Rough Night

Scarlett Johansson, Kate Mckinnon, Zoe Kravits, Ilana Glazer, and Jillian Bell are five best friends whose one “Rough Night” puts them on the wrong side of the law. Five best friends from college reunite 10 years later for a wild bachelorette weekend in Miami, involving drunken debauchery that is their one last thrill before Jess (Johansson) ties the knot. Their non-stop hard partying takes a hilariously dark turn when they accidentally kill a male stripper during his musical routine, forcing the friends to think fast in order to avoid serious jail time. Amidst the craziness of trying to cover it up, they’re ultimately brought closer together when it matters most, and at the very least should inspire some hilarious bridesmaid speeches in the long run. “Rough Night” is co-written and directed by Lucia Aniello in his first big screen offering, and is rated R for crude sexual content, adult language throughout, drug use and brief bloody images.

Raunch comedies are a dime a dozen these days. Typically you will take a comedy with a bunch of promising talents and combine it with sophomoric humor to test the boundaries of an R-rating. Now the ladies get their turn with “Rough Night”, a film that borders a little too closely to the 1997 Christian Slater film “Very Bad Things”, in that they are both movies that take place over the course of a bachelor party, and a stripper ends up dead. Beyond those identical plots, “Rough Night” paves its own path by taking a so-so script and elevating it even higher than it rightfully should be because of the performances and chemistry of its five leading ladies. The film doesn’t push the sadistic envelope quite as far as its male comparison did two decades ago, but its charms lie in its ability to never take itself too seriously, and focus from square one on the comedy first. This is the kind of film that is easy to just kind of turn your brain off and allow yourself to succumb to the entertaining nature of a R-rated, free from the watered down humor of kids cinema that can wear thin on the intelligence of its audience, and that is where I think this film will resonate best; in its female moviegoers who are seeking comparisons to their own wolfpack of friends for the many wild nights that they have shared. Because of that, this one is full proof for the ladies, and one that they will undoubtedly hand over their cash to see in droves.

What I appreciate about a film like “Rough Night” is that it doesn’t allow itself to be something that it isn’t. Comedies these days can sometimes think that two hours is the way to go, keeping in every bit of sequences that should’ve rightfully been put on the cutting room floor for DVD extras. The script here is written by Paul Downs, a guy who actually portrays the leading male in this movie. If you’re like me, you can smirk at the guts of a guy to not only cast himself as the boyfriend of Scarlett Johansson, but also to promote himself into more than forty minutes of this movie. There are things about Downs style of writing that I appreciate, and the things that are better left to a minimal. On the former, I certainly picked up on the delightful irony that the women portray the men in this film, with all of their drunken debauchery and careless antics, and the men played the women, in all of their subtle and cozy surroundings to embrace bottles of wine. It’s genius because it doesn’t necessarily have to be too overbearing to be obvious, and I think Downs should be commended for giving a voice to this feminist tribe. Where he could use some work however is in the scatterbrains plotting of subplots that can often overstay their welcome. Whenever the film isn’t focused on the females, there is a side story developing for Paul to track down his fiance because he is legitimately worried about her well-being and their relationship. This perspective slowed down the momentum each and every time I felt comfortable to kick back and enjoy myself, and will most likely be the brake pads for those who take this one in. Most of the material falls flat during this time and feels raunchy for the hell of it, without much creativity to push it further.

That is where we get to the comedy of the film, which surprisingly gave me several hearty chuckles, despite not being my go-to brand of humor. The film feels like it flows best when it is sticking to Downs method of mayhem that is unraveling before our very eyes, and less with scenes of long-winded improv that can sometimes drown on for far too long. For my money, the strongest material blossomed when the girls were each getting their respective characters across, and just indulged in a pizza and booze hangout with one another. Honestly, if you didn’t have a plot to go with this film, I would be fine, as these characters (Minus one who I will get to in a second) are just a riot to be around, and the camera serves as that lucky eavesdropping that has served as our invitation to this debauchery that proves the ladies can do it just as well. Because these are human characters, their sometimes stupid decisions can seem genuine, and there were many times when I couldn’t wait to see how a scene played out with what felt like me thinking several minutes ahead of where our girls hadn’t even thought about yet.

