The Last Word

Shirley MacLaine gets ‘The Last Word’ in Mark Pellington’s newest dramedy, also starring Amanda Seyfried and Anne Heche. MacLaine is Harriet Lauler, a once successful businesswoman in tight control of every aspect of her life. As she reflects upon her accomplishments, she’s suddenly inspired to engage a young local writer, Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried), to pen her life’s story. When the initial result doesn’t meet Harriet’s high expectations, Anne sets out to reshape the way she is remembered, with Anne dragged along as an unwilling and unflattering accomplice. As the journey unfolds, the two women develop a unique bond which alters not only Harriet’s legacy, but also Anne’s future. ‘The Last Word’ is rated R for adult language.

‘The Last Word’ is a decent enough plot to entice its audience into checking it out. There has always been a certain curiosity to the kind of legacies that we as humans with our time on this world will leave behind, and what kind of words and sentences will be used to trigger our memories. This, in addition to the film’s hearty message of living for today and not being afraid to fail, is one that I take with great meaning and intention. Unfortunately, it had to come at the hands of a movie that is the exact counter opposite of such a quota. Saying that this is one of the most artificially emotional films that comes to mind simply doesn’t do enough. This is one that should be avoided at all costs because it doesn’t take the time or the transformation in its central character to merit the kind of somber finale that this film intended. On top of that, it’s trying to channel one too many emotional responses. It wants to be awkwardly funny with characters you despise, yet it also wants you to take pity upon said character when the inevitable rears its ugly head. One of these directions is fine, but to take both contradicts the other and leads us down a path of dishonorable proportions.

The story of this narrative revolves around Harriet’s redemption, especially when she finds out that many people were either afraid or terribly disgusted with a lot of her actions in her early life. These people range from her co-workers at a prestigious law firm, to her daughter who has wanted nothing to do with her for the better part of her existence. Over the course of the next 103 minutes, the story of Harriet trying to right her wrongs is interrupted and cast aside for Anne’s disappointing life. Contrived when it is trying to attain profound, and it never materializes to anything for the character it should be. Because this movie takes so much time in establishing and solving Anne’s own personal flaws, there’s very little time left for Harriet to become this person that makes us bask in her triumph by the end of the film. Sure, Harriet is helping Anne along the way to achieving the kind of dreams that she wants as a writer, but she does it at such a disrespectful cost along the way, often pausing the progress to critique or humiliate her in front of total strangers. There is simply no transformation to Harriet by film’s end, so we are kind of left with the same shadow of a human being living up to every nasty and honest thing being spread about her. A winding journey that essentially has no conclusion, but here’s the movie that tells us how important she was in the eyes of someone who knew her for two weeks. Bravo.

The performances aren’t half bad, even if their intended directions tiptoe the grounds of conventional storytelling. Shirley Maclaine still has the firepower of a scene-stealer, and commands that presence through many hearty laughs throughout the movie. Even if her character is moral garbage, Harriet is definitely someone who doesn’t balk at having a good time, and a lot of that resonates because of Maclaine’s own timely humor that rarely ever misses its mark. Amanda Seyfried is decent, even if she is playing her usual stick here. Surprisingly, the two actresses from respectably vast age groups share the kind of depth in chemistry that would normally take a couple of films to channel. There are very few scenes when their characters aren’t together, and those make for the roughest in terms of transitional arcs from one subplot to the next. I also greatly enjoyed the work of AnnJewel Lee Dixon as the troubled youth that Harriet and Anne take in to better the former’s caring stature. Even if this insensitive subplot is honorable, Dixon is a delight to watch as a child with a few choice words to describe the awkwardness of those around her. I’m a sucker for kids cursing aloud, so AnnJewel won my heart and stole many of scenes even when her character felt flimsy to the importance of the movie.

The only other thing of notoriety was that of the pacing, which feels smooth in transition during the opening half hour or so, but then insufferably slow during the last act of the movie that tacks on far too much. It’s odd that the film can feel two different kinds of sequence storytelling speeds, but ‘The Last Words’ accomplishes this rare feat by elevating its story as it goes to contrived levels. I would’ve preferred that the film stick with that first act more, as much of its script focused more on the issue at hand of the people that Harriet has wronged over her life. Anne’s story is OK, but it isn’t one that feels necessarily important to the urgency of Harriet’s disposition, and so much of this tier of the story should’ve been left on the cutting room floor in favor for Harriet receiving tough love in consequences for the things that she has done. A direction that goes virtually unexplored and feels miles away the deeper that we immerse ourselves in this emotionally unstable script.

The Last Words of this particular film don’t generate the kind of somber or important message that the film had intended. Maclaine still slices with sharp precision in three-dimensional characteristics, but unfortunately for her the movie that accompanies is an uneven emotional mess that never hinders its potential behind a road of clarity for its morally blind protagonist. Even more so, there’s nothing of memorable merit to the bland dealings of this script, leaving Pellington’s latest dead on arrival before it finds the proper footing in collective tone. The lack of credibility in emotional truth undermines its own success.

4/10

Table 19

A table of rejects revolt against the weddings that keep them distant at Table 19. Ex-maid of honor Eloise (Anna Kendrick) – having been relieved of her duties after being unceremoniously dumped by the best man via text, decides to hold her head up high and attend her oldest friend’s wedding anyway. She finds herself seated at the ‘random’ table in the back of the ballroom with a disparate group of strangers, most of whom should have known to just send regrets (but not before sending something nice off the registry). As everyone’s secrets are revealed, Eloise learns a thing or two from the denizens of Table 19. Friendships – and even a little romance, can happen under the most unlikely circumstances. Table 19 is written and directed by Jeffrey Blitz, and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual content, drug use, language and some brief nudity.

‘Table 19’ concerns itself with trying to be too many kinds of genres at once during a brief 82 minute offering that cuts itself short at nearly every subplot that the script tries to present itself. Upon seeing trailers of this picture, people will think that they are engaging themselves into a quirky wedding comedy, full of hijinks and awkward humor, and for the first half hour of this movie, we are presented that delicious dish of as promised. In general, this feels like an idea for an episode of an NBC sitcom that was scrapped for being deemed too flimsy of an idea. Then, when the studio tries to sell this as a motion picture, there comes a great responsibility to fill the other fifty minutes with a satisfying enough ending that sends audiences home happy. Look, I’m not trying to point the accusing finger here, but the screenwriter clearly either watched or has a fascination with ‘The Breakfast Club’ while writing this script, and it reflects during a second half of a movie that has one too many coincidences to pay homage to. With each diminishing breath we are pushed further and further away from the concepts and quirks that audiences fell in love with for a two minute trailer, instead of an 82 minute film with only thirty minutes of credible ideas.

As I mentioned before, the first act is delightful, mixing in a satisfying blend of awkward wedding commentary with an 80’s backdrop in soundtrack that is every bit as nostalgic as it is torturous on the ears. The idea of this terrible wedding band performing these songs are justified and appropriate if anyone has ever had to endure a group like them for multiple hours a sitting. There’s also an admirably sweet romantic subplot being setup between Anna Kendrick’s character and a stranger who she meets that very day. It is remotely predictable, but sometimes safe is the best way to play these kind of subplots to send the audience home with a satisfying taste in their mouths. I became slightly concerned however, as much of what I saw in the trailer happened during these initial thirty minutes, leaving me wondering what was to be setup and explored for the remainder of this movie that I was slowly falling in love with. There in lies the real truth with ‘Table 19’; it’s a soiled drama that tries to pass itself off for cutesy, harmless fun. A manipulation that I was struck with brutally during the second act that switches up everything that you’ve come to learn by this point.

For ‘The Breakfast Club’ dramatic portion of this script, we are treated to these six strangers coming together and growing as a group of outcasts who everyone pre-determined as losers. They decide to leave the wedding together to do drugs, dissect how imperfect each of their lives are, and are faced with the inevitability of a day in which time will eventually run out on their union. Sound familiar? If this wasn’t enough, there is even a dance scene near the end of the movie that seems to stop time and space for them to lash back at the snobs who rejected them. I wouldn’t have a problem with any of this change of direction if it were properly built and given enough time to mature from the immaturity that we delightfully endured during the first act. At 82 minutes, there’s so little that you can do with a multitude of characters and situations, and so much of that is glossed over without ever going back to again, leaving sloppy situational drama that feels so out of place when combined with a setup that was anything but.

