47 Meters Down: Uncaged

Directed By Johannes Roberts

Starring – Sophie Nelisse, Corinne Foxx, Brianne Tju

The Plot – The film follows the diving adventure of four teenage girls (Nélisse, Foxx, Tju and Sistine Stallone) exploring a submerged Mayan City. Once inside, their rush of excitement turns into a jolt of terror as they discover the sunken ruins are a hunting ground for deadly Great White Sharks. With their air supply steadily dwindling, the friends must navigate the underwater labyrinth of claustrophobic caves and eerie tunnels in search of a way out of their watery hell.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense peril, bloody images, and brief strong language

POSITIVES

– Storytelling attempt. In comparing the two films from this franchise, I give this one the slight edge because of the attempt at world building from below, which gives the setting a bit more depth than the spontaneity of the first film. Throughout the first half of the movie, we are given tidbits of information about this Mayan city that came undone once the surrounding waters submerged their once peaceful homes, leaving thousands to drown in suffering. Not only is this a creepily documented setting, but it’s also one that sets an already established level of suffering within the history that plagues the area, setting the stage accordingly for the perfect showdown with our predators. As to where the first movie was entirely in a cage, this film’s volume in space to constantly elevate scenario’s is one that pays off immensely for where the visual storytelling needs to pace itself through in 84 minutes of screen time.

– Proper lighting. Another cured aspect from the clumsy production of the first movie was the addition to arm these girls with flashlights to better explain why there’s so much lighting in an area so dark and deep beneath the sea, and while this still doesn’t explain the green glow that follows the girls everywhere, it is at least attempting to explain its own careless flaws. Likewise, the blood effect on the flashlights, while nothing new to underwater cinema, crafts a reddish tint that gives candid reminder of our protagonists being in the environment of the blood-hungry. Aside from this, it also maximizes the tension during chase sequences, that make it slightly more difficult for the ladies to see, which in turn leads to some pretty intense jump scares in the form of some well-chosen P.O.V angle lenses.

– Continuity in direction. Roberts returns once again to helm the sequel, and in addition to all of the gifts that I previously mentioned, it’s his amplification for traumatic events that proves he’s grown in such a short time. “Uncaged” isn’t just paced better than the original film, but it’s also one that knows exactly what kind of a movie it should be, instilling a sense of light cheese to the character’s and dialogue, that emit the fun from summertime cinema. Beyond this, it’s his collaboration again with musical composers TomandAndy that brings forth this air of anxiety-riddled panic that echoes so vibrantly in their ominous tones. Beyond just a vibrating musical score however, the film also uses some of its budget to sample popular songs like Roxette’s “She’s Got the Look”, as well as “We’ve Only Just Begun” by The Carpenters, to give the scenes a cool factor of humanity that better grounds it in reality.

– Fresh-faced cast. The performances aren’t anything special in the scream queen capacity, but it’s still interesting that two of these women are the daughters of Jamie Foxx and Sylvester Stallone, respectively. What these four ladies lack in audible blessings, they more than make up for in dramatic depth, properly channeling the intensity and vulnerability associated with such a traumatic experience. I certainly liked them more than Mandy Moore’s incessant rambling in repetition during the first film, and I only wish the exposition would do them a favor in rendering them a little smoother backstories, particularly that of Nelisse and Foxx, who play step-sisters. Even still, for mostly first time starring roles, these ladies have a presence in personalities that make them easier to accept the longer the movie progresses.

NEGATIVES

– Rating limitations. Aside from the already jumbled camera work in such a crowded space, the PG-13 material clearly limits death sequences and depicting thrills in such that makes them virtually bloodless. With the exception of the final five minutes of the movie, which is easily the climax for the whole movie, the blood is used as more of a lighting trick that I previously mentioned, instead of wounds on an open spicet of human flesh. You don’t really see anything of detail except for a quick swim-by grab that happens far too often. For my money, the death scenes are what makes a shark movie great, and “Uncaged” has nothing of originality or artistic value to sell its violence to hardcore audiences.

– Things that don’t add up. As is the case with the first movie, this one as well has no shortage of head scratching moments that made it difficult to swallow. The first is the oxygen tank, which loses 70% of its stock in a ten minute swim down to the Mayan city, yet only loses 25% for the last 65 minutes of the movie. There’s also a scene near the beginning where the girls drop their purces on the edge of a cliff to jump down, yet their phones and things are with them in the next scene. If they jumped down into the water, where did they hide it that allowed the objects not to get wet? There’s also the convenience of them finding scuba gear from a company that is just sitting on a raft where anyone could steal it, and thank God the four chests just so happened to feature wetsuits that were precicely the sizes of the ladies in tow. There’s also a scene where a huge stone pillar underwater gets knocked over by a human character being shoved into it, and the law of gravity underwater starts to weigh heavily when already heavy objects are placed underwater to give them more weight, are so easy to move. There are many more, but I think I’ve made my point.

– Horrendous A.D.R. The post production in audio is arguably the single worst aspect of this movie, offering a slew of unintentionally comic situations of which there are no shortage of. Character’s being heard audibly without their mouths moving, mouth movements not matching what is being heard aloud, and such clumsy stitching in audio deposits that you can practically hear the edit button being clicked before the pasting fixed a horrible line read. This is where Hollywood Studios really shows its inferior product the most obviously, as the noticeable flaws start to add up in ways that took me out of nearly every scene, and constantly reminded me of post production, which always overstepped its boundaries on the integrity of the picture.

– Predictable. Once you understand the outlines of the characters in the opening ten minutes of the movie, it’s easy to understand who will survive this chapter of the franchise. For me, I made a prediction five minutes into the film, stuck with it for the entirety, and was a hundred percent accurate by the end of the film. I commend the production for giving us more character’s in this movie to obviously throw at the shark, but 90% of them are nothing more than body count padding, making what little screen time they have a temporary borrowing before the air of inevitability catches up to them. I was also bothered by how late the movie waits to start getting rid of them, making the last half hour feel like a catching up period for how common it repeats as opposed to the previous hour that came before it.

– Uninspired C.G. If you thought the sharks looked lifeless in the first movie, the second ones noticeable drop-off comes in the form of computer generation that made the sharks look like something out of an Asylum or Syfy channel movie of the week. The movements of them aren’t so bad, really just the design and texture that doesn’t replicate vibration movements or gills believably enough so that their incorporation adds weight to the dimensions of the scene. These sharks look so weakly manufactured that I started calling them zombie sharks, for the way they look like someone already harpooned them, stuffed them, hung them on their wall, and brought them back to life Jason Voorhees style. Truly unappealing in every definition of the word.

– One dimensional characters. I mentioned this earlier, so I should elaborate on it. Beyond the two sisters who are polar opposites in the high school popularity factory, there is absolutely no complexion given to any character in this film, which in turn makes it more difficult to buy into their conflicts and conversations. Because this is a movie that features a high school for a scene, we have to have a group of mean girl bullies, whose soul intention towards the film is to be completely rude for no reason what so ever. The protagonists are nothing different, as the two additional girls who join our sisters on the expedition are nothing more than stereotypes. I seriously couldn’t make a list of three things between them that I learned about them, despite spending so much time on-screen with them, and it’s a testament that this is a movie that doesn’t value character importance in the slightest.

My Grade: 4/10 or D+

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Directed By Richard Linklater

Starring – Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig

The Plot – Based on the runaway bestseller, the film is an inspiring comedy about Bernadette Fox (Blanchett), a loving mom who becomes compelled to reconnect with her creative passions after years of sacrificing herself for her family. Bernadette’s leap of faith takes her on an epic adventure that jump-starts her life and leads to her triumphant rediscovery.

Rated PG-13 for some strong adult language and drug material

POSITIVES

– Gorgeous scenic shots. If Linklater was able to capture anything in this mess of a film, it’s in the gorgeous backdrops and exotic landscapes that are all filmed on location, without a single ounce of computer generation in their rendering. Antarctica is immensely gorgeous, and the way Richard weaves his way in and out of caves, over cliffs and crystal clear water, and establishes a rich vibe of isolation around us, gives importance to the feat that Bernadette has attained. In addition to this, the main setting of Seattle is beautifully rendered, preserving a psychological pulse in visuals in the form of rainy weather and rotting houses, that tell us everything about the character’s controversial move, and what it meant to her career. This is visual storytelling at its finest, and Linklater, a master of the lens, seduces us again with a variety in presentation that constantly keeps raising the stakes.

– Surprising cameos. A name as big as Linklater certainly comes with credible A-list drop-in’s, and the ones in “Bernadette” feel endless because of how even halfway through the movie they keep on coming. I won’t spoil any of the names here, but you would do yourself a huge favor if you kept away from IMDB or any other sites where they summarize the entirety of casts. For my money, the many icons of comedy who speak on Bernadette’s wisdom as an architect, in particularly one “John Wick” alum added the strongest presence to the main cast, and illustrated an outline of the genius before she became jaded by a conventional home life.

– One woman thunderstorm. Thank the movie gods for Cate Blanchett, because without her whirlwind of depth to the psychological pulse of the title character, we would otherwise be left with a series of performances that feel too wooden and forced to be believable. What works for Blanchett is the complexity, in that she’s really juggling two characters for the price of one. When we are introduced to her, we see the claustrophobia and overall smothering of a life that weighed this woman down in the most shape-shifting manner, and it makes it easier and satisfying to see the transformation that grows from that once she disappears. Blanchett constantly feels on the verge of tears, wrapped in a ball of anxiety from everything from a disrespectful neighbor to a marriage that is falling apart at the seams. It gives her this frail encompassing that matches the small bits of exposition deposits, like endless pill bottles, that we’ve come to know about the character, and cements another show-stealing performance from one of Hollywood’s biggest names going today.

– Cool post movie credits. Be sure to stay after the movie, as we get an informative and artistic rendering for the way first draft sketches come to life for architecture. Anyone who isn’t involved in the craft will find value from this, as it’s not only cool to see how even the most miniscule detail is captured, but also how the vision of the sketch becomes fully realized once everything is finished. What compliments this wonderfully are some fast-forward sequencing movements that slowly allows the drawing to fade away, and the building itself to come to life in a seamless transition. Audibly echoed by the sounds of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”, the sequence is art imitating life in the form of Bernadette’s sketches, that preserve her passion in ways that show us her genius up front.

