I Feel Pretty

Directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein

Starring – Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Emily Ratajkowski

The Plot – a woman (Schumer) who struggles with feelings of deep insecurity and low self-esteem, that hold her back everyday, wakes from a brutal fall in an exercise class believing she is suddenly a supermodel. With this newfound confidence she is empowered to live her life fearlessly and flawlessly, but what will happen when she realizes her appearance never changed?

Rated PG-13 for sexual material involving brief nudity, and adult language

POSITIVES

– While the overall soundtrack feels a bit too topical for the particular scenes that they are deposited in, the film’s musical score from composer Michael Andrews surrounds us with a New Wave homage to 80’s John Hughes flicks. The soft listening tones are the first attempt at elevating this comedy into something more, and Andrews precision with the keys gives a gentle touch to a screenplay so vain.

– Whenever you get a comedy starring a comedian, you can bet that they will bring along their friends, and this film is no exception. Along the way, I spotted Nikki Glaser, Dave Attell, and plenty others that have played pivotal roles and blossoming friendships to Schumer’s rising stardom.

– A couple of noteworthy performances. Schumer actually gets a chance to develop some dramatic muscle here. Her empathetic range rises leaps and bounds above a script that is trying everything in its power to get you to hate her, but Amy proves that she can make you love just as much as she can make you laugh. In addition to Schumer, Williams steals the show as a bimbo-type executive that totally re-shaped the boundaries of Williams greatness. This is an Oscar nominated actress, so to see her commit to a character so opposite of her own personality, is only a shining example of her at her best. The vocal tones that she omitted for this role were so different from anything that I ever heard from her that I thought the film inserted some terribly awful A.D.R for her mouth to mimic.

– My favorite part of the film is definitely the romance between Schumer and Rory Scovel’s characters, and a lot of that centers around it feeling like the balancing act to so much superficiality that surrounds them. If only this magic had more time to materialize, then the importance to its meaning wouldn’t feel so forced during the third act.

NEGATIVES

– We all see the comparisons between this and 2001’s ‘Shallow Hal’, but the script outline feels almost like an unflattering form of plagiarizing. Scenes and progression mirror that of the predecessor, and while Hal isn’t a film that I would recommend to anyone for moral fiber, I can say that its heart beats twice as strong as Kohn’s diluted effort for the commentary it holds on the real world.

– The comedy misfires far too often. Considering most of the humor in the film deals with embarrassing Schumer’s character, I found myself feeling dirty or callous for even attempting the laugh towards it. Sometimes the right timing is accomplished, but often you forget that this film is a comedy first, and I blame that on the passing time between laughs that will have you checking your watch.

– Speaking of time, the endurance test of pacing in this film starts to show its hand by early on in the third act, when predictability feels evident. There are no fewer than three times during the final twenty minutes when this film could easily end, but the persistence in building to a memorable, self-conscious ending takes center stage above all else in making these 105 minutes feel like half of that.

– As a screenwriter, Kohn also feels inspired in elevating her comedy into a drama or romantic comedy level, similar to what Judd Apatow has perfected with films like ‘Trainwreck’ or ‘This is 40’. Where this fails is in the resistance in letting go of the bumbling humor escapades that do it no favors in harvesting inspiring moments to pull from. ‘I Feel Pretty’ could’ve easily been the female renaissance film of 2018, speaking levels to the kind of insecurities that all women face, but instead it only goes skin deep in its dive, sticking to the shallow waters of social standing in pursuing its merit.

– Much of the camera angles made me moan to the point that they lacked originality in their depiction. As I mentioned before, you get the sense that this is trying so desperately to be a rom-com, and the camera movements around our two love interests feel contrived and redundant from every 90’s film of the genre that you have ever seen. I found myself actually predicting how the camera was going to shift during certain scenes, creating what may be the best underground drinking game that will soon take over the world.

– That ending reeks. Even Schumer has been quoted in tabloids for how much the ending simply does not fit into this film, and I have to agree with the leading lady. For one, a cosmetics company whose whole campaign is dividing women, feels very contradictory to the film’s message that is hammered home with the subtlety of a sledgehammer driving through a brick wall. As well, the ideal that women need cosmetics in finding the inner beauty from within, gives me a feeling of nausea so deep within that I wanted to condemn this film from being seen by any of my female readers.

4/10

The Miracle Season

Directed By Sean McNamara

Starring – Erin Moriarty, Helen Hunt, William Hurt

The Plot – After the tragic death of star volleyball player Caroline “Line” Found (Danika Yarosh), a team of dispirited high school girls must band together under the guidance of their tough-love coach in hopes of winning the state championship.

Rated PG for some thematic elements

THE POSITIVES

– Both Hunt and Hurt outrun the hurdles of abysmal character exposition by granting us two strong performances in a film that needs that most of all. For Hunt, it’s clear that Caroline’s passing has opened her up to the relationship side of her team that was all business before, and for Hurt, we see a grieving father with the arduous task of picking up the pieces and finding the will to live happy again.

– The volleyball choreography here feels very in-tuned to the kind of sequencing and designs that the sport merits. Even if you aren’t a fan of the sport, you will appreciate the kind of chemistry that goes into building a team from the ground up that West High must now face without their star player.

– Much of the camera work starts off rudimentary with quick zooms and pan-outs, but then settles in to find its stroke. The later games in the film offer a panning shot from side-to-side that articulates the balance of power between two teams, and does so in a way that feels authentic to the actor’s having to depict plays for themselves in long takes, as opposed to quick edits that could make any of them look amazing without trying.

