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

Book Club

Directed by Bill Holderman

Starring – Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen

The Plot – Diane (Keaton) is recently widowed after 40 years of marriage. Vivian (Fonda) enjoys her men with no strings attached. Sharon (Bergen) is still working through a decades-old divorce. Carol’s (Mary Steenburgen) marriage is in a slump after 35 years. Four lifelong friends’ lives are turned upside down to hilarious ends when their book club tackles the infamous ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. From discovering new romance to rekindling old flames, they inspire each other to make their next chapter the best chapter.

Rated PG-13 for sexual related material throughout and adult language

POSITIVES

– While the material and thinly written script does them little favors, the chemistry and bond of the four leading ladies captures our attention and holds it for 99 minutes. For my money, Fonda and Bergen are the scene-stealers, emoting through the 70-plus dating scene with the kind of awkward hilarity that eases us into our seats. This is a film first-and-foremost about friendship, and that union between these four women smash through the brick walls put up so frequently in this screenplay that tries to cut their star power down.

– From a romance perspective, I think that this is a surprisingly good date movie for any age demographic. What helps is that each relationship represented in the film is a different degree of the relationship spectrum that can represent any of us. Even for a single guy like myself, there was tons of relatable content included that made me respect the fact that some relationships in this world (Like real life) just don’t work out.

– This film of course centers around the Fifty Shades of Grey books, and thankfully the film takes a responsible course of direction not only with how much time it devotes to it, but also with translating that to the majority of women who read it. Because of the ups and downs of these women, it feels like the film is trying to tell us that real life is anything but a fantasy novel, and that success in love takes great work. On top of it, the ladies laugh at the ridiculous lines of dialogue in the books, so bonus points there.

– On the clutches of recently disappointing Mother’s Day cinema that perhaps tried too hard, it’s great to see a film that succeeds at female empowerment, and does so because of its relaxing set-up. Like a basic book club of it’s own, this is full-proof cinema for the fine wine females in the audience who are looking to laugh, love, and drink for two hours. Because of this, ‘Book Club’ out-Meyers Nancy Meyers.

– Considering there are four different arcs to follow throughout the film, Holderman does a surprisingly fine job at holding our interest while throwing a few curveballs for conflict along the way. The biggest problem in time-sharing films like this are equaling the playing field for each of the leads, and there was never a point when one direction stuck out as superior than the rest.

NEGATIVES

– This definitely feels the strain of being a two-writer project considering how uneven the screenplay is. For my money, the first half of the movie is definitely the strength, playing into almost a self-parody kind of angle within this world of romantic dreamers. But it’s in the second half of the film where all prior momentum is sacrificed for these predictable motions that keep it from ever elevating away from something vanilla. It puts away its humor muscle in favor of a romantic cliche film, and limits us from ever finding out what could’ve been had they pushed the envelope just a little bit further.

– I never expected to be talking about horrendous green-screen in a romantic comedy, but ‘Book Club’ has surprised even a critic who sees over 200 films a year. I get that this is a cheap production (10 million), but considering the rendering of the landscapes are hollow and lack such rendering, it sticks out like the sorest of thumbs that is very much distracting the progression of important love angles.

– There’s an unshakeable sense of sitcom humor that overwhelms us at every turn. That’s not to say that the humor doesn’t work occasionally, because I did laugh, but rather that it just all feels timed and telegraphed in the way that never comes across as natural. The only thing missing from the film was a laugh track telling you when to laugh.

– In addition to what I just said about the sense of humor, the film’s writers tend to reach for the juvenile, shoving unnecessary immaturity down our throats far too often. Craig T. Nelson speaks of his motorcycle with sexual overtones, the ladies themselves can’t finish a sentence without nearly muttering “That’s what she said”, and it all just reeks of desperation. These were the only times during the film when I was truly angry at what I was watching, because this cast is just too classy and above material that you would hear in an ‘American Pie’ sequel.

– The lighting puts certain scenes out of focus, and it’s baffling to me the lack of care in keeping these cuts in the finished product. On the big screen, this felt as obvious as a screaming baby, so maybe watching it on a television is the way to go with this one. Sadly, that thought process does little for the overall success of the picture.

5/10

Overboard (2018)

Directed by Bob Fisher and Rob Greenburg

Starring – Anna Faris, Eva Longoria, Eugenio Derbez

The Plot – In a splashy new twist, Overboard focuses on Leonardo (Derbez), a selfish, spoiled, rich playboy from Mexico’s richest family and Kate (Faris), a working class single mom of three hired to clean Leonardo’s luxury yacht. After unjustly firing Kate and refusing to pay her, Leonardo falls overboard when partying too hard and wakes up on the Oregon coast with amnesia. Kate shows up at the hospital and, to get payback, convinces Leonardo he is her husband and puts him to work – for the first time in his life. At first miserable and inept, Leonardo slowly settles in. Eventually he earns the respect of his new “family” and co-workers. But, with Leonardo’s billionaire family hot on their trail and the possibility of his memory returning at any moment, will their new family last or will Leonardo finally put the clues together and leave them for good?

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

POSITIVES

– While the comedy is dragged down by the undertow of witless humor, the film surprisingly has a strong sentimental muscle that sets the stage for a more dramatic instilled second half. The film has a slow-but-steady way of drawing this family together as one cohesive unit, paving the way for some scenes during the final act that will surely tug at your heartstrings.

– The performances are 50/50 at best, but at the heart of the top is Derbez’s mumbling and almost child-like innocence that serves as the perfect vehicle for the direction this remake is headed. As to where his chemistry with Faris is a bit lacking, Eugenio more than makes up for it by taking overwhelming control of the majority of this film, making it easier to ride through the sludge of some long dry periods of script.

– I found it interesting that while this is being billed as a remake, the events of the original film have taken place in this world. There’s a brief but noticeable mention of a similar event taken place thirty years prior, and I commend the film for addressing the elephant in the room that most movies won’t even touch.

– Despite the fact that the final ten minutes are almost exactly the same as the original movie, the rest of the film does in fact pave its own road without reliance on a property that has already proven itself. This incarnation of ‘Overboard’ might not reach the entertaining levels of that original movie, but it also spins a modern quality about it that makes it entirely more believable.

– Reversing the roles in this instance shows a satisfying side of single mom workload that is rarely capitalized on this film. Because of Faris’s age, as well as the iron woman schedule that she burns through daily, it’s much easier to empathize with her character over 87’s Kurt Russell because for the most part she has a tight cap on holding down the responsibilities better. With Mother’s Day coming next weekend, this is surprisingly a recommend for the moviegoers going to the theater for the holiday.

NEGATIVES

– This musical score from composer Lyle Workman is atrocious. I say that with the most kindness that I can muster because it is every bit as repetitive as it is horrifying on the ear buds the every ten minutes it pops up. I can only compare it to a group of ghost ghouls slowly trying to BOO!! everyone they come in to contact with. It’s completely out of context for this kind of film and served as a form of mental abuse every time a transition sequence was happening.

– As to where the film isn’t as offensive morally as the original movie, including a Mexican character in the scenario doesn’t exactly quiet a new fear. Considering Derbez is being held against his will to do work on a household that he doesn’t own, that blaring voice inside my head couldn’t help but scream at how wrong this looks on a race level as well.

– There is absolutely no reason for this film to be approaching the two hour runtime. Considering there is no shortage of one-off gags and supporting cast characters that add absolutely nothing to this film, it’s easy to see where the fat can be trimmed. One such instance involves Faris’s mother (Played by Swoosie Kurtz) occasionally popping up to tell us about an out-of-state gig in which she is performing on stage. I still don’t understand why this subplot needed including or what it even added to the film. Beyond this, there are four different endings for the film, including a credits scene that drags on for far too long.

– I mentioned earlier that the performances are 50/50 at best, and a lot of the negative circumstance to that statement unfortunately involves the other lead, played by Anna Faris. As a usual scene-stealer, Faris can command the attention with ease, so it leaves me baffled why this film fumbles away the use and talents of one of the very best female comedic talents working today. Her character goes long spans without making an impact on the story, and she constantly feels like she’s working carefully behind Derbez, so not to overshadow him.

– Is it worse to try and fail horribly or to not try at all? ‘Overboard’ answers this question for 110 minutes, underwhelming repeatedly. For the first half of the movie, the comic muscle is so easy to ignore because of the lack of confidence that the two leads have in delivering them. Yet the second half of the film elevates itself to a family drama, ignoring the laughs completely. I don’t have an answer yet, but considering I only laughed once at the entirety of this film, it made for one of the more dry comedy sits that I have had in a long time. A big bruise on a film that is comedy first.

5/10

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