On the Basis of Sex

Directed By Mimi Leder

Starring – Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux

The Plot – The film tells an inspiring and spirited true story that follows young lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Jones) as she teams with her husband Marty (Hammer) to bring a groundbreaking case before the U.S. Court of Appeals and overturn a century of gender discrimination.

Rated PG-13 for some adult language and suggestive content

POSITIVES

– An emerging love story. Without a doubt, the movie’s single greatest strength is depicting the progressively blossoming relationship between Ruth and Marty, that is written by Ginsburg’s nephew Daniel, and is acted out wonderfully from the impeccable chemistry between Jones and Hammer. Their relationship is one that doesn’t demean or classify them in any particular role, as Ruth is very much the breadwinner while Marty holds down the fort at home, and there is no shortage of wit to balance the situation. One such gag involves Ruth trying to cook for her family, with the kind of success that makes them grateful for napkins. It’s a constant reminder of this relationship playing against type, giving us a fresh perspective on two people who practice what they preach in progressive ideals.

– Vibrancy amongst 70’s wardrobe. The work here from costume designer Isis Mussenden is clever enough to never distract, but radiates wonderfully the passage of time with a combination of three-piece suits and thigh high dresses to give the styles a familiar reflection without feeling like a tongue-and-cheek rendering of the era. In addition to this, the consistency in detail holds up throughout, keeping anything from feeling out of place, thanks to Mussenden’s synthetic encompassing of the sleek trends that were prominent in such a revolutionary decade, and even reflective of some of the outfits that Ruth herself wore during some of her more important court cases.

– The collective work from a gifted ensemble cast. This is definitely Jones’ show, as she echoes the very look and personality of R.B.G seamlessly, bringing forth a beacon for change who is anything but flawless as a character. Jones’ instills her as this very human first presence, and it’s in that candid perspective where we feel closest to Ruth, illustrating a combination of intelligence and determination that makes her an easy protagonist to root for. Hammer is also delivering solid work, as his dry wit and caustic delivery make for some much-needed moments of release for us the audience that he provides repeatedly. Then there’s the against-type roles from well known faces like Stephen Root, Sam Waterston, and my personal favorite for the movie: Jack Reynor, as this smooth-faced lawyer who stands in the way of Ruth’s inevitable greatness. This is definitely a film that thrusts responsibility on all of its pivotal pieces, and proves that while this is Jones’ film for the taking, every great figure triumphs because of the influence of those surrounding her.

– An honest courtroom film. The film provides many instances where it focuses on the pressures involved with the many circumstances involved with preparing a case. Beyond just the endless amount of studying with the facts itself, we are also treated to Ruth preparing her personality for the court by talking in front of a mirror, the prejudices inside of a courtroom itself, and a mock trial run hosted by those closest to Ruth, that eludes her to the environment that she will be getting herself into. Other courtroom films often overlook this aspect of its career elective, but Leder sees immense value in harvesting Ruth’s fears and anxieties when fighting arguably the single biggest case to date in women’s rights, and it’s a decision that not only allows us the audience to immerse ourselves into the psychology of Ginsburg, but also highlights the difficulties of preparing a case.

– Obviously important for the rough terrain that females still face today. As a vehicle for Ginsburg, the film gives her the respect that she deserves by the mentioning of her pivotal role in the many cases that have shaped our country remarkably, but it’s really the comparison between the material in the movie and our own modern day landscape, which hints how far women have come but still have much further to go for equality, where the film earns its strongest value. A film like this serves as the first step in really understanding the magnitude of courts that are being played out every day in our own country, and I think it will inspire not only females, but people of all genders to get involved and let their voices be heard, a right that Ginsburg still elects to take charge of to this day.

– My favorite scene of the film. Is it a good or bad thing that my favorite scene of the movie involved a sequence during the opening credits that shows Ruth walking a sea of men towards the Harvard auditorium? Either way, it’s dissected wonderfully when you consider that Ruth’s baby blue dress contrasts that amazingly of the mundane single color suits of the entirety of people who surround her. This feeds into Ruth being a one of a kind, but also in the arrival of change to the game that she’s destined to bring, and I thought for symbolism there is no bigger or more important shot in this film.

NEGATIVES

– One problem with Felicity. While I give Felicity a solid 90% on her overall performance of Ginsburg, there was one glaring problem that pops up throughout the film: her accent. It’s hard enough for a woman of English heritage to perfectly channel the New York accent with conviction, but Jones’ work here is so completely spotty that it definitely deserved more takes. Sometimes her English accent comes out, sometimes she is a midwestern American, and rarely we get the Yonkers accent that we came to expect. When the latter does happen, the transformation of Jones as Ginsburg finally feels complete, but it’s only during a few rare instance instead of a continued consistency that great performances require.

– Conventional filmmaking all around. I have no problem personally with Mimi Leder, but I think a story as revolutionary as Ginsburg’s deserved an equally engaging presentation to mirror that of the trail-blazer. My biggest problem is that there simply isn’t enough of a gut punch in the material to ever lay heavy on the dramatic weight of the court case. Never did I feel like this case had an ounce of the importance that the dialogue so frequently repeated, nor did I ever feel like it strayed from the rules of courtroom subgenre films that define predictability. Perhaps Leder was the wrong director for this film, and because of such it will stand in the shadow of last year’s documentary “RBG”, which eclipses this one in nearly every presentational aspect.

– That one embarrassing trailer line. I have to say I’m a little disappointed that more people aren’t calling this movie on its bullshit for the line in the trailer that states that the word freedom is never stated once in the constitution. Let me clue you in to the First Amendment, which declares that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.” Already I have read that the movie’s screenwriter has tried to fix this by stating that it’s an out of context line in the trailer, but let me ease your concerns by telling you that nothing in the film fixes a line of dialogue so lazy that it can’t google a simple question. For irony sake, let me mention that I am typing this while laying on my bed, and even I found the word in the constitution in five seconds.

– Forgotten puzzle pieces. There are a few instances where things are mentioned, and then quickly swept under the rug of continuity, never to be mentioned again. One such example involves Marty’s cancer, which is not only never mentioned again, it never creates anything to be followed upon for the rest of the film. It doesn’t keep him from doing his job or helping out around the house, literally nothing. Another is the incredible case involving Ruth’s son James, who after an introduction scene while helping to prepare dinner is never mentioned or seen again. This presents a mystery disappearance to a character that has only been topped by Paul in 1981’s “Friday the 13th Part 2”. If you’ve seen or heard from James, please leave a comment below, and I will forward it on to Justice Ginsburg.

My Grade: 6/10 or C+

Escape Room

Directed By Adam Robitel

Starring – Deborah Ann Woll, Taylor Russell, Logan Miller

The Plot – A psychological thriller about six strangers who find themselves in circumstances beyond their control and must use their wits to find the clues or die.

Rated PG-13 for terror/perilous action, violence, some suggestive material and adult language

POSITIVES

– Rich production quality in set designs. Of course a film with this title should put everything they have into the elaboration and eye for detail in the many rooms the game takes us through, and each of the ones inside are every bit as cryptically fun as they are sinisterly condemning. What I like here is that none of the rooms repeat, and one such room even plays tricks on the minds of audience members, offering us a psychological immersion into our character’s current foreboding dispositions.

– Eclectic casting. Fresh faces like Russell and Miller capture the attention of audiences with their breakthrough performances that prove they can sustain the depth associated with a leading role, all the while the inclusion of Woll and Tyler Labine add a layer of big name prestige that constantly throws off your guessing game. The wide variety of personalities is what truly keeps the film fresh and evolving, and instills an ideal of ensemble work that very few films are brave enough to touch on anymore. They work so well together because each is given ample time to shine, and it’s something that doubles their chemistry the longer the film progresses.

– Value towards character exposition. What really impressed me and kept me gripped to the unfolding narrative was the film’s combination of game and backstory that equally did wonders for the other. The film takes valuable time in fleshing out who these people locked in the game are before they agreed to it, and the more you start to learn about each of them, the more you start to understand why certain characters are better suited for certain environments. Even more beneficial, the exposition only shows us a few brief moments and lets us sniff out the rest for ourselves, providing food for thought once more for movies that don’t need to spoon-feed their audience.

