Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween

Directed By Ari Sandel

Starring – Jack Black, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Madison Iseman

The Plot – In the small town of Wardenclyffe on Halloween Night, two boys named Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sam (Caleel Harris) find a manuscript in an abandoned house that was previously owned by R. L. Stine (Black) called “Haunted Halloween.” When they open it, they release Slappy (Also Black) who plans to create the Halloween Apocalypse with the help of his Halloween monster allies. Now, Sonny and Sam, alongside Sonny’s sister, Sarah (Iseman) and Stine himself, must work to thwart Slappy’s plot before all is lost.

Rated PG for scary creature action and images, some thematic elements, rude humor and adult language

POSITIVES

– Once again, Jack Black’s polished routine that is perfect for the young adult center stage. In playing two respective roles in this film for the price of one, Black commands the attention of the audience with two personalities that shine for completely different reasons. As Stine, Black is able to poke fun at exposing the fourth wall of cliches that often ridicule Stine’s real life writing, and as Slappy it’s Black’s vocal capabilities that bring to life my personal favorite character once again in these movies. Black’s sinister laugh as Slappy is one of the few unsettling moments in the film, and serves as a constant reminder of how truly lost this franchise would be without its shining star.

– Surprisingly quite a few laughs. Everything in a film is obviously scripted, but for my money it was those subtle digs at pop culture properties like Stephen King’s IT, or the Universal Monsters that really registered with me, and made this film remarkably easier to sit through. What I love about these deliveries are that they come so subtly that you almost miss them if you’re not glued to the screen, and this aspect will give “Haunted Halloween” great second watch possibilities for people who seek to dig slightly deeper in the charms of this screenplay.

– Constantly keeps moving. At 83 breezy minutes, this film is anything but an obstacle to get through, but its screenplay is one that remains persistent at pushing this story forward without dulling the audience. This does create some obvious problems with character arcs that I will get to later, but Sandel’s direction reigns at rarely giving us a moment of breather, and something usually compromising did wonders for the pacing of this film’s movements.

– Look no further for a film that competently bridges the gap of horror between child and adult. It’s obvious what this film offers for the youthful moviegoer: delicate scares that never infringe on the confidence of parents, as well as wacky slapstick humor that they will eat up like Halloween candy, but it’s in its crossover appeal with adults that is perhaps its single greatest achievement. “Haunted Halloween” never feels immature, nor does it feel too tacky on the side of rich holiday atmosphere, instead it pays homage to that demographic that grew up with these stories, and dares them to indulge themselves one more time to pass on to their own kin, making this a generational affair of sentimental importance.

– Dominic Lewis’s audible gifts to the film that craft a layer of feasting fantasy. I love a musical composer who isn’t afraid to explore emphasis in his eerie tones, and Lewis does this without ever crossing into the kind of ominous territory that would have rendered the atmosphere counterfeit. This is very much a composer who embraces the hokey side of Halloween, and his collection of haunted house favorites can easily serve as the soundtrack to any kind of October get-together that you plan.

NEGATIVES

– Un-rendered C.G effects. Initially, I had zero problems with the designs of the computer generated characters of the film. In appearance, they look every bit as believable as they do intimidating, so it was a bit of a letdown to see their movements with live action characters feel weightless during interaction. This is an example of the little things coming back to bite a production squarely in the ass, as these effects feel so foreign to the immersion that we as an audience require in registering the physical conflicts that unfold.

– Dangerously self-infatuated. It’s always been strange to me that Stine is a character in his own stories on film, but the real problem with this angle became evident in this film. “Haunted Halloween” does that thing where the writer already knows what happens, so therefore he knows what’s to come, and has no problems relating this to the audience. This renders the screenplay predictably telegraphed from a mile away, leaving any kind of surprises on the cutting room floor. The film went to this gimmick too many times for my taste, and left the Stine character as the compromising negative to oppose Black’s brilliance with playing the character.

– Bland underwritten characters. Part of my surprise in enjoying the first Goosebumps movie was the delightful personalities and relatable backstories of many characters, but “Haunted Halloween” is a noticeable regression in this department, sacrificing necessary character subplots to fill in the blanks. It doesn’t help that this young and inexperienced cast is poorly directed by Sandel in emitting what we as an audience can sink our teeth into in terms of charisma. They’re Disney Channel movie characters to a tee, and never once was I able to invest myself in their trials and tribulations.

– Disappointingly for a sequel, this one falls flat on a lot of measurements. For one, the first film is barely mentioned, but worse than this it feels like leap years away from where this story and its antagonist begins. Slappy is locked away in a chest. How he got there I have no idea. This makes no sense with how the first film began. In addition to this, his character motivation of wanting a family to feel whole is completely compromising to his personality during the first film. Then there’s his supernatural powers of telekinesis that come completely out of left field. I wouldn’t have a problem with this inclusion if it made less sense as the film goes on. For example, Slappy moves many objects and characters with his mind in the beginning, but when the conflict comes this gift is never used again. If he had, this film would be and should be fifteen minutes long, with him squashing the protagonists without problem.

– Can we please stop putting Ken Jeong in movies now? I get it, “The Hangover” was funny, and full of toilet humor from its show-stealing Asian centerpiece, but his schtick in 2018 feels about as fresh as a Foghat concert. Even for kids level of humor, Jeong’s scenes feel like a sharp knife to the spine each time the film cuts to him. His character isn’t exactly pointless, just written without a sense of direction, and Jeong’s brand of humor feels like the concrete slab tied to the feet of a character with no essential importance to the film’s creativity.

5/10

Hell Fest

Directed by Gregory Plotkin

Starring – Bex Taylor-Klaus, Reign Edwards, Tony Todd

The Plot – A masked serial killer turns a horror themed amusement park into his own personal playground, terrorizing a group of friends while the rest of the patrons believe that it is all part of the show.

Rated R for horror violence, and adult language including some sexual references

POSITIVES

– Captivating set designs. In capturing the imagination and detail associated with the haunted house attraction, Michael Perry dazzles us with limitless space opportunity and expressive decoration props to perfectly articulate the hostile surroundings. On top of this, the lighting features everything from a strobing effect to distract, to a variety of coloring to give each scene artistic merit. It’s a reminder that B-grade horror doesn’t always have to settle for limited accentuation within its world building.

– Purposeful jump scares? Anyone who knows me, knows I despise jump scares in horror films, but the ones in this film work because (after all) that is the gimmick associated with the setting. What I love is that the psychology behind the jump scares are more for the characters inside of the movie, and less as a tease for us watching at home. Because of such, the scares never feel timely or predictable to us because they are catering to just the world depicted inside of the screen, and not worrying about constantly breaking the fourth wall. It’s something I commend this film for greatly.

– Hard-R. Many mainstream films don’t receive the coveted R-rating anymore, mainly because they are seeking a wider age range in audience to fill their seats, but ‘Hell Fest’ whets our appetites repeatedly with an overabundance of gore that stems from some exceptionally creative kills. I challenged this film repeatedly to shy away from depicting where each devastating blow was headed, and never once did it succumb to the pressure of the standards of a flawed ratings system. There’s also great teasing and struggle leading up to them that increases the tension and urgency tenfold, and never allows the moment to evaporate with one quick blow. It chews up the scenery with repeated confidence, and this element gave this horror hound lots of satisfaction repeatedly.