NEGATIVES

– False advertising. Considering this movie is marketed as an adventure comedy, the movie I actually got completely pulled the rug of expectations from under me in the worst possible way, and left me with this sluggish melodrama that never earned a single ounce of empathy from me. On a tonal capacity, this film feels like three different writers got in a room, and each plead their case, so the movie decided to keep the best parts of each. This not only undercuts the consistency of dramatic impact, but it also often contradicts its own direction with scenes of chaotic mayhem, that you can’t help but laugh at the sheer lunacy of it all. By the midway point, I completely checked out of this film because the sharp turns of a film trying to attain far too much tonally became as exhausting to mentally as it was physically to the title character.

– Plotless. For the first hour of this film, there is nothing in the way of conflict or resolution to feed into the plot that I described up top. In fact, the plot itself doesn’t even materialize until there is a half hour left in the movie, and even then the slashing of this film that sat on the shelf for over a year limits the pull of its mystery by trimming the run time. This film’s run time went from 130 minutes in the first draft that was supposed to release in March, and is now a 99 minute shell of its former self, and especially during Bernadette’s long distance journey, we never get to feel the conquering of her anxiety at sea, so the payoff is relatively unfulfilled.

– Halts progress. Every time the film starts to gain even a shred of momentum, the screenplay sharply brakes on these internet video sequences where we get lazy exposition in the form of former colleagues of Berndette speaking of her brilliance. These inserts aren’t quick by any stretch of the imagination, pausing the current day narrative for five minutes at a time to fill in the gaps where the original script before hacking certainly explained easier. It does this two times, and what’s even more concerning is that nothing included certainly isn’t anything that couldn’t be explained in passing conversations between Bernadette and her husband, or one scene in particular where a former colleague already on the tape finds her, and the two share a lengthy scene discussing her new life in Seattle.

– Detestable characters. Bernadette is certainly no peach, but neither is Wiig’s neighbor character. For the first half of the movie, these are the two sides that you have to choose from, and the movie’s begging for empathy between two upper class rude snobs isn’t made any better by the film’s second half, which proves how inconsequential everything prior really was. For the second half, we are still introducing new characters in the Arctic, and what doesn’t work about this late introduction is that the people described only serve as a convenient plot device to all but conveniently feed Bernadette her next spoonful of inspiration to get her over the hump. If a film lacks compelling character’s, it will be the hardest sell ever to me, and “Bernadette” never provides a side that any logical audience member can reason with, establishing a state of mind for Seattle that apparently breeds assholes. Why is this a best-seller again?

– Cheap plot device. This is a strange one because there’s a subplot introduced midway through the movie that has to do with fraud, and the way the script handles this horror story layering gave me more questions than the answers I was providing. For one, it inspired Bernadette to keep the architect mentality brewing, so why even head in this completely out of left field direction? For two, it wraps up in a way that is every bit as inconsequential as it is convenient in its resolution, providing no long lasting impact for why it was even incorporated in the first place. This subplot is never mentioned again once it is handled, so the way it introduces a conflict, and then handles it within ten minutes of one another is truly mind-numbing for the lack of weight it instills long-term.

– Strange pacing. For the first two acts of the movie, the unnecessary inclusion of some subplots stretch out the body’s movement in a way that makes the first hour feel twice of that, before the central plot even materializes. When it does, the film then rushes through the inspiring parts in a way that diminishes the meaning of the message, all the while illustrating two very sharp opposite directions in pacing that tested what little investment I already had in the movie. The obvious answer is the slashing that was done in the second post production that this movie went through, but I felt like the film tried to overly incorporate far too many aspects of the book that don’t translate well to the screen, without it ever finding its own voice of originality to not feel constrained by novel enthusiasts.

My Grade: 4/10 or D

Anna

Directed By Luc Besson

Starring – Sasha Luss, Helen Mirren, Luke Evans

The Plot – Beneath Anna Poliatova’s (Luss) striking beauty lies a secret that will unleash her indelible strength and skill to become one of the world’s most feared government assassins.

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

POSITIVES

– Intriguing protagonist. What casts Anna aside from other Russian spy thriller heroines like “Atomic Blonde” or “Red Sparrow” is her vulnerability, which outlines a strong reservoir of empathy for the character that you can’t help but invest in. This is very much a movie that tells Anna’s complete evolution from frail Russian con artist to ass-kicking secret weapon for two respective groups of country intelligence, and along the way it manages to thoroughly document Anna’s jaded disposition in her search for freedom, giving the goal in question a constant reiterating of reminder to never lose focus. Anna is anything but a robotic superwoman who walks through scenes of bullet-riddled delivery, she’s an everyday girl who wants what everyone searches for: love, wealth, and especially freedom.

– Besson’s best. It’s clear that Besson has come a long way in his search for action perfection, and while this film has a lot of problems on the whole, the action sequences couldn’t fit better for a man who has dedicated his entire filmography to the genre. The editing is patient, the fight choreography is every bit believable as it is crisp with next fighter transition, and the angles used to depict everything are far enough back to cast believability and telegraphing to each sequence. In addition to this, the violence at times can be completely unforgiving, supplanting enough blood and brutality to cement its non-relenting nature in material. If very little else, see this film for the way Besson puts us in the heat of the environment without sacrificing the integrity for compromising visuals.

– Soundtrack as a gimmick. What surprised me greatly about the film’s musical incorporation was two fold. The first is the collection of disco-pop favorites that add a dimension of personality to the film’s grisly violence, and the second is the selections themselves that surprisingly fit appropriately enough into the dynamic of the storytelling progression. Tracks like INXS “Need You Tonight”, “She Drives Me Crazy” by Fine Young Cannibals, and “Pump Up The Jam” by Technotronic highlight a summary of toe-tapping tributes to the film’s timeless age setting, touching into the very pulse of Russian nightlife, where top 40 favorites have a never-ending shelf life.

– Deep, versatile cast. Luss is a star in the making. Through a combination of speed, strength, and beauty, it’s easy to understand why she is a dangerous threat to her male opposition, but it’s Sasha’s emoting delivery that made her so much more than just a pretty face, fleshing out the character in a way that evolves as the betrayals against her do. Also in tow is superb performances from Luke Evans, Cillian Murphy, and especially Helen Mirren as this dry-witted imposing head of the KGB, who steals every scene she’s in with her wet blanket of negativity. The summarized cast certainly elevates the material here, and the constant professionalism by actors who are definitely better than the job they’ve accepted brings forth unabashed energy in their deliveries that go a long way to opening up their otherwise cryptic characters.

NEGATIVES

– Non-linear storytelling. Again we have another film where we have about thirty minutes of actual fluid real time storytelling, and 90 minutes of rewind scenes that are used to reveal something about the scene in current day that we wouldn’t of otherwise known. This gimmick is used far too often, stalling the pacing to dangerous levels of wanning interest that makes this film overcomplicate these valued scenes of character exposition. It gets so ridiculous at one point that we have a flashback during a flashback just to show Anna playing chess as a child, and does itself zero favors in returning to the modern day narrative that the film spends so much time (Especially during the first act) teasing us with. For my money, I would’ve used this gimmick once or twice, but anything more convolutes what is essentially a naturally easy story to tell.

– Predictable. In addition to the gimmick that I previously mentioned, another negative aspect that stems from it is too many predictable instances of twists designed to shock and awe the audience. Again, the gimmick is used far too often for anything shocking to feel remotely believable, and just like a coach who telegraphs an opposing team’s plays, I too found myself predicting the pulling of the rug that was about as elaborate as a trap designed by Wyle E. Coyote. This is especially the case with a late third act shock that asks us to believe in something that happens before our very eyes when the rest of the film reminded us how stupid we are for doing the exact same. It leaves very little meat of amazement on the bone of expectation, and has us the audience biding our time until the other shoe drops….like it always does.

– Too long a run time. 112 minutes might not sound like too big of an audience investment, but to a story that rewinds time so often and so repetitive over the exact same scene, the film feels strained to say the least. If this story played out consistently in real time, you could trim at least twenty minutes of that time, and maybe use it to further enhance character dynamics, like the one between Luss and Murphy that feels a bit rushed compared to the one between Luss and Evans. The worst area is definitely during the first act, where the combination of abrupt rewinding and lack of action influence compromise the film’s initial first steps in a way that will scare off audiences almost immediately. Russian spy thrillers, at least modern ones, are typically always filled with sluggish pacing, but “Anna” at times feels like a series of scattered ideas where not all of them sync up accordingly, and it leads to an uneven feeling of emptiness for the film’s first half compared to the superior second.

– Sexual objectification. I’m not a spaz. I know that it takes good looking women to sell a movie like this, but the film’s hypocritical stance when it comes to polarizing photographers for the way women are objectified, and then turning around and focusing on Sasha’s body with these intimate and alluring angles that commit the same crimes it is preaching so evidently against. In addition to this, there are four different sex scenes throughout the film. That’s a sex scene every 25 minutes on average, and could be considered overkill for a film so invested in female strength. One could argue that the sexual nature is used as a weapon for Anna, but there’s no denying that the frequent nudity and multiple sex partners might be unnecessary in hammering this point home, especially considering Besson’s own real life rape accusations with as many as five actresses that have earned him no respect from this critic.

– Lack of urgency. One aspect that “Red Sparrow” did especially better than this film was this sense of dread and paranoia that resonated so frequently within this dangerous group remaining firmly on her heels, and despite the stakes feeling twice as big for a movie like “Anna”, the script’s inability to ever properly channel her disposition is something that feels like an edge-of-the-seat missed opportunity for a film seeking the proper climatic anxiety to energize the film’s ambitious run time. Examples of this happen during scenes where the KGB have surveillance on Anna, then in the next scene we’re asked to believe that they don’t in something as practical as a hotel room. With some further prodding into Anna’s psychology the urgency could’ve flowed like champagne, and the audience investment would double because of such.

– What style? This is big especially with “Atomic Blonde”, a film so rich with 80’s neon aesthetic for the many club scenes that it felt authentic to the particular time frame. In “Anna”, no such thing exists, as this conventionally bland style of cinematography that have rubbed so many of Besson’s films together remains as persistent as ever in this film. Aside from the many mentions of where we are, as well as the hokey Russian accents, there’s no sense of geographical distinction in the abstract nature that is the film’s style, leaving too much opportunity left to visually seduce us in the same way that Anna does her prey. Much of the film has this cheap aura to it that kind of exists without establishing an identity for itself, and for an action film particularly, a lack of overall conscience remains especially devastating to the sleek camera movements inside of the action.

