Early Man

Directed by Nick Park

Starring – Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Eddie Redmayne

The Plot – Set at the dawn of time, when prehistoric creatures and woolly mammoths roamed the earth, Early Man tells the story of Dug (Redmayne), along with sidekick Hognob as they unite his tribe against a mighty enemy Lord Nooth (Hiddleston) and his Bronze Age City to save their home.

Rated PG for some rude humor and scenes of action

THE POSITIVES

– Steller animation yet again by Aardman Animations. The use of authentic backdrop properties in trees and rocks blends colorfully with that of the claymation characters and their stopmotion animation. In addition, the characters themselves illustrate the evolution between neanderthal and the next step smoothly, leaving enough evidence in physical features between the two sides (Big teeth, misshaped heads) to bridge the gap.

– Immersive vocal performances that engulf our A-list cast whole. I’ve always said that the best animated performances are the ones that make you forget who is vocalizing them, and the trio of leads here nail that in spades. The best for me is definitely Hiddleston’s indistinguishable gangly turn as the evil Lord Nooth.

– At 79 minutes, this is as harmless of a sit as you’re going to encounter this weekend. The pacing never drags or stalls through its narrative, keeping the attention of its audience without having to trim the fat of needless time filler.

– There is a kind of tragic element hanging over the heads of these characters that goes far beyond the conflict of this film. Despite the outcome of this soccer game, we all know the progression from the Stone Age, and that hint of inevitable doom is one that brought an unintentional dramatic layer to what I was watching.

– The observational humor is definitely the winner in the battle with the dialogue, penetrating with enough visual sight gags to throw us a bone of subversive for the adults in the audience, once in a while.

– I’m always one to lend kudos to a screenplay that introduces a prominent female character and doesn’t make her the love interest of anyone in the film. ‘Early Man’ follows this lead, giving little girls an inspiration not only to play sports, but also in carving out just how important she was to the conclusion of the picture.

THE NEGATIVES

– As to where the observational grants more hits than misses, the dialogue itself in the movie is slightly too authentic of its neanderthal foundation. With the exception of a few generous giggles, I found much of the material in the film to be very underwhelming for Aardman and the kind of tummy-ticklers we’re used to leaving the theater with. It’s unusual that this material won’t really cater to adults or kids with confidence.

– The whole film builds to this soccer match that is nothing more than a series of montage sequences in a race to the finish line. Believe me when I say that every shot in this game is to showcase when a team scores, and that’s a bummer because there’s never any inspiring instances when this game can break away from the cliches of previous sports films that have already outlined what we are going to see.

– I’m sure it’s ridiculous to complain about historical accuracy in a film where the pig is the smartest character, but I still wonder why things like toilet paper, speakers, and even a one hundred foot duck are all present in a film that takes place during the Stone Age.

– There is absolutely zero character exposition here. Each and every character runs together, and can’t be dissected any differently than labeling them “Main character” or “Female character”. If a film lacks characters that you feel empathetic towards, a plot about them losing their home won’t have much tug towards your heartstrings.

6/10

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Directed by Paul McGuigan

Starring – Jamie Bell, Annette Bening, Julie Walters

The Plot – Based on Peter Turner’s memoir, the film follows the playful but passionate relationship between Turner (Bell) and the eccentric Academy Award winning actress Gloria Grahame (Bening) in 1978 Liverpool. What starts as a vibrant affair between a legendary femme fatale and her young lover quickly grows into a deeper relationship, with Turner being the person Gloria turns to for comfort. Their passion and lust for life is tested to the limits by events beyond their control.

Rated R for adult language, some sexual content and brief nudity

THE POSITIVES

– Subliminal truth in advertising. Intentionally fake backdrops and landscapes are used signify not only that particular starlet era of film, but also that the two leads are the only real thing in the other person’s eyes. Beyond this, the film’s actual setting too plays a prominent role. Liverpool, England has always felt like a town that is frozen in time, depicted here with vintage wartime posters and outdated housing detail that feels aged even for the 80’s. This makes the perfect setting in film for two people trying to clear the hurdle of their dramatic age gap. They too have frozen the scope of time.

– Contrasting interpretations. Interestingly enough, the couple visually transcends their difference in age when alone, feeling like two kids who have their whole lives ahead of them, yet when they are out and about with other people, that blurred vision caters to reality and we see them how everyone else does.

– It’s no surprise that Bening steals the show, but as Grahame she sets back the hands of time, juggling the personality of this tender woman with seeds of pep to grow around her otherwise garden of despair. Through a life of heartache in and out of the business, Bening channels an inhabited child of sorts as this free spirit who lives by her own rules.

– The parallels between love and film seem striking. Both hang their prominence respectively on the importance of age, but it only takes one desirable gig to feel inspired again.

– At times, the camera moves between Turner and Gloria like a dreamy tiptoe through the rise and fall of two kindred spirits. This is a visual representation for love’s first steps, feeling like an infinite honeymoon period that never relents.

– Exceptional slow pan long take shots that made for some of my absolute favorite scenes in the film. In leaving the camera running, McGuigan trusts his dual leads in visually encompassing the kind of pain and heartache that comes with love on the rocks, never feeling shy with getting front and center with such anguish.

THE NEGATIVES

– Rough and jagged transition scenes between two timelines that rarely gets distinguished with confidence.

– While the chemistry of Bell and Bening is certainly there, the film misses out on the chance to sizzle the seduction. At times, it can feel like a rushed and undercooked slab of meat that doesn’t satisfy our palate.

– It’s somewhat appropriate that a film that reminds us of the many actresses that constantly overshadowed Gloria also shelves her as the supporting role to Bell’s narrative command. This is a major mistake because we often only see the problems and don’t get to indulge in falling in love with her the same way Turner does.

– Inconsistent pacing especially during the second half of the film. The plodding alone made me wish that twenty minutes was trimmed from this 101 minute film, but in doing so we would lose what little exposition we fought so hard to gain with these two. This ultimately leaves the script with the feeling of being written into a corner.

6/10

12 Strong

Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig

Starring – Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, William Fichtner

THE PLOT – The True Story of the Army’s Special Forces “Green Berets”, who within weeks responded to the 9-11 attack. Green Berets and AFSOC took over the country and allowed other Special Forces and the rest of the conventional military to begin the more publicly visible war.

Rated R for war violence and adult language throughout

THE POSITIVES

– An impressive introduction sequence that is articulately narrated and edited through the days after America’s darkest hours. This history lesson paints a vivid reality of the eggshells that we as a country were walking on.

– Exceptional camera angles that replicate a soldier’s point-of-view faithfully, through tight and over the back view points. This puts the audience in the moment without it being a gimmick like POV.

– Action sequences while limited, are shot competently enough, with shreds of urgency that trigger the uneasy from the audience watching from beyond the screen.

– Speaking of action, the final twenty minutes pack a vibrating crescendo that never stops pumping. These sequences are so finely paced, and never run short of visual thrills.

– The weaponry and combat versatility compliments a dual blend of traditional (Horseback strikes) and modern (Automatic arms) that superbly bridges the generations of war. We’re so used to seeing tanks and airstrikes that we rarely ever think about the countries who strike by horse.

– Fuglsig’s film never aims to be anything bigger that it rightfully is. While this is a brave and harrowing tale in the war against terror, the film reminds us that it is only the first chapter in a bigger war.

THE NEGATIVES

– There’s too much talk and not enough action during the first half of the film. This is when the movie dragged the most for me, and felt the demands of a 125 minute runtime.

