The Perfection

Directed By Richard Shepard

Starring – Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Steven Weber

The Plot – When troubled musical prodigy Charlotte (Williams) seeks out Elizabeth (Browning), the new star pupil of her former school, the encounter sends both musicians down a sinister path with shocking consequences.

Rated R for scenes of brutal violence, adult language, and sexual situations involving nudity.

POSITIVES

– Uniqueness in characters and storytelling. This is a film that is obvious in how everything surrounding it plays to the plot twists, which shake up the direction and character arcs every twenty minutes or so, to keep it from being overly predictable. While no one person in this movie is entirely admirable for who they eventually become, the screenplay feels human in the perspective that the people involved are anything but cookie-cutter, and reflect the idea that society isn’t filled with a barrage of good or evil, but rather a majority of grey somewhere in between. This better helped overcome some of the flaws in minimal character exposition that plagued the film, but also gave way to exposing an interior psychological pulse outside, and constantly reminds us of the damage associated with abuse, in these characters becoming a mere shell of who they once were because of such.

– Gore for days. If you’re like me and appreciate a raining bloodbath of a movie throughout, “The Perfection” will stimulate you ruthlessly for how over-the-top it manages to escalate. This is a Netflix first film, so there are no barriers to the kinds of things the brutality can achieve, and it leads to a series of gashes and gross-out gags that are easily some of the most memorable of the last decade of horror cinema, if only for how the ferocity strikes at the surface of your skin for what we the audience can feel. What’s commendable here is that the editing remains restrained during these pivotal scenes, so as not diminish the attention needed to sell their appalling circumstance, and it reminded me of a bygone era of filmmaking where practicality blood over computer generated splashed with artistic merit, that wasn’t afraid to show its true colors to convey a message of high stakes splash. It’s a bit exploitative, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun for the extreme nature of its depiction.

– Mengege a trois of performances. The three faces that I mentioned above really dominate the spectrum here, and get so lost in the sinister details of their character’s that they constantly adapt to. For my money, Williams is the star pupil, as her combination of subtle unnerving demeanor and hole-burning stare made me feel a determination in her character, who will stop at nothing to attain what she seeks. Likewise, Browning really opened my eyes physically for how she contorts and dedicates her body to mastering this level of vulnerability that made you emphasize with her character, and brought believability to the kinds of things she was enduring. But man oh man, Steven Weber, where have you been? I remember this guy killing it in many films during the 90’s, but his role here as a seedy musical teacher might be his very best to date. Weber’s calculated, brash deposits make him the most important character of the film, and prove that the concepts of obsession don’t just resonate with the unhealthy determination of students, but also in the teacher who paints the environment that the poison emits from.

– Speaking of obsession, the film feels like a hybrid combination of 2014’s “Whiplash” and 2006’s “Black Swan”, for how it centers on this unhealthy objective to be the best in a particular field. Where “The Perfection” sets itself apart from the competition however, is in the underlying social issue burning deep in the modern day ‘Me Too’ world, that fights back with no shortage of expressive exchanges or unabashed vengeance that really made this feel like a fantastical retort in the way it’s presented. In this respect, the female side of moviegoers will definitely get more out of this than the opposition, and there’s nothing wrong with that, because the way I see it, “The Perfection” is one of those socially reflective films that demands change from the world that inspires it, and it gives the film a positive message of bravery deep beneath a series of gut-wrenching blows and buckets of blood that really triggers an uplifting level of positivity for reflective filmmaking.

– The setting. I love that this film takes place overseas, because it gives the character’s a level of isolation and vulnerability for being in a land where they feel so void of friends or family to turn to when the shit hits eventually hits the fan. There’s this ominous cloud that fills the room not only with Asia as a whole, but also in this musical academy that accommodates the legion of upper class suits, and these initial shots that introduce us and engage upon the atmosphere are certainly the articulate tool used to measure that everything seen in these classy visuals and elegant lighting scheme are the expected to what’s really unexpected lurking beneath the surface level of soft smiles hiding sinister surroundings. What we’ve come to expect in horror film settings has become a cliche in itself, but the stages that this play takes place on gives an eye-opening approach to what has rarely ever been considered terrifying, and in turn gives food for thought on the ideal of the dirty deeds that take place in a house with a white picket fence.

– Evolving direction. This is the aspect of the film that I felt was so much more unpredictable than the plot twists themselves, as the first act of the movie feels very in-tuned as a seduction thriller, and one that feels provocative with enough tantalizing sexual mystique that lures you in to the lucid body language involved in the two protagonists. The second act eventually evolves into a bodily horror narrative, that will visually test your stomach in ways the provide emphasis for the dramatic tonal shift delivered in this film, but one that you can bet certainly won’t be the last. We settle down in the final act of the movie with an all out slasher tempo that confronts the growing conflict of this movie head-on, all the while preserving the bond of the first two acts that mold into a Frankenstein-fused finale that is every bit as consequential as it is poetic for the ringing social metaphorical power of the impactful final shot.