My Grade: 4/10 or D

Shaft

Directed By Tim Story

Starring – Samuel L. Jackson, Jesse T. Usher, Richard Roundtree

The Plot – JJ, aka John Shaft Jr. (Usher), may be a cyber security expert with a degree from MIT, but to uncover the truth behind his best friend’s untimely death, he needs an education only his dad can provide. Absent throughout JJ’s youth, the legendary locked-and-loaded John Shaft (Jackson) agrees to help his progeny navigate Harlem’s heroin-infested underbelly. And while JJ’s own FBI analyst’s badge may clash with his dad’s trademark leather coat, there’s no denying family. Besides, Shaft’s got an agenda of his own, and a score to settle that’s professional and personal.

Rated R for pervasive language, violence, sexual content, some drug material and brief nudity

POSITIVES

– R-rated humor. This is the only aspect of the film where the material feels reminiscent to that of the 1970’s origin story, with a rating designation that gives the gags zero boundaries in terms of what it can rightfully access. From this advantage, much of the actors, especially that of Jackson, feels like they are quipping it up and having fun with the spoofing nature of espionage films that often times take themselves far too seriously, and it brought forth a barrage of laughs for me personally that landed around 60% of the time. For my money, the dynamic between gun-heavy father and tech-savy son garners the film’s biggest means for comparison, and brings forth plenty of audience reactions when the two are contrasted side-by-side.

– Slamming soundtrack. Both sides of the musical spectrum, with the intoxicating musical score from composer Christopher Lennertz, as well as the 70’s heavy influence of soul groove R&B, move mountains in their abilities to emit this feeling of fun in the atmosphere that the screenplay often has difficulty replicating, and establishes the importance of a particular track for the perfect feeling within the moment. Aside from the legendary Shaft theme composed by Isaac Hayes, that pops up at the most opportune times in the film, the soundtrack includes a variety of decade heavy favorites like “Get Up Off of That Thing” by James Brown, “Mary Jane” by Rick James, and “Best of My Love” by The Emotions. Each are articulated in their own unique imagining to what is transpiring around it, and each go far beyond the topical sense in mastering why it feels so essential to these sequences.

– Performances. Jackson is easily the highlight of the film for me, gaining the ability to delve into the blacksploitation icon that is John Shaft one more time, and while I feel like his performance feels more like Samuel L. Jackson instead of Shaft, the results are indulging enough to remind us why he is still one of the most charismatic actors working today. The chemistry between he and Usher do effectively balance the feeling of father and son without it ever feeling condemning to the character, and Jackson’s unfazed confidence and super cool swagger puts the age debate on hold at every opportunity given to prove himself once more. Also solid was Regina Hall as the estranged mother of his son. These two are given many scenes to bounce accordingly off of each other, and it leads to a delightfully sinister war of words that still hints at some love beating just beneath the surface.

– A love letter to New York. Setting is especially essential in the world of John Shaft, and this newest film wastes no time in immersing us in the heat of the environment, with some establishing shots that puts us at the pulse of the big apple. In a sense, New York itself is a character in the movie, and what proves this idea is the way that the city imagery or skyline finds its way into nearly every shot that our characters move in and out of frame with, establishing great weight in setting to the film’s conscience that makes it difficult to ever forget. Why this matters so much is because John Shaft is New York and vice versa, and this reflection makes it easier to comprehend why he holds such an advantage over every single one of his opposition, casting an inevitable feeling of doom that practically taps them on the shoulder and reminds them that this bad mother (SHUT YOUR MOUTH) is coming to right the wrongs.

NEGATIVES

– Easily forgettable. I have nothing personal against Tim Story as a director, but “Shaft” is a constant reminder of why there’s nothing poignant or elusive about his films that make any studio seek him out. This movie gives us nothing new or refreshing in idealism to counteract the tropes and cliches that are practically around every corner in this movie, and balance absolutely no level of urgency to compliment even a shred of dramatic heft to such dangerous stakes. Story’s movements behind the lens are every bit as conventionally bland as they are redundant in evolution, giving away an opportunity in crafting this beautiful hybrid of 70’s grainy visuals with 2019 technology that the film so desperately required in creating even a shred of anything that makes it stand out visually from its 2000 original chapter, or even its 70’s blacksploitation films, which are somehow more alluring than this film.

– Uninspired. Speaking of those 70’s Blacksploitation films, the lack of influence of them in this film wipes away any opportunity for the film to truly capture the atmosphere needed to fully sell its tone or ridiculousness of its title character. I wish films today would experiment more with hokey sound effects or even jumpy editing that could occasionally repeat. The only thing that has come close recently is Quentin Tarrantino’s work in “Death Proof”, and it’s unfortunate that with so much of these aspects of style and scintillation of visual seduction being lost, we fail to properly identify with what kind of film this is accurately trying to convey. With more fun in the film’s cinematography, the production could’ve gained much needed word of mouth to put the butts in the seats, but instead we’re left with a watered down finished product that doesn’t even measure up to the 2000 version in terms of experimentation.

– Hypocritical. Making a John Shaft movie in 2019 is anything but easy. He’s a well known masoganistic character who doesn’t age well with today’s shift in political or entertainment stratospheres, and while the film does attempt to poke fun and outline everything wrong with John’s idealism within his profession, the results are anything but convincing that it’s fully on-board with growing with the times. For one, there’s a subplot involving an Islam group that is of course played for terrorism throughout the film, yet earlier in the first act the same movie mentioned how its cops are anything but racist when it comes to Islam characters. As I said, it says this, and then commits the very same problem that its commentary mentions. Then there’s the female thing with how it portrays women within this world, with a female character mentioning how she’s a real woman, implying she’s too smart to fall into traps, and then she falls into a trap that gets her kidnapped. As usual, the female is the damsel in distress who is only there to kiss the hero at the end, and is another shining example of why this series has come under much controversy within a world that has aged without it. Whether you support this stance or not, some change and surprise is good in films like these, because predictability is the last thing you want in a movie that is a modern day crime noir of sorts.

– Weak antagonists. Second straight review I have mentioned this, and it’s clear that Hollywood doesn’t value what a meaningful villain brings to the psychology of a jaded hero. As is the case with this film, where we get a mystery so easily telegraphed and full of decades old cliches in set-up that the movie practically tells us in the first act. In addition to this, the dialogue within this group feels so unnaturally unnerving that you can practically see the lines within the pages of script that they were typed on. It’s really bad in a movie when the more that a villain talks, the less human they become, and if Shaft was given a villain who felt like anything other than a generic time-filler, then we would see a side of adversity for him to overcome, which would not only feel beneficial to the character’s personal growth but also to us the audience, who would feel more invested in the ways that Shaft must adapt to overcome them.

– By the numbers action sequences. There is nothing of style, substance, or complexity to the film’s action set pieces, which constantly feel like a remote speed bump on the way to more overstuffed exposition between Father and Son. This is Shaft, right? The man who is action first when it comes to his conflicts. Instead, the action sequences are so bland and ineffective in terms of piercing anything eye-catching to us the audience, who are forced to endure sequence after sequence of mundane ammunition exchanges without even a slight hint of creative depth to sell them along the way. One example is in “Deadpool”, a movie with around the same budget as “Shaft”, but uses visual numbers on the bullets fired to articulate to its audience how many shots are left in the merk’s chamber. This is just one example, but something like a Shaft movie should never have problems selling its creativity, but instead it’s just another example of why Story was the wrong man in channeling a new vision for a legendary icon of the ACTION-first spectrum.

– Weak characterization. This is especially prominent with the youthful characters within the movie, who weren’t engaging even in the slightest to this critic. Most of the reason for this is the way they are presented, with John Shaft Jr being so much of an opposite compared to the parental figure we all know and love. We are forced to spend a majority of our time with this character, as he is our visual narrator of sorts, and there’s nothing even slightly intriguing or confirming about his character. We are told frequently throughout that he is this computer genius, but we never get to see this at work besides typical fast-typing that is prominent in every film involving a computer genius. Likewise, his romantic interest (Played by the immensely talented Alexandra Shipp) has these sudden attitude shifts that almost entirely compromise her character set-up as this sweetheart of a girl who has always stood by Junior regardless. She overly dislikes certain characters without even knowing a shred of the backstory behind it, and is depicted as nothing more than the damsel that I mentioned a few paragraphs ago. Weak characters like these diminish positive returns each time Jackson is given a brief break from screen time.

My Grade: 4/10 or D-

Aladdin

Directed By Guy Ritchie

Starring – Naomi Scott, Will Smith, Mena Massoud

The Plot – A street rat (Massoud) frees a genie (Smith) from a lamp, granting all of his wishes and transforming himself into a charming prince in order to marry a beautiful princess (Scott). But soon, an evil sorcerer (Marwan Kenzari) becomes hell-bent on securing the lamp for his own sinister purposes.

Rated PG for some action/peril

POSITIVES

– Vibrant production design. The essence of the Middle East is represented fruitlessly in the combination of flowing gowns and colorful set pieces that convey a Bollywood kind of production for the mainstream audience, and offer a bold presentation to bring forth through the live action transition. In fact, the sizzling flavor that continuously envelopes itself around this movie is visually unlike anything that Disney has produced to this point, and stands alone as the one chance that this film took in an otherwise calming sea of conventional renderings that sticks far too close to its animated original. In the visuals absorbing the atmosphere of the film, we get a visual translation too expressive not to indulge in, and the fiery texture of each property continuously commands attention to this fictional place, in that we wish it were real if only for one day.

– Will Smith’s Genie. Considering all of the controversy surrounding this role, it’s amazing that it turned out as well as it did. When the script isn’t trying to mold him into being Robin Williams flashy pizzazz Genie, Smith succeeds at maintaining the sharp velocity of the tongue that constantly keeps his co-stars in check, and for a brief glimpse offers something experimental to what we expected. Smith’s comic landing power hits about 50% from the field for me, and nailed about double that for my interest in the film, which only grew whenever his big screen presence invaded each frame and instilled a positive energy that kept you glued to the familiarity of it all. This definitely isn’t a paycheck film for Smith, and thanks to the excitement and prestige that he brings to the role, we get a shadow that is nearly equally imposing as Williams presence was to the 1992 original.

– Soundtrack of hits. Despite knowing everything that’s to come from Brad Kane, Bruce Adler, and Danny Troob’s original classic collection of time-cherished songs, the inclusion of hip-hop inspired beats and Bollywood dance production gave new life to these familiar audible beats of story narration, and led to infectious moments of delight when even the toughest critic could be won over. The dance choreography is sharp and boisterous with each continuous frame, and song chorus’s are stretched and bent in a way that experiments with a fresh take for the song, that I wish remakes like “Beauty and the Beast” or “Cinderella” would’ve experimented a bit more with. As to where “A Whole New World” was my favorite song from the 92 original, the slow build to a roaring kettle of “Prince Ali” takes the cake for me in this film, and especially stands out because of Smith’s cool demeanor that plays so seamlessly into the pulse of the background beat.

– Progressive with a positive P. I won’t spoil anything, but I took great merit in how this film invests further in Princess Jasmine, not only with a noticeable increase in screen time as opposed to how limited she feels in the original movie, but also in the evolution of her character, which successfully lands a surprise twist in the final minutes of the movie that I audibly commended. Disney has definitely been opening up their horizons with little girls in the audience who are looking for a character to dream themselves into, and thanks to the movie’s way of rewarding her with power both in a narrative perspective, as well as a closer split between screen time with her title co-star, the film creators bridge the gap wonderfully in priding them along, and manufacture a sense of female empowerment within the story that garners something new without it feeling like a distraction (See Captain Marvel)

NEGATIVES

– Uninspired C.G. I was less than thrilled with the artist rendering of computer generation, both for being used too much and for not being refined enough to be believable in their weight played against the live properties in the film. If we’re making a live action remake of an animation movie, why is 40% of any shot you see at all times not authentic to the live action creativity of the picture? Why not just make another animated “Aladdin”? Aside from this, the finished product not only of the Genie, but also in the facial resonation of Abu the Monkey, really took a backseat to “The Jungle Book” remake in terms of fantasy believability, and stood out as a glaring negative each time the latter’s character made a close-up presence on-screen. As well, a scene involving the Cave of Wonders left me disappointed for how the lion’s head entrance didn’t move its mouth like it did in the animated counterpart. If this is because it ruins real world believability, stay tuned for my review of the ending coming up.

– Ritchie’s tweak directing. I’ve never been a big fan of Guy Ritchie’s style of directing. His influence over 2017’s “King Arthur” turned that Medieval setting film into “The Matrix”, for how he constantly slowed and sped up time during the most inappropriate moments, and unfortunately Guy has learned nothing in taking a two year hiatus. It’s really strange that some moments during songs are visually sped up, all the while some scenes during high intensity chase are slowed down in a way contains the adrenaline of the sequence. It made the film feel like someone was sitting on the remote, and frequently rolled over during the scenes that mattered most in character conflict and singing focus. If this is intended, please stop it now. It only comes across as hokey and ridiculous during a scene when you’re supposed to be on the edge of your seat.

– Inconsistent pacing. 1992’s “Aladdin” is a 92 minute movie that never sags or stretches the boundaries of its material. The same cannot be said for this remake, as the two hour runtime, with very little impactful extras, makes for a testy sitting that is especially prominent during the film’s bloated second act. For my money, the first thirty minutes of the film were easily the most engaging, as the combination of Aladdin’s street life and his mission into the cave were cast with such entangling urgency that none of the remainder of the film can ever come close to matching. The second act spends its time between rule setting for the Genie, as well as a high class gala affair that feels like it’s being played in real time. Not only did this area of the film slow down my building interest for the movie, but it more than any other padded the run time for unnecessary stretching of resolutions. The third act improves slightly, but is a defeated effort by that time for the immense jump in logic and off-the-wall lunacy that the closing minutes become saddled with.

– Casting decisions. I knew nothing about Massoud or Scott before this movie, and their roles as the two leads won’t leave me any further interested in wanting to dive into their limited filmography. These two lack any kind of personality that can’t be expressed in spare verbs, and if the overall lack of romantic chemistry between them doesn’t establish how wrong for the parts they are, the mundane deliveries of emotionally-charged diatribes certainly will. Speaking of Will, did I mention how much the movie fumbles whenever he isn’t on camera? We’re left with what feels like two stage actors who constantly don’t believe what they’re saying, and are only passed by an antagonist performance who I couldn’t stop laughing at. Every little boy wears his father’s clothes and pretends to be him at some point. I didn’t expect to see a grown man in a major motion picture doing this, as Marwan Kenzari feels about as threatening as a game of fantasy dress-up. Considering Jafar is one of the most evil and imposing antagonists in Disney animated history, the disservice of casting someone who is not only the same size as Aladdin, but also someone so visually opposite of what I expected from his animated counterpart. I can understand going in a fresh direction with a character, but the work of this trio lacked the magic of translating such iconic figures from the Disney library, underscoring what should be the easiest of decisions.

– No respect. I can overlook company greed to remake a property and manipulating audiences into seeing it, because, hey, childhood, but to not credit the original screenwriters from the 92 original is not only a slap in the face, but a kick to the balls of everything that is right with respectful representation. The screenplay here is credited to John August and Guy Ritchie, and while there are some light changes to the film in terms of material, to not commend the work of Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio is a colossal mistake, considering 80% of the film is still from the story beats and character traits that they established from that original movie. There are even vital scenes in this film that are verbatim (Word-for-word) to the original film for how they play out, and the lack of attention given to the source material gives the closing notes of the film a grave feeling of plagiarism that shouldn’t be overlooked by even the most casual of film audiences.

– Ridiculous ending. LIGHT SPOILERS. You’ve been warned. I can understand this sort of thing in a cartoon, but during a live action movie, and even a kids one at that, the laws of travel aren’t negated because of what’s cute and appropriate for what fits into the story. With that said, a character gets transported to the ends of the Earth by their opposition, and two scenes later is back in Agrabah, like some touch of “The Dark Knight Returns” magic that I don’t care to relive any time soon. In addition to this, the final conflict basically never happens, at least not in a way that requires any of the character’s to get their hands dirty, and it all wraps up with the kind of convenient bow only necessary when you’re gift-wrapping something you know will be met with evil glares or family emancipation. Translating a cartoon to live action is a good time to take the ridiculous out of cartoons, not bring them to the real world. Yet one more reason why live action Disney remakes aren’t necessary in crafting something freshly unique to a new generation.

My Grade: 4/10 or D+

The Curse of La Llorona

Directed By Michael Chaves

Starring – Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, Patricia Velasquez

The Plot – Ignoring the eerie warning of a troubled mother suspected of child endangerment, a social worker (Cardellini) and her own small kids (Cruz, Velasquez) are soon drawn into a frightening supernatural realm. Their only hope to survive La Llorona’s deadly wrath may be a disillusioned priest and the mysticism he practices to keep evil at bay, on the fringes where fear and faith collide.

Rated R for violence and terror

POSITIVES

– Visual aesthetic. Chaves does a solid job of unnerving audiences with an atmosphere as thick as fog, as well as a particular time period that appeals to the western landscape setting. To my surprise the film is set during 1973, a time when possession and exorcism’s were all the rage with our world, and that level of uncertainty that much of the La Llorona folklore is based on more than translates to the ominous feeling that is constantly present in this house. Chaves uses a fine combination of lighting manipulation to make outlines play tricks on the audience’s eyes, as well as unorthodox character framing that elaborates what the audience should be focused on in staying one step ahead of the character’s.

– Use of jump scares. I almost hate crediting something that usually bothers me so dearly, but the technique associated with inserting jump scares here works for what it does to enhance the scares. Instead of paying off in the predictable moments, the most overdone use of jump scares today, Chaves misleads with sound mixing and timing to throw us off, prolonging the anxiety-riddled tension in ways that really keeps you on the edge of your seat at all times. Sure, there are still predictable jump scares that exist frequently in the movie, but the law of averages established by Chaves early on, helps to throw off the certainty of when the explosion of expression will rightfully land, and above all else it proves that he’s trying to send audiences home with a jumping good time.

– Performances. It’s great to see Cardellini getting more starring roles, and her work here as an adaptive one-parent leader of the household is something that comes across fruitfully in the compassion and protection that she instills in their constant well-being. Her character is a social worker, so it’s easy to draw the line of contrast in this woman taking her work home with her and vice versa, and it brings forth an admirable lead protagonist who we can invest in to maintain our interest. As for the children, they are solid for what the role demanded, but it’s really the facial reactions of the 4’4″ phenom Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen whose facial reactions help better distinguish the lunacy of what’s transpiring in this newly-formed possessed household. The show stealer for me however, is that of Raymond Cruz, whose third act introduction brings forth some much needed levity and humor and for the film that was otherwise ignored to that point. Cruz has always been a talented actor whose career I have followed closely, and it’s nice to see him play a protagonist for once, especially one whose character relies so heavily in the progression of the conflict. He brings a sense of caution to the dynamic of the film, and I simply couldn’t get enough of his character in the final battle.

– Major Easter egg. Without spoiling anything, I will say that a bombshell announcement at the end of the second act changed the world within this film, and brought ties to a familiar modern day horror franchise that I totally did not see coming. What’s important is the film doesn’t force too much in making this believable, nor does its inclusion take away anything from this film itself. It’s just a revelation that will offer a poignancy about the timeline of this franchise, all the while preparing us for future installments that should prove anything is indeed possible at this point.

NEGATIVES

– Stupid kids. The kids themselves serve as a convenient plot device in this film, in that the irresponsibility of their pee-brain decisions is the only reason why this film ever reaches 85 minutes. These kids get physically harmed by this mysterious ghost, and don’t tell their parent or anyone anything about it. This of course leads later on to a scene where guests feel that the Mother is responsible, and if these shitheads just spoke up, we could conclude this scene and get back to what truly matters. Beyond this, the choices that they make during the big confrontation with La Llorona made me practically yell at the screen for how desperate these screenwriters were to keep it going. Even for children, these are actions that bring forth a brain-dead quality to their demeanor’s, and if I were their mother, I would consider them as good as gone for the things they do that don’t help anyone in fighting off this presence.

– Pointless rating. This is perhaps the single biggest misstep by the M.P.A.A in quite sometime, as there’s no genuine reason why this film needs or attains the coveted R-rating, that is often used to enhance the mature subject matter. Here, there’s no blood, absolutely no adult language, and nothing that even comes close to the PG-13 renderings of “Insidious” or “The Conjuring” franchises in terms of risky material. It’s also inevitably going to hinder the profits made by the film, as only audiences of a certain age will be able to see it, and all for what exactly? Scenes of children being whisked back and forth throughout the house? This is pointless even for a group as conflicted as the M.P.A.A, and if “The Curse of La Llorona” is rated R, then Stephen King’s “It” should be a rated X.