– Consistency in pacing. ‘Hell Fest’ certainly isn’t a difficult watch by any stretch of the imagination. It’s an 84 minute movie that constantly keeps breezing through a barrage of ever-changing landscapes and pulse-racing atmosphere to keep the attention firmly planted on the screen. Never during the film was I ever bored or distant from what was transpiring, nor did I feel like the allowed time did a disservice to the story itself. It’s a great way to burn an hour-and-a-half off of your day.

– Bear McCreery’s almost operatic score. McCreery is someone who is quickly becoming one of my favorite composers in film, and his work in this film is more proof for the pudding. Bear’s amplified compositions ignore subtle nuance and instead instill a ranging vibrancy for the variety in environments. Yes, this is all happening under the roof of one location, but the many themes inside the park are given enough respect from Bear to keep their music marginally different, and without them ‘Hell Fest’ wouldn’t earn even a fraction of the elevated tension that it frequently earns.

NEGATIVES

– Convenient plot devices. One aspect that disappointed me and took away from my growing enjoyment of the film was in the many conveniences that Plotkin forces us to endure, which even for a horror film are a bit of a stretch. This is as popular of a park as you can imagine, yet there’s only our ensemble cast who we ever see interacting in these attractions. Yes, we are given exposition in the form of V.I.P passes, but never on any park on this planet would this angle work for a single day. There’s also an angle with the killer’s shoes that makes it conveniently easy throughout to pick him out whenever he is trying to hide or blend in. As well, the killer isn’t exactly as wise as the film paints him out to be. Several times he does himself a disservice by allowing a character an easy escape, or just plain out walks away from them after he strikes.

– Lack of characters/bad acting. The work from this cast is offensive even for a campy, B-grade horror film. Their over-the-top personalities and selfish instincts repeatedly rubbed me the wrong way, and made it easier for me to embrace the film’s antagonist to kill them off one-by-one. Much of this can be blamed on the total ignorance of backstory or exposition from the film, but the fresh-faced cast often make it unpleasant to spend even one moment with them. These are people who I myself would never spend one evening with in my personal life, so being forced to endure them without distraction is a test I often failed.

– As for the killer himself, there’s nothing remotely satisfying about his big reveal that makes the juice worth the squeeze. His arsenal in weaponry is quite bland, his costume is something that could be put together at Costco, and any wave of clarity or logic for his hatred of haunted houses is never further elaborated on. Without spoiling anything, there is a scene near the end of the movie that I think implies to paint that this guy is a regular human being like you or me, but that still doesn’t even attempt to piece together the motivation for such a sporadic hobby, and just kind of sends us home on an emptying wave of air that slowly omits itself from the momentum of this film.

– One and done. Cameos from legendary figures in horror films are certainly nothing new, but the way Tony Todd, A.K.A The Candyman, is shuffled on and off screen during this film is downright insulting. Todd is given relatively high billing for the film, and is reduced to nothing more than a one-off scene that leaves no lasting impact. When you have a name like Todd’s, you go all out, and for my money I could’ve used more background for his role as the host of this terrifying attraction.

– The film’s premise, while nothing original by the genre’s standards, really goes disappointingly unexplored. One could argue that this leaves room for future installments, but much of the creativity associated with dissecting what is real and what isn’t in the park is never further elaborated on, removing many opportunities for fake-out scares and mysticism for the setting that I felt this movie desperately needed. For my money, establishing a one-man killer early on only limits the potential of paranoia within its walls, and leaves a general underwhelming feeling going forward that kept the scares very rudimentary.

5/10

Johnny English Strikes Again

Directed by David Kerr

Starring – Rowan Atkinson, Olga Kurylenko, Emma Thompson

The Plot – The third installment of the Johnny English comedy series, with Rowan Atkinson returning as the much loved accidental secret agent. The new adventure begins when a cyber-attack reveals the identity of all active undercover agents in Britain, leaving Johnny English as the Secret Service’s last hope. Called out of retirement, English dives head first into action with the mission to find the mastermind hacker. As a man with few skills and analog methods, Johnny English must overcome the challenges of modern technology to make this mission a success.

Rated PG for some action violence, rude humor, adult language and brief nudity

POSITIVES

– Late but purposeful. It has been eight years since the previous Johnny English installment, and fifteen since the original that went on to be a box office smash, bringing 320 million dollars between them. So it’s certainly easy to understand why a third chapter exists, and with the addition of technological nemesis like Cyber-Hacking, Identity Theft, and such, it allows English to explore avenues of antagonists that he hasn’t yet tackled. But it also provides the opportunity in valuing these new toys that help him crack the case a little easier. This gives the third movie proper motivation and deters it from the previous movies, whose environments were a product of their time.

– Stylish, spy thriller cinematography by Florian Hoffmeister. ‘Strikes Again’ is fill of slick car chase sequences through the bending mountainside, as well as never-ending portraits of English countryside that competently articulates the genre’s predecessors in visual likeness. These examples are a constant reminder of how faithful this film sticks with its intended genre purpose, and perfectly sets its audience in the mood for what’s to come.

– Quick run time. The film clocks in at a measly 84 minutes, and this may perhaps be its greatest benefit against a plot that isn’t necessarily substantive or even imaginative. Much of the pacing remained persistent, and never felt like it was sagging or dulling me to the point of checking my watch, particularly with the carefully spread out sight gags that bring enticement to each act.

– Doesn’t require allegiance to the previous films. As a critic, I am a bit ashamed to say that I never saw either of the first two films in this series, but thankfully Kerr’s sequel doesn’t rely at all on Johnny’s past work, just on the very legend of the character that sets him apart from the other spies. In this regard, the movie stands on its own independent feet, catering to a new generation of youthful moviegoers without ever alienating fans of the series, who are now grown-ups.

– Hit or miss performances. Atkinson still gives his all to this character, portraying English with a sort of unaware cool smug about his asinine decisions that make him the proper outcast for any spy character. His best attribute is in his bodily movements that dare you not to laugh each time he dedicates a thorough amount of time to the gag. Likewise, his chemistry with sidekick Bough (Played by Ben Miller) is impeccable, and allows the two cherished English actors great importance to the story’s progression. Unfortunately, the female cast is less opportunistic. Thompson is virtually wasted as the Prime Minister, sprouting her sparse ten total minutes on camera as being the subplot to Johnny’s mayhem. It is unfortunate that the two have such little screen time together to bounce off of one another, as the inclusion of a prestigious actress like Thomposon could’ve added much-needed female dynamic to the film that it just doesn’t master. Kurylenko is also phoning it in, playing Bond girl 27. The film just kind of forgets about her the longer it goes, proving her intention was nothing more than eye-candy that feels dated for the kind of equality we have mastered most recently in films.

NEGATIVES

– Cheap budget for virtually non-existent action sequences. What this film needs is an element of devastation in adding weight or memorability to the movie. One example of this limited perspective is a fire sequence in the opening twenty minutes that not only shies away from depicting the start of the fire, but also only acknowledges it through the facial reactions of our two male leads, with a flicker of light reflecting from their faces. Sadly, this is the highlight for the film in the set pieces department, removing any kind of consequential weight from the irresponsibility of clumsy characters.

