Rampage

Directed by Brad Peyton

Starring – Dwayne Johnson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Ackerman

The Plot – Primatologist Davis Okoye (Johnson) shares an unshakable bond with George, the extraordinarily intelligent gorilla who has been in his care since birth. But a rogue genetic experiment gone awry transforms this gentle ape into a raging monster. As these newly created monsters tear across North America, destroying everything in their path, Okoye teams with a discredited genetic engineer to secure an antidote, fighting his way through an ever-changing battlefield, not only to halt a global catastrophe but to save the fearsome creature that was once his friend.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief adult language, and crude gestures

THE POSITIVES

– Considering this is a film that is based on an 80’s 8 bit video game smash-em-up, it would be criminal if the production couldn’t even master action sequences and set pieces. Thankfully, this isn’t the case, as ‘Rampage’ spares no expense at destruction of scenary, giving its ape protagonist plenty of time to pay homage to one of the most fun Nintendo experiences that anyone could have.

– In addition to the action, the sound mixing by Beau Borders rumbled the auditorium with thunderous precision. If you’re going to see this movie, make sure you do it in an IMAX setting because the devastation in sequencing is nothing short of incredible for immersing you right into the moments.

– Surprisingly, much of the C.G work is believable and shaded superbly. Why this is shocking is because the trailers make the animals look poorly rendered, and lacking of great weight when compared to their physical properties around them. While it’s not all one hundred percent, as much of the computer work with the long shots lack the kind of impact consistency, I can say that this was one area that cleared up well and made me able to soak in the giant monster smashing movies from my youth that I was addicted to.

– The big name cast is having the time of their lives. Johnson is always someone who makes the most of every opportunity given to him, and it’s in his soft spoken personality to match his intimidating presence where he carves out a human protagonist that is not only likeable, but also believable in the many physical challenges he’s given. Jeffrey Dean Morgan was also great, even if he was just playing Negan from ‘The Walking Dead’ throughout the film. Morgan chews up enough scenary to always leave you wanting more, and the chemistry between he and Johnson feels like a dream team pairing that took me places that I didn’t expect. More on that in a second.

– This is a screenplay that (Like its creatures) constantly keeps moving, engaging the audience in excellent pacing to keep the plot thick. At 102 minutes, ‘Rampage’ never gives much time to breathe, and I appreciate that in an action film that obviously doesn’t have the deepest of storylines.

THE NEGATIVES

– It honestly surprised me that Ackerman is the true villain of the movie, as a big wig corporate executive who is straight out of 90’s bosses. Between the cheesy ominous tones that accompany her whenever she’s on screen and her overall lack of presence, I just couldn’t buy her as the film’s central antagonist. The trailers marketed Morgan as being the villain, so it’s a bit of a disappointment when one of the best villains currently on television is nothing more than a secondary character in this script.

– Anyone who knows me knows that one of my pet peeves in cinema is the overused stable of unsubtle advertising, and this film is full of it. From the Ford emblem being all over the vehicle shots, to the colorful Dave and Busters sign that sticks out like a sore thumb in a dust-filled Chicago backdrop, this movie can’t resist. If this isn’t enough, an actual 80’s Rampage arcade game is shown in Ackerman’s office. This begs the question; is this whole project based on some little girl’s addiction to a video game from her childhood?

– I realize that complaining about logic in a movie where a forty foot tall ape gives the finger and makes sexual gestures with his hands is probably simplistic, but a critic has to speak his mind. When the initial explosion of contaminated pieces happens in space during the first scenes of the film, I find it incredible that despite there being so many of them, they only land in three different places, and in the United States none the less. Imagine the odds.

– The third act of the movie had the ability to really send us home on the strength of dramatic muscle, but it withers away because of some choices made that ruin it. I won’t spoil it here, but in building Johnson and George’s friendship the whole movie, you wait for the inevitable confrontation that will change everything. Nope, it doesn’t happen, and the reason why still makes me scratch my head from a scientific standpoint.

– Despite the repeated notion that the world is in trouble as a result of these creatures, the sense of urgency and weight that resides within the rest of the world feels limited. After all, this is just one city in a bigger world that has plenty more weapons in taking it down. It never feels like armageddon is upon us, and that lack of uncertainty never lifts it from being predictably grounded.

5/10

Sherlock Gnomes

Directed by John Stevenson

Starring – Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, James Mcavoy

The Plot – When Gnomeo (Mcavoy) and Juliet (Blunt) first arrive in the city with their friends and family, their biggest concern is getting their new garden ready for spring. However, they soon discover that someone is kidnapping garden gnomes all over London. When Gnomeo and Juliet return home to find that everyone in their garden is missing there’s only one gnome to call Sherlock Gnomes (Depp). The famous detective and sworn protector of London’s garden gnomes arrives with his sidekick Watson to investigate the case. The mystery will lead our gnomes on a rollicking adventure where they will meet all new ornaments and explore an undiscovered side of the city.

Rated PG for some rude and suggestive humor

THE POSITIVES

– This is a very talented A-list cast that each bring something diverse and personal to their respective roles. However, there are a select few who break away from the pact, immersing themselves so deeply in their characters that their familiar voice patterns seem to just fade away. James McAvoy as Gnomeo, Johnny Depp as Sherlock, and especially Chiwetel Ejiofor as Watson.

– The animation is much greater improved from the 2011 original film. So many of the human beings move with such fluidity in their designs, and the surrounding landscapes seem to radiate a glow of realism that adds more dimension to the hollow properties of the gnomes themselves.

– At 81 free-flowing minutes, a majority of the movie moves with crisp pacing that never rarely drags. I can respect any film that knows how much material it has within and doesn’t require stretching to meet a 90 minute quota.

– There is a plot twist midway through between Holmes and Watson in the film that I wish would’ve been followed through with fully. In fact, for all of my interests, I would’ve preferred an animated Holmes and Watson movie without the gnomes. From a psychological standpoint, the film takes a surprising dive repeatedly into the mind of Sherlock to show us for the first time how he ticks as an intellectual.

– Exceptional work by Elton John and Bernie Taupin on providing some fresh twists on classic Elton favorites. This soundtrack is nothing short of a toe-tapping good time, and I felt the re-imagining of some of these timeless classics really gave spring to the very adventure aspect depicted in the film.

