself taking a car trip from Cannes to Paris with a business associate of her husband, Jacques (Arnaud Viard). What should be a seven-hour drive turns into a journey of discovery involving mouthwatering meals, spectacular wines, and picturesque sights that has them both on the edge of seduction to the city’s powers. Their playful flirting must soon be confronted, and where better than the city of lovers? “Paris Can Wait” is rated PG for thematic elements, smoking, and some adult language.

If you lack the funds or the motivation to see Paris in your life, “Paris Can Wait” might be just the film for you. Filled with enough French cuisine, wine, and landscapes to feed a small army, Eleanor Coppola undoubtedly holds a place this surreal closely to her heart, radiating a scheme in filmmaking aesthetics that sells everything put forth. Going into this movie, I knew very little about the set-up or the characters. It’s rare that I get a chance to completely ignore all of the trailers and just take in the movie for what is presented. I only wish that it were under slightly better circumstances. I can’t fault a filmmaker for their debut feature, especially when their last name is Coppola, but there’s many examples of growth being needed for the kind of patience in investment that this kind of movie takes on its audience. It’s an often times beautiful piece, not only in its presentation of seven course meals, but also in Eleanor’s vision behind the lens. But the compliments stop there, as this is (quite frankly) one of the driest scripts that has been given the big screen treatment in 2017.

For a romance, the sprinkling of a comedy in between the sometimes awkward tones of this movie is a welcome one. “Paris Can Wait” tells a story of two near-strangers stuck on a car ride together, but it takes great suspension of disbelief to even get to the start of this road trip fiasco. As a logical thinker, I can’t believe for a second that a man, even a workaholic, would let his beautiful wife get in the car with a good looking man on a cross-country journey, let alone soak up the obvious flirting that this male is bestowing upon her early on. As the film progresses, there was this feeling in the air of awkwardness between them, as Jacques comes across as someone meant to be a fantasy to the daydreaming woman watching beyond the screen, but doesn’t come across as the most progressive gentleman of the 21st century. Most of the interaction between them is Jacques delaying Anne time-after-time on what should be a one day trip, to entice her with French cultures. Being that Anne is married and that her husband hasn’t done anything completely unforgettable to her, it’s difficult to approach a protagonist from this kind of ground. Jacques often comes across as sneaky to me, conjuring up a plan miles ahead of the road to get one step closer to this married woman. So as a story, it’s not the most morally charming of romantic pieces.

Then there’s the biggest problem that glares its ugly head about midway through this 90 minute movie; there’s a great lack of conflict in the entirety of the film that grinds the progression of this journey to a screeching halt. The set-up is certainly there for a story like this to get juicy and offer the female moviegoer a kind of will-they, won’t-they kind of scenario similar to those in romance novels that peak the interest of them. The second act of this film is so dry that I often forgot why these two leads aren’t together in the first place. Then, like some remembering by the writer of what is set-up early on, the climax (If you can call it that) happens in the closing minutes of the movie, but by then this once steamy dish cools off to unsatisfying portions, and the film just kind of closes out without justifying the means of the mileage that it took to get to this point. What shocks me is that there are some subplots with Anne and Jacques about their pasts that are introduced far too late in the movie to make a difference, but prove that Coppola could’ve been onto something had she just paced her revelations out accordingly and put the character before the dish. These could’ve been the perfect sugar-coating steps to lead us to that passionate embrace, but the disjointed nature of its structure often times feels out of place and far too late to sting us with the tragedy of sorts that Coppola tries to hit us with. The ending was very malnourished, and was unpredictable for all of the wrong reasons both to the happiness of our characters and to the satisfaction in sending the audience home with a digesting of good feelings.

