Alien: Covenant

The crew of a colony ship, slash through a dangerous breed of indiginous creatures that inhabit their newfound land, in ‘Alien: Covenant’. Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created, with “Alien: Covenant,” a new chapter in his groundbreaking “Alien” franchise. The crew of the colony ship Covenant (Including Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, and Billy Crudup), bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world. When they uncover a threat beyond their wildest imaginations, they must attempt a harrowing escape, banding together to take out their acid-spitting antagonists hand-in-hand for survival. ‘Alien: Covenant’ is rated R for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity.

I’m someone who didn’t care much for Prometheus and the philosophical directions that it took one of the more prominent horror/sci-fi movie franchises, and unfortunately Alien: Covenant steers more in that same direction of where the previous left off. It is a better film in my opinion than that of its predecessor, but still suffers from the same problems revolving around its menacing antagonist that Scott still hasn’t fixed five years later. There are two tones in the film of Covenant, pushing to satisfy the diverse crowds of this series that were split right down the middle in their interest of Prometheus. For the supporters of it, this film does bring back the origin story of the creators, as well as the artistic and ambitious direction that only Scott can accomplish at this magnitude. For fans of the original Alien and Aliens movies, this film shifts back to the pacing of those movies, even so far as to include their increased appetites in brutal violence that reigned supreme during that era. The gore is very satisfying to a horror lover like me, and I felt that this film had some of the best deaths of the series. However, For this kind of juxtaposition in tone, it does often feel like a tug-of-war battle for the creativity of this movie, tightly jamming two different feels of movies into one Frankenstein-like finished product. The film satisfied in many ways, but had nearly as many problems to point out for my final grade of the film.

Ridley Scott still proves that after over forty years of sitting behind the director’s chair that he still has it in the visual presentations that envelope his films. Whether you love or hate Scott as a director, it’s measures like the interior ship designs and lighting of this movie that orchestrate the idea that this man is playing on a totally different ball field. The interiors of this film took me back to Aliens and Alien 3, opting for more of that faded cinematography to accommodate the yellowish tint in lighting that adorned these ships. In addition to this, I greatly adored the decision to film more scenes on the ground, as we very rarely have seen these aliens in their natural habitats. It also fruitfully paints the backdrop in picture for the creators and the kind of epic world that they once lived in, long before they met their genetic match in terms of conflict. These glances offer the kind of answers to the questions that were left anti-climatically in the air during the prior film, and did plenty to satisfy my thirst for foreign worlds that has sadly done very little experimenting before this.

Then there are those decisions by Scott that could’ve used a little more time to develop and mold for the eyes of his passionate viewers. The decision to amplify the tension by making these aliens quicker in this film is one that I do support. Even in zombie films, people often criticize this stance for taking away from the classic movements of the antagonists, but it’s easy to understand that taking away the ability to run away is what makes their actions even more unpredictable. My problem comes in the CGI designs of the aliens themselves. Aside from the fact that there are no practical effects in this movie, I found the computer designs of most of the alien creatures to be laughably bad. The Xenomorphs are fine because they show that of dark skin that makes it difficult to point out the flaws in their designs, but the small white creatures that appeared during the opening act of this movie are so bad that they reminded me of Alien: Resurrection, the stain of the Alien franchise. The shading and texture of their designs feel so foreign to the practical sets that surround them that it makes it very difficult to suspend disbelief for their impacts. By 2017, concept designs shouldn’t lack this much weight, and as a result the gimmick of this creature left me laughing every time it was on screen.

The story too has its problems, even going as far as the actual title of the movie. If this film was called Prometheus 2, or Prometheus with some subtitle after it, I would be fine with it. But to have the actual name ALIEN in the title and only have them in the two hour presentation for a total of twenty minutes (I’m being generous) is a huge mistake. Much of the reason people disliked Prometheus is because they couldn’t find the connection between the two stories. Now we have a movie that connects them, but does it in a way that reduces these creatures to supporting roles in their own film. The movie has an easily predictable plot twist towards the end of the movie that friends will attest to me predicting right away. How did I predict this? Well, a lack of care for what scenes were included leading up to the big reveal, as well as subtle but evident differences in appearance for two characters who are quite similar. It’s tough to explain without spoiling everything, but if you are paying attention even decently, you will easily pick out this flaw from the minute that Scott attempts to accomplish it. Overall, the story to me just fell flat in many long spurts, practically counting down the time when the next attack will happen. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m not crazy about this story getting philosophical, and the idea that these aliens can be reasoned with and even controlled is one that treads the hardest on suspending disbelief. I am reminded of Halloween 6 when they introduced the character of The Man In Black to basically be Michael Myers master. I am of the thought that monsters should always stay cryptic. The more we know about them, the less impactful their rage and dominance feels, and the alien creature is one that I feel doesn’t require that backstory to make it any more frightening.

As for the characters, there are two that stick to mind with being effective in this movie, Katherine Waterston as Daniels and Danny Mcbride as Tennessee. Mcbride especially is the standout here, putting aside his comedic charms for a tough-as-nails character with some intelligence to boot. Danny showcases that he is an actually gifted actor here, and I couldn’t get enough of his commanding presence on this ship, and being the lone voice of reasoning for the film. Yes, Danny Mcbride was the voice of reason, weird huh? As for Waterston, there’s certainly a steer in the direction of Ripley and Shaw for her structure, but Daniels serves as a particularly human lead protagonist here because immediately right away in the movie she suffers the most devastating loss of her life. So we get to see the actual metamorphosis of her character as the film progresses, leading into a captain who takes control for the very lives of not just her crew, but also her friends. Besides these two, the rest of the performances and development was very underutilized. You could blame it on fifteen different faces taking up screen time, but I blame it more on the cliche horror movie characters that they all made up. Characters in these movies typically make dumb decisions, but when you really think about how easily the events in Covenant could’ve been avoided, you start to laugh aloud for how very little has changed in this nearly forty year old franchise. At least in the earlier volumes, you had characters who were able to showcase these fleshed-out personalities for us to enjoy or hate. The people in Covenant constantly feel overlooked, and this is a rare flaw for a director in Scott, who has developed some meaty supporting casts.

THE VERDICT – Alien: Covenant is a welcome addition over the last four Aliens movies that have disappointed this critic for how convoluted their easy-to-satisfy plots have become. The film increases the violence and answers many of the questions that were left hanging from the previous film, but still suffers in terms of what definitive direction that this movie is trying to take. Hollow characters, pee-brain decision making, and some shoddy CGI work, still prove that this series has plenty to perfect before it tangles with the days of Alien or Aliens. Even with annoyances aside, Covenant has enough pulse to bite through the underbelly of horror conventionalism, and still prove that this series has teeth.

6/10

The Wall

Two American soldiers seek safety and shield behind an unsteady structure that has them fighting for their lives, in Doug Liman’s latest action thriller, The Wall. The movie is a deadly psychological thriller that centers around two soldiers, Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Matthews (John Cena), who are pinned down by an unforseen Iraqi sniper with extreme precision, with nothing but a crumbling wall between them. Their fight becomes as much a battle of will and wits as it is of lethally accurate marksmanship, thus proving that even the smallest of wars do indeed have grave consequences. The Wall, produced by Amazon Studios, is written by first-time screenwriter Dwain Worrell. It landed on the 2014 script Black List, and is rated R for adult language throughout and some war violence, including sequences of peril.

The Wall can be best described as being a strategic impulse thriller that plays to a familiar backdrop in the Iraq War, during the year of 2007. President Bush has since declared victory in the Middle East, yet the opposing sides are still spilling vital blood. Off in the uncertain distance of it all are two soldiers and an ambiguous sniper that wants them dead. There’s something greatly appreciating about what Liman does in scope here to craft this as one of the hardest hitting war films of the last decade. Despite there only being three people in the entirety of this film, it never diminishes the importance or the urgency of its story or winning the war, even when its dangerous game is being played on the smallest of stages. The film feels like a game of chess, with both sides jockeying for position on their opposition, and it’s in that procedural of sorts with army protocol where Worrell’s cunning script thinks the loudest in terms of keeping this interesting for 86 minutes. It does so and proves that the war genre doesn’t necessarily need to be played at the most epic of scopes to be compelling, and that it’s the millions of smaller battles that demand their stories to be told.

The action and sound editing really puppeteer the emotional response from its audience by offering crisp, sudden impact that plays tenderly to the eerie nature of the quiet surrounding our protagonists. t This feels like the kind of movie where these men make every single bullet count, so each time that you hear that long gasp of silence, you can’t help but fear for that whoosh in sound that tells us bullets are on the way. As far as the mystery within the film goes, I felt that the film is best reserved when we don’t know the exact location of our gifted sniper, playing more into the uncertainty that could strike at any and everywhere when he chooses to push the button. This angle of script perspective takes place more during the opening half hour than the rest of the script, but unfortunately gives away this reveal far too early in the movie to play more into keeping the audience guessing. What does work is the two sides being able to communicate on a CB radio that paints more of a vicious shadow for the man who could literally be anywhere. The choice in desert backdrop makes for a location that is every bit as forgiving as it is influential in playing to the advantages and disadvantages of hiding a plan from the oppositions. I thought it was cool to see a sandstorm literally take over certain scenes between characters with their own agendas. It kind of signals that Mother Nature and life in general continue on even in the most dire of situations.