– There’s an attempt to understand the villain’s perspective, but it’s every single Taliban antagonist that CNN has ever painted for you. There’s nothing that makes them standout in a poignant approach.

– This film needs so desperately for someone to take the reigns as a reputable performance, but the underwritting of personality in this script disappointingly wastes what is an early favorite for best ensemble cast of 2018. There’s ultimately no diversity in this brotherhood, so many of the characters rub together without breaking free from their shackles of ambiguity.

– The second half of the film is definitely much more impactful, but it comes at the price of abandoning character exposition. Beyond even the soldiers, Hemsworth’s wife and kids are never brought back up again after the opening ten minutes, leaving behind a chance to finally capitalize on a soldier’s price paid back home that very few war films capitalize on.

6/10

The Commuter

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Starring – Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson

THE PLOT – Michael (Neeson) is an insurance salesman is on his daily commute home, when it quickly becomes anything but routine. After being contacted by a mysterious stranger (Farmiga), Michael is forced to uncover the identity of a hidden passenger on his train before the last stop. As he works against the clock to solve the puzzle, he realizes a deadly plan is unfolding and is unwittingly caught up in a criminal conspiracy. One that carries life and death stakes for himself and his fellow passengers.

Rated PG-13 for some intense action/violence, and adult language

THE POSITIVES

– No matter how many times Neeson has played this particular role in this particularly jaded situation, his everyman routine never loses flavor. As Michael, Neeson’s humanity shines through, depicting the only character that we, as well as the film cares about to put valued exposition into.

– Collet-Serra again adds a shade of weathered atmosphere to play into the real beauty of his picture. For a film that basically feels like it was straight out of 90’s action flicks like ‘Speed’ and ‘Air Force One’, there’s certainly a lot more to look at here that wets the appetite of anyone looking for warmth in personalized touch that rubs off vibrantly in every shot.

– Speaking of shots, the film’s train sequences are shot superbly, catering to a majority of tight-knit angles that speaks volumes to the very claustrophobia of the revealing situation around our protagonist.

– Despite being confined overwhelmingly in stage setting, the fight sequences pack enough brutality in brunt offense to keep the fight lover in all of us at bay. My personal favorite is the inclusion of a guitar that comes into play.

– The pacing for at least the first two acts is something that keeps this train moving at top speed. Sure, the setup cares more about the story and less about the pawns, but the mental gears of the audience continuously turn through a modern day whodunnit? that throws a wrench or two into theories.

– This is one film that isn’t demeaned by a PG-13 setting, keeping the dialogue classy and the violence sporadic to feed into the ‘less is more’ theory.

THE NEGATIVES

– Despite Neeson’s Michael, no other character is given even slightly enough exposition to make the big reveal something jaw-dropping in terms of shock factor. To fix this, I wouldn’t have been in such a hurry to get to the train, and let his supporting cast respond to this terrible day that Michael was having before he ever boarded. The biggest regret is unfortunately Farmiga’s antagonist character who never feels like an intellectual equal to Michael’s detective background.

– Third act blues. Would it be cliche to say that the final thirty minutes of this film flies off the railings? Well, I’ll just say that between a crash sequence that feels like an afterthought and a final scene that feels every bit as tacked on as it does tidy, there’s an overwhelming feeling that this script was written on an idea and very little else.

– I’m all for paying attention, but the clues used in this film to figuring out the motive are a bit too meandering and scatter-brained for my taste. I figured out Farmiga’s right hand culprit with about a half hour left of the movie, and that’s because I started to see that the obviousness of some events in the first act that stick out like a sore thumb. Convenience of being in the right place at the right time also serves Neeson well in cracking the case.

– The musical score by Roque Banos is disappointingly his worst to date. After riveting tonal capacities in films like ‘Evil Dead’ and ‘Don’t Breathe’, Banos here feels out of place, ushering through a strong repetition of tones that wouldn’t be good enough to make his B-sides of a greatest hits compilation. A thriller especially relies on the music to stir the uneasy in its audience, but its underwhelming string sometimes gives these fight scenes a feeling of stock sampling.

6/10

The Greatest Showman

‘The Greatest Showman’ looks to hammer home the idea that there’s no business like show-business. After being laid off from his longtime job and feeling a regret for the life he once promised those he loves, the charismatic P.T Barnum (Hugh Jackman) does some endless soul-searching, finding an inspiration from those who are labeled as freaks by the society that shuns their talents. Together, with the help of his wife Charity (Michelle Williams) and business partner Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) in tow, Barnum organizes the world’s first ever circus, a barrage of death-defying stunts and gravity-defying thrills that has never before been matched. But after suffering the backlash from the townspeople, Barnum will find himself and his show hanging by a bar of survival, trying to prove those wrong who have never seen the spectacle. ‘The Greatest Showman’ is directed by Michael Gracey, and is rated PG for thematic elements that include a fighting brawl.

‘The Greatest Showman’ succeeds with enough flair and untamed energy as a reputable musical, but doesn’t have enough psychology or honesty in its title character to achieve the greatness needed for a revealing biopic. For those who don’t know, P.T Barnum led a double life of sorts. For every great thing that is depicted in Wikipedia summaries, as well as in this picture, there is a steep list full of negatives that took away a bit of the glitz and glamour from a man who supposedly did so much for the silent minorities of the world. This raises a bit of a problem for Gracey as a commander behind the scenes, because in making this film a whimsical musical of sorts, it almost immediately takes away from the honesty of the biography, casting a shadow of betrayal as a storyteller that only feeds us the most noble of character instances. Even in finishing the film, I felt like I found out more about the circus that Barnum himself brought together, and less about the man behind the scenes who was pulling the heavy strings of doubt from a community that shun him and his cast completely. If you’re looking for credibility, this certainly isn’t the film for you, but if you’re looking for a fantasy daydream that fills your heart with magic like only the silver screen can do, ‘The Greatest Showman’ will point you the way.

There are certainly no shortages of negatives from this uneven script, and while speedy pacing might seem like the way to go in keeping the audience’s attention, it ultimately dooms the progression of character arcs and conflicts that go practically unnoticed. For the entire first act of the film, we are sped through Barnum’s childhood, meeting and courting of his future wife, and the loss of his dead end job. The screenplay takes very little time in getting to understand and shape the adult Jackman who we see before us for a majority of the film. Because of this, the script feels so hollow when compared to the song count that overwhelmingly outnumber and take such a huge piece of the pie, that the characters have very little time to win us over and make us feel invested in their temporary adversities. Barnum isn’t alone in this handicap however, as the romance of Efron and Zendaya’s characters, as well as the entire supporting cast of characters are rarely mentioned or presented from in terms of an angle that can appropriately represent their disposition. The only time that progression occurs is during a song, and it’s strange because unless you are paying your most dedicated attention, you might miss how some of these flimsy subplots seek resolving. The third act is a much noticeable improvement, especially in the rare occasion that this reputable cast actually get to stretch some dramatic muscle, but by then the familiar notes of modern musicals closing moments seems limited in offering very little in terms of variety.

As for that cast, it’s no surprise that this is a mostly one man show in Jackman’s ambitious turn as Barnum, but the silenced ensemble does give way to one glittered performance of youth along the way. I am talking of course about Zendaya as one of two trapeze artists that work in Barnum’s circus. ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ might’ve introduced us to Zendaya, but ‘The Greatest Showman’ provides the emphasis necessary in highlighting this girl as a true tear-jerker for decades to come. As I mentioned before, we don’t get a lot of time to get to know her character, so it’s in Zendaya’s emotional register where so much of her emphasis and carefree demeanor carve her out as a one of a kind in this sea of familiar faces. Sadly, Michelle Williams and Zac Efron are completely wasted here, being reduced to baggage handlers of Jackman’s character whenever his act grows stale. This disappoints me extremely for Williams in particular because she has the dramatic pull to move a house on-set, yet the film constantly keeps her grounded from ever opening Barnum’s eyes to the world that he already has. Jackman himself is every bit the charming leading man we’ve come to know, but it’s his singing that is much improved from his days on ‘Les Miserables’. It has been reported that this was Hugh’s passion project, and that all seems evident from the way he captures the screen and holds it in his hand to harvest the energy of the audience watching from beyond.