Where I will give kudos to Eleanor is in her scintillating sequencing of delicious dishes that had my mouth watering at every turn. A film like 2015’s “Chef” taught us that food in visual presentation can play a beautiful role accordingly to crafting the value of food and film that feels like a marriage too scrumptious not to happen. Coppola too gives in to that demand that every moviegoer should go home hungry, and because most of these foreign dishes are rare commodities for our domestic tastes, it makes it that much easier to fall under the spell of their sizzling steam. For depiction, Eleanor casts the camera slightly above that of the table and dish, so as to market a kind of Point-of-view angle to what we are seeing and taking in, putting us in the moment to live out our deepest fantasies. Food does kind of overstay its welcome from a script that is completely limp, but I do commend this movie greatly for giving me the kind of enticing visual specter that immersed me freely into this romance of edible seduction.

As for the performances, the chemistry between Lane and Viard works in such a way that radiates love, as well as friendship to the circumference of their earliest encounters. Viard breaks out early on, depicting a romantic in Jacques that constantly showcases a man who wears his heart on his sleeve. In Jacques, Viard has free reign as Anne’s (And our) tour guide of sorts, and seeing Paris through the eyes of a dreamer like this is intoxicating at the very least for his spontaneous movements. But just when you think Viard is steering the car, it is Lane who proves why she is versatile when it comes to any kind of tone. Early on, Lane’s Anne works out her comedic timing, echoing the kind of straight woman routine to Viard’s mad man romantic that perfectly captures a tense woman who doesn’t know if she should believe Jacques pure intentional speeches. But as the film wore on, there’s a dramatic side to Anne’s past that has clearly been bottled up under a woman who has said yes to far too many things she has disagreed with. We get a sense of sorts that life and her family have just kind of passed Anne by, so when she starts to partake excitedly in these adventures, it kind of serves as the therapy that this woman needs for some haunting past experiences that have shaped the woman we see before us.

THE VERDICT – A lot kind of ‘waits’ with Eleanor Coppola’s debut film at the tender age of 81. Most notably the conflict, plot, and resolutions all are put on hold for a visual fiesta of tasty portions that the audience are forced to swallow scene-after-scene. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the succulent snacks that adorned the screen. They are shot at such attention-grabbing angles that you often forget about the bland mess that is playing out opposite of it before your very eyes. If “Paris Can Wait” was a seven course meal, I only lasted through three before I was bloated full of this airless cinematic excursion. It’s like taking a bite of something terribly undercooked and hoping it will get better, only to find that it gets colder with each passing bite.

4/10

The Book of Henry

Things will never be the same for a small town neighborhood once a mother discovers a troubling book written by her son, called “The Book of Henry”. Sometimes things are not always what they seem, especially in the small suburban town where the Carpenter family lives. Single suburban mother Susan Carpenter (Naomi Watts) works as a waitress at a diner, alongside feisty family friend Sheila (Sarah Silverman). Her younger son Peter (Jacob Tremblay) is a playful 8-year-old. Taking care of everyone and everything in his own unique way is Susan’s older son Henry (Jaeden Lieberher), age 11. Protector to his adoring younger brother and tireless supporter of his often self-doubting mother, and through investments, of the family as a whole, Henry blazes through the days like a comet. Susan discovers that the family next door, which includes Henry’s kind classmate Christina (Maddie Ziegler), has a dangerous secret, and that Henry has devised a surprising plan to help. As his brainstormed rescue plan for Christina takes shape in thrilling ways, Susan finds herself at the center of it. “The Book of Henry” is directed by Colin Trevorrow, and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief adult language.

This movie has been the victim of a lot of negative reviews lately in the media, so going into it I kind of found myself at the questioning position of how a trailer with what I felt had so much promise could receive a critique as low as it has shamefully received, but we must remember that these trailer magicians are the same people who make money by presenting a less-than stellar film in attention-grabbing detail. Upon viewing “The Book of Henry”, I am here to add my two cents to the pile of growing naysayers for the film, as this movie is very much a disaster in everything from tone continuity to lack of moral integrity for characters that violently shift with each passing moment. It’s a jumbled experiment that is often trying to pass itself off as too many things at once, and because of such a concept, it often feels like you are watching three different acts from three different movies. Even the shining performances of three marvelously gifted child actors wasn’t enough to steer this film, as well as its condescending direction out of the woods with even so much as a compass to find its way.