As for script, the film surprisingly offers an array of social commentary on the perils of war and the prices that we pay for democracy. Worrell feels like a writer who chooses not to glorify war, but instead the value of human life and our purpose for others in power making decisions for that value. There were several times during the movie when the thought-provoking question of ‘Why You?’ is wonderfully positioned, and yet we as an audience can’t help but wonder the same thing. With only one chance at this thing called life, are such invasions literally important? Like most responsible movies, this one never steers one way or the other, but I do appreciate that it isn’t afraid to at least challenge the status quo. There’s also a terrific style of execution based on the very exposition within the movie that communicates to its audience what happened before we arrived, without ever needing the introductory montage that feels like it’s everywhere anymore. To begin this film already inside the cloud of danger is quite risky, but as the film goes on, we learn important reveals about Taylor-Johnson’s Isaac, as well as the key events of their mission that reveals why their once prosperous army has been winded down to a party of two. Some of our initial images from the get-go are that of several U.S army soldiers laying dead and spread out all over. This tells us two important things; this sniper is very good at his job, and those still alive are well-versed in that capability and must choose carefully what to do next. An aspect like war can play so beautifully into capturing the peaks of a story long before we’re being narrated through it, and Liman does a terrific job at setting the stage for a battle that will change everything.

This begins my problems for the movie however, as this feels like a movie that starts to show its weaknesses the longer it goes on. The film’s pacing rarely dragged for me, but in the final half hour I started to see how this film painted itself into a corner for how little it truly answered leading into the final few scenes. Because of such, some highly unbelievable aspects happen that took me out of my immersive dive into this dangerous world and continued to remind me just how much a movie this really is. On top of this, I also hated the dialogue within this movie, and this negative plays into the very hollow characters that we are presented with. The performances of Taylor-Johnson and Cena are solid enough, and they certainly give it everything that they have to make this characters appealing protagonists. But unfortunately, these two feel like stereotypical muscle-head soldier types without any of the heart or empathy that makes them compelling. There’s a point towards the end where Isaac is literally crying from all of the mental and physical anguish that his character has taken, and yet I never felt troubled for his character. Where the dialogue plays into this is every other word practically settling for the F Bomb for the hell of it, or an arrogant retort by Isaac as he talks back-and-forth to his enemy. Fear should be the more prominent emotion being portrayed here, and that clumsy decision to always keep our hero jabbing off does damage in illustrating the versatility within his character.

THE VERDICT – The Wall stands strong through a weathered third act that nearly diminishes all of the strong foundation built in the first hour of the movie. Doug Liman’s choice for a smaller scope for his war thriller is just what is needed to instill a fresh outlook on the genre to keep it from sinking under familiar waters. He elevates the handicaps of his one stage setting by focusing on only two characters to make the urgency that much more valued. A minimalist survival plot that hinges on the concept of ambiguous murder and the prices were willing to pay to play.

6/10

How To Be A Latin Lover

The sleazy, scheming lifestyle of an arrogant sex-crazed man goes for broke when he gets the worst kind of news that will hinder his get-rich-quick scheme, in How To Be a Latin Lover. Having made a career of seducing rich older women, Maximo (Eugenio Derbez) marries a wealthy woman more than twice his age. 25 years later, spoiled and bored from waking up next to his now 80-year-old wife—he gets the surprise of his life when she ends up dumping him for a younger car salesman. Forced out of his mansion and desperate for a place to stay, he must move in with his estranged sister, Sara, (Salma Hayek) and her nerdy but adorable son, Hugo (Raphael Alejandro) in their small apartment. Anxious to return to the lap of luxury, Maximo uses his nephew’s crush on a classmate to get to his new target—her grandmother, Celeste (Raquel Welch), a widowed billionaire. As Maximo tries to rekindle his powers as a Latin lover, he finds himself bonding with his nephew Hugo, and he begins to learn that being a Latin lover means that loving money isn’t as important as the love of your family. How To Be a Latin Lover is directed by Ken Marino, and is rated PG-13 for crude humor, sexual references and gestures, and for brief nudity.

By rating his movie PG-13, first time actor-turned-director Ken Marino settles for the smarter kind of comedy, and one that doesn’t need the perils of raunchy humor to get its laughs. That’s not to say that How To Be a Latin Lover is a smart or intelligent comedy that pushes the boundaries of intellect, but it is one that focuses primarily on that of dialogue driven humor, instead of physical or gross-out material to get its intended purposes across. There have been a lot of people who have related this movie to that of a Happy Madison production, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s true that some similarities are there with a jerk antagonist character who treats everyone around him like garbage, but still asks to be redeemed by the end of the movie, but Marino’s picture resorts more to the heartier side, displaying a fine layering of family importance that could never be touched by that awful company known as Happy Madison. I had some fun with this movie. It’s certainly got its problems, but it wasn’t enough to derail my time or keep me from the consistent laughter that Derbez’s commitment to character brought me.

The material in comedy does unfortunately have its flatulence jokes, but they are brief enough in the grand scheme of things. This is very much a character that feels on the same levels as that of Gerard Depardeu in the mid 90’s, showcasing a pleasantly humorous side to ignorance. There’s plenty of bravery in a script that could or could not label Latin Americans in a particular light, but the light-hearted consistency in tone makes it a difficult task to take anything to heart. Some of my fondest laughs in the movie usually dealt with the adapting that Maximo’s new chapter of life was taking on, complete with gut-busting facial reactions to the kind of madness taking place around him. With no lies, not all of the comedy here meets their designated marks. There are some truly terrible line reads in the movie that don’t register the fullest of laughs as intended, and sometimes the punch lines do feel slightly too long for a payoff that either never comes or emotes a pity laugh. Overall, there were too many times when this movie ripped the laughs out of me, so I give credit to working hard for this insanely difficult critic when it comes to comedies.

What’s commendable about the screenplay is that it doesn’t just settle for one-level storytelling to get the entertainment value across. The sleazy scheming that we see in the trailers are certainly there for a majority of the three-act structure, but something happens about midway through the movie that starts to earn your respect; the transformation of Maximo. What I love about Marino’s directing here is that he makes us pity our central protagonist by having him endure the same kind of humiliations that he ridiculed other characters for early on in the movie. By leveling out the playing field, the movie’s overbearing message of treating others kindly radiates with each passing moment, and it opened up the access to an otherwise cold-hearted individual. From here I was treated to a family element that even in predictable setups took over the movie accordingly, and brought depth to something that would otherwise be a throwaway comedy. The ending does tend to slightly go back on its transformation a bit, but it’s obvious that Maximo can never fully retreat to the materialistic pig that he donned for twenty-five years of his life.

One aspect that could’ve used trimming was that of the run time that at 110 minutes feels about fifteen minutes too long. The pacing holds up wonderfully for the first two acts, even despite how thin the material feels during this stage of the game, but it’s in that third act where the wear-and-tear of the long endurance starts to take shape. One reason for this honestly is in the setup of the third act conflict, which Hollywood has repeatedly done for decades, and only feels there to setup the retribution that inevitably always follows. This is simply not one of those comedies that can spring for the full two hours, and I worry that some of the antsy motions that come with such a long sit will pop up in those moviegoers who can accurately diagraph what will happen from this point forward.

There is plenty to offer from the cast, most of which includes a variety of famous celebrities that range in importance to the story from very much to not at all. One of my problems with cameos in movies is that they rarely do it to where it feels justified or vital to the inclusion of their character. For Latin Lover, it’s about 50/50 in terms of this. I loved Salma Hayek as his Sister for all of the bickering that they do back and forth that feels very reminiscent of the kind of sibling rivalry that we all deal with at one time or another. I enjoyed Mckenna Grace as Hugo’s school crush. As a little girl, she showcases a personality that is years above her age, and with Gifted, this is the second time that she has impressed me this month. As for who doesn’t work, the additions of Rob Riggle as the film’s antagonist of sorts, Kristen Bell as an obnoxious cat lover and frozen yogurt shop manager, and Rob Coddry as a limo driver with very little dialogue or material to showcase. Without question however, this film was intended to be a one man show, and Derbez is certainly up to the task. As Maximo, we meet a man that has let the better part of a life pass him by, with pursuing a shallow dream. Eugenio commands brilliance out of this character, so much so that he becomes him in the same way that Sacha Baron Cohen became Borat or Bruno. It’s rare in a comedy that an actor can be commended just for acting, but that is what we have here. In many ways, this character sometimes feels too big for this movie, but together they make the most out of a good time.

For an initial effort, Ken Marino’s How To Be A Latin Lover might not come to mind when it comes to memorable comedies, but there’s enough suave and debonair in the performance of Derbez commanding presence, as well as mostly clean cut material that can appeal to the whole family to keep this one staying fresh. The third act does slightly overstay its welcome, but the compassionate lessons that this movie instill make it one of the rare comedies that we can cherish in a terminally polluted 2017 comedy landscape.