– Antagonist outline. As a horror icon, La Llorona leaves a bit more to be desired when compared to her predecessor’s. It’s great to see another female horror villain, especially one with Mexican heritage, but as a threat she’s about as harmful as Babs Bunny. The only thing that this movie proves is that she’s good at moving character’s around the place. Her body count is weak, her character design lacks any kind of originality, especially now that this movie exists in a popular franchise, and her backstory doesn’t make you feel any kind of empathy or misunderstanding about the character for us to justify her existence. In fact, there’s such an overall lack of exposition donated to the character, that it often feels like she’s a supporting character in a movie with her own name in the title, and it feels like a missed opportunity for creating nightmare fuel for an entirely new generation.

– Uneven pacing. Between the film’s two halves, it feels like two people are at the helm of the film, especially considering how polar opposite they are when stitched together to make the same cohesive property. The first half moves by at a cyclone’s pace, blowing by scenes of personal backstory, as well as experiences with La Llorona that are often slowly elevated with each passing night in movies like these. As for the second half, it feels like the screenwriter realized that so little is known about the rules or weaknesses of La Llorona, so we better slow everything down and establish a scene and character where we can kill two birds with one convenient stone, making the inevitability of our final confrontation feel every bit as strained as it does momentum-omitting.

– Lack of experimenting. For a movie that opened up with arguably one of the best horror sequences of the past decade, in a tracking sequence that follows this family around the house through one of their daily routines, the rest of the camera work lacks the kind of inspiration that could’ve allowed the cinematography for charms to gimmick with the character. I mentioned earlier that I did enjoy the character framing, but the scenes of physical conflict are often shot with too many visual effects like rampant lightning to make them distinguishable. Likewise, the handheld style is an endurance test for the eyes, that gives off a feeling of constant shaking and imbalance, which added yet even more difficulty to the dissection of each scene.

– Inconsistencies. La Llorona can apparently turn off flashlights and move heavy sets of furniture, but when it comes to breaking through a cheap $5 lock from a hardware store, she’s rendered weak. In addition to this, she is able to move character’s who are never touched or commanded by her, the power associated with transfixing kids to do things against their will, come and go like the wind, and her biggest power is used only when it’s convenient. In this regard, the film’s final moments involving the kids running away from her made zero sense when you consider she could flick her fingers like Thanos, and bring them to her in a split second. It only further adds to the inescapability of her as an antagonist that I mentioned earlier, and brings a level of logic that could fertilize the lawn if drawn out properly.

My Grade: 4/10 or D

Little

Directed By Tina Gordon

Starring – Regina Hall, Issa Rae, Marsai Martin

The Plot – A woman (Hall) is transformed into her younger self (Martin) at a point in her life when the pressures of adulthood become too much to bear.

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content

POSITIVES

– Gifted casting. It’s rare that a film in 2019 will have such domination in the form of leading ladies, and even more so that those ladies make the most in elevating such predictable material, but that is the case with the trio of Hall, Rae, and Martin, who each bring their vibrant personalities to the indulgence of the audience. The comparison between Hall and Martin feels seamless for a transformation movie, with each actress sharing identical traits in speech patterns and expressions that would otherwise go unnoticed by incapable directing. Hall is definitely the best part of this film, being as nasty as she wants to be as the boss from hell, and the rest of the movie surrounding her kind of stalls when she’s gone, but the chemistry between Rae and Martin is just enough to tie us over through many scenes of mayhem that the duo get into. It’s in the reactions of these two virtual silver screen newcomers that was a delight to watch, leading to many confrontations between them that is both audibly and visually satisfying when you think about people around them witnessing it all.

– Clean cut comedy. The effectiveness of the humor is greatly surprising, especially considering it’s mostly curse word free, and nothing in this trailer made me giggle even remotely. “Little” is a film that saves its best material for the presentation, juggling a fine compromise of physical and social awkwardness that we the audience can flesh out long before the supporting character’s do, because we constantly remain one step ahead in our wealth of knowledge, and it led to a 60% landing rate for me, that did harvest some solid laughs in the material. In this regard, Rae is definitely the M.V.P, as her bold facial reactions and lewd public demeanor carve out what I describe as a female Chris Tucker, and pack a resounding punch in the area this movie needs the most.

– A second chance. It was strange to me that a kid character who gets bullied when we start the movie is the one who transforms back to learn a lesson. In most cases, it’s the bully who has to redeem themselves, but Martin’s character is one who uses the knowledge that she attained as an adult to give herself another opportunity at a childhood that she had robbed from her, and it not only leads to the contrasts of similarities between the respective era’s that she was a child through, but it also sheds a light on brutal bullying that still persists now as it ever did. This gives way to a positive message that I appreciated for how it could inspire youthful audiences to use in their own lives, and sends audiences home on a feel-good note that was earned because of the depictions of middle school being so restrictive and mentally scarring.

– Unity. It’s refreshing and a rare benefit to see a film indulge in feats that deal with black women being successful and being comfortable in their own skin. Being a woman of color herself, Gordon revels in this positive and airy atmosphere that gives her character’s power, but above all else responsibility in careers and the dependency of the film, which sadly isn’t represented enough in modern day film. From this angle, “Little” manages to transcend the silver screen, with a bunch of progressive ideals for our own corporate world that help break down barriers and give attention to corporate and social commentary where it’s immensely needed.

NEGATIVES

– Forgotten subplots. This is a sloppy script that occasionally introduces elements that are given ample screen time to feel important, yet never are given a satisfying conclusion to tie it all together. The first is the hunky teacher, whose lone scene in the film is the one that audiences are treated to in the trailer. This scene with him lasts around ten minutes, and we never see him again. Likewise, a meaningful plot involving Hall’s love interest is touched upon but never elaborated on with a late act confrontation between them that I felt was needed to satisfy their on-again, off-again relationship. The big problem here is that some scenes are given too much time, while others struggle to get the light needed to further develop them, and it leads to two uneven halves that when compared bring an obvious weak period late in the film that couldn’t hold up to the consistency of the first thirty minutes of the movie.

– Strange observations. Why does the woman’s clothes change sizes in one transformation but not the other? In a school that takes initiative with inclusion during a school play, why is there what’s labeled a “Friend Zone”, where the so-called loser kids eat lunch away from the rest of the cool elite? Why are there not one, but two instances of school bullying and violence depicted in this movie during a big event with a lot of eyes and focus on the stage, and no teacher within shouting distance? Why did the rich client (Played by SNL’s Mikey Day) show up for a pitch meeting three days later instead of the 48 hours that was originally established? Why does Regina Hall’s character have so many kids clothes in her closet, despite not having kids herself? Since the whole plot revolves around a little girl magician who turns Regina Hall younger, does it mean all of her transformations work? What about the white guy during the third act who she wanted to turn into a marshmallow out of frustration?

– Plot halting. There’s a period of about 40 minutes in this movie, where the central plot is put in park for some scenes of question that don’t exactly fit or add anything to the dynamic of the progression. A musical number, as well as the aforementioned hot teacher scene, leave very little lasting impact, and even worse stalls the fluidity of the pacing, which was solid until that point. In fact, when you really think about it, this movie should be over in twenty minutes, especially considering how easy it would be to track down this little girl magician, but because of the plot device we better spread it out for 104 minutes. This is perhaps the biggest fault with Gordon’s directing, as the tabs kept with the central conflict receives minimalist’s attention, and it forces creativity to bring Rae’s character back to the forefront.

– Television production quality. Everything here, from the lack of risks or personality taken with the cinematography, to the routine scale of angles and editing that leaves the presentation lacking inspiration, is presented in a way that screams inexperience, and while Gordon isn’t fully to blame for these decisions, the inexperience of a writer-turned-director recently does limit its capabilities. Likewise, the lack of depth associated with production design also rears its ugly head, during a few scenes when the weight of the stakes in the balance doesn’t feel quite as even as the situation calls for. In fact, the overall presentation of “Little” gave it an obvious comparison to recent films like “Isn’t It Romantic”, “Girls Night”, and “Night School”, but what makes this worse is that it comes on the tail end of those already mundane films and never finds a conscience to branch out above the pack. It’s an uninspiring product that refuses to take chances to dazzle audiences.

– Uncomfortable sexualizing. This is really the biggest bother for me in the movie, as Martin (A 13 year-old) is decked out constantly in tight, body-showing wardrobe, as well as given not one, but two scenes where she flirts with older co-stars, as well as dancing provocatively, and while the film called for it based on the dynamics of the plot, it doesn’t mean that I can accept any kind of glorifying of it. In this regard, it’s almost like they never fully commit to Martin’s youthful transformation, and still long for her to represent the elder side of Hall, which is a misstep for the comedy of the scene. If the posh Hall is reduced to wearing these cheap, ugly youthful threads, then it will better flesh out the desperation of her situation that leaves her feeling so far from the woman she’s fought endlessly to become.

– Far too predictable. This is not breaking news to anyone, but the film is heavily influenced by 1986’s “Big”, in that not only is its title a play on that previous film, but it also lifts identical plot points directly from that film as inspiration. The problem is that its inability to distance itself from the former and overall better film muddles the material down to predictably bland levels that left me being able to sniff out every resolution in plenty of time before it appeared. I can understand that the wiggle room is claustrophobic with a premise this specific, but there’s almost no point in making a film that isn’t labeled as a remake unless you’re going to experiment in ways that allows distance, and while “Little” has sprouts of flavorful delight, the overall whole had me experiencing flashbacks of Tom Hanks in his comical prime.

My Grade: 4/10 or D

The Aftermath

Directed By James Kent

Starring – Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgard, Jason Clarke

The Plot – Set in postwar Germany in 1946, Rachael Morgan (Knightley) arrives in the ruins of Hamburg in the bitter winter, to be reunited with her husband Lewis (Clarke), a British colonel charged with rebuilding the shattered city. But as they set off for their new home, Rachael is stunned to discover that Lewis has made an unexpected decision: They will be sharing the grand house with its previous owners, a German widower (Skarsgård) and his troubled daughter. In this charged atmosphere, enmity and grief give way to passion and betrayal.

Rated R for sexual content/nudity, and violence including some disturbing images

POSITIVES

– Strong ensemble. Knightley continues to shine under tremendous pressure, channeling a combination of loneliness and longing that gives much of her character arc the emphasis of urgency. Likewise, her tremendous chemistry with Skarsgard is unavoidable, blazing a trail of obviousness between them that grows shorter with each intense interaction. What truly amazed me however, was Clarke giving arguably his single best performance to date. Kent’s direction here should be applauded, because he brings emotional heft to Jason in ways that no other director has to this point, and we’re rewarded with a third act collapse that has him confronting the demons from his past in ways that is every bit unsettling as it is effective to us the audience. This trio combats some glaring holes in material that make you question the moral fiber of their characters, and are each a delight to watch for how the war has shaped each of them in noticeably different effects.

– Gorgeous cinematography by Franz Lustig. Being a product of Germany himself better prepares Lustig for the style in scope that he delivers in each valued frame, indulging us the audience to immersive establishing shots of breathtaking scenery, as well as intimacy in scenes of passion that glow before our eyes. On the latter, this is something that a movie like “Fifty Shades of Grey” should take notes on, because the love is not only believable, but intense because of the limited window that we are given, which for better or worse, makes us feel a part of the scene with them. On the former, the snowy countryside of Germany feeds much into the circumstances establish by this cold, damp marriage on the rocks, as well as establishing this inescapable feeling of defeat in the air that shapes much of the mentalities from the movie’s various personalities.

– Originality in the war genre. We get a war film once every season, but it’s rare to be presented with the unique opportunity to see the effects from the cause, especially in the case of a once powerful faction like the Axis Powers, which would’ve re-shaped the world. What’s commendable about what “The Aftermath” does, is it explores the shade of grey between good and evil that both sides possessed, and takes valuable time in teaching us that very honorable people like the ones we’ve been believed to have, are also present on enemy lines. It’s not afraid to explore the side of conscience from people we’re not used to delving deep into, and conveys that no one really wins when the smoke of devastation clears.

– Atmosphere put to music. Composer Martin Phipps instills a combination of violin and piano that better triggers the tragedy in the air that binds people of two entirely complex sides together, and it makes for an overall musical score that plays wonderfully synonymous with the highs and lows of this arrangement. I usually don’t go for the classical side of compositions, but when you have a depicted era that calls for it, anything else would alienate these scenes of passion and tragedy with great underscoring on the pulse. Phipps’ work here is also every bit as absorbing as it is adaptive for Rachael’s newly-lit fire that burns for the first time in a long time, presenting us with an audio commentary of sorts for the ball of uncertainty that resides within her, and it’s never obvious or leading, remaining tasteful with its distance between the audience and the film they are engaged in.

NEGATIVES

– Distracted. The biggest problem with the romantic triangle plot is that it often feels like a subplot in a movie that centers around it. There are no fewer than three other on-going narratives taking place simultaneously, and it renders the material that everyone came to see limited in its appeal to further develop the characters and blossoming romance effectively. The additional stories are certainly nothing that I would waste an ample amount of time with, and to be honest, if they were cut all together, it would only create more lasting positives to the attention needed to render the plot more impactful than what we’re left with. Because of such, the thrills of the seduction feel lukewarm, and never provide anything of substance to override the overly-telegraphed movements that we’ve seen in literally any other film about cheating spouses.

– Unlikeable leads. Is it wrong that I related to Jason Clarke’s character the most? I detested Keira Knightley’s character, and no, not because I’m a white male who constantly blames the woman. In this case, the woman is in the wrong, balancing a life of complaining about her husband’s absence to protect the citizens of this country in favor of putting together a rich dinner party for friends, as well as her noticeable prejudice towards German’s that does her no favors in the empathy department. If this wasn’t enough, she cheats on Clarke, and we’re supposed to understand why because of what I previously mentioned and sudden character shifts that come out of nowhere. For instance, Clarke’s character is caring and supportive of German’s who he views as “Victims” in the first act, but then grows to feel inaffectionate when the story requires him to, at the drop of a hat. Skarsgard, not to be outdone, mentions that his daughter is his whole world, yet only spends time with her in the presence of Knightley, and doesn’t have a clue about her going off to join a radical Nazi group plotting to seek revenge. With character’s like these, who needs enema’s?

– Uneven pacing. This is a 104 minute movie, and a majority of the first half of that runtime moves at a snail’s pace of development. When you truly think about it, we as an audience stand in place for roughly the first forty minutes of this film, refusing to plan for future direction’s that pop-up with very little notice. It stays this way until the final forty minutes of the film, when I guess the movie realizes it has built very little inside of this triangle, and decides to get busy with a virtual machine-gun of exposition that almost feels like a different director as a whole is at the controls of. The good news is I was never bored with “The Aftermath”, the bad news is the undercooked dramatic elements never materialized to leave me anywhere near fully invested into what was transpiring.

– Too many cornball cliches. I mentioned earlier that this is typical cab fare for anyone who has seen a Lifetime or Cinemax movie in the last twenty years, but the real tools of tantalizing are so obvious that they craft an inescapable laugh. Let’s go through the list: Shacking up with a hot stranger, each of them has what the other is lacking, husband leaves wife alone with good looking guy for long period of time, film doesn’t condemn or shame cheating couple for their romantic tryst. There’s plenty more, but I’m seriously getting carpel-tunnel typing them out, and if it hasn’t already been proven, this movie goes where plenty of films went before it, leaving nothing in the way of originality or surprises to make it memorable for longer than ten minutes after seeing it.

– It’s a personal nag for me when the movie declares twice that the citizens forced to go against their will to join the Nazi party was worse than the thousands that lost their lives in England attack bombings. No film should ever be about weighing the devastation of two completely different subjects, but “The Aftermath” does this without hesitation, offering a layer of social opinion that doesn’t reflect the film in ways that are complimentary. Just stating the facts is more than enough to lay the impact at the feet of uneducated audiences, but this necessity to compare is something that is insensitive to anyone who was unfortunate enough to be alive during such a dark and scary time for the world’s bleak future.

– No pay-off to the conflict. To say that the ending was underwhelming is being nice. The film’s resolution comes and goes without any long-winded speeches, without any tearful confessions, and without anything that even remotely resembles the impact promised from such a tense and finely edited trailer. Without spoiling anything, I will say that the closing scenes are not only padded for extra time, but also nonsensical when you consider where we started and ended with this pivotal scene, and will lead to audiences either feeling disappointed because of what was teased the whole way, or defeated from the waste of time that everything took to get to this point. What’s more concerning is that the loser in this triangle doesn’t feel remotely affected by it, and it stands as the lone scene where the audience and character’s are on the same page, with neither feeling impacted by where we conclude.

My Grade: 4/10 or D-

The Beach Bum

Directed By Harmony Korine

Starring – Matthew McConaughey, Snoop Dogg, Isla Fischer

The Plot – Moondog (McConaughey) is a fun-loving, pot-smoking, beer-drinking writer who lives life on his own terms in Florida. If he can put down the drugs for just one minute, he may finally be able to put his talent to good use and finish the next great American novel.

Rated R for pervasive drug and alcohol use, adult language throughout, nudity and some strong sexual content

POSITIVES

– Stylish cinematography. Korine as a filmmaker has always had his own brand of visual flare that cements the idea that this is indeed one of his films, even if you’re walking into it late, and “The Beach Bum” continues this trend, tasting the Florida essence with screen-reflective visual trances to lock you in. The sunbaked daytime scenes offer plenty of reflective light and glow reflecting off of the screen without ever compromising the integrity of the shot, and the nighttime scenes radiate with a combination of gorgeous sunsets in the backgrounds and neon ambiance in the foreground. If nothing else strikes you about this movie, the lavish visual presence of an experienced director most certainly will, and it allowed me to get lost in aspects of the film where others simply didn’t add up.

– Symbolism in editing. When you first begin the movie, the jumps forward and back might alienate you into fully investing into the unfurling of this screenplay, but I quickly saw an uncanny intention with it that brought everything together psychologically. Korine is showing us things from the mind of his cloudy protagonist, full of choppy, non-linear memories, that often feel like a bad drug trip from the man trying to recall a lifetime of memories. Too many cuts in films often instills a sense of distraction for me personally, but it’s certainly easy to understand here why so many scenes overlap and even intrude upon the current day narrative that we’re experiencing, making everything feel like a vivid fantasy instead of reality, which feels so very far away.

– Korine loves his music. Another continuing trend from Harmony in this film, is his collection of genre-vapid favorites that make up arguably my single favorite soundtrack in 2019 to date. Besides obvious artists like Jimmy Buffet or Snoop Dogg (Both are in the film), the inclusion of Waylon Jennings, Eddie Money, and even my second favorite song from The Cure (Just Like Heaven) all pop up, and help establish a line of audible clarity for understanding Moondog’s often foggy demeanor with experiencing certain events. In that regard, the soundtrack serves a far greater purpose than musical incorporation for this film, it basically feels like the non-stop narration that is constantly on repeat in our protagonist’s cerebrum, meant to enhance our connection to someone who feels planets away from what we’re used to.

– Positive deep-seeded message. Because this feels like a sequel to McConaughey’s character in “Dazed and Confused”, you can easily comprehend what will come with all of this madness and debauchery. Late in the movie, Moondog explains that “Life is too short, and I’m going to ride this motherfucker all the way to the finish line”. A little expletive in explanation, but honorable when you consider how much those of us take life too seriously. In that regard, it’s easy to compliment a filmmaker like Korine for making (Above everything else) fun films first. and leaving everything else to award-hungry filmmakers, whose only purpose is to pad their reputations. More than any film he’s done before, this feels like the most responsive from Korine, if only to instill his life’s purpose into a character who sports go-go boots and women’s dresses.

NEGATIVES

– Incoherent mess of a screenplay. For 90 jumbled minutes, this is really just a collection of scene instances where Moondog experiences certain things. They rarely add up to anything bigger than just that, and manage to carve out a film plot that makes the television show “Seinfeld” feel like it’s full of depth. It feels like Korine had an idea for a movie, abandoned it, instead filmed celebrity interactions in the Florida Keys, and then remembered he was there for a reason once it was all too late. There’s evidence in this with how the story weaves its way in and out of Moondog’s conflict, which receives a resolution that is every bit unbelievable as it is unsatisfying for anyone seeking a character transformation or redemption of any sort.

– Speaking of unbelievable, the people and world that surround Moondog nearly eclipse him in terms of how they treat him. If you want me to believe for even five seconds that this guy is a critically acclaimed poet based on some of the most crude vocabulary ever put to pen and paper, fine, but I can’t in good conscience believe that this man lives in a near lawless society, full of strangers who view him as a god. There’s a scene during the film where Moondog kisses another man’s wife, and the man basically shrugs it off as a lightning bug that landed on his shoulder. I guess I wish that there was a secondary reality that eventually eclipses Moondog’s as the film progressed, leading him to see things in ways he wouldn’t otherwise, but it never comes. I might not do drugs, but I would enjoy living in a place where there are essentially zero consequences to your irresponsible actions.

– The lack of performances. There’s nothing of acting merit from this exceptionally collective ensemble of actors, minus perhaps Jonah Hill as Moondog’s southern accent pervert agent, and instead only preserves the familiar personalities from these people that we’ve come to expect. These are amplified versions of McConaughey, Snoop Dogg, Fisher, Zac Efron, and Martin Lawrence in particular, without any kind of chance or experimentation to recommend to curious moviegoers. I can at least say that these actors are having fun with the material, but the lack of actual acting going on with the transformations of their roles is something that gives this film an unmistakable feeling of a vacation-first film that we’ve come to expect from Adam Sandler films.

– Floundering comedy. It’s tough enough dealing with a film with almost zero comic effect, but when a movie makes you feel like a grumpy old man in response to it, I hate it that much more. With the exception of a Martin Lawrence shark attack scene (You read that right) that completely made me lose my mind in laughter, the rest of the film feels like one big weed smoke-out that I couldn’t possibly understand because I didn’t partake in it. Credit for it being able to let the bad jokes go, but the material as a whole is so consistently underwhelming that it comes off more as tragic for Moondog than it does as something that enhances his personality. If you’re expecting laughs from a trailer that edits together the best moments in the movie, DON’T.

– Bad social message. This might be perhaps in contradiction to the positive ideological message that I mentioned earlier, but the pretentiousness associated with rich middle-aged cheating white men being praised for doing absolutely nothing might not blend well with the current progressive era of filmmaking with a social backbone of its own. Hell, one of the things that made me curious after the trailer was how this awful poet became rich in the first place, but it was quickly revealed in the film that it comes from his wife’s family fortune. So now we have all of those things on top of being a provider who essentially doesn’t provide. This aspect alone makes the movie feel two decades outdated, with no presence in the current day landscape of films that demand more for change.

– Twists that amount to nothing. There’s no real weight brought into the fold by some pretty shocking revelations during the film. Essentially, it feels like these drops of awareness to make sure the audience hasn’t fallen asleep, before the thin narrative continues to overstretch its boundaries. This also feeds into the hope I had that the film would go somewhere dark and ominous in the same way “Spring Breakers” eventually did, but they are these throwaway moments of pointless exposition that have no redeeming value to the progression of the hazy narrative. If you don’t believe me, consider taking them all out of the film all together, and see how different it makes the film.

My Grade: 4/10 or D

What Men Want

Directed By Adam Shankman

Starring – Taraji P. Henson, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Max Greenfield

The Plot – The film follows the story of a female sports agent (Henson) who has been constantly boxed out by her male colleagues. When she gains the power to hear mens’ inner thoughts, she is able to shift the paradigm to her advantage as she races to sign the NBA’s next superstar.

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

POSITIVES

– Henson’s infectious personality. While I found her character to be completely insensitive and often at times irresponsible, the suave charisma of this leading lady made her a delight to watch, and only provided emphasis for her constant professionalism. Henson has taken on some less than stellar films, this one included in the bunch, but as an actress she constantly maintains the raw energy she taps into for every role, that in this case harvest plenty of humorous reactions to boost her relatability. I will seriously watch anything that Henson is in, and I’ve already proved that, as she starred in Tyler Perry’s “Acrimony” just last year. This one is a vehicle for Henson’s charms, and should serve as the biggest influence as to why you should see it.

– Rating does wonders. I was NOT expecting this film to be deemed with a coveted R-rating classification, mainly because the original film was limited with a PG-13, but thankfully the film’s dialogue makes the most of this rare blessing. This never feels like a raunchy or mindless comedy, instead opting for authentication in the form of a lot of frequent cursing to properly channel the accuracy in men’s speech patterns. What’s even more important is that the push for adult language never overstays its welcome or spoils its presence, opting instead to present itself when the laugh reaches supreme prominence in the form of audience reaction. Cursing rarely feels as good as it does in this film, and it’s good to see an adult comedy once in a while that actually gets the gimmick right.

– Hidden meaning beneath the hodgepodge. We can forever debate what this film was trying to teach us based on the way it portrays men and women alike, but a comforting message that emerges late in the movie DOES in fact make the whole shallow trip feel worth it, and provides nuanced sentiment to the woman growing up in a society that still has ways to go in making the genders equal. This is a film about not conforming to men’s expectations to reach their approval, and instead being comfortable in the skin of someone who is empathetic towards others. This third act swing doesn’t win the movie over for me entirely, but unlike films like “I Feel Pretty” or “Shallow Hal”, it proves that its heart was at least in the right place.

– Establishes a decent subplot mystery. Without question, the one thing that I cared about more than anything in this script was the ambiguous figure who has voted Ali down time after time when it comes to partner voting for her agency, and while the end result was every bit as predictable as expected, the setting of the male-dominated, adrenaline-fueled worksite made it feel like any of them could easily be responsible. This gives more insight into Ali’s mentality with how alone she truly is, and leaves her and us the audience without the ability to trust a single one of the co-workers that surround her.

NEGATIVES

– Dated soundtrack. I’m guessing that this remake of sorts has been an idea in the minds of studio executives for a long time because the film’s soundtrack of almost entirely 90’s hip hop and pop jams feels entirely out of place for the current day landscape that the film exists in. I’m not saying that classic music can’t exist in a modern film, but it should be sprinkled in with familiar tracks from the current day, otherwise it comes across feeling like an unintentional tribute to 90’s cinema, which then plays mentally with audience’s interpretation of the world that we are seeing front-and-center. One or two is OK, but the film having five 90’s anthems is a bit too much to be considered coincidence.

– As expected by the trailer, this does become cameo porn in the form of one-and-done faces who add nothing of dimension to the script or even the weight of the protagonist’s gimmick. Even more shameful, the movie becomes this obvious commercial for the National Basketball Association, in that it’s using valuable minutes to spend at a basketball game or the NBA Draft itself, and these scenes do nothing except to showcase a big budget feel in ways that are totally unnecessary and irrelevant. It’s completely distracting, and speaks volumes to the worst part of celebrity cameos being when a script literally has nothing for them to do except to pop in and out of frame.

– Not a single instance of artistic substance. Adam Shankman is easily one of my least favorite directors who keeps getting these mainstream projects, and his work in “What Men Want” is a cliff notes version for everything that limits his potential as an influential filmmaker. Cheap editing effects, dull and uninspired cinematography, flawed camera placement, endless product meandering, and repeated establishing shots of the city of Atlanta. On the latter, the same shot was used on three different occasions, and if you think I’m exaggerating, you should pay close attention to the one car that is parked in the parking lot of Turner Field. It’s all a reminder of how little Shankman has accomplished since 2002’s “A Walk To Remember”, and how little personality he exerts in his mundane presentations.

– Terrible scene plotting. Improv comedy is once again an uninvited guest, but that’s only a small percentage of the problem for a movie with such rocky pacing with a goal to hit two hours. It’s so easy to see what should be cut from this film. Do we need two different sex scenes with the exact same characters? Do we require three different appearances from the psychic character? Is there any need for a wedding that feels forcefully lifted from a Tyler Perry screenplay for its sheer lunacy? Scenes like these exist, and then there are important scenes that gain momentum for the film that are cut abruptly, and it never manages to gain an air of consistency to the pacing that is all over the place when compared and contrasted.

– Pains of the gimmick. The rules associated with the ability to hear the opposite gender’s thoughts didn’t make sense in “What Women Want”, and it’s not any more elaborated on in a sequel nearly twenty years later. How far does her ability to hear go? Can she hear men in the room next door? Why does she perfectly hear each thought and that no two men’s thoughts ever overlap in sound design? How come she doesn’t hear thoughts during pivotal matters like sex or physical fighting? How come she can’t hear her significant other’s son’s thoughts? Is it a puberty thing? There’s plenty more, but I’ll spare you the pointless diatribe. My point is that for a movie that literally centers around mental capacity, its structure couldn’t be any more mindless.

– What Does it say about men? I was offended at the simpleton look of “What Women Want”, and how every woman on the planet was put together in this gift-wrapped box, so you can imagine my disdain when it comes to my actual gender. It turns out that men are feeble-minded, are almost entirely hateful, think about cheating on their girlfriends constantly, and only two great guys in forty exists, and one of those is gay. I wish a film like this would take the time to establish more layers of the gender that it depicts, because its focus feels too much like a spoof to ever capitalize on garnering some substantial social commentary. Films like these should be a breakthrough in communication, but instead are used as nothing more than opportunities to feed into dangerous stereotypes that wedge us even further. Coming from a single 34 year-old-man who can’t manage a date with a female because they have perceived us all the same, I say a big Fuck You to movies like this.

My Grade: 4/10 or D

Miss Bala

Directed By Catherine Hardwicke

Starring – Gina Rodriguez, Anthony Mackie, Ismael Cruz Cordova

The Plot – Gloria (Rodriguez) finds a power she never knew she had when she is drawn into a dangerous world of cross-border crime. Surviving will require all of her cunning, inventiveness, and strength.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence, sexual and drug content, thematic material, and adult language

POSITIVES

– Gina Rodriguez. While the line deliveries of this actress, and overall toughness leaves slightly more to be desired, the dramatic effect of her watery-eyed visuals speaks volumes to the pain inside of her soul. This is perhaps the only element of her transformation that feels believable, as Gloria very much feels like a woman so removed from her element that the look of shock and disdain that constantly fill her facial resonation tell the story of a woman who has already lost so much, yet persists in doing what she can to stay alive. Gina’s best quality, sadly, is when she is quiet, and thankfully the film capitalizes on enough of this to make us the audience feel fragility of her particular situation.

– Immersive musical score by Alex Heffes. This man clearly has his work cut out for him here, but rises to the occasion in scoring these kind of ammunition-riddled sequences with the kind of increase of intensity that elevates further with each repeated-yet-slightly-different stroke of the instrument. Much of Heffes work here reminds me of the great Johann Johansson, specifically in his masterful music design in “Sicario”. The two feel considerably similar because of the overall capture of dread and helplessness that harvest so strongly in the manufactured atmosphere, instilling much fear to the unveiling of worlds that each female protagonist must endure.