Director Colin Trevorrow, as well as screenwriter Gregg Hurwitz should definitely be commended enough for crafting a story that does play with respect to these children that they are front-and-center of this unfolding melodrama, even if their ambitious reach of plot does over-exceed what should be a simplistic approach. What was appreciative for me was that this duo seem to understand and see children as this driving force within the world who will stop at nothing to help when they see danger. Hurwitz depicts the point of view of a pediatric as such that there is no filter with them in their wanting to get involved in compromising situations, a detail that any adult in the audience will wonder with curiosity where we went wrong in deciding to turn our heads to help those who are troubled along the way. It’s encouraging to see a director who sees the value in child actors, and doesn’t choose to wither away their increasing value in cinema. Because of such, Colin does succeed in crafting a surreal world where children can get involved with adult actions, a concept that only gets stronger the further you dive into “The Book of Henry”.

Where he goes wrong however, is in the increasing ridiculousness of cliches that continuously overstay their welcome, as well as the violent tonal shifts that cut this film’s momentum down at nearly every level. The light-hearted coming-of-age story of the first act was the only section of the film that felt natural to me. Trevorrow’s immediate introduction of our characters and their worlds is one that instantly pulled me in and had me demanding more for the personality in dialogue that leaps off of the page of the script. Then it all goes wrong. Instead of continuing with this vibrant feeling, the film turns into a crass melodrama due to a sudden plot twist that shakes everything up. I’m fine with different layers to a story in a movie, but when it’s as violently forced as this was, it can feel like it never finds its footing back to what made it great in the first place, a problem that sticks with this production. The third act throws everything at us, as the craziness of this plan between our protagonist and her children is one that not only annoyed me in logic, but also angered me in how much it repeats itself. Without spoiling much, sometimes you will have a scene in a movie where a character will listen to a tape, that character will say something, and then the person on the tape responds back to what they just said. It’s often used as a throwaway comedy line that is harmless, but here it happens every minute when this tape is on-screen. There’s geniuses among children, and there’s God-like characters. “The Book of Henry” casts its title character as the latter, and soon this ability to predict action and consequences in something as unpredictable as people, is one that does great harm to the believability of this once humane piece.

With twenty minutes left in the movie, and very little answered or satisfyingly concluded, Hurwitz moves fast in offering us a conclusion that really made me take a step back and compare how far we’ve come in the short 100 minute offering that rode a wave of unnecessary twists and turns to get here. That’s of course a back-handed compliment, because I found the ending of this movie to be bafflingly dull when compared to what was the lead-up before it. Everything is put together a little too “Matter-of-factly”, and it constantly left me with a bitter taste in my mouth of the juice never being worth the squeeze, a harrowing reality that starts to set in the more you think about the actions of this movie. On that thought, “The Book of Henry” feels like an irresponsible plan of mind-numbingly barbaric execution, instead of a gripping therapeutic plunge into the perplexities of grief and how it affects everyone else, a missed opportunity that could’ve played this film as slightly more cerebral than the outside-of-the-glass treatment that we got here.

What does keep my score on this film from falling too far down is in the charming circumference of this ensemble cast that each add wonders to their respective characters. Lieberher has been a star in the making for quite some time, but the momentum of the film rests solely in his small hands, as he portrays Henry as a boy genius who never feels rude or condescending. Tremblay relies more on the dramatic pulse of the film to get his points across, and I’ve never seen a child release the tears so heart-achingly surreal as he has in films like this and 2015’s “Room”. Maddie Ziegler, despite not having many line reads in the movie, is a force to be reckoned with for how she visually commands the presence of this tortured girl next door. Christina is someone who lives out her worst nightmares every single day of her life, and Ziegler doesn’t falter this in facial responses that define the absence of positivity. Naomi Watts, Sarah Silverman, Dean Norris, all also buy into what Trevorrow is selling, so much so that their adult counterparts blend satisfyingly well enough to never feel like they are cutting in on the children’s time to work their craft. Norris is great as a villain, but does so without ever needing to come off as some Lifetime Television cliche. The worst kind of antagonist is the guy we should trust the most, and it’s very unsettling to know just what is going on under the roof of the police chief’s house that has left the surrounding patrons shattered in its wake.