– Ineffective humor. This film, perhaps more than anything else, is a blueprint for the differences in English and American comedy that have divided them for decades in terms of intended marks. With the exception of one sequence that stretches the boundaries and believability of virtual reality, I didn’t laugh once in this entire film, and that’s a huge disappointment for someone like Atkinson, whom I’ve adored for decades on the Mr. Bean program. Part of the blame is the juvenile atmosphere created, but I put so much more on punchlines that are skimmed over like just another line read.

– No surprises. Considering this is a spoof on spy thrillers, the lack of overall mystery and motivations within the characters feels like a pivotal misfire against a predictable screenplay full of genre cliches. Pretty much from the opening ten minutes of the movie you can piece it all together where the film’s antagonist, conflict, and resolution will fall, proving that the film’s lack of intelligence within itself stems from so much more than a bumbling protagonist who has never used a cell phone in 2018.

– An idea within. Instead of a plot that more than rubs together with previous films in the series, I preferred an angle that the screenplay only hints at. English is now an espionage teacher of sorts for a school of youths, and I think this original direction could’ve done with its youthful cast the same things that ‘Kingsman’ did for troubled adolescents. Is there any guarantee it would’ve been a better film? Absolutely not, but the desire in crafting a chapter of originality is something I commend any series for, but unfortunately it’s a sequel in plot that never strays far from familiarity.

– In Kerr’s directing, the biggest flaw that I found was his inability in taking chances. Most of the shot compositions, as well as character world-building feels very pedestrian and one-dimensionally confined to the actions of the film. What I mean by this is it doesn’t feel believable in the slightest that this world exists outside of this movie, refusing to explore English when he isn’t donning the three piece suit. This is where screenwriter William Davies takes his share of the blame, because his conflict lacks true complexity in fleshing out the true danger of the profession. These psychological delves could allow us not only to feel more invested in the hollow plot, but also in the range of the character, who hasn’t sprouted much in fifteen years.

5/10

The Nun

Directed by Corin Hardy

Starring – Demian Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet

The Plot – When a young nun (Bonnie Aarons) at a cloistered abbey in Romania takes her own life, a priest (Bichir) with a haunted past and a novitiate (Farmiga) on the threshold of her final vows are sent by the Vatican to investigate. Together they uncover the order’s unholy secret. Risking not only their lives but their faith and their very souls, they confront a malevolent force in the form of the same demonic nun that first terrorized audiences in ‘The Conjuring 2,’ as the abbey becomes a horrific battleground between the living and the damned.

Rated R for terror, violence, and disturbing/bloody images

POSITIVES

– Eerily effective musical score from Abel Korzeniowski. If it isn’t enough that the musical composer’s name is Abel in a film surrounding religion, the wise decisions that he takes in crafting that authentic convent feel moves the atmosphere and tone miles in terms of the inevitable doom they channel. Abel combines these richly dark and ominous tones with the inclusion of an all-male choir, to make it sound like echoing hymns throughout the hallowed halls, and its power is greater than most of the supposed scares in the film.

– Detailed production in set pieces that spare zero expense. What transcends the film from being just another watered down sequel is the attention to eye-popping props and on-location (Romania) shooting that sprinkle its vital investment into this story. Beyond this being just a scary place, it’s one that works for the dimming of natural light whose shadow work messes with your mind on several occasions, as well as the time that went into perfecting uses for even the minimalist of scene time. The graveyard full of crosses feels like it stretches miles, speaking volumes not only to the rich tradition of this convent, but also Valek’s menacing powers that have ended many lives.

– Art imitating life? It’s interesting that both Farmiga sisters, Vera and Taissa, have both appeared in this series of films, albeit in respectively different films. For the younger Farmiga, she is every bit as rich in haunting facial reactions as her big sis, but it’s more in her character’s inexperience with true evil that crafts her performance as something entirely different. As Sister Irene, Taissa rarely needs to scream to keep a grip on the attention of the film, instead being the glaring line of conscience between our world and Catholicism that is tested every foot along the way.

– Uneasiness with simply imagery. When this film isn’t trying to be full of unnecessary jump scares, the unsettling depictions of faceless nuns slowly walking in A rhythmic trance gave me constant reminder of what this film could’ve been if the studio just trusted the atmosphere in tension that has been built across five movies. It properly sets the mood for the film you were promised, but unfortunately lives up with much else, because it would rather aim for the same tropes that is all the craze in modern horror.

– Justification among its counterparts. The ending of the film, while a mess creatively for this lone chapter, does fit in perfectly with ‘The Conjuring’ universe, and does instill strong replay value for the films before it. One scene in particular takes us back to a scene in the first Conjuring movie, neatly tying the two sides together without it feeling like a great suspension of disbelief.

NEGATIVES

– Why is this rated R? Push aside the Academy’s grading that I typed above, and you have a lack of emphasis overall with the coveted R-rating that other horror films so desperately require. Because of the often times blurry surroundings, there’s little distinguishable blood, and there’s nothing too disturbing in violence that would otherwise make me think this isn’t a PG-13 film. This feels like a mistake more on the Academy’s part, but the film itself does very little of risk to warrant this designation.

– Terribly bad A.D.R. It’s almost become typical of me to spot instances here and there in a film where lines of dialogue don’t match that of the proper lip movements that come from their actors, but in ‘The Nun’ that game gets taken to a whole other level. I’m not sure if the sound mixer was asleep at the wheel, but there were two scenes where a character is talking aloud without actually speaking in vision. The film thinks if it hides this character in the background it won’t be noticeable, but that couldn’t be further from the truth, and these instances aren’t strong enough to be considered sloppy, they are downright amateur.

– Continued dependency on jump scares. This is beginning to get to the point where it’s every bit as formulaic as it is anti-climatic. While there are bigger offenders of the cliche, ‘The Nun’ goes to the well eight times too many with ineffective jump scares that can easily be telegraphed from a mile away. It’s typically when a scene’s sound goes from seven to zero in a split second, but there’s something additional even more conflicting here. The camera work and shot composition repeat on more than one occasion for these jump scare scenes, and that redundancy speaks volumes of the laziness that comes across in too many jump scares that don’t warrant the sound that comes from them.

– Inconsistencies of the rules. There are too many examples to cite here, so I will just say my favorite. Valek herself fears crosses in her vision, often times disappearing when she comes into contact with one. In this regards, she can be easily compared to the rules of a vampire. So why then are there not only several instances of crosses in plain view that do nothing, as well as how she can touch and even harm these blessed holy characters without something of harm coming to her. You had one rule for your antagonist, and you even messed that up.

– Without question, the most offensive aspect of the film to me is how it unabashedly rips off scenes and storyboards from other movies without shame. Throughout the film, there are unavoidable instances with films like ‘The Exorcist’ or ‘Silent Hill’, but the biggest offender to me is that of ‘Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight’. The producers of this film must have a lot of faith that no one saw that movie, and they’re probably right, but to completely lift the entire ending from that movie is shameful to say the least, and proves that ‘The Nun’ never comfortably follows its own path.

5/10

Blood Fest

Directed by Owen Egerton

Starring – Robbie Kay, Seychelle Gabriel, Zachary Levi

The Plot – Fans flock to a festival celebrating the most iconic horror movies, only to discover that the charismatic showman behind the event has a diabolical agenda. As festival attendees start dying off, three teenagers, more schooled in horror-film cliches than practical knowledge about neutralizing psycho killers , must band together and battle through various madmen and monstrosities to survive.