THE NEGATIVES

– Much of the time, this film feels like two different 40 minute scripts (Gnomes Vs Holmes) that don’t necessarily mesh well with one another. I mentioned earlier that Holmes would’ve been the way to go for this particular film, and I further that stance because much of the supporting gnome characters, and even McAvoy’s Gnomeo become a bit of background in their own franchise. Imagine if Buzz and Woody were reduced to Rex and Slink in a fourth Toy Story.

– As to where I already mentioned the solid addition of Elton with the music, I have to slander his inclusion in the dialogue that set up for FAR too many puns with his song titles. I probably heard the phrase Tiny Dancer a hundred times in this movie, and the film is never inspired to let go of it.

– Speaking of which, the overall comedy for the film fumbles what little opportunities it presents to itself. My problem isn’t so much that I only laughed once during the film, but that most of the scenes and lines during the trailer that made me laugh simply aren’t included in the finished product. Try entertaining a child with no comedy.

– The third act takes far too long in getting where it needs to finish up. Considering this final conflict begins with around 30 minutes left in the film, there’s an overall feeling in making this final presentation one that glitters the wonderment of children, but I felt that its flashy perspective did more harm in keeping the interest glued. So much can easily be edited to reduce repetition.

– There is very little in the way of surprises for this screenplay, and it’s a shame that much of that overwhelming taste of mediocrity will be what sticks with audiences most of all when the film ends. With more care and concern for keeping the content sharp, the film could’ve kept some of that lightning in a bottle that fizzles out once the outline of where the film is headed becomes obvious.

5/10

Tomb Raider

Directed by Roar Uthaug

Starring – Alicia Vikander, Walton Goggins, Dominic West

The Plot – Lara Croft (Vikander) is the fiercely independent daughter of an eccentric adventurer who vanished when she was scarcely a teen. Now a young woman of 21 without any real focus or purpose, Lara navigates the chaotic streets of trendy East London as a bike courier, barely making the rent, and takes college courses, rarely making it to class. Determined to forge her own path, she refuses to take the reins of her father’s (West) global empire just as staunchly as she rejects the idea that he’s truly gone. Advised to face the facts and move forward after seven years without him, even Lara can’t understand what drives her to finally solve the puzzle of his mysterious death. Going explicitly against his final wishes, she leaves everything she knows behind in search of her dad’s last-known destination: a fabled tomb on a mythical island that might be somewhere off the coast of Japan. But her mission will not be an easy one; just reaching the island will be extremely treacherous. Suddenly, the stakes couldn’t be higher for Lara, who–against the odds and armed with only her sharp mind, blind faith and inherently stubborn spirit–must learn to push herself beyond her limits as she journeys into the unknown. If she survives this perilous adventure, it could be the making of her, earning her the name tomb raider.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and for some adult language

THE POSITIVES

– This is definitely a Lara Croft for the post Time’s Up society. Instead of her physical attributes getting her over, Vikander’s Croft uses her cunning intellect and overall ability to think on her feet in order to get five moves ahead on her enemies. Vikander’s vulnerability is also something to admire, never depicting Lara as a superhero or surreal entity by any means. Overall, it illustrates a female presence that many females young and old can feel inspired by.

– As to where the inspiration to be a Tomb Raider was slightly cryptic in the original movies, screenwriters Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons carve out a spiritual side to Lara’s undertaking of this newfound hobby. This tomb and all of its mysteries is the last link to her disappearing father, so in seeking it out, she sees this as the final goodbye that she sadly never received.

– Of course with this being a video game movie, there are sporadic Easter eggs from the games that occasionally pop up. It’s even more of a benefit that this is used with patience and doesn’t deem it necessary to overcrowd the movie with cheap fan service.

– Fine camera work and sequencing with the chase and action sequences that throttle the audience and get close without being plagued by motion sickness.

– It’s odd to me that the first half of the film was the time that I felt the most immersed in this story, and not so much the actual tomb parts of the film. I believe this is because I enjoyed the up-close-and-personal backstory to Croft’s intimidating family history that she instead chooses to pave her own path, as well as my own theories for what happened towards the end of the film. More on that later.

THE NEGATIVES

– A majority of the C.G stunt-work in this film is very hollow and lacks the kind of weight of impact necessary for making Croft’s risks feel dangerous. Much of it can be blamed on her off-color shadow scheme that the graphics work supplant her with, but I blame it on the green-screen movements of the live actress feeling artificial because she isn’t in the moment and living out those situations.

– It pains me greatly that Walton Goggins is wasted away in this film as just another bad guy. This is one of the best TV villains of the past decade, so the screenwriters reserved stance in letting Goggins move through the motions of the outline that hundreds have done before him is downright shameful. You have a great actor here, people, USE HIM.

– There’s a second act plot twist that completely didn’t work for me in believability because of how underwhelming it was played emotionally. This is perhaps the single most important scene in the movie, and the actors involved treat it the same way as any other. With intent and commitment, this could’ve been the emotional center that Tomb Raider needed in cementing it as the best video game adaptation of all time.

– I mentioned earlier that the third act has many problems in this film, and I really don’t know where to start. For a movie called TOMB RAIDER, the decision to hold off on this setting until the final 35 minutes is one that comes with grave consequences mostly for video game enthusiasts just waiting to see the big budget set pieces at work. What they get is a series of rushed sequences and puzzle pieces that never take their time in amplifying the tension to keep you glued. Beyond this, the rules of the tomb’s airborne plague is one that comes with a few holes in continuity in the way things play out.

– The visual storytelling in narration exposition feels so forced that it occasionally made me cringe. Exposition is fine when used in wise doses, but the overabundance in this film made me feel like we didn’t even need the events playing out in real time if sloppy flashbacks were going to tell us everything that we need to know. People might not view it this way, but to me this is completely disrespectful on audience intelligence by thinking that they can’t put these unfolding pieces together on our own for something that (Frankly) isn’t that difficult to grasp.