On the subject of characters, most are delightful to embrace in their melting pot of differences that make up this clan, leaving only one girl who I couldn’t stand, and that came in the form of Jillian Bell as best friend Alice. Bell is usually one of my favorite parts of any film because her dry stick can sometimes be the wise-cracking sarcastic reality that a blown out scene can rightfully need, Unfortunately for her, Alice is a wreck of a human being, and serves as that one friend who the others complain about when they aren’t around. Don’t act like you don’t know one. If this isn’t enough, Downs writes her into a kind of “Bridesmaids” subplot where her character reeks of jealousy towards Mckinnon’s engaging Pippa. Speaking of which, Kate gives probably her best big screen performance to date, not only carrying much of the comedic backbone to the film, but also in a solid actors performance that showcases her holding an Australian accent for the entirety of the film. The accent can sometimes crack, but as far as accomplishments for her career goes, acting is the next step to take, as she has already proven she can steal laughs from anyone in the audience, during a movie that she is leap years ahead of. Mckinnon doesn’t feel like she is being used as just a reactionary character here like she was in “Ghostbusters” or “Masterminds”, and Pippa often feels like the breath of fresh air for this band of women who have sometimes spent far too much time together.

THE VERDICT – “Rough Night” thankfully is just a clever title, as this R-rated raunch-com offers the perfect 95 minute getaway for the ladies seeking laughs, thrills, and most importantly escape in their female-led comedies. For me, the film works best when its focus is solely on the ladies and less with a male subplot that should’ve been trimmed in favor of building momentum. The script is kind of all over the place in terms of structure, but what settles it down is the off-handed dialogue that constantly made me do a second take, as well as the undeniable chemistry of its female cast who are not afraid to take chances. Nothing of breakthrough for the genre, but a good time to waste the night away.

6/10

My Cousin Rachel

The 1951 novel of the same name gets its second big screen treatment, this time more than sixty years after the previous. “My Cousin Rachel” tells the story of a young Englishman named Phillip (Sam Claflin) who plots revenge against his mysterious, beautiful cousin Rachel (Rachel Weisz), believing that she murdered his guardian. But his feelings become complicated as he finds himself falling under the beguiling spell of her charms, and toes a devastating line of temptation as he seeks the clarity beneath it all. The two engage in a mental game for the land, riches, and romance involved in this particularly ugly situation that has developed between them and their neighboring friends of the family. “My Cousin Rachel” is written and directed by South African film director Roger Michell, and is rated PG-13 for some sexuality and brief strong adult language.

I myself have never read the literary original that this screenplay is based upon, but with reading reviews of others experiences with the novel has taught me that this is an accurate adaptation. With that said, this is a movie that relies heavily upon a mystery surrounding our central characters that has to do with whether Rachel is or is not the evil temptress that she has been made out to be. The film pushes this narrative because it is the key that unlocks all of the mystery surrounding the untimely death of Phillip’s guardian. The problem with this shaky concept is that this shouldn’t be a mystery at all to the audience who have faithfully paid attention, because most of the proof is in the pudding. Once you figure out the answer to this proverbial question, “My Cousin Rachel” tends to lose a lot of its charms midway through the movie, when you realize that this screenplay is focused on so little else to keep itself moving. Even still, once the answer is made frustratingly apparent during the final scenes, the screenplay did manage to tack on some closing surprises that changed my opinion from the once evident direction that it felt like we were once headed, finishing strong enough to earn itself rightfully back into rental territory.

From a scope perspective, this is a very gorgeous production, taking place during the late 19th century in Europe. We are treated to some very surreal establishing shots with endless displays of green landscapes and mountains that tend to accurately depict the kind of backdrops that envelope this picture. The main setting takes place in this enormous mansion that takes on the compliments of atmospheric natural lighting to make it feel more authentic. The night shots use candles to illuminate the property, and this speaks volumes to the kind of darkness and mystery that plagues this bickering family. The camera work too was simply stunning, choosing to focus more on some long take back-and-forth perspectives, instead of using choppy editing that can sometimes come across as too polished of a feature for this place in time. Because we embrace most long-winded dialogue gasps in their entirety, it can accredit so much more to the kind of heavy performances that Weisz and Claflin offer throughout.