6/10

Sleight

As a street magician by day and a guardian by night, the gifts of a young man are exposed to those with ill intentions, in WWE Films, Sleight. A young street magician named Bo (Jacob Latimore) is left to care for his little sister Tina (Storm Reid) after their parents untimely passing, and turns to illegal activities and a life of crime against his better conscience to keep a roof over their heads. Everything is going great until the living fast lifestyle catches up to him with dire ultimatums, and he gets the wake-up call of a lifetime. When he gets in too deep, his sister is kidnapped and he is forced to use his magic and brilliantly cunning mind to save her. The film also stars Dule Hill and Sasheer Zameda. Sleight is written and directed by J.D Dillard, and is rated R for language throughout, drug content and some violence.

For all of its bells and whistles, the concepts of magic are very strange when you see their impact on the audience that knows none of it can be real. Like this performing art, Sleight too is a movie that is perfectly serviceable enough, but seems to lack any real weight or emphasis once you see the curtain rise in the final act of the movie. We know the big finish because we’ve seen this trick before, but how it gets us to that final point is what can make or break this picture. Lets be honest, WWE Films hasn’t won over very many critics for their straight-to-DVD library that includes some real stinkers. But Sleight might be the right kind of facelift that a company struggling to find its own original voice can learn from. There’s enough of a take here that feeds off of our modern day obsessions with superhero flicks, and how so many of them have fallen into formulaic territory, offering little intellectual or gratifying to play to the kid-friendly tones of comic book trajectory. J.D Dillard hears those cries, and the influence that follows his film doesn’t feel like an accident even in the slightest.

From a narrative standpoint, Sleight prides itself on a cross-pollination of superhero structure and urban backdrop that adds a fine layer of dramatic circumstance for our characters. We learn very early about the tragedies that have befallen the brother and sister in this movie, so immediately we are emphatic to their situations that beg for a way out of it all. What I love about this approach is that Bo’s background felt very similar to that of Peter Parker, in that tragedy has amplified the need to grow up quicker, magnifying the importance of great responsibility and great gifts along the way. On a surface level, this is usually enough, but I found myself very intrigued with adding an urban backdrop full of questionable characters with dangerous motives to play into their melting pot. In 2014, many people were applauding Dope for its originality on minority engagements, but I think a film like Sleight approaches it with more honesty and earnestness to never pull one over on its audience. A lot of kids do fall into these dark holes, and rarely ever find their way out of it, and Bo is such the character that he lives the lifestyle while offering a shred of motivation because of his little sister that keeps him hungry to keep pushing through.

This brings me to my biggest problem in the movie, which ties the other problems together like a family tree; the pacing. Sleight feels like it is always rushing through and undercooking these scenes to misfire on puppeteering the dramatic pulse. This is particularly evident during the first act, in which we are presented with the most brief of introductions to our characters and their pasts. This kind of minimal exposition is severe in terms of how this writer treats the past with a lack of importance as the present, a decision that I felt was a big mistake in depicting the bond between brother and sister in a situation that is less-than desirable. So much takes place during the opening half hour, yet the remaining 55 minutes of the movie grinds to a screeching halt because of how little movement that the creativity has to breathe for a remainder of the movie. The third act continuously feels like we are stuck in the same position, leading to a confrontation that wasn’t given enough slow-cook to even out the playing field. Because of this, it’s easy to spot the finish line early on in this movie, and I was quite disappointed with how little chances that it actually took with unpredictability. As for Bo’s gift itself, there is of course an answer for it, like most magic tricks, and even when you are shown the secret, you still feel like you’re missing the bus of logic that has departed minutes before your arrival. Even if this angle were somehow possible, it would raise great questions on how the trick is performed with proximity.

Credit to the production team for never going overboard on the aesthetics for the film, as they are almost entirely rich in texture and captivating in essence. The cinematography and color schemes do radiate that sunny kind of yellow tint vibe behind each and every place that our characters frequent, but I was even more pleased with the handheld style in camera work that never overstepped its boundaries in front of the story that was playing out before our eyes. This is a shining example of patience in a particular style of movements, and it never made the movie feel limited or pressured into artistic shots for the hell of it. The one problem that I did have with the visual specter of the movie was that of the transition sequences fading to black repeatedly, feeling like an overused gimmick that cut into the symmetry of the film’s progression. When this happens in movies, it always feels to me like a collection of scenes instead of one free-flowing story, and Sleight unfortunately falls victim to this spell, one too many times.

There are also a few supporting performances that stood out like a sore thumb in an otherwise hearty cast that give their everything to their respective roles. In particularly, the two henchmen of Dule Hill’s character are bumbling idiots who fumble each and every line of dialogue like the last slice of pizza. I promise you that this is NOT a trait of their characters, but rather that these two are incapable of making me take any threat seriously from their lack of subtle deliveries. Onto the good of the cast though. Lattimore is progressing smoothly as an adult actor who has made the transition smoothly from promising adolescent. As Bo, Jacob plays to the residing fire that is slowly burning within him, riveting everything and everyone around him. Zameda is also eye-opening, despite not being in the movie very much. Her character is kind of a Mother figure of sorts for Bo and Tina, and Sasheer’s presence feels immensely important in steering the young man in the right direction. I definitely could’ve used more interaction with her against Dule Hill. Speaking of which, Hill steals the show with a performance that erases any doubt of how versatile he can be. Dule is known for playing the quirky and nerdy in the earlier part of his career, but here is very much a dangerous and calculating business owner who doesn’t let anyone stand in his way. I was blown away at how effective Hill played this character, silencing the lack of believability that I thought would hinder the film. These trio of actors elevate flimsy material that doesn’t completely fill in the shadow outlines of their characters, making the most of vital opportunities that they would otherwise not get.

There’s enough going on with the prestige of the magic trick known as Sleight to ignore some of the grave problems that saw the movie’s creativity in half. Dillard’s film is not only a non-conventional spin on the low budget investments of a superhero subgenre flick, but its urban setting satisfies the craving in minorities to see a story that speaks to their situations in volumes. Sleight would be better suited to take its time around the edges of some of the initial engagements, but the clashing of two promising actors like Lattimore and Hill bending the typecasting of what they’ve been to this point is no illusion. There is indeed some magic spinning to this little film that could.

6/10

Tommy’s Honour

The rising skills of a young golfer changes his future outlook for him and his family, in Tommy’s Honour. Set against the early days of the sport and stunning landscape of Scotland, the movie is based on the intimate and powerfully moving true story of the challenging relationship between “Old” Tom Morris (Peter Mullan) and “Young” Tommy Morris (Jack Lowden) , the dynamic father-son team who ushered in the modern game of golf. As their fame grew exponentially, Tom and Tommy, Scotland’s Golf Royalty, were touched by drama and personal tragedy. At first matching his father’s success, Tommy’s talent and fame grew to outshine his father’s accomplishments as founder of the Open Championship in 1860, his stellar playing record, and his reputation as the local caddie master, greenskeeper and club & ball maker. In contrast to his public persona, Tommy’s inner turmoil ultimately led him to rebel against the aristocracy who gave him opportunity, led by The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews chief Alexander Boothby (Sam Neill), and the parents who shunned his passionate relationship with his girlfriend-then-wife Meg Drinnen (Ophelia Lovibond). Tommy’s Honour is directed by Jason Connery, and is rated PG for thematic elements, some suggestive material, language and smoking.

Tommy’s Honour finds itself playing from behind for a majority of the film, and that has a lot to do with a mistiming of momentum for the first forty-five minutes of the film that subdues this sports biopic at nearly every turn. There’s very little drama or conflict to keep the audience engaged through some very dry and bland material along the way, lacking the compelling nature that leads the audience to understand what’s special about this particular character. The story of young Tommy Morris is one that golf enthusiasts everywhere will have no problem dedicating nearly two hours of their time to. Through a brief career, Tommy became one of the very best skill and efficiency golfers of all time, a feat that brought him fame in his tiny village. But what will enchant the sports crowds will equally hinder the non-sports crowds who are just looking for an entertaining feature. It eventually comes during a third act that is among the very best of the year, but more time could’ve been planned supporting the first two acts that practically had me falling out of my chair in boredom.

I was slightly disappointed to find out that most of the Robin Hood of golf storyline that the trailers so prominently featured is just a speck on the fender of an otherwise bigger picture involving Tommy’s relationship to his significant other, Meg. I felt that both subplots aren’t given nearly enough time to command the attention of the audience, lacking a distinct direction especially during the second act that is grasping at straws. The taking from the rich and giving to the poor storyline is one that has been done, but you have rarely seen it in the sports world, and I thought that there was something interesting about how these golfers were like the stock market of the 19th century, playing the roles of betting horses for the upper class gentlemen who had the funds to throwaway at their wins or losses. This plot takes shape early on, and then drops with very little backlash from it. This leads to a big waste in the role of Sam Neill as the royal who oversees betting operations on the golf course. The relationship aspect rarely gave me any kind of passion or fire, often making this aspect feel spoon-fed to the importance of the audience. I get that the relationship plays into the rhythmic third act, but were simply never given a reason to care for these two young kids who have the chemistry of two mules. I would’ve been more entertained with the sports in sports biopic being engaged upon, and unfortunately that lack anything intriguing served as a test of patience over the first forty-five minute hump of this movie.

Then it happened; the third act that feels like the producers finally decided that it’s time we give the audience some measure of dramatic depth, and boy does it ever. After a painful surprise drains Tommy of everything that he knows and loves, he is forced into the biggest challenge of his life against a British pro who seems to have his number. The way that the conflict is played during this golf game is masterful because it doesn’t fall under the back-and-forth cliches of most golf movies. Tommy is legitimately at a loss for words during most of it, and those of us like me who don’t know his story will find themselves on the edge of their seats for this putt for power. The way the film ends plays even more into the hands of Morris’s legacy, signing off on some final shots that had me fighting back tears. My rainbow finally came after being patient for what felt like ages, and this last hour of the movie is simply too compassionate not to partake in.

The visuals and backdrops are gorgeous, illustrating a finer side to the game of golf that has rarely been seen in all of the glossy depictions in other films. Since this does take place in the 1800’s the film accurately depicts the aspects to the game that refined golfers today will never know. There’s the shaggy grass that feels like it takes the ball on directional detours, the flimsy clubs that look like they could break at the most violent of swings, and of course the year-round playing conditions that relayed the importance of this business that never stopped. The final showdown takes place during a snowstorm, and it’s one of those well established scenes in movies where you can feel the cold temperatures the longer that the game plays on. It certainly makes you look and laugh at the spoiled conditions that make up a professional course today. The wardrobe is also on point, detailing the free-flowing gowns and five piece suits that were all the craze in Ireland during the day. This aspect of the movie made it very easy to immerse myself into this time and place, and there’s never an attention to detail spared when it comes to the real meat in this budget.

There’s not a lot of breakout in the performances, but a couple of supporting actors make the most of their limited run. Peter Mullan was perhaps my favorite character of the film as Old Tom, Tommy’s professional caddy father. In his character, we meet a weathered man who never quite received the same chances of opportunity that his son now basks in, but there’s never a taste of jealousy or anger in his delivery. Thankfully, his moment to shine does eventually come, and I will leave it at that. Also, Tommy’s Mother (Played by Therese Bradley) soaks up the scenes that she inhabits with some very powerful words and tear-flowing capabilities that plays into the professionalism that she has undertook for over forty films on her resume. The two romantic leads never gave me much when they’re on screen together. Jack Lowden is fine alone, especially during the third act when the odds are stacked against him for the first time. But when these two are together they lack a strong sense of sensuality to relay their relationship, and more times than not I saw them more as brother and sister.

As far as sports biopics go, Tommy’s Honour settles for bogey when other more tightly-paced and focused dramas take a birdie. Golf enthusiasts who have come to know and love this story will be entranced in Tommy’s growing popularity, but for everyone else this is an endurance test until the final act that surprisingly did justify the wait. Jason Connery has enough heart and shining examples for his honor and respect for the historical figure, but could use a tighter grip on the club when swinging into the winds of entertainment value.

6/10

Leap

The ambitious dreams of an 11 year-old-girl take her on a cross country adventure one choreographed step at a time. In Leap, Félicie (Elle Fanning) has one dream; to go to Paris and become a dancer. Her best friend Victor (Nat Wolff) an imaginative, but exhausting boy with a passion for creating has a dream of his own, to become a famous inventor. In a leap of faith, Victor and Félicie leave their orphanage in pursuit of their passions. But there’s a catch, Félicie must pretend to be the child of a wealthy family in order to gain admittance to the prestigious and competitive Opera Ballet School in Paris. And with no professional dance training, she quickly learns that talent alone is not enough to overcome the ruthless, conniving attitudes of her fellow classmates, led by the devious Camille Le Haut (Maddie Ziegler). Determined to succeed, Félicie finds her mentor in the tough and mysterious school custodian, Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen) who, along with Victor’s encouraging friendship, help her reach for the stars. Leap is directed by Eric Summer and Eric Warrin, and is rated PG for impolite humor, and action sequences.

The Weinstein Company in conjunction with Quad Productions are the latest to throw their animation caps into the ring against the bigger conglomerates, and for a majority of Leap, there’s plenty of imagination in the winds of luxurious backdrops and whimsical dance sequences to more than hold its own. I am not someone who knows a lot about ballerina dancing or the expressive arts to begin with, but Leap is one of those treats of animated features that transcends that of every opinion that you may or may not have gathered from the arts that you would otherwise have no interest in. This is a movie that has currently gotten moved back five whole months, and that’s a shame because this is an underdog story that could do wonders during a spring movie season that doesn’t have a lot of uplifting messages. Have we seen and heard this story before? Absolutely, but the tweeks and adjustments to that popular fable, as well as an artistic direction that paints an ambitious backdrop of Paris, France to accompany such a light-hearted film, is one that tugs at the motivation of the heart within all of us to be better.

At 84 minutes, this is as brief of a structure as you can imagine, so a lot of the first act exposition does breeze by slightly too quickly for my taste. I would’ve preferred some slowing down to capture more of Felicie’s undesirable home life in the orphanage and just how important that it is for her to break free from her mental shackles. There’s nothing terrible offending about quick pacing, but thankfully the second act reminds us of why were here; the dreamer’s story. This is where all of Felicie and Victor’s dreams come true, and what better place than the city for lovers? I loved the hinted romantic chemistry between their characters that even morphed into a triangle when another desirable character introduces himself to Felicie. In addition to this, the second act also lays the groundwork for just how out of sync our central protagonist is with other dancers her age. This film paints such a responsible canvas of illustrating just how difficult the dance of ballerina really is, and through a couple of musical montages, we see our girl grow not only into an incredible dancer, but also an admirable woman in this coming-of-age story.

There are two antagonists that are introduced into this story early enough. One of which I thought worked, in that of Camille, Felicie’s biggest competition to taking the starring role, and Camille’s Mother Regine, whom I felt dragged the story down to familiar cliche territory. This is one of those children’s stories that simply doesn’t need an antagonist. The sweaty and endearing climb up the mountain of sorts for Felicie’s dream is really the central antagonist, so anything else just feels strongly out of place or desperate to adhere to studios who deem it necessary to always feature a bad guy or girl. This becomes even more evident during the final ten minutes, when a sequence involving high risk comes into play, and suddenly I felt like I was watching a completely different movie, in which violent intent became necessary. With Regine’s character, there is a sly nod to the overbearing dance moms of the world who are a tad bit hands-on sometimes, but this is taking that angle and pushing it to unnecessary lengths.

The animation here is mostly gorgeous, making the most of a miniscule 30 million dollar budget that is only a fraction of what the big name studios are offered. Paris is the perfect place to set a story of dreams, mostly because its beautiful landscapes relay a sense of the kind of place where anything can happen and often does. The use of shadow work, as well as lighting effects on the animation amazed someone like me who sees fifty of these animated movies a year, and still felt like something fresh all together. It’s easily noticed most of all during the nighttime scenes, in which our characters pass through a street lamp. The personal attributes do leave slightly more to be desired, mostly in the movements of Felicie in particular during her dance numbers. Her movements feel slightly jerky and about a second delayed when compared to her walking or running. It is the sole aspect of the illustrations that could’ve used a second look, and sometimes make Felicie’s body feel out of place or uncomfortable with what she’s drawn to do.

I really dug this collective cast, most of which get lost behind their animated bodies effortlessly. It’s great to see so much responsibility hanging in the balance for a fresh, young cast full of popular faces that are currently burning up the market. Elle Fanning is someone who has embraced versatility in performances with roles in 20th Century Women and The Neon Demon, but as Felicie we finally get to hear the teenage girl inside of her come out to embrace this endearing dreamer. Felicie is definitely a female lead that holds her own against Disney princess oppositions, and does so even more because everything that she attains with dancing are realistic things that don’t need fairy tale magic to be told. The chemistry between Fanning and Wolff presents itself frequently throughout the film, as I greatly enjoyed their playful innocence with one another. Wolff’s Victor is the comic relief for the film, and the young adult does more than his fair share of humorous antics that make it easy to embrace him as one of the more memorable characters in the film.

Leap twists and turns its way into a choreographed dance that has twice as many dives as it does dips. This is one dreamer’s story that doesn’t deem it necessary to become a princess or a superhero to get the attention of kids. With complimentary animation, as well as stirring vocal performances from Fanning and Wolff, Leap has enough bravado to compete with some of the bigger animation companies that otherwise have a tight grip on the genre. Familiar territory? YES, but the unwavering enthusiasm from this whimsical treat is enough to stand on its toes.

6/10

Going In Style

Three senior citizen best friends get a raw deal on life, and choose to fight back against the system, sending them ‘Going In Style’. Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin team up as lifelong buddies Willie, Joe and Al, who decide to buck retirement and step off the straight-and-narrow for the first time in their lives when their pension fund becomes a corporate casualty, causing a necessary shift in the every day routine of these sluggish pals. Desperate to pay the bills and come through for their loved ones, the three risk it all by embarking on a daring bid to knock off the very bank that absconded with their money. Going In Style is rated PG-13 for drug content, language and some suggestive material.

After a big success in 2004’s Garden State, and an overly ambitious failure in 2014’s Wish I Was Here, Zach Braff returns to the director’s chair to construct his single most mainstream feature to date, Going In Style. Far beyond its designation as a comedy however, Braff’s film ejects the heart from his characters and their stories to craft a truly weightless good time for all ages to enjoy. Going into this film, I wasn’t expecting much except to laugh, but it turns out that Going In Style is one of those rare opportunities where a few pennies of interest will earn you dollars more in returns, because this is a movie that I had a great time with. It turns out that Braff’s three years away from the chair was one that has done him well, because everything about this movie pays homage not only to senior citizen comedy romps, but also that of 70’s heist movies that had a particular aura about their designs and sequencing that lift the suspension to another level. Led by a trio of film veterans that know a thing or two about elevating mediocre scripts, Braff’s movie gets a big boost of humorous dialogue and delivery that makes the infectious personality of this movie one that is irresistable to anyone with a pulse.

Ted Melfi’s script is one that focuses on two soul aspects in getting across the understanding nature of such a heist; hard fought friendships and a reflection of social commentary in blue collar Americana that any laborer in the audience will easily grasp. These trio of friends do get royally screwed out of their pensions, and when they are offered little help or compassion from the banks, the evil, greedy business suit becomes the film’s prime antagonist. A shadow figure that while it does lack originality, does come through in a 21st century backdrop that sees many longtime employees watching their jobs ship overseas. There’s nothing heavy or resiliant about this script, it just knows where to stick the pricks and prods on the audience’s feelings by putting them in the shoes of their worthy protagonists. The friendships are everything here because we come to understand that these three men would do anything as long as the others are standing next to them. It’s in that concept that makes the idea of robbing a bank for these 70-something robbers that much more believable, and an irresistable ride that brings along all of the pacing for an enjoyable first hour that practically flew right by.

Where my problems do lie is in the third act execution that did slightly leave me with a bad taste in my mouth going home. It doesn’t ruin the film, nor the energetic good time that I had with the picture, but rather fizzled out the build and conclusions of these respective storylines and characters. With the heist itself, there are some obvious aspects to the characteristics of this cast that are introduced early on that is easily telegraphed with where it will pop up later on. It’s not even that the film is predictable, but more that it knows what steps it needs to get across some truly ridiculous aspects later on. One of such aspects is in that of two big events that go on during the heist. The first slows the trio down, and there’s something that gets revealed during that give-away that any robber with a brain would’ve gotten rid of before attempting such a feat. The second is a minor spoiler and it’s in the fact of them giving away that they are using blanks to a room full of people. Once this happens, the security guard should’ve fired away. It’s not enough that these elders return to the same bank that got robbed three weeks prior, but they use ammunition that is essentially consequence free. The ending of the film also tends to drag on a bit too long, closing up some respective subplots a bit too ‘Matter-of-factly’ to push the run time past an hour-and-a-half.

The commendable side of Braff’s hands-on direction is in that of the presentation, which does surprisingly offer an array of positives that outweigh the lone negative. The editing here is exceptional. There’s some very crisp cuts not only on the montage scenes, but also in that of faithfully representing the three sides equally in each conversation or engagment that places them all on equal footing. I also greatly enjoyed the 70’s style slide editing that weaved its way in and out of every summary scene. This feature is mostly evident during interogation scenes, when our characters are remembering aspects about the past events. It was a grade-A feature that was placed into a throwaway film, and it’s those kind of tweeks that push a comedy to the next level. What doesn’t work however, is that of a musical score that is very much meandering to the kind of emotions that it deems its audience too stupid to comprehend. I compare this style in tones to that of Full House or any 90’s TV Dramedy whose subtelty wasn’t its strongsuit. The same goes for this picture. It is every bit as annoying as it is repetitive, and it serves as one of the few times that I will complain about a musical score in any movie.

Caine, Freeman, and Arkin lead a dynamite cast that define the word ‘chemistry’. Caine and Freeman have done probably two handfuls of pictures together at this point in their careers, so it should not be any kind of surprise to interpret their friendship as anything but authentic. Arkin is clearly the sarcastic one of the group, Freeman is the family man, and Caine is the grounded one who wants what’s coming to him. I mentioned earlier that these three lift a decent script and make it something that is entirely enjoyable, and that is because (like their characters) these actors have paid their dues and supported enough terrible projects that it’s nice to see them get center stage in a film that brings out their strengths in spades. There’s a line in the film that states “We used to be kings…….we still are”. A throwaway line that more-than tells the kind of motivations and attitudes for what brought them to this vital dance. When you believe and embrace the concept of friendships, anything else is possible in a movie, and with these leads, you won’t see three better reasons to embrace the buddy comedy genre.

Going In Style is feel good cinema that doesn’t overstay its welcome until the final fifteen minutes that drag just slightly in execution. Braff and company definitely live up to the title of the movie, with fast-paced editing and camera effects that bring a special layer of 70’s heist homage to this film. The dependency of the film lies entirely in its rich, charismatic cast who never fumble or drop the gun in this opportunity. A rare heist that takes your money, but also gives back so much more in endearing laughs and wholesome friendships aplenty.

6/10

Ghost in the Shell

One woman’s fuzzy recollection of the night that changed everything for her, has her taking on the role of the ‘Ghost in the Shell’. In the near future, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals. When terrorism reaches a new level that includes the ability to hack into people’s minds and control them, Major is uniquely qualified to stop it. As she prepares to face a new enemy, Major discovers that she has been lied to: her life was not saved, it was stolen. She will stop at nothing to recover her past, find out who did this to her and stop them before they do it to others. Based on the internationally acclaimed Japanese Manga of the same name, ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is directed by Rupert Sanders, and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, suggestive content and some disturbing images.

The American version of Ghost in the Shell serves as a beautifully energetic cliff notes version of the 1995 popular Anime original, even if it lacks some of the more diverse material from its source material. There’s plenty for new fans and even fans of the original to gaze at for the live action adaptation that hits all of the production high notes that one could ask for. Coming in at 97 breezy minutes, Sanders film is paced accordingly for the most part, speeding through a one track direction of plot. If anything, this will be the sole negatives of Ghost in the Shell enthusiasts because it lacks dipping into the creative waters of espionage, cyber terrorism, and even shell philosophies that pose many thought-provoking questions for audiences to ponder at. Even still, I had a blast with this movie, and my opinion is that Sanders is a director who cares passionately for the original story, emulating a visual treat that encompasses the best in the worlds of Blade Runner and The Running Man. Films like these were made for the big screen, and demands a top notch projection system that demands you pay a couple of extra bucks for a feature presentation that will tie audiences over until the Summer blockbuster season hits us.

What I love about the message in this particular story is one of humanity’s dependency upon technology being the beautiful rose that pricks us full of thorns. A concept that is certainly nothing new for cinema, but one that does hold great weight in our current day advancements that seem to be overtaking our own society. From the outside, this is a world that looks beautiful and prosperous, illuminating the streets with neon and holograms that decorate the skies above. But upon a closer look, there’s a poison that is slowly eating away at this world; a yearning for the bigger, better invention, and one that’s begging becomes regretful once people get a taste. It’s clear that those enveloped in the experiments of this company are still clinging to that past where everything was simple, and being human was simply enough. It proves that with advancements comes great vulnerability, a concept that will hold great staying power over time with where our own advancements take us. A beautiful apparition at such a steep cost.

On the subject of some of those visuals and the overall production, Sanders and team illustrate a world that feels light years ahead of our own, even when our own realities exist within the picture. I’m a sucker for future films that depict an ambitious world of foreign concepts, and this film certainly partook in that realm. There always seems to be an immense cloud of fog hanging over the landscapes, perhaps an isolation of dread and doom for the last remaining human originals who find themselves with an alienating presence in this new world. The fight scenes felt very fluid with that of an androids pulses and movements, and I also greatly enjoyed the new wave/techno musical score by legendary composer Clint Mansell. This is the same guy who musically narrated Requiem For a Dream among many other films, so his immersing inside of a dark and gloomy world is certainly nothing new for the composing prodigy. His tones take us through suspense, action, and great tragedy, all that center around this mind inside of a body, searching for her identity. This 1-2 combination landed soundly in immersing myself in this vibrantly compromising world that was accurately lifted from the animation of one of the 90’s most impactful films.