– PG-13 and proud of it. This film gets a lot of comparisons to the Saw franchise for obvious reasons, but the line of similarities quickly diminishes when you bare witness to the nature of the torture itself. For one, Saw definitely earns its status as torture porn, as to where “Escape Room” is a psychological bending that doesn’t require the exploitation of blood or gruesome nature to sell its believability in permanency. In fact, there isn’t a single drop of blood spilled until the film’s final fight for survival, with around fifteen minutes left in the movie. It’s impressive when horror can still dazzle under such constrictions, and Robitel’s style for substance never believes in taking two steps back.

– Anxiety for days. The quick cuts in precision editing, combined with the variety of many eye-catching angles brings out the sheer drama and urgency of the game itself, doing wonders for the overall pacing of the ever-changing backdrops along the way. Even at 95 minutes of run time, each location is given plenty of time to engage yourself in its adversities and rules, and every movement of choice feels incredibly heavy on the well-being of the group. Through the use of trial and error by our stumped character’s choices, the screenplay almost dares you to shout out your two cents, and this gives “Escape Room” amazing presence as a group watch with friends over a couple of drinks.

– Evolution of the atmosphere. The tone for the movie is handled in such a way that allows for plenty of laughs early on in the film, to get over the personalities of this extremely likeable group, but eventually matures more when the consequences and brutality of the game comes to the forefront. Likewise, the character’s themselves evolve, for better or worse, and it’s interesting to see where two certain character’s end up by the film’s full-throttle finale. When the material and characters work hand-in-hand smoothly, everything fires on all cylinders, and you have a seamless film that moves together in one cohesive movement.

NEGATIVES

– Condemning introduction scene AGAIN. So this is the new cliche in almost EVERY single going today, huh? The scene that starts out a movie spoils far too much, and unless you’re a braindead noodle, you can piece together everything that is coming by film’s end. Only certain films do this properly, showing less in its depictions, but sadly “Escape Room” is the latest victim of this movie, as a sole survivor is shown going through the last trap of the game, before our linear story begins. If you must do this stupid idea, why not show an instance from the trap where everyone is still alive? Why give away so much in a movie where suspense is so important?

– Easy Solutions. I understand that thinking on your feet is difficult in such predicaments, but when an idiot like me can figure out simple ways to solve three different rooms, I have to start wondering if I’m the smartest person in the movie. SPOILER – There’s one room where six different coasters have to be weighed down into the coffee table for a door to stay open. The group goes through hell and time filling six glasses with water. Why not get the six legged couch behind you? I seriously can’t be the only person yelling this.

– What happened with the prize? Considering the trailer says these six strangers are competing for a million dollars, the film’s delivery of ten thousand dollars feels a lot more anti-climatic. Besides the fact that it’s difficult for me to believe that two characters in particular would even go for this for such a limited payoff, a million dollars just sounds better in the advertising campaign, and clearly the trailer crew felt the same way, as they changed it for audiences because they knew how stupid it sounded.

– The ending. I knew it would be difficult for a movie like this to have a satisfying conclusion, but what transpired in the final ten minutes took a solid film down a peg to nothing other than a glorified rental. If it ends after the final conflict, FINE, but the film keeps dragging along, catering to an inevitable sequel instead of properly concluding the movie that is front-and-center. What’s even worse is the additional material tries to answer far too much, leaving very little meat on the bone for the second installment, and feels like final scenes from an entirely different movie. Did this film seriously just turn into a spy thriller? Really?

My Grade – 6/10 or C+

Second Act

Directed By Peter Segal

Starring – Jennifer Lopez, Milo Ventimiglia, Leah Remini

The Plot – Lopez stars as Maya, a 40-year-old woman struggling with frustrations from unfulfilled dreams. Until, that is, she gets the chance to prove to Madison Avenue that street smarts are as valuable as book smarts, and that it is never too late for a Second Act.

Rated PG-13 for some crude sexual references, and adult language

POSITIVES

– It’s all in the name. “Second Act” might be the most appropriately titled movie of 2018 because it’s really during that time when the tone and material of the film evolves, all as a result of a twist that I totally didn’t see coming. For a bombshell to come out of nowhere and completely change everything that this film is about is something I greatly commend the screenwriters for, and it takes what could easily be a throwaway comedy and morphs it into a hard-hitting drama that will squeeze the tears from any female moviegoer. Even more important, there are still trailers that don’t ruin the movies that they advertise.

– Thought provoking commentary on book smart versus street smart. I myself am someone who believes that education should never be the single lone argument in determining who is most deserving of a job, and this movie hits on this debate with some strong arguments for the latter that I wish the world would hear. College degrees themselves are catered to the small percentage who can either afford it or go through the first fourth of their lives without so much as a single speed bump to hit them, so there is that feeling that somewhere someone out there is probably a more qualified candidate, and it makes Maya that much more indulging as a protagonist because we’ve all been told that we’re not good enough for something.

– The performances from an eclectic cast. Lopez gives another solid turn as Maya, even if I found her physical appearance throughout the film a little different from what the movie is trying to pursue her as. This is basically a supermodel who everyone treats as nothing special, and after a while the glare from her timeless beauty and extremely revealing outfits kind of shines through. For my money, it’s the supporting cast that really steal the show. Remini gives food for thought as to why she isn’t a bigger star in Hollywood, supplanting much of the film’s best comedic timing throughout. Vanessa Hudgens also gives another dramatic impulsive turn, providing tears on command that prove how far she’s come in her challenging typecast career. I’m glad that she becomes more important to the plot as the film goes on, as her facial registries tug at your heartstrings and hit every time the film needs them to. Also great to see Dave Foley and Larry Miller back on the silver screen, as I feel we just don’t get enough of either comedic icon.

– Strength of humor. It still baffles me that this film is given a PG-13 rating, because there are many instances throughout where the language and ensuing material feels testing for younger audiences. This provided a 33-year-old-man like myself no shortage of laughs, and the landing ratio is surprisingly positive for a movie that I was dreading seeing heading into it. In my opinion, it’s the way the talented cast play out these conventional lines, stretching them to their furthest reactions because of the vibrancy of personality that they invest into each gag. It’s something that constantly reminds audiences of the good times they are having that are helpful in forgetting some of the film’s biggest sins creatively.

– Gorgeous establishing shots of The Big Apple. Segal himself was born and raised in the big city, and his love and passion for the city is clearly evident in some gorgeous photography of New York City that articulately channel the vibe of the setting. Aside from these gorgeous sun-setting shots behind these early 20th century style bridges, we are also treated to frequent shots of the imposing skyline, providing visual emphasis for just how far our protagonist has come, as well as a few moments of reflection sequences inside of the silver bullets that whiz throughout the variety of neighborhoods and cultures alike. Segal, and even his leading lady, have a spot in their hearts for their city, and they’re not afraid to show it with beautiful depictions that constantly capture the beauty from within.

– Has a strong message despite being drowned in lies. I know that sounds completely strange and a bit contradictory, but despite the fact that this woman lies to get this job, and then continues the lie over and over again, the third act of the movie brings home its honorable intentions by explaining the importance of being true to yourself. In doing so, it makes the achievements that you attain that much sweeter because they were done by you….the real you. Whether the film’s conclusion does go the way you think it will or not, I’m a sucker for a feel good story that reflects with respect the kinds of things in our own lives that we take for granted every day, and “Second Act” preserves this quality with dignity.

NEGATIVES

– Recycled dialogue from other obvious films of the genre. Part of the nagging problem with my investment into many of these scenes was the lack of care and concern with dialogue that definitely deserved a second look at the script. There are many instances of films like “Must Love Dogs”, “Sleepless In Seattle”, or even J-Lo’s movie “Main in Manhattan”, but the biggest sinner of all is one of the film’s closing lines that in so many words echoes that of “Field of Dreams” quote “You wanna have a catch?” It basically confirms that these type of movies are starting to rub together, and doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room if the creativity is this limited.

– Nuisance of the gimmick. I believed in this plot for about two minutes, until the blaring voice in my head said how ridiculous this whole thing really is. You’re telling me that a major cosmetics institution based in New York City doesn’t do a deep background check, calling former professors and bosses to confirm that what they read on paper is true? BULLSHIT!!! The movie’s explanation for all of this feeds into that second act plot twist, but the film’s antagonist even has trouble confirming that anything in this application is bogus when he decides to look into Maya. This kind of thing might be believable in the 90’s, but in 2018, during the age of technological advances, it’s not feasible in the least.

– Overlooks vital information about the profession. One of my biggest pet peeves in movies is when a particular job’s specifics are remotely glossed over, leaving you unable to preserve any amount of knowledge gained about the job that would make its characters feel believable. Instead of giving us specifics, we are given a series of montages that are supposed to artistically fill in the blanks, instead of pointing out the weaknesses in Maya taking up a job that she knows absolutely nothing about, other than how it performed in the grocery store she worked at.