5/10

I Can Only Imagine

Directed by Andrew and Jon Erwin

Starring – J Michael Finley, Brody Rose, Dennis Quaid

The Plot – The inspiring and unknown true story behind MercyMe’s beloved, chart topping song that brings ultimate hope to so many is a gripping reminder of the power of true forgiveness.

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some violence

THE POSITIVES

– Unlike a majority of the films that I have reviewed in this particular genre, ‘I Can Only Imagine’ doesn’t just rely on the propaganda aspects of faith in getting the story over. This is first-and-foremost about Bart’s journey, and even though there are times when that faith comes into play, it’s really his life events that brings the story together, and doesn’t require feeling meandering to those who take it in.

– There’s obviously some heartfelt somber moments in this screenplay, but what surprised me was just how strong the comic backbone was to the film. All of it of course rests on Finley’s shoulders, emoting with honest reactions what gets over the forever child stuck inside of him.

– For a religious film, no cent was spared in this widely eclectic soundtrack that features Electric Light Orchestra, U2, and Amy Grant among others.

– No sentimental moment ever feels wasted or prematurely disposed. Considering the first half of the film feels like a comedy, the dramatic pulse could fall apart by the wayside, but this screenplay’s timely switch-ups harvest a strong feeling of legitimacy that will have you fighting back tears from the same maturity in script that Bart as a character earns with his will to forgive.

– While not everything is a gem with the production (More on the later), a majority of what the brothers Erwin manufacture here makes the camera work and overall visuals feel like a real movie. The revolving shots around the singer in focus are beautifully choreographed, and the transition scenes of the changing scenery around MercyMe’s tour really triggers a sense of the endless battle to be signed.

THE NEGATIVES

– With the exception of our lead protagonist, the film has a strong burden in that it doesn’t flesh out a lot of these characters. Particularly, I am referring to that of female lead (Played by Madeline Carroll) and Bart’s abusive father (Quaid). The former is only brought in when Bart requires her, and the latter is given plenty of screen time, but never a connecting of the pieces for why he feels as damaged as he is.

– The passing of time is a bit cryptic in the film. Because there is no on-screen text to commute to us, nor is there much emphasis on how much time has passed, the film continuously feels like one long-running narration, despite the fact that many characters and their respective plots come in and out of frame without much closure for our delight.

– Stumbling editing. One negative that I spotted like a sore thumb in production, is that of the cutting and pasting in editing that felt rushed during a few scenes. It’s definitely the most evident in the opening act of the movie, but if you focus closely you will notice some long-winded dialogue that visually looks like it is cut short before the camera interrupts them.

– As far as biopics go, it’s very rudimentary and even redundant. The overall structure of this film hits a lot of the same notes that films since ‘Walk the Line’ have made a point of including. It’s unfortunate that this film can’t deviate much from those predictable directions, even with the screenwriters taking more than a few liberties with the source material that even Bart himself has highlighted.

– My only problems with the cast are more in their physical appearances. With Cloris Leachman, she kind of just eats up scenery and doesn’t ever evolve into anything other than distracting to the scenes. With Finley, I can’t say much negative for his first feature film performance, but I can’t in good conscience believe for a second that this actor who is 28 years old in real life is believably playing an 18 year old high school kid.

5/10

The Strangers: Prey at Night

Directed by Johannes Roberts

Starring – Christina Hendricks, Bailee Madison, Martin Henderson

The Plot – A family’s road trip takes a dangerous turn when they arrive at a secluded mobile home park to stay with some relatives and find it mysteriously deserted. Under the cover of darkness, three masked psychopaths pay them a visit to test the family’s every limit as they struggle to survive

Rated R for horror violence and terror throughout, and for adult language

THE POSITIVES

– If there’s one clear difference from this film compared to the first it’s that this one knows when to have fun with its campiness. I didn’t hate the first Strangers movie, but it clearly took itself too serious during scenes that were laughably bad in the logic department. Here, Roberts instead brightens up the mood by giving his film enough personality where no matter if you like it or don’t, you’ll have a fun time.

– The overall aesthetic touch for the film is surprisingly good considering the budget is so miniscule. Roberts artistic direction is to craft this as an 80’s slasher flick, as opposed to the original which was covered in 70’s touches. In doing so, he treats us to zoom angle close-ups when a character dies, as well a neon infused sequence by the pool that provides us with beautiful carnage in the music video form.

– Speaking of music, the film’s soundtrack and accompanying musical score both did their parts in paying homage to the golden era of slasher flicks. For actual songs, we get Bonnie Tyler, Kim Wilde, and Marilyn Martin to name a few. For musical tones, we get a synth dominated score that is all the rave lately in shows like Stranger Things and movies like It Follows that pay homage to the classic era of horror.

– Satisfying death sequences. I already mentioned the poolside brawl, but in addition the film is not afraid to get its hands dirty with the blood and gore to satisfy its audience. This is yet another stance opposite from the original film, upping the stakes and the brutality tenfold in order to pack a memorable punch with this sequel.

– At 80 minutes, you really have nothing to lose with this film. Even if you hate the movie, the film flies by remarkably fast, giving little to no lag time during the progression of the movie.

THE NEGATIVES

– Awful acting and overall casting. We should come to expect underwhelming emotional response in horror movies anymore, but the work done by this minimal cast is exceptionally bad even for its genre. Bailee Madison is someone who I have adored since her work as a child actress, but her trigger hasn’t aged well, emoting this teenage poser character with artificial tears and hollow line reads that have you fighting back laughter. Beyond Madison, Lewis Pullman (Son of famed actor Bill) is a 24 year old playing an 18 year old. Visually this looks ridiculous, but it’s in his unusual romantic chemistry with Madison, who is supposed to be his sister, that occasionally omitted a weird feeling to this family.

– Lack of logic. Again, it’s normal for characters in these movies to make stupid decisions, but if you can’t take out a trio of knife-wielding psychopaths with a gun in your hands, you’re truly a brainless drone. This, in addition to other things, could’ve ended the film in fifteen minutes, but the writers hope the audience is too dumb to interpret this. Beyond this, the ability for these villains to live through some painful strikes against them makes me feel like Jason Voorhees might be under these masks.

– The film ends terribly abruptly. Considering the last scene ends on a bit of a mystery, we don’t get an answer or anything for our troubles. I guess we’ll find out the answer when we get a sequel in another ten years.