– Whether you find yourself invested in the characters or not, ‘The Miracle Season’ does bring with it a somber sense of heart-tugging dramatic sadness that will have you battling back tears a time or two. With more conviction to taking time, this film could’ve been remembered along the lines of sports biopics like ‘We Are Marshall’ and ‘Remember the Titans’ for making the most of the inevitable gut punch that you know is coming.

THE NEGATIVES

– Sport Biopics 101. This is a virtual checklist of formulaic cliches that has everything you’ve come to expect. Musical training montages? CHECK, A team working their way out of a losing streak? CHECK, The emergence of an overlooked player who would otherwise be riding the bench? CHECK. It’s all there, and its complacency is something that offers nothing of substance or originality to this particular story that should be inspiring.

– Speaking of uninspiring, the predictability factor here constantly keeps this film grounded. Other than the passing of Caroline from the trailers, I knew nothing about this real life team, but was still able to accurately predict where every single arc of the story was headed. The worst feeling with any film is that lack of overall sense of moving through the motions, and this film couldn’t feel more mundane because of it.

– Something that the music soundtrack does in the first half of the movie that I found interesting was that it only played pop songs from the year the story takes place (2010). This is a refreshingly faithful take, but unfortunately only lasts for half of the movie. The second half decides to throw in anything from the last few years of pop music that has been associated with the terms “Inspiring”, “Feminist”, or “Tries too hard” to manipulate audiences into thinking it’s watching something better than it actually is.

– How bad is the character exposition in the film? Well, the main character barely has parents, is reduced to a terribly undercooked romance that I couldn’t have cared less about, and doesn’t remotely standout as anything special from the rest of the group, besides being Caroline’s best friend. Even with the main character of the movie, we can’t help but feel the impact of longing for someone else. A bad sign indeed.

– Let’s face it, volleyball isn’t exactly the most dramatic sport to depict in film. It’s too quick in point decisions to stretch the tension, it’s too repetitive in movements to think the next play is going to be any different, and it continuously lacks the physical interaction that underlines the concepts of overcoming the odds.

– It doesn’t have much crossover appeal besides the limited audience that it caters to. There’s definitely the teenager and sports elements at hand here, but what for people who don’t enjoy either? Very little. This film sticks far too strong on the beaten path, and doesn’t expand its depth to the spiritual side that takes place outside of the courts. I’m not asking for religious circumference, but anything that tells me that volleyball might not be the only important thing in this town would be excellent.

– Atrocious Hallmark flashback dialogue. “I may be the surgeon, but you’re the healer out there” might be my single least favorite line of scripted dialogue this year. My only question is when you write something this meandering and emotionally vapid, do you get half off of Apple products because the stores feel bad for you?

4/10

Paul, Apostle of Christ

Directed by Andrew Hyatt

Starring – Jim Caviezel, James Faulkner, Joanne Whalley

The Plot – The story of two men, Luke (Caviezel), as a friend and physician, risks his life every time he ventures into the city of Rome to visit Paul (Faulkner), who is held captive in Nero’s darkest, bleakest prison cell. Before Paul’s death sentence can be enacted, Luke resolves to write another book, one that details the beginnings of “The Way” and the birth of what will come to be known as the church. But Nero is determined to rid Rome of Christians, and does not flinch from executing them in the grisliest ways possible. Bound in chains, Paul’s struggle is internal. He has survived so much; floggings, shipwreck, starvation, stoning, hunger and thirst, cold and exposure; yet as he waits for his appointment with death, he is haunted by the shadows of his past misdeeds. Alone in the dark, he wonders if he has been forgotten, and if he has the strength to finish well. Two men struggle against a determined emperor and the frailties of the human spirit in order to bequeath the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.

Rated PG-13 for some violent content and disturbing images

THE POSITIVES

– Religious films continue the momentum of earning themselves a valuable budget to spend on luxurious backdrops and authentic wardrobe displays. With more persistent success at the box office, this genre of films will only continue making the immersion into these stories that much easier.

– At its core, this is a strong character piece for Paul, and should’ve been used just for that. Far too often, too much unrelated exposition takes away from us translating the map of the world that he depicts on his face. I felt that these rare occasions in getting close to the character certainly made it a synch in understanding why he views Christ as his spiritual and life awakening.

– Committed performances that never crack or break under the pressure of the dependency of this screenplay. Caviezel’s Luke is stoic, Andre Agius’s Stephen is calculating, but it’s in the work of Faulkner as the title character that defines what it means to get lost in a role. As far as protagonists go, he doesn’t come across as preachy, instead settling for the effects of an iron will to get across his sermon.

– Never manipulative, but plenty inspiring. There’s certainly a message of standing for your faith over persecution, in ‘Paul’, but it never feels insulting or contradictory to any audience watching it at home. Because of this, I have to appreciate films like this that separate themselves from the Kirk Cameron’s and ‘God’s Not Dead’s’ of the world.

THE NEGATIVES

– Inconsistent lighting palates. One of my favorite things to pay attention to in films that take place before the dawn of electricity is how the lighting scheme works in every scene, and much of the use of candles during the nighttime sequences here feels far too bright without much shadow work accompanying them. Natural lighting should always be the decision for these kind of movies.

– This is definitely a film that feels ravaged by its rating. It amazes me that many religious films still don’t understand or grasp how R-rated the bible was, and as a result, the requirement to use your imagination in this film constantly exceeds the rewards in rare visuals that we receive.