The finale continues this the bi-polar trend by treating us to a 90’s romantic comedy between two people who couldn’t be worse off for each other. I mentioned earlier about Kendrick being setup with this mysterious stranger. Well, you can forget about that because the film steps on what would’ve been the better direction for her character, in favor of an option that has been proven disastrous on more than one occasion. This is a major betrayal on her character because Kendrick works best during the first act when she is rebelling against a group of family and friends who feel like they are moving on without her. Beyond this, the final twenty minutes of the film go back-and-forth rushing so much character exposition into the final frames that it often feels like an hour has been squeezed in to accommodate the overabundance of subplots that the film introduced for itself. Most of the closing scenes do very little to make me think that these characters have grown, nor will their outcast tag be removed by the society that dubbed them one. It is seriously the most insulting of wrap-ups that treat the serious problems plaguing their respective situations like they are a cake walk, when the second act wanted us to understand them as happiness-threatening. That lack of directional decision making is what charred this invitation on more than one chance, refusing to ever settle for just another cute an quirky indie comedy.

If this wasn’t enough, the very setup is flawed with this being the table that nobody wants to show up. Midway through the movie, we are told that the Mother of the bride was hoping that nobody at table 19 would RSVP, therefore preventing her from spending $200 more per seat. How about you just don’t invite them in the first place? If you sent them an invitation, you can’t be mad at their acceptance. That’s just an inane idea that makes very little sense on the ideas of saving. But the plot needs them to be there, so we are supposed to forget this line in the screenplay that did more damage than good at setting the stage for this group to come together and enjoy one another’s company.

Besides Kendrick, there were really only two characters who I reasoned with and enjoyed for this movie. Nobody is terribly miscast, but characters like Craig Robertson, Lisa Kudrow, and Tony Revolori are given very little logic or reasoning for their appearance frame-to-frame. June Squibb continues to be a national treasure, taking the reigns as the new senior citizen known for her unabashed observations in a sometimes dumbed-down society. June feels like a Eugene Levy kind of character, where she feels wiser than the youthful faces that surround her table, and I couldn’t use enough of her startling dry releases. Stephen Merchant though, is leaps and bounds the single best aspect of this movie. Merchant doesn’t have a ton of screen time or dialogue, but where he excels is those quick cut edits where we soak in character reactions to something silly that just happened. Stephen is a master at this concept, and does it so well that you often forget that he is even there, sneaking his way into every scene-stealing moment that the script allows him. If nothing else, ‘Table 19’ provides us with a supporting cast that entices us to look past Kendrick’s short comings as truly one of the most misleading lead characters of an early 2017.

‘Table 19’ is one reservation that would be better suited to send an eraser as a newlywed gift, for its inability to choose a faithful direction to steer it clear of the many misfires that the movie takes us though. To watch this is to endure thirty minutes of awkward humor, thirty minutes of misplaced drama, and twenty minutes of romantic resurgence. Totaling 80 minutes that would be better suited at the open bar, instead of this inconsistent table that collapses under the power of one leg to stand on.

4/10

Rock Dog

One musically infused canine uses his love of music to save the day, in Summit Premiere’s Rock Dog. For the Tibetan Mastiffs living on Snow Mountain, a dog’s life has a simple riff: Guard a peaceful village of wool-making sheep from the thuggish wolf Linnux (Lewis Black) and his rabid pack. To avoid distractions, Mastiff leader Khampa (J.K. Simmons) forbids all music from the mountain. But when Khampa’s son Bodi (Luke Wilson) discovers a radio dropped by a passing airplane, it takes just a few guitar licks for his fate to be sealed: Bodi wants to be a rock-n-roll star. Yet that means defying his father’s wishes, heading to the city, and locating the legendary and reclusive – musician Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard), who needs to write a new song and fast. If Bodi can put a band together, help Angus with his song, and defeat the wolves’ plot to take Snow Mountain, his life will be in tune. Bodi will become what he’s always dreamed of being: A Rock Dog. The movie is written and directed by Ash Brannon, and is rated PG for action and some adult language.

Blending the different worlds of Asian and American animation companies seemed like a great idea. Rock Dog is sadly another failed attempt by amateur animation studios to cash in on a children’s movie without a lot of energy or patience to go into the project. There are some positives that keep it from being an early favorite on 2017’s worst films of the year list, but a majority of its lackluster presentation feels like a passable thirty minute movie that falls short of producing fifty more valuable minutes to push it even futher. This is a movie and character that simply never find the appropriate footing in terms of entertainment value or synthetic pacing to grab and hook children to its original take on music and canine characters alike. It’s too bland to be effective, and too void of anything fresh or compelling to offer any positives with word of mouth from anybody desperate enough to see this Frankenstein mess of careless offerings. There’s nothing terribly offensive about Rock Dog, it’s just a movie that is easily forgettable twenty minutes after you leave the theater, and I’ve nailed down a few reasons for that.

First of all, there’s the animation and art direction for the movie that strums to some gorgeous backdrop detail before snapping a creative chord on character motion detection. When I watched the trailer for this film, I felt that it was the backgrounds that weren’t in-sync with the movements of the characters, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. The gorgeous landscapes and effective shading palates to go for the changing locations throughout the movie, shine the brightest in a list of positives that are very moot. You’ll never get the kind of detail like a Pixar or Dreamworks film, but my hats off to Summit Premiere for some noteworthy eye-catching enhancements to make this foreign setting pop, giving children an first-class presentation on European cultures. With the character designs, they felt jarringly rendered to needing another two or three months of edits for finishing. The mouth movements line up accordingly to the vocal work of our A-list cast, but it’s in the lack of fluidity on their body motions that leave a little more to be desired. For the entirety of this movie, it’s obvious that Summit is trying to make the movements in scenes as minimal as necessary, mainly because it constantly feels like our characters are moving in slow motion. I compare it to that of a Playstation 1 Crash Bandicoot video game, in which you can nearly see the lines in design for what minimal effort went into their color schemes and movements. It’s a tough sell immediately when even the animation doesn’t live up to the rich textures that kids are used to seeing from much better movies in 2017.

The script is also full of problems that hinder it from moving forward at nearly every possibility. Considering this film revolves around this dog trying to succeed as a musician, it’s easy to see that the two other subplots that the film entails were kind of left out in the cold in terms of the attention that they received. One such subplot involving a shoe-horned Wolf villain (Voiced by Lewis Black), not only feels unnecessary to the film, but also one that slows down each and every time that we get a little closer to understanding what music means to our central protagonist. This subplot was forgotten about during the second act, and brought back for the third. The final subplot involving Bodi’s father (Voiced by J.K Simmons), shows him holding down the fort against the wolves. This subplot is forgotten about completely during the third act, and brought back for the closing minutes. You start to understand how little any of this matters when Bodi is faced with conflict on three separate occasions in the movie, only to defeat and conquer it in a matter of seconds. If an 80 minute run time didn’t feel rushed, a quick slice of unimpressive conflict should settle the debate. Another concerning aspect is the lack of comedy that the script possesses. It’s one thing to fail miserably at your comedic stick, but it’s completely a new low when that movie doesn’t even try. I didn’t laugh one time at Rock Dog, and that’s certainly not for lack of listening. The writers to this movie left out that ability to laugh, leaving it almost a certainty that kids will suffer great attention defecit in a movie that fails to keep them properly entertained.

The voice performances are decent, mostly because the work of Black and Izzard offer complimentary personalities to the silly character designs visually that they are given. Black was made for voice work. His angry delivery is simply too delightful to not take advantage of in an antagonist offering, and even though I felt his character was pointless, I can’t say I wasn’t relieved when he occasionally popped back up. Izzard gives his best Russell Brand impression, as an Aldous Snow of sorts as Angus. Eddie’s delivery feels like the only true rock stereotype in a movie named after it, and the mumblings of a musician searching for the next hit to keep him on top will remind you of icons like Ozzy Osbourne, even so much as having a robot servant named Ozzy. The only real disappointment that I had was that of Wilson vocalizing the title character. It’s not that Wilson underplays it, it’s that he underwhelms it with his vocal range. Luke is someone who would be better fitted as a supporting character rather than the central figure whose soul mission is to entertain. He simply does not, and Rock Dog falls behind as a supporting character of sorts in his own movie.

One thing that did surprise me was the tremendous soundtrack that this movie shelled out the bucks for. Is overspending on Top 40 hits perhaps the reason why everything else feels at half effort? You be the judge. Radiohead and Foo Fighters are among the bands musically narrating their way through Bodi’s journey to dreams, and their inclusion feels awkwardly satisfying for a kids movie that would usually produce some watered down B-side artists to conjure up an original lackluster song. The original soundtrack itself was also very pleasing, as Bodi’s two songs in the movie stayed in my head long after I left the theater. After having Illumination’s Sing last year, Rock Dog feels more my tempo with actual rock hits that always reach their targeted emotion during their appropriate dropping. This might be the only time I compliment Rock Dog over Sing, and that’s thankfully because the production of the movie didn’t skimp with artists who aren’t always the first call on an animation soundtrack.

Rock Dog strums along to its own original beat free of big name studios, but strikes a dull chord too many with generic animation and a flawed script that doesn’t scratch the surface of edgy or compelling entertainment. Perhaps the biggest flaw of this canine chord-striker are the risks that his story simply doesn’t take, leaving a dry offering that will have audiences of all ages battling narcolepsy.

4/10

Fifty Shades Darker

Get ready to settle into something a little more comfortable, in the anticipated sequel Fifty Shades Darker. Following the events of Fifty Shades of Grey, Anastasia “Ana” Steele (Dakota Johnson) tries to move on from her relationship with Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). She begins a new job as personal assistant to Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), a powerful executive with a less-than flattering appeal to Ana himself. After some passed time, A wounded Christian meets Ana for dinner and convinces her to resume their romance under Ana’s conditions, free from any secrets, contracts or lies. As the couple begins their normal relationship, Christian’s past, as well as the new characters coming into frame in their new union, threaten to tear apart all that our two protagonists have built for each other. Fifty Shades Darker is directed by James Foley, and is rated R for for strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity, and adult language.

Fifty Shades Darker attempts once again to bottle the questionable chemistry of two leads whose moral accountability comes into question on more than one occasion. To know this film is terribly underwritten in terms of story depth and character exposition is a given, but to acknowledge all of that and know you had fun with it, is an even greater feat to admit. That’s the situation that I find myself with because there’s something about these films that are so empty and hollow in material offerings, yet you can’t help but remove your hands from your eyes every time you hear an awkward exchange or notice an unsexy form of intimacy between our characters. It is very much the fast food of the softcore porn industry; terribly bad for you, but tastes nourishing going down. This doesn’t mean that Fifty Shades Darker is off the hook completely for its underwhelming presentation, it just means that a competent director like James Foley knows where to carefully place the pieces to at least divert the attention of moviegoers like myself who are always seeking more from their movies.

The script feels very much like a barrage of one-off liner notes fused together to make a finished product that feels jarringly unfitting in terms of the rest of the events around it. E.L James seems to have a grave incompetence when it comes to long-term storytelling, the bulk of which feels evident here through the many story arks that are thrown at the creative wall, seeking some form of fusion to build the entertainment that is constantly evaporating with the chemistry in the room. More on that later. But some of the examples within this chapter of the Christian Grey narrative deal with a stalking ex-girlfriend, a harassing boss of Anastasia’s who gets a tad bit too close, and a late third act accident that places the life of one character in grave danger. Normally, events like these would be presented vital time in development to accurately depict the true severity of their situations. Not in this world however, as each event in this relationship is glossed over like a gnat on the skin of a lion, brushed off quickly like the unimportant speck that it is. When you consider how much really happened over the two hours of this film, very little of it feels memorable or even slightly hindering on the relationship of these two horrible characters who re-define what we view as people.

We have now spent four total hours with the characters of Steele and Grey, and with the exception of some flacid abuse backstory at the hands of the latter, I feel like I know very little about either one of them. What I do know is that Steele is arguably the worst female protagonist that any of these Y.A novels have conjured up. Whether you agree with my stance or not, you have to admit that certain unlikeable aspects about her character really make you question where our authors are heading with female protagonists in the 21st century. During a time when a women’s revolution is taking place in our own world, we have a woman in Steele who doesn’t fight for the things that she wants, is easily a pushover when it comes to her dominant male opposite, and seems to be able to swallow anything as long as her love interest is handsome and rich. This would all be enough to label her as the worst character that I have dealt with over the last two years, but she is given the silver when it comes to the Grey in this charisma-less world. Christian is the epitome of what should be an antagonist. He’s rich, so he feels like he can buy anything and anyone, he has no connection to the heart of his love interest beyond sexual relations, and feels very immature at family gatherings for someone pushing 27 years of age. The only reason why these two work well together is because both of them are so traumatically rotten on the inside that they couldn’t successfully be with anyone else. The chemistry between Johnson and Dornan has at least slightly improved in this film, but the lack of anything meaningful given the rightful amount of screen time, renders their stigmas frighteningly hollow. This much is evident by again an overabundance of sexual material to make up for ill-timed chemistry that constantly misses its mark.

On the subject of sexual material, the film gives us six different sex scenes over a 113 minute picture. Sex is an important aspect to a story and series of this nature, so how does it stack up with garnishing its signature crop? With the exception of the final sex scene, most of the exchanges feel awkward and unbelievable when it comes to the fluidity of the motions or placement of the bodies. Some of the awkwardness could be blamed on a terrible soundtrack that sadly overrode a Danny Elfman composed score that wasn’t half bad when you got to hear it. There’s no passion to these embraces, and a lot of that can be blamed on the fact that these two characters re-unite only fifteen minutes into the movie. That lack of time hinders any kind of release for the audience that had to go a long time for the reunion, and even more so when you consider that they have only been broken up for a week. The pacing of these sex scenes could’ve used more spreading out, as there are four in the first forty minutes of the movie, then not another one for nearly an hour. As I mentioned, I did commend them for the final sex scene because it does get interesting with the bondage aspect re-introduced, as well as it feeling like a celebration of sorts to the great news that is revealed for both characters in the closing minutes of the film.

The film also succeeds at luring in its audience once again to exceptional set designs and quality cinematography that at least accurately depicts the lavish lifestyles of a man with money to spend. The greyish tint (No pun intended) does wonders in representing the gloomy side of a Seattle landscape fruitfully, and the film’s polished look of sorts offers a clean backdrop to the very dirty ordeals that our characters are going through. I really dug the combination of establishing shots whether on land or sea, as well as the occasional personal shot that showcased a character looking and talking into the camera, offering the audience a momentary glance into the lives of Grey and Steele. The design in concepts feels like the one noteworthy praise that constantly carries the slack for a lackluster script that constantly remains in chains.

When you consider the word ‘darker’ in the title context, you think of a film that is twice as daring or prestigious in its finished product. Fifty Shades Darker once again underwhelms with cold embraces and hollow faces, and it does very little to change the minds of either side of audience whose first film experience was the final verdict in expectations for this series. It is smut, but it’s far from the worst sit that I have had in an early 2017 that has already given me six films worse. Overall, the only punishment dulled out in this film comes at the hands of the audience who have to sit through two hours of notable events that have no synthetic connection in one total sum. It’s a movie that takes itself too seriously, but you can’t help but laugh at. With one shade left, the Grey franchise has already fallen limp on two separate occasions.

4/10

Collide

A youthful couple ‘Collide’ with a group of dangerous drug dealers that has them on a high-speed chase for survival. After a heist goes terribly wrong, Casey Stein (Nicholas Hoult) finds himself on the run from a ruthless gang headed by mob boss Hagen (Anthony Hopkins). Now Casey has precious cargo that belongs to Hagen, who will stop at nothing to retrieve it. Left with no choice, Casey calls his former employer and drug smuggler Geran (Ben Kingsley) to protect his long-time girlfriend Juliette (Felicity Jones) before Hagen gets his hands on her. Casey sets out on an adrenaline-fueled car chase on the German highways to save the love of his life before it’s too late for the both of them. Collide is directed by Eren Creevy, and is rated PG-13 for violence, frenetic action, some sexuality, adult language, and drug material.

There’s plenty that can be said about a movie that has been on the shelf since fall of 2015. Relativity Studios crash of that year left plenty of movies on hold until a studio could come along and finance the release of the finished product. In this case, Automatik Entertainment has come to the rescue, and there’s so many methods of thanks that I have to give to them for giving the audience this kind of offering. To be surprised by a movie this bad by February, isn’t a surprise at all, but rather solidification to the kind of lack of inhibitions that this month is famous for releasing. Collide is a mess of a picture that at times feels unfinished, and in general feels quite contradictory between two varying styles of attitude that feel so jarringly opposite that it often feels like two different movies that were merged together as a Frankenstein experiment. It’s the latest in the feel of post-2000 fast-paced action flicks that are churned out at a dime a dozen, and in general offers nothing fresh or memorable to cast it as anything different from the movies it spoofs that do it a hundred times better.