On the subject of those roles, Claflin and Weisz create vibrant, albeit treacherous music together, commanding the presence of the screen each time their intentions contrast those of the opposition. Claflin’s Phillip is very much a boy who becomes a man during this picture. His abilities to have seen the world have almost made him brash and slightly arrogant when it comes to returning to his homeland, but he is quickly humbled upon meeting his mysterious cousin. As a whole, Sam does a strong job portraying this character, but Phillip is written in such a way that doesn’t translate well with today’s modern males, and because of such, if you’re like me you will find Phillip to obnoxious and even a little cringe-worthy midway through the movie. As a protagonist, he folds like a cheap suit, and it’s easy to see who commands this mental chess game. That winner of course would be Weisz, who dons Rachel as this strong force despite her ever really having to get her hands dirty. So much of what makes you boil for Rachel is the way Weisz’s long and cold stares appear frequently throughout the movie, and you really get a sense that this is a character who knows how to get what she wants without much effort. Their blossoming romance is something that we as an audience know is bad news, but you won’t believe where these two prized actors take them right before the credits roll.

As a script, I commend “My Cousin Rachel” for evolving with each passing act that changes up the kind of dance that our two characters orchestrate. The first act is probably my personal favorite because it is during this time when they are strangers to one another, and feeling out the other one to understand their ulterior motives. I mentioned earlier that this turns into a mental chess game of sorts, and that’s an entirely accurate representation because there’s a power struggle early on when each character tries to one-up the other, and it leads to some pretty uncomfortable and awkward exchanges that simulate anger, sorrow, and vulnerability so uncanny. The second act switches it up once we start to see the vast change in Phillip’s demeanor towards Rachel, and suddenly we as an audience feel like we are on the wrong side of the moral coin, far from where we once stood in this fight. When you step back to soak it all in, you really have to appreciate the slow unraveling of this metaphorical poison that took over the room. The final act sets up a beautiful confrontation that does pay off….sort of. If you’re someone like me who appreciates the true irony of any situation, you’ll adore it. But if you’re someone who expects physicality in results, “My Cousin Rachel” might not leave you on the best of circumstances. Either way, the script lagged very little for me, and feels appropriate to close it out around the 100 minute mark.

THE VERDICT – “My Cousin Rachel” often tries to float a mystery that simply isn’t there. Even the most mind-wandering of film detectives will fish out the answers to this story long before our central protagonist has, and that’s perhaps the biggest hill to climb for Michell’s slice of sizzle and seduction. It’s a solid representation of its source material, mainly due to the dedicated performances of Claflin and an entrancing Weisz, who both dominate the screen time in getting across two polar opposite characters with the common bond of grief. It’s a stern reminder that where there is smoke, there is often fire, and this is one flame too hot to ignore.

6/10

Berlin Syndrome

The impacts of a one night stand prove that sometimes leaving isn’t as easy as opening the door, in the thriller “Berlin Syndrome”. While holidaying in Berlin, Australian photographer, Clare (Teresa Palmer), meets Andi (Max Reimelt), a charismatic local man, and there is an instant attraction and chemistry between them that takes them back to Andi’s apartment. A night of passion ensues between them, but what initially appears to be the start of a blossoming romance, then takes an unexpected and sinister turn when Clare wakes the following morning to discover Andi has left for work and locked her in his apartment without any available methods of escape. An easy mistake to make, of course, so Clare doesn’t initially lose her cool, except Andi has no intention of letting her go again. Ever. “Berlin Syndrome” is directed by Cate Shortland, and is rated R for disturbing violent content, strong sexuality, nudity and some adult language.

As if we needed yet another cautionary tale about how we should never go on vacation alone in a foreign land, along comes “Berlin Syndrome” and re-affirms those beliefs. While the story at surface levels feels rudimentary and even a bit derivative, there are certain alternating measures that screenwriter Shaun Grant takes to deviate this film from those that have depicted the very traumatic experiences within that of the links between being held captive and that of the real-life term known as “Stockholm Syndrome”. These original directions bring out the experimental side to Shortland’s film that embrace this familiar setup in new and entrancing methods. That’s not to say that everything here works. “Berlin Syndrome” inevitably stumbles as it stretches the minimal amount of material that the movie has for all of its entertaining purposes, limiting its emotional resonance in the once suffocating atmospheric tones that now had me feeling as cold and empty midway through the movie as the protagonist in our film.

On the subject of some of those originalities, the narration is surprisingly angled from the perspective more of Andi the captor, rather than that of Clare the victim. This is to be commended because usually this kind of subgenre of film will more times than not leave our villain in the shadows, revealing very little about his motive or his life outside of the box of seclusion that he has inflicted on his prey. The movie shows us that Andi isn’t some unstoppable monster or devastating force. He is very much a human antagonist who has the same kind of wants and needs as that of our protagonist, but goes about getting them in the most unorthodox of methods. What hindered this certain angle in perspective for me was that the film backs away from being about Palmer and this terrific performance that she is emoting, and settles for someone as bland as Andi in narration. If this captor were even remotely fascinating or slightly more developed, I think spending nearly two hours with him wouldn’t feel as much like a chore that it does here, and because of that, so much of the progression in plot stands still. A feeling that becomes evident about halfway through the movie when the pacing feels obviously uneven.