– For my money, the most entertaining and informative parts of the film seem to happen off screen. There are no shortage of flashback sequences, so it’s my opinion that this is a three hour film that is trying so desperately to come across at 100 minutes. In doing so, much of the understanding of the conflict between the Romans and Catholics feels lost in translation, leading to……..

– An overall weak dramatic pull. Because much of the film involves a tell-and-not-show routine, its reach for a third act impact before the closing credits is one that comes and goes without much emotional impact on us. If a film doesn’t move you, it’s a reflection that it never attained the success of luring you into its conflicts.

– How is Nero not a presence in this film? Considering so much of the screenplay revolves around his actions and feelings towards the Catholics, the decision to make him a shadow figure in the ivory tower is one that comes across as a missed opportunity in crafting an ideal antagonist to rival the overabundance of protagonists that adorn the film.

– So much of the second half of this film drowns on because of nothing of physicality to accompany its overflowing dialogue. This would usually be where a war scene goes, but because the material is so stripped of anything confrontational, we play the listening game in waiting for something rumbling that never comes.
4/10

Pacific Rim: Uprising

Directed by Steven S DeKnight

Starring – John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Tian Jing

The Plot – John Boyega stars as the rebellious Jake Pentecost, a once-promising Jaeger pilot whose legendary father gave his life to secure humanity’s victory against the monstrous “Kaiju.” Jake has since abandoned his training only to become caught up in a criminal underworld. But when an even more unstoppable threat is unleashed to tear through our cities and bring the world to its knees, he is given one last chance to live up to his father’s legacy by his estranged sister, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi)-who is leading a brave new generation of pilots that have grown up in the shadow of war. As they seek justice for the fallen, their only hope is to unite together in a global uprising against the forces of extinction. Jake is joined by gifted rival pilot Lambert (Eastwood) and 15-year-old Jaeger hacker Amara (Cailee Spaeny), as the heroes of the PPDC become the only family he has left.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some adult language

THE POSITIVES

– There’s no question that the meat and potatoes of this franchise is still the action, first and foremost. It is definitely still there, vibrating the screen with no shortage of combat and devastation that makes the most of the set pieces that surround the robots and monsters respectively.

– Boyega definitely feels like the most beneficial addition to the script, if only for his endless charisma and presence that steers the film with command whenever he is on screen. I do wish they would’ve evolved his character and subplot progressively more, but John makes the most of the limited opportunity, pushing through the sludge with the kind of attitude the film so desperately needs.

– The decisions in camera work smoothly, and never replicate the negatives of modern day action flicks with too many quick-cuts. Instead, Uprising focuses on each and every crushing blow without ever flinching or looking away from the unfolding scene.

– Perhaps a motivation for the script that worked above all others for me was the maturity and steering by the youth of this fresh faced cast in saving the day. This inspires a positive message from our own next generation to take charge of our own world and future when it comes knocking on their doors.

THE NEGATIVES

– For my money, the action sequences look much better at night than they do in the day. This not only feeds into the idea of the mystery behind what’s waiting in the dark, but also the hollow and empty presentation from daylight sequences that don’t echo that cool, Tron-like vibe from the neon decor.

– Much of the screenplay felt like a hybrid between Independence Day and Transformers. In fact, I predict much will be forgotten about this film because you’ve seen it in bigger, more gifted productions that (Above all else) did it first.

– The humor in dialogue felt so forced and unnatural that it comes across as more awkward than humorous. A good deal of my problems creatively with the film clashed with the overall tone that caters more to young adult moviegoers than a matured adult presentation that adorned the first movie. More on that in a second.

– It is my opinion that Dr Gottlieb (Played with commitment by Burn Gorman) deserved more screen time for his evolution, and there’s one glaring area that I would’ve taken away from. How does a movie make Charlie Day feel like John Turtoro from the Transformers series? Day is AWFUL here, and his emerging plot feels as believable as pigs flying. Each time he was on-screen, he took away from the more entertaining scenario behind him, and if this is where the series is going I will pass.

– There’s not nearly enough urgency or vulnerability in this world and its people, and I blame a lot of that on the mistimed tone that I mentioned above. To further elaborate on this, I never felt glued or uncertainty for the action-packed third act because I never felt the danger of a situation that either cuts to Day for his goofy one-liners, or uses valuable camera time in getting one of the robots to give a monster the middle finger.

– DeKnight is certainly no substitute for Del Toro. A lot of the film lacks the style, creativity, attention to detail, and innovation that the first movie had. Instead of elevating the rules and technology in this film, DeKnight would rather rest on much of the positives of the first movie, leaving him without a knife to carve his name in this 50/50 franchise.

4/10

7 Days in Entebbe

Directed by Jose Padilha

Starring – Rosamund Pike, Daniel Bruhl, Eddie Marsan

The Plot – In July 1976, an Air France flight from Tel-Aviv to Paris via Athens was hijacked and forced to land in Entebbe, Uganda. The Jewish passengers were separated and held hostage in demand to release many terrorists held in Israeli prisons. After much debate, the Israeli government sent an elite commando unit to raid the airfield and release the hostages.

Rated PG-13 for violence, some thematic material, drug use, smoking and brief strong adult language

THE POSITIVES

– Rosamund Pike could act her way out of a closet. Regardless of how limited or flawed the screenplay she is given, Pike steals the attention of every scene as the only woman fighting for her cause, all the while donning a commitment to the German accent she speaks with. The very best scene in the movie involves a call home that she makes on the dreaded day 7 that still haunts me with its twist.

