Winchester

Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig

Starring – Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook

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

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

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Directed by Wes Ball

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

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

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

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

Den of Thieves

Directed by Christian Gudegast

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

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

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

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

Pitch Perfect 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

Wonder Wheel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

The Star

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

Daddy’s Home 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

November Criminals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

A Bad Moms Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

Same Kind of Different As Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

The Snowman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

9/11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10