The Front Runner

Directed By Jason Reitman

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

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

Rated R for adult language including some sexual references

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

My Grade – 6/10 or C+

Bohemian Rhapsody

Directed By Bryan Singer

Starring – Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Joseph Mazzello

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

My grade: 6/10 or C

Halloween

Directed By David Gordon Green

Starring – Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

My Grade: 6/10 or a C

The House With A Clock In Its Walls

Directed by Eli Roth

Starring – Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccard

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

6/10

A Simple Favor

Directed by Paul Feig

Starring – Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

6/10

Support the Girls

Directed by Andrew Bujalski

Starring – Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Dylan Gelula

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

6/10

Papillon

Directed by Michael Noer

Starring – Charlie Hunnam, Rami Malek, Tommy Flanagan

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

6/10

The Meg

Directed by Jon Turteltaub

Starring – Jason Statham, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

6/10

Christopher Robin

Directed by Marc Forster

Starring – Ewan Mcgregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael

The Plot – An adult Christopher Robin (Mcgregor), who is now focused on his new life, work, and family, suddenly meets his old friend Winnie the Pooh, who returns to his unforgotten childhood past to help him return to the Hundred Acre Wood and help find Pooh’s lost friends.

Rated PG for some live action

POSITIVES

– Considering the immense shoes that ‘Christopher Robin’ has to fill, the movie’s overall imagination and innocence come through in the clutch. This inescapable range of heart that tries to bridge the gap between the inevitability of adulthood surrounds this film, leading to many moments where Christopher’s past and present collide in a fight for clarity. In this regard, we too as an audience can lose ourselves in 97 minutes of light-hearted material, with the very same furry characters who were such a big part of our childhoods as well.

– The visual effects are charming in their subtlety. Much of the movements of the animals feel authentic without sticking out like a glaring attention-grabber, and the attention to detail with their shaggy designs grants a stuffed animal concept that really grounds the illustrations in realism. Likewise, the gloomy and often times dimmed lighting filters of the film also does wonders for the graphs in effects work that more times than not can relay feelings of counterfeit reflection, in how it bounces off of the live action setting around it.

– While the live action performances are just alright, it’s the voice acting of some of our favorite animated characters that truly steals the show. Jim Cummings is one of the most infamous voice actors in the world today, and his double duty as Pooh and Tigger radiates with personality when the film so desperately needed it most. As Pooh, you notice the vocal transformation over time, that begins as a somber whimper but eventually leads to thriving adventurer, and we start to feel meaning in his life once again, now that Christopher Robin has popped back up. Brad Garrett as Eeyore is also a dry delight. Garrett was born for this kind of delivery, channeling an unlikely humorous side of depression that the film relies on him for each time they need a sarcastic reaction.

– Much of the introduction in storyboards are done with a storybook animation that pays homage faithfully to these character’s origins. Each meaningful moment of Christopher’s life is given a page-by-page visual enhancement to introduce the moment that is about to play out, and with it comes dream-like animation on the pages being lifted, in the form of the books we used to read growing up. My only complaint is that the movie never does this again after the first few minutes. I really think it could’ve added to the presentational aspects of the film.

– Proper location majority. Because we’ve already seen the Hundred Acre forest in the original Pooh offerings, it’s nice to see this film wasn’t afraid in setting most of the film in the real world. What this does is allow us to not only examine and solidify if these animals talking are just a figment of Christopher’s imagination, but also how they interact with other grown-ups around them. It bridges the film on so much more than a metaphorical level, forcing the characters of this man’s youth to collide with the responsibilities that he harbors as an adult.

– The musical aspect of the film is hit AND miss for me, but not giving respect to Jon Brion and Geoff Zanelli’s glimmering tones would be a crime. So much of the numbers are filled with such wonder and soft encroaching among the story, solidifying that sometimes the most effective musical pieces are those that are patient and never overbearing. These two each have more than twenty years of scoring between them, and that wisdom of experience is on display repeatedly for a film that never settles for just one consistent tone.