– The second half of the film begins to include some real life footage from African press, as well as narration of American television providing the general reaction of foreigners reacting to this plan. I felt this was necessary because it’s easy for audiences to get far too lost in the overabundance of dialogue exposition in the movie, and this serves as a needed translator of sorts.

– Padilha’s direction seems unabashed in depicting the varying degrees of terrorists, as well as the slimy politicians who would later be known as heroes. This highlights that the director isn’t advocating for either side, instead preaching that negotiations are always the first step in preventing something much worse.

– Much of the 70’s artistic expressions for the time period are followed through beautifully, mirroring the fashions and automobiles in-sync with dedication that doesn’t go unnoticed.

THE NEGATIVES

– This tragic event, while deserving of attention, doesn’t make for the most entertaining or intriguing or movie scripts. There’s very little struggle in the fight for power, very little opposition by those kidnapped, and far too much dialogue progression being used to keep audiences at bay.

– There are no fewer than four different perspectives that this story goes through. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the most entertaining is any time the film decides to focus on Bruhl and Pike’s engagements with the hostages, but everything else is given far too much time in explaining the unfolding of the situation that would otherwise be easy to pick up on without it. Because of this, 7 Days in Entebbe feels like truth in advertising.

– I spoke earlier of Pike’s reputation as a great actress, and it’s probably a good thing because even though the film clumsily retorts to backstory with our terrorists only days before the hijack, I felt that I learned very little about Pike or Bruhl’s characters that would fill in the gaps for their motivations and make me feel a shred of empathy for them.

– It certainly gives the hijackers a feeling of stupidity when they say they didn’t think so many Jewish passengers would be on-board an Israeli aircraft. Were you expecting Sonny and Cher? Why this is such a big deal is because the hijackers are mostly German, bringing back thoughts back of Nazi’s torturing Jews. In short, do your studying before committing to something terrible.

– Rodrigo Amarante’s musical score feels very underwhelming when compared to his sensational work on ‘Narcos’. With the exception of the closing number accompanying the rapid fire sequence of events, much of the music in the movie stays very reserved, never increasing or teasing the tension that surrounds the characters rising consequences.

– With an air of pretentiousness, the film visually treats us to four different interpretive dance numbers that are supposed to mirror that of the unfolding events happening in our story. I don’t mind artistic expression in any movie, but when it starts to become a cliche in its own movie, I can’t help but refrain from rolling my eyes each time it pops up.

– When someone decides to remake a story that has already been told on-screen, it should include some perks to the story that we didn’t learn from a prior film to give it a sense of belonging. I myself know very little about these 7 days in Entebbe, but I can tell you that everything that I did learn came from a film made forty years ago called ‘Raid on Entebbe’, starring Charles Bronson. Because of that fact, these seven days feel like a wasted flight with very little access to gas needed to prolong interest.

4/10

Gringo

Directed by Nash Edgerton

Starring – David Oyelowo, Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron

The Plot – Combining dark comedy with dramatic intrigue, ‘Gringo’ joyrides across the border into Mexico, where all is not as it seems for mild-mannered American businessman Harold Soyinka (Oyelowo). Crossing the line from citizen to criminal, Harold tangles with duplicitous business partners, Mexican drug lords, international mercenaries, and the DEA. As he attempts to survive in one of the most dangerous places on earth, the question lingers: is this ordinary man in way over his head, or is he two steps ahead?

Rated R for adult language throughout, violence and sexual content

THE POSITIVES

– This cast is far too good for this film, and prove it as they make the most of their thinly written characters. Theron and Edgerton definitely steal the show, playing two upper management snobs whose quick wit retaliation gave me flashbacks of the Farelly Brothers in their writing prime. There were times when I wanted this to be just their film, and I feel that I was the most intrigued whenever this sensational duo showed up and ate up the scenery

– Despite seeing the trailer a lot, the twists and turns of this screenplay gave me more than a few surprises, and certainly wasn’t bashful about upping the stakes for all of the players seated at the table.

– While I had many problems with the overall tone and genre classification of this film, it’s in my opinion that the film worked best when it tried to be a comedy. Oyelowo’s consistent Nigerian accent, as well as his reactions to the complete mayhem that was unfolding around him, gave me more than a couple of hearty chuckles that served as a piece of relief for the rest of the film that took itself too seriously.

– It’s beneficial and interesting to note that Oyelowo’s character isn’t the bumbling buffoon that the trailer makes him out to be. There’s clearly a game of mental chess taking place here, and this man takes many intelligent measures known to the audience before he makes his next move.

THE NEGATIVES

– The movie is sold as a comedy, written as a Mexican drug cartel shootout, and presented as a dramatic piece. The word of the day for this one is Scatterbrained because at times these three polar opposite directions clash with one another and soil the integrity and honesty that each are trying to convey.

– I mentioned earlier that Theron and Edgerton steal the show, and it’s clear that the movie thinks so as well. Midway through, Oyelowo’s main character status is put in jeopardy as he is sharing screen time with no fewer than three other subplots that each get an equal share of the script. Subplots usually show up in one out of every four to five scenes, but here the dedication in keeping up with every single character tested my patience to no end.

– Gringo is probably the last film that I expected to complain about the visual effects, but it’s rare for me to be this dumbfounded about the careless nature put into them. Snowflakes and butterflies are given a C.G rendering here, and not only does their movements make you question the authenticity of every scene they’re in, but the fact that they both fall/fly in the same pattern proves the rushed nature of this effect to me.