– As to where the cheap budget can sometimes help its cause for replicating an 80’s slasher vibe, it can also limit it in effects work and camera stylings that gave this a straight-to-video sequel feel.

– I’m supposed to believe that this trailer park is a hotbed for vacationing families? The house that the family resides in is twice as luxurious and doesn’t overdose itself on plywood interiors or artificial fog surrounding the place that gives it that just-murdered in look.

5/10

Every Day

Directed by Michael Sucsy

Starring – Angourie Rice, Justice Smith, Maria Bello

The Plot – Based on David Levithan’s acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Every Day tells the story of Rhiannon (Rice), a 16-year old girl who falls in love with a mysterious soul named “A” who inhabits a different body every day. Feeling an unmatched connection, Rhiannon and A work each day to find each other, not knowing what or who the next day will bring. The more the two fall in love, the more the realities of loving someone who is a different person every 24 hours takes a toll, leaving Rhiannon and “A” to face the hardest decision either has ever had to make

Rated PG-13 for thematic content, adult language, teen drinking, and suggestive material

THE POSITIVES

– No matter how ridiculous in concept, I do enjoy a film that takes an idea in plot and can at least have fun with it. There are several attempts at humor when it comes to this spirit inhabiting these bodies that occasionally gave me a light chuckle to the unfolding absurdity.

– Angourie Rice proves that she might be one of those few child stars who makes the transition seamlessly to adult actor. Here, Rice is the dominant focus for the film, and through that majority of time spent with her we are treated to an emotional register for how complicated adolescence can truly be. Everyone else in the film was disposable, but she gave me levels of substance that I greatly appreciated.

– Soft lens kind of cinematography that articulately channels indie romance flicks beautifully. This graduates the source material from a young adult origin to a mature adaptation before our very eyes.

– I am so thankful that the final ten minutes of the film addressed many of the problems that I had with where this romance is going. For instance, what if Rhiannon gets pregnant someday? What if people see her with a new man or woman every day? What if a body is taken over by A that is suicidal? The film not only explores these ideas, but does so in a way that feels responsible to the ending.

– Any chance where I get to hear that 80’s reminiscent sounds of The The’s ‘This is the Day’ is a pleasure-filled delight. This song not only slyly winks at the film’s unfolding events, but also serves as a meaningful way for Rhiannon to distinguish who is A.

THE NEGATIVES

– The film’s beginning almost feels like we’ve stumbled upon a film that has begun with another film already in progress. I say this because much of the initial first few scenes proceed with very little exposition for those of us in the audience who haven’t read the novel. It threw me off because I always expect the introductions to either explain the character’s curse, or at least indulge us in getting to know its main characters, but neither of those happen in this forced beginning.

– This script has several one-off scenes that add nothing of substance to the remainder. Things like Rhiannon’s Mom randomly coming to her room to have a talk, and then deciding against it, could easily be left on the cutting room floor. They are scenes that are never further elaborated on, and feel more like unnecessary padding to push this 90 minute agenda.

– It’s my opinion that this film is following the wrong person. Rice’s performance is solid, yes, but the whole idea of the film is about A, so why does he/she constantly feel like a shadow in his own movie?

– I can appreciate a film that speaks to the spiritual side of love and not the physical side of it, but that theme is slightly difficult to believe when 95% of the bodies that A inhabits are cute teenagers of the Banana Republic catalogue type. Even when it turns out to be a woman, there’s very little physical interaction in the same way that Rhiannon feels when she gets a strapping young lad.

– Does it freak anyone else out that Rhiannon is having sexual relations with people’s bodies without their consent? Quite a tough sell indeed.

5/10

The Cloverfield Paradox

Directed by Julius Onah

Starring – David Oyelowo, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Daniel Bruhl

The Plot – Orbiting a planet on the brink of war, a group of scientists from many countries test a device to solve an energy crisis, but instead end up face-to-face with a dark alternate reality.

Rated PG-13 for mild profanity, violence and gore, as well as frightening imagery.

THE POSITIVES

– This is a very talented collaborative cast who are put through the ringer of some very basic character development. Where the sun shines is in the hearty humanity of Mbatha-Raw, as well as Oyelowo’s endless intelligence. In them, the film offers two compelling leads to play against typecast of minorities in this particular genre.

– Legitimate frights that feed to the very modern day ‘Black Mirror’ influenced audiences who crave nightmare worlds being brought to life.

– A dual narrative between orbit and land that seeks the importance of both. As to where most science fiction in space films leave the latter behind, this script understands the value in both to the progression of the revealing points.

– Bear McCreary’s enthralling musical tones. While only a stud previously on television scores like ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘Battlestar Galactica’, McCreary dedicates his single best feature film score to date, pushing the urgency long after the uneven twists have peaked creatively.

– For a Netflix film, the movement of the camera angles and pursuing shots offer a subtle, yet commanding focus on where to keep your attention at all times.

THE NEGATIVES

– It doesn’t take a genius to see how thin the Cloverfield folklore is squeezed here. Once again, this feels like a script for an entirely different film that was re-written last minute to cater to a popular franchise. I never thought I’d say this, but this sequel needs more influence of its predecessors.

– The continuing problem that I have with this series is that I’m left with even more questions with each passing chapter. This is OK temporarily to get the next one over, but I can’t escape this inevitable feeling that the questions that arose from the original film more than ten years ago will be left forgotten.

– While not the worst I’ve ever seen, the computer generation in effects work can be boldly compromising to the live properties around it, giving scenes an unwelcome cartoonish layer that totally took me out of the terror. The eye ball scene in particular looked so unappealing that its movements never feel authentic enough to take seriously.

– There never feels like enough capitalizing on the intoxicating ideas that the first act introduces. The final minutes, which have previously been the peak of the previous two films, peters away enough momentum, and will have you checking your watch for the first time all film.

– Smart people making stupid decisions part……….umm. Certainly nothing new to space settings, but the choices made by scientists here continue to insill laughter in me when I really shouldn’t be.