NEGATIVES

– Plot conveniences. One of the overwhelming aspects of this film to me was the lack of subtlety and overall convenience in storytelling details that so much of the twists rely on. In this respect, nothing in the film feels authentic or believable in terms of the way people interact, or in the way that certain elements are discovered to the knowledge of character’s. One such example happens within the first five minutes of the movie, when Williams’ character is on the phone looking for Browning, and POP!!! a billboard appears at that exact moment that shows she is a major hit in town. More examples could be given, but it would spoil what leads up to the first major twist in the movie. What I will say is that it pushes the boundaries of what could be measured and planned by any logical human being, and only stretches what we as answer seekers can firmly understand in tying loose ends together.

– Boisterous musical score. To say that the musical tones and audible soundtrack for the movie was distracting and invasive is an understatement. Not only is its ear-piercing volume a jarring distraction each time it’s included, but it constantly oversteps its boundaries on letting the dramatic elements of the moment play out without delivering some overly-obvious measure of audience interpretation that the composer feels we couldn’t have garnered without them. This isn’t even the worst audio measure of the film, as a last second rap track included feels so far out of place within the confines and audible tastes in the film that I couldn’t escape cringing for how over-the-top and spoon-fed it feels in the context of the scene it exists in. It was at this point in the film where I gave up all hope of musical nuance that usually immerses itself into a scene, but instead here is one step away from being presented louder than the attention of the actors themselves. Truly dreadful.

– Problems with twists. I was able to properly fetch out two of the film’s three plot twists for reasons I will explain later, but aside from this, I felt that the film gave the audience no capability in figuring things out for themselves because of the manipulative level of storytelling that limited our chances in the first place. Each time something new is revealed to the audience, the scene will halt progress, then jarringly rewind in a way that tells me someone has been watching “Funny Games” a time or two recently, depositing something that wasn’t even in the scene to begin with. My problem with this is two-fold. The first, is that the initial narrative isn’t taking place from any one particular character’s point-of-view, so we should see everything that transpires in real time because we the audience play the environment in this scene. The second is that the twists get sillier with each one that develops, further soiling the sharpness of the film’s beautifully documented brutality, that reaches levels of cartoonish exposition by the end of the film.

– Photography. This is where I picked up on the first twist, thanks in part to a particular frame that focused far too long on an otherwise unimportant object. Ignoring this obvious measure of visual storytelling, the film’s shot selection also suffers from an overly-inflated influence of Hitchcock inspired shots that lack a level of consistency for their involvement in this film. Distracting first act shots that involve a camera placement on an unorthodox object or even actor that doesn’t fit with the sum of its parts. On the latter of that statement, a last act struggle for power is shown from Williams point-of-view in a manner similar to MTV’s throwback show “Fear”, and unfortunately it misses out on the details of the fight, as well as the dramatic tension that never materializes because we have to fill in the blanks of what transpired away from our curious eyes.

My Grade: 6/10 or C-

The Secret Life of Pets 2

Directed By Brian Lynch

Starring – Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Harrison Ford

The Plot – Max (Oswalt) faces some major changes after his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) gets married and now has a child . On a family trip to the countryside, Max meets a farm dog named Rooster (Ford), and both attempt to overcome his fears. Meanwhile, Gidget (Jenny Slate) tries to rescue Max’s favorite toy from a cat-packed apartment, and Snowball (Hart) sets on a mission to free a white tiger named Hu from a circus.

Rated PG for some action and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Improvements on all things animation. Illumination Studios has always been a distant third in detailed animation, but thanks to the tightening of illustrations that fills this film, arguably the very best artistic film that the studio has ever produced, they can start to bridge the gap of their opposition. It isn’t just one thing but rather a barrage, as the believability behind stormy weather patterns is beautifully rendered, the expressions of animals during the most extreme occasions adds more to the comedic relief, and even the 3D effects give an immersive quality to everything flowing in frame that warrants paying a little extra to see this film. With time, this studio will hopefully continue this trend, and offer so much more than colorfully vibrant backgrounds against a city skyline that offers plenty of familiar geography to place this story accordingly.

– Talented cast. Oswalt is a more-than enthusiastic fill-in for Louie C.K, but it’s really the work of Slate and Hart who take center stage in incorporating intensity to their often familiar vocal tones. As Gidget, Slate is a force to be reckoned with, juggling an infatuation for Max all the while proving to the audience the extent of her cunning intellect. As to where the first film showed off Slate as a lover, this one cements her as a fighter, and her emoting of Gidget is my very favorite of this entire franchise. Hart should stick with animated properties for a while, because the combination of eccentric deliveries and polar opposite vocal capacity in comparison to that of his furry rendering, makes him perfect for voice range capabilities, and the focus and attention given to his character practically begs for a Snowball spin-off that feels just around the corner. New additions are those from Tiffany Haddish, Dana Carvey, and a wise, weathered dog leader voiced by none other than Han Solo himself, Harrison Ford. It rounds off arguably the brightest ensemble of comedic actors in quite some time, and prove that their talents serve a much bigger purpose than just physical humor in sight gags.