NEGATIVES

– Lack of chances or originality. ‘Christopher Robin’ certainly isn’t breaking any new ground. Every single trace that the script takes us through feels like it was derived between ‘Return To Oz’ and especially ‘Hook’. But I can get over similarities in story. What I can’t get over is how safe Disney continues to be with the sequel/remake formula that is all the rage over the last five years. If you’re going to bring a respected property back to life, add something memorable to this new chapter. Otherwise, the lack of creativity becomes evident, and it loses the chance to rid itself of the immense shadow before it has even started. A fine example is last year’s ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’, an unaffiliated-with-Disney film that explored the psychological effects of Robin’s time in the war, and why he lacked the connection with his adopted daughter.

– I mentioned earlier that I have my likes and dislikes for the music department in this film, and my problems rely with the lack of musical numbers that we get. With the exception of a line of ‘Wonderful Thing About Tiggers’, there isn’t a single familiar track in the film, leaving much of the whimsical side of the Pooh environment stuffed in a box, like the very memories that Christopher goes through with such forgetfulness.

– Songs aren’t the only thing ‘Christopher Robin’ lacks, as an overall lack of humor adds only further weight to the second act pacing that occasionally stands still. ‘Paddington’ is a great example of a movie that balanced heart and humor alike, without ever feeling confrontational of one another, but ‘Christopher Robin’ greatly lacks the confidence in its delivery, instead settling for cramped slapstick humor during the closing moments that highlighted its desperation. I laughed once during the movie, and that’s saying nothing. The real problem is with the children in the audience who grew restless with material that looks beyond them instead of right in the eyes.

– This film lacks such conflict in plot that it must create its own, with about twenty minutes left in the movie. The emerging subplot with Robin’s work comes out of nowhere, and only points out the silliness when kids movies try to depict big-wig corporations. I’m supposed to believe that this company will go under if they don’t find a way to sell more luggage? I’m also supposed to believe that they’ve never thought about selling to lower class incomes, and THAT is the big break needed to turn it all around? Do poor people not have luggage when they go on vacation? Who cares, because they’re kids, and kids are stupid.

6/10

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

Directed by Ol Parker

Starring – Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Meryl Streep

The Plot – Discover Donna’s (Streep, James) young life, experiencing the fun she had with the three possible dads of Sophie (Seyfriend). Sophie is now pregnant. Like Donna, she’ll be a young mother, and she realizes that she’ll need to take risks like her mother did.

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material

POSITIVES

– The infectious atmosphere is as present as ever, without settling for some of the hokiness of musical acting that plagued the first movie. It’s rare to feel entirely different about two films as identically structured as the two in this series, but ‘Here We Go Again’ manages this feat, combining whimsical song and dance choreography, while playing each individual number to expositional context. Very little feels phony about the way it is delivered, and I appreciate that when immersing myself in the musical genre. It’s high energy without feeling hyperactive, conjuring up an air of musty charm that even males can partake in.

– Fans of the original cast will take great praise in knowing that all of them return here, although some with more screen time than others. The chemistry between Firth, Brosnan, and Skarsgaard is still the sweetest treat within the film, but the on-time comedic delivery of Baranski is as polished as ever. Beyond this, the new additions who represent younger versions of the characters are completely spot-on in appearance and demeanor, to make the transition as seamless as possible. I was convinced that Baranski’s younger self was a real life sibling who was separated from her at birth.

– As for musical selections, there are a few tracks that are derived from the original film, but repackaged in a way that breathes new life into their familiar chords. ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Mamma Mia’ are obviously the familiar ones, but here they are performed by someone entirely different, and cater more towards the inspirational peaks of the subplots they enhance. With performances, thankfully nothing is as dreadful as the off-chord work of Streep and Brosnan in the original, instead opting for versatile actors like James and Seyrfied, who remarkably do all of their own singing.

– Richly vibrant costume and set pieces. Familiar pieces of time and place are carefully inserted into the backdrops of each room that the dual stories take place in, hinting with the air of subtlety as to what track might be coming. ‘Waterloo’ for instance, breathes French renaissance in costume design and restaurant decor, transporting us back to the 19th century battle that the Abba song describes. Beyond this, the flashback narrative fashions reflect that of 70’s Swedish tastes, combing through a colorful blend of button-ups and chalets that give way to the relaxed paradise that is captured in location.