THE VERDICT – “The Book of Henry” is three movies for the price of one, and only one of them should’ve been interesting enough to continue. Because of an overabundance in tone shifts, as well as fourth-dimensional breaks in logic, Trevorrow’s latest crashes and burns fast, leaving a finished product that feels slightly incomplete and muddled in seemingly unnecessary directions. The film definitely crafts an original take on child-first stories, but does so in a way that robs those intentions by the increasingly silly plot mechanics that would rather be the umpteenth “Home Alone” rather than the first “Book of Henry”.

4/10

The Mummy

Long before there was a D.C or Marvel Cinematic Universe, there was a Universal Monsters Universe, and “The Mummy” kicks that off for a new generation of moviegoers. Though safely entombed in a crypt deep beneath the unforgiving desert, the ancient queen Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) whose destiny was unjustly taken from her, is awakened in our current day, bringing with her malevolence grown over millennia and terrors that defy human comprehension. From the sweeping sands of the Middle East through hidden labyrinths under modern-day London, one man (Tom Cruise) who survives a terrifying plane ride, knows the cryptic code to ending her reign of terror before it goes global, leaving a wake of devastation to those who cross her. “The Mummy” is directed by Alex Kurtzman, and is rated PG-13 for violence, action and scary images, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity.

If I could think of one term to describe the newest remake of the Universal property “The Mummy”, it would be disjointed. That’s right, Universal has gotten the motivation to once again revamp its classic series of films that include Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Wolfman to name a few. But “The Mummy” takes the court first to see if there is a place for these series of legendary films in today’s modern theater, and upon my first take of it, I have to say that the next movie has a long way to go before it can be deemed viewer-ready. Considering there are four different writers for this film, it’s certainly easy to comprehend why there are such vast and jarring displays of tonal shifts in the movie that do its continuity absolutely no favors. From my perspective, one of these writers has definitely worked on Tom Cruise action flicks before, and his voice speaks the loudest in this film. There’s a dark comedy writer who’s reminders that they exist constantly halt the movie with some of the cheesiest deliveries that alienate everything about the intended tone of this story. There’s also the faithful student of the game who has studied the original, and knows what kind of movie this needs to be. Sadly, the latter’s voice is far too limited for this offering to ever be taken seriously.

For the first act of the movie, I was surprisingly glued in to the free-flowing pacing, and gorgeous detailed set pieces that really set this exotic world up in a non-limited budget of capacity. What happens next feels like a huge step back because the film can never feel fully focused enough to continue the positivity to this structure and historical significance, jumping in so many endless directions that often consumes the bulk of what should be the title antagonist’s time on camera. For anyone expecting that this movie is going to be a chapter in the continuous trend of feminist starring roles, think again. In fact, I was greatly surprised as to how minimal both of the female leads in this movie actually played into the big stakes. Sure, Ahmanet is the central antagonist here, but midway through the movie we start to turn into a different direction, one that would rather sell the next movie in the Universal Dark Franchise instead of focus on the areas that this one so desperately needs to sell its story and characters. Ahmanet is violently pushed to the side, and the movie grinds to a screeching halt full of other characters who I couldn’t care less about. Things don’t improve by the finale for Ahmanet either, as the movie has a not so subtle way at establishing how a powerful woman is no match for a powerful man, a sentiment that doesn’t do itself any favors in modern progression.