– Dual border setting that speaks volumes to the current day landscape. I loved the production decision to compare and contrast the two dramatically different worlds in America and Mexico, and where they each played a pivotal part in the progression of what transpires. This geographical gimmick is used in ways that, while lacking in originality, does cast a dark and conveying shadow to the immensity of dangerous activity that persist between the respective sides. As to where the original “Miss Bala” takes place solely in Mexico, this American remake capitalizes on the importance of polarization for Mexican born citizens who have since taken up citizenship with its northern neighbor, echoing a familiar vibe to the many in our current day landscape who seek a fresh start in a brand new place.

– Logic in arms. I appreciate a film that doesn’t make its lead a sharpshooter after picking up a gun only twice. To this degree, Gloria as a distributor of justice doesn’t ever feel godly or even effective enough to pull you away from the situation because of abnormal accuracy, and there’s much respect to be given about a movie that takes time to document not only the aim of its holder, but also in the lack of confidence she displays in holding the product itself. It all feels believable in a way that other big budget action films easily overlook in favor of a hip protagonist who knows how to stand in front of a film’s movie poster.

NEGATIVES

– Never slows down. While some will commend a movie for moving rapidly throughout, I can say that the clumsiness in storytelling that constantly rushes through these sequence of events, is anything but pleasurable. For one thing, many subplots never receive further explanation, leaving many character motivations, especially that of Gloria, feeling left out to dry in the bigger, more violent picture. The second act in particular is one that just depicts a series of situations with very little exposition or narration to further elaborate on just what we the audience are seeing in front of us. This gives the film an unintentionally deplorable quality, in that the audience feels very much like Gloria in what little we are being explained along the way.

– The definition of pointless cameo. Anthony Mackie deserved better than this, but I can certainly understand that easy paychecks aren’t easy to come by. Mackie is barely in this film for two scenes, in a sort of blink and you might miss him quality, and casts an unavoidable disappointment in the very little interaction between he and Rodriguez that could’ve done wonders in putting her status as an action hero, or her transformation over. Anthony’s charisma is something that is needed more in this film than anything he’s ever done, and the script’s decision to make him this secondary nothing character proves that literally anyone could’ve accepted the role.

– Constricted editing. Once again we are treated to a film with handheld camera designs and rambunctious editing that paints such ugly and uninspiring depictions of action that never allow us the opportunity to sink our teeth into. The editing always feels like it’s two seconds late, cutting just after a pivotal bullet or character move has taken place, making it difficult to follow the sequence of events. If this isn’t enough, the horrendous looking visual captures only did a further disservice in hooking me in to the drama of the occasion, and only speaks volumes to what is capable when you set a Mexican gang movie with a PG-13 designation. Because this is definitely the kind of film that 13 year old’s are itching to see.

– Lack of character exposition. If the film’s trailer, leading star’s gender, or even the title led you to believe that this was a woman’s movie, you might feel manipulated when you actually see the picture. In fact, there’s so little interaction with Gloria during the first act that everything you’ve learned about her can easily be said in a job application without a past jobs section. How is it that in a movie titled “Miss Bala” that we learn more about the gang leader (Conveniently a good looking model of a man) than we do the woman we are supposed to be following this whole time? It’s absolutely bonkers, and does nothing in furthering your investment into this character or her urgency, which is also vitally lacking.

– Riddled in generic production qualities. Predictably telegraphed? Check, Lack of entertaining element in compelling dialogue? Check, ignorance of political spectrum considering some greatly important issues in foreign treatment of women? Check. All of these things and more give “Miss Bala” an incomplete feeling that will always leave me wondering what would’ve developed if they only took some chances. Being forgettable is easily its greatest sin, as even minutes after leaving the theater I struggle even remembering what took place during the film’s anti-climatic final conflict. It’s a fine example of everything I mentioned here, as the scene plays out without so much as a single moment uncertainty, allowing the screenplay as the only thing to beat us in a foot race to the closing credits.

– Conflicting elements in production. While the cinematography for the film sometimes echoes that of its predecessor, in a sort of B-movie meets music video style artistic merit, the film’s tone and overall material lacks any kind of personality in identifying what kind of movie this rightfully should’ve been. There’s no fun or redeeming quality to a film like this, making the audience it speaks to that much more sparse because it never finds an identity of its own. The people steering this ship crashed into a wall of mediocrity that they couldn’t ever escape, and what’s even worse is that no one will be there to hear the sound it made.

My Grade: 4/10 or D

Glass

Directed By M Night Shyamalan

Starring – Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, James Mcavoy

The Plot – Following the conclusion of “Split”, “Glass” finds David Dunn (Willis) pursuing Crumb’s (Mcavoy) superhuman figure of The Beast in a series of escalating encounters, while the shadowy presence of Price (Jackson) emerges as an orchestrator who holds secrets critical to both men.

Rated PG-13 for violence including some bloody images, thematic elements, and adult language

POSITIVES

– One more chance with these characters. I still stand by that James Mcavoy should’ve been nominated for an Oscar for his work in “Split”, and here that momentum only continues. Mcavoy easily carries the movie, ushering us through 23 different personalities that all casually make an appearance in this installment, giving James a phenomenal range with improv characteristics. Likewise, Samuel L. Jackson as the title character is also impressive, combining a wide range of intelligence and anger that really make you feel for this man who has only ever known pain in his life. When Mcavoy and Jackson interact, it’s easily the best parts of the film for me, but unfortunately this is again a case of Bruce Willis phoning his performance in. It doesn’t help that the film has so little for him to do, but Willis’ calm demeanor doesn’t win him any awards in the category of most charismatic.

– A wide variety of shot compositions. While there is one problem in this area that I will get to later, the overall choices of angles and creativity associated with the film’s movement left me satisfied, and proved that above all else, Shyamalan still knows how to shoot a movie. What’s interesting is that “Unbreakable”, “Split”, and “Glass” are all part of the same series, yet none of them look visually anything alike. This allows each of these films to stand out on their own, so as to never repeat or derive the style about its respective films that harvested that air of originality that made each of them thrive visually.

– Creative use of flashback storytelling. There are no shortage of flashbacks throughout the film, in fact, I think “Glass” may have topped last year’s “Fantastic Beasts” sequel in how many times it recalls the past. Why it worked more here for me is not only the surprising instances of what it reveals, but also in triggering pivotal moments in these characters lives that peel the layer of the psychological onion one layer further. The transitions are never sloppy or rushed, and most importantly they keep the pacing of each scene they accompany firmly in their grip, never allowing them to drag or stall for too long.

– Shyamalan’s love for comic books once again shines through. “Glass” takes ample time not only in explaining the history surrounding some of the more important comic book novels of the past, but also incorporates them to this particular narrative, and it pulls out this poignancy that crafts an honorable message to the film’s social commentary. My take is that the film is reminding us that greatness exists in all of us, and this world will constantly try to diminish or devalue its existence, but it’s us who must stand up and give them irrefutable proof of the gifts we’ve always known were inside of us. If you take anything from this film, take this inspiring message that Shyamalan preaches, reminding us that all of us should be considered super.

NEGATIVES

– One terribly bad shot choice. This film has no shortage of close-up POV angle shots, particularly in that of the film’s fight sequences, that render them with a complete lack of believability. For one, we as an audience can’t register what is happening in each of them because we only see the face of one man, not what is transpiring beneath this face, therefore we can’t detect when a pivotal blow has been landed. For two, this screams PG-13 limitations, as well as an overall lack in chemistry between Willis and Mcavoy that tried so hard to frame the violence in ways that wouldn’t expose their limited capabilities. It could be forgiven if it happened a few times, but this gimmick is exploited so much that I couldn’t help but wince each time it popped up, and I can’t begin to imagine why Shyamalan felt that this was the way to go for capturing the impactful devastation.

– Plot holes/inconsistencies. I could write a book on this section alone, but I won’t bore you with the endless details that even the movie couldn’t answer for itself. Characters making irrational decisions, rules of Mcavoy’s character being changed from the previous film, continuity errors from scene to scene transitions, and issues with the capture of these men that had me scratching my head. Because of these frequent road blocks in creativity, the film feels like it can’t go ten minutes without the same question of logic popping up into my brain, and even in an era where we don’t question how Captain America can’t suffer any difficulties in the unfreezing process, or a selfless billionaire donning an iron suit to constantly risk his life, “Glass” feels like the biggest fabrication of truth in the comic genre that I’ve ever seen.

– Far too much humor. I expected that some of the line deliveries that Mcavoy gave were going to come across as comical. You can’t play an 8 year old or a woman without the audience snickering a time or two, but the overwhelming amount of comedy, not only with Mcavoy’s character, that constantly filled the screenplay, frequently pulled me out of the film’s immersion, giving the audience far too many moments of breath in between what should be these tense and epic showdowns. A joke about rap artist Drake is repeated on three different accounts, leaving Shyamalan as a screenwriter feeling like your hip grandpa who just discovered Youtube last week.

– Disjointed storytelling. “Glass” feels like three different stories being told simultaneously that never mesh together to form one cohesive unit. My biggest problem comes in the form of pivotal characters disappearing for long stretches of time, smashing any kind of momentum that the film requires in giving audiences each perspective side. Mcavoy feels like the one constant, but the lack of revenge conflict between Mr Glass and Dunn never actually happens, leaving the very same dynamic that blew the roof off of the theater in “Unbreakable” feeling underwhelming. It makes for a finished script that is often pulling us in different directions without us fully understanding why.

– Shows its hand far too often. If you seek a movie that gives away pivotal twists and turns constantly throughout the movie, then this might be the film for you. The first rule of competent screenwriting is that mentioning something once is forgettable, but to mention it twice or more means its important, and the film’s idea of repeating its own rules within this superhero world it establishes left me with a few telegraphed instances within the film, where I knew something was coming. That’s not to say that “Glass” is entirely predictable, it’s just entirely far too obvious and lacks any kind of nuance to slip one by you.

– That convoluted ending. When there was one twist, I loved it. That added layers to a previous film that wasn’t originally established. When there were three twists, I felt it was beginning to get out of hand. When there were six twists, I felt that the film got way ahead of itself, and it all became this overstuffed vacuum bag that blew minutes prior, yet still kept pumping. This is Shyamalan at his most Shaymalan, and what I mean by that is he has what he feels is a genius idea and keeps poking at it until we the audience scream “ENOUGH”. The final twenty minutes of this film could easily be considered the ending, and each scene that follows could easily be the ending in any film. But Shyamalan leaves the camera on for far too long, and the closing moments take this film to an ending that I’m confident will be unsatisfying to anyone who watches it, ending a once promising trilogy on a note of obvious disappointment that reminds you why the name Shyamalan scares you in the first place.

My Grade: 4/10 or D-