– In my opinion, this film has much more reach for the dramatic pull than the original movie did, comparing the lives of Mother and Daughter so fluently with similar movements in time. Despite the delightful atmosphere that nearly fills the entirety of the film, there is a strong sense of longing with the noticed absence of one important character, who most of the film revolves around. This makes ‘Here We Go Again’ more of a generational affair than anything, and the tasteful, feel-good PG-13 escapism makes this angle reach well beyond the screen, for Mothers and Daughters to enjoy alike.

– This film does do a solid job of tying up some loose ends from the first movie that left audiences hanging, regardless of how you felt about it. The delve into Donna’s past paints the vivid picture in details that the first film only spoke about, allowing itself to experience the careless, free-spirited adventure of the main character and her diversity of interaction between each of the three men who eventually played pivotal roles in her future (No jokes here). This gives the original film the kind of replay value that it would never have over the previous decade, and forces you to approach Donna’s character in a much different way than you would’ve originally.

NEGATIVES

– This film grinds to a screeching halt somewhere in the middle of the second act, and I believe I have figured out the reasons. The overall minimalist approach of developing plot between an overabundance (17) of songs, as well as the meandering material with an overall lack of conflict, leaves the material being approached at a topical level, instead of an immersive one that can properly develop with time being devoted to it. For my money, I would trim this down to 12 songs, and not transition between old and current story as much, because the 70-30 favoritism for the past makes the present feel not as valued. If you wanted a prequel film, just make this a prequel film for 109 minutes.

– Terrible green-screen effects work. For every scene that takes place outside by the water, I couldn’t stop staring at this glaring red flag that made itself present in the cheapest of renderings. If the outline around the character’s bodies doesn’t feel extremely evident, the off-coloring darkness of the sky when a storm is approaching will. We see dark clouds in the distance, but lots of sunshine when it reflects off of a character’s face, and it made for plenty of unintentional laughs when the narrative so badly required focus.

– There is a HUGE deception in the marketing of this film, particularly with that of one vital character who is only in the movie for two scenes. I say deception because the film’s trailers play it off like this character never missed a beat in this second installment, and the posters have this person amongst the top bill, when they should clearly be reduced to the ‘AND’ role that ends every cast text introduction. If you’re seeing this film for this character, the opening five minutes should make you as angry as finding out your favorite relative passed away and no one cared to tell you.

– It’s great to see Cher, but between my disdain for her character’s personality, as well as how late in the film she comes into it, her role feels like the very definition of tacked-on, and frankly I don’t think she was needed. There are certainly enough characters to keep the interest in the material, but for some reason Cher (Who basically plays Cher) is called upon to add something more to this film. Considering Streep as the daughter looks to be somewhere between 55-60 in the movie, how old would that make Cher when she had her?

6/10

The Equalizer 2

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Starring – Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Bill Pullman

The Plot – Robert McCall (Washington) serves an unflinching justice for the exploited and oppressed, but how far will he go when that is someone he loves?

Rated R for brutal violence throughout, adult language, and some drug content

POSITIVES

– If there is one aspect that this film does far superior than that of the original installment, it’s in the presence of its valuable R-rating that it uses so viciously. The fight sequences are quick with movements, but more importantly they never look away from the slice-and-dice damage that McCall delivers with such ferocity, giving us the kind of entertainment in violence that has felt watered down in the genre as of late.

– Improved character development. Not only does this film shed more light on Robert and his distant past, it also brings along the supporting cast in a way that their importance shines on the on-going narration. Melissa Leo’s character from the original movie, particularly is focused upon more, even if she suffers from the same minimal amount of time that the last movie gave her. The friendship between her and Washington on-screen certainly is evident, and gives the audience the perfect reason to get invested once that bond becomes tested. This gives the sequel a more personal approach than the original movie, that on a surface level was just McCall rescuing these tortured strangers.

– There are two interesting subplots fighting for time in the film, and while one initially feels less important because of its jumbled time investment when compared to the other, they both collide during the pivotal third act to reveal a dual value to the direction that is much needed. One of these involves the more homely side to Robert that we haven’t gotten to see up to this point, carving out a side as a guardian that he never got the chance to feel because of his wife’s untimely death. Could the pacing of the storytelling been done more fluidly between scene transitions? ABSOLUTELY. But once you see the disheveled pieces formed together, you start to appreciate the depth that this script entails.

– Washington continues to bring it as a godfather of action, instilling enough confidence and even animation to the character this time around that gives him unforeseen personality. Even at the age of 63, Denzel’s believability as a purveyor or justice works because of the poise and delivery that he commands over our attention, and ‘The Equalizer 2’ proves that the combination of he and Fuqua is as hard-hitting of a tag team as there is in Hollywood today. They both understand the character immensely, and play off the swagger of this skilled soldier without it feeling arrogant or brash for the camera.

– Very little lag time in between the two hour thrill ride. Part of my surprise with this film came when I checked my watch and discovered that I only had twenty minutes left in the movie, and I contribute that fluidity in pacing to the juggling act between those dual narratives that I mentioned earlier. Because of such, this film doesn’t stop reaching for the attention of us the audience, dazzling us with precise fight choreography storytelling unveils that are never few and far between.

– Cinematographer Oliver Wood’s impeccable movements behind the lens. Besides beautiful framing of scenes involving multiple characters in conversation, Wood’s greatest detail involves the panning motions that he instills upon swerving chase sequences, as well as moments of self-reflection for McCall’s cerebral qualities when cracking mysteries. Wood is certainly no stranger to action photography, most notably with brilliant work in ‘Jack Reacher’ and ‘The Bourne Movies’ that have carved out a presence behind the camera that speaks volumes to the atmosphere without ever settling for the gimmick of shaking camera effects.

NEGATIVES

– Most of my commentary for Fuqua as a director has been flawless to this point, so it greatly surprises me that his hand in this film feels shaky at best. Many details in the film make it feel like a different director is sitting in the chair, most notably the reversible aging process of Washington’s McCall, who not sports a full head of hair, to make him look twenty years younger. Beyond that, the lack of detail in character’s clothes and hair being dry through a hurricane sequence feels lazy for someone of his credibility.

– The subtlety and nuance of this film gets thrown out the window during the third act, when this big budget, poorly C.G infused hurricane sequence takes over. Not only does this feel terribly cliched when compared to the rest of this series, but it also marks some of the dumbest moves by antagonists that I’ve ever seen. I guess I can overlook a certain character giving away his position in a tower by shooting non-stop, but I absolutely cannot look past the stupidity of a character blowing himself up with a grenade in a room of running fans and dripping salt. My laughter during this scene stood out like a fart in a library, and completely took me out of feeling any kind of urgency or danger for McCall’s stacking odds.

– Speaking of antagonists, the film tries to play the head of this group off as a mystery figure, despite the fact that those of us who have paid attention have figured it out a half hour prior. Blame it on poor casting for a man who has a devious face, or blame it again on poor character direction by Fuqua, but either way the shifty eyes of a particular character made this reveal insanely obvious and gravely impatient when waiting for the movie to eventually catch up.

– Endless time filler that goes nowhere. There’s a ten minute introduction scene that feels tacked on to anything else that happens in the rest of the movie, an aging-quickly subplot involving an old man and an art portrait that dulls us fast, and a career of Lyft driving by McCall that doubles as his bat signal basically. My point is that even with the dual narrative that worked for me, there is still far too much dead weight on this film that could easily be trimmed to fit 100 minutes. As I mentioned earlier, the pacing never suffers, but it feels like details to a story that add up to little or nothing, then return me back to our regularly scheduled program.

6/10

Skyscraper

Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber

Starring – Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Pablo Schreiber

The Plot – FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader and U.S. war veteran Will Sawyer (Johnson) now assesses security for skyscrapers. On assignment in Hong Kong he finds the tallest, safest building in the world suddenly ablaze, and he’s been framed for it. A wanted man on the run, Will must find those responsible, clear his name and somehow rescue his family who are trapped inside the building…above the fire line.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong adult language

POSITIVES

– Johnson and Campbell are dual threats as this husband and wife duo, who each offer plenty to accommodate the film. It’s obvious that Johnson is currently the greatest action star in the world, so his physical prowess goes without saying, but the real surprise here comes from Campbell, who proves that significant other characters in these movies don’t have to settle for being the damsel in distress, and can get their hands dirty in the most important of ways to the unfolding chaos around them.

– Despite it being primarily C.G effects work, the structure of the skyscraper itself is one that provided some heart-pounding action sequences to compliment the technological intricacies inside. For this particular structure, the echoing of technology coming back to help, as well as harm us is certainly evident, but it’s in the elaborate attention to detail that spares no expense that provides Johnson with perhaps his biggest foe of the film, and one that keeps kicking back.

– Finely paced movements in camera work. Being that this is a film about overcoming heights, it was important that the cinematography for the film reflect those tense vantage points from over 96 floors up, and this crew certainly doesn’t disappoint. Thankfully, there are rarely any Point-of-view shots, because that would feel too cliche, and instead the capturing of the immensity of the surrounding landscape in comparison to that of the characters, that really provide the high stakes that each of them are playing with. Because of such, we are treated to some truly death-defying long angle shots that captures the entire circumstance in frame, and puts the audience in focus without using obvious measures to take us there.

– One could consider the consistency of the serious tone in this film compromising to the sometimes ridiculousness that unfolds in choreographed action, but I found it to be rather appropriate for the urgency and gravity of time that Johnson’s character is carefully playing with. The problem with most of his other starring role films is that they embrace that silliness so much that it sometimes breaks free of logic, but in ‘Skyscraper’ it’s in the well balanced tone of this film that pays perhaps the most honorable of homages to films like ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Towering Inferno’ that let the action play into the fun that everyone is having.

– Finally a film that is set in a foreign land indulges in foreign characters. ‘Skyscraper’ takes place in Hong Kong, so it’s with extreme glee that I commend the film for including a majority of Asian characters that surround our main cast. Even more so, they aren’t just one-off dialogue delivery boys, they are vital members to what’s unfolding on the ground, carefully moving piece by piece to render the situation. Any other American action film would whitewash the hell out of this cast, but casting agent Krista Husar should be celebrated for keeping the reality within the screenplay.

NEGATIVES

– For as dimensional as the protagonists are in the film, the antagonists fail at every possible measure. Their reveals are predictable, their plans are asinine and overblown, and their heritages are very much par for what we’ve come to expect from the terrorist subgenre. It’s sad that you can take any two action films at this point, trade off their villains, and neither film would be any worse for wear because of it. Even worse, the film doesn’t even try to make their twist reveals anything remotely shocking, because the obvious seedy musical tones that accompany them tell the story that we’re already seven moves ahead on.

– Plenty of stupidity to feast on. Even though the film’s tone does keep with the maturity, the logic that defies weight and physics throughout the film does anything but. The only thing worse than Johnson climbing a 100 story crane in ten minutes, or him being the bond that holds two sides of a building together, is the obvious first act foreshadowing in character flaws and room designs that will ever so obviously make its presence felt by the film’s conclusion. Predictability is everywhere.

– Shallow, forced character exposition. This is where Johnson and Campbell are needed most of all, because the film’s lack of importance cast for their character’s depth nearly crumbles the movie around them. When we do get exposition, it’s in the form of some of the most lazy and brief deliveries from FBI agents, that could otherwise be used to soak up some valuable minutes on-screen. The film’s only moment of backstory visually is to tell the tale of how the artificial limb happened, and even that holds such little weight on the overall bigger picture in conflict that never leaves Johnson’s character anything but Superman.

– This film’s biggest obstacle will be in escaping the obvious comparisons to that of ‘Die Hard’ or ‘Towering Inferno’, and unfortunately the movie does very little to rid itself of the disciple tag. In terms of originality, ‘Skyscraper’ can only build bigger to the structures in those movies, but in terms of memorable circumstance, this film is every bit as forgettable as it is redundant. You probably could’ve just called this a remake and capitalized on the crowds of those bigger franchises. It makes sense to follow something so closely without it.

6/10