– Far too many subplots and side characters. The biggest sacrifice in this formula is the development of a romantic subplot involving Lopez and Ventimiglia that is ignored for almost an entire hour, removing the possibility of gaining some traction for the flailing chemistry and overall lack of weight from consequences that goes virtually unnoticed. There’s far too much at play between the battle for screen time as well, as characters switch sides and personalities at the drop of a hat. The only explanation would be if something was left on the cutting room floor for DVD extras, but as a cohesive narrative, 98 minutes just simply isn’t enough time to juggle this many bowling pins that more times than not crash and burn.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

Vox Lux

Directed By Brady Corbet

Starring – Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Raffey Cassidy

The Plot – Follows the rise of Celeste from the ashes of a major national tragedy to pop super stardom. The film spans 18 years and traces important cultural moments through her eyes, starting in 1999 and concluding in 2017. In 1999, teenage Celeste (Cassidy) survives a violent tragedy. After singing at a memorial service, Celeste transforms into a burgeoning pop star with the help of her songwriter sister (Stacy Martin) and a talent manager (Law). Celeste’s meteoric rise to fame and concurrent loss of innocence dovetails with a shattering terrorist attack on the nation, elevating the young powerhouse to a new kind of celebrity: American icon, secular deity, global superstar. By 2017, adult Celeste (Portman) is mounting a comeback after a scandalous incident that derailed her career. Touring in support of her sixth album, a compendium of sci-fi anthems entitled Vox Lux, the indomitable, foul-mouthed pop savior must overcome her personal and familial struggles.

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

POSITIVES

– From an aesthetic aspect, this might be one of the more grittier and beautiful films of the year. Arronofsky inspired handheld style is on full display, following the movements and directions so tightly of our characters that it never misses a beat. Likewise, the cinematography is cold and callous, outlining a sort of ghost character of its own that follows Celeste every step of the way since this devastating tragedy that has defined her entire life and career. This is subtle exposition in the form of filters, and it’s something that allows the audience to fully grasp the psychological toll of being a sole survivor.

– Finely measured performances everywhere you turn. For the first half of the film, this is easily 16-year-old Raffey Cassidy’s show. Cassidy’s facial registry channels that of a youth who is still trying to grasp why things are the way they are, and feels especially troubled when she’s forced to grow up at such a quick pace at such a very young age. From there, Portman takes the reigns, giving us a glimpse at a personality corrupted by a business of betrayal, with subtle occasional hints at the little girl inside who is still fighting to get out. This isn’t Portman’s best performance, but it might be her most psychologically straining to date. Jude Law is also excellent as Celeste’s uneasy manager, and the chemistry between he and his musical prodigy is something that transcends that of the four films that Law and Portman have acted in together.

– While the musical taste from artist Sia wasn’t my taste of choice, the concert footage and overall spectacle from within dazzle us in a way that truly channels the monster pop icons of the world. Lights, make-up, costumes, and a multitude of angles capture the magnitude of Celeste’s growth as an artist, entertaining thirty thousand fans with a combination of rumbling club tracks and top notch dance choreography to really immerse yourself in the moment. This serves as the only moment when Celeste feels complete without feeling some kind of pain, and it’s clear from the moment she steps on stage that she’s made for the spotlight.

– Gripping social commentary that never relents. The material inside of this screenplay covers a multitude of topics including the insensitivity of turning tragedy to triumph, teenage stardom, and the desire to put sex above music in the order of importance, bringing a bunch of great questions along with each of them. Each of these gives more depth to the unfolding narrative, and etch out that layer of Celeste that helps you understand why she acts the way she does despite not being there to see some of her most trying times. What’s most important is the film never holds back in hitting us with uncomfortable imagery, so if this isn’t your bag, then this simply isn’t the film for you.

– Unique montage sequences. As to where most films cover a wide range of time with a series of footage cuts, the instances of time flash-forward here are literally that: fast-forward footage in the style of VHS tapes that actually takes us through everything at eight times the speed. Even more commendable is that the direction from Corbet during these sequences is so tight and precise that even at an unusual speed we the audience still get enough time and focus to translate what is transpiring on-screen. This is an idea that I wouldn’t mind seeing more of in film with this kind of attention of craft to it, and I commend Corbet for giving us something fresh even after decades of versatile films.

– Creativity with the credit sequence. The long scroll of the expansive name credits that usually just happens at the end of a film actually invades our attention twice during the film. The first of which is about ten minutes into the film, replacing quick cut introduction credits in a strange fashion, that is until I understood its purpose. LIGHT SPOILER ahead. The scroll credits are included here to signify the end of one life and the beginning of another. Once Celeste wakes up, she’s almost an entirely new person from the little girl enjoying school that she was, and this divide felt different in presentational aspects, and only added to the originality of the aesthetics.

NEGATIVES

– Strange casting choices. This is a film that takes place in two respective timelines, with Raffey obviously playing the younger side of Natalie Portman’s Celeste, but Raffey actually plays two characters in this film, portraying Portman’s daughter in the second half of the film. This is a strange decision for many reasons, but mostly because it’s distracting when the two actresses are on-screen together. As they interact, we start to see how differently and unbelievable their portrayals are for emulating the same character, especially with a Brooklyn accent by Portman that wasn’t there for Raffey when she portrayed Celeste. In addition to this, Celeste’s sister Eleanor (Played by Stacy Martin), doesn’t age or switch actresses during the respective timelines. Neither does Jude Law. So we have a protagonist who changes completely, and two characters who haven’t even changed hairstyles or age in 17 years. Interesting

– Abrupt ending to the narrative. While I mentioned earlier that I appreciated the artistic merit of the concert scenes, I will say that their drowning on forces an unusual ending to the movie that just dropped the anticipation. The last twelve minutes of this movie are concert scenes, so already that concept is far too long, but they come at a time when many questions still require answers, leaving us the audience hanging in the balance. I could’ve used an additional ten minutes after the concert to tie loose ends together and manage to garner some of that momentum that dropped like second week record sales.

– Willam Dafoe’s strange narration. Yep, that’s right: The Green Goblin himself voices a couple of parts during the film. My problem is the usual, in that I don’t appreciate when narration tells us too much instead of shows us, and something else entirely that didn’t fit with the pacing of the storytelling. Dafoe just pops in at the most random of times, and it feels like a violent pause button during some of the more interesting confrontations that the screenplay can muster up. I am a big fan of Willam’s work, but I feel like “Vox Lux” would’ve been best left off of his immense filmography, if only so this story didn’t have so many divides between it that do it zero favors in terms of pacing.

– Uninteresting soundtrack. I have no problem with Sia as a performer, as songs like “Chandelier”, “Titanium”, and “Big Girls Cry” were some of my favorite tracks of their respective years. But her work in this soundtrack just isn’t my taste. The sound mixing is noticeably louder for the music than the vocals, the lyrics lack any kind of complexity, and the hooks completely lack that earworm quality that allows the song to get stuck in your head. Thankfully, there’s only four original songs in the movie, but it doesn’t help when we get each song in its entirety (See negative #2).

My Grade: 6/10 or C

The Front Runner

Directed By Jason Reitman

Starring – Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, J.K Simmons

The Plot – The film follows the rise and fall of Senator Hart (Jackman), who captured the imagination of young voters and was considered the overwhelming front runner for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination when his campaign was sidelined by the story of an extramarital relationship with Donna Rice (Sara Paxton). As tabloid journalism and political journalism merged for the first time, Senator Hart was forced to drop out of the race; events that left a profound and lasting impact on American politics and the world stage.

Rated R for adult language including some sexual references

POSITIVES

– All boys club. While the film regrettably wastes away the talents of Farmiga, the work of Jackman and Simmons are more than enough to keep the entertainment factor of the audience consistent. Jackman’s transformation into Hart shows an empathetic and articulately intelligent side to the politician than we’ve ever seen. As expected, Jackman commits himself freely to the role, echoing off no shortage of long-winded and volume-increasing diatribes that have him commanding the presence of the screen firmly. Simmons is his usual comedic self, but his sharp tongue pierces the scenery of every scene he comes into contact with, because of the overlapping witty banter written by Reitman, Jay Carson, and author Matt Bai. This trio of reputable writers rivals only that of Aaron Sorkin in terms of cool consistency, and it allows Simmons to shine in his best deliveries since 2014’s “Whiplash”.

– Illustrates a poignant approach to political reporting that is relevant now more than ever. When you consider how far from normal we are in our current political landscape, a movie like “The Front Runner” outlines the question when is it too far to dig deeper, and especially when you consider everything positively that Hart had going for him, that moral dilemma feels like more of an obstacle than expected. We might not agree with the process depicted in the film, but the commendable notion that hints that the leader of the country should be the one to lead by example, is something that I couldn’t agree more with.

– The film does a great job of showcasing what it was about Hart that inspired so many. In many ways, this is a family man, who never dressed, walked, or acted like a politician, and many people saw themselves in a man who very rarely spoke at a podium. In the film, Hart often feels like the last of a dying breed, and it’s a breed that went beyond words, and required actions to back up their claims. As an informative piece, the film is strong on the political side of Gary, but leaves a bit more to be desired on the home front. Either way, it’s a timely piece of political intrigue that shouldn’t be understated for its similarities to modern day obstacles.

– As for aesthetics, the film is presented as a mockumentary style of sorts, without the extreme nature of the gimmick. What I mean by this is the camera often weaves in and out of desktop conversations with ease, stopping only to follow a character who moves out of frame to do something in private, and spies on them through books and other objects to stay firmly in grip. These sequences also occasionally throw in a manipulated sense on long take shots, keeping the focus on the importance of issues being discussed.

– In dissecting the story into three week intervals that obviously reflect the three act structure in a film, the movie is able to properly channel the bending of time between things going good and bad in Gary’s campaign. For instance, during week one when things are optimistic, time flies like a train. When things are awful for Gary, the pacing slows down and the days turn into what feels like years. This is quite a unique take on a film’s pacing, and I commend Reitman for positioning the audience into the feel of a whirlwind campaign’s random ups and downs.

– Cinematographer Eric Steelberg’s subtle balance of an 80s realism. Grittiness and production design details with elaborate movement and a genuine mastery over the place and time, are just a couple of the examples of the visual story taking place, and this perk overall elevated the film from feeling like just another imitation of style over substance. It looks and moves like a film that was produced in the 1980s, in spite of the script’s decidedly post-modern beats, and Steelberg’s photographic memory of the place in time cements the believability of the film in ways that documentation of events don’t always do.

NEGATIVES

– Despite the big name cast, credible director, and intriguing real life story, the film comes across as regrettably bland when analyzed in the sum of those parts. The film itself is alright, but considering the release date during Oscar season will inevitably leave us expecting one of the best films of the year, the execution leaves much more to be desired. As far as political biopics go, this one is very mundane and middle of the road, leaving “The Front Runner” campaigning to be something it never attains.

– Too ambiguous on where the film itself stands on the issues. Is Gary wrong? Is the media wrong? You will find that your opinions on both questions aren’t fully fleshed out by the conclusion of the movie. Because of such, the weight of the drama in the screenplay is never fully realized, despite its hefty, urgent material, and over a two year period when films like “The Post” or “Vice” are its competition, there’s much to be forgettable about Reitman’s late season project. Sadly, it’s not even the best Reitman film of 2018.

– Remarkably tone deaf for a movie that deals with such sensitive matter. For my money, I could’ve used an “Ides of March” second act switch with the tone. This would give the film great urgency, that is otherwise noticeably missing from the film, and supplant more emptathy for Hart’s disposition that the film never spends enough time on. It’s difficult to classify this as just one particular genre, and the film’s cautious stature to remain too clean for the subject matter, does it a disservice in the compelling drama department.

– Convenient narrative? How could the film forget to include the legendary National Enquirer photo, involving Donna Rice sitting on the lap of Hart, while on vacation? It’s my belief that Reitman doesn’t include this to make Hart feel like more of a victim of his own respective era, and crafts a layer of deceit for the film’s production that angered me. This might not be a big deal to other people, but to me, without that picture, the evidence against Gary is a stretch at best, and allows the floor to fall out from beneath what was a story of logic and relevance to that point.

My Grade – 6/10 or C+

Bohemian Rhapsody

Directed By Bryan Singer

Starring – Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Joseph Mazzello

The Plot – A foot-stomping celebration of Queen, their music and their extraordinary lead singer Freddie Mercury. Freddie defied stereotypes and shattered convention to become one of the most beloved entertainers on the planet. The film traces the meteoric rise of the band through their iconic songs and revolutionary sound. They reach unparalleled success, but in an unexpected turn Freddie (Malek), surrounded by darker influences, shuns Queen in pursuit of his solo career. Having suffered greatly without the collaboration of Queen, Freddie manages to reunite with his bandmates just in time for Live Aid. While bravely facing a recent AIDS diagnosis, Freddie leads the band in one of the greatest performances in the history of rock music. Queen cements a legacy that continues to inspire outsiders, dreamers and music lovers to this day.

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content and adult language

POSITIVES

– A fine collection of Queen’s greatest hits for the soundtrack. Going into this movie, you knew there was going to be some great music, and the assorted catalog of Queen favorites throughout their storied careers, certainly don’t disappoint. Everything from “We Are the Champions”, “Under Pressure”, “We Will Rock You”, and of course the title track for the film are all digitally remastered and sound great inside a theater with top notch sound quality, giving off the rush of the concert vibe that can only be attained at the highest decibel.

– Malek’s immersion into the character that gives us perhaps his performance of a lifetime. While he still isn’t my top pick for who should’ve played Mercury, Rami more than delivers as the iconic frontman, blending Freddie’s physical stage presence with a gentle side of intimacy in his daily life, giving forth a general outline for a man who was taken far too fast from us. The accent is also right on-point, and never bends or breaks through 130 minutes of progression throughout the film. Malek won me over about halfway through the film, when what felt like an impression up to that point matured into a transformation that made it easier to believe, the longer the film went on.

– Live-Aid sequence. The final ten minutes of the film were for me the highlight of the movie, and compared to how it plays against the rest of the film, it’s easy to see why. The grand scale of this immense concert with all of the biggest names in music is given the royal treatment, giving us a wide range of camera angles, frequent shots of the C.G crowd below, and a near shot-for-shot recreation of the band’s movements on stage. Had the rest of the film remained as faithful as this one sequence, you’d have a front-runner for Best Picture at next year’s Oscars, but instead it stands out as gold in a field of cubic zirconia’s.

– Channels the loneliness of Mercury’s jaded disposition. While much of the screenplay is riddled with problems for me, the isolation of Freddie’s life decisions as a bi-sexual man and swimming in riches, left him empty, and gave us the audience a very somber and empathetic investment into the man and character who just needed somebody to love (See what I did there?). It’s the strength of this dramatic muscle in the movie that really adds a great deal of compassion for Freddy, and gives food for thought for a world that treated the gay community as criminals, and how far we as a nation still have to go in respecting their important life decisions.

– Newton Thomas Siegel’s impeccable scope of cinematography. Considering this is a story that takes us through the increase of popularity for Queen, it’s an important task to visually relate that rise to fame in the subtle touches like concert footage, and Siegel’s vision here masters that request, giving us the kind of moments of reflection when played against the backdrop of an audience that keeps growing deeper. Is it presented in a music video style fashion? Yes, but that element of cheese works for this particular story, especially during the backdrop of the 70’s and 80’s, when rock concerts were a spectacle.

– Dexter Fletcher, who is uncredited as director, took over the head responsibilities from Bryan Singer about midway through, and does the best job possible in emulating what the screenplay asked of him. The most important aspect is that it’s difficult to assume where Singer left off and Fletcher began, keeping the consistency of the project firmly at hand, without any obvious moments of counterfeit that stood out like a sore thumb. I am hoping that his work in this film will earn Dexter more casting in a directing capacity for future reference, as the man’s professional capacity more than ring true to the integrity of the film, and will give a majority of fans who just look for a good time and nothing more, the movie they want.

NEGATIVES

– PG-13 over R-rating? This is the choice that worried me before the film, and ended up being the thing that stood out as one of the biggest negatives. For me, the racy material of Mercury’s life is told at face value or not at all, with the delves into drugs being left entirely on the cutting room floor. As for his sex life, it’s referred to endlessly, but the screenplay almost feels too sensitive in how it depicts its passion, coming off without affection, when it really needs it the most. I feel like honesty goes a long way in a biopic, and if you can’t show everything about Mercury for better or worse, then why even take the project on?

– Speaking of honesty, this film is anything but with the events it depicts. I find it shocking that so many supposed Queen fans are fine with how manipulative this screenplay is, choosing to cherry-pick left and right where it could matter most to the impact of the film. For example, the skipping of two Queen albums that are never mentioned, the introduction to “Under Pressure” being in 1985, yet in real life was actually 1982, and the shameless decision to lie about Freddie’s AIDS discovery supposedly before Live Aid, when in reality he didn’t find out until nearly a year after the concert. This is what we call manipulation in the business, and it does so in a way that isn’t remotely redeemable in the eyes of a story that writes itself without the distortion of events. Do your homework.

– What we learn. I feel this film will payoff mostly to a new generation of Queen fans, who barely know anything about the film. For those of us enriched in the band’s history, there isn’t a single instance where anything in the film should surprise you in the least. This is a by-the-numbers Wikipedia entry if I have ever seen one, and I say that because the script refuses to dig deeper in offering us something to justify the provocative nature of the film. The other band members are glossed over like carpet, giving us no instances of this “Family” that the film so badly wants to tell us they are. Yes, I know this is mostly Freddie, but how can you properly tell his story without echoing the thoughts and interactions with those who were closest to him during the final fifteen years of his life?

– Biopic cliches. Beyond the sequence of events feeling hollow and standing on their own, without any cohesive weight as one, this film runs into the same problems that recent musical biopics do, in that they are very formulaic and full of individually telegraphed chapters. There’s nothing smart or deep about the way these songs are introduced, and you can see their introductions coming from miles away. There’s also those glossing moments over the things that matter: Where did Freddie’s passion for music start? Why is there such little focus on the love between Freddie and Mary? What’s the deal with the cats? Who cares though, because music should be everything in a music biopic. These aren’t humans, they’re musicians, and people will love it.

My grade: 6/10 or C

Halloween

Directed By David Gordon Green

Starring – Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak

The Plot – Laurie Strode (Curtis) comes to her final confrontation with Michael Myers, the masked figure who has haunted her since she narrowly escaped his killing spree on Halloween night four decades ago.

Rated R for horror violence and bloody images, adult language, brief drug use and nudity

POSITIVES

– John Carpenter’s lucid nightmarish return to form. This isn’t just a return to the silver screen for Curtis and Michael, it’s also one for the legendary composer, whose work on the first film still resonates with audiences forty years later. For his return, Carpenter stays true to form with the classic numbers, giving them a much needed upgrade as far as sound mixing and refurbishing are considered. But it’s in his collaboration with Daniel A. Davies that carves out what little atmosphere that the film has going for it, entrancing us with a serene sense of ominously terrifying inserts that amplify the tension in every scene of chase.

– Green is certainly a student of the game. While the film occasionally has problems toeing the line between respectful homage and downright theft, one thing is certain: David Gordon Green was definitely the man for the job. Green’s directing conjures up a sense of female empowerment rarely seen in classic horror films, but it’s definitely his eye for detail in replicating the look and presentation of Halloween that moved me miles artistically. An opening credits sequence, complete with identical text coloring and italics, remind us of the fear associated with the infamous day that Michael thrives on, and for a few minutes it feels right to indulge on nostalgia, if only for these simple-but-effective credits that competently set the precedent moving forward. Keep your eyes open for some familiar Easter eggs to past films, particularly my favorite trio of masks for the Halloween franchise that aren’t Michael’s.

– There has never been a character in this series that is remotely as interesting or developed as Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode, and in picking up the role for the fifth time in the series we have what might be her most complex portrayal yet. This is a Laurie that feels unavoidably scarred from that one night of terror that has defined her for better or worse over the past four decades, and given the once personable Strode an enveloping of strength and persistence that compares her to Michael in terms of her life’s mission. Curtis’s dry delivery and believable progression make her one of a kind in this modern day setting, and etches a general outline of what female heroines could and should be when in the hands of an actress who has grown with the character. Jamie nails the vulnerability AND the strength of the character equally, and this film would be garbage without her.

– Plenty of gore and creative kills alike. Many people might have a problem with the amplifying of the gore in this sequel that is anything but replicated from the 78 original, but Michael’s increased anger makes sense to me because this is very much a psychopath with a thirst to kill, who has been locked up for forty years. Think about what that building thirst feels like once you are out in the free world, and you understand why this is arguably the most dominant Michael that we have seen to date. Throw in some old school practicality with effects work and wincing props, and you have enough thrills in its grasp to make this a devilishly delicious treat in an era when creativity is often cut away from.

– As for Michael, the design of the mask finally feels right again, not feeling too white in coloring, nor too clean in terms of the weathering process. It replicates Michael’s becoming of the mask that the movie touches upon, making it easier to comprehend this as Michael’s actual face. What else is delightful is the passing of the torch generations with Nick Castle portraying Michael in the scenes he doesn’t wear a mask, and James Jude Courtney when he does. What I love about this decision is that it reminds us of Michael’s human side that the other films blurred for all of the wrong reasons. This is very much an aging man who still breathes that air of fire because of his life’s mission that has kept him going, and the combination of Castle’s still-frame complete with Courtney’s stalking movements, makes this the Michael from 78, whose cerebral psychology make him every bit as dangerous as his imposing stature.

– For my money, I would be fine with a one hour film that featured only the first and third acts of this film. I say that because the whole movie is built around this inevitable confrontation with Laurie and Michael that does fortunately pay off in more ways that one. For one, there’s this incredible setting inside of Laurie’s house that has, for better or worse, become a panic room of sorts, and gives Michael a lot more to fight against rather than the typical house that he can manipulate the shadows with. This final battle not only lives up to expectations, but lives up for all of the reasons you’re not expecting. I won’t spoil what happens, but if this is the final Halloween, count me pleased.

NEGATIVES

– The dreaded second act. There’s about thirty minutes in this film that is every bit as unpleasant as it is unnecessary, and a lot of this has to do with this overabundance of filler that adds nothing to character or consistency with the rest of the film. Laurie goes missing for a few scenes, and is replaced with this awfully forced humor and dialogue that repeatedly tested my patience. If this wasn’t enough, a late act decision that violently changes an unimportant and borderline disrespectful character came and went like it had no lasting effect on me what so ever, and only highlighted how faulty this screenplay was when it tried to present something different.

– Speaking of different, there’s not a lot of it in this film. I mentioned earlier about paying homage to the Halloween franchise with these brief and weightless Easter eggs, but what doesn’t work is when you are literally duplicating scenes from other Halloween films, some of which aren’t supposed to exist in this canon, and playing them off in a way that feels desperate. This makes this movie possibly the most forgettable of the Halloween series, mainly because it doesn’t carve out a unique voice of its own, relying far too much on the success of past scenes and screenplays that were left in the past for obvious reasons.

– It’s amazing that after forty years of the knife-wielding psychopath, writers are still interested in the why without understanding that the mystery of Michael is what makes him intriguing as an antagonist. The scariest killers are the ones that happen just because (Think The Strangers), and traditionally the more you find out about Michael, the least fascinating it is. This film, while not as drastic as Rob Zombie’s for reveals, continues this annoying tradition, wasting valuable minutes along the way to paint a picture that I don’t ever require to make me enjoy one of my favorite on-screen killers more.

– Unanswered question. To anyone who has seen the ending of the 1978 “Halloween”, you’ll know that Michael gets away before the camera fades to black. So my question is what happened after to get Michael captured in this film. The movie never elaborates on this aspect, and we’re left to fill in the gaps where the screenwriters won’t. In my opinion, I would’ve liked to have included the events of “Halloween 2”, and explain that Myers burning body was rescued in the nick of time. Two attacks would also add to the believability of Laurie’s now fragile state, and keeping the brother and sister angle would explain Michael’s obsession a little more clearly with Laurie.

My Grade: 6/10 or a C

The House With A Clock In Its Walls

Directed by Eli Roth

Starring – Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccard

The Plot – Lewis Barnavelt (Vaccard), after losing his parents, is sent to Michigan to live with his uncle Jonathan (Black). He discovers his uncle is a warlock, and enters a world of magic and sorcery. But this power is not limited to good people: Lewis learns of Isaac Izard (Kyle Maclachlan), an evil wizard who wanted to cause the Apocalypse so that he could see what happened afterwards. To do this, he constructed a magical clock with black magic, as long as it exists it will keep ticking, counting down to doomsday. He died before he could finish the clock, but he hid the clock in his house, where Uncle Jonathan now lives. Now Lewis and Jonathan must find the clock before it’s too late, and before Isaac’s wife, Selena (Renee Elise Goldsberry), gets to it.