Currently not rated

POSITIVES

– Creative kills. Sadly, the effects work is mostly computer generated, but that doesn’t spoil the creativity involved with a first act setting of the stage that is certainly the five most satisfying minutes that this film has to offer. Chainsaws, road tools, and pools of pig’s blood splash and gash across the screen, giving you a fiesta of carnage that the rest of the film has trouble ever living up to.

– Subtle homages to horror icons. While most of the rules and material of ‘Blood Fest’ felt more insulting than not for my taste, the Easter Eggs pointing to some of the elusive legends of the genre felt satisfying for their familiarity. It’s not so much ripping off popular properties as it is depicting their magnitude on the horror pop culture stratosphere. I won’t spoil much, but Hoddertown as a setting within the park gave me plenty of motivation as to where I want to live next.

– I love the idea of this plot. This feeling of life imitating art is one that thrives with my general interest, even if the movie managed to round up zero legitimate scares along the way. On the surface, the event Blood Fest is this great excuse for gore and body counts of the highest ratio to come together, bringing the torture on a grander scale than were used to in a conventional horror film, with the exception of maybe zombie films. P.S – There are zombies in this movie.

– While none of the acting is worthy of over-the-top praise, the work from this ensemble of mostly inexperienced cast members do a solid enough job as a likeable entity. Particularly the work of Gabriel as the final girl of sorts for this film, served as my single favorite performance for the movie, as someone not afraid of getting dirty when a scene requires it. She tends to give her whole body to a scene involving violence, and her petite stature is one that comes in handy for the many twists and turns that the story, as well as her body, takes.

– Much of the comedy, while juvenile and redundant at times, hits its target for a majority of the time, bringing a few hearty laughs that definitely made the sit a lot easier. My favorite scene of the movie takes place in the opening five minutes, when the trio of leads are talking at the video store. The banter between them is timely in their sarcastic deliveries, and overall it’s this scene that sets the precedent for the personalities, as well as the brand of humor for the entirety of the movie going forward.

NEGATIVES

– While this is a far greater improvement on production designs from Rooster Teeth’s other feature films, the set pieces in particular feel lifeless and artificial. When the film isn’t limiting the most of its horrific looking green-screen effects that obscure and blur anything surrounding human properties, the physical properties feel like they were cut out of a gimmick haunted house, lacking any kind of depth or creativity for their inclusion.

– Bare minimum character exposition. These are people who are limited to one word descriptions like “Blonde” or “Virgin”, and the film’s lack of focus to their proper development leaves them equally with nothing to live up to with these minimal tags. Even for a B-grade horror movie, ‘Blood Fest’ caters more to the familiar tropes of the genre, instead of building on the audience’s investment in a particular character, and the result are weightless deaths that add nothing of urgency or effectiveness to the frights of the film.

– Plagued by predictability. ‘Blood Fest’ feels worn down by the lifespan of its gimmick as a movie that is ahead of the rules it promotes, beating into the ground constant reminders that riddle it full of telegraphed moves before they even happen. A couple has sex, so of course they’re dead, a blonde is naked in the shower, so of course she’s next, and this constant ring of reminder annoyed me because of how saddled it becomes with being another follower of the pack.

– ‘Blood Fest’ is everything wrong with the pop culture appeal that it satirizes so often. The film’s antagonist speaks of the horror genre losing its effect because studios have taken what’s forbidden and made it routine, and this movie does the exact same. It’s insulting to condense horror into a few simple rules, but even more than that it’s damning to the integrity of the film when the tone-deaf range, as well as lack of anything original or compelling for the genre rears its head. This gives Rooster Teeth a double F for eFFort.

– The twist, while anything but predictable, is as far-fetched an idea as anything that this film scares up for us. What’s even more ridiculous is that the film didn’t require it, as the movie’s true antagonist and surprisingly creative plot made for more than enough explanation on the idea of this festival. I guess it’s appropriate that a character involved in the ending spouts the line “I did warn you that Blood Fest was going to suck”. Well played movie, and this twist only further emphasizes how right on the money you truly were.

5/10

Dog Days

Directed by Ken Marino

Starring – Nina Dobrev, Vanessa Hudgens, Finn Wolfhard

The Plot – Follows a group of interconnected people in Los Angeles who are brought together by their lovable canine counterparts.

Rated PG for rude and suggestive content, and for times of adult language

POSITIVES

– Knows its audience very well. This movie is what I like to call “Aww-proof”, in that it has plenty of cute visuals where the dogs are doing humorous things, to make viewers shriek in delight. Manipulative? Absolutely, but ‘Dog Days’ is a love letter to the Youtube generation, who take big chunks out of their day to watch dog and cat videos as an escape from the real world.

– Personably grounded ensemble cast. While Marino doesn’t do a strong enough job in establishing some of the finer points in personality, most noticeably in a doctor character who changes at the drop of a hat, this crew of energetic B-listers bring radiance to their portrayals. Hudgens charms with that classic Hollywood smile, Wolfhard has charisma well beyond his years, and Ron Cephas Jones was single-handedly my favorite part of the movie, for his chances in dramatic pulse that the film fought so hard to constantly diminish.

– Breezy pacing. For the most part, the film sails by in the winds of progression that never stumble nor stilt with the many on-going subplots. Despite a third act that I’ll get to later on, the movie’s first half flourishes by building the many different relationships that these characters have with their furry counterparts, and does so in a way that honors importance in animals without dumbing the movie down with unlikely stunts or situations that dog movie writers love to include.

– Raises awareness on its own terms. Never does the film feel meandering in the slightest with this aspect, instead bringing light subtly to the over-crowding of dog shelters by valueing their importance. What’s even more appreciative in this aspect, is that there’s no over-the-top antagonist landlord character to bring down the mood of the picture once it is revealed that the shelter is closing. That alone is something I greatly commend the movie for, as the spanning of a lot of characters already casts a great divide in the fight for screen time.

– Much of the interactions scattered throughout the film are rooted in realism that many dog owners can relate to. Examples range in the form of rude wake-up calls, to the barking reactions of loud noises around them, to an overall lack of eating etiquette that proves no food is safe. ‘Dog Days’ is very grounded in this respect, allowing the humans to narrate us through, while letting the dogs be the comic relief that the film depends on so persistently.

NEGATIVES

– Mind-bashing music. I can’t believe that in a movie about dogs that I have to bring up music, but it’s a painful headache constantly throughout. There’s a band named Fronk in the film, led by Adam Pally’s character, and they somehow take these AWFUL one hit wonder jams like ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ and ‘I’m Too Sexy’ and make them even worse with their funk renditions. I’ve heard less agonizing listens during a Kidz Bop CD, and what’s even more unfortunate is the film goes back to them no fewer than four times.

– Generic production qualities. Besides the fact that the film casts this imitation lighting that many films today like to use to throw off the authenticity of natural lighting, the movie also slices scenes prematurely with terrible edits, and brings back what I thought was a forgotten relic of Hollywood Cliches. In that regard, the final setting of the movie takes place on a painted backdrop that doubles as downtown Los Angeles, and it couldn’t be any more obvious if the wind in the studio shook its images to the point that they flowed like a flag.