That’s a shame because the first forty minutes or so of this film had me glued to the edge of my seat, preparing me for a cerebral game of chess between the two players that unfortunately rarely surfaced. This is the kind of picture in which we as an audience crave that kind of supremacy in intellect that a favorable female lead can grant us, and even though I mentioned earlier that Palmer’s performance is right on the mark here, so much about her direction and material do her absolutely no favors in making a key ability in her repertoire stand out for her survival. The second half of the film feels like everything is being portrayed in slow motion, and while this could be a reflection of Clare’s life being played out minute-by-minute, it lacks the kind of stimulation in dramatic pull to ever keep us dry through the rains of repetition in her escape attempts. It does pick up in the final twenty minutes of the film, finally getting to the final conflict that we could’ve used thirty minutes earlier. The ending is satisfying enough, even for all of its ploys against predictability.

From a cinematic scope, Cate is certainly a more-than acceptable captain to helm some visionary perspective to this film that would normally be given a conventional spin. The color scheme in particular in the film has a slow robbing effect that drains all of the life out of it from the beginning of the movie to the halfway point, that then turns to bland white and grey coloring to get its point across. This is clearly intentional to mesh with that of Clare’s life, which is now just a shell of what it once was. Cate also embraces a lot of shots that are foggy upon first shot, but then use auto-clear about two seconds into the scene to use the glaring as intentional. The idea here is that Clare’s days are blending together, and one murky day could easily be the same as when she woke up the day before. Because of so reliance on time or dates, this measure in artistic design relays the ideas that this feels like one constant nightmare for Clare that blurs together and never ends.

As mentioned above, Palmer is radiant here, giving away her single greatest performance to date in the young starlet’s career. As Clare, we see the tragedy of a once ambitious youth who learns the hard way that caution is the most important instinct during traveling. Clare’s fragility becomes her lone identifiable trait by the third act of the movie, and it’s a testament to Palmer’s orchestration that she has commanded such a response, despite being in the minority of screen time between her and Reimelt. Speaking of which, Max too is chilling as the antagonist Andi. Because of his human approach, Andi’s unpredictability and cunning deceit is perhaps the most dangerous aspect to his character, and Reimalt’s tip-toeing of subtle paranoia is something that pricks and prods away at us as we learn as much about him on the same speed as that of Clare. Reading the synopsis, it’s easy to know what’s coming, but that doesn’t make Andi’s unchained rage any less menacing. He is ruthless, and Clare finds out over-and-over.

THE VERDICT – “Berlin Syndrome” locks us in a room for nearly two hours with two exceptional performances by its duo of actors that compliment the urgency behind the situation. What will have us scratching at the knob will be the uneven development between the first two acts, whose contrast in fluidity will serve as an obvious step down, as well as the shaky decision to record the antagonist as essentially the main character in this film. Even said, Shortland’s first major step in the public eye is an enigmatic spin about caution that doesn’t require the visceral to taut its gripping European art house vision. Check it out in theaters, but always be careful with the person sitting behind you.

6/10

The Lovers

The impending divorce of a bickering couple could be just what they need to once again be considered ‘The Lovers’. Written and directed by Azazel Jacobs, The Lovers is a refreshing, funny look at love, fidelity, and family, starring Debra Winger and Tracy Letts as a long-married and completely dispassionate husband and wife. Both are in the midst of serious affairs and are increasingly committed to their new adulterous partners. But on the brink of officially calling it quits, a spark between them suddenly and unexpectedly reignites, leading them into an impulsive romance that forces them to navigate the hilarious complications of “cheating” on their once respective lovers. A mixture of humor and powerful emotion, the story is a uniquely honest take on a modern open marriage. The Lovers is rated R for adult sexuality and language.