Then there’s the painful string of exposition that feels like an infomercial that constantly takes away from what is transpiring on screen. I mentioned in my “King Arthur” review that the movie was plagued by countless flashback scenes, and so to is the problem with “The Mummy”. Instead of allowing this story to naturally flow without spoon-feeding everything to the audience, the film endlessly beats us over the head with trying to understand each shot that we previously saw in the opening fifteen minutes of the movie, which itself was ANOTHER EXPOSITION SCENE. I’m not complaining about exposition, because it plays a vital part in the evolution of the story in a film, but when it is done this non-chalantly, I have to wonder just how dumb they that they take their audience. While this movie doesn’t suffer as much as “King Arthur”, it is like constantly being told the same story that you’ve already heard a couple of times earlier. The good news is that if you missed a scene for a bathroom break, or you just fell asleep like I nearly did, this film will continue to make sure you’re covered and never lead you off of a beaten path.

The rules themselves that the movie establishes are kind of inconsistent and often times lead to some major plot holes that had me scratching my head occasionally throughout the film. Without much spoilers, Ahmanet does command Tom Cruise throughout the film after getting into his brain early on. The problem with this is it’s rarely brought up to her advantage. If she can do all of these things and seduce him to paths that go against his logical thinking, then how long does a movie really have to be that competes an Egyptian queen against an everyman thief? I also don’t understand why she needs a king at all. She has all of the power, as well as the army to back her up, so why does she seek a male suitor to stand beside her? The film’s best way to explain it is that “Well, she just wants one”. Male dominance rules in a movie, boys and girls. Then there’s the visual sight gags that gave me plenty to unintentionally laugh about. A character is captured in this film, and the choice of shot angle for this prisoner scene probably should’ve been re-done because their wrist is about half of the size of the shackle that covers it, making an easy escape that definitely shouldn’t have taken as long as it did.

Now that I’ve bitched about the negatives of the film for long enough, lets discuss some positives I had, kicking it off with some luxurious set pieces and action sequences that really riveted my experience from time to time. Even if this isn’t supposed to be an action movie, there’s enough ammunition and free-falling objects at the screen to constitute this one as the next “Mission Impossible” sequel. A couple of my favorites involved a spinning bus that came at Cruise’s character, and required him to jump into to stay safe, a couple of sandstorm scenes whose immensity in volume really upped the ante when compared to that of the 1999 Mummy movie that did the same thing, and of course the airplane crash sequence that was seen in the trailers. On the latter, this sequence is beautifully detailed for how it tangles with gravity and the fast-thinking logic that it takes to even come out of this paralyzed, let alone alive. This scene didn’t take too many liberties with the camera angles, nor too many quick cut edits, so I appreciate it for at least being a textbook example of how to shoot action in a movie that is anything but.

The cast was very hit or miss for me, especially in that of the starring roles that weren’t always given the time that they deserved. I’ve read a lot about Cruise being praised for his commitment to this role, but I just don’t get it. To me, it felt very conventional and slightly phoned in during the exposition-heavy scenes that require his reaction to get across their urgency. It just feels like he couldn’t care less about what is transpiring, and while his performance isn’t terrible, I just don’t think Cruise was the right guy for this role. Sofia Boutella makes the most of what limited time she has as this title character. As Ahmanet, it’s refreshing to see a female take on the mummy character, and her devastation pull is only surpassed by her cunning charms of seduction to locate and terminate her prey. Russell Crowe was also good for me, hamming it up as a character who I won’t mention so as not to spoil it for you. I will say that Crowe is in the film, even though the movie acts like we didn’t see his face a hundred times in the trailers, trying to keep his facial identity a secret until midway through the movie. Crowe’s responses do sometimes feel overboard, but when you find out who he is to this story, you will easily understand why this stance remains faithful to whom he represents. The scenes with Cruise and Crowe together on-screen are wondrous, even if they take away from what should be the prime focus.

THE VERDICT – Universal’s opening investment into crafting the monsters of the golden age for a new generation lacks the kind of campy thrills or tragedy in character that makes its predecessors such worthy classics. Kurtzman’s film stumbles as a hurried mess that often feels like three different movies Frankensteined into one disjointed monster, and the result is a product that neither resurrects nor rises itself from the tomb where it laid sleeping. Surprisingly misogynistic, despite its progression of female focus.

4/10