– Constant predictability. When I say that there was nothing original or remotely surprising about this movie, I really underplay it. Once you’re introduced to each character and their respective dispositions, you begin to comprehend where they will be once the film ends. Because of this, I constantly felt like I was ten minutes ahead in the film, and was continuously waiting for them to catch up.

– Third act problems. This is where the film really starts to overstay its near two hour run time. Because of the structure in having so many leads splitting time, each of them is treated to a set-up, conflict, and resolution that rides the waves of redundancy. Once everything has been put away neatly, the film loses a lot of its momentum by not understanding where to end the film. There are no fewer than three different endings in the film. All of which would’ve been fine enough to roll the credits, but none of which actually do, and needless to say I didn’t stay for the credit blooper reel that only further prolonged the dragging.

– The only times I laughed in this film were with the reaction shots of the dogs, because the human material had me questioning what age group this movie is marketed towards. The adult directions used for some of the set-up, including themes of cheating significant others, as well as a barrage of sex jokes, combined with these very animated deliveries, made for an uneven strategy that very seldom paid off. The imagery of the four legged friends was very beneficial, but I never have a reason to watch ‘Dog Days’ again, because it does nothing to stand out from the rest of the pack.

5/10

Hot Summer Nights

Directed by Elijah Bynum

Starring – Timothee Chalamet, Maika Monroe, Alex Roe

The Plot – Daniel Middleton (Chalamet), a likable but socially awkward recent high-school graduate, is spending the summer before college visiting his aunt on Cape Cod. Neither a “townie” nor a wealthy “summer bird” dropping in for the season, Daniel struggles to find his place-until he meets Hunter Strawberry (Roe), the local bad-boy who peddles marijuana to well-off vacationers when he isn’t protecting his younger sister McKayla (Monroe) from overzealous male suitors. Sensing an opportunity, Daniel persuades Hunter to go into business, dealing weed up and down the Cape together as the summer heat intensifies. Newly confident, Daniel falls for McKayla, keeping their relationship secret until it becomes explosive. Set in the summer of 1991 against the backdrop of a looming hurricane

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

POSITIVES

– Concise editing that visibly narrates the free-flow of the film’s narration as told by an off-screen character. The establishing shots of Cape Cod offer a distinct tone of personality and escapism that many of the town folk adopt, and the endless energy with the introductory scenes really builds a pulse from within that gets you excited for what’s to come.

– As for the narration itself, it speaks vividly for the rumor mill of gossip within the town and how they perceive certain characters as legends of stories handed down. There’s plenty of interview style perspectives initially, that we compare and contrast for the similarities and differences that only we can piece together, since we are getting the entire spectrum of speculation. In this regard, its storytelling reminds me of ‘The Virgin Suicides, in that it speaks of a time and a place that feels light years behind us, and one that might be too late to confront this Summer that almost blew the town off of the proverbial map.

– Excellent soundtrack of summertime classic rock favorites. Are the tracks invasive from time to time in their deliveries? YES, but the catalog in full transcribes the exhilarating feeling to be a teenager and be alive again, with the world at your fingertips. Throw in some beautiful sky map transitional sequences to channel the spirit of Summer, and you have a one-two combo that easily immerses you back into the psychology of adolescence.

– Vibrant overall cinematography that channels the post-80’s style smoothly in presentation. In addition to the film feeling like one big love letter to VHS technology, where the hazy coloring filters and neon graphics marry in a union of outdated bliss, there’s an overall presence of fog that fills the air, speaking volumes to the drug trade that the boys are thoroughly embedded in. Because of this, the colors are able to pop out even more and seduce you in a way that very few time period films correctly capture anymore.

– The performances are mostly satisfying enough, particularly that of the male and female leads. This is Chalamet’s second coming of age film set during the summer, but one he differs with greatly because of the nuance in control he exudes over the boredom and awkwardness that comes with being a teenager on the brink of Summer. Monroe as well is vivacious and seductive, even if the mumbling, bumbling dialogue does her zero favors. The two don’t have the strongest of chemistry connections, but they make up for it personality radiance that captures completely two of the biggest rising stars in the Hollywood landscape.

NEGATIVES

– Because much of the meat in this story is derivative from other films that did it better, the weight of consequences are every bit as timely as they are predictable. Once you know the set-up in the dynamics of relationships and coincidence, you can easily navigate through where this story is headed. It’s disappointing that a film this similar to other coming-of-age narratives of the subgenre doesn’t project anything of originality to stretch its lasting power. In fact, I have already forgot so much of this movie, and I watched it less than an hour before writing this.

– So much of the supporting cast is greatly underutilized. I point to a subplot involving Hunter’s girlfriend (Played by Maia Mitchell), where this girl is virtually glossed over as nothing more than an afterthought to the weight of this story. For someone with the greatest tie to arguably the most important character of the movie, the film reduces her to nothing more than eye candy, leaving an air of regret for this actress who will undoubtedly be one of the biggest surprises of 2018. Beyond this, film veterans like Thomas Jane and William Fichtner are entirely wasted in terms of what they provide this movie. Fichtner is only in one scene in the film, and Jane’s presence is completely omitted from the very aspect of tension that goes noticeably missing when it’s required the most.

– In addition to what I just said, certain scenes feel like they’re missing from the third act developments. Particularly with Jane’s police character, he seems to have figured out that these two characters are selling drugs without us ever witnessing his air of discovery. Two other characters in Daniel’s Mother and Aunt go missing all together after their introductions. Also, another inevitable confrontation finally happens only two scenes after it seemed smoothed out and repressed. How did things get so bad so fast? Where is the missing pieces in between that relate to us what is coming?

– For my money, the second half of this film was nowhere near as entertaining as the first. Snail’s pacing comes as a result of too many musical montages, and the unearned dramatic pull from forced confrontations ,that I mentioned above, are never remotely satisfying because of the lack of build and time donated to them. The film just kind of ends on speculation instead of certainty, providing the most frustrating aspect to donating nearly two hours to this story and characters.

– Bynum as a director feels promising enough with his edginess in style, especially for a first time director, but in also writing the script he may have worn himself too thin. It pains me to label a movie all style and no substance, but ‘Hot Summer Nights’ is the definition of that phrase because it lacks the kind of sizzle from the steak to ever live up to such a promising title. A plot is the first step to your audience indulging or not in a movie, but beyond that surface level, nothing ever continues to build on the suspense, leaving a thirst for a direction that feels tone deaf from the get-go

5/10

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

Directed by Genndy Tatakovsky

Starring – Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Mel Brooks

The Plot – Mavis (Gomez) surprises Dracula (Sandler) with a family voyage on a luxury Monster Cruise Ship so he can take a vacation from providing everyone else’s vacation at the hotel. The rest of Drac’s Pack cannot resist going along. But once they leave port, romance arises when Dracula meets the mysterious ship Captain, Ericka (Kathryn Hahn). Now it’s Mavis’ turn to play the overprotective parent, keeping her dad and Ericka apart. Little do they know that his “too good to be true” love interest is actually a descendant of Abraham Van Helsing, ancient nemesis to Dracula and all other monsters.

Rated PG for some action and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Sandler’s career has found a bit of a resurgence in vocalizing animated characters. After three straight films that have made me laugh more than the last ten of Sandler’s live action movies combined, I think Adam should stick with voicing Drac and other animated properties for the foreseeable future. Sandler works in this environment because his vocalizing has always catered to adolescent material, bringing with it a tone in reactionary humor that was made for animated film. On top of it, he gets to stick to formula and bring with him his growing number of friends, to make sure each of them always has a paying gig. Quite the samaritan.

– Tatakovsky’s style of animation that is unlike anything by comparison in the animated world of cinema. The eye-popping colorful stroke, combined with facial defining traits are something that clearly makes this franchise standout, and pushes the boundaries of its comedy even further by some effective sight gags that consistently keeps the humor in check.

– Speaking of sight gags, they easily carried the humor over the dialogue that rarely ever hit for me. For my money, I would’ve been fine with ‘Hotel Transylvania 3’ being a silent animated film that captured all of the cause and effects of monsters being aboard a cruise ship, and how their dispositions fed into that setting’s entertainment traditions. Particularly, my favorite scene of the entire film is an airline run by some familiar 80’s cinema monsters, that adopt their own brand of customer hospitality that will have you shrieking with laughter.

– Being a fan myself of the world’s biggest mysteries, I love that the setting of this film takes place in the Bermuda Triangle, on Friday the 13th. The date in particular is interesting, because that is of course the release date for this film, and kudos to the studio for breaking the fourth wall in those regards. The setting perhaps does or does not elaborate on the urban myth to why so many have disappeared in its clutches…..or should I say tentacles (Wink Wink)

– On the front of messages for the film, at least there are two out of three that youths can take away from positively. These are the importance of family, as well as never judging those who are different on just appearances alone. I think if these messages stick, those younger audience members will be alright. If the third and more consequential message sticks, in which we should pursue endlessly the objects of our affections, then I have great terror for the world in the coming decades.

NEGATIVES

– As par for the course of Sandler films, this one has no shortage of classic rock favorites, or even the best of modern day top 40 to accommodate its repetitive dance sequences. My problem with this is the music included feels so commercialized, adding very little value or importance to the scene based on creativity. It feels like a lazy excuse to sell downloads, and never really fits in this particular world, no matter how goofy Drac and friends are portrayed.

– It’s interesting to me that this film takes place over the course of a few days, and yet we never see any daytime scenes. One could say that’s obviously because Drac sleeps during the day, but there are also no scenes involving Drac going to sleep or resting of any kind. Because of how the film is edited and paced together, it feels like one continuous trip into a world where the sun never rises, and the characters, both monster and human, never sleep.

– By the third installment of this franchise, there are simply far too many characters at this point with nothing to do. It’s certainly an easy paycheck for those talented voice actors, but their inclusion adds so little to the film in a creative sense, and I would’ve liked to have seen some of them stay behind at the hotel to run things while a few go on-board. Wait a minute, who the hell is running the hotel while everyone is gone???

– The biggest negative to the story comes in the lack of attention donated to the unfolding narrative to the Drac and Ericka, before the pivotal third act. Considering this is a light, breezy 87 minute sit, there is no shortage to throwaway one-off gags that add nothing of weight or growth to what should be front-and-center in our focus. This film has A.D.D of the worst kind, leaving about fifteen minutes of actual development for the film’s central plot to feast on. Perhaps that’s why I’m left with this overwhelming sense of carelessness for where the film ends up.

– As for that finale, what develops between protagonist and antagonist is ridiculous even for a children’s cartoon. Not since the movie ‘Couples Retreat’ has a conflict been resolved in such juvenile and far-fetched way that has more holes in its plan than a piece of swiss cheese. What’s even worse is that even after sitting through ten minutes of ridiculousness that I couldn’t script if I was high on LSD, we come to discover that it all really doesn’t matter in the bigger picture. We end up some place where consequence and resolve doesn’t exist, instead opting to set up for a fourth movie that I hope returns this franchise to prominence.

5/10

Boundaries

Directed by Shana Feste

Starring – Vera Farmiga, Christopher Plummer, Lewis Macdougall

The Plot – Single mom Laura (Farmiga), along with her awkward 14 year-old son Henry (MacDougall) is forced to drive Jack (Plummer), her estranged, care-free pot dealing father across country after he’s kicked out of yet another nursing home. The road trip veers off course when Jack decides to make a couple ‘stops’ and Henry asks to see his ne’er-do-well dad Leonard (Bobby Cannavale), completely upending Laura’s attempt to hold her family together and ultimately forcing her to finally see her father for the man he really is.

Rated R for drug material, adult language, some sexual references and nude sketches

POSITIVES

– Farmiga and Plummer are consistently effective enough to outrun some of the underwhelming material, and because of such, carve out a Father/Daughter dynamic that works. For Plummer, it’s a chance to play out of type for once, living through Jack as a kind of Rip Torn meets Alec Baldwin stoner that proves wholeheartedly that the man can do comedy. For Farmiga’s Laura, we see a character’s fragility exposed because of the past that continues to haunt her in more ways than one. Vera rises to the occasion, with tears that fall on command, even if we don’t feel her pain emotionally ourselves, because of repeated misfires with direction.

– What road trip movie wouldn’t succeed if they didn’t have montages detailing some of the beautiful countryside? Thankfully, ‘Boundaries’ is more than capable of this feat. What’s refreshing for once is the geographical locations, scouting landscapes up and down the California coast, as opposed to endless deserts that other road trip movies seem saddled with. The beaches are a warm compliment to the ecological coloring of the urban countryside, providing enough versatility to feed into the passing of the time.

– In keeping with tradition of this mostly female-led production team, the cinematography from Sara Mishara offers a subtle glow that radiates that independent cinema vibe throughout. This is arguably Sara’s biggest mainstream project to date, and she doesn’t drop the ball in channeling some of the cold and callous psychological stance between this often strained relationship. On top of this, much of her camera work speaks volumes to manipulating the angles in the way that the characters see things. This puts us in the car alongside our talented cast, when we engage this beautiful scenery that surrounds us in frame and focus.

– I had many problems with the overall tone that I will get to later, but one half of this element worked for me, and that was the humor. For my money, this film should’ve remained committed to being a comedy, because there’s often something sarcastic and wittingly dry to the way Feste writes character deliveries that just feels honest. The best kind of humor is always the kind that audiences can channel and relate to, and I found these parts in the film the most enjoyable because of the way I related to their authenticity.

– While I failed to see the link in what they were representing creatively, the film does at least serve as an olive branch for animal lovers of all tribes. Farmiga’s character throughout the movie adopts these random dogs and cats that she finds abandoned, at least relaying to us the compassionate side of her character that makes her incredibly engaging as a protagonist. If you’re like me and can’t watch a film without stopping to moan at how cute a particular animal is, then Boundaries will give you plenty to oogle at.

NEGATIVES

– The road trip subgenre is a bit played out, especially in 2018 with a film called ‘Kodachrome’ that did it much better, but ‘Boundaries’ offers nothing in the way of surprises or originality that breaks itself from the pack. Almost immediately, the film writes itself into these familiar corners that inevitably remind you of a better film, and leaving itself little wiggle room in laminating anything memorable for audiences for more than five minutes after they leave the theater.

– I mentioned earlier that the film juggles tonal consistency, often feeling like two directions being compromising opponents in a vicious tug-of-war. As to where the comedy almost entirely works for the film, the movie’s sagging dramatic elements fail miserably, because of how juvenile the humor sometimes leaves a scene. There’s little exposition in terms of that scarred relationship that is never elaborated on, and much of the melodrama invades our scope with very little planning or patience to leave emotional resonance.

– One direction that I found strange was the third act developments that feel like they are keeping the cameras on to reach a certain run time. This is the part of the film where I felt that so much could be trimmed for time, particularly that of a subplot involving Farmiga’s on-screen sister (Played by Kristen Schaal) that adds very little but a distraction to the one-on-one directive that the film needed closure on. Because of this, the film just kind of ends in the way I knew it would, never capitalizing on an emotional center to drive the narrative home.

– In addition to the unnecessary plots involved with the sister character, the road trip itself provides far too many speed bumps in the way of these simmering issues, that keep the resolve slipping further out of our grasp. One stop is fine, but ‘Boundaries’ script instills four different character stops on this long and winding road, with only one of which adding anything to the exercising of demons that the film’s plot wants you to believe so desperately. After a while, this misdirection starts to feel uncomfortable, and begins to hint that maybe some people simply can’t be changed, and we should respect that.

– Coming off of the ground-shaking performance of his time in ‘A Monster Calls’, it feels like a tragic disappointment for Macdougall to not have more to do in this film. Unresolved is a word that I would use to accurately define his character, and the only thing more antagonizing than the film’s lack of exposition for his conflicts, is that of how plain they supplant this teenage force. I don’t go to bat often for child actors, but when you have someone like Lewis Macdougall, you unleash him and let him react to these changing circumstances around him. Failing to do so, may be my biggest regret for the film.

5/10

The First Purge

Directed by Gerard McMurray

Starring – Y’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Marisa Tomei

The Plot – Behind every tradition lies a revolution. Welcome to the movement that began as a simple experiment: The First Purge. To push the crime rate below one percent for the rest of the year, the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) test a sociological theory that vents aggression for one night in one isolated community. But when the violence of oppressors meets the rage of the marginalized, the contagion will explode from the trial-city borders and spread across the nation.

Rated R for strong disturbing violence throughout, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use

POSITIVES

– For the first hour of this film, I honestly didn’t care about a single one of these characters. But then something interesting happens for their dynamic during the third act. Instead of the drug pushers that we have come to know up to that point, we instead start to see them for being these merchants of sorts for the streets they vow to protect. Because of this, for the first time in the film, it feels like everyone is working together, bringing to life the Us versus Them mentality that the Purge series of films have thrived on.

– Speaking of third acts, the apartment complex finale in this film is arguably my favorite choreographed action sequence midway through the 2018 movie year. Shot competently with enough claustrophobia for angles, as well as sharp, precise bodily movements for the actors involved, the final fifteen minutes of the film will send people home with the kind of adrenaline that they have been itching to see. The film elevates itself at the right moments, and because of such sends audiences home during the biggest edge-of-the-seat moments of the film.

– In regards to the event itself, it’s interesting to rewind and see the inception of such an idea, and how something so extreme gets introduced into society. As a screenwriter, what I appreciate most from James DeMonaco is his logic in cause-and-effects, and not feeling the need to get caught up in answering every single question. Instead, the script allows the audience to fill in the blanks, comparing and contrasting the similarities and differences in our own real world society that always feels one step away from such actions.

– The nightmare imagery of this film is among the most disturbing that I have seen for the series thus far. Aside from the creepy and innovative masks that we’ve come to expect, what really gave me chills were the close-ups of facial reactions that relate that introduction to mayhem the first time they get a taste for blood. It really conjures up that feeling of ambiguity with those we come into contact with daily, bringing to light the issues involved with trust that makes each of these characters feel so isolated.

– There’s much raw and untapped direction in the film’s cinematography that makes it feel like something straight out of 70’s B-movie cinema. The film opens up with these close-up shots while interviewing citizens for the Purge, inter-cutting it with these candid looks at the Staten Island neighborhoods surrounding us, to omit off that yellow gloss of street light color that other films have to pay extra in effects work to obtain. Simply put, this film does what Superfly didn’t.

NEGATIVES

– Once again, there is no dimensions of depth to the cartoon government antagonists that adorn these movies. Perhaps my disdain for this angle wouldn’t be as strong if it wasn’t redundant in every movie, and just once attempted to present relativity to their sides of the story. When you need a villain, a government agent in a suit is always a sure thing, but it doesn’t mean that we should any and every time.

– This film has some of the worst blood splatter effects work that I have seen in quite sometime. There are times when you have to look close to spot it, but the unorthodox reds that spit from wounds like an open spigot, do so with such a lack of believability amongst their overall presentation that have you fighting back laughter. During the occasions when it’s close to the screen, it does the cliche splatter effect when it hits us in the face. I’ve always had a problem with this logic, because what exactly is it hitting if we’re supposedly watching real events played off in real time where there are no cameras?

– As I mentioned earlier, the character development doesn’t kick in until late in the third act, but the acting work itself offers this element very little assistance. Noel isn’t bad as a protagonist, but he’s often relegated to maintaining the drug lord persona when the film so desperately wants him to have these traits of heart. Beyond him, everyone else often feels like they’re amped up to eleven, guided with the kind of direction that constantly reminded me that I was watching characters and not actual people. If the film wasn’t trying to take itself so seriously, and was more of a spoof, it would be fine, but the animated deliveries from some truly cringe-worthy lines of dialogue is too much to overcome.

– I feel like the first act of the film is easily the weakness for the movie, and there’s plenty of places to point at because of why. First, the backstory of the world at that point is rushed by in a one minute montage that gives us the cliff notes to questions that double after this information. Second, there’s never enough influence of government during these scenes, leaving much of the debate of parallel worlds feeling one sided. Finally, for the supposed first purge ever, there’s very little explanation of the rules considering these people are doing it for the first time. Should we assume they know because of their appointments with government officials? Wouldn’t it have been easier to explain it all on the TV briefing when we are minutes away?

– Time period? There’s many elements to this film that made me scratch my head for when this film is supposed to be taking place. For instance, in the original Purge movie from 2013, the film so bluntly states that it takes place in 2014. How can that be possible when in this film set sometime before then, we see a Blumhouse Halloween poster from a movie that is coming out in the fall of 2018? It’s obviously an Easter egg for their future schedule, but its inclusion is an immediate soiling of any time immersion that you have in the film. If this isn’t enough, the film’s use of technological advances in computer generated contact lenses and drones that fly over and film the action, are nowhere to be found in later Purge installments. Why would they introduce this in the first Purge and never again?

5/10

Uncle Drew

Directed by Charles Stone III

Starring – Kyrie Irving, Lilrey Howery, Shaquille O’Neal

The Plot – After draining his life savings to enter a team in the Rucker Classic street ball tournament in Harlem, Dax (Howery) is dealt a series of unfortunate setbacks, including losing his team to his longtime rival (Nick Kroll). Desperate to win the tournament and the cash prize, Dax stumbles upon the man, the myth, the legend Uncle Drew (Irving) and convinces him to return to the court one more time. The two men embark on a road trip to round up Drew’s old basketball squad (O’Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, and Lisa Leslie) and prove that a group of septuagenarians can still win the big one.

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

POSITIVES

– What really surprised me about Uncle Drew was just how much heart, not only for the game of basketball, but also for the expansive definition of the term family there really was. Uncle Drew is very much feel good cinema, bringing with it a light-hearted sense of cinema that very few films take a chance on anymore. The stakes in the film don’t ever feel world-threatening, instead relying on a game between friends-turned-family to harvest its rich center.