5/10

Proud Mary

Directed by Babak Nijafi

Starring – Taraji P Henson, Neal McDonough, Danny Glover

THE PLOT – Mary (Henson) is a successful hitwoman working for an organized crime family in Boston. However, her life is completely shifted when she meets a young boy whose path she crosses when a professional hit goes wrong, leaving the boy orphaned with only Mary to protect him.

Rated R for graphic violence and minimal adult language

THE POSITIVES

– Brief runtime of 82 minutes that really keeps the focus of the story grounded, and limits much downtime in between.

– Henson’s precise performance that gives way to Mary’s gritty and ferocious side. We’ve seen Taraji playing a badass before, but this role feels like breakthrough territory for the actress, establishing her as a possible new face of action annihilation.

– An exciting shoot-em-up finale that finally gives us light into Mary’s particularly gifted set of skills. This, as well as the 70’s Blacksploitation introduction felt like the only proof of the film that I was promised from a light-hearted atmospheric trailer.

– I feel that the set pieces and interior backdrops articulately channeled the personalities and backstories of Mary and her entire supporting cast. For Mary, the guns being hidden behind walls of vibrant decoration hint at the kind of double life that she leads.

– The sporadic action sequences do hit when they finally appear, bringing with them ruthless impact in sound mixing that only magnifies the dire urgency of the situation.

THE NEGATIVES

– There is simply no first act in this film. When the movie begins, it feels like we have walked into a situation that has been building for ten prior minutes. Further proof of this is Mary just appearing without any kind of build or impact for her appearance that gets us psyched.

– Because of the bone-headed choice NOT to exploit this Blacksploitation direction, the film settles for being a bland, generic action presentation that never sticks around long enough to leave a memorable impact.

– For a movie called ‘Proud Mary’, the screenplay cares so little about her. When she’s not splitting screen time with her newly adopted youth, the majority of scenes focus on her adversaries. I appreciate building equal ground here between protagonist and antagonist, but I feel like this film was a huge missed opportunity in getting to know Mary the person before she became this hit-for-hire.

– The fight choreography is virtually non-existent, opting instead for gun fights for the majority. When we do see hand-to-hand combat, the edits are very quick and choppy, making Henson’s believability that much more taxing by the minute.

– This film takes itself far too seriously. Much of this problem feeds into my second problem with the film, but action films become a problem first-and-foremost when I’m not having fun, and ‘Proud Mary’s’ biggest undoing is sticking with a formula that only until recently had re-defined the genre (John Wick).

5/10

Insidious: The Last Key

Directed by Adam Robitel

Starring – Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson

THE PLOT – In the fourth installment of the Insidious franchise, parapsychologist Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) must delve even deeper into the infernal world known as “the Further” when supernatural forces target her own family, sending her and her team reeling from a haunting that takes place so close to home.

Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content, violence and terror, and brief strong adult language

THE POSITIVES

– Lin Shaye’s reserved, yet emotionally wrenching performance that proves age is only a number.  Visual scars are there, but it’s in Shaye’s haunting of her past where we embrace her at her edgiest. It’s incredible to see how an originally supporting character has become the focal point for this entire series, and because of such, we are treated to a film that centers around her character’s origins.

– The idea that the most powerful of ghosts are the ones from our pasts that continue to haunt until we choose to confront them once and for all.

– Continued excellence in lighting that articulately divides our world from the further. There’s nothing extravagant or costly about its effects, yet the graying state of this supernatural world omits a clear cut vibe of decay in the atmosphere.

– Jump scares are few and far between, and even better than that, the scares are patient. There were many times during the film where I felt that I had it predicted as to when someone or something would jump out, only to be duped into hanging on a bit longer before that itch had to be scratched.

– The seamless insertion of this film between chapters 1,2, and 3 of the series. Some sequels often feel unnecessary or even forced with their inclusion, but ‘The Last Key’ doesn’t ever feel shy on what happened before or after this story, without using it as a gimmick to feed into fans of those previous installments.

THE NEGATIVES

– This is a series that accomodates to comedy quite well, but this film certainly isn’t one of those, as Whannell and Sampson’s comic relief duo feel every bit as desperate as they do speedbumps to the progression of this story. Each time a scene focuses on them, it either runs for too long in not cutting to the point, or highlights just how truly insignificant their characters are in this fourth chapter.

– Speaking of Whannell, this is arguably his weakest script to date. I could get over the fact that this film doesn’t continue to elevate the rules of the further like the previous movies, but for a writer to write himself as the guy who saves the group and gets the girl, reeks of shameless self-promotion that hinders the power of the pen.

– Too many characters and not enough exposition for any of them. The film’s introduction focuses on our central three characters, then introduces us to three more in the form of three locals who they meet at a diner, then abandons half of them before the pivotal third act. Bruce Davison’s character in particular feels like a wasted opportunity between him and Shaye to really feed into their secret connection.

– Once again, the ear-shattering jolts that each jump scare exert play like an audible poison for your delicate drums. Thankfully there aren’t many of them in the film, but their level of intensity feels artificial when compared to the noise that would be made by those particular instances. For my money, a violin never shrieks whenever I accidentally run into someone who I didn’t see coming.

– Because this is the second chapter chronologically in the series, the air of predictability can’t help but rear its ugly head. Even worse, Whannell does zero as a screenwriter in remotely subduing this handicap for even a minute, forgetting to instill even a slight bit of urgency or dread in visuals that all but paint the scenario for him.

5/10

Father Figures

Owen Wilson and Ed Helms wonder who is their daddy, in Warner Bros holiday hilarity ‘Father Figures’. Fraternal twin brothers, Kyle and Peter Reynolds (Owen Wilson and Ed Helms) have learned that their father did not die when they were young as they had previously believed, and their eccentric mother, Helen Baxter (Glenn Close) had slept with many rich, famous and powerful men in the 1970’s, adding greater difficulty to this unfolding mystery. When they go on a long distance road trip to find out who their real father is, they find out more about their mother than they probably ever wanted to know, as well as encountering a mysterious hitchhiker (Kat Williams) and other misadventures that add a confrontation speedbump. ‘Father Figures’ is helmed by first time director Lawrence Sher, and is rated R for adult language and sexual references throughout.