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

POSITIVES

– Zany production designs on every level. This is a film that takes place in the 1950’s, and what I appreciate about that is it gives the film a one-of-a-kind style in wardrobe and architecture to compliment the special effects that are constantly flying at us on-screen. The wardrobe in particular is a delightful throwback to the days of faded gowns and dusty blue jeans, and the lighting scheme inside of the house vibrates well off of the gothic style set pieces, that all of which perfectly capture the mood of the material in spades.

– Strong crossover appeal with Harry Potter fans. Whether you know it or not, the book of the same name for which this film is based on was actually an inspiration for J.K Rowling and her series of novels that have re-defined the young adult genre respectfully, so it’s certainly easy to see the appeal for kids in particular, who will easily immerse themselves in this world of similarity. I do have problems with some of the magic itself, which I will get to later on, but there’s clearly enough paranormal instances depicted here that will give the less-picky audience members a roaring good time.

– Black and Blanchett steal the stage. What I appreciated about their relationship more than anything is that the film doesn’t forcefully paint them as this romantic coupling just because every film seems to require that. These are very much two friends with devilishly delicious banter back-and-forth, who colorfully narrate the bond between them that transcends romance. In that way, they very much feel like outcast soulmates who have grown together because of their inability to fit in anywhere else in society, and the duo constantly keep this film on the railings of positivity thanks to their portrayals never feeling like this is a basic paycheck job.

– Sentimentality. Beneath the complexions of spells and warlocks, what won me over for this film immensely was the subplot involving Lewis’s remorse for his parents, and how it crafted and underlying layer of sensitivity for the film that I wasn’t expecting. Early on especially, we feel a sense of great isolation for Lewis that overrides the actor’s lack of focus on emotional resonance, keeping our investment in the character firmly for wanting to see him achieve the greatness he is destined for. Where the film ends especially hammers this angle home, and proves that this film has the heart required to counterbalance the scares, that could or could not test the younger audience.

– Enchanting musical score by Nathan Barr. More often than not, Barr’s tones of temperament ease us through the majestic mystery that resides in this gorgeous house, repeatedly giving that feeling of possibility in the air that the film’s environment requires. Nathan uses a lot of orchestral cues in enhancing the energy of what transpires visually, and offers enough variety in samplings to never feel like each piece is rubbing together or repeating.

– Great world-building in magical spells that will surely satisfy even the most hardcore magic fans. What I like about the spells mentioned and portrayed in the film is that they very much feel like they are ones that are at an introductory level, for the beginner who has recently picked up the skill of magic. Never in the film does Lewis feel like this prodigy who advances without practice, and I appreciate when a film isn’t afraid to document a character’s struggle, especially for something that is anything but easy to pick-up as a casual hobby.

NEGATIVES

– Poor child acting. I’ve already mentioned what worked about Vaccaro’s performance, but his screeching delivery and unbalanced emotional registry made for an uninentional rendering of the character that left him more annoying than indulging. In particular, it’s Owen’s inability to play up the dramatic pulse of the film dealing with his deceased parents that constantly underwhelmed, and left me wondering what could’ve been. Beyond Owen, the extras in the school scene severely lack focus. There are scenes where kids are in frame staring at the camera, that left me wondering how this ever got past the editing room that usually fixes these sort of ordeals.

– Obvious Plot Ploys. As usual in kids movies, there’s a lot of emphasis in the first act objects and subplots that are briefly mentioned, yet quickly diminished, that you know will pop up eventually as the film goes on. It’s terribly distracting for how these drops of exposition force their way into these casual conversations, but one in particular is far worse than the rest. This involves a backstory flashback scene shown to us the audience in film-strips, but doesn’t answer the question of how or who is filming this amazingly edited scene for the time.

– While this isn’t Eli Roth’s best film to date in my opinion, it is definitely the most ambitious of his career. Unfortunately, Eli is only half up to the task of the scope of such a legendary story, feeling the constant nagging of tonal imbalance and lack of overall wonderment that the story so desperately requires. There are interesting aspects that go bump in the night, but the volume of Roth’s magic feels very tamed when compared to a Potter or Goosebumps film that properly emphasized more of the impact and consequences from its delicate pages.

– Underwhelming effects work. While not everything is terrible about the 90% C.G work here, there’s also nothing impressive about it that we haven’t seen from better films. In the era of computer generated effects that often lack weight or heft to their inclusion, here comes another film that finds its way into that dreaded category. The layers of color constantly feel off with their manufactured properties when compared to physical that surrounds them, and the interaction with live actors always feels a step too late to feel surprising.

6/10

A Simple Favor

Directed by Paul Feig

Starring – Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding

The Plot – The story centers around Stephanie (Kendrick), a mommy vlogger who seeks to uncover the truth behind her best friend Emily’s (Lively) sudden disappearance from their small town. Stephanie is joined by Emily’s husband Sean (Golding) in this stylish thriller filled with twists and betrayals, secrets and revelations, love and loyalty, murder and revenge.

Rated R for sexual content and adult language throughout, some graphic nude images, drug use and violence

POSITIVES

– The greatest Lifetime Channel Movie EVER. What Feig’s direction does is instill that air of self-aware satire that sizzles on a screenplay this scandalous. In doing so, he can bring his variety of humor to a movie that isn’t necessarily deemed a comedy, accentuating the hilarity associated with mom dates and online blogging that can’t escape the occasional laughter after suffocating awkwardness. Female moviegoers will appreciate its serious side for its twists and turns, but they will also appreciate the familiarity associated with friendships that develop because of their children.

– As an adaptation from the book, the screenplay is roughly 80% similar. This is good because it chooses not to deviate much from what made it such a provocative read in the first place, all the while trimming the fat of what doesn’t translate well to screen. Particularly the choice to make Stephanie’s blog a Vlog in this case, as well as to let the events transpire without narration, are two of the decisions that I commend this film greatly for taking, and allow the events transpiring in real time to hold the audience’s captivation. Then there’s the ending. While the book and film endings are both HEAVILY convoluted, I did enjoy the film’s ending so much more, for how it didn’t betray the heart of the characters. The last fifteen minutes of this movie are completely batshit crazy, and I engaged in it because nothing felt familiar from the pages that I already scanned.

– Flavor for the Favor. Blake Lively, where have you been all this time? As Emily, Lively is a walking temperament of shattered glass that catches the skin of everyone she comes into contact with. In conversing with Emily, you very much feel inferior and downright insulted with her vicious vocabulary, giving forth to a personality that is every bit as intimidating as she is unabashed in her deliveries. Kendrick as well breathes the air of timidness that Stephanie requires in channeling that outgoing “Mom” personality. Say what you want about Kendrick’s quirky demeanor eating away at your ears, but everything that she has done in her career has pointed her towards this role of a woman clearly in over her head, who may or may not be wound a bit too tight.

– Snappy soundtrack. In matching the posh set designs and lavish wardrobe choices, the musical tracks for the film envelope a taste for French elegance that gives the movie a seductive pallet. Every song does maintain this direction faithfully, and certainly speaks wonders for the beauty in voice talents when you can’t understand what the lyrics are truly saying.

– Likewise, the decision to shoot this film in Univisium gives it a vibrancy of color and detail in cinematography that would otherwise be underutilized in this particular film. This is possibly what I admire most of all about Feig’s directing, because even the slightest detail in decoration to a shot feels like it serves an artistic merit when played against the rest of the backdrop. Without question, these are some of the best slow motion sequences of the year, presenting the rain in a music video style fashion that glitters and glows with every drop.

– Makes the most of its R-rating. What I commend the film for is that it does have these instances of violence, brief nudity, and adult language, but it uses them in ways that doesn’t feel forced or manufactured by someone sitting in a chair off-screen. These are very much rational conversations, as well as calculated measures that are taken by the characters, and withheld until the moment when their inclusion matters the most, and less like a gimmick. This is an example of adult material done right.

NEGATIVES

– Cheap Youtube templates. As to where I commended a movie like ‘Searching’ for paying the extra few bucks and portraying actual Youtube to its very real world setting, I unfortunately cannot do the same for ‘A Simple Favor’. This is another example of an obvious website intention that feels cheap in its knock-off details that are distracting to say the least. When you view this as a streaming website in 2018, the quality in pixelation on screen, as well as the world’s smallest comment section, makes this feel like the first edition of America Online, long before the blessing of Wi-fi euphoria.