The performances was one aspect that I was greatly terrified with, but Johansson leads a promising cast that nearly perfectly depicts this wide range of characters. As Major, Scarlett might not reach the visual acceptance of her animated counterpart, but what she lacks in visuals, she more than makes up for in robotic delivery and movements that cement her status for the part. Normally, the idea of a hollow performance would be one to poke away at with negatives, but in this movie it is necessary for the background in story that her character entails. Johansson has rarely been one to steal the show, but this is without question her best performance to date, slowly transforming back into the human being that her mind still recognizes her as. It was cool to see her movements and speech patters start to break the confinement of this company, and I still greatly hoped that this tragedy filled character could one day live again. Props also to Michael Pitt and Pilou Asbaek as two of the more prominent figures in Major’s life. It would be expected for a film to make Asbaek’s Batou Major’s significant other, but thankfully his ruggedly sarcastic protagonist serves better as her law enforcement equal. I greatly enjoyed watching the patter between them lead to a laugh or two to break the ice in this otherwise serious picture. Pitt continues to be one of Hollywood’s most versatile of actors as Kuze, a cyber hacker who has his own secret to spill. In Michael, we see an honorable, if not destructive character with his own earnest intentions at taking down this new world, and Pitt is certainly happy to oblige on drawing a faded line between menace and heart to relate him to the audience’s human side.

There’s not much that I actually complained about in this film, and what I did happened all coincidentally within the confines of the third act that feels jarringly different from the rest of the film. The movie’s pacing through the first hour of the movie has a one track mind in that it focuses in a cut-and-dry manner on the one conflict throughout. With a half hour left, the film realizes that it hasn’t answered much about Major’s past or the real antagonist at hand, and instead of comfortably transpiring everything smoothly, it does indeed feel slightly rushed in the most impatient of scenarios. There’s also a certain aspect to the script that is revealed in the final fifteen minutes that will surely add fuel to the fire for the white-washing enthusiasts who have marred the lead up to this film. I didn’t so much have a problem with the event that happens itself, but more so in the film’s morality which did unsettle my expectations for how they were going to handle this scene from the original. I was not pleased, and just wish they would’ve left it out completely to spare ridicule.

Ghost in the Shell does live up to the ambitious visual spectrum that offers a multitude of gazing for all of its rich and luxurious tastes. While the overall message does fall slightly short of the many things that the animated counterpart immersed in, there is plenty here to bridge the gap between fans and anti-fans of the anime genre that will maximize their interests in other similar properties. Sanders grasp creatively is just enough to recommend this adaptation for what it truly is; a visually compelling sizzle that lacks the meat in the department of thought-provoking material.

6/10

Power Rangers

Five teenagers turned heroes learn of the impending doom upon their town of Angel Grove, forcing the group to become the ‘Power Rangers’. Five teens with attitude are inexplicably brought together by coincidence or destiny to become the newest generation in a line of warriors known as the Power Rangers. The world rests in their hands as Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), a powerful witch and former Green Power Ranger, launches an assault seeking the Zeo Crystal with an army of stone golems called Putty Patrollers and a giant golden monster called Goldar. Based upon the popular American television series, ‘Power Rangers’ is directed by Dean Israelite, and is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, minor adult language, and for some crude humor.

There are times in my writing career when I take honor for being correct in my assumptions. Unfortunately for me, and fortunately for all of my doubters, ‘Power Rangers’ will not go down in history as being one of these times. When I first heard that they were producing a big budget silver-screen version of the popular 90’s kids show, I thought about how negatively some of these properties like ‘Jem and the Holograms’ or ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ have been treated along the way. Thankfully, Saban Productions knows the kind of property that they have on their hands, one that speaks to generations younger and older who adore this folklore. For my own personal grade, I view two important aspects to this movie; does it do damage to the original offerings? and does the film present enough of a fresh perspective to justify its re-imagining? Both of these answers play hand-in-hand with one another, but I can gladly say that this 2017 version should pleasantly please audiences of every timeline. Whether you were a 3-season fan like me, or you followed this evolving group of kids through every manifestation, there will be plenty of positives to instill that fun in you that you felt as a child, as well as have you anxiously awaiting the inevitable sequel that is hinted at in a mid-credits scene that is carefully orchestrated.

First of all is this fresh cast that a lot of this film rides on. The movie immediately introduces us to three valuable characters who are equally built among their respective angles and storylines. These are Jason, Kimberly, and Billy. Oddly enough, Billy was my least favorite character in the original ‘Power Rangers’, but here R.J Cyler combines nerdy intelligence with teenage awkwardness that places him in the spotlight of this adolescent who I just couldn’t get enough of. Likewise, Naomi Scott and Dacre Montgomery (Winner of the Zac Efron look-alike contest) too live up to their important characters as Kimberly and Jason respectively, and what I dig about both of them is that they feel like they come from two different worlds, and would otherwise never frequent one another, but this adventurous secret between them and everyone else, crafts a ‘Breakfast Club’ kind of arrangement that hits on that classic 80’s film setup on more than one coincidence. There are two other Power Rangers played by Becki G and Ludi Lin, as Trini and Zack, but sadly neither are given the valuable screen time or smooth transitions to their story that would otherwise build them equally with their other three protagonists. In fact, the film kind of forgets about the two of them until about midway through, when we are told vital information about one character’s sexual orientation, as well as the other one fearful to go home for their own personal dealings. These could’ve used more emphasis in a two hour run time, and regretfully character building is something that this film does feel jarring with all of its picking and choosing. Even still, I thought it was cool how they kept the names the same from all of the original rangers, and yet switching their heritage around with the color of their uniforms.

If there is one MAJOR flaw to the casting, it’s in Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa. I definitely admit that I got my prediction for the finished product of this movie wrong, but I was absolutely correct about this being an immense miscasting for the rangers biggest villain. Not that it’s completely Banks fault. She is given a very miniscule amount of on-screen time not only to build the backstory of her character, but also put her in any scene that doesn’t jumble the teenage drama kind of tone that the film surprisingly hit on wonderfully. Any time that Repulsa is on-screen, we return to the hokey kind of atmosphere that the original series dabbed in, and while this may satisfy some, I can humbly tell you that I never once believed that Banks fully immersed herself in this character. For the most part, it feels like she is playing dress-up and spouting off some cheesy lines that make it difficult to ever take serious. Banks is a decent actress, but this kind of action movie is anything but her forte, and the absence of a strong antagonist keeps this film as consistently predictable.

I mentioned the tone, and what works in its dramatic regards is that a lot of these teenagers in the movie are dealing with issues that mirror that of what our current youth entail. Sexual orientation, high school identity, and loneliness are just a few of the depictions that ‘Power Rangers’ hits on, and the portrayals consistently feel honest and not at all like a gimmick used for plot convenience. To watch this group of kids merge into a family is one that does a lot for the moral integrity of the film, and adds a dramatic layer of depth to your investment in those characters and their well-being. What’s smart about this is that this is an origin story, so the film feels it vitally important to build the men and women inside of the suit before it shows us the goods, a point that pays off soundly. At the end of the day, this is still a group of teenage superheroes who form a gigantic dinosaur, so there is some humor to boot, but the sprouts of it inserted throughout are used wisely and accordingly so as not to jumble the increasing tension within these inexperienced rangers and the impending doom that awaits them.

The action is given a nice big budget presentation in CGI destruction value. It’s kind of funny to watch this once little engine that could be transformed (Poor choice of words?) into a Michael Bay kind of depiction in crumbling buildings practically falling from the sky. The fight choreography pays homage faithfully to the kung-fu kind of brawling that engaged in the original series, even so much as turning the amps to eleven, with fast-paced movements that always feel tightly in-sync with one another. The camera work could definitely be stronger however, as there’s either often too much going on within each frame, or the direction of each shot is negatively compromised because of experimental camera work that reaches a little too much in aspirational pull. Some of what I mean for instance is when a character or machine will get knocked upside down, and the camera has to follow the flip all the way in the same vain that said object does. I certainly do not need this kind of accuracy to understand the pain associated with being knocked on your head, but if feeling the brutality was the intended purpose, then I most certainly did with some of the most visually sickening camera work of 2017.

The only other two things that bothered me was that of some viciously disgusting product placement, as well as an ending that could’ve lasted slightly longer in resolving Repulsa’s immense army. On the latter, this movie does touch on the familiar cliche that if you defeat the biggest one, the rest will fall. If you’ve seen ‘The Avengers’ you know what I’m talking about. On the former, there is a local donut business that gets the most repetitive two hour commercial that money could’ve bought them. Once or twice is OK, but to keep showing, and even having a character feast on a donut during the big climax, angered me to the days of Adam Sandler and all of his cheap usage to put some more change into his pocket. It feels as desperate here as ever before, and the intended purpose for this building could’ve been any other abandoned building or otherwise to get its point across.

‘Power Rangers’ was a brace for the worst kind of modern-day adaptation, but the marriage between 90’s cheesy kids shows and big budget productions is a gift-wrapped delight to fans who have been waiting for this kind of rangers movie for over two decades. With a better casting for the antagonist, as well as some modest step-taking when it comes to shooting action sequences, and Israelite could etch his name as a premiere filmmaker. Even still, the pacing never slows down for two solid hours of nostalgic insanity that will remind you of a simpler place and time.