Benji Pasek and Justin Paul, fresh off of the Oscar winning soundtrack of 2016’s ‘La La Land’, again strike gold with a collective group of songs that definitely put the cart before the horse, in terms of story versus song. To say that this is my favorite soundtrack of 2017 would be a disservice. The songs in ‘The Greatest Showman’ are full of inspirational essence and big stage presence that constantly breathe reaction with anyone they come into contact with. My personal favorite is ‘This Is Me’, a three minute unapologetic stand against any adversity that constricts you because of your appearance. Meandering yes, but there wasn’t a single song inside that didn’t move me to the point of toe-tapping glee. I’m even listening to it right now as I type this, it has that kind of infectious effect. Complimenting the music is also some vibrantly colorful set pieces and faithful wardrobe that capitalized on its fantasy aspect. The circus has rarely looked this vivacious, and if Gracey is restricted to a single compliment, it’s that he knows how to play to being under the lights. My only critique with the presentation is the limited sound editing and mixing that definitely take away the immerse effect needed in making the performances feel believable. ‘La La Land’ was a master at this, but this film definitely feels studio influenced because of the situations that constantly raise doubt. An example of this is when Zendaya and Efron’s duet as they jump around high-and-low across the stage. There’s no shortage of breath or distort in their vocals that puts us front-and-center in the moment with these lovebirds. This kind of thing always takes me out, and with the exception of a few acapella sequences that are in the moment, I kept finding myself having difficulty in crediting the syncing nature from scene to song.

THE VERDICT – ‘The Greatest Showman’ as a story feels like the most conniving piece of 19th century propaganda, in that it ignores much of the complexity behind Barnum’s dark past that beg to be told. Through a very shaky first act, the consequences of a rushed plot and underdeveloped characters boils to the top, leaving very little room to be inspired by Barnum’s life of chances taken. Beyond this crucial mistake, this ‘Showman’ swings because of its endless spectacle of song and dance, as well as a magical stage that thrives under the lights of showcase for us to soak in. Middle of the road muster for the musical genre.

6/10

Ferdinand

Blue Sky Studios delivers a Christmas gift to families in the form of a lovable bull, named ‘Ferdinand’. Based on Robert Lawson’s children’s book ‘The Story of Ferdinand’, the film revolves around Ferdinand (John Cena), a Spanish Fighting Bull who prefers smelling the intoxicating scents of flowers and practicing non-violence rather than chasing red cloths held by matadors in arenas. Because of this, Ferdinand lacks the kind of inspiration that comes with being proud in a career of choice. But when disaster comes to him, he is taken to a fighting stadium, and Ferdinand needs to decide if he is a fighting bull or a flower smelling, generous bull, in order to earn his freedom. Along the way, Ferdinand meets and befriends some colorful characters who inspire him to become all who he was destined to be. ‘Ferdinand’ is directed by Carlos Saldanha, and is rated PG for rude humor, action, and some thematic elements.

During a year when animated film is kind of having an off year, the door to the hearts of its youthful audience is certainly open for a bull of this magnitude to come charging through. Even still, ‘Coco’ warmed the souls of many a few weeks ago with its unwinding spin of Mexican tradition that enlightened many of its viewers. In the same vein, ‘Ferdinand’ tries to do the same, but with only about half of the success. Blue Sky Studios is definitely getting better overall in their big screen productions, as ‘Ferdinand’ is arguably their best film yet. It proves that this company can turn a profit long-term if they tighten up the rendering of their artistic probe and drive it home with enough heartfelt sentiment to boot. Currently however, there’s still a lack of importance in story direction that limits the adventure aspect of this movie terribly. For family holiday cinema, it’s pretty much a sure thing, but for addition replay value, I worry that something like this will get lost in the fold amongst forgettable animated features that will inevitably only be remembered for its overabundance of zany characters that far too often rub together and offer nothing of variety to feast on.

This is a film that is based off of a very tight children’s book, so in adapting it for a 97 minute feature, the screenwriters definitely had their work cut out for them. Immediately, we are treated to an impactful and dramatic introduction to Ferdinand and his surrounding friends in the way of the sport of bull-fighting. What the script does so well here and eventually midway through the film, is that it takes a very responsible and educative form of storytelling with animal cruelty and the kind of consequences from a sport this violent being nothing more than a form of human entertainment. I like this because it really tugs at your heartstrings and feeds into Ferdinand’s approach at not wanting to fight for the rest of his life. In addition to this, there’s a solid dual-message being played out that preaches you to be who you want to be in a world that is trying to command you in the wrong direction, as well as appearances not being everything. Unfortunately, there’s plenty of low fruit to be hanging here, as the film’s second act opens itself up to the personality of too many characters that offer very little to the value of this script. On this direction, the film kind of becomes more about the characters and less about the journey of Ferdinand himself, who is limited with many pause buttons along the way to keep him from reaching his destiny. One question that I had between Ferdinand’s two settings in the film is how human characters in each knew his name despite him not having a name tag and there not being any correspondence between them. I guess it’s one of life’s many mysteries.

As for some of these characters, they are basically amped up versions of the personalities that their live action counterparts conjure up. Kate McKinnon as Ferdinand’s calming goat is so irritating that I found myself cringing any time she is on-screen. David Tennant’s Angus is basically an Irish stereotype, working in enough puns and digs at Irish culture that distinguish just how one note he is. There’s also no shortage of comedic cast. As the rule for any animated film these days, there is also a trio of supporting characters who serve as the minions of sorts to Ferdinand, except this time the film is generous enough in giving us two different versions of this angle, with a trio of hedgehogs and horses harvesting the comedic energy for the film. Frankly, the only things I found funny about this film is when Cena is the central focus and being allowed to improvise against the observational humor that is being targeted with Ferdinand’s size in focus. Cena himself offers a strong delve into his debut starring role, and there’s much about his animated personality that crafts the title character into the lovable lug that we become saddled with. John himself sounds like he’s having so much fun under this title character, and that charismatic exuberance rubbed off on me throughout the film, making me wish for more of Ferdinand and less of the animals that he meets along the way.

Without question the biggest improvement for Blue Sky Studios is in their animated stylings in presenting us with arguably their most expansive rendering of backdrops to date. The hills filled with flowers stretch as far as the imagination allows them, and the Mexican town-side supplies an array of shops and horticulture that any mental traveler can indulge in despite possibly having never been there. My personal favorite perk of the animation here is definitely in the facial depictions that hammer home the emotional response in versatility that each scene is going for. Is it on the level of Pixar? Absolutely not, but for a studio whose usual animated characters feel like lifeless puppets, the inspiration in ‘Ferdinand’ feels much appreciated for the sleeping giant that may finally be coming awake. So much about Ferdinand’s desire and energy for what inspires him rests in the baby blue eyes that burn a hole into the reflection of the eyes off-screen that stare into them, and even the fluidity of fur movements on the animals is starting to look up. ‘Ferdinand’ could be the first step in getting Blue Sky to where it needs to be to compete, matching the layers of shadow and pixelation accordingly with the vibrancy of color that adorn their pictures.

The last thing that I wanted to talk about was the film’s musical accompaniment because it definitely deserves its own section. As for musical score, composer John Powell whips up an immersive journey through the hills of this foreign land that captures the essence beautifully. With so much influence from Spanish culture blending its way throughout Ferdinand’s adventure, the musical notes that Powell triggers offer a solid compromise of fiery energy and downtrodden dramatic pulse when the film requires it. There is simply no problem that I have with it. The film’s music soundtrack however? That’s another story. It’s true that there is only three songs that play throughout the film, but the decision for them all to be Pitbull songs is still something that makes me scratch my head. I myself am not a Pitbull fan, but that’s not the problem that I have. In trying to capture the Spanish sound of choice, a Puerto-Rican probably wouldn’t be my first choice. That’s not to be prejudice for one distinct direction or the other, but it’s clear with three out of three choices that they felt Pitbull would be the articulate measure in reflecting the vibe of the bull-fighting culture, and it couldn’t be any more wrong on that degree. Instead, his inclusion feels like once again an animated film’s cheap ploy at advertising some Top 40 favorites to sell Itunes downloads, and it’s what soils the sentiment in ways that a film like ‘Coco’ never fell for.

THE VERDICT – ‘Ferdinand’ is not all bull, for better or worse, but the visionary spark of some noteworthy animation, as well as some mature exploration for where its story takes us, supplants this as a worthy hour-and-a-half investment for families everywhere, this holiday. Cena grabs the bull by the horns, commanding Ferdinand with enough peppy touch and immense personality that make him ideal for protagonist following. Ultimately, the film’s lack of focus is its almost complete downfall, choosing to build the characters and not the story, but the honorable dual message cements this as a gently subversive sermon for kids and adults alike.

6/10

Breathe

Andy Serkis takes one ambitious step behind the camera, in his debut directing effort ‘Breathe’. In such an effort, his film tells the inspiring true love story between Robin and Diana Cavendish (Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy), an adventurous couple who refuse to give up in the face of a devastating disease. When Robin is struck down by polio at the age of 28, he is confined to a hospital bed and given only a few months to live. With the help of Diana’s twin brothers (Tom Hollander) and the groundbreaking ideas of inventor Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville), Robin and Diana dare to escape the hospital ward to seek out a full and passionate life together; raising their young son, traveling and devoting their lives to helping other polio patients. ‘Breathe’ is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including some bloody medical images.

For the first film in Serkis’s promising career in the director’s chair, there’s a lot of proof that he is a valuable asset to telling such remarkable stories. ‘Breathe’, is an overall passing success for Serkis, but does suffer from a lot of growing pains that comes with experience in commanding a presence beyond the screen. This is certainly a story that deserves to be told for just how revolutionary that it was in the benefit of treating bed-ridden patients with the kind of freedom that they rightfully deserve. Behind that freedom is a sufferer of Polio himself, Robin Cavendish, whose own experiences as being locked away like a science experiment by those medical professionals in charge of his daily routine, prompted him to change the game in creating the first ever motorized wheelchair with its own breathing apparatus. This story stays firmly gripped on that thesis, but there’s lots of experimenting from the director himself that displays his experience in being so tightly wrapped in productions that involved his puppeteering for practical and C.G properties that carved out the name of a revolutionary, a lot like Cavendish, and that’s why Serkis feels like the right man for the job here.

From the very beginning, we are treated to a visual presentation that transports us not only on screen, but also off of it for the way it illuminates a taste of yesterday. There’s a feel within ‘Breathe’ that gives off the sense that we’re not only watching a film that takes place over various decades of the past, but also one that was made during those respective eras for the touch in tinsel that you just don’t see anymore. The cinematography is gorgeous in all of its sun-infused depictions. The editing feels patient, letting the audience soak in the most of every establishing environment whether it be inside or out. The musical tones of Nitin Sawhney pay tribute to the age when piano and light orchestral tones filled the air and ears of those immersed in a story, and felt like it establishes many of the moods and themes within the picture without coming off as meandering. Besides all of this, Serkis himself experiments with some very unorthodox methods of camera angles and framing that constantly keeps the pulse of creativity beating with each new sequence of discovery. For me, some of my favorites were those displaying a POV kind of shot for the kinds of feels that Cavendish himself is forced to endure. I also love Serkis’s commitment to supplanting the camera firmly on Garfield here, letting his facials tell the story of the pain and seclusion that he feels from his tragic disposition.

The screenplay is definitely the weakness of the film for me, and that’s because it sets a precedent early on in the first act that leaves very little wiggle room for the obvious paralyzing that’s coming. So much happens between the relationship of Robin and Diana in the opening twenty minutes of this movie that never really grant us that stark contrast of positivity between them before it all flies south. You will take great empathy on characters if you feel like you’ve grown with their relationship, and sadly ‘Breathe’ never allows us this opportunity as the two meet, fall in love, get married, move away together, and have a child within a rushed first act that completely throws off the pacing for the rest of the film. The second and third acts do maintain an air of timely precision to them, and I greatly enjoyed the education lesson that I was being taught here despite knowing nothing about the real life of Robin. This is definitely a must watch for someone who ever wants to learn about the jaded life that he lived, but not one that ever gets cerebral enough to resonate with the audience the psychology of being saddled with such a curse, instilling a mindset within me that kind of reads like a Wikipedia page without ever feeling the heat from the seat.

What did leave a lasting impression on me was the film’s constant theme that hammers home the will to live when all else fails. The script for the film can sometimes get a little heavy handed with the ideas that it hammers home, but I felt that the need to express ones desire for hope played marvelously here, and keeps Robin moving in a way that he not only defies the odds, but also defies those with the face of adversity who scoff at his decision to live with freedom. Early on in the movie, we hear about a group of soldiers in an old wise tale who stood strong until they no longer had the will to live. Once they gave up, their hearts stopped beating, and they became another in the growing statistic. Besides this serving as an obvious foreshadowing of what’s to come for our protagonist, it does communicate what is at stake here for the heart of this young man when the rest of his body has unfortunately already given up on him. His will to live is his strongest muscle, and it provides the air of hope that Robin, as well as us watching beyond the screen need to combat the inevitability of what is coming.

Also adding points to the cause are two valuable lead performances that the movie depends upon repeatedly to get it over the hump of a faulty screenplay. Andrew Garfield continues the role that he has been on with appearances in ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ and ‘Silence’, but it’s here where he gives perhaps his most physically hindering performance to date. As Robin, Garfield provides enough animated personality in his facial reactions and limited vocal capacity to place this turn right next to those previous two heralded performances. Garfield’s accent also stays committed to detail despite being forced to endure some of the biggest teeth props that I have ever seen in my life. Claire Foy is also a breath of fresh air. Diana defines what a loving wife can and should be, and Foy’s unshakeable perseverance to the love she feels for Robin brings a much-needed soft romantic side to this story that shouldn’t be understated.

THE VERDICT – In more experienced hands, ‘Breathe’ could’ve been an Oscar contender, but because this uneven screenplay does little to benefit Serkis storytelling capabilities, the film just gets by resting on its lazy laurels. The work of Garfield and Foy are among the many highlights, and a refreshing throwback to the golden age of Hollywood romance films gives this director promise for future endeavors, but there’s not enough oxygen in the stuffy atmosphere to ever prolong the life of this familiar true life melodrama.

6/10

Happy Death Day

Blumhouse Pictures is back with another horror story just in time for the Halloween season, with ‘Happy Death Day’. Teenage girl, Tree (Jessica Rothe) requires the simplicities in life around her college existence and her ever-growing number of friends who adore her. While trying to enjoy her birthday, she soon realizes that this will inevitably be her final one. That is, if she can’t figure out who her killer is. For whatever reason, Tree must relive that day, over and over again, dying in a different way each time to place her closer to the killer. Along the way, she will learn more as well about the way her closest friends view her. Can she solve her own murder and live to see another day? ‘Happy Death Day’ is directed by Christopher Landon, and is rated PG-13 for violence/terror, crude sexual content, adult language, some drug material and partial nudity.

To anyone longing for the campy 90’s slasher vibes and mysteries within its plot, look no further. ‘Happy Death Day’ is a film that surprisingly has a few lasting positives to take away from it that lifts it from being one of the more dreadful fall films that I wasn’t looking forward to. I compare it to that timeline because this film feels like it could’ve been lifted from that particular era of filmmaking, combining personality and horror together like the kind of humbling marriage that the genre was destined for. This isn’t a film that will win over many faithful fans like myself who are thirsty for frightening atmospheres and bloody gore to boot, but it will keep the masses entertained for a good old fashioned whodunnit? while treating us to a positive message from within that surprisingly comes from the strangest of places. The film does still suffer from a lot of the same tropes and handicaps that keep it from establishing anything new to the overstuffed Blumhouse Productions catalog, but there was never a point in this 91 minute film where I was ever bored, and that should be commended especially for a plot that doesn’t exactly present anything groundbreakingly original.

This is yet again another example of a character living through the events of one day over and over again, similar to ‘Before I Fall’ or ‘Groundhog Day’, and if you’re looking for a reasoning in explanation for how any of this is possible, you’re surely set to be disappointed. ‘Happy Death Day’ has one of those storylines that requires you to shut your brain off just long enough to ignore some of its gaping problems in execution like logical setup or obviousness in mystery, and keep pushing forward with some light-hearted atmosphere that keeps things fun. It’s also great that once again we have a setting of Louisiana, yet no character speaks with a Southern  drawl. I guess the producers or director doesn’t care about those important details of immersion.  One thing that I positively took away was that in this film the pain of previous days carry over into Tree’s next attempt. This gives the protagonist urgency despite there being no chance of permanent removal from the story. As for the mystery itself, it was something that I figured out in the opening twenty minutes of the movie, mainly because the comparisons of character height and setting made it easier to weed out the many list of possible culprits that we are engaged into early on in the film. A major spoiler scene for me involved a cop pulling Tree over after she thinks she has escaped the clutches of the killer. If you’re paying attention closely here, you’ll notice something that the killer has that only one person could possibly have gotten. If you figure it out, you will be waiting for the film to catch up, but thankfully the heartfelt resonance of living for each day is one that kind of takes over for the film midway through, treating us to the empathetic side that holds Tree prisoner in repetition.

It’s in that aspect where I feel like the performances of this youthful cast keep the film plugging away at making anything about this memorable. No more finer example of this is made than its main star Jessica Rothe, who sports Tree with the kind of energy and magnetic charm late in the film that totally turns around her character’s likeability. To say that I hated this girl during the first act of the movie, is an understatement. At the beginning of the movie, you almost feel that dread of having to be stuck once again with a character like this, but that helpless element in Rothe’s performance starts to take over early into the second act and introduces us to an actual person who has gone through a lot of suffering long before this day from hell came into her routine. Rothe knows especially how to play up the repetition that coils around her day like an inescapable poison, and we start to see more vulnerability in the way that her other defining traits start to widdle away. Rothe is someone who I will definitely be looking for in future roles, but it’s in her uphill climb of peeling back the layers of an arrogant sorority girl that will always earn her a respectable place in my heart, because without her this film is a complete mess.

Some of the biggest problems that ate away at my surprisingly growing enjoyment of this film is in the very tone that keeps the environment fun, but does eat away at the concepts of what establishes this as a horror film. To me, ‘Happy Death Day’s’ presentation felt a lot like watching an ABC Family show on the same grounds as ‘Pretty Little Liars’. Sure, it’s entertaining and even compelling when it wraps you in its mystery, but it comes up roughly short in the horror element that satisfies us with a condemning payoff. For me, the PG-13 labeling is felt especially tight here, limiting our thirst for blood that kind of should go without saying in this kind of plot. The death scenes themselves thrive mostly on imagination, and if they were able to build the tension of something truly horrendous before that cut to the next day takes place, then we might be able to see something truly devastating in our minds without actually visually witnessing it. The death scenes in set-up aren’t anything that hasn’t been done, so there’s nothing other than the handicap of a rating that explains their absence from the torture that Tree goes through. Certainly the idea is to cater to a wider audience that includes the very teens that will shuffle out the cash to see this movie, but if it comes at the mercy of hindering the impact of said product, wouldn’t it just be better to go with artistic integrity?

To counteract some of the limitations of horror, the film’s presentation is capable enough in carrying the workload between editing and camera work to play soundly into the pleasures of pacing that constantly keep this one moving. The chase scenes, particularly the ones in the hospital, are thankfully given the choice to film in standard instead of handheld. I feel like the merits of this decision gives us the ability to capture more of not just Tree and the antagonist roughing each other up, but also the set pieces in environment that play to everything around them. The editing sticks with quick-cuts that present the rapid fire progression of the next day, and I like that because there’s a tight-rope that the editing team walk during a film like this on when to cut into each death scene. If they cut too early, there won’t be enough indulgence for the audience, but if they cut too late it can give away too much of what is left to imagination. This editing ratio is perfect, and I give much praise to the work of Gregory Plotkin for implementing his stamp of precision.

THE VERDICT – ‘Happy Death Day’ is never really scary, but it is campy enough as a comedy to treat viewers to enough entertaining factors to eat away at the horror limitations by its safe rating. The star making performance of Rothe, as well as its hearty message to live each day like it’s your last is one that comes with great eye-opening value for a film that I originally dismissed as just another cheap Blumhouse offering. It’s a lot like Halloween candy that you get every year; it might not be safe or good for you, but the sweet tooth from within demands that you indulge in it for this time of year.

6/10

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

The world’s most intricate group of spies become that much more versatile in ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’. “Kingsman: The Secret Service” introduced the world to Kingsman, an independent, international intelligence agency operating at the highest level of discretion, whose ultimate goal is to keep the world safe. In “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” our heroes face a new challenge. When their headquarters are destroyed and the world is held hostage, their journey leads them to the discovery of an allied spy organization in the US called Statesman, dating back to the day they were both founded. In a new adventure that tests their agents’ strength and wits to the limit, these two elite secret organizations band together to defeat a ruthless common enemy, in order to save the world, something that’s becoming a bit of a habit for Eggsy (Taron Egerton). ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ is written and directed by Matthew Vaughn, and is rated R for sequences of strong violence, drug content, adult language throughout and some sexual material.

Matthew Vaughn’s 2014 surprise hit of the season, ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ was everything and more for an action comedy that introduced us to how cool this secret society can really be, in all of its gadgets and gizmos that bring up the rear of a taut shoot-em-up. For all of its positives and negatives, ‘The Golden Circle’ falls into the category that I refer to as ‘Sequelitis’. This refers to a series second chapter that is bigger in budget, overdone in celebrity cameos, and thrives off of the material that made the initial effort original in its depiction. This film definitely does all of this in a manner that feels like Vaughn just can’t help but show off his studio approved budget that is nearly twice of the 81 million that he was approved for in the first film. Kingsman doesn’t need all of this if the fun is still there, which for the most part I can say that ‘The Golden Circle’ is still an infectious good time that combines the pacing of a spy thriller with the fun atmosphere of a modern day comic book. But getting out of the shadow of its original, better structured predecessor is an inescapable trap that Vaughn places himself in and can’t find the secret door out.

Clocking in at nearly two and a half hours is certainly no easy feat for any film to accomplish, so as a screenwriter Vaughn has an uphill battle to climb with keeping the audience firmly paced while riding on the edge of their seats for some top budget theatrics in fight sequences. We’ll get to the latter in a bit, but the former gives us enough material in subplots and adversity for our fellow Kingsman to fill two movies. This feeling is made even more obvious with hiking across the globe multiple times during the film that doesn’t add up to the Kingsman’s American invasion within this plot. For my thought process, I would’ve left Firth’s return as an integral part of a possible third film, giving it time to breathe and effect the psychological growth of Eggsy for an entire film. It’s easy to find so much of this redundancy in exposition expendable, especially for that of Moore’s antagonist Poppy who overstays her welcome almost immediately. So much so that as the antagonist, the film forgets about her for nearly an hour before returning to these scenes only when it’s mandatory to advance the chase. The pacing feels particularly uneven between the second and third acts when we stick to one landscape mission for extended periods of time, giving us little room to breathe when a scene feels like it has run for far too long. It’s easy to see where you could cut a half hour off of this movie and not lose a thing, mainly because this introduction to the statesman feels like an origin story that the film isn’t fully committed to pursuing. Outside of Pascale’s Whiskey character, there’s very little impact or weight that any of them have to this chapter, making their introductions all the more time filler.

Where the material does work is in the underlying drug epidemic plot that Vaughn springs upon us almost halfway into the movie. I found this not only relatable to the current problems that are bending and breaking our own real world structure, but also responsibly bitter in the thought-provoking stance that Vaughn proposes to the audience watching at home. Matthew’s war on the current drug trade reveals how this problem, no matter how dirty or ineffective that it feels to some of us, is our problem, and it’s ours to deal with by our own compassion. This gives the film something more than just a typical action flick that many of us have come to see, and I always grade with the curve when a film that is supposed to be dumbed down can lean in from time to time with a poignant approach. The mentor approach from Eggsy to Harry is also one that elated me with the kind of heart and chemistry that proves how far these protagonists have grown in two movies. Harry feels like the dad that Eggsy never had, and where ‘The Secret Service’ was Eggsy’s teenage years, ‘The Golden Circle’ feels like our grown man who has finally bloomed into a leader, and oh boy what a transformation it has been.

As for the action sequences, they are still shot eloquently enough in high definition to radiate that of a comic book feel. Where I feel that Vaughn succeeds in his choreography and camera style as opposed to someone like Zack Snyder is that Vaughn can slow things down just enough to where it doesn’t feel like a matrix spoof and gear the audience ready for the blow that is about to be dealt, while bracing for what’s to come next in the background. Because of this, the first scene of the film is a personal highlight for me, echoing to the sounds of Prince’s ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ for enticement. If the action sequences have one problem, particularly later in the film, it’s that their C.G capabilities can sometimes manufacture the scenes to look like one collective take. Where this feels like a problem is some of the illustrations of characters can sometimes come off as jarringly hollow, and the punches feel like they lack detection outside of their quick movements. Thankfully, the camera angles stay consistent and everything is telegraphed precisely from the audience, but some of these scenes could use more of a practical approach to their gain, leaving a lot of the big screen magic to the pros who train for this kind of thing.

On the subject of those pros comes some winners and losers on the grand spectrum of this A-list ensemble that hit the screen. First the positives; Taron Eggerton is again a delicious slice of personality and confidence that highlight how far this troublemaker has come from his early days. Taron is the one performer we have seen transform the most, so we feel beneficial any time his tinsel overtakes center stage in going toe to toe with some very accomplished actors. Colin Firth is also a welcome breath of fresh air, even if I didn’t fully agree with how he was brought back in this film logically. As a performer, Firth’s soft spoken demeanor embody everything that Kingsman stand for, but it’s in his slow-peeling psyche of a man trying to get everything back where we embrace that vulnerability for once and show a slice of a man who is broken and on the way to being fixed. Pedro Pascale as Whiskey is probably the best new addition to the team, mainly because he’s the one that doesn’t feel like just a cameo. There’s a bit of a tortured past with his character, and Pascale’s morale disposition makes his wild card of a character a thrill to watch when comparing actions to that of the Kingsman. Outside of these three, everyone else was quite expendable to me. There’s celebrity singer cameos for the hell of it that very much overstay their welcome, and then there’s celebrity cameos who are supposed to be an integral part of the script, but don’t make enough of an impact due to shoddy screen time dedication. To this degree, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, and especially Julianne Moore are all pointless to this film. Moore is the antagonist, yes, but her character is so poorly written and a bit of a male shovanist infused female that it’s easy to ever engage in her squeaky clean villain with something lurking beneath the eyes. Moore is an amazing actress, but I found her performance here to be unconvincing and forceful to the degree that the film’s momentum stalls every time she’s on screen.

THE VERDICT – ‘The Golden Circle’ is still the same fun and wild ride helmed by Vaughn that made its predecessor one of the most talked about movies of 2014. But this overstuffed and often times over-budgeted production can take something unique for all of its original quirks and transform it into something nearly unrecognizable for its convoluted directions. I do feel that there is enough magic in the performances of the trio listed above, as well as a timely social message, to expell a majority of the negatives, but if there is a third movie, it would be best to not overthink what puts this sassy satire ahead of the bullet.

6/10

The Lego Ninjago Movie

The world of childhood imagination comes to life once again, this time in the art of the ninja underworld in ‘The Lego Ninjago Movie’. the battle for NINJAGO City calls to action young Master Builder Lloyd, aka the Green Ninja (Dave Franco), along with his friends, who are all secret ninja warriors. Led by Master Wu (Jackie Chan), as wise-cracking as he is wise, they must defeat evil warlord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), the Worst Guy Ever, who also happens to be Lloyd’s dad. Pitting mech against mech and father against son, the epic showdown will test this fierce but undisciplined team of modern-day ninjas who must learn to check their egos and pull together to unleash their inner power of Spinjitzu respectfully. ‘The Lego Ninjago Movie’ is directed by first-timer Charlie Bean, and is rated PG for some mild action and rude humor.

The lively innocence of the lego world is back for a third helping of childlike storytelling and imagination like only they can provide. Over the last couple of years, the lego property has given us not just exciting kids pictures, but also something that even the oldest of family members can enjoy with timely humor and visual spectrums that are second to none. This time the property takes advantage of one of their most popular toy lines, in the Lego Ninjago Force. The line itself has a television show that currently airs, and while I don’t think it is imperative that you must watch that show to get the references here, the film more than feeds into the aspects of that show, offering plenty of winks and nods to the source material. The biggest problem that this film faces is not competition from a lackluster Summer of underwhelming kids movies, but within itself and how it fares to 2014’s ‘The Lego Movie’ and 2017’s ‘The Lego Batman Movie’. To have two of these films in the same year will offer likely comparisons, and while ‘The Lego Ninjago Movie’ is still a fun dip in immersive waters, it fails to hold the consistency of its predecessors, making this the Iron Fist of the Lego film world.

Lets get the positives out of the way first, and focus on the visual presentations which once again thrill and awe us with flawless animation. A majority of this film is again used with the lego toy line, and it really never fails to amaze me just how detailed the backdrops and landscapes detail even the most minute of properties to get it all correct. What’s impressive to me here isn’t so much the visual features, which are oscar-worthy, but more in the camera work that feels like it is at its most experimental peak with the series. Considering there is so much going on with so many monsters and gigantic robots flying through the air, the camera work follows along cohesively without too much shaking camera effects to throw us off. Throughout the weaving of building and towers, you really get a sense of the urgency that carries itself in the atmospheres, and it all really just makes you wish these tiers in effects were able to be used more effectively in live action genre flicks. The color palate is also jaw-dropping, especially with the wardrobes of the characters who come across as a Power Rangers of sorts with their varying colors to represent their inner gifts.

With the setting, the setup is the same as ‘The Lego Movie’, and for anyone who saw that film you will understand the deeper intention of what is really going on here. My problem with it however, is that once you understand the real life setting of where this is all taking place and between what characters in the movie, it starts to add up how this wouldn’t be possible in such a limited amount of space. Even the widest suspension of disbelief doesn’t sync accordingly to the kind of pulled back practicality that the first film in this series showed us, and I would’ve been fine with this just being a stand alone animation film that doesn’t depend on human architects to tell its story. Aside from this, I never had a problem with anything included within this stage. Even the C.G additional work is used in such a practicality that it never overrides or feels jarringly artificial when compared to the practical properties of these toys. It proves once again that Lego is doing things with animation that serves them as the only consistent competition to Pixar at this point.

Where the film does go wrong for me is during the second act, in which we feel the sacrifice of humor for a more enveloping dramatic swing on the forefront. Up until this point, the first act was the very best intro in the series for my money, complete with smooth pacing and articulate exposition. But the second act makes us all feel the sharp turns that seven different screenwriters on the same set can push it. Too many cooks in the kitchen is one expression, but these cooks jerk this story harshly to a setting and direction in plot that make it feel like two opposing properties are being conjoined together. I certainly have no problem with a film giving us a heartfelt center, and the material for father and son is as real as anything could possibly get, but too much reliance upon that sentimentality spoils the atmosphere in which it once felt like anything could be discussed and dissected even in the name of harsh consequences. This period of the film feels so sharply dry and opposing that of whoever wrote the first forty minutes of the movie, and I wish it hadn’t tried to override so much of what made it a delightful sit early on. Does it get any better in the finale? Kind of. It’s at least back to the kind of tone that we felt in the first half of the movie, but this too makes the second act stick out even more for its jarringly compromising disposition towards the rest of the film.

On some of that comedy, there are some quick-cuts that burned deep within my enjoyment early on, but the handicaps of repetition can sometimes make this feel like a Seth Macfarlane production. If one thing is clear, it’s that this film doesn’t have the kind of endless material in satirical firepower that ‘The Lego Batman Movie’ did, but the decision to slow the jokes down to grant the viewer more time to soak everything in is much appreciated in not being rushed to the next scene. This is vital not only to the pacing of the overall storytelling, but also to the joke’s release, for when you have more time to omit the laughter that those jokes deserve, you don’t have to worry about missing the start of the next one. If you did miss a particular joke, fear not, the film will say it at least one or two more times to remind you how good it hit the first time. It feels like a friend who launched a zinger, but then burned it into the atmosphere of redundancy, each time it’s being told losing a little bit more of its offensive sting.

THE VERDICT – ‘The Lego Ninjago Movie’ might be the current black sheep in the trilogy of Lego offerings, but it’s only because the precedent set by the first two films was exceptionally high in bringing together the universes of kids and adults in the theater. The film’s biggest obstacle is overcoming too many minds coming together under the same script that can derive and contradict the film’s smooth beginning and ending, making a middle that is every bit as sentimental as it is comically dry. Even still, the artistic expression is still there, and the film’s scope in presentation snaps together like its miniature counterparts. Two films in one year might be too much for this property, and unfortunately this one takes the bite in head-to-head competition.

6/10

Leatherface

The saw is family, and the origin of that family is given a feature length film depiction in ‘Leatherface’. Set prior to the events in the 1974 classic ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, the film takes place in the endless out-backs of Texas during the early days of the infamous Sawyer family. The youngest child, Jed, is sentenced to a mental hospital after a suspicious incident leaves the vengeful sheriff’s (Stephen Dorff) daughter dead. Ten years later, while still institutionalized, the Sawyer teen kidnaps a young nurse and escapes with three other inmates. Pursued by authorities including the deranged sheriff out to avenge his daughter’s death, Sawyer goes on a violent road trip from hell, molding him into the monster now known as Leatherface, a psychopathic chainsaw-wielding killer who dons the faces of his tortured victims for keeping. ‘Leatherface’ is co-directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, and is rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing images, adult language and some sexuality/nudity.

There’s certainly no shortage of Leatherface material for cinephiles to debate for the next several decades, so why not one more? ‘Leatherface’ feels like the peaceful proposal between the worlds of the original four films, the two Michael Bay remakes, and that AWFUL 2014 3D film, and for the majority of it, I can say that this film packed enough of a punch to make me believe that there is still plenty of fuel in the Texas Chainsaw fire as long as the right creative force is backing it. Here, we have the duo who helmed ‘Inside’, one of the most deranged and violent films of its respective year, and their presence is definitely felt in this R-rated gore fest that restores some (for lack of a better word) guts to the franchise. Sure, there’s no necessity in telling the origin of the man behind the mask, and the best mysteries should be left as just that, but the film takes some surprisingly original stances in crafting a completely new Texas Chainsaw Massacre film, something that hasn’t seemed possible in the last twenty years. Is it great? No, but with incredibly low standards, this straight to Video on Demand offering has plenty to satisfy the cravings of its carnivores.

This plot is crafted as a bit of a whodunnit? mystery as to the identity of Jed, and which of these escaped kids from the mental asylum he really is. They’ve all been given new names to avoid their tragic pasts, so what I really dug about this intention is that we approach the most dangerous among them in the same way that his mother does in the film when she tries to see him ten years after he was taken from her. So in a sense, we too are put in the shoes of the head of this sadistic family, and what I appreciate about that aspect is that it immediately pulls you in to pay attention to the grizzly details, something that I have no qualms about saying that worked. Another surprising direction is that this is the first film in the franchise that follows along with our antagonist for the entirety of the film, an aspect that many of these big horror franchises have been fearful of to give away the mystique. In this aspect, we should learn more about him than we actually do in the film, but sadly one way that this film drops the ball is in learning how much we actually do learn once the mystery of his identity is solved. I won’t give away much, but it’s clear that he does have perhaps the least amount of exposition when locked up, but I was still surprisingly wrong with my choice of who it was, so maybe the plot twists alone will be enough to overcome the minimals.

As far as artistic touch is concerned for visual spectrum, this one caters more to the Michael Bay kind of filter. There’s a yellowish tint to give off the impression of throwback cinema, and to me this did more favors in the day rather than the sequences at night that are often too dark to register fully what is going on. This is especially the case with the final confrontation because it ends the film on kind of an 83 minute low, happening too briefly and poorly lit to ever leave us with that big consequence feeling. One aspect of the presentation stands out like a sore thumb even against the miniscule problems that I just mentioned, and that is the horrendous editing choices. For the majority, it stays safe and conventional, but every once in a while a scene will do a double take quick cut that will show the same person to a cut that feels like a noteable amount of time has passed. This became annoying because I started to look for it and seek it out in these scenes, and like a bootleg copy of a DVD that was recorded with a blocker on the box, the film skipped to this poor judgement almost to a timely capacity.

I mentioned earlier that this film is rated R, and what other way could you possibly construct a Leatherface story? If you’re a gore hound like me, you will be very well satisfied with the film’s unapologetic presentation to blood-splattering thrills that constantly seem to elevate and one-up the impact of their volume. The sound pushes these details even further, filling in the blanks in imagination for what you don’t see accordingly. This film gives a gun that crisp feeling so smooth that you can almost hear the oil being burned within it, and for a minimal budget of less than five million dollars, I am greatly impressed with what this film did with its limitations. Each aspect of shock topped the previous, but eventually it did become too much. There’s a sex scene in this film that gets to be a little much, and I could’ve done without the context-less angle of this particular scene that added nothing to the terror, and was just disgusting for the sake of it.

As expected, there’s not a lot to be commended performance-wise for this splatter-fest, but the work of Dorff as this revenge-driven sheriff is a thrill to watch even if you don’t agree with his stance morally. He has a bit of a Sherriff Wydell feel from ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ to him, so this certainly doesn’t feel like new or revolutionary directions, but Stephen is always someone who embraces a character fully to the point where it feels like he has been that person in real life for years. What’s so enticing about his performance is that you can almost see the blurred lines of justice and sloth coming together to form this shell of a man who is still reeling from this devastating loss that plagued him ten years ago. Other than Dorff, there’s not a lot to be pointed out here. I did enjoy Lili Taylor as the virtual commander of this legendary family, but the lack of focus and depth that these directors have for her kind of falls flat when the movie heads her way. Her screen time is quite limited, and that’s a shame because the best parts of the movie for me are when she’s colliding with the rival sheriff, but this film would rather follow the escaped patients mayhem, then the cops reaction. Rinse, wash, repeat.

THE VERDICT – For all of its limited budget and originality constraints, ‘Leatherface’ simply should not work, but the origin story played by way of a 90’s mystery killer component certainly gives way to 83 minutes of blood-soaked surprises that pushes forth with the best Chainsaw film in thirty years. Some production quality aspects should be left in the closet of experimentation, and the repetition overall in the second act is definitely the weakness creatively, but the injection of French style gore with a thirst for splatterpunk, breathes life back into this franchise eight films deep and proves that this saw still has a lot of gas left in it.

6/10

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power

The former Vice President of America is back at it again, this time with dire urgency for his cause riding high amongst a new naive president. ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power’ takes place more than A decade after ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ brought climate change into the heart of popular culture in 2006. In this riveting and educational follow-up that shows just how close we are to a real energy revolution, Vice President Al Gore continues his tireless fight, traveling around the world training an army of climate champions and influencing about international climate policy. With the elected four year incoming of president Donald Trump, Cameras follow him behind the scenes in moments private and public, funny and poignant, as he pursues the empowering notion that while the stakes have never been higher, the perils of climate change can be overcome with human ingenuity and passion. ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power’ is directed by the team of Jon Shenk and Bonni Cohen, and is rated PG for thematic elements and some troubling images.

Whether you like or dislike Al Gore and everything that he stands for politically, you must applaud the man for taking such a general interest in standing up for the well being of our planet when no one else will. In ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power’, Gore continues that march with a 95 minute lecture on where we as a society have advanced or decreased in progress over the last decade when it comes to solar energy, climate change, and overall infrastructure for those countries not as fortunate as the bigger ones when it comes to spending. I myself did enjoy the first film, and found this one to be an equally insightful piece, despite some problems with the structure of the documentary that definitely peaked out some less than honorable intentions creatively with where the film’s material should be firmly planted. For anyone who hasn’t seen the first film, nor knows much about overall climate change, this movie will be A competent enough companion piece to opening your eyes for the first time about the urgency of time running out with each passing year. A fact that Gore himself narrates passionately throughout the picture in an unapologetic front.

As a host, Gore certainly feels like the right man for the job. Since losing the 2000 presidential election, Al has taken a stance in witnessing first-hand the kinds of problems shaping our world that other political figures have turned a blind eye to. Over the course of this picture, his narration, shaped with some exceptional editing work behind the lens, details in full the kind of warning signs that are plaguing our world if we refuse to act quickly, and it certainly feels effective coming from someone who not only spoke at a few conferences over those ten years documented in the film, but also wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in searching out the truths of these problems first hand on land. My only problem with Gore as a figure is that the documentary itself might be better fleshed out if it spoke to the audience through just voice narration, and not so much visual narration because it can at times feel slightly distracting when the film pauses its progress to document several pieces of Gore’s history as a political figure, and current day patron to those with a similar cause. Quite too often, the film kind of becomes The Al Gore Show, and that’s fine from a man with so much passion for the causes, but If I wanted to watch an informative documentary on the 43rd Vice President of the United States, I would seek one out first hand.

I did mention briefly that the technical work of this picture definitely does a service to understanding and captivating the mind-sets of everyone watching at home, and the overall aesthetic work feels very rich for a documentary presentation. The camera angles used in capturing the polar icecaps melting effects, as well as the historical stock footage from landscapes like India, Africa, and even Miami, Florida who have all been ravaged by free-flowing water, serves a greater purpose in supporting fact in a visual capacity, and it couldn’t be put together any more impactful than that. Also, the musical score from composer Jeff Beal certainly adds an element of impending doom to go hand-in-hand with Gore’s lectures, while channeling the ominous tones of an epic disaster flick that really feeds into A ‘life imitating art’ kind of feel. Typically I review around ten documentaries a year, and while this one isn’t the best overall, I can tell you that it is an early favorite for technical mastery of that particular field. For sight and sound, you couldn’t ask for A better experience that (like our own world’s shifting) never stops moving around us.

As an independent voter, one of the jobs that I take seriously as a film reviewer with films like these are if they cater into a political party’s agenda, and with that I give you the single biggest sting that this movie’s final grade will take on its audience. If you’re Democrat, you won’t feel a thing, but for the rest of us there’s the obvious dropping of responsibility method that Gore pokes and prods at with the sensitivity of an electric eel. How do I determine it propaganda? Well, the film has no qualms about singling out presidents Bush Jr and Trump for their roles in ignoring policy that could otherwise save some of these disaster problems, but then completely ignores president Obama entirely for what role he played during these events. Considering the disasters that this film captures are over the last ten years, and Obama was president for eight of those ten, it lacks the responsibility of pushing the envelope further in asking the kinds of questions where that Democratic president was when the Indian people were being rushed from their homes after terrifying tsunamis. To hammer this home, there’s even a message in the closing credits to vote smart, an ideal that doesn’t really need a reminder in this kind of film. Speaking of pushing the envelope, the film doesn’t present a countering side to all of the ground work that Gore is laying out. During the third act, we’re shown a big city in Texas who has gone 100% Renewable energy, but the question remains why other cities haven’t leached onto this method. I feel like the film drops the ball immensely in provocative journalism, leaving us all with only one side of the renewable argument. Even if the answer is as simple as companies lining their pockets with cash, that side deserves to be exposed, but directors Shenk and Cohen are a bit too clean cut to tug at that tempting string, even if it is the best thing for the direction of the film.

THE VERDICT – ‘An Inconvenient Sequel’ isn’t inconvenient, it’s just simply ignorant of the entire opposing argument that it only hints at in the shadows. This sequel is effective enough in providing the material through haunting imagery, as well as mind-stirring facts, but lacks the grave urgency of the Academy Award winning first film that sealed up all of the angles without getting its hands dirty in the political spectrum. There’s plenty to enjoy about Shenk and Cohen’s informative piece from an awakening perspective, and if you are part of this cause it is definitely a must see, just expect the material of the planet as well as the political.

6/10