– Much of the makeup work here is done exceptionally well, never feeling cheap or painfully obvious in its subtle detail. Even if you see every name on the stretched cast before the film, it will take you more than a few seconds to accurately point out which athletes are playing what roles. One that particularly comes to mind is Chris Webber as Preacher, complete with greying wig and facial prosthetics to wipe away the identity of a very recognizable NBA star.

– Considering much of this cast are still considered amateur actors by their brief filmography stances, most of them get a passing grade for their crossover into feature films. Irving as the title character provides strong leadership and the occasional Disco nap that keeps the ticker pumping. Thank the movie gods most of all however, for Nick Kroll as the film’s much needed villain relief. Kroll’s facial reactions alone provided a majority of laughs for the film, but it’s in his quick-quip deliveries that provided the necessary fun in the atmosphere to never take his threat too seriously. Together with Howery, Kroll offers a complimentary throwback to the 80’s and 90’s sports comedies that brought with them these larger-than-life personalities.

– The basketball choreography as a whole felt very believable, replicating a sense of the street ball game that is anything but a typical basketball style. One benefit of this is that the action takes place 90% of the time inside of these musical montages that keeps them quick and crisp, without audiences being left time to pick them apart.

– Uncle Drew is a character who stemmed from a cola commercial, and while it would certainly be easy for Stone to take advantage of a vicious advertising angle for the film, the screenplay never jumps at the opportunity. If Adam Sandler were in this film, it would be a done deal, but Stone’s vision of a Drew biopic has enough leverage and importance in telling the story of this court legend firmly, leaving behind the opportunity to cash in on a quick dollar or two.

NEGATIVES

– If there are two things that doom Uncle Drew from advancing itself, it’s in its conventionalism and predictability from being a student of films that did the things they do better. To anyone who knows road trip movies where the band gets back together, you follow these highlighted steps easily without screenwriter Jay Longino presenting anything in the way of twists and turns to shape your opinion, and from his storied history behind the camera crafting sports films of his own, it’s clear that Stone has no interest in broadening the cluttered subgenre for a new generation of visionaries.

– Seeing Shaq’s hairy bare ass will never be a highlight for this critic, no matter how great the movie is. I could certainly speak levels on how unnecessary and juvenile this gag was, but I would be stooping too low upon myself. Instead, I will say that what looked like two pigs fighting over a Milk Dud will haunt my dreams for the next week easily.

– A majority of the comedy fails to reach its mark, although there was the occasional straight man reaction from Howery that did supply me with a few hearty chuckles. I blame a lot of the misfires on the crowd that the film caters to, opening its arms to family members of all ages that dramatically limits where the material can go. In my opinion, an R-rated cut of Uncle Drew would’ve won this critic over much more, and give it more authenticity to its street ball roots that otherwise feel as bland as vanilla.

– Even though the name of the film is Uncle Drew, and Irving is the top billed in the credits, the script drops the ball on establishing him as the most important character. The film starts and ends with Howery’s character, and in between Drew splits screen time with no fewer than seven other actors, leaving very little opportunity to hit home on why the film is named after him.

– While the film moves fluidly enough in all of the choices of scripting the games in montage formats, it never gives us time as an audience to invest and relish in the unfolding drama between the two teams that other sports movies articulate. Without spoiling much, I will say that the typical second half comeback for a particular team does happen in the final, but it does so for absolutely no reason what so ever, as to where other sports movies will attain this because of a legendary speech given, or a star player returns. Uncle Drew simply doesn’t have time for these details, rushing to the finish before its 98 minute run time starts to show its age.

5/10

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Directed by J.A Bayona

Starring – Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeff Goldblum

The Plot – Four years after the Jurassic World theme park was closed down, Owen (Pratt) and Claire (Howard) return to Isla Nublar to save the dinosaurs when they learn that a once dormant volcano on the island is active and is threatening to extinguish all life there. Along the way, Owen sets out to find Blue, his lead raptor, and discovers a conspiracy that could disrupt the natural order of the entire planet. Life has found a way, again.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril

POSITIVES

– Terrific volcano explosion sequence that isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty. While this is the peak (In my opinion) for thrills during the film, the rest of the action sequences are fleshed out with enough vulnerability and last second tension to leave all of the popcorn fun that a film can garner on the field of play.

– Poignant debates on the rights of predators versus every other animal. Unfortunately, this is as much originality for the film as you’re going to get, but the rights in question are certainly the focus point for the highs and lows that the material takes us on.

– Definitely the most stylistic of the Jurassic Franchise, with Bayona complimenting a polished interior harboring a sleek shine, in contrast to the smoky, gothic renderings of the island that scream monster movie setting.

– Pratt and Howard’s lack of chemistry is still there, but I’m thankful that this film doesn’t try to cram their romantic trysts down our throat, in the same way that the prior film ran into the ground. Their bickering is still there, but they learn quickly that they must work together as a team if they want to escape the wrath of this onslaught.

– The computer generated effects, specifically that of the dinosaur properties and lava explosions, continue to rattle the bar of expectations for the series. The weight of such hollow properties feel impactful, and the contrast in color grain compared to live action properties immerse themselves with enough emphasis on imagination.

NEGATIVES

– The film brings back the single most interesting character of the series in Ian Malcolm, for two throwaway two minute scenes that were definitely shot in one day of filming. This film could’ve been a dream team combination of Pratt and Goldblum, but unfortunately it withers away the possibility by keeping the latter in the courtroom.

– There are two manipulative scenes so forced and spoon-fed that it soils the competent storytelling up to that point. The first, and more offensive one, much of the problem revolves around needless reminder of the relationship between Owen and Blue, presenting us with a video package that reeks of redundancy from everything we already know. If this wasn’t enough, it’s presented simultaneously with Blue being in pain on a hospital bed, reminding the audience when to be sad. This might not bother typical moviegoers, but to me it is the worst kind of exposition that a movie can have. As for the second instance, the film’s big twist flounders as a result of shoddy editing and poorly put together package that slowly omits the energy from a bombshell that honestly didn’t pack a lot of investment to begin with.

– If the villains in the film were written with even a layer of depth and not just playing into stereotypical type, then the protagonists climb would feel that much more steep, thus increasing my investment into the overall conflict. Because we have seen this antagonist in every Jurassic World/Park film, it just feels like leftovers that never satisfied our hunger the first time around.

– Apparently, four previous films did nothing to shape character intelligence, so nothing will. Setting up a room of rich businessmen with dinosaurs that are not even sedated at the very least, is every bit as mind-numbingly asinine as it is hinting at the feast that is about to take place. Who was it who said that if we learn nothing from history we are doomed to repeat it? That screams ear-piercing volumes in this film.

– Something that Claire’s character said in the previous film echoed in my mind. She said that people become desensitized to dinosaurs because they’re walking around all the time. Likewise, this franchise continues to never elevate itself as anything but a sequel, instead of a progressively smart chapter that boldly stands on its own two feet. With the wonderment in presentation from Spielberg gone, the pageantry of seeing dinosaurs on-screen are no longer enough for me to give these movies a passing grade. Even worse, identical scenes are duplicated and lifted from better previous films.

5/10