6/10

The Devil’s Candy

‘The Loved Ones’ director Sean Byrne returns to write and direct this demented horror treat revolving around a sinister haunting. ‘The Devil’s Candy’ centers around Jesse (Ethan Embry), an artist seeking a fresh start, and his family that think they’ve moved into the house of their dreams, full of extensive space and tranquil detail. The family are told that an older couple passed away in the house, but we soon learn there’s much more to something that is simply too good to be true. Jesse soon discovers not all is structurally sound however, when he comes face-to-face with true evil. What follows is a brutal and bloody fight for survival for the family who see change and recluse to the once attentive father. ‘The Devil’s Candy’ is rated R for brutal violence and adult language. The film is currently making its way around the country’s independent cinemas after being shelved for the better part of two years.

Considering this film has been in development hell for over two years, ‘The Devil’s Candy’ succeeds with an obviously cheap budget where films of more lucrative offerings can’t comprehend. It is a brief, albeit satirical look at the concepts of Metal and its referral to being “The Devil’s music” in relation to the occult and other forces of nature that our unseen in our own world. Sean Byrne is a filmmaker who I have closely followed since the success of ‘The Loved Ones’, a movie that I heralded as being one of the best kept secrets of 2015. This film doesn’t quite reach the heights of that movie creatively, but it’s certainly not for lack of trying, as this film is full of energy and intense camera work that constantly pushed it a little further. The kind of B-grade horror flicks that you pick up on at festivals and can’t wait to tell your friends about. Most recently, the movie’s star Ethan Embry shopped this movie around the Horrorhound Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, so I’ve been dying to see what his hard work merited, and as it turns out, Byrne has picked up the mantle of 70’s horror buff where Rob Zombie has dropped it on more than one occasion.

Films about possession before this one have often taken a look at the subject and its effects from an exterior angle, rarely pushing further to give us something of vision for what the possessed is seeing and taking in, and in that regards, this film is a rare treat. One of my favorite aspects of this movie was artistically crafting the storytelling capabilities of audio and visual to gift wrap the audience a truly terrifying intake that could happen to any family seeking to better themselves. The story opens up typical enough, with this husband, wife, and daughter moving into a new house, ala ‘The Amittyville Horror’. However, the similarities stop there, as ‘The Devil’s Candy’ teaches its audience that less is more in the narration department. This is very much a movie that would rather show then tell, a concept that has positives and negatives to it. On the latter, this is a film that desperately could’ve used another twenty minutes to pay slightly more attention in particular to the wife’s character. She basically disappears midway through, and we’re kind of left with Father, Daughter, and only two-thirds of a reactionary stance for the bizarre events that surround them. On the positive, the film never slugs along, quickly breezing through 78 minutes of solid, sound pacing that constantly kept the story moving. I wasn’t completely satisfied with where the film ended, as it feels like a forgotten layer of the story tacked on at the last minute for the hell of it, but the movie did leave a lasting impression with me that kept me constantly guessing as it played against all of the famous horror troupes that dull down these life-threatening scenarios.

As I mentioned before, the technical aspects are a breath of claustrophobic fresh air, detailing the very internal struggles going on with Jesse as he keeps this terrifying secret from the two people he loves the most in this world. There’s some cutting-edge experimental effects work here, not only from CGI fire that actually looks passable for once, but also in the way Byrne navigates through the flames in presenting art in motion. I also loved how the sound from the rest of the room would slowly evaporate as the possession verses took place. It made it easy to comprehend all of these possessions in movies when it feels like the character is a thousand leagues under the sea. These are not the only example of his greatness however, as he also uses lighting and set devices to cause uncertainty with which decade this story takes place in. With Metallica t-shirts that the Father and Daughter don throughout the movie, it’s obvious that this film takes place at least in the post-80’s, but the usage of neon lights and pasty colored wallpaper take this story right out of the 70’s, especially when you consider how impactful the occult was during such a time.

The metal dominated soundtrack is also something that has always gone hand-in-hand in a sanctimonious marriage with horror, and its presence here is nothing short of fitting with the very satanic material. Heavy-hitting rock gods like Slayer, Machine Head, and Goya are just a few of the sampling artists that lend their credits to this film. You never realize it until a song captures the perfect essence, but music plays such an important detail to movies, especially that of horror, whose sound is constantly eclectic for the kind of worlds that it is depicting. This genre of music is always associated with cult movements from misunderstood generations past, so the inside joke of throwing its importance into the faces of those same crowds, casts an irony that definitely wasn’t missed by this critic in particular. In a sense, the music itself thrives when the most is on the line, and what better offering than rock to set the stage?

There are a few supporting one-line characters thrown in from time-to-time, but this is mostly a four character story between the split sides of possession. Pruit Taylor Vance is back to always exude his creepy quiet. I do wish the running time wasn’t so brief because this character deserved a bit more of exposition to make him someone of reputable value to the story. At least his performance never misses the mark, as he could play a character like this in his sleep by now. Ethan Embry is virtually unrecognizable as the male lead, donning a scruffy beard and dirty wig to cultivate the rocker within him. You really feel for his character considering he is at the will of something much greater than him. For his performance, Embry masters a devilish side of himself that we have yet to see from the 90’s stud, and I very much enjoyed his investment in the film. But beyond who I previously mentioned, this is quite the coming out party for 16-year-old Kiara Glasco. This stirring starlet shrieks her way through scene after scene of blood-curdling screams and vein-popping frights that would put her as the front runner of scream queen for her up-and-coming generation. Kiara has a personality that always feels like she’s one step ahead of her adult counterparts, adding an appreciative maturity for someone who would otherwise be a throwaway character in mainstream horror. She was unquestionably my favorite character in the movie, and I hope that she will save some of that goosebump-inducing adrenaline for more horror offerings in the coming future.

‘The Devil’s Candy’ is one of those sweet tastes that hooks itself onto fans of the 70’s B-movie glitz. With a run time that hurts and helps its cause, Sean Byrne touches on just enough mystery to constantly keep the audience guessing, making his latest the perfect opportunity to cut the lights out and indulge on everything from Metallica, V-neck guitars, and the occult. A stirring riveter that casts its claws into genre enthusiasts everywhere just begging for the perfect soundtrack to hell.

6/10

The Belko Experiment

One terrifying project named ‘The Belko Experiment’ has employees of a prestigious company witnessing a new kind of hell for the work day. In a twisted social experiment, 80 Americans of mixed race, gender, and official rank are locked in their high-rise corporate office in Bogotá, Colombia and ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company’s intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed. Over the course of an allotted time limit, the workers must put the law in their own hands by murdering the very same colleagues that they refer to as friends. The last person standing will undoubtedly possess the strongest iron of wills, leaving a trail of bodies and consequences for what lies ahead. ‘The Belko Experiment’ is directed by Greg McLean, and is rated R for strong bloody vioelnce throughout, language including sexual references, and some drug use.

A couple of times a year, I will read reviews for a movie that is getting mostly panned by critics across the globe, then I see that particular film and feel like it must have been made just for me. That seems to be the case with ‘The Belko Experiment’, as I had lots of fun with this B-movie horror treat. The team up of James Gunn and Greg McLean is simply too rare to pass up, so when I heard that two of the more popular directors going today were making a terror shriek, it certainly intrigued me well beyond the point of curiosity. Sprinkle in a cast of familiar faces, mostly from supporting roles over their respective careers, and you have 83 minutes of a plot that certainly treads the line of originality for anything else going today. In the day and age of plots like ‘The Purge’ and ‘Saw’, the concept of ‘The Belko Experiment’ feels like it trumps them all, depicting the elevation of terror with a gimmick that feels like we’re constantly watching mice in a maze for our own sadistic enjoyment. It’s films like these that make you thankful that you are watching at home and not in it, because McLean takes great pride in elevating the very vulnerability of the work station. A charm that never goes unnoticed with the variety of characters that make up this film.

The movie opens up for the first fifteen minutes or so giving the audience what little exposition on its characters that it mostly had for the entirety of the picture. Sadly, we don’t learn a lot about our characters, just the daily annoyances that make their layer of patience bend ever so slightly further. With this being a horror movie, of course all of these scenarios will play out to give us the audience a reminder of where certain characters divide the line of alliances. It’s true that there is very little exposition in narrative as the film goes on, but it’s not something that takes a big enough bite out of the creative stance here. Because this is an EXPERIMENT, the study of human interaction is what really takes the floor here, and the progression in logical stances quickly gets more and more humbling through the steps of panic. With the first introduction by those in charge, our characters are told that they have two hours to kill twenty people or those in charge will kill thirty of them. This is of course met with slight confusion, albeit in a joking manner, and that uncertainty is certainly something that any of us would be met with. Then, when they prove their intentions in visual results, you slowly start to see the weaker mentalities coming forward, forming bonds with the stronger players, and setting forth the motions in surviving this day of hell. The study of just how far people will take things was the single most compelling aspect to this movie, and there was never a moment when their reactions didn’t feel anything but authentic.

I also greatly enjoyed the visuals in set pieces, as well as vicious deliveries that this seemingly endless supply of blood garnered. On the latter, there’s so much to appreciate about a director who doesn’t feel the need to hide or shield the audience from the ferocity of eighty people fighting for their lives. The carnage candy is delightful for a horror buff like me, and even though the shots are done with dramatic quick cuts, there’s still enough emphasis on close-ups to fully comprehend the impact in damage. The brutality gets more barbaric as the film progresses, and I took this devastating progression in the same continuous flow that I did the slipping sanity of many of our loose cannons. On the former, this set design feels necessary to achieve its message in simplicity. That message is that Belko Industries could double as any office workplace where people spend a majority of their lives together far too closely. The casual white shirt and tie becoming more-and-more decorated with the remains of co-workers as the film goes on, serves as a symbolism of sorts to the corruption that has overtaken this typical work day.

The music soundtrack provides an orchestral accompaniment of sorts to the madness that is developing around us. Seeing as to how this movie is set south of the border, the Mexican translations of many top 40 classic hits feels appropriate. Songs like ‘California Dreamin’ and ‘I Will Survive’ strike an ironic, if not somberly tragic musical note, and it relates to us that the film isn’t afraid to have a sense of humor in an otherwise abysmal environment. An unknown operatic musical number plays during the final confrontations, and it couldn’t feel more unnerving when played to these visuals nightmares in this fight for survival. It proves that music most certainly still holds an important place in 21st century horror films, and Mclean never disappoints in compromising visuals that artistically paint him as a visionary for this particular genre.

All of my problems with this movie, coincidentally enough, revolved around the pacing, which feels too fast to fully immerse into this plot and characters. I feel that a film like this could’ve really used that 100 minute run time to simmer some of the slow burns in vulnerability or unpredictability that takes over this building with each passing minute. What’s disappointing is that we don’t learn a lot about our mysterious antagonists, and it almost feels like our characters aren’t even asking about them, an important question that could’ve used some thoughtful pondering. There’s an element that is introduced around the half hour mark that keeps the workers in line with the demands of the voice, and I felt like it was a significant leap of faith logically for what the audience will choose to believe with these characters. I certainly understand its intention, but it just feels like an aspect that is there to be convenient to the plot. Other than these things, the third act also feels slightly rushed with everything that needs to be wrapped up in the final twenty minutes. It’s during this time when the desperation not only in the characters, but also in the script sets in, and that hour of lightly treading becomes a fast-paced marathon of executions and goodbyes that don’t fully get the deserving gasp.

Work is murder quite literally in this cherished team-up between Gunn and Mclean, and ‘The Belko Experiment’ is harmless, maniacal fun too delightful to be missed. Despite some impatient speeds in pacing, the film is much better than the unjustifiable negatives by critics that have been slung its way. Overall, it’s a viciously bleak character study on human morality and rationale, when played against the most dangerous of ‘What If?’ scenarios that we discuss in private with our friends. A smooth day at the office with very little manual labor involved.

6/10

Before I Fall

One girl must live her nightmare of a day over and over again, in Before I Fall. What if you had only one day to change absolutely everything? Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutsch) has it all: the perfect friends, the perfect guy, and a seemingly perfect future. Then, everything changes. After one fateful night, Sam wakes up with no future at all. Trapped reliving the same day over and over she begins to question just how perfect her life really was. And as she begins to untangle the mystery of a life suddenly derailed, she must also unwind the secrets of the people closest to her, and discover the power of a single day to make a difference, not just in her own life, but in the lives of those around her, before she runs out of time for good. Before I Fall is directed by Ry Russo-Young, and is rated R for mature thematic content, sexuality, violent imagery and adult language.

‘Before I Fall’ opens as another typical teenage time-stamped film, but slowly unweaves itself full of insightful character exposition and social commentary for the teenage years, setting this one as a rare delight upon the young adult genre. The very idea of repeating the same day over-and-over again is certainly nothing new. Films like ‘Groundhog Day’ or ‘Premonition’ most recently come to mind as movies with a similar plot, but ‘Before I Fall’ takes that familiarity and makes it something fresh and organic when combined with the pressures and regrets of high school. This kind of plot when used as a dramatic force, brings out not only the comical side of repetition in fashion trends and dated musical interests, but also in re-living the same kinds of decisions that don’t make you proud. It is thrown in the face of our protagonist with each day that is stuck in the same place, and with that, she is able to grow from a unlikeable follower when we are first introduced to her, into a full blown woman who moves to the beat of her own drum by the end of the movie.

My first commendable appreciation was in that of director Ry Russo-Young for giving a film that revolves around and geared toward teenagers, an artistically merited design within the backdrops and style decisions in the film. The setting of Seattle is certainly nothing new with this crowd, but it works better here more than ever for the kind of foggy and dreary emotional roller-coaster that Sam is trying to get to the bottom of. There are many gorgeously ominous shots involving fog curling around the wooded landscapes that surround the endless forests, as well as a lot of cold and damp interior shots of the Kingston’s residence, relaying a strong presence of distance between the once loving family. These directions do so much more in removing some of the burdens of carrying the movie on the script, and grant us a stage of wondrous beauty for us to appreciate during some of the lackluster moments of the film. More on that later. For the first act of the movie, there’s also a lot of reliance upon the soundtrack. There are no doubts that this is one of those movies geared at spiking up ITunes numbers, but I didn’t have as big of a problem with it, simply because it isn’t geared towards my age bracket. The repetition of hearing these songs might annoy some audience members, but do quite the job of understanding the shock and anger associated with living through the same events without end.

The exposition in character reveals and thickening plots is also to be appreciated here. Beyond the slow points of the first act, where the setup is to repeat the same events a few times, our patience is finally rewarded with each passing day, when we learn a little more about character details and plots that paint a brighter picture for certain actions and responses between them. It is in that beginning of the second act when you feel how truly heavy that this script really is, and I found myself on the edge of my seat for the histories and pasts of these revolving characters coming in and out of frame. The film is also smart enough to give audiences a provocative chance that is too sweet to take, on having the opportunity to go back and change some of the things that we regret about our youthful years. With each day, Sam tries to change something different, giving us a butterfly effect of sorts not only for herself, but also for her ensemble group of people who she interacts with every day. As I mentioned before, this is certainly nothing original, but the fresh young adult perspective offers plenty of insights into peer pressure and breaking trends that are too self-reflective not to enjoy.

Unfortunately, the main plot of the movie wasn’t as rewarding to me because of a reveal that I figured out with about an hour left in the movie. The film’s big mystery on how Sam is stuck in this disposition, as well as what happened that night on that lonely road, is maneuvered to be what the audience should care about, but after seeing the same scene play out twice, I figured out the twist with ease. I won’t spoil anything, but through the many amounts of car crash sequences that I have watched in my career, I know a thing or two about sights and sounds, and overall what to expect from this kind of scene. The big trigger was a certain sound missing from the equation that more than revealed to me just what happened. After this point, the movie slowly starts to leak energy from the enjoyable enough setup that it garnished before this. Because of my advantage, it felt like waiting for the inevitable on something that wasn’t shocking or even informative for the audience to understand the logic behind Sam’s pause button. It feels a lot like asking three questions and only getting an answer for one, the one that seemed the most obvious at the time.

What does lift this well beyond the status of a passable rental however, is the stirring performance of Deutch at the helm of her first dramatic starring role. Sadly, Zoey has only been cast in comedies up to this point, so her turn as Samantha is something of a coming out party for the woman being asked to juggle so many emotions in her repertoire. In this role, I consider that she is playing two totally separate characters from start to finish, and each she achieves with an honest register of teenage emotions that feel brutally honest. Considering the actress is only 22 years old, she is still fortunate enough to channel these feelings and actions like they were yesterday, and we’re fortunate enough because ‘Before I Fall’ gives us a glimpse into her inevitable stardom. As for the supporting cast, I also enjoyed Halston Sage as Samantha’s troubled, albeit flamboyant best friend. Sage first appeared in 2014’s ‘Paper Towns’, but here she is given slightly more camera time to perfect the bitchy best friend that we fear talks about us behind our backs. Sage does her character well, even if she is kind of one-note on material. Beyond this, I couldn’t get comfortable with anyone because the characters were frequently interchangeable. I did however notice some terribly bad ADR within that of the two other best friends involved in this group. I don’t know if it’s because they are appearing in their first major motion picture or what, but it’s clear that post production fixed some otherwise faulty line reads between them.

‘Before I Fall’ leaves a lasting impression and sets itself apart from a genre of disposable trash by laying heavily on the darker layers creatively and visually in its atmospheric drama. At the helm is an eye-opening performance by Deutch, as well as a breakthrough direction by Russo-Young that hinders on the importance of empathy, judgement and family, and less about the temporary imbalance of high school endeavors. Profound and poignant without ever demeaning itself for shallow waters. This is one fall I gladly recommend.

6/10