‘Father Figures’ is certainly not a great film by any stretch of the imagination. After sitting on the production shelf for over two years, the film was finally blessed with a release date of Christmas week, competing against the best that the holiday season has to offer, instead of a Father’s Day release that could tie into the marketing of the movie. I was expecting pure sludge going into this film, and was remotely surprised at just how much heart burns deep beneath a typical Owen Wilson movie. One big hurdle that I see for the film is that it is entirely marketed wrong, catering in its trailer to the very bromance comedies that require gross-out humor in appealing to its audience. That is not what we get here at all in the majority, despite there being a few rare instances of seediness that the screenplay just can’t stay away from. This instead feels like a cute and quirky indie comedy with some credible cinematography to boot along the way. Because of this, it finds itself in an awkward situation in which it won’t be crude enough to appeal to the audience that it was marketed towards, and it won’t find the audience needed in making it reputable because of the trailer that did more harm than good. Baffling I know, but Sher’s film isn’t anywhere close to the kind of juvenile films that I have sat through across this year of below average comedies, giving way to a possible blessing in disguise by having your expectations so low going into it.

Stuck somewhere between road trip films like ‘Father’s Day’ and ‘Due Date’, ‘Father Figures’ meat and potatoes revels with this parental mystery that has come to light suddenly, and leaves Helms character in particular jaded by his newfound lack of identity. Because of this, the quest to find their mysterious father figure becomes the goal, but as the film progresses, it’s clear that this becomes more about Wilson and Helms respective characters in mending a relationship that has soured over time. It was in this perspective of the film where I found great positive return in what I was enjoying, but unfortunately it is all too good to last since this feels like the victim of surgical re-writes in plodded pacing, as well as those few instances that I mentioned earlier that feel desperate in extremities to give this forgettable script something to remember by. On the former, much of the film feels like scene-by-scene exposition instead of moving in sync as one cohesive movement. Because of this, the screenplay never picks up enough momentum to carry it to the next gag. On the latter, what comic hijinks that it does have never feels genuine to the rest of the screenplay around it that feels too mature at times to fall for this level of practicality.

As for the mystery itself, it’s really quite easy to figure out at about the halfway point because of that cursed trailer that gave away too much going into it. Based on this two minute video, we know that there are only four men in contention here to be the Father, so of course each of them will get their own set-up and progression, and then three of them will suddenly realize that they can’t be the father. It’s interesting to me how they always realize this after a couple hours of hanging out, and not the second that their respective year with Helen is brought to light. Anyway, the answer will become clear when we’ve rushed through three of these males within the first half of the movie, and that could only leave one possible answer. Because of this third act predictability, the film just kind of stands in place and confirms what we were beginning to fear about it; that too much time was invested in this aspect and not enough to their loving Mother. She practically disappears until the final few scenes of the film, and by then that missed opportunity in telling her story just feels like a tacked-on layer to force the audience into enduring its miniscule level of heart that has been stored away repeatedly until now. It constantly feels like Sher’s film is in a tug-of-war creatively with itself, and if it were brave enough to take the road less traveled, it could’ve returned the surprise sweet hit of the year, but ‘Father Figures’ feels doomed to the shelves of rental stores, only one month after it hit theaters.

What did surprise me was in the credible cinematography here by John Lindley that proved that someone was trying to go above and beyond in this project. When I called this an indie comedy earlier, I meant that in the visual spectrum sense, as Lindley channels us through some very artistic transitional scenes, as well as some moving sequences that prove an honorable and stylish presence behind the lens. What’s even more credible about them is that the transitions don’t feel like a gimmick by growing stale in repetition along the way. Every so often, Lindley switches up the design and gives those tightly-knitted film students something to hang on to in the way of substance for this film that can sometimes lack it in the long run. Beyond this, the song selections as well are tender and very welcoming of this classy mood that overcomes us. I’m not familiar with any of the tracks myself, but it was nice to have a modern comedy that didn’t need the newest top 40 rap track in accommodating its scenes audibly to give it a fresh and hip perspective.

The performances themselves can feel overall inconsequential, even though Helms offers a strong transformation from beginning to end that proves his character’s emotional growth along the way. When the film began, I truly hated his character. It mostly feels like Ben Stiller should’ve played this role, as it’s often too dry for Helms animated sense of personality that usually carries much of the comedic load. But as the film progressed, I saw the character shaking his endless bouts with depression that have plagued his life, and saw the opening up of a conservative character who learned to live for the moment. This is undoubtedly Helms best performance to date, and that’s a bit of a shame considering so few people will give this film the light of day. As for Owen Wilson, well it’s the same role that he has been playing throughout his career. Because these two are in 95% of the scenes in this film, Wilson is half of what we’re saddled with, so the usual dazed and confused routine becomes the norm. His character is a polar opposite of Helms, so the opposites attract scenario is full swing with this one, carving out a telegraphed plan that any moviegoer will see coming. Close is my favorite performance unquestionably, but her character doesn’t have enough of a presence on the finished script. Likewise are J.K Simmons, Christopher Walken, Terry Bradshaw, and Ving Rhames who also don’t stick around long enough to leave a lasting impression in their multi-dimensional personalities. I never felt that any of them were the right choice for this family, but one of them has to be picked, and I guess the ending is as good as it could’ve possibly been with this set-up.

THE VERDICT – ‘Father Figures’ has instances of maturity and dignity in its productional aspects that already gave me more positively than I was expecting from this film. Unfortunately, much like Helms and Wilson’s protagonists, the film too seeks the proper hands of guidance to cradle it competently, relenting on two polar opposite tastes of comic direction that collide and cut short one another. With better pacing and less attention to the tasteless gags, Sher’s film could’ve been just the kind of comedy occasion that families flock towards during the holiday movie weekend. As it stands, this father-finder runs out of gas halfway across the expedition.

5/10

Downsizing

The biggest ideas come in the form of the smallest packages, in Alexander Payne’s newest thought-provoking dramedy. ‘Downsizing’ imagines what might happen if, as a solution to over-population, humans could be shrunk to a height of 5 inches (13 cm), after Norwegian scientists discover how to do just that. A 200-year global transition from big to small is proposed, but there is one catch: the procedure cannot be reversed. People soon realize how much further money goes in a miniaturized world, and with the promise of a better life, everyman Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to abandon their stressed lives in Omaha in order to become small and move to a new downsized community—a choice that triggers life-changing adventures. To Paul’s horror and outrage, he finds out that Audrey backed out at the last second. After the couple understands that they do not have a future together, they divorce and Paul must now figure out how to start his life over in a completely different world. ‘Downsizing’ is written and directed by Alexander Payne, and is rated R for adult language including sexual references, some graphic nudity and drug use.

Alexander Payne as a director is one of my very favorites going today because no two films of his are similar. When you think about the hits that he has conjured up, like ‘Election’, ‘Sideways’, ‘Nebraska’, and ‘The Descendents’, you think about films that are all different, yet equally as insightful for the kind of deep-seeded message that they all entail. ‘Downsizing’ definitely continues that train of thought, but does it in a way that Payne’s thought-provoking stance might have gotten the best of him. The film certainly questions and debates much of the world’s problems involving over-population, inequality, and even materialism amongst a capitalist society, but those are just ideas, and deep beyond the table dressing, films require a main course for its audience to feast on, and this is the problem that the plagues the second half of this film from ever feeling like social commentary that is ahead of its time. Without a proper destination where the characters and plot can meet and divulge on these ideals, the film feels like a constant reminder instead of the poignant resolution that we all deserve.

As far as world building is concerned, you probably won’t find a film better than ‘Downsizing’ this year. For the entire first half of this picture, Payne as a writer not only prospers the film’s idea of the kind of benefits that being small will have on a personal level, but also in the negativity that it will harbor in wiping record number of citizens from a society that relies on them to do their parts. What I find so poignant about this position from Payne is that he doesn’t lean one way or the other on which side is wrong or right, and instead lets the audience soak in all of the details, and details he lays at the doorstep. I was greatly impressed at how much homework that Payne did in painting this vivid picture from many of the distant angles that require such an immense step in humanity’s progression. The film takes place over the span of many years, feeding into what goes into passing such a procedure, as well as the very precautions of such a procedure in itself that makes this anything but an easy pull of the switch. It was in this area of the film where I couldn’t wait to see where it was headed, and just when I thought I knew what was to come creatively with what Payne was depicting, I fell into such a slouch at how little the film works out for itself in the second half.

This is where the film completely falls apart in my mind. Instead of focusing on the negatives that Paul’s character didn’t see for himself before he made the decision, film introduces and builds around a direction to help everyone else. This is noble intentionally, but feels adjacent to everything that we have learned about the film to this point. In fact, the very mention of Downsizing is limited over the second half of this movie, feeling like you took a second and third act installment from any other movie about environmental distress and attached it to a film about self-prospering. Sure the idea that a person can change is always there, but Paul as a character feels so selfish and easily influenced that I can’t for a second think that he would care this deeply about other people who don’t involve him. To hammer this thought process home, he even tries to elude a Vietmese character that he meets because she has gotten to be too annoying to him. And of course because they are the main focus for male and female characters here, they will of course hook up and become romantic interests for the rest of the film, harboring no chemistry between them that makes this believable even in the slightest.

The visual effects are simple, but effective in depicting this bigger world feel when nothing has changed except the character in question. I say simple because all the production really has to do is film minutes of background with a small camera and display it against the green screen that our live action actors work in front of. If simplicity is what you’re going for with trying to save valuable production costs, then I feel the team here made a great decision, but I can’t help but feel an overwhelming layer of missed opportunities from their decision. Even the audio distortion from a smaller bodied person is included, even though it’s only needed for a couple of times during the first half hour. Besides this, I was slightly disappointed that they really didn’t do a lot of eye-catching effects in the big-versus-small worlds that Paul and company have come and gone from, and even the enormous vodka bottle from the trailers is noticeably missing from the finished product. To add more to the second half handicaps, the final hour is presented from Paul’s level, so needless to say there are no comparisons in artistic integrity that the film could’ve harvested for itself. It’s almost like Payne forgot that this was a film first-and-foremost that centered around this life-altering decision, and that he would instead rather proceed with a 130 minute commercial about environmental responsibility. Snooze.

Most of the central cast is wasted, including Damon whose Paul never inspires us in seeing his suddenly new selfless perspective. When Damon is allowed to be charismatic and let loose on the limited screenplay, he can be quite likeable in his innocence in being alone in a new world, but much of the film requires him to grow up quickly, and there’s just not enough versatility as a lead for his character to prosper on. If that wasn’t enough, there’s a scene that is very much in poor taste with what has recently broken about Damon, in which he makes a move on a sleeping female character. It’s all in bad timing, and does zero in presenting any kind of chemistry long term between them. Hong Chau is probably the most important character to where the film is headed in its later acts, but her character is so Vietmesed-up by the studio that it feels like an almost borderline racially insensitive direction from a writer who doesn’t know better. She’s loud, mispronouncing, and occasionally judging. None of which paint her in the best of lights. Probably the only actor who benefited from this was Christoph Waltz as Paul’s new party-hard neighbor Dushan. At first, I worried that Waltz would be an antagonist of sorts for Damon because (lets be honest) that’s what Waltz does. But as the film progresses, it’s clear that Waltz endures a level of much-needed heart to the film that proves that maybe humanity wasn’t lost in the surgery to go small.

THE VERDICT – ‘Downsizing’ is a big idea plagued by a small execution. With a credible voice like Payne at the helm, it’s a bit of a surprising disappointment that his film feels like a great idea that is speeding to a red light of conformity by the film’s anti-climatic ending. It wastes away a talented cast and thought-provoking introduction for a film about a newly-rich white male caring about the lower class. If that’s not believable, Damon’s bland performance won’t win you over as well, carrying with him a personality that is every bit as small as his newly shrunken size.