– Frustrating transition scenes. This heavily flawed script just isn’t sequenced out enough to harvest the entertainment factor of the material. There are multiple exposition scenes without a payoff in between, as well as cuts in editing between scenes that feel jagged and sloppy for the style.

– I’ve heard of neatly tied up endings before, but Gringo’s is so bad that it inadvertently pays homage to Austin Powers. Let me explain; there’s a character in the film who is insulted because she used to be fat. Well wouldn’t you know it, during the closing scenes she becomes fat again because she’s an awful person. This serves absolutely zero purpose in the overall scheme of things other than to answer one more unnecessary question about another unnecessary character.

– Speaking of unnecessary characters, Amanda Seyfried and her boyfriend in the movie are completely wasted and given absolutely no clarity for their involvement in the film. It’s another example of two characters whose final destination make you scratch your head the more you think about it, and only did wonders in weighing the entertainment factor down for the film each time they came on screen and weighed the pacing down.

4/10

Winchester

Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig

Starring – Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook

The Plot – Inspired by true events. On an isolated stretch of land 50 miles outside of San Francisco sits the most haunted house in the world. Built by Sarah Winchester (Mirren) heiress to the Winchester fortune, it is a house that knows no end. Constructed in an incessant twenty-four hour a day, seven day a week mania for decades, it stands seven stories tall and contains hundreds of rooms. To the outsider it looks like a monstrous monument to a disturbed woman’s madness. But Sarah is not building for herself, for her niece (Snook) or for the brilliant Doctor Eric Price (Clarke) whom she has summoned to the house. She is building a prison, an asylum for hundreds of vengeful ghosts, and the most terrifying among them have a score to settle with the Winchesters.

Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, drug content, some sexual material and thematic elements

THE POSITIVES

– Both Mirren and Clarke are both far too good for this film, living through such emotionally resonant performances that aren’t highlighted enough in this faulty script. Mirren particularly makes the most of her frightful starring role with a fragile walk between two sides of mental well being that leave her shaking.

– The interior set designs echo that of the real life Winchester house wonderfully. Between this and the faithful wardrobe selections, we as an audience are easily submerged in the 1905 setting that the story takes place in. I wish more was done psychologically with the tricks of this maze house though.

– There are some enticing themes throughout the film that try to up the ante of a thinking man’s horror movie. Man versus medicine, the importance of our pasts, and (Especially my favorite) our greatest creations supplanting themselves as our greatest curse, are all major selling points for where the material takes us.

– I was never bored with this film. 90 minutes in and out offers such breezy pacing that it rarely has moments of downtime to lag or wither with the progression of the screenplay.

THE NEGATIVES

– On the opposite side of the positive spectrum for runtime, the film’s entirely convoluted third act and unnecessary plot twists feel like they try to do too much in too little of time allowed. Very little in the way of shock or awe have much time to linger in the air because there’s always something additional included just behind it, and ‘Winchester’ is no exception to this curse that feels like its time was cut in half.

– As usual, terrible jump scares. Not only do these ones not feel even slightly justified in the sound mixing department, but they are also paced unevenly. We will go twenty minutes without a jump scare, and then have three in the same scene, making it a jarring display of cliche frights that get old quickly.

– Speaking of cliches, this film feels like a sitcom’s perspective on scary movies. There’s the creepy butler, the supporting characters who feel dazed by their spooky environment, and of course possessed children. Stop me if you’ve heard this one already.

– During the critical third act set-up when the spirits are at their most powerful, where the hell did the 24/7 construction crew around the house go?

– There are some eye sores when it comes to establishing shots of the house during the first few initial scenes. I never expected an entire practical set replica of the immense house to be made, but if you’re going to submit a C.G illustration for the film, can you at least render it so the color tints aren’t so polarizing? Pay close attention to those scenes and you might think you’re watching a cartoon.

– Endings with people versus paranormal often never end in rave reviews, but this one might be amongst the worse. I might not remember a lot about this film in three months, but I’ll always remember how a practical object that has no spiritual powers or special magic killed something that was already dead.

4/10

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Directed by Wes Ball

Starring – Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Sangster

THE PLOT – In the epic finale to The Maze Runner Saga, Thomas (O’Brien) leads his group of escaped Gladers on their final and most dangerous mission yet. To save their friends, they must break into the legendary last city, a WCKD controlled labyrinth that may turn out to be the deadliest maze of all. Anyone who makes it out alive will get the answers to the questions the Gladers have been asking since they first arrived in the maze. Will Thomas and the crew make it out alive? Or will Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkston) get her way?

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, adult language, and some thematic elements

THE POSITIVES

– There are a few surprising cameos both within the realm of this film universe, as well as real life celebrity that raised my respect of reputation for the film. I won’t give anything away, but my favorite character in this trilogy makes a triumphant return and steals more than a few scenes.

– Big budget set pieces. There’s a ringing feeling throughout the film that no dollar was spared in the visual backdrops (Both C.G and non), giving Ball’s conclusion to this series a grown-up action genre presence that has matured along with the characters fittingly.

– The action sequences are very imaginative and rattling with each passing scene. If it is destruction that you crave, let The Death Cure be your anecdote.

– O’Brien’s commitment to at least seeing the series through. Most stars, once they become a big name presence, forget about the roles that made them (See Lawrence, Jennifer), so it’s nice to see Dylan still being a noble contributor and finishing with gritty personality what he started with green earnestness.

THE NEGATIVES

– While I dug the action sequences, the film is littered with them to a fault. As to where ‘The Scorch Trials’ was plagued with too much exposition and not enough action in between, this film is the exact opposite, exhausting me to tears by the repetition in setup that wears itself thin quickly.

– Speaking of exposition, this script picks and chooses what gets highlighted for its audience. Some things that don’t feel remotely important by the end of the movie are given long-winded explanations, while those key details that bridge the gap of understanding for audiences feel lost in the shuffle.

– The film could’ve used an introduction recap in refreshing the previous two films for people like myself who see over 200 films a year and can’t quite remember every detail from Y.A series that rub together. Without it, this only feeds into the hardcore fans who have stuck by this franchise this long and await a payoff that never comes.

– Urgency yes, vulnerability no. Believe me when I say that you never fear for our protagonists a single time once you’re about a half hour into the film, and the reason for this is because there is a laughably tedious routine each time they get in the slightest bit of trouble that sees them escape the jaws of death in the most silly of ways, making it feel like it was planned like such.

– Watching this film with an avid fan of the books gave me a stunning comparison. She revealed to me that this film is about 7% on par with the events of the book, casting a huge drop-off from the book versus film comparison of the original Maze Runner, which she said was 75% alike. This ultimately means that fans of the books might feel alienated with a series they’ve come to know and love.

– My biggest problem with the series overall is what mazes that risk the lives of youths have to do with testing their intelligence. Surely there are less maniacal ways to test their strongest muscle. Perhaps a math challenge??

4/10

Den of Thieves

Directed by Christian Gudegast

Starring – Gerard Butler, O’Shea Jackson, Pablo Schreiber

THE PLOT – A gritty Los Angeles crime saga which follows the intersecting and often personally connected lives of an elite unit of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. and the state’s most successful bank robbery crew as the outlaws plan a seemingly impossible heist on the Federal Reserve Bank of downtown Los Angeles.

Rated R for violence, adult language and some sexuality/nudity

THE POSITIVES

– Gerard Butler gives arguably his best performance since ‘300’. It’s probably not saying a lot positively when Butler gives the best performance in a film, but as Nick Flanagan, Butler rides a double identity that has him juggling family life and a dangerous career to stay afloat.

– The sound design here is an up-roaring achievement. Through a few shootout sequences, the amplified echo of automatic riffles transformed Los Angeles into a think-fast warzone, over the all American dollar.

– Some beautiful exterior shots of the city of angels that hints at a Michael Mann kind of influence behind Gudegast’s inspirations. As to where Mann fell in love with the flashy neon’s of the southeast, Christian balances the beauty and ugly under the same west coast sky where millions reside.

– There was never a role where I felt that anyone was miscast. Bridges in particular continues to be a commanding presence on the silver screen, carving out a name for himself that reminds us that he is anyone but his father when it comes to projects he accepts.

THE NEGATIVES

– Two hours and fifteen minutes is an endurance test for any film, let alone one whose story could easily reside under two hours with some attention to necessary trimming in expositional over-abundance. Considering the big robbery begins with an hour left in the movie, it’s mind-boggling why that was the area of the film that plodded the most.

– In addition to the previous point, there are scenes that serve little purpose the more I thought about them, as well as character traits that go absolutely nowhere. For instance, Jackson’s character is a well known speed demon behind the wheel, but this never comes into play during the robbery, so why include it in the story? Another scene involves 50 Cent’s daughter being taken to a dance, only to be intimidated by his group of criminals. Where this goes in the long run? Why nowhere but a standard throwaway scene for the audience to remotely chuckle between scenes of suspense. It’s mood-ruiner 101 at its finest.

– Some of the dialogue in this film points to late 90’s anti-homosexual spouting that seems severely outdated with our current scene on Hollywood. It’s embarrassing and stands out like an unnecessary sore thumb during the tense scenes of the two gangs colliding.

– In my opinion, the film progressed the smoothest when the lines of comparison between the two sides seemed apparent. So it angered me deeply when so much of the second act becomes a dick measuring contest between Butler and Schreiber’s characters, limiting the rest of the supporting cast to disappearing acts that only re-appear when the film absolutely needs them to.

– Obvious C.G blood that reminded me of Syfy movie-of-the-week’s when it splattered in front of the screen. The closer its depiction, the worst it looked in terms of believability.

– The finale reaches for a twist that honestly isn’t defined as an actual plot twist. In addition to this, it’s obvious because the film showed its hand during the first act in a throwaway line in which they felt no one was paying attention. Probably because no one but me actually was.

4/10

Pitch Perfect 3

Pitches of the world unite for one final tour that will send the Bella’s on their respective paths to adulthood for good. In ‘Pitch Perfect 3’, after the highs of winning the World Championships, the Bellas find themselves split apart and discovering there aren’t job prospects for making music with your mouth. But when they get the chance to reunite for an overseas USO tour, this group of awesome nerds will come together to make some music, and some questionable decisions that will make or break them, one last time. Along the way, they will meet an array of talented musicians from across the globe who will rival them once more to wonder if they can bring the thunder for the performance of a lifetime. ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ is directed by Trish Sie, and is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, adult language, and some action sequences.

I think it’s safe to say that this series has officially jumped the shark. In its third and (as of right now) final chapter in the series, the Pitch Perfect franchise has betrayed what it was known as before, in all of the musical muster and comedy hijinks that they could get themselves into, by adding an unnecessary and unfitting level of action thrills to this series that is anything but. This gives the film an overwhelming lack of confidence within itself to remain true to what (frankly) got it through two films. I am someone who has been half and half with this series up to this point. The first film was a lot of fun, shedding light to a side of college career paths that don’t often get the exposure. The second film added very little to the franchise because of how much it took from its original and better predecessor. Then comes ‘Pitch Perfect 3’, a film that is once again completely unnecessary and only has leverage to lose in what it offers to its faithful audience. As it turns out, that is very little. ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ falls flat on the series closing efforts, cementing a thought process that this series should’ve easily been left at one.

Right away, we are presented with a set-up in execution that makes about as much sense as the mind will allow. The USO has decided to not only bring this college acapella group that no one outside of the college knows about, but also in four other groups that are so well known that they must perform famous musician’s songs in getting over. Who knew that the USO were so cheap? I mean, it’s my thought process that can’t overlook the idea that if these groups are singing a Lenny Kravitz song, why not just bring over Lenny Kravitz to perform for our men and women who are defending our freedoms? Beyond this, the film has a subplot that is completely out of left field with Amy’s father (Played by John Lithgow) coming back into her life with some secrets of his own. It is in this angle where we not only learn that Amy’s family has been involved in some dark details, but that Amy herself is a well-trained martial artist who can flip and kick her way through any adversity. Where did this come from? This once sweet and soft side series now feels miles away from where it ends up in this jumbled plot that is all over the place thematically. I’m all for adding something additional to play off of the music that will always be there, but the additions here don’t work from any level of consistency in bridging the gap between films.

The humor usually misses more than hits, mainly from Amy’s low-brow humor that outlines a terribly nasty person inside who stops at nothing to cut down everyone around her, but I did notice one direction out of left field that could’ve saved this film overall and offered a refreshing take for the series had they exploited it more. That angle is in the satire of the series that even the most vital of protagonists are poking fun at, in this stage. This definitely isn’t a film that takes itself too seriously, despite the compromising shifts from action sequences that totally feel out of place on every possible level. There are on-going angles involving the unlimited number of Bella’s, the few of which never get any screen time. There’s also a reflection of their first act battles with other groups that always ends with them losing. These familiar roads for fans will have them fighting back laughs in the very predictable-without-being-stale roads that this trilogy has taken, and prove that these women are strong enough to take a joke even at the heart of its own structure. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t exploit this blessing from the gods enough, and the majority of its material surges on the same undercooked material that we have seen for going on five hours now in this series as a whole.

Thankfully, the music selections and performance numbers still offer an air of creativity that pushes them further than this being just another karaoke contest. Part of the reason that you watch these films is to see the unorthodox spin that the movie takes on current top 40 hits and even classic rock-n-roll favorites that offer something for everyone. In addition to the Bella’s singing, they also beatbox their way in some truly clever instances that never require instruments in getting their performances over. If this isn’t enough however, the groups that challenge the Bella’s bring everything from guitars to a fiddle in presenting the widest example of musical versatility that has ever hit this series. If I had one critique for the performances, it was in the underwhelming sound mixing that offered a wall of disbelief to their lip-synching. There are several scenes during the film in which we see the mouths of our ladies moving, but there’s no microphone in front of them. So how are we hearing them crystal clear over mountains of thunderous music that echoes around them? Negatives like this are so easy to fix that it’s baffling, but it reminds me time-and-time-again the kind of lack in focus and phoning it in that this series has become saddled with.

As for characters and performances, the main characters stand-out again, leaving very little wiggle room for the supporting cast that are table dressing for the main course. Kendrick is again fit as a fiddle for her leading role, but there’s an ambiance of this being a paycheck film for her that overrides the lack of energy within her performance. Not that the miniscule direction gives her much help along the way, but Kendrick’s often dependable stride feels like the biggest mourning in terms of the biggest changes here from film to film, and it’s a task in replacing that the film never truly fills. If I had to pick a favorite, I would say Brittany Snow’s Chloe is arguably the most improved player, juggling this air of inevitability with her group as well as a budding romance with a soldier that gives her reason again to shine in the light. As I mentioned before, Rebel Wilson’s Amy is truly awful and filled me with anger every time her shallow character filled the screen. She would be the worst character in a normal movie, but here Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins are happy to cast the expectations even lower. Why are these two even in this film? Their characters are there to make a documentary that no one is ever going to see, and in it they continuously mock and tear down the Bella’s self-esteem. They are like Waldorf and Stadler from The Muppets, but without any of the class or reasoning that comes with their inclusion. Every time the film cuts to them, you know what’s coming, so it just creates another speed bump on the progression through this brief 89 minute script that needs more anchor from its confident cast.

THE VERDICT – ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ is the sequel that no one asked for, and worse yet earned very little in surprises to justify its existence. This is one swan song that goes out on the lowest of low notes disappointingly, and the tonal switch in genre form compromises every noble ideal of learning to thrive by being yourself that the series has harvested to this point. If Sie’s blunder is a stage-show, it’s one that plays for far too long, with one too many encores that send the audience home exhausted instead of exhilarated.

4/10

Wonder Wheel

The wheel of dramatic tension keeps spinning rapidly for four different people caught in a tail spin on Coney Island in the 1950’s. ‘Wonder Wheel’ tells the story of four characters whose lives intertwine amid the hustle and bustle of the Coney Island amusement park in the 1950s: Ginny (Kate Winslet), an emotionally volatile former actress now working as a waitress in a clam house; Humpty (Jim Belushi), Ginny’s rough-hewn carousel operator husband with his own mob connections; Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a handsome young lifeguard who dreams of becoming a silver screen playwright; and Caroline (Juno Temple), Humpty’s long-estranged daughter, who is now hiding out from gangsters at her father’s apartment. The four cross-stories intercept and provide a wild and unpredictable Summer under the hot sun of the amusement park. ‘Wonder Wheel’ is written and directed by Woody Allen, and is rated PG-13 for thematic content including some sexuality, adult language and smoking.

I have never been the patriarch for the Woody Allen fan club. Many historian film lovers eat up every single one of the unlimited supply of filmography that cements his name amongst the Hollywood elite for the past five decades. However for me, Woody’s movies have always felt like a hilarious joke that only I wasn’t understanding the punchline to. A kind of pretentious entrepreneur behind the lens who was making only the kind of films that he wanted to, and never needed to change that aspect. ‘Wonder Wheel’ definitely isn’t going to remove that opinion anytime soon. This is a film that not only abides by the all style and no substance policy, but it practically re-defines it in ways that undercut any opportunity to instill some kind of dramatic pulse to what is unraveling. Allen feels content in letting a reputable A-list cast and remarkably beautiful setting fade with the sun that articulately adorns the amusement park day after day. I could try to argue that this is only because the aging Allen is no longer in the prime of his career, but any remote film buff will debate that he’s been saddled with this degree of laziness for years, and it’s something that hinders his positives as a director for just how mind-numbingly dull of a screenwriter that he truly is.

If Allen were in charge of a New York tourism video, he would’ve not only oversold his property, but he would also receive praise for his focus on some remote details that only an inhabitant would put together in his experience there. Allen again places much of his attention and emphasis on the environment itself that can quite often feel like the boiling pot of emotional response that turns the gears of these characters and their daily routines. Because of this, there should be no surprise when I say that my favorite detail of this film is in the vibrancy in color of the park that surrounds our cast of characters, as well as the way Woody instills that subtle nuance of a Broadway stage play in airing out the dirty laundry of the picture. There are several long takes during the film that offer some long-winded spins of dialogue to impress in our actors what they lack in emotional deposition, and the swerving in and around to keep the focus on only those who talk, distinctly gives off that stage vibe that plays out in real time.

The film’s color scheme also radiates its way into every scene, crafting an almost cartoon-like vibe of surrealism that highlights an outline of amazement. Allen is clearly in love with the 50’s post-war vibes of the big apple, and in the masterful Vittorio Storaro, whom Allen worked with last year in ‘Cafe Society’, he has found the perfect puppeteer in bringing the visions from his childhood to the silver screen. Storaro’s use of light in defense of the emotional versatility that is transpiring in every scene off of the faces of our characters, feels like it reaches for a bigger purpose in symbolism, but the preference is used to simply remind the audience of the very claustrophobic confinements that our protagonists find themselves in with their ever-growing problems. If I was basing this film on look alone, it would no doubt be one of my ten favorite films of 2017, but the designs of creativity aren’t enough to keep it from being weighed down by what underwhelms at nearly every turn.

Anyone watching the trailer can put together the idea that this film surrounds a love triangle that perplexes the movements of our characters, but what is unseen is just how undercooked and dull Allen keeps the temperature of this sizzle. Besides the fact that I couldn’t find myself relating to a single character because these are all remarkably terrible people, the film harvests zero care, concern, or urgency to what is being hinted at for the bigger picture. There are so many chances that ‘Wonder Wheel’ has in conjuring up some truly compelling suspense for what awaits in the future, but these people seem to be satisfied in their uninspiring lives and frankly unhealthy relationships that I couldn’t be bothered to feel pity or remorse for them for a single second. If this wasn’t enough, Allen kind of writes himself into a corner with the conflict of the film that offers two daggers for whatever path he chooses to take. One way is far too predictable to not see coming from ten miles away, and the second option (and the one the film takes) offers no resolution or impact to the building blocks of adversity that were stacking against the trio involved. The end conveyed the thought that this film should continue for a half hour more, even if that very idea felt most harmful to the man writing this very review.

As for performances, there was only one that was truly bad, but not a single one of the central three ever provide themselves a chance to standout. Winslet’s Ginny is definitely the best in my opinion for her unstable past that plays a prominent role in her decaying future. My problem with Winslet’s character is that she’s very detestable and only adds further emphasis to the long-debated idea that Allen doesn’t appreciate, nor does he know how to write a woman with power. Juno Temple is probably my favorite character in the film, but Temple’s deer-in-the-headlights routine robs us of the same kind of chance to fall in love with Caroline in the same manner that Timberlake does. Speaking of Timberlake, he definitely takes home the award for being the person who stands out for all of the wrong reasons. Timberlake’s New York accent is so inconsistent that it becomes kind of a challenge to map out which scenes were filmed on which days, and his usually endless charm disappears in the fog of convoluted dialogue that does him no favors in terms of personality. Timberlake doesn’t have chemistry with Winslet or Temple, so the convincing of trying to make me feel some kind of spark between them goes unfulfilled for 96 agonizing minutes.

THE VERDICT – ‘Wonder Wheel’ never gets its feet off the ground, choosing instead to parlay its audience through a mismanaging drama that lacks anything compelling in airing itself out. Without a single reputable performance to recommend, or a single instance of proof that Allen paid attention to the gorgeous scenery, AS WELL as the people who fill it, his latest romantic swooning spins off of the tracks early on, and never finds the inspiration to pick itself back up. The film settles for being an endless rotation of a self-loathing derivative that swallows your cylinders of pride one quarter at a time, and has you screaming in agony to get off.

4/10

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