There’s plenty to be appreciated about Azazel Jacobs and the kind of emotional roller-coaster that his film “The Lovers” takes us on. Considering this is yet again another case where the trailer doesn’t depict anywhere near the kind of pacing or tone that the movie omits, there was enough from what does land in his deconstruction of a marriage to warrant a recommend from this critic. Do not be fooled, this isn’t anywhere close to being a cutesy romantic comedy, and instead speaks to the children-turned-grown-ups who themselves are a product of divorce. To say that there were many times during this film where I felt uneasy and slightly uncomfortable, is an understatement. Jacobs as a director opts for more of the organic sights and sounds surrounding a crippling marriage, instead of trying to create another Hollywood-influenced version of that. It’s commendable for authenticity, but that doesn’t mean it makes the most entertaining of sits, being that this film has more than a few weaknesses that will leave it on the shelf as a one-and-done viewing for the rest of my life.

First of all is the story. It’s refreshing and sometimes even surreal to see how Jacobs sets up his two protagonists on the roads that have led them in opposite directions. As the film begins, this practically feels like a silent picture, circa to the days of Charlie Chaplin, and a lot of that is because of the tension in the room between them that could easily be cut with a knife. There’s little musical accompaniment during this span, and I certainly preferred that as it allowed us to soak up all of the awkward exchanges that happen between them on a daily basis. We find out little about their history as the film goes on, just brief note-drops that help the audience on their own paint a picture that Azazel doesn’t feel is necessary with holding the hands of his viewers. I appreciated this approach, and it leaves the reasoning ambiguous and relatable for the concepts that couples break up for a variety of reasons. I found it funny how similar that their roads to infidelity were from scene-to-scene, but it did feel like a grinding halt each and every time I was ready to move on to the next scene. This is once again signaling the compromise of authenticity for entertainment that a brave director like Jacobs has no problem reaching for, and I think it paid off more times than not in terms of entertaining returns.

This movie also garners the ability to always keep us guessing, despite a trailer that hints at the first of three directions that the third act takes us on. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I say that our married couple do begin to have feelings for each other again, but it’s certainly not as easy as rolling the credits from there. In fact, I appreciated the durability and tenacity that this film had for pulling the wool over my eyes. Each and every time that I felt I had it pegged, I was surprised yet again, a rare feat considering in 2017 it feels like we have seen everything that the silver screen has to offer. As for the ending itself, I found its original take valuable, even if it feels like fan service at some points. During the third act, it’s clear that any attempts at a comedy are now flushed out the window, in favor of a dramatic pulse that overtakes us to goosebumps. The pacing of these scenes that do run slightly longer than necessary did have me reaching for my watch, but it all picks up by the finale that proved that love takes on so many angles in direction.

As for characters and performances, Letts and Winger toe the difficult task of emoting so much without much narration. This lack of clear direction is sometimes the flaw for the movie, but thankfully the undeniable chemistry between our two leads navigates us through some pretty murky waters midway through the film. There’s never a moment that I despise either of them, despite the fact that they are committing a hurtful deed against the other, but it’s in watching them grow together, as well as apart that makes their reunion that much more of a touching sentiment, because we feel that we have been with them all along. Beyond that, the rest of the material for the actors in the film is a bit limited, wasting very little effort to fully developing their characters. The affairs in question are portrayed by Melora Walters and Aiden Gillen, the latter of whom I am a big fan of. Sadly, the film doesn’t feel the need to make them deeper characters, and that’s unfortunate because I believe that doing so would’ve made the decision that much harder in the end not only for the married couple, but also the audience who could view the supporting characters as something more than “The other lover”. Far and away though, the weak spot of the acting is that of Tyler Ross as the couple’s only child. Listen, I don’t have anything against this guy, but his response is constantly poorly timed and overly-emotional for all of the wrong reasons. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing every time he got angry or stood up to his parents. Considering they are the cheaters here, it’s a testament to how bad Ross is every time I said in my head “Shut up kid, you’re too young to understand anything”.

THE VERDICT – The Lovers pertains two delightfully absorbing performance by that of Letts and Winger, as well as an awkwardly honest portrayal of the tank of love when it’s running near empty. Contrary to another misleading trailer, this is NOT the perfect date movie. This is a sour cautionary tale that elaborates on the concepts of what’s fun is fun and what’s done is done. Jacobs film does sometimes lack the consistency in pacing to keep his audience together as a whole, but as the film proves; you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, and The Lovers satisfied just enough in illustrating yet another layer to the idea of a happy ending.

6/10

Alien: Covenant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6/10

The Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

6/10

How To Be A Latin Lover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6/10

Sleight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6/10

Tommy’s Honour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6/10

Leap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6/10

Going In Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6/10

Ghost in the Shell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6/10