5/10

I Love You Daddy

One teenager has her buckling father wrapped around her finger with the repeated phrase ‘I Love You Daddy’. Glen Topher (C.K.), who panics when his spoiled 17-year-old daughter China (Chloë Grace Moretz) starts spending time with 68-year-old Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich), a legendary film director with a reputation for dating underage girls. Caught in a writing dry spell, he distracts himself by courting glamorous movie star Grace Cullen (Rose Byrne), who is interested in playing the already-cast lead role in the upcoming TV series he hasn’t yet begun writing. Glen’s teetering world is further upended by his interactions with Goodwin, who is both the increasing focus of China’s attentions and the revered idol who devastates Glen by appearing to dismiss him outright as a creative person. Glen’s brash TV actor buddy Ralph (Charlie Day) makes matters worse through rude observations that inflame Glen’s deepest insecurities about his daughter. The real problem, however, is that Glen isn’t sure exactly what is going on between China and Goodwin-and what he should be doing about it. ‘I Love You Daddy’ is written and directed by Louis C.K, and is rated R for crude sexual content, adult language throughout and brief drug use.

Some films fall victim of the wrong place, wrong time scenario. This happens when a movie couldn’t be released at a worse time for the very material that it harvests from within its daring script With much reluctance, I bring you ‘I Love You Daddy’, a film so marred in controversy that it had its big screen release pulled from theaters the week before, only to find a limited audience online from cult movie fans who shell out as much as $1000 on Ebay to finally allow C.K’s film to see the light of day. Is it worth it? I personally don’t think so. After admitting to sexually abusing females, as well as the recent uncovering of abuse cases that have swallowed Hollywood whole, a film like ‘I Love You Daddy’ seems too perfect of a synopsis to be released in such a delicate time for many in front of, and behind the lens. It’s a wannabe poignant approach to pedophilia and the rules that come with such a damning title, challenging us as a society to look at the glass half-full for such a taboo subject that frankly doesn’t offer a lot of room for debate. In my eyes, you either are or you aren’t, and because of such logic in establishing, ‘I Love You Daddy’ loses its lease on responsibility only minutes into the production.

There’s a constant feeling of uneasiness in the air of this picture that goes much further than the colorless scheme of cinematography that I will get to later. The script for instance, holds an obvious center to the kinds of films that Woody Allen has been making for years. coincidentally, C.K even adorns Allen’s famed black-rimmed glasses as the protagonist of the film. For a film that had no sexuality or nudity of any kind, it had me remotely astonished at just how effective that it felt in getting under my skin. In material, the first half of the film did move along quite wonderfully with a somewhat satirical blend of depiction for the very poison that seems to be clouding Hollywood on this touchy subject. It was in this direction where I felt that the film was able to offer something of substantial returns in daring to explore what very few have only able to talk about up to this time. Then the second half of the film comes into focus, and suddenly you’re made aware of a film that is not smart enough to capitalize on its challenging stance, but one that reverses the examination light and tries to convince us that we are wrong. Some of the arguments being made in the film is that women, even those at minor age, are responsible enough to know what they are getting into. This is not only a terribly shallow point to argue, but one that will inevitably come with such consequences that will force audiences to disengage with its new found direction. Could this be more to the satirical approach that I mentioned earlier? I don’t think so, considering the transformation that our lead protagonist embarks on is one of great understanding and leniency for the kind of transpiring details that creeped him out only scenes earlier. Because of this jumbled approach, we get two films for the price of one that doesn’t feel daring enough in exploiting the extremes of either with commitment or exploration that breakout films so desperately require.

The artistic merits of the film keep this one above water, offering a reflective glance of the golden age of cinema. I mentioned earlier that the film is in black and white, and I think this speaks levels to the colorless level of morality that the film associates itself with. Everything in this world is either black or white, and no grey, as a way to feed into the dominant sides that each character associates with. On top of this, C.K’s decision to film everything in 35mm film, gives the movie the rich authenticity of the kind of films that Louis himself grew up entranced in, as a child growing up. The feeling throughout plays like you’re watching something along the lines of ‘I Love Lucy’ with a modern spin of material that is currently plaguing the world. I wish more films would take this stance with an artistic tweaking, and at the very least, ‘I Love You Daddy’ earns the unorthodox approach visually by contributing it to the unapologetic stance that the movie garners for itself.

But in proving that style never flourishes over substance, the over-indulgence of runtime at nearly two hours that undoubtedly requires an edit button that the film never receives. C.K as a screenwriter isn’t terribly underdeveloped here when compared to some other hollow scripts that I have sat through this year, but it’s clear that his screenplay has an essence of pretentiousness to it that makes him feel like he is in love with the environments and dialogues that he engages in. Far too often do scenes duplicate and offer a dragging detour for where the characters and their situations were playing out. Much of the finished product feels like it could’ve used some removal, particularly towards the end of the first act that takes far too long to set up our on-going conflicts. There was never a point in the film where I was bored, but I never felt invested in the shapeless characters that aren’t set up with any kind of depth to make them stand out with pulse.

Despite this, the film did have some meaty performances that are able to escape the shackles of character outlines that do them little favors. Charlie Day for instance, is someone who doesn’t fit in to the mold of this story in atmosphere, but one who I greatly appreciated for adding any kind of emotional firepower to this sagging satire. Day is typically playing himself here, but his proficient comedic timing is something that makes him destined for the taking of every scene that he easily steals. Edie Falco also isn’t bad as C.K’s jaded assistant. Through her, it’s clear that we get the best representation of Glen as a person more so than C.K ever could in soaking up precious screen time, and Falco’s fiery deposition’s gave the movie stamina through lengthy expositions that are telegraphed from miles away. C.K’s lazy performance continues his comfortable stance on where his prolific career has taken him to this point. This feels ideal for how he inspires his other co-stars like Moretz and Malovich who don’t feel the slightest bit of energy to exude here. Sadly enough,  I did feel more uncomfortable with C.K’s character rather than Malovich’s intended pervert, and as far as protagonists go, you would find yourself better suited to follow literally anyone than the man with such a diluted moral compass.

THE VERDICT – ‘I Love You Daddy’ is the equivalent to the drunk uncle who comes over during the Holidays and says the wrong thing at the wrong time. Even when it’s in satirical mode, C.K’s tone-deaf awkward situational lacks the pushing of the envelope in form that it needs in matching a visual compass that is out of this era. Highs and lows aside, it feels like an interpretive litmus test to the kinds of perverted animal instincts that the film world has deemed acceptable for far too long. If this film offends you, it’s probably a good thing.

5/10