Paris Can Wait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

The Book of Henry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

The Mummy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

47 Meters Down

“47 Meters Down”, two sisters find themselves at the mercy of a lurker of the sea with a thirst for blood. On the rebound after a devastating break-up, Lisa (Mandy Moore) is ready for a thrilling adventure while on vacation in Mexico. Even still, she needs a little extra persuasion when her daring sister Kate (Claire Holt) suggests they go shark diving with some locals. They board a boat captained by Taylor (Matthew Modine), and once underwater in a protective cage, Lisa and Kate catch a once in a lifetime, face-to-face look at majestic Great Whites. But when their worst fears are realized and the cage breaks away from their boat, they find themselves plummeting to the bottom of the seabed, too deep to radio for help without making themselves vulnerable to the savage sharks, their oxygen supplies rapidly dwindling. “47 Meters Down” is written and directed by Johannes Roberts, and is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense, peril, bloody images, and brief strong adult language.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, a film like “47 Meters Down” comes along and adds to an already terrifying history of shark attack movies. I of course deem this a shark attack movie on the loosest of terms because this movie offers the bare minimum in terms of satisfying material for fans of the overcrowded subgenre or even appearances by our sharp-toothed monsters of the sea. At this point in film, if you’ve seen one shark movie, you’ve seen them all, and “47 Meters Down” is flimsy even in comparison to something like last year’s “The Shallows” that constantly kept the danger and the pacing of the movie moving, well beyond the average 90 minute mark for these kind of movies. Roberts movie clocks in at 84 minutes, and with only about 10 minutes of actual sharks being present in the film (I’m being generous), there’s very few thrills or payoffs for anyone who watched this trailer and thought it was promising for human protagonists being under water for once, instead of on top or in it. The movie gives forth a worthy gimmick in terms of its structure, but offers very little of anything in terms of positive returns to make it memorable against classics like “Jaws” or “Open Water”.

In terms of lighting and overall shot composition for the movie, it’s very limited of what it can do from being angled at this capacity. I do give props that this is a movie that actually relates what it means to be under the sea, in terms of all of its darkness and immensity that can easily get one lost if trapped under such a circumstance. This also benefits the production designs in terms of the actual C.G sharks, and how that lack of color can do wonders for covering up the jarring movements of such a computerized property. But the angles particularly in that of the action on the rare occurance that it strikes, is too close and zoomed in to fully register just what is happening at any given moment. It almost works as a blessing and a curse against the abilities of the production team for making the natural lighting come across as faithful because there was so much going on that I couldn’t piece together beyond the fact that these two women were being attacked. In my opinion, it desperately needed some further angles that would study the cage that they are trapped in from the shark’s point-of-view, not necessarily in a POV style shot, but more in the wide angle lens that could capture and build on the tension of the attack that is seconds away. Because this movie lacks major emphasis on that tension, there’s very little times where I felt invested in the well being of these characters and their constant battle to air level.

As for the protagonists themselves, Mandy Moore definitely can’t be faulted for getting her second chance at Hollywood, long after her fifteen minutes burned out after a noteworthy performance in 2002’s “A Walk To Remember”. Here, Moore lends herself to an action/horror genre and the payoff feels very unnatural for someone not afraid to spread her lungs when it comes to emoting. As Lisa, Moore’s screaming and moaning throughout the film repeatedly took me out of the movie for its repetition in patterns that felt very manufactured in terms of petrifying nature. I could write this off except the way Lisa is written is the gullable third-tier female character in one of these films, instead of the lead protagonist that the movie makes her out to be. There’s never that moment of transformation in her character, even going so far as to having her phone it in during an ending that underwhelms from the second you realize what is going on. As for Clare Holt, the film kind of forgets about her with twenty minutes left, and focuses more on Lisa. It isn’t enough that these women waste most of their oxygen by trying to swim to the top, even after being told to just stay in the cage, but they repeatedly keep leaving their only safe zone from the sharks to give this film any kind of suspense from the minutes that are literally wasting away.

The first act story didn’t even offer anything in terms of exposition to eventually make it tie together for a finale that makes you understand these characters. There’s a brief throwaway scene in terms of Lisa’s boyfriend leaving her and this trip being a sort of escape from reality for the two women, but that poor last few minutes that I mentioned earlier does nothing to tie it all together and shape her into being a new woman with a new lease on life. Once it hits underwater with an hour left in the already brief run time, I started to understand that this is less a shark movie and more a survival movie for the women’s decreasing air supply that leaves them pressed for time. Even the wound that Lisa clearly suffers on her leg during the trailer isn’t even done by the shark itself, but by the cage that falls on her leg, an example of this film having nowhere to move in terms of creative, and quite figuratively and literally writing itself into a cage with very little opportunity to escape.

Far and away, the biggest positive for this movie is in the sound mixing and minimal approach to musical score by composers TomandAndy, two guys most notable for their tones in horror for “The Mothman Prophecies” and the remake of “The Hills Have Eyes”. Here, they manipulate the muted tones off in the distance in favor of real time sounds and atmosphere from the seabed that does wonders in capturing the lack of echo or immensity in volume that surrounds our duo of protagonists. There’s definitely musical accompanyment there, but it’s so distant that it could pass for a surrounding boat’s frequency or just the hallucinations of the girls who have sucked up too much air. I love a movie whose musical score serves as almost a gimmick of the world depicted in the film by itself, and TomandAndy are two of the very best when it comes to drilling on terror at whatever level in release that they deem necessary.

THE VERDICT – “47 Meters Down” doesn’t have the shock or awe to compete with the better movies of the genre that balance the concepts of humanity and breaking points accordingly in their clash with urgency. This one lacks the sharks, competent shots, or even compelling characters to make you ever invest in their struggles, and because of such, this one sinks fast, and becomes bait for the bigger Summer blockbusters that simply can’t be caged. Moore and Holt are believable enough as sisters, but are given such hollow and ample material to make their characters shine in their finest hours. While “47 Meters Down” is an improvement from Johannes Roberts 2016 effort “The Other Side of the Door”, his lack of memorable material settles for the latter in the sink-or-swim atmosphere.

4/10

Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Men Tell NO Tales

Johnny Depp returns to the big screen as the iconic, swashbuckling anti-hero Jack Sparrow in the all-new “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” The rip-roaring adventure finds down-on-his-luck Captain Jack feeling the winds of ill-fortune blowing strongly his way when deadly ghost sailors, led by the terrifying Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), escape from the Devil’s Triangle bent on killing every pirate at sea; notably Jack. Jack’s only hope of survival lies in the legendary Trident of Poseidon, but to find it he must forge an uneasy alliance with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a brilliant and beautiful astronomer, and Henry (Brenton Thwaites), a headstrong young sailor in the Royal Navy. At the helm of the Dying Gull, his pitifully small and shabby ship, Captain Jack seeks not only to reverse his recent spate of ill fortune, but to save his very life from the most formidable and malicious foe he has never faced. The movie is directed by the team of Espen Sandberg and Joachim Rønning, and is rated PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence, and some suggestive content.

There are two scenes in “Dead Men Tell No Tales”, in which Captain Jack Sparrow is caught sleeping, a suitable metaphor for the latest installment that relies far too heavily on the fan service of the better, past movies in this saga. With five films produced over the last two decades, it’s clear that the Pirates franchise has overstayed its welcome, thriving on derived concepts and plots that were done accordingly in their originality, but now lack the kind of influential impact that these movies once used to conjure up the imagination of their audience. Some of these examples within this movie are; Sparrow being introduced in a silly manor by appearing on land, a new guy and girl supporting cast that bicker at each other until they fall in love, a ghostly antagonist who has been wronged by that of Sparrow, and an execution scene early on in the first act that our characters will inevitably escape from. All of the scenarios that I just mentioned have popped up somewhere in the first two films of this franchise, and it leads me to the conclusion that “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is perhaps the laziest of a sequel chapter that is supposed to stand on its own.

One of the biggest problems concerning this more-than two hour feature is that the film immensely lacks any kind of vulnerability or urgency to ever put us on the edge of our seats for one moment. If this chapter instilled one lesson to us, it’s that this is a world in which there are very few consequences or actual deaths in the series, and this concept is highlighted early on when we realize the ties that bind this film with that of the previous movies. One of the scenes that truly drove me crazy in this film was that of Salazar releasing some ghost sharks into the water to hunt the trio of protagonists in a canoe. It’s obvious that these sharks could tear them apart in seconds if they really wanted to, but they only tease them for absolutely no reason. During the sequence, a shark jumps out of the water, flies over the canoe, and extends his jaw like he is going to dine on Sparrow for a snack. Of course the shark doesn’t even make a move, and the slow motion scene was used more as a tease instead of an actual taste. There are so many scenes like this in the movie, and because of it, I never feared for the lives of our characters even for a minute. Without spoiling anything, there is one death in the movie, but I guarantee this character will return in a couple of films.

The pacing too also hits a lot of speed bumps, especially early on in the second act when the same deposition is repeated no fewer than four times by four different duos of characters. Seriously, every time a new development in the script is revealed, mostly about Smythe’s character, we must get a reaction shot from Sparrow’s crew, Barbosa’s crew, Salazar’s crew, and the British Empire at home. I understand that this is a concept from a character standpoint for each of them to be filled with all of the knowledge, but so much of this could be cut or combined in a summarized scene to please all parties concerned. If I knew this many scenes were repeated in the movie, I could’ve received my first bathroom break of 2017 during the actual movie, and my bladder would’ve obliged. The first act of the film comes out of the gate with some serious firepower, but we never reach that level of excitement again because the action sequences often stay neatly tucked away in the closet of conventionalism.

At least the action sequences themselves still dazzle in their epic depicting, illustrating the hundreds of year old Pirate era as colorfully faithful in palate. The war scenes do happen too few and far between during the movie, most notably in the second act when the film exchanges its firepower for flimsy subplots that rarely have any weight in the inevitable conclusion. But there is some gorgeous detail work in the establishing shots of the ships, as well as the fast-paced sword work that happens within, and the movie’s angles never felt compromising or overzealous in editing despite the volume of scope that it has to cover. The framing work here is exceptional, capturing the volume of production from the crew that goes into every ocean movement, all the while previewing for us the kind of adversities that await them in the distance. It proves that at its heart, the Pirates movies are still one of the very best action/adventure franchises going today, and can instill the excitement behind something as dull as cannonball fighting to the next level.

The comedy itself does overtake the action in terms of tonal shifts for the movie, and the tired use of slapstick humor can only take the already wining interest of the audience only so far. So much of the humor in the film flops, and the stuff that does land speaks more to the adults in the audience, with material that I’m not sure children should be hearing. Just some of the material engages in jokes about sexually-transmitted diseases, infidelity, and a joke about prostitution that we’re fortunate enough to hear from every ten minutes during the entirety of the film. Because of this, I’m starting to find it difficult to immerse myself within the epic scope in landscapes that the films entail because of crude humor that constantly goes over the line of taste. I compare it to that of the Geico Insurance pirates commercial, in all of its cringe-worthy dialogue.

As far as performances and character work goes, there is one pleasant addition to the series, in terms of Scodelario as Smythe, an intelligent female presence that holds the key to the trident of the sea. What I love about Smythe as a character is that she feels like the lone voice of reason for her extensive knowledge of the sea, but it’s made even more apparent how important she is once her family lineage reveals itself to our eyes and ears. Keira Knightley evolved into something great for little girls in the audience, but that took three movies. Smythe is someone whose benefit is approached right away, and it’s clear that her character offers a refreshing blend of feminist approach for a change. Depp is still solid as Sparrow, but it’s evident just how little of material that he has in this phoned-in script. At this point, Sparrow lacks the kind of cunning bravado that he combined with his evident humor in the first two movies, instead becoming a Three Stooges kind of character that stumbles at every turn. From the antagonist side, Javier Bardem’s Salazar is menacing in C.G appearance, but lacking in importance from dwindling screen time, sound editing and mixing that does him no favors in fluent speaking. Bardem’s Spanish accent is already difficult enough, but the decision to fill his mouth with cups of blood at a time is like trying to speak with marbles in his mouth, and made his speaking parts tone-deaf on my sensitive ears. As a villain, Bardem has the right personality, but there are leaps in the script when he goes hidden, a definite mistake for someone who has crafted some of the best villains of the past twenty years.

THE VERDICT – This is one tale that deserves to never be told. The fifth installment in the Pirates franchise is the perfect campfire story in terms of putting us to sleep for the night, but lacks the kind of excitement or unpredictability to ever stand with its first two immortal efforts. The action is still there, lending itself to the kind of Disney immersing that peaks the imagination particularly in its younger viewers. But the holes amount aplenty in this ship, springing from a reliance upon previous film material, as well as mostly forgettable performances and poor pacing that sink our sails.

4/10

Baywatch

The saviors of the water invade the big screen, in this comedic romp based on the 90’s television show of the same name. Baywatch revolves around Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), the gung-ho leader of the elite Baywatch lifeguard squad in Southern California, who clashes with new recruit Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a washed-up professional olympic swim athlete brought in as the new face of the organization. The P.R stunt gets shoved to the side however, when a dead body is recovered from the ocean, and the two bickering collegues must put aside their personal differences and work with their respective team to stop a criminal mastermind’s drug trafficking operation on their sacred land. Baywatch is directed by first time director Seth Gordon, and is rated R for adult language throughout, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity.

When spoofing a 90’s television show as ridiculous as Baywatch, there was really only one direction creatively that this film could take, but somehow the producers of this remake found a way to take a completely alienated approach that ultimately finishes as a missed opportunity for something that could’ve been an exercise in comedic ridiculousness. Baywatch at times lacks the real definition in its script to be a Baywatch movie, mainly because of its decision to reach for the spoofing of satirical nature so minimal in the film, instead opting to create a big budget action flick in blueprint for what the television show could’ve been if it were crafted in the 21st century. This was a major mistake, as Gordon’s movie never feels confident in finding a pleasing compromise in tone that blends together properly. Because of such, this remake often feels like it is at war with itself. Sure, it isn’t the disaster that Rotten Tomatoes is currently making it out to be. I certainly had enough fun to keep it from movies that I deem as a colossal waste of time. But this remake fails to reach the level of 21 Jump Street because it never feels faithful to the campy vibes of the original that practically begs to be roasted on an open flame.

The biggest laughs for me came during the very few times that this movie acknowledged how ridiculous these lifeguards saving the day sounded. During the first act especially, the film feels most like a comedy, blending the angles of slapstick and physical humor (Think Farelly Brothers) for all to adore. During this time, there was a slight feeling of the true conflict of the movie being pushed to the side. Most obvious is that our female antagonist doesn’t make a grounded appearance until nearly thirty minutes in. Even with that said, the first forty minutes of the movie is definitely its strength. Then the film decides to lose its identity for everything that it truly is, in favor for a 21st century action flick complete with big budgets and C.G.I designs that took itself a little too seriously. Most of the backdrops for the second act of the movie don’t even take place on or near that of the Baywatch landscape, and that obvious absence sparks a flame of abandonment for fans of the original work that will leave them aghast at where it all went wrong.

Something that truly perplexes me not only with this movie, but any deemed slapstick comedy is why the writers think that two hours is needed to tell such a superficial story like this one. Baywatch clocks in at 114 minutes, a dedication in time that truly defines the concepts of fluff sequences. So much of what adorns the exposition between our duos of characters feels repetitive from scene-to-scene with the next time their respective subplots are featured on-screen, pointing to the obvious to which parts should’ve been saved for Blu Ray deleted scenes. The pacing wasn’t terrible for me until late in the second act, when you really start to feel the thin layering of what defines this as a Baywatch movie. For me, this film can easily be re-written with taking out the five or six scenes early on that take place on the beach, and make this into a Bad Boys sequel. At least in removing those scenes, you would have a smooth 95 minute run time that should’ve been the appropriate measure taken for Gordon’s often dry marathon of a film.

A minute ago, I touched on the decision to up the budget of this project, and a lot of it goes into some computer generated work that omits the feeling of a Sharknado sequel in shallow design. There were two major problems that stand out like sore thumbs here; fire and the sky itself. On the latter, I’m guessing the difficulties with naturally lighting a scene that is supposed to take place out in the deep water was the cause for concern, but I can’t comprehend how a golden glow around our characters was the finished product. I noticed this problem during one of the earlier trailers, but thought that they were still finishing up post-production, but to see it in the actual movie makes it difficult to ever ignore. As for the fire, give credit that this design at least brings the smoke. So many C.G.I uses anymore for fire forget that aspect, but Baywatch is at least capable in that department. The problem is that the fire is so thin in design and screen definition that our characters walk through it without ever the slightest of consequence. Picture Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Arcade Game for the 8-bit Nintendo console. There’s fire at the bottom of the screen, but we know it’s only there for effect, and it will never hurt anyone if they come into contact with it. If you’re going to go big, then go all the way. Don’t skimp out when it comes to computer effects that soil the integrity of a direction in tone by their compromising visuals.

The strong point in the movie for me was actually the performances. Yes, that sound terribly stupid in a Baywatch movie, but it is the truth. Before I get into those, it was a tasteful nod for every one of the main roles to be named after a character from the TV show, two of which actually pop up as cameos in the movie that sadly the opening credits spoil. Dwayne Johnson kind of phones it in with his usual stick, but that shouldn’t alienate his many followers. Dwayne is charming and certainly rises to the occasion of Buchannon, but his non-existent arrogance leaves slightly more to be desired with his original counterpart. What is a solid investment for starring roles is that of Efron as the troubled bad boy Matt Brody. Efron has proven he has solid comedic chops yes, but here he is actually required to do some solid acting for once, and Zac rises to the occasion. In Brody, there’s a deep taste of regret and retribution that boils inside, and his mental growth throughout the movie is the cause of my embrace for the character. He’s cocky, but you never want to give up on him for how alone in this thing he truly is, a testament to Efron once again stealing the show. I also gave major props to the film for sticking all the way through with a female villain, and giving her the valuable screen time to make her a noteworthy presence against two mammoth personalities like Johnson and Efron. The woman in question is of course Priyanka Chopra as drug lord Victoria Leeds. Chopra commands the attention of everyone she comes into contact with, transfixing the screen with the decision to talk, instead of yell. Even if everything else doesn’t please you, the thought of a well written female antagonist in 2017 should, as Priyanka’s work here deserves credit.

THE VERDICT – Because of a lack of satirical intent and a run time that exceeds necessity by twenty minutes or so, Baywatch sinks before it can ever swim, limiting the effects of a well-rounded and charismatic cast of fresh faces to embrace. The film paddles hard to validate its R-rating, but the current of conventionalism capped off any attempt at making this the latest nod to a forgotten era of television. I don’t say this often, but this one could’ve used more corny to appeal to the show’s fans that laughed even when they weren’t supposed to. For Gordon’s film, you’re not supposed to laugh, and you won’t much anyway.

4/10

Kidnap

Halle Berry races against the clock and the road with anything in her way, as the victim of a “Kidnap”. A single mother named Karla Dyson (Halle Berry) lives a perfect life with her young son Frankie (Sage Correa). One day, upon entering a local park, Karla sees her son suddenly being abducted out of the blue by a savage kidnapper. To save Frankie from abduction, Karla goes out on an unending and thrilling car chase behind Frankie’s abductors. Her steely resolve and determination to save her son at any cost takes her on a dangerous mission, endangering herself, as well as her son who is held captive in the antagonist’s car. With little help from the local law enforcement, Karla realizes that if she wants something done right, she’s going to have to put the pedal to the medal and do it herself. “Kidnap” is directed by Luis Prieto, and is rated R for some adult language, scenes of peril, and automobile devastation.

Prieto’s second directing effort has had a bit of problems en-route to making it to the silver screen. After the closing of Relativity Media, “Kidnap” was one of a few films that sat on the shelf well past its designated release date. Set for debut in December 2016, Prieto’s movie never reached the light of day for whatever reason, being pushed to the end of 2017 for its new possibility. After finally getting my hands on a copy of it, I can once again understand why such decisions get made by big budget studios. “Kidnap” is very much as conventional and underwhelming as it gets with the chase subgenre, mainly because there’s nothing extraordinary or memorable about the 90 minutes that you sit through to reach the predictable ending. If you’re fortunate enough to sit through the trailer, you will already have an idea in your head about the meandering direction and risk-less sequences that play out before our very eyes. Its biggest sin is that it isn’t terrible enough to be laughable, it’s forgettable enough to be wasteful, an idea that too many of these B-90’s films are settling for twenty years after their expiration dates.

Right off of the bat, we are treated to everything that we will come to understand with what follows in this careless picture. A slideshow of Frankie growing up and being narrated by Berry opens the film, but her vocals are clearly inserted in post production. How do I know this? Because her voice never sounds any different in tone from scene-to-scene, nor blurred any in volume when a video takes place outside or around loud circumstances. I guess I shouldn’t complain too much because this is among the only narration that we received for the entirety of the movie. The biggest problem with having a film take place entirely on the road is that there’s very little time to soak things in and allow the audience to follow along with our protagonist. Because of this, Berry is relegated to coming off as a psychopath by continuing to talk to herself and explain her plans in great detail. It’s evident that this is for the audience and not so much for her worry towards the ensuing developments, but because this movie has virtually no evolving plot aside from what you read above, we have to be satisfied with the crash-and-stash mentality that Prieto conjures up.

The story stays faithfully grounded, limiting what happens off of the road with character exposition or plot advancement. If there is one positive, I can safely say that “Kidnap” is everything that it advertises. There’s no manipulation when the movie phones in the emphasis on urgency that films like these need to steal your emotional investment. Despite this, the film’s pacing rarely ever lags or drags due to boredom, but the overly-anxious push to a speedy conclusion throttles to a dead end road full of neatly tucked away conclusions. Believe me when I say that there is nothing remotely fascinating about the ending of this movie, even skimping on the setup for a possible fight scene that could’ve showed the true rage of a Mother protecting her cub. The film’s final fifteen minutes just kind of come and go with very little adversity, and it proved to be the final stamp on a movie that didn’t care enough to offer a satisfying enough poetic justice for those who commit the most unlawful of crimes.

As far as the actual action goes, the stuff on the road is satisfying enough, very rarely slowing down to give us the chance to breathe. The problem comes in the logic of the circumstances that our hero, as well as our villain makes along the way. If one thing was clear to me early on, it was that this film certainly isn’t raising any geniuses, and while there is something to be said about thinking under the pressure of the moment, there’s a louder voice speaking to the depths of just how easy it would be for Karla to defeat her faceless nemesis in minutes, or how said nemesis keeps managing to run into her despite getting several head-starts and immense advantages. Because this isn’t a cerebral chase film on the heels of 90’s thrillers like “Breakdown” or “Highwaymen”, it immediately takes away from how cunning that the mental chess game between these characters could’ve been.

Some more of the technical achievements that I pulled from the movie only added further to the already lackluster approach that handicaps Prieto’s abilities. Each chase sequence is shot in the same formulaic tone that it rarely offers it from different levels of perspective to appreciate what a crew can do with a camera. There were several scenes that embraced the style of shooting Berry’s ridiculously cheesy facial expressions, then cut to the front of the car, then zoom out. Rinse, wash, repeat. It’s only impressive by its generic nature. In addition to this, there was a scene early on when the chase starts that is so ugly in depiction that I find it hard to believe that Ray Charles couldn’t have shot it better. It reminded me eerily of how you will watch a trailer and watch the cliche of everything fading to black scene after scene. That’s fine for a trailer, but when that happens in the movie that you pay hard earned money for, you’ve got a real problem. Thankfully, they only do this the once, but its soul appearance gives off the impression of a different editor who left the job early on.

Thankfully, Halle is a competent actress when it comes to giving it her all, as her performance was one of very few notable positives that I pulled from the movie. Aside from the goofy facials that I expressed about earlier, Berry commands Karla as a mentally unfurling force of one who refuses to ever give up when it comes to the thing she loves most in this world. On that sense, Karla feels like a character that many women will easily get behind, and Berry’s conscious effort behind it seals the deal for a protagonist who grows in doubles by the end of the film. I’ve always thought she was a solid actress, just accepts the leads in movie scripts that are well below her potential in terms of material. Don’t believe me? See “Gothika”, “Catwoman”, and “The Call”, the latter of which is essentially the same movie as “Kidnap”. Berry definitely deserved better antagonists for the film, because if the movie doesn’t even find them interesting enough to focus on until the final act, why should we as an audience?

THE VERDICT – “Kidnap” catches a flat tire of modest ambition early on, and then spins out of control by the end of the film, with stretched logic and lackluster consequence. Berry’s performance proves that she can still bring a tasty center to a meaty delivery, but unfortunately the miniscule scale here is what kept her abilities and the film alike, on the shelf for the past five months. This one steals our childlike dreams of ambition for hopes of an enjoyable hour-and-a-half, and never gives them back. Unlike Berry in the movie, I’m still in search of my time back.

4/10

The Case For Christ

The struggle for the true legitimacy of Christ becomes the constant battle for a tabloid reporter, in The Case For Christ. Based on the true story of an award-winning investigative journalist Lee Strobel (Mike Vogel) , an avowed atheist who applies his well-honed journalistic and legal skills to disprove the newfound Christian faith of his wife… with unexpected, life-altering results. What started as the easiest project that he claims to have ever taken, Lee soon finds himself coming to terms with the fact that everything that he has come to know might have been false, signaling a change in his life that has him living with his eyes wide open for the first time in his life. The Case For Christ is directed by Jon Gunn, and is rated PG for thematic elements including medical descriptions of crucifixion, and incidental smoking.

For a movie whose plot hinges on the importance of facts and disproving what simply isn’t proven, The Case For Christ has so very little actual facts to hang its sermon on. Make no mistakes about it, I don’t fault believers or atheists for their stances on the issue. Believe what you believe, and leave everybody else alone. My job as a critic is to grade the film for what it brings to the table for the argument. Unfortunately, this is another case of a religious movie taking its nearly two hour time table to narrate these long-winded diatribes about religion and how wrong atheists are, instead of crafting an entertaining movie that all can enjoy. I’m not foolish enough for one second to think that Christians and Catholics won’t enjoy this movie. If God is in the plot, it’s a pretty sure thing. The problem though, is that these films rarely open their arms to the uncertain members of the audience who live in the middle, often issuing a challenge in so many words of you’re either with us or you’re against us. That is my biggest problem with a majority of these movies; their alienating stance is near predictable from the get-go, and often leads you down a checklist of religious movie cliches that you can see coming from a mile away.

On the subject of some of those cliches, there are many here that kept popping up that kept me giggling like a schoolgirl. Of course there’s the obvious symbolic references; sunlight shining through the windows, illustrating a presence of God always watching his followers, crosses in the distance overlooking the disbelievers for the inevitability of their embrace of the almighty, and of course my favorite one of all; the atheist who is the biggest pig in the movie. Atheists in these movies are often given the cold shoulder long before they actually do something terrible. In God’s Not Dead, an atheist teacher gets into a car wreck and dies because he refuses to see the light. In Do You Believe? it was a divorce between a doctor and his wife because he didn’t believe. In The Case For Christ, we get an alcoholic reporter who refers to religion as “God Nonsense”. Because the answer can never be in the middle, we are often subjected to the worst in a Disney cartoon villain who can’t be a good person without the presence of religion in his life. If you can’t see the propaganda or ridiculousness behind this concept, then you won’t find anything faulty with the logic in this kind of film.

Maybe it’s story that you seek. In that case, The Case For Christ has so little of it, instead opting for a dual narrative that needs as much help to fill in the periods of downtime along the way. In addition to the God article, there’s a subplot that involves a police officer being shot by a black man, in which Lee does as much to convict the shooter as possible. As the film goes on, he finds out more-and-more that it was the cop who is hiding key details about that event, and the supposed shooter might be innocent. How this ties together is because Lee was living with his eyes closed, and that is the biggest push to Lee understanding the belief of God. This flimsy detail simply doesn’t belong in this story, and it’s only there to push the presence of an actual movie run time that would otherwise barely qualify as an after school special. The way that they tie it together in the final fifteen minutes is every bit as hokey as it is desperate, and the two plots often contrive one another, instead of building to a sum of greater parts. Because we all know where the finale is heading, there’s no point in hiding it; Lee does in fact become a believer. The problem is that this stance doesn’t feel like a steady transformation, but more of a beating down into submission so he and his family can return to being whole. There’s never that moment that should trigger his immense feeling of doubt, and without it this debate often feels like a draw, instead of a captivating verdict that can solidify the film’s existence.

I mentioned earlier that facts don’t play to many arguments in this movie, and that is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of The Case For Christ, not only in title but also in debate. Some of the tiers to the argument for are that over 500 witnesses saw Christ when he was resurrected. The movie conveniently ignores the fact that most of these witnesses were believers to begin with, and the lack of integrity within their own moral fiber rarely comes into question. There are also pieces of original bible pages and cloth from Christ that are shown, never once questioning the authenticity of their presence. I found out when I was 10 years old that my Dad was able to get Charles Barkley to autograph my birthday card, only later finding out that he was a master in forging signatures. My point is that without digging deeper this only solidifies how terrible of a reporter Lee is, and can easily be persuaded. In fact, it’s probably an appropriate measure that this movie does take place during the 70’s because a lot of what the movie calls facts have since been disproved by modern science with literally thousands of articles on the origin of this central figure. Interesting how that doesn’t come into play during this movie.

What does hold the movie up is a production quality that surprisingly accurately articulates the cultures and landscapes of the disco generation. Major props goes to the set designers who cast many colorful tributes to the days of hairspray oversaturation, as well as muscle cars and bell-bottom jeans that were all the craze. The movie does a solid job of capturing the essence of its respective decade, some imagery of Tootsie Blow Pop commercials, as well as a collection of 70’s rock ballads like ‘Carry on Wayward Son’ to compliment the montage scenes that orchestrate well to Lee’s quest. Speaking of musical accompanyment, the movie also has some scintilating tones composed by that of religious film composer mainstay Will Musser. Usually his scores are a bit meandering, but here he tunes at the essence of tabloid drama films like Spotlight and The Paper to command a piano driven synth that plays to that big budget presentation.

The Case For Christ doesn’t quite present the best case for religious supporters seeking a movie worthy of their faith. It’s a logic-lacking, jumpy narrative that often grasps at paper thin straws of circumstance to debate the doubters who have since debunked their theories and holes. Thankfully, there are some excelling aspects to the production qualities of the movie that reaches a little deeper into the Pureflix wallet than other films before it. Strobel would be better debating the hypocrisy of different films uttering the same stances. At least then we might get somewhere with giving these movies a fresh direction.

4/10

Smurfs: The Lost Village

The blue forrest dwellers are back, this time in search of a mystic village that beholds an ancient secret. Smurfs: The Lost Village revolves around a mysterious map that sets Smurfette (Demi Lovato) and her best friends Brainy (Danny Pudi), Clumsy (Jack McBrayer) and Hefty (Joe Mangianello) on an exciting and thrilling race through the Forbidden Forest filled with magical creatures to find a mysterious lost village inhabited by the evil wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson). Embarking on a rollercoaster journey full of action and danger, the Smurfs are on a course that leads to the discovery of the biggest secret in Smurf history. Smurfs: The Lost Village is directed by Kelly Asbury, and is rated PG for some mild action and rude humor.

The Lost Village feels like a re-introduction of sorts to the blue elf-like creatures that embraced the imagination in all of our childhoods. It’s not a remake, nor a sequel to the two live action children’s movies that came before it, but it treats the audience with some intelligence considering this is anything but an origin story. On the subject of those two films that came before it, The Lost Village is a MUCH better improvement, shuffling out the cringe-worthy of live action celebrities doing career-ending things, for the colorful animation of this eye-popping world. There are definitely problems not only to the canvas, but to that of the screenplay itself, which leaves as little as a lasting impact that can be imagined, but at 85 minutes, it’s harmless enough to leave you without many lasting memories of that one time you had to see a third Smurfs movie that left you cursing when coming out of the theater. This is a kids movie first, and Asbury knows such, immersing the youthful audience to wacky noises and visuals sight gags that will treat them to a good time even when Mom and Dad are checking their smartphones to reply to their latest text message.

What is refreshing about this story is that it takes a modern approach of sorts in slapping Smurfette with the honors of being the central protagonist, a concept that up until now felt like a distant fantasy to anybody who knows of the male dominated backdrop that makes up these tales. There’s something commanding about this feminist approach in depiction that speaks volumes to the revolution happening within our own world. Unfortunately, the women in the audience deserved a more eventful, albeit unpredictable concept deep within this picture. When children’s movies these days are catering to a more extensive audience, The Lost Village stays juvenile with desperate physical humor, as well as tired puns that constantly keep missing their mark with each passing second. This is a Smurfs movie, so nobody is expecting shakespeare in terms of dialogue, but some of the exchanges in this film felt very distracting to the event-by-event narration that was happening before our very eyes. These are conversations that can easily be edited or trimmed with a screenwriter who believes less is more, and there were so many of these long-winded scenarios that took me out on more than one occasion. Beyond this, everything is predictable. There wasn’t one remote shock or awe within the film that ever kept me remotely guessing. The secret within this lost village is one that kind of goes without saying, and its setup feels on more than one occasion like a cheap porno setting that at least brought a giggle or two out of me. Early on, you realize that this is the kind of movie where you can take a quick 30 minute power nap, wake up, and realize you could still follow along with precision at how very little impact or weightless gravity that this film really has. Predictability makes the most difficult straw in attention-grabbing, and on that scale The Lost Village more so than not lives up to its clever title.

The material in comedy did get me a couple of times early on in the opening act, but soon feels contempt to phone it in with more of the same along the journey. Smurf puns are the most God-awful thing to this critic, and this film certainly has no shortage of them, spouting off line-after-line of filling in the blank with the word ‘Smurf’. Because this is a kids movie first and foremost, the funny bone of this movie relies heavily on what you see and less on what you hear, signaling how little emphasis rests with clever dialogue they really have. The off-beat personalities within the group are enjoyable even if their actual character is repeatedly one-dimensional. I did enjoy Gargamel’s constant ribbing with his cat that showcased the sidekick clearly being smarter than the leader. It seems like this is the aspect of the movie that is one step smarter than the rest of the movie, poking fun at the age old cartoon that had more than one ridiculous aspect to this tier.

The animation was a little off-beat, despite some colorful palate choices that frequently stand out. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of beauty in this Smurf village, which is depicted in high definition animation for the first time in the 21st century. The vibrant tapestry sets a bar of rainbow-like imagination that has only recently been touched by last year’s Trolls. My problem is more in the definition of the animated renderings. To me, it feels like the production team sacrificed fluid movements and layering for blotches of paint that do their best but don’t fully succeed at hiding the problems that I mentioned. The scenes in the laboratory of Gargamel scream of a Dexter’s Laboratory meets Johnny Bravo style of animation from the late 20th century that we are simply too advanced for at this stage. There’s so much about the textures that scream of a Saturday morning cartoon, and this left me scrambling for big-screen definition in an otherwise small game that plagued the visual specter of the movie.

The celebrity cast do a fine job of radiating these personalities to life with some voice acting that triumphs in a who’s who of audible syncing. But the real amazement will come when you see this complete list of heralded actors and actresses who voiced the supporting cast. I will not spoil it. You will have to check it out for yourself. Lovato clearly has the biggest ambition with her character, and the soundtrack of a couple of her songs are more than enough to communicate that this is first and foremost her yard. Demi’s sweet soprano-esque levels brought Smurfette to a place of emotional clarity that we have rarely seen from her character. Jack McBrayer is possibly my favorite of the movie as Clumsy however, despite the stealing of two scenes by director himself Kelly Asbury as Nosey that constantly brought smiles to my face in brief delivery. McBrayer though, is most known for his flamboyant vocal tones that really emote that of a cartoon character. Look no further because he is a delightful injection of off-the-wall humor, as well as spunk in personality that cements him among the all-time greats of actors who have lent their voices to these infamous blue rascals.

Smurfs: The Lost Village isn’t quite to the level of animated films that adults and their children can embrace alike, nor is it consistently entertaining to the value of constant re-watches. But Asbury delivers at illustrating a world of wonderment, as well as a brief, predictable story that should keep the attention of kids for an hour-and-a-half while Mommy and Daddy get some housework done. This franchise still has a long way to go to reach the levels that it deserves, but it left me feeling slightly better than the two live action disasters before it that (Like the characters) left me blue.

4/10

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