– As my readers know, I have no shame when it comes to calling out child actors, and boy did I have a field day with the two in this movie. Whether it’s their speech patterns that feel anything but believable, or their obvious staring off screen for scene guidance, the duo of Ian Ho and Josh Satine were a baseball bat to my precious eyes and ears. Ho in particular is cringey for his hollow delivery in curse word deliveries, as well as an overall lack of energy in fighting style that echoed that student film vibe in college that we’ve all been missing. I’m not overboard when I say that neither of them should act again, and it’s just a constant reminder of the term “Stay in School” holding more weight.

– Pace race. Despite this film being nearly two hours long, the pacing of exposition drops felt very rushed in their plotting, feeling like one big montage scene that never slows down to let it all sink in. I mentioned earlier that the ending is completely convoluted, despite my enjoying it, but it is a calling card for what is truly wrong with the big impact scenes of this screenplay. The developing relationship between Stephanie and Shawn felt like it happened in a matter of days, contrary to the screenplay telling us that Emily has been missing for months, and I wish the movie would’ve taken more advantage to plod in its generous 111 minute runtime that easily could’ve used more patience.

– Book comparisons part 2. As for what I appreciated about the book more, the characters feel far more developed in their dirty secrets. What I love about that is it adds more weight to the mystery of what happened to Emily, giving way to many more theories and scenarios than this film could ever map out for itself. The book also keeps it between the trio of main characters for the entire film, as to where this movie has a group of supporting cast in classroom parents, who add absolutely nothing to this film. Every time a scene cut to them for reaction or commentary, it weighed down the momentum of what was previously built, and stood out as the one instance where the film’s comedy was anything but subversive.

6/10

Support the Girls

Directed by Andrew Bujalski

Starring – Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Dylan Gelula

The Plot – Lisa (Hall) is the last person you’d expect to find in a highway-side ‘sports bar with curves’, but as general manager at Double Whammies, she’s come to love the place and its customers. An incurable den mother, she nurtures and protects her girls fiercely, but over the course of one trying day, her optimism is battered from every direction. Double Whammies sells a big, weird American fantasy, but what happens when reality pokes a bunch of holes in it?

Rated R for adult language including sexual references, and brief nudity

POSITIVES

– A virtual showcase for Hall. Regina has proven in films before that she has a fiery emotional registry that proves she transcends being just another funny leading lady, but ‘Support the Girls’ feels like the first time where her command over a script feels like the sole existence for the film. As this supportive Mother type character, Hall’s Lisa envelopes enough life experience and overall genuine personality to make her the straight laced protagonist the film so desperately needs, and Hall’s grip on roughly 90% of the screen time proves the film has its focus in the right place. Richardson’s sugary Maci also shouldn’t be understated, bringing a new personality to Haley that proves she can play against type with sharp-tongued dry honesty.

– I loved the overall unrefined design to the set pieces and shot composition, that gave the film more of a television vibe in presentation. I would normally be panning this as a negative in a film released on the big screen, but I think it works when you’re depicting a crew battling through all of the obstacles that they face in a single day of exposition. It makes it feel like we’ve stumbled upon this restaurant where we the audience feel like the customers who never want to go home. It’s textured realism at its finest.

– Very smart in its depiction of male customers against a female objectified business. The candid focus and unsubtle instances of perverted demeanor, as well as egotistical arrogance not only felt authentic in delivery, but also honestly informative for the backlash that “Breastaurant” employees constantly face. In addition to this, the male owner’s (Played by James Le Gros) sporadic appearances also hit the target of reality, invoking the very spirit of such a degrading place for the way he treats the female employees he depends on.

– Part of what’s to be admired about Bujalski’s vision is the appeal in humility that his film isn’t afraid to run from. Because these are women stripped down to the very gimmick that gets the best of them, we are treated to not only a satire on business ethics in America 101, but also the lack of self-respect and confidence of female employees that these business’s thrive on. Like Bujalski’s previous efforts, this is very much a story set in small confines that has a bigger effect to the audience it engages, and his affection for the ladies that rock is stage shows in spades.

– Intelligent title. The term ‘Support the Girls’ is definitely a clever play on words with the breast cancer campaign ‘Support the Ta-ta’s’, and what is truly brilliant about this to me is that both subjects in their respective campaigns wield the kind of attention required for change. It’s not only incredibly self-conscious, but it also feeds into the required thought that women are so much more than a single body part, and that we must support everything about them that makes them the epitome of the terms strong and beautiful.

– Perfect place and perfect time. To set this film in modern day Southern Texas is ingenious for an array of reasons. In addition to its country saloon style setting within the backdrop of the restaurant itself, the southern accents play such a pivotal role in (Unfortunately) maximizing the sleaziness in appeal of the male customers who frequent the restaurant. One interesting aspect is there not being a female customer over the course of this movie, sharply prodding into the psychology of these audacious men who view them as this lone role of T & A that is there to only serve them.

NEGATIVES

– This film is marketed in the trailer and poster as a comedy, and I find that designation severely manipulative. This film doesn’t just fail at its comedy, but it barely even tries to obtain its genre tag, breezing through scenes of screen time without showing the true lunacy of working at a restaurant. In this regard, ‘Waiting’ is a film that perfected its shenanigans, but ‘Support the Girls’ never feels like it has enough confidence on its menu to even try.

– Bad sequencing between the problems that lack any cohesiveness. As the day goes on, these random obstacles that Lisa talks her way through feel like they lack any common link to draw them all together, giving the screenplay a desperately scatter-brained feeling of pulling problems out of thin air to fill in the gaps of its targeted run time. The beginning of the third act in particular, has its heart in the right place, but it’s a constant reminder of the lack of solidified direction that was inevitably bound to catch up to a film that never ties itself down to consistency of any sort.

– Even at 90 minutes, it feels strained. For much of the first half of the movie, with the combination of rookie training and established environment in the restaurant, I was very on board for where this film was ready to elevate itself. The problem is it never does, and that shining theme of female empowerment that starts to turn during the jaded second half, doesn’t feel fully earned in a finale that floats more on the half empty side of optimism.

– Introduces far too many subplots that it never fully commits to, nor fully follows through with. Particularly with a co-worker being abused by her boyfriend, as well as the decaying relationship between Lisa and her husband, the film continues to bring to light these new issues that it never intends to bring closure to, and it just didn’t work for me. Considering my problems with where this film ends, I felt that this script presented itself far too many outs to make this film truly great, and it just didn’t. Those lack of answers greatly bothered me.

6/10

Papillon

Directed by Michael Noer

Starring – Charlie Hunnam, Rami Malek, Tommy Flanagan

The Plot – Based on the international best-selling autobiographic books “Papillon” and “Banco”, the film follows the epic story of Henri “Papillon” Charrière (Hunnam), a safecracker from the Parisian underworld who is framed for murder and condemned to life in the notorious penal colony on Devil’s Island. Determined to regain his freedom, Papillon forms an unlikely alliance with quirky convicted counterfeiter Louis Dega (Malek), who in exchange for protection, agrees to finance Papillon’s escape.

Rated R for violence including bloody images, adult language, nudity, and some sexual material

POSITIVES

– A different beast completely with prison films. When you look at a film like ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, you withdraw the one ideal of it being a film about the preservation of hope, but with ‘Papillon’ it thrives on being a deconstruction of hopes, benefiting the true vulnerability that one faces while being in prison. To anyone seeking an optimistic film, this isn’t the one for you, but for me I took great appreciation in a film being honest with French prison conditions during the 40’s being similar to that of animalistic treatment, and Noer has no reservations about this depiction, using the R-rating to the most gruesome of its abilities.

– Hunnam and Malek are equally magnetic, bringing life to the importance of friendship that the film rests its hat on. Charlie continues to preserve the hearty side of his repertoire, bringing a dedicated role that has him transforming his body to replicate the torture and stress of prison abuse. For Malek, his performance is one of a psychological bending, emoting a quirky side of his personality that slowly brings along this mental break from within him that highlights he has been there too long.

– As a remake, the film’s script remains faithful to the 1973 original starring Steve McQueen, but preserves a modern quality about its production value that gives reason for its existence. One such example is the beautiful cinematography by Hagen Bogdanski that captures the true dread from behind these sacred bars. Much of the camera work in detail feels claustrophobic, especially that of solitary scenes that barely feel like we have enough moving room with the convict on display. Prison should feel this cramped, especially with the overcrowding that the film consistently reminds us of.

– The biggest surprise for me was that this film that clocks in at around 130 minutes, yet never feels like it overstays its welcome. That’s not to say that there aren’t scenes that could be edited tighter, but nothing here ever feels like it should be cut all together from the film. Sentences are a constant endurance test, and it’s not always the easiest matter to depict when you’re only given two hours to replicate such conditions, but Noer subscribes to the passage of time, valuing each chapter of this story with unshakeable persistence that leaves audiences hanging on just enough before boredom sets in.

– Makes the most of its set pieces and backdrops. Whether a bloody, mud-soaked battle to the death, or contrasting the differences in the prison itself to last resort Devil’s Island, this film faithfully pays homage to the epics of yesterday by making the most of their miniscule details, allowing us the ability to telegraph where everything and everyone is in each frame. This is important in immersing us in the many rooms of this setting because it gives us a true authentic feeling of being next to Hunnam and Malek the whole time without actually being there.

– Much respect as well goes to the makeup and prosthetic department for richly generating the aging process without it feeling like a glorified game of dress-up. One of the things that bothers me in films constantly is young actors playing older roles. It always feels pointless to me, because you have old actors who itch to even be cast at the twilight of their careers, but here Charriere’s decay feels subtle and nuanced, and never feels distracting to the concentration of the scene.

NEGATIVES

– First act flubs. Without a doubt to me, the weakness of the film is the introductory opening twenty minutes that could make or break ones investment into the film. I say this because for me there wasn’t enough time devoted to Charriere in making him engaging enough as a character before he goes to prison, so the impact of the tragedy never fully renders the reaction that the film so desperately seeks from it. If it wasn’t for the exceptional work of Hunnam that I mentioned earlier, this character would be easily disposable because the film commands him as nothing more than a thief gangster who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

– Lack of overall intensity. Without this aspect, a prison break film will constantly stay grounded, and that’s what we have for this jaded remake. Once the big day comes to fruition, it never meanders or instills enough uncertainty to truly juggle the nerves of the audience in the way the first movie accomplished much better. Look to a show like ‘Prison Break’ and understand that nothing ever goes completely as planned, so the ability to adapt to any wrench thrown into the fold provides a shade of intelligence with the characters that we never saw before, but none of that is ever present here.

– Anonymity. I mentioned earlier that the film is a faithful homage to the 73 original, but this can also be a flaw in how identical it comes across when compared. In my opinion, this film is roughly 80% the same outline, order, and dialogue as that better original film. The only differences are at the very beginning and end of the film, and even those aren’t vital enough in what eventually comes of this film. It’s an aspect that I wish screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski would’ve evaluated further, and inspired within himself the ability to find HIS distinct voice within telling this story. Noer says it’s not a remake, but a re-imagining, and no statement has never been more laughable.

– Speaking of pointless additional scenes, the inclusion of a love interest (Played by Eve Henson) comes and goes without any further emphasis throughout the film. Did she come visit him during his time in prison? Did she remain faithful to him? Was she in on the set-up that got him locked away? None of this is never further elaborated on, and what’s even stranger is that those initial first few scenes set it up to where their love story is one for the ages that will undoubtedly be tested by the distance between them. But since the film is faithful to just telling Charriere’s side of things, these subplots that were introduced are never further elaborated on, leaving more questions coming out of the film than you had going into it.

6/10

The Meg

Directed by Jon Turteltaub

Starring – Jason Statham, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose

The Plot – Five years ago, expert sea diver and Naval Captain Jonas Taylor (Statham) encountered an unknown danger in the unexplored recesses of the Mariana Trench that forced him to abort his mission and abandon half his crew. Though the tragic incident earned him a dishonorable discharge, what ultimately cost him his career, his marriage and any semblance of honor was his unsupported and incredulous claims of what caused it; an attack on his vessel by a mammoth, 70-foot sea creature, believed to be extinct for more than a million years. But when a submersible lies sunk and disabled at the bottom of the ocean; carrying his ex-wife among the team onboard, he is the one who gets the call. Whether a shot at redemption or a suicide mission, Jonas must confront his fears and risk his own life and the lives of everyone trapped below on a single question: Could the Carcharodon Megalodon; the largest marine predator that ever existed still be alive … and on the hunt?

Rated PG-13 for action/peril, bloody images and some adult language

POSITIVES

– I’ve heard plenty of complaints about the 150 million that was spent on this film, and how it makes little effect on the grand scheme, and that couldn’t be more wrong. Aside from the shading and graphing C.G work of the shark feeling more authentic in design, the set pieces breathe an air of futuristic style and technology that makes the most bang for its buck. This makes the very career paths of these brave souls that much more believable, and with the dependency on innovation comes the heated nature versus technology confrontation that we are treated to throughout.

– While much of the cast is easily forgettable to me because of their lack of personality and depth, Statham skates by as the hero of the day. Besides an overabundance of charming bravado, Statham knows how to deliver the most in each line of dialogue, carving out a shape of the blue collar heroes we all grew up on. My favorite parts of the film were Statham’s interaction with a little girl (Played by Shuya Sophia Cai) that channel his inner sensitivity, a rare occurrence for the roles he’s become saddled with.

– Much of the first act felt slow to me, but it quickly picked up once the human characters took a backseat to their rival mammal. Once The Meg comes into focus, the film’s pacing glides by, and the run time of 100 minutes feels just right in this tug-of-war for power that barely ever relents in cooling down periods. Bottom line, if you want you want two hours of pure escapism, ‘The Meg’ is your catch of the day.

– Even though this is a movie about a gargantuan shark, much of the decisions in tow by the characters feel grounded in intelligence. If you can factor in that these characters are constantly on edge while being chased by this deadly creature, then you can take mercy that sometimes they are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. What is commendable here, is that they know what they are dealing with, and rarely ever seem to underestimate their gigantic opponent, despite one selfie scene that qualifies for dumbest decision of the movie-going year.

– I do have problems with some of the camera angles, particularly underwater, that I will get to later, but the capture of the imagery above water sparkled an air of artistic violence that occasionally made me want to pause the movie to adore closer. My favorite single frame of the movie involves a big swallow by Meggie, and it’s in that particular frame when the audience truly understands how subtly off-the-wall this one-of-a-kind creature truly is, and how vulnerable the crew is, whether in the water or on a boat.

– Turtletaub’s directing breathes life into the very concept of Summer Blockbuster’s that have sadly faded away in recent years. Everything from the jaunty dialogue, to the paperweight characters, screams big budget cheese in the most delicious form, and what Jon does to push it one step further is develop a movie that doesn’t necessarily have to be constantly ridiculous to please his audience.

NEGATIVES

– Ultimately, the biggest stab against this film will be how forgettable it is because it chose to take itself too seriously. For shark movies, there’s a healthy blend somewhere in the middle, that allows you to indulge in enough menace with violence, as well as silliness in its title character’s movements, to create something for everyone. Sadly, if you’re watching ‘The Meg’ to laugh, you will be bored out of the theater, as it is far too mature to sizzle the cheese of its story. This one has a serious case of identity crisis.

– Rating captivity. Once again we have a film’s potential limited by a ratings classification that renders the gore and violence virtually non-existent. When you make a movie about something as dangerous as this huge shark, you have to shake our seats and rattle us hysterically by throwing enough limbs and blood at the screen for us to soak up. On the whole, this is a relatively dry film in that perspective, and it’s in that obvious element that will serve as the first noticeable disappointment for a movie like this.

– I mentioned earlier of my disdain for some of the camera work underwater, and I blame this on two things. The first is the angles of the shark being far too close to ever properly digest just what we’re seeing on-screen. I found great difficulty making out the fates of a couple of characters, because the zoom lens is taken advantage of far too often. My second problem is in the lack of depictional scale for this mammoth creature that the film rarely capitalizes on. This is where a wide-angle shot can allow us the audience to perfectly compare and contrast the immense size difference between predator and prey, also allowing us the psychological tease of what lies in the shadows of the deep blue sea.

– Who is the protagonist? One of the reasons why audiences take pleasure in watching Jaws get defeated in those series of films, is because Jaws invades human land to start the conflict. This is also the case in a majority of shark related movies, but in ‘The Meg’, it’s the human characters who invade the underbelly of the ocean, provoking the giant creature to take the fight to them when they press their luck a time too many. Why I think this is a problem is because I never felt that air of triumph each time the humans tortured this shark, and without that intrigue that comes from seeing a bully defeated, ‘The Meg’ just kind of comes and goes without much emotional investment, throughout the film.

6/10