To grasp the extent of damage from this film, you must first understand that 2015 was a much different year than the 2017 that we now find ourselves in. The four person leading cast of this movie now feel FAR too good for a movie of this stature, mostly in that of Jones and Hoult, who have had a successful past two years with Oscar nominated films that have made stars out of both of them. As for Hopkins and Kingsley, this is nothing more than a paycheck film for two class actors who have each dived in Oscar enchanted waters. Kingsley offers another film-crushing role similar to that of his role as The Mandarin in Iron Man 3. This time, he’s a Russian pimp gangster who has one of the worst accents that I have ever heard. At the very least, he’s having fun. Hopkins feels like he’s sleeping through the motions of a Bond villain, complete with hokey one-liners and cartoonish evil running through his veins. Jones feels virtually non-existent as the eye candy of the movie, who we are only reminded of during the rare occasion when the plot needs her. To view the poster, you would think that she is equally as important to this chase as Hoult’s character is, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Nicholas is decent at carrying the load, but his character is so uninteresting and void of development that it’s hard to ever get fully invested in his Casey. Hoult and Jones never develop into a believable duo, and that’s because of a lack of chemistry from a script that keeps them apart for virtually the entire film. Collide does command a strong A-list cast, but none can break free from the shackles of a flawed script that cuts them short at every corner.

It’s evident early on that this film is going for a modern approach of a Romeo and Juliet story, even going as far as naming one of their characters after such. But this is clearly a script that doesn’t develop the relationship of Hoult and Jones, instead opting for sharp-cutting chase sequences that make up more than 80% of the 94 minute run time. Because of this, anything else that has to do with exposition or dialogue is sacrificed in an overabundance of misdirection. The latter of which was responsible a few times for cringe-worthy delivery that consistently kept me from taking the movie as seriously as the first act treats it. Such an example of this comes halfway through the movie at a gas station scene, when an attendant tells our antagonists “My name is Suri, and you better back down before you get blown away”. The antagonist responds “Apologies Suri. Do you speak English?”. This is only one of the many problems that would’ve been better left on the editing room floor. But the visual deserves its claim to fame as well, and there’s plenty to balance that of the dialogue that drops the ball repeatedly. There’s a scene towards the end of the movie that is a flashback scene of an event we missed. The problem comes in discovering that this is a false story that is nothing more than a joke between two characters. What a complete waste of time for something that could be used equally as effective as a one-line throwaway.

One thing that can be dissected fruitfully for the movie is some solid action sequences that competently shoot with precision sound mixing throttling the set pieces around them. There is that usual quick-cutting in editing, but the good news is that it’s never terrible enough to lack definition in the fast-paced situations that are constantly changing with one push of the pedal. This is a film that got my pulse running with some impactful carnage and high-speed octane exhaust that consistently went above the bar in the more than four sequences that adorn the picture. What the film benefits from is a distinct music video style of cinematography that feels like a tribute to early 21st century action flicks like The Transporter or Death Race. The techno music feels appropriate with the Eastern European landscapes that beautifully decorate our backdrops. What Creevy lacks in conventional storytelling, he more than makes up for in bone-crunching projection, and it’s clear that he has the capability to be an action presence for years to come.

The ending convolutes itself to stuffy levels because of the many twists that it tries to pack into a logically-challenged explanatory scene that totally feels every bit as unnecessary as it does tasteless to the closing memories that we have for this effort. Because this movie is predictable at nearly every turn, there is a desire to wrap this story and its conflict up as soon as possible, but this is one collision that would instead rather take the long road in third act structures to get there.

The collision in this film deals with lack of consequential story and hollow characters that always feel like an outline instead of actual people, and because of that, Collide speeds too fast on the highway to mediocrity. Some films are better left in the dust of obscurity, and Creevy’s music video spin on 2000’s action cinema slams on the brakes quite often of an otherwise tightly-paced offering.

4/10

The Comedian

The last of a dying breed of classic comedians struggles with life decisions as the world changes around him, in The Comedian. An aging comic icon, Jackie (Robert De Niro) has seen better days in his once prosperous career. Despite his efforts to reinvent himself and his comic genius, the audience only wants to know him as the former television character he once played.? Already a strain on his younger brother (Danny DeVito) and his wife (Patti LuPone), Jackie is forced to serve out a sentence doing community service for accosting an audience member. While there, he meets Harmony (Leslie Mann), the daughter of a sleazy Florida real estate mogul (Harvey Keitel), and the two find inspiration in one another resulting in surprising consequences. The Comedian is directed by Taylor Hackford, and is rated R for crude sexual references and adult language throughout.

For about the first half hour of The Comedian, my expectations were growing pretty high for this to be The Wrestler for the stand up comedian community. A story that not only pulls the curtain back on a cryptic industry, but also to depict the haunting decay of funny people once the money and fame go away. The first act of this film was a glimpse into everything that this film should’ve done, but sadly fell apart over the course of two hours that (like most comic public figures) overstays its welcome, losing its charm and appeal along the way. After seeing the trailer above, you might garner that this looks like a Woody Allen independent comedy, with some long transitional shots of the New York skyline, as well as a top notch cast that feel slightly out of place for this particular mood in story. As the movie carried on however, I felt a great sense of betrayal, as this is very much a raunchy R-rated comedy with an indie vibe in cinematography that equally off-sets the other. A throwaway dramedy that is anything but self-aware, and one that still makes me question the thinking process from its star who dubbed this as a “Passion project”.

For the overall comedy, I did find myself laughing a few times, mostly more at the real life drama that was unfolding at a snail’s pace with the backstory of Jackie and the reputations that he has built with friends, family, and work colleagues alike. Cycling through classy helpings like gay jokes and race jokes, the humor feels like it hasn’t aged with maturity with the audience at home watching it. The material feels very much like an HBO comedy sitcom, just seconds away from omitting a laugh-track after every delivery. The negative of this is in fact De’Niro who doesn’t feel believable in this role, even if his performance dictates that he has watched one too many classic comedians. The On-stage material rarely tells a story that most comedians shine at, and nothing ever feels timed out or choreographed long-term setups to ever elicit that this was at one time the most popular man at his craft. What’s even worse is that the stand-up routines never feel edited to keep the momentum factor up, giving off a Director’s Cut kind of feel to the convoluted script that soils what few opportunities that the film does maintain at shining for itself. To anyone who loved De’Niro’s jarringly off-setting performance in 2016’s Dirty Grandpa, enjoy two more hours of such a character with twice the desperation.

The story in script itself is quite the strange one because there’s rarely any indication when one act ends to begin the next. I did enjoy the curtain pulling of the number of comedian cliches that feel far too close in irony to ever be false. Certainly the disruptions of audience members, as well as the Youtube generation always keeping their phones on, works wonderfully in capturing the very innovation of the business, albeit with its very positives and negatives for how the game has changed. I was fine with a movie called The Comedian having a dramatic pulse when he is off-stage, but it doesn’t work here for an array of reasons. The first is the material going to the Raunchy side of comedy one too many times to ever take itself seriously when it needs to be. The second is the array of distracting celebrity cameos from Billy Crystal to Hannibal Buress that always limits the progression of dramatic exposition to a screeching halt any time we get slightly closer to Jackie’s unbreakable wall of shutting people out. The final reason deals more in the character’s decisions that has them taking some fairly unpredictable and risky stances for the main cast. This wasn’t a movie where I could side or even at times understand the very dispositions from De’Niro and Mann’s characters, and without strong leads, the film’s script implodes on a lack of drama to really make the comedy pop more in audience investment.

It’s amazing that with this many A-list cast, there’s so little to take away from performances. De’Niro is decent at portraying an asshole, but that doesn’t make his character any more intriguing or inviting to two hours spent with him. As Jackie, Robert hints that there may be something more to the past of this character that keeps him guarded at all times, but the lack of spiritual growth within his register casts great concern at where this character will go once the camera is off. If celebrities being snobs is the message, I read it loud and clear. Thanks Robert. Leslie Mann has always been the perfect supporting cast, but as a lead she leaves slightly more to be desired. The relationship between her and De’Niro is startling to say the least. Not because it doesn’t gel with their near thirty year age difference, but because there’s very little chemistry between them when it takes more than an hour for them to lock lips. Their union always feels like a fling to fulfill some lifetime fantasy (ala sex with Santa in Bad Santa), so it’s kind of like preparing for the worst for the both of them. Two inconsiderate people just aching to grow up, but it never happens. The lack of character transformation is clearly evident in a finale that feels as thrown together as it gets for movies that don’t know when to fade to black.

At the very least, The Comedian should provide an overwhelming layer of comedic substance to send the audience home on a positive mood. Sadly, the serious lack of positive characterization, as well as scenes that carry on for far too long, alienates audiences who are thirsty for some kind of gaining momentum along the way. Hackford’s portrait of post-fame celebrity drops the mic on several occasions. Unfortunately for us, his lead character picks it up every single time.

4/10

XXX: Return of Xander Cage

The return of XXX means one thing; looking good while saving the day is certainly no crime. In XXX: The Return of Xander Cage, the third installment in the series, Extreme athlete turned government operative Xander Cage (Vin Diesel), thought to be long dead, comes out of self-imposed exile as recruited by the CIA to race villain Xiang (Donnie Yen) to recover a powerful weapon known as “Pandora’s Box” which can control military satellites which could cause catastrophic damage. Recruiting a group of thrill-seeking cohorts (a sharpshooter and a hacker), Xander finds himself caught up in a deadly conspiracy of corruption among world governments including insiders in his own country’s government. The movie is directed by D.J Caruso and is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of gunplay and violent action, and for sexual material and language.

For anyone who was asking for a direct Vin Diesel sequel to the 2002 failure XXX, fifteen years later feels like the right time and place to remember what was so terribly tragic about this franchise to begin with. Return of Xander Cage arrives in the thick of January to compete with films like The Bye Bye Man and Monster Trucks for early favorite honors on the worst film of 2017. For a movie that prides itself on being extreme and going against the rules, a PG-13 rating should tell you everything that you need to know about how rebellious that this movie can get. If there is one positive, it is that creatively this movie doesn’t feel like a sequel of the same movie that took itself far too seriously, many moons ago. The movie is ridiculous and it’s incredibly self-aware of that fact, so there is great possibilities in sitting back and not treating this movie like the same James Bond films that it tries to spoof with a modern edge. In summarizing this movie, I disperse my experience using a formula that I call the three I’s to relate the true debauchery and waste of an opportunity that this movie was to produce at least a humorous sit to gravity and screenwriting.

The first I is for immaturity. To say that this script feels like it was written by an adolescent, is the understatement of the year. While fifteen years has been tacked onto the age of our shovanist protagonist, it seems that is mental stability seems to be going backwards with how he treats women and antagonists alike. Diesel has always been a solid action movie presence for me, but what doesn’t work about his roles as Xander Cage is that he lacks even a shred of vulnerability. If he never feels fear or conflict, how can we as an audience invest in his struggle? If this wasn’t enough, he sleeps with no fewer than ten women in the opening fifteen minutes of this movie. It’s called solid story building…..yeah right. Then there’s the dialogue, which made me cringe so hard that I nearly broke my pointless 3D glasses. One such example is when Diesel utters to a group of females “It’s time to get down to the thick of it”. Only a man child who is living out his unfulfilled fantasies of being a pimp would find this humorous. I can usually laugh through such muck, but this was so terribly underwritten that I found myself getting angrier by the minute.

The second I is for impatience. This is evident in the character building that feels like it’s quickly becoming a trend among Hollywood bombs like Suicide Squad and Yoga Hosers. Every time a new character is introduced, instead of carefully constructing their traits in personalities, the movie instead rushes everything along by halting the process so we can read a five second character file that does nothing to explain why they were chosen for the XXX mission. One such crew member is a DJ. This guy literally does nothing dangerous throughout the movie, nor does he play records during the final confrontation, so why even have him as a character? The subplots (If you can call them that) too struggle brutally, with the story moving so fast that if you miss even the slightest detail, you will wonder what happened. Characters change sides, conflict arcs never reach their potential, and plenty of missed opportunities at creating something valuable for the audience to take home is missed in careless wrecklessness. There is also a surprise cameo with about fifteen minutes left in the movie, that the last trailer spoiled for everybody. To say this is a surprise is stretching it a bit because if you never saw the direct-to-video sequel from 2005, and I’m guessing a majority of fans didn’t, this surprise will mean very little to you in terms of the XXX saga. If you do follow this correctly, then using this person for the final fifteen minutes is another strong reminder of how little patience or effectiveness that screenwriter F Scott Frazier has for this continuance.

The final I is for Implausibility, a staple of the XXX franchise. Look, I can get past how insanely ridiculous the thought of raising X-gamers to be Central Intelligence spies is, but what takes it to another level is when this movie so articulately debates the laws of physics without even a shred of backlash. An example of such feats comes in skateboarding off of the side of a moving bus, water-skiing with a motorbike, and my personal favorite; finding your running balance on a car that is moving fast at you. At this point in modern action movies, I guess we should just go with the fact that anything is possible. Perhaps for Vin Diesel’s next movie he can strap a rocket on a pool stick and ride it to the moon. I mentioned earlier how there is no vulnerability to this character, and that goes double for machines and automobiles, because there’s never a moment when Xander even sweats at something headed full speed at him. Also, the very concept of a Macbook that has the power to take down every satellite in space requires some suspension of disbelief. If you believe the world’s central powers are this easy to hack, then surely someone would’ve already done it by now. The film never explains how it can do such a thing, it just does. This black box pops up out of nowhere and magically has this capability. If it has existed and wasn’t manufactured by some computer genius recently, how come nobody else has tried to steal it? Because movie convenience, that’s why.

Not everything is a flaw in this movie however, as the film has some solid stunt work, as well as fight choreography that tastefully remind the viewer that this is an action-first movie. Donnie Yen is a strong addition to this cast, and his couple of violent dances rain down brutality hard on the audience that are thirsty for some semblance of what this movie once was in 2002. Xander’s stunt work also deserves kudos for the many different location settings that he explores with inducing anxiety on the audience. It’s clearly obvious that Diesel isn’t performing his own stunts here, most notably because the stunt man who is portraying him has a head that is far too light-skinned, as well as drops about forty pounds magically from one frame to another. However, the fast-paced cuts and shooting style to this movie at least present a capable enough presentation when the screenplay is aiming completely off of its mark.

Overall, the Return of Xander Cage is an unnecessary and at often times uninspiring sequel that plants its feet firmly on the January film docket that keeps jabbing after all of these years. If this were a comedy, it would succeed on the grounds that it is simply too ridiculous to take seriously. As it stands, the XXX franchise feels like it’s finally out of octane, a fact that is evident by how much time has passed since our last Xander pleasure. Lets hope even more time passes.

4/10

Assassin’s Creed

One man serves his prison sentence by inhabiting the memory of his ancestor during the Spanish Inquisition, in “Assassin’s Creed”. Through a revolutionary technology that unlocks his genetic memories, Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender), an experienced criminal, experiences the adventures of his ancestor, Aguilar de nerha, in 15th Century Spain. The process created by two mysterious scientists (Jeremy Irons, Marion Cotillard) allows someone to inherit the memories of the person they inhabit, and transport to that destination era. Callum discovers he is descended from a mysterious secret society, the Assassins, and amasses incredible knowledge and skills to take on the oppressive and powerful Templar organization in the present day. “Assassin’s Creed” is directed by Justin Kurzel, and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, thematic elements and brief strong adult language.

The curse of the video game adaptation sure isn’t going to be conquered anytime soon. Assassin’s Creed is the latest failure for such a venture that never seems to get it right. After seeing the trailers for this movie, I was very intrigued by the star power as well as the fast-paced visuals that only a trailer can instill for so much hope. It was easy to take this one seriously at face value because it felt like this movie had a purpose to silence the doubters like me who think it can be done at a price that fans can rejoice in. As it turns out, this movie is more of the same, but among the best video game adaptations to date, a compliment that isn’t sure to grant it dignity or the slightest bit of respect by feeble comparisons. What I will say is that for 100 minutes, Assassin’s Creed knows what kind of movie it should be; fan service for lovers of the franchise, as well as a premise so hokey that it’s hard not to have some kind of fun with it. Kurzel and Fassbender are no stranger to one another. Most recently doing Macbeth from 2015 together. This feels like a cash grab film for both, with very little inspiration or energy diverted into a finished product that has more than just a few noticeable problems.

The biggest one is the script that feels convoluted, incoherent and most importantly disjointed. This film certainly feels like the victim of a vicious hack-and-slash by the production studio, as many scenes are told backwards. The first half hour of the movie was the most difficult for me to get intrigued by, mainly because we are flying through character exposition, as well as eras in time with very little time to slow down and register everything. So essentially, we know very little about Fassbender’s character by the time he takes his first jump into his virtual past, therefore making it nearly impossible to invest in his mission. Once he comes out of the first attempt, it is then that we start getting clarity not only for him, but for the purpose of this entire project, and what sloppy delivery it is. Conjuring up cliche flashback sequences, as well as selective memory, and you’ve got the recipe for character pasts that happen no earlier than forty minutes into the movie. As far as incoherence goes, the movie does a poor job of establishing character motivations for certain actions. This is not the movie to sleep on for even a minute because you will be lost in jumbled developments. So much is deposited in a single film that could easily be distributed over a trilogy of movies, and that convolution that feels like a history lesson instead of a video game most of the time, slithers away at a snail’s pace before ever gaining traction to tell what should be a simple story that has already been written for you in no fewer than six video games.

At least Kurzel is a capable director even if his cinematographer does him wrong with some of the most eye-irritating visuals that I have seen this year. Justin lands some beautiful set pieces that certainly set the mood for the dramatic change in historical eras that the film lands in dual formats. The Spanish Inquisition looks glorious, and the pages of our history books comes to life vibrantly during this sixteenth century exposition. The problem comes in visual establishment and lighting for the movie, when the action scenes begin for some reason. I was offered two different chances of squinting my eyes during such a mess. The first coming in present day when every scene in the prison feels like it is being shot in the dark, and the second was in the Spanish Inquisition scenes when it looked like a child from the production team went overboard on the smoke machine that fogged entire sequences. I get the point of this is to serve to the Assassin’s credo that they work in the shadows, but I had great complications in registering what was going on in between some truly ugly shading and coloring palates that gave the film anything but visual life.

The action sequences and stunt work are some of the only positives that I can faithfully stand-by for the movie. Every throw-down is beautifully choreographed and synchronized to create poetry in motion, and it was during these sequences when the movie minimally reached the potential that it should’ve carried for the better part of two hours. The parkour delivery from this stunt team is not only risky in practical delivery, but also heart-pounding in just how easy they make it look. The parkour style gives the movie something fresh and original that we have rarely seen in video game adaptations, and this choice will live on among the very few positives that Assassin’s Creed will be known for in infamy. One problem that I had with the fast-pacing of these scenes was the pee-brained decision to keep cutting back to present day to show Fassbender’s reaction every time something major happened in Spain. I understand to make this decision during the first invasion. Audience members would at least be remotely curious as to how these is transpiring in real time. But to do this every single time for the entirety of the movie only served as an annoyance that grew into a concrete wall on the tracks of such heart-pounding intensity.

The performances were surprisingly disappointing, but I blame it more on a misfire in direction and minimal deposition in script that established these characters as embrace-worthy. Fassbender is someone who I feel is one of the absolute most versatile workers in the business today, but here he plays Lynch as very monotonous. When is Hollywood going to understand that the fans want a badass, but one we can also feel empathy for? Without letting Fassbender bring the pain emotionally, Callum was doomed from the start, and served as nothing more than another prisoner being used against his own free will. Jeremy Irons is barely used at all, ridiculed to be the “Mob Boss” of sorts looking on from behind the glass window. There’s only one scene of dialogue between he and Fassbender, and it left me licking my chops and wanting more in a virtual passing of the torch from two great actors from distinctly different eras. Marion Cotillard is probably the biggest return in terms of the trio of actors. Her character goes through a struggle of sorts with this project, knowing it doesn’t have the purest of intentions, but the desire to always impress her Father is something we can all relate to. Cotillard feels like the beating heart of a movie that doesn’t have much of a pulse. Her narration helped wonders during some scenes that come off as slightly cloudy in delivery, but she literally has very little to bounce off of, making her character memorable in the slightest.

Assassin’s Creed sacrifices important factors like story and character arcs for straining artistic merits that muddle the impactful action at nearly every step. More importantly, it wastes a cast that should guarantee a winner in even the most obtuse of frustrating garbage. If Fassbender, Cotillard and Irons can’t give us a winner in the genre, perhaps it’s time to put the controllers down and leave the memories alone.

4/10

Incarnate

One scientist is the key to saving a possessed child, in WWE films newest shriek-fest “Incarnate”. “San Andreas” director Brad Peyton helms this story that takes place after a single mother (Carice van Houten) witnesses terrifying symptoms of demonic possession in her 11-year-old son (David Mazouz). Within days, a Vatican representative (Catalina Sandino Moreno) calls on wheelchair-bound scientist and spirit chaser Dr. Seth Ember (Aaron Eckhart) to rid her boy of the evil spirit. Ember developed a technique to enter the mind of his patients and rid the mind of evil, where possessions take place. Driven by a personal agenda rooted in his own tragic past, Ember enters the boy’s unconscious mind where he confronts a demon as ferocious as it is ingenious. “Incarnate” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of horror violence, terror, disturbing images, brief strong language, sensuality and thematic elements.

“Incarnate” has enough solid ideas for the possession genre, but falters along the way with speedy, flimsy execution that fails to articulately describe the visions it has for its script. In short, WWE Films fails again at making something cheap into a diamond, but luckily its the 79 minute run time that doesn’t leave much room to do a lot of harm to the moviegoer mind. As far as horror movies in 2016 goes, there’s a lot worse that one can do, but this movie is bad none the less. As something that tries to make its own rules within the world of the film, this movie relies heavily on classic possession films that do things much better than the story depicted in this movie. The ending is stolen from “The Exorcist”, the rules of the demon passing the sickness from one person to the other is stolen from “Fallen”, and entering the mind of the victim feels far too familiar with the 2013 possession achievement “Insidious”. This one feels like a desperate cash in on a recent popular craze, instead of ever validating its own voice within the overcrowded genre.

A lot of this movie feels like a television procedural, and that is because this is a legitimately failed television pilot from 2014 that never materialized. That lack of urgency or dire consequences to our characters is never there because it always feels like something better will happen in the next episode. There’s also not a lot of noteworthy special effects or budget that went into these sequences, leaving me always wanting more visual examples of just what this female demon can do. Those are perhaps some of the biggest examples of material importance that is never presented, but the biggest nuisance comes in the form of the rules. The movie describes this man with the ability to enter the dreams of these possessed people, but never says how he does it. I guess we’re not supposed to ask many questions. There are no wires or mutual setup from one character to the other, and the only thing we see is that they are in the same room together. So my question is does this possession work like Wi-Fi? If a character is in the living room, will he be able to connect? If they’re in the same room together and possession happens by touch, wouldn’t Aaron Eckart worry about the trouble of being at his most vulnerable while asleep? Logic…HA.

As far as thrills go, there was nothing of any notable instances. There are a couple of jump-scares for those of you who dig this annoying horror trope, but they won’t have the same effect upon this sitting because of a glaring problem in the technical achievements of this film. The sound editing/mixing was slightly off with the movements of the event unfolding in front of us, and that premature sound jump takes away from the full effect in each desired scare. An example happens towards the end of the second act when the little boy makes a move towards Eckhart, yet something is off slightly in triggered effect. We hear the noise, but the character doesn’t move for nearly a second later. One could write this off as maybe a theater problem with their projector, but it happens far too often and inconsistently in the movie to blame this on an outside source. Sometimes the sound is right on point, but more times than not it lags in execution, and this negative failed to even set the mood for this story.

If there is one saving grace to the film, it’s in the performance of Eckhart, who never flounders any opportunity to stand out. What’s truly compelling about Aaron’s body of work so far is that he accepts roles in movies that are clearly beneath his standing, yet makes the most to turn every negative into a positive. As Seth, Eckhart channels the pain and trauma of losing the two most important people in his life, and the lack of desire to hang on if only to fight for revenge in the face of the taker. Aaron never flinches when it comes to his delivery here, and there’s something admirable about a man who believes in delivery the kinds of things that he’s told to say, no matter how silly or inane they might be. It’s great to see one of Hollywood’s most dependable here. Even when I held little to no faith with this project before seeing it, I knew Eckhart would never falter in the desire to add a layer of human emotion to the script, and Aaron’s constant professionalism kept this movie from ever being worse than it finished being.

“Incarnate” won’t inspire you to change your pre-conceived notions on B-grade possession flicks, but it is too brief of a presentation to ever leave any lasting damage. It is a creative, albeit flawed tweaking to the genre ideal that is marred in cheap, technical execution, but the dedication by its male lead lifts this dreary dud as something slightly above tolerable. It is time though for WWE Films to get out of the horror genre altogether, because in their hands “Incarnate” is IncarNOT.

4/10

Bad Santa 2

The baddest Santa on the planet returns for another holiday heist, in “Bad Santa 2”. Fueled by cheap whiskey, greed and hatred, Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) teams up once again with his angry little sidekick, Marcus (Tony Cox), to knock off a Chicago charity for the picking on Christmas Eve. Along for the ride is ‘the kid’ chubby and cheery Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), a 250-pound ray of sunshine who brings out Willie’s sliver of humanity. Mommy issues arise when the pair are joined by Willie’s horror story of a mother, Sunny Soke (Kathy Bates). As a super butch super bitch, Sunny raises the bar for the gang’s ambitions, while somehow lowering the standards of criminal behavior. Willie is further burdened by lusting after the curvaceous and prim Diane (Christina Hendricks), the charity director with a heart of gold and libido of steel, who throws a kink in Willie’s plans. “Bad Santa 2” is directed by Mark Waters, and is rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some graphic nudity.

I have this theory that we all have an alcoholic family member who has a little one too many around the holiday season, and spouts off more than they rightfully should in front of their loved ones. This is a welcoming metaphor for the sequel thirteen years in the making; “Bad Santa 2”. I say this because said family member could be a riot the first time you hear him sling a curse word or two, simply because you didn’t expect such a thing. As time goes on, it gets old because you soon realize that person has a deeper problem. Are you getting where I’m going with this? This movie is a train-wreck that only further cements the ideal that comedy sequels don’t work in 2016. Why don’t they work? A majority of them settle for relying on material from the original, better predecessor, and it usually can only create damage to any creativity that the newest effort can muster up. This movie should’ve never even been a thought process. The original “Bad Santa” might not be the movie everyone conjures up when they think of Christmas, but I enjoyed it for an original take on holiday movies that can sometimes feel a little unrealistic. So what makes a sequel marketed in the same light and tone of the original so much different? I made a list and plan on checking it twice.

First of all there’s the characters. The sequel re-unites Thornton, Cox, Kelly and Octavia Spencer. The latter of which have a two minute cameo involving the same stick she spun in the original film. It’s funny to see the most notable actor/actress in this movie as nothing more than a two-bit prostitute who calls her female genatalia a ham sandwich. It goes to show you where her career was at in 2003. Anyway, The other trio are reduced to nothing more than outlines of who they were in the first movie. According to screenwriter Johnny Rosenthal, these characters haven’t changed so much as a pair of socks since the original movie. He proves this by a repetition in jokes and material that was much better set up thirteen years ago. Thornton is still a drunk, cursing womanizer, whose emotional growth at the end of the first movie is ruined in favor of redundant class. Cox is a little person, so of course we have to poke fun at his height every five minutes. Cox witty backlashes against these satires are perhaps the only joy I got out of the movie, and created some legit hearty laughs between the nasty appeal of raunchy comedy. Kelly has absolutely no reason to be in this movie. Between his love for sandwiches which was nothing more than a footnote in the first movie, Kelly is still every bit a weird, albeit slow functioning human being. The difference here is as a twenty-one year old, it doesn’t have the same kind of charms it does as a child. What worked about the union of Thornton and Kelly in that movie was Kelly serving as the anti-child of sorts to Thornton’s daily abuse of dealing with every snotty-nosed child that invaded his space. It crafted a heartwarming side to our protagonist, but here the movie even struggles to find a reason to keep them together for a scene or two.

Then there’s the newbies. Bernie Mac and John Ritter are unfortunately no longer with us, and I didn’t understand until I saw the movie just how big of a loss they were as supporting characters. This film’s best attempt at bridging the gap is introducing Kathy Bates as Willie’s crude Mother, as well as Christina Hendricks as his newest love interest. Did I say love interest? I meant screw-in-an-alley-interest. The romantic relationship between them not only feels unbelievable in concept, but also in execution as Thornton and Hendricks have absolutely no chemistry between them. Her character feels too good for him, and a subplot involving Hendricks cheating spouse goes absolutely nowhere. I’m serious, his sexual act gets recorded by a character and then never mentioned again. As for Bates, she’s a solid addition, but her material is nothing fresh or witty for this level. She’s very much just a female version of Willie, and the two of them together makes for the most unhealthy of relationships that involve him slugging her across the face upon reunion. Nothing like female abuse to get the holidays rolling, eh?

I mentioned before that the laughs rely too much on the original movie, but this one lacks one strong detail in difference that halts the success of those laughs; an emotional register. What was great about “Bad Santa” was that there was a dysfunctional twist in family importance during the holidays that the movie stressed. There is a legitimate transformation emotionally in Willie, and it was a positive to see him grow by the finale of the film. We regress here because not only has Willie stepped on those same achievements that he flourished in that movie, but gotten worse as the crude factor is turned up to twelve. The jokes here seem to have very little setup, so the punchline is visible from miles away. The worst kind of comedic material is that of which you can see coming from a mile away, and I found myself correctly predicting most of the paths that each flimsy scene took us down. Without the heart and compassion of the first movie to direct our characters to what is right and wrong, “Bad Santa 2” lacks a valuable moral compass that never limits the overexposure of redundancy in script deposition. This movie is a very light 82 minute sit, and it only serves as a reminder the bare minimum in laughs and story that this movie settled for to make some money on a still valuable property.

It’s shot competently enough, but the first movie did a much better job at capitalizing on the very backdrops and imagery of the Christmas season that bit into the psyche of Willie and his contempt for routine. The benefit of a film location of Chicago as opposed to Arizona from the original movie is that it at least feels like Christmas, and that’s one of the only positives that I can give this movie. Some of the editing is a little lingering, pushing the boundaries of the stale humor resonating in every give. Sadly the original director didn’t return for “Bad Santa 2”, and something as meaningful as that really plays its hand in the situational humor and character arcs that I’ve already mentioned. Without it, you’re taking the characters you know and love, and are putting them in something that might as well be “A Madea Christmas”, ya know, with two or three good laughs.

Overall, “Bad Santa 2” is a lump of coal for a once prosperous and original Christmas traditional movie. It relies too much on the past gags and sight humors, neglecting the ability to ever stand out on its own feet. It’s definitely not the worst comedy sequel I’ve seen, but even the most die-hard of fans will find very little to appreciate about a script that dumbs down redundancy to classless levels. After unwrapping this gift, you realize there’s a better movie still out there that you didn’t get.

4/10

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Based on the widely acclaimed, best-selling novel, Billy Lynn’s walk across the grandest of stages is one that spans across many continents and years through the worst of scenarios. In “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”, Ang Lee brings his extraordinary vision once again to the silver screen. The film is told from the point of view of 19-year-old army specialist Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) who, along with his fellow soldiers in Bravo Squad, becomes a hero after a harrowing Iraq battle, and is brought home temporarily for a victory tour. Through flashbacks, culminating at the spectacular halftime show of the Thanksgiving Day football game in Dallas, Texas, the film reveals what really happened to the squad, contrasting the realities of the war with a media-heavy American perception. “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” is rated R for adult language throughout, some war violence, sexual content, and brief drug use.

Ang Lee has always been a director who tries to offer some social commentary on how we view important topics that are everywhere in our society. He does this by establishing an unorthodox method to filmmaking that makes his movies stand out above the rest. “Billy Lynn” is certainly no different from that perspective. Through a first-person narrative, Lee puts the audience front-and-center in the shoes of the protagonist, relating the idea that everyone is Billy. In doing this, he drafts a refreshing look under the microscope not only for soldiers and that awkward transition to returning home once they’ve been rattled by everyday foreign gunfire, but also for the way we as Americans treat our soldiers once they have made the ultimate sacrifice. As I’ll explain, there wasn’t a lot about this movie that I enjoyed, but I think Lee gets this perspective correct, and offers a spiritual debate to both sides of the spectrum in regards to those who do and don’t support the war.

Now that the compliments are done, lets get to the real meat of this movie; the plot. The idea through its trailers and plot synopsis is that Billy is a young soldier who experienced something terrible during his tour of Iraq that rattled him for good. When he returns to America for a football halftime show, he remembers point-by-point that fateful day that changed everything for him. The movie chooses the option of running two narrative storylines simultaneously, interjecting back-and-forth between past and present day. This style of storytelling has always been effective if done well, but there are two problems to using it here. The first is that the focus should be on what happened in the past, yet for a majority of the screenplay we are stuck in present day questioning what got us to this point. I’m OK with creating tension, but I started to lose patience the longer this movie dragged it out, and that brings me to my second problem. When we finally do figure out what happened with twenty minutes left in the 105 minute run time, it certainly isn’t anything to justify the wait. I respect every soldier who ever fights for our country, but I have heard far more enticing TRUE stories to war that are ten times more detailed than this. In waiting so long, we find out that there isn’t much to this day that differs it from the many that men and women face everyday, and it all feels dragged on for far too long, crafting pacing that moves at a slugs speed.

A love interest is introduced at the beginning of the second act for Billy, and this comes out of nowhere with unbelievable dialogue, as well as awkward timing. To pit her as a ditzy cheerleader of sorts initially is one that makes it feel like she won’t stick around for long, but then the movie tries to honor her as something she totally is not. As the movie plays on, Billy, who just met her that day, realizes that he is in love with her. This is more than likely because he is a virgin, as the movie tastelessly exploits throughout the run time. The chemistry between the two feels very wooden and forced to add some kind of love interest to the story. This is even proven correct when she tells him at the end of the movie “Every movie needs a girl love interest”. I’m not kidding, this attempt at meta-humor is an actual line in the movie.

But if you thought any of those things drove me nuts, they are peanuts compared to the actual miniscule budget that went into making this movie. At $114,000, “Billy Lynn” is one of the cheapest movies that I have reviewed in 2016, and that wouldn’t be a problem if the cost-cutting measures actually amounted to something positive in creativity. It doesn’t. Considering most of this movie takes place at this “Dallas football stadium”, they couldn’t even reserve the rights to the Dallas Cowboys name and likeness. Steve Martin even plays a character who strongly resembles Jerry Jones, the Cowboys polarized owner. This and the cheap knock-off Cowboys logo felt very distracting, especially to a Cowboys fan like myself. It gives the audience a reminder of how cheap and how little care and attention was brought to make this feel authentic.

There’s not a lot of positive reinforcement to the performances, as there are really very little breakout moments involving passionate dialogue to push the ranges further. Garrett Hedlund as Lynn’s captain is probably the single most effective performance in the movie, but doesn’t get his warranted chance to shine until the final act. The chemistry between he and Alwyn is certainly there, but I feel their unity could’ve used more emphasis on the battlefield to hammer home their unity as brothers of the squadron. Alwyn is OK, but kind of mutes his performance throughout the movie. I searched for any kind of personality to make him standout, and got nothing. There really isn’t even a legit reason why he is the chosen protagonist instead of someone else in this group. They all witness this tragedy, so what makes him different? Perhaps in his flimsy family supporting characters, led by Kristen Stewart as Billy’s Sister. Stewart once again plays this close to the chest in terms of her emotional delivery, and there’s a missed opportunity to tell more of her character as it relates to her time spent in the army.

Any time a movie title with the word “Long” is in it, you can bet you are in for a rough sit, and thankfully “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” didn’t disappoint in keeping that tradition. It’s a cheap, tame, and unfulfilling addition to the wartime drama that misses its mark on nearly every end of the spectrum. This one bored me to death and angered me to tears…..or maybe it’s the other way around.

4/10

Keeping Up With the Joneses

The new neighbors next door are harboring a top secret operation that has their neighborhood in shambles. In “Keeping Up With the Joneses”, Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zack Galifanakis and Isla Fischer) are a suburban couple who’s level of excitement is the routine of children and jobs 24/7. That all changes when good looking neighbors Tim and Natalie Jones move in across the street. Taken aback by their perfect personalities and appearance, the Gaffney’s hatch a plan to learn more about their secretive neighbors after something just not clicking about their daily routines. With some deep digging, the Gaffney’s crack that their newest friends are secret agents for the government, thrusting them into the fast paced action of international espionage. “Keeping Up With the Joneses” is directed by Greg Mottola, and is rated PG-13 for sexual content, action/violence and brief strong language.

“Keeping Up With the Joneses” is the latest in spy comedies that tries a little too hard to push a circle peg into the square. With the exception of 2015’s “Spy”, very few films have exceeded the expectations of mixing two counter opposite genres like the worlds of comedies and spy thrillers. This one doesn’t offer much resolution to that continuing epidemic. It’s poorly timed, bland, and missing an exceptional leading actor to really bring everything together. Just two weeks ago, I mentioned my complete disdain for Zack Galifanakis, and with each role that he gives to his audience I can start to see an actor void of any kind of human energy to get him over the hump of such a thankless character. Simply put, this movie isn’t funny at all, and it’s not even trying. What can be described as the few comedic scenes in the movie were all placed repeatedly in each trailer across America. The people in my theater were loving it, and I always wondered how someone can laugh at something so much that they have heard a hundred times. “The Joneses” didn’t answer that question, but instead surrounded it with a flimsy storyline that they tried to pass off for a third act.

That story takes place once the mystique involving our new neighbors gets unveiled, and the Gaffney’s must help them take down an anonymous figure who is heading a group thirsty for insider secrets at the company Jeff works at. Considering this idea took place with forty minutes left in the script, it’s clear to see that the writers have no dedication or desire to persuade the audience into remotely caring about this story arc. This is made even more clearly when the big reveal happens to be someone that the television spots have been giving away shamelessly. So there’s no big surprise at the end of a dull and unfunny trip with these characters. Before this, the first half of the movie centers around the Gaffney’s figuring out why the Joneses are in their neighborhood of all places. It’s a predictable tier to this movie that takes far too long to fish out the answer. On top of it, there’s nothing ever memorable about the material that drifts away from telegraphed direction in every scene. If you like a comedy that you could sit down and write in five minutes, this is your bag baby.

What is enjoyable about this movie however, is the competent level that the action scenes are shot at. There are some legitimately thrilling chase sequences in the movie that really lend an homage to 90’s action directors like John Woo or Jerry Bruckheimer. This is the one aspect in the movie that I had some fun with, and it really inserts some much needed energy into a comedy that is hitting a speed bump at every turn with its limited PG-13 rating. The camera style here is revolving around the car, working with some quick edits that really diagraph the tension surrounding every character. For a movie as silly and ridiculous as this one, the action sequences really surprised me, and reminded me that there is still action in every spy comedy.

Also devilishly likeable was that of the performances of Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot as the title characters who are hiding a lot more than they’re letting on. This is the story that I really wanted to see throughout this movie. Every time the Joneses leave the frame and leave us the audience with the Gaffney’s, I couldn’t help but let out a wimper that described my regret. It felt like I was missing the better movie every time these two left the frame of the camera, and it makes me wonder what might’ve been if this movie had just entailed their origin story. It’s the “Mr and Mrs Smith” for this decade, and each of them compliment the other beautifully. What works so magnificently about their performances is the chemistry between them, exuding personalities that prove they are something more than just pretty faces. Gadot is somewhat the guarded wall in this couple, and this offers a different take on the young star that we haven’t seen. Hamm is still as charming as it comes, donning an attitude reminiscent of the 60’s ballroom gentlemen from the golden age of cinema. There’s nothing he can do that I wouldn’t enjoy, and it’s nice to see some heart to play opposite of his aggressive side within this movie.

As for Galifanakis and Fischer, they just kind of take up time bumbling around each other. I’m not even sure Zack can pass for a comedy actor anymore because this feels very much like a straight man role to Hamm’s off-the-wall secretive character. At least in “Masterminds” he failed at countless attempts. Here, it’s like he’s scared to ever swing the bat, and that loss of confidence feels evident in his delivery in this film. It’s nice to see Fischer again, but this role doesn’t give her a lot to do playing alongside such vibrant personalities. She’s kind of the voice of reason for a lot of the narrative within these scenes, and that makes for a boring turn for someone who has such notable comedic timing like she has proven in roles like “Hot Rod” or “Wedding Crashers”. This duo are clearly outshined by their co-stars, and that doesn’t always add up when you consider 70% of the movie is dedicated to the change within their boring and tedious lives. We hear they have two children, but we don’t see them in one scene in this movie. An example of shoddy backstory at its finest.

Overall, I had no problem keeping up with the Joneses, but this movie certainly had trouble keeping up with even my lowering expectations as the movie went on. The comedy in this screenplay falls flat at every turn, often leading to a bigger emphasis on the state of comedy films in 2016. The action gets your blood pumping, but there’s not enough laughs or energy to compliment such rare feats for this genre. “Keeping Up With the Joneses” needed two leading roles, not four, and as a result we get another floundering failure in the ever-diminishing career of Galifanakis.

4/10