– Fluffy run time. This one clocks in at a measly 77 minutes, and with sharing time between three respective story arcs does so in a way that keeps the eagerness and intensity of the storytelling firmly in grip with regards to a youthful audience that sometimes slip away during slow periods of exposition. While this does create some problems for the fluidity of the transitions, which I will get to later, the confidence donated to each vital character receiving their own conflicts in the story gives the movie a three-movie-for-one quality within its pages that practically forces movement in the casual three act structure that can sometimes omit itself invisible in family genre cinema. There was never a time when I was bored or antsy watching this movie, and much credit goes to the producers of the film for knowing just how far to stretch each story before it becomes something in depth that it rightfully shouldn’t.

– Intelligence in gags. I said this about the first film, and it’s something that continues in this movie. The way the film takes real moments of familiarity from the pets in our own lives, and adds a layer of profound poignancy to each situation is something that not only reaches for audience participation, but also does so in a way that will have you intentionally remembering the occasions from this movie once you go home. This gives the film and its material a consistency in shelf life that many films in modern day don’t attain, and speaks volumes to the levels of attention that screenwriters Chris Renaud and Jonathan Del Val engage in to contrast with their audience’s. In that respect, the material itself feels very much fleshed out from real life, and performed in an exaggerated way that works because of its small amounts of truth that derive from these very humorously humbling moments of love from our best friends.

– Pre-credits rap video. I won’t give away much here, but Kevin Hart’s dream to be a rapper comes full circle in a spoof of a familiar rap track from the previous couple years that is given new context thanks to the world surrounding his character. Not since 2006’s “Waiting…” has a post-movie performance left such a lasting impression on me, and the work of creativity in rhymes combined with the sheer lunacy of the situation in mid-day form, makes this moment the one that stands out the most for me in terms of comic lasting power, and non-surprisingly gives the original track, which I hated tremendously, a new lease on life. If this song was heard on the radio even half as much as that original song, then I would be fine with it.

– Strong positive message. As is the case with every kids movie out today, this one has a takeaway message that bonds its respective subplots together for one cohesive beat, and it’s the importance of overcoming fear. Especially with younger audiences, this message will ring true from within them, because it’s at that age where battling adversities prepares them for the war that is adolescence, and it’s something that resonates on-screen in each of the fears that the main character’s have to overcome for the sake of their developments. If an on-screen message is presented strong enough, kids will take even more away from it, and thankfully the film never feels overly preachy or even condescending in the message it sends the next generation of adventure seekers home with.

NEGATIVES

– Incoherent structure. As I mentioned earlier, there are three different subplots competing for time, and while this does wonders in keeping the attention of younger audiences, it does nothing for experienced moviegoers who know how important seamless transitions really are to the progress of a particular narrative. The outline of each story feels episodic, mainly because of unshakeable predictability and adjacent plotting, which does the film no favors in establishing its story as a group effort like the first movie. Because of this triangle of direction, the script itself forgets certain early angles established early on (See Max’s protection of little boy) that would make great films on their own, but are relegated to split screen time with other stories not half as compelling. For my money, the Snowball story could easily be stretched out for his own spin-off, leaving the branches of the other two somewhat connected plots feeling cohesive because of the way one is the effect of the other’s cause.

– Lack of weight. The conflicts from this movie are practically non-existent, thanks in part to resolutions that often come too fast, and a shoe-horned antagonist character who feels completely wrong for this world. On the former, I could’ve used more time for fear or tribulation for the character’s embattled with their respective conflicts. This is where ten or fifteen minutes of additional screen time could’ve further fleshed out the urgency and vulnerability of these small pets in a big world setting, and given way to further audience participation who have shared the struggles that each character has gone through. As for the antagonist, it’s the loudest reminder that this is a cartoon kids movie, complete with bulging eyes, black ensemble, and a hatred for animals for no other reason than the script asked for it. Quick question, how many times have you seen a villain who owns an abusive zoo, where the protagonists have to rescue said animals from his clutches? If you’ve run out of fingers, so have I.

– Plot holes. When you consider that this is virtually a “Toy Story” ripoff, you must consider the rules established within the world that make absolutely no sense when you consider a sprinkle of logic. For one, many of these pets go missing for long periods of time that make me question why no human owner is freaking out about where they’ve gone. In addition to this, there are certain instances in the film where believability is stretched further than a “Fast and Furious” lesson on gravity. Some of my favorite examples are a dog outracing a train, two dogs riding a remote controlled toy car without it tipping over or losing speed, and a psychopathic old woman character who not only commits murder, but also sees no problem with owning a Siberian tiger. Considering much of this film is set-up with real world ideals and consequences, these instances soil the authenticity of the engagement, and disappointed me for how these films are still insulting the intelligence of their youthful audience.

– Additional complaints. While this will only be a problem for people who see advanced screenings of this film, the inclusion of a behind-the-scenes introduction that plays before the film is more than just a little spoiler-filled for the gags it gives away. Why would you include something like these before the film plays? It renders the power of your laughs weak because the audience has already seen it before the movie starts, and just feels redundant once it comes around in the movie itself. The trailers for this film were actually solid, in that they didn’t give much away other than spare instances of familiarity of the pets in our own lives, but this production video did absolutely no favors in those regards, and took away from material that by its own merits was effective at garnering a laugh or two on its original run through.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

A Dog’s Journey

Directed By Gail Mancuso

Starring – Dennis Quaid, Marg Helgenberger, Kathryn Prescott

The Plot – Bailey (voiced again by Josh Gad) is living the good life on the Michigan farm of his “boy,” Ethan (Quaid) and Ethan’s wife Hannah (Helgenberger). He even has a new playmate: Ethan and Hannah’s baby granddaughter, CJ. The problem is that CJ’s mom, Gloria (Gilpin), decides to take CJ away. As Bailey’s soul prepares to leave this life for a new one, he makes a promise to Ethan to find CJ and protect her at any cost. Thus begins Bailey’s adventure through multiple lives filled with love, friendship and devotion as he, CJ  (Prescott), and CJ’s best friend Trent (Henry Lau) experience joy and heartbreak, music and laughter, and few really good belly rubs.

Rated PG for thematic content, some peril and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Canine control. These movies more than others have a tight grasp on the often times tricky art known as animal acting, but the crisp editing and grounded stunt work from these furry creatures make each of their influences on the scene feel seamless. It helps that most of these sequences are given ample time between cuts, keeping the cut-and-paste option minimal, all the while allowing the dogs to muscle out the commands they are being given. Never once in the movie did I feel the air of cinema magic for brash difficulty in attainability, and this more than anything is the biggest testament to Mancuso as a leading hand, for the way she brings extraordinary precision out of grounded requests from her four-legged co-stars, closing the gap between human and animal actors with a commitment to craft that goes a long way.

– Speaking of human performances, the work of the collective cast here is a majority solid. Quaid is back with his second film in a week, but this time it’s to showcase the sweet and sensitive side of his demeanor that outweighs the hammy nature of his dialogue. Likewise, Kathryn Prescott also carves out confidence in maintaining roughly 60% of the movie. Mancuso keeps the story firmly in-tow with her character, and throughout a series of dramatic beats and life-altering events, Prescott proves her emotional registry being years above her cinematic inexperience. Also, as Bailey the dog, Josh Gad is once again every bit as infectious as he is connected to the audience he engages with. Gad rarely has trouble emitting the energy that each scene requires, and through a healthy amount of audible narration, we are given ample time with the continued presence over the story, who takes us through all of life’s unique quips and quirks.

– Further developing of human protagonists. This is arguably the biggest difference from the first film, as the sequel sticks closer to this dog’s interaction with just the one family, as opposed to the many it came across in reuniting with its original owner. This allows the script to enhance our investment into their story-time dynamics, as well as cutting out a lot of the unnecessary padding associated with pushing the reset button every time Bailey dies, giving us a natural flow of pacing for the plot that (Lets be honest) is the main thing we care about with these movies. In doing this, I found a strong interest with CJ’s well-being, as well as the tumultuous uneasiness that her family is left with after many instances of dramatic tension formed from misunderstanding. It proves that “A Dog’s Journey” values the human protagonists every bit as much as man’s best friend, and can succeed a lot easier with an audience when it sets them on equal footing.

– Mature themes for family audiences. I value a kids movie so much more when it treats the youths with the respect associated in guiding them through meaty material without truly testing the limits of a PG rating. Likewise, the material itself doesn’t suffer a hinderance in effectiveness because of such, taking us through themes of alcoholism, abandonment, reincarnation, and even cancer that constantly keeps them on their toes. To a certain degree, you could say that each of these are used in manipulative ways that damned the first movie from receiving a passing grade from this critic, but the unraveling of events feels natural here, and not necessarily catering to a meandering cause. It’s all about educating its youths in ordinary circumstances which some of them will someday be confronted with, and it elevates the dramatic tension of the film effectively because of its upping of stakes from the first movie.

– Detailed make-up and prosthetics. While only used for one scene and two character’s in the movie, the film’s use of natural aging enhancements feels naturally convincing and reflective of the time that has passed from when we last saw them. This was one of my biggest concerns with watching the trailers, as the film’s multi-decade progression was depicted without any of the scenes of these actors after their separation, but thankfully the surprise was saved for the film itself, and it does so with a modest amount of wrinkling cream, glasses, and wigs that go a long way where computer graphics aren’t necessary. These kind of effects normally do cost more in studio productions, but the integrity of realistic visual effects is something that I commend it greatly for, and I hope it’s a healthy direction that many more films will follow with it.

– Important life lessons. This is especially, but not limited to, youthful female audiences, as the protagonist of the film becomes embattled with some internal conflicts that ages her well ahead of her years in terms of wisdom. Because of such, the film boosts and a message of resiliency and self-belief to young girls everywhere, educating them on the importance associated with entertaining the right choices in male suitors where looks certainly aren’t everything. In a perfect world, films like these would serve as strong poignancy pieces for the future females of tomorrow, but in the overabundance of intriguing details in the movie, it’s easy to see that it could easily be lost or overlooked in translation. Even still, the script takes an approach especially to adopted little girls, who have to blaze their own path after those they depended on fell off of theirs.

NEGATIVES

– Stilted dialogue. Much of the line reads and dialogue associated with still reek of hokey, obviousness, that occasionally makes this feel like a Hallmark Channel movie, instead of the big screen presentation that we’re supposed to feel. One such example is in the continuity of speech by Gad throughout a time-passing montage, that doesn’t make sense when you consider he’s in the scene he’s supposed to be talking over a passage of ample time. This makes it clearly evident that the film values audience narration over storytelling believability, and I wish I could say it’s the only problem associated with Gad’s narration. As well, it’s every bit as re-affirming as it was in the first movie, explaining to us audibly what we’ve already seen visually. It’s like being told every detail twice, and this occasionally gets irritating with the pacing and progression of scenes that should be shorter than they rightfully are.

– Formulaic redundancy. When I saw the trailer for this film, it felt very much like the first movie narratively, and with the exception of cutting down on multitudes of owners that I mentioned earlier, the film’s general outline feels very much identical to the first movie. This is the biggest argument in terms of why audiences who saw the first movie should see the sequel, and especially if you are against seeing dogs being put to death in movies, you should definitely keep your distance from this one. While only happening three times in this film, as opposed to seven in the previous installment, the death sequences themselves are very hard to engage in, and manipulative for how they focus on the face of the animal each time it’s at its weakest hour.

– Obvious foreshadowing. There’s certainly no shortage of this one, as the barrage of unnecessarily-bitchy supporting characters and out-of-nowhere details in storytelling directions, further flesh out the predictability in a story this minimal on depth. Because our central trio of character’s are such good people, it makes the bad ones feel that much more cartoonish by comparison, and because of this we can easily sniff out that relationships and karma are certainly not going to be on the sides of these miserable people. On the subject of plot foreshadowing, the film introduces a scene of cancer-sniffing dogs midway through the film that comes out of nowhere, and is given such an inordinate amount of focus rendered upon, that we know its elements will come into play at some place during the film, and re-appear they do, as a character becomes plagued in a battle with cancer that definitely benefits the convenience of this earlier inclusion.

– Outdated soundtrack. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible that teenage characters are listening to fifteen year old music at a hip high school house party, but the majority of such big numbers surely flock more to what’s current and fresh at the moment. In this regard, the inclusion of The All American Rejects, Phillip Phillips, and Matt Nathanson feel about a decade too late in marketing to the soundtrack hounds that attend these movies. In addition to this, the musical score by composer Mark Isham feels completely uninspiring and piano-repetitive throughout the length of the film. If I could watch this film on mute, I really would, but the importance of details shouldn’t suffer because the musical choices associated with the film feel like they are from a middle aged woman’s IPOD on shuffle.

My Grade: 6/10 or C-

Poms

Directed By Zara Hayes

Starring – Diane Keaton, Pam Grier, Jacki Weaver

The Plot – A comedy about a group of women who form a cheer leading squad at their retirement community, proving that you’re never too old to ‘bring it!’

Rated PG-13 for some adult language/sexual references.

POSITIVES

– Enjoyable cast. Keaton’s usual May fare is exceptional this time around, investing in a character who actually has a bit of flare and attitude to the usual types she has unfortunately become saddled with. In addition to this, the role has an unordinary amount of physicality to it, proving that age is only a number, and that Keaton’s persistent filmography is all about the way she feels in the roles she consistently takes on. As good as Keaton is however, it’s actually Weaver who steals the show as her sexually active neighbor/best friend. Jacki has had a resurgence of late in Hollywood, but Sheryl is a role that feels like she has invested the most of herself into, combining dry sarcasm and a no-nonsense demeanor that keeps the people around her constantly on their toes. These two are a delight to watch interact on-screen, and it makes me wish that the film, especially in the second half, would’ve donated a bit more to watching their unfolding drama play out with the attention that it rightfully deserves.

– Snappy comic dialogue. I’m not ashamed to say that I laughed a lot in this film, despite the fact that its outline is typical set-up for adult comic sitcoms. Hayes biggest strength as a director is in the polished timing that each of ladies exert on the conversations, allowing enough time to soak the punchline of the material in without taking away from the pacing and progression of the scene, and it conjured up an effectiveness that struck a funny bone within me around 70% of the time. Perhaps it’s the awkwardness of seeing senior citizens in these unconventional situations, or the fact that Hayes knows her audience very well. Either way, “Poms” infectious material is a pep rally of timely dialogue and classy sight gags that is easily one of the more feel good films of the spring movie season.

– Crisp editing. This accomplishment is two-fold. The first is its enhancement of the dual scene jokes that require a sharp slice between to truly sell them. An example of this is a character who is repeatedly told by her husband that she can join the cheerleading group over his dead body, and then cuts to his funeral. While morbid in its punchline, the editing does convey the point with blunt force that reaches for the laugh as quick as it can. The second thing the editing is used for is the dance routines themselves, which attain a level of professionalism to them, thanks to a barrage of quick-cut edits that help maintain the intensity of the number. When you especially consider how little edits were used early on in the group’s routines, and how inexperienced they looked, it’s remarkable that the closing number establishes a feeling of the group growing together as a unit, making what they accomplish that much more believable because of talented editing that is always one step ahead.

– Profound examples of senior treatment. This is perhaps the biggest reason to see this film, as the depictions by higher authority and youthful outsiders feels every bit as honest as it does absorbing. As someone who works in a senior citizens community, I can say that the transition into assisted living isn’t always the easiest. It leads to a loss of freedoms that they never choose to happen, but are relegated to thanks to the effects of aging. For where that plays in “Poms” is the interaction with high-schoolers, who are often too immature to understand that these are people who were once where they now stand. As well, the overprotective family member, who often oversteps his boundaries for better of the person in question. Hayes touches on this multiple times in the film, and I appreciate the focus given to such an often overlooked plague that hinders the spirit in senior citizens long before anything else sets in. These are people who wish to live their lives as similar as they did before they moved into this community, so the best we can do is support that yearning for routine.

– An easy sit. At 86 flimsy minutes, “Poms” is one of the easier watches that I have had in quite sometime, and this is in part due to the progression in scenes that rarely stalls or remains in place for too long. This is a movie that continuously shifts from one setting to the next, and I feel that movement helps vitally in keeping this film from being something that it doesn’t necessarily need to be, in the idea of unnecessary padding. Each act here is given ample time to prove its weight to the progression of the story, and it helps even more that Martha (Keaton) is a protagonist who we can get behind, especially for the secret conflict that she is keeping from her friends. We, like the pacing of the film, embraces her growing connection between them, allowing us to invest in the group’s dynamic thoroughly while maintaining the care-free attitude of the minutes that are passing off-screen.

– Gorgeous setting. Sunnyside Acres is a place that I want to live in, if only for the inordinate amount of suburban ranches that stretch as far as the eye can see. Keaton’s character even comes from a New York apartment, so her move is a definite upgrade. In addition to the gorgeous housing quarters, the benefits of multiple heated pools, sports courts and alley’s, and the ideal weather that always lives up to its name, definitely puts the audience in the frame of mind that this place is unlike anywhere else you’ve ever seen, and it better translates the immensity of the change in Martha’s life that now comes at her in every possible direction. It proves that the film definitely took some time in scouting the proper locations to keep this from feeling like a stage-style setting, and the absorbing quality of the film’s desirable setting is one that I seek permanent residency at.

NEGATIVES

– Clunky soundtrack. I hated the soundtrack for two reasons. The first is because the familiar beats of modern day pop music don’t mesh well with the age grouping of the cast and audience that accompany it. I understand that they need dance tracks to sell the dance sequences, but surely there are more timely appropriate measures to be taken with the music director who tied everything together. The second reason is because it feels too desperate and obvious to include any track that has been on the top 40 in recent years. From a personal level, I don’t enjoy one of these songs on the radio, and when I hear them in a film where their inclusion feels completely inappropriate, it culminates in an opportunistic feel that reeks of studio involvement.

– For the sake of it. There are measures taken with a trio of antagonist characters and two dramatic inducing situations that happen for no other reason than the movie calling for it. On the former, the film’s three antagonists have no serious motivation to go after these women, and it almost gets to cartoonish levels of evil by the time is over. What’s even more convincing is if you take these scenes out of the film, you trim about ten minutes from the run time and lose nothing of substantial value because of it. On the subject of the situational drama, these can easily be solved with even a shred of intelligence that so obviously did not go into them. As an example, one scene deals with the ladies creating a diversion to break out one of their crew free from their overbearing son. MINOR SPOILER – It ends with them throwing a rock through his car window, and they sneak around the back of the house to pull her through the window. Couldn’t they have just done this without throwing a rock? Won’t it be even more difficult to accomplish since they have to go back out front to the bus anyway? Then there’s the conflict of them needing a place to practice since a power hungry manager is cutting their time down. There are literally hundreds of places on this campus that they could practice. The film even realizes this midway through, as they start practicing in Martha’s garage.

– No exposition for supporting cast. It’s a bit frustrating that the film really only builds two women throughout the entirety of this film, and it leaves some credible actresses like Grier, Rhea Pearlman, and Phyllis Sommerville appearing without much emphasis behind their inclusion other than to fill a quota. For my money, the film could’ve omitted its antagonist desire in favor of further establishing these ladies for the importance they deserve. It would make your interest in the overall group that much tighter, and cement the screenwriters for having depth in writing beyond just the table dressing of the plot.

– Montage sequence overkill. Everywhere you look in this film, there’s a musical montage to shortcut the values and importance that exposition sets, and it gives the film a frequent feeling of fast-forward that does more harm than value for the believability of the routines. If I’m remembering correctly, I am currently counting eight different musical montages. This would be overkill for a 90’s underdog sports movie, and even worse for a film that doesn’t necessarily require these huge jumps in a time frame that isn’t that immense to begin with. It’s an overdone cliche that reaches ridiculous levels of incorporation by the end of the film, and triples the numbers of times that we actually see the group doing their thing without cut and paste.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

Detective Pikachu

Directed By Rob Letterman

Starring – Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton

The Plot – The story begins when ace detective Harry Goodman (Paul Kitson) goes mysteriously missing, prompting his 21-year-old son Tim (Smith) to find out what happened. Aiding in the investigation is Harry’s former Pokémon partner, Detective Pikachu (Reynolds): a hilariously wise-cracking, adorable super-sleuth who is a puzzlement even to himself. Finding that they are uniquely equipped to communicate with one another, Tim and Pikachu join forces on a thrilling adventure to unravel the tangled mystery. Chasing clues together through the neon-lit streets of Ryme City, a sprawling, modern metropolis where humans and Pokémon live side by side in a hyper-realistic live-action world–they encounter a diverse cast of Pokémon characters and uncover a shocking plot that could destroy this peaceful co-existence and threaten the whole Pokémon universe.

Rated PG for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements.

POSITIVES

– Easily the most accessible of the Pokemon films. In straying a bit from its conventional roots, “Detective Pikachu” is able to accommodate to a bigger audience, all the while remaining faithful to its world building and rules that have garnered legions of faithful followers for many generations. If you want to see a typical Pokemon movie, there are thousands of those, but putting its familiar furry protagonist in a noir mystery that touches on some surprisingly dark territory in material, gives the franchise new life on screen and in direction, which will inevitably make it all the more adaptable for audiences like myself, who have never been struck by the Pokemon lore. This isn’t the first Pokemon film that I’ve ever seen, but it is the first one that had me leaving the theater with an unshakably positive feeling, all the while solidifying my iron-clad views towards the importance of family, that the film takes with it throughout.

– Sparkling special effects. Pay attention Sonic, this is how you seamlessly immerse an obviously computer generated property into a live action background, without alienating the texture of color that lacks believability. Every design here is perfectly rendered and exceptionally detailed, illustrating the very fur and facial movements of the Pokemon creatures with an air of consistency that you rarely see in live action computer-generated kids movies. Likewise, the artificial destruction of some pretty intense and heavy action set pieces rumble the screen in ways that make them inescapable from what is transpiring, cementing a beautifully vibrant transition from animated movies that never leave much to the imagination in terms of what it loses in the transfer. If more live action transformations looked like this, I would gladly welcome the string of video game movies that will inevitably leave me braindead from, among other things, phony post production effects work.

– Cohesively juggling tones. What really surprised me about the movie was how it managed to evolve into this drama during pivotal scenes of emotional wrangling. Aside from the opening fifteen minutes, which feel like they set the ground wonderfully for a revenge narrative, the beginning of the film’s final act constructs a conflict within Pikachu, as well as one with Tim that is anything but the typical third act distancing we’ve come to know. Instead, it’s more about the discovery of the role that Pikachu plays in this progressing mystery, establishing a series of twists that add a fine combination of intrigue for the character’s, as well as a somber atmosphere of tension that adapts to being much more than a lazy comedy. With this film having such a resting backbone on the values of family and friendship, and how those aspects tie together perfectly sometimes, it makes this a recommend for the whole family, remembering to instill the profoundly powerful gut-punch literally moments before they walk out of the theater.

– Ryan Reynolds. Simply put, there is nothing that this man can’t do. While Ryan’s familiar vocal tones never experiment with stretching or tweeking to make them sound different, it’s Ryan’s timely delivery and enthusiastic energy in dangerous situations that made him the focus for audiences well beyond being the title character. When Pikachu is at his most vulnerable, which is roughly 80% of the movie, Ryan delivers his best stuff, emoting a cowardice side of the familiar hero, which certainly casts him in newly hilarious light than I’ve ever seen. His influence is felt so much that in the rare occasion when Pikachu isn’t on-screen, that the movie immediately loses the air of momentum that it builds each time his unshakeable sarcasm and endless wit isn’t there to enhance the interaction of his live action counterparts, and it’s one of those performances that will make it difficult to shake free from his voice, every time you watch a Pokemon movie from this point forward.

– The setting. Ryme City is about as cool a place that I’ve seen in cinema since “Blade Runner”, and it’s clear in the details how the current pays a respectable homage to the previous. The neon lights adorned on sky-scraping signs reflect beautifully on the rain-soaked concrete, and the assortment of opportunity-seeking businesses gives a lived-in feeling to capitalism that ranges even in the locations that feel planets away from our own. It juggles this strange juxtaposition, where the technology feels decades ahead of our own, but the similarities in balance for power and current business time fashions gives it a searing reality not far from where we currently stand. Overall, it gives the location a timeless feeling, which in turn will allow it to age gracefully as the years pass by.

– Easter Egg reference. This is about as unexpected as you can get for a hidden Easter Egg, but I tip my hat for a lengthy amount of time, for the way this film managed to include a reference to my favorite Christmas movie of all time. Even more incredible is that this reference within a reference was created especially for that Christmas movie, so the use of its inclusion is obviously an homage to this movie, and plays incredibly for how it plays simultaneously with the crime noir narrative that is playing out before our very eyes in Ryme City. Despite that movie and this one feeling legions apart in terms of similarities, the way it is inserted is every bit as clever as it is commanding of the attention of moviegoers for the way it practically takes over the scene right from our actors in frame.

NEGATIVES

– Exposition heavy dialogue. Sometimes the spring of knowledge feels as forced as a screenplay can make evident, and it stood as the one aspect (Especially during the first act) that weighed this movie down heavily in my final grade. When a new Pokemon comes on-screen, the film almost stops in its tracks to tell us who they are and what power they possess, and while it doesn’t conjure up the cliche of showing a visual stat-sheet like some films do, the overabundance of long-winded delivery isn’t far off either. I can understand teaching audiences about the character’s and backstories accordingly, but when a scene with an amazing actor (Ken Watanabe) is only there to serve a purpose for Tim, you have to wonder if there were easier and more believable ways to introduce this knowledge without the smell of obviousness dimming the potential of said scene, and it happened more times than I would’ve liked.

– Painful human character’s. There’s no one in “Detective Pikachu” who I related to on a personal level, and that’s a shame considering much of this story’s hidden narrative deals with you indulging and empathizing with these people and their newfound tragedies, and it rendered much of the impact of devastation that much more ambiguous because I couldn’t allow myself to fully invest in their bland personalities. Speaking of which, Smith’s Tim is a sludgy sap of moping reality, and his interaction with Newton romantically felt as cold as arctic temperatures, and about as forced as a spontaneous colonic volcano. The screenplay isn’t interested in developing them individually, so it builds them together in-tow, and as far as lead character’s go, these two aren’t nearly charming or confident in their abilities to get across the magic in their bumbling personas.

– Comedy power. While Reynolds makes miracles out of mirages, the overall landing power of the comedy in this film left slightly more to be desired, especially considering we’ve seen Reynolds at his rudest, in the R-rated duo of the “Deadpool” franchise. For this being a PG movie, it’s clear that PG restrictions were taken, and even despite Reynolds hinting at more adult material from time to time, the film’s firepower remains mostly grounded for what we expect from kids movies that demean their intelligence with sounds and flatulence humor. Aside from this, the film commits the crime of showcasing its best material in the trailer, leaving very little of surprise or payoff in the way of what remains. So if you watched this trailer and weren’t sold on the material, the movie itself won’t provide much other relief in that department.

– Problems with the mystery aspect. There are many here, and unfortunately they are made the more evident the longer the film goes on. The answer is predictable, the interrogations in dialogue and sequencing are repetitive, the plot holes in some aspects are glaring, and there’s simply not enough of a struggle for Tim and Pikachu in solving this case. Most of the latter problem deals with a 95 minute run time, which could use another ten minutes to help stretch the dynamic associated with team thinktank’s to illustrate how thick this mystery really is. The quicker they figure everything out, the more painful it is for the power of the mystery itself, and more alluding to this being a kids-first movie that will do no favors for adults in preserving anything mysterious. For my money, they could’ve targeted somewhere in between these age groups to offer something cryptic to both sides, but unfortunately the youth will get more out of these twists that are visible from a mile away.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile

Directed By Joe Berlinger

Starring – Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Angela Sarafyan

The Plot – Elizabeth Kloepfer (Collins) refused for years to acknowledge that her boyfriend (Efron) was a serial killer. Her partner, Ted Bundy, became famous in the 1980s for committing several heinous crimes against women, despite her disbelief, who watched passively as the murders were unleashed from a very unique perspective.

Rated R for disturbing/violent content, some sexuality, nudity and adult language

POSITIVES

– A unique perspective. While not satisfying of a viewer’s bloodlust, Berlinger’s film is unique, in that it depicts Bundy from Elizabeth’s point-of-view. Because of this, we rarely see Bundy in the act of violence, instead he seduces us in the same way he did his former lover, with an abundance of charm and wit that make him every bit as psychologically dangerous as it does physically. We don’t see all of the things he is accused of, so we, like Elizabeth, are forced to make a decision only on what we see, and in that direction it makes it very easy to comprehend why accepting Bundy as a killer was such a difficult measure to her and to the many who deemed him innocent. Even more however, I commend the movie for not making him out to be a martyr to anyone learning about him for the first time. The horrendous evidence and Bundy placements are still detailed in a way that pins it all together towards him by film’s end, and depicts him as anything other than the innocent bystander that he was setting himself up to be.

– Right man for the job. So many people cried foul at Efron being cast as Bundy, but I feel his job here radiates the charm and appeal of a dangerous psychopath tenfold, alluding to how dangerous it would be for any of us, especially females, to come into contact with him. While not a transformative performance, Efron hints at a dark and malevolent side just below the surface, but it’s his wit inside of the courtroom that cements why he was one of the first serial killers to become a newsroom celebrity. Aside from Efron, Collins’ mental anguish is well defined and meticulously articulated, proving that there are some situations worse than even that of the many victims. Elizabeth is proof that Bundy’s dominance still persists even years after he’s been taken off of the streets, and it’s her mental clarity that is given ample time for us the audience to get behind and support, regardless of the charm exuberated by our charming protagonist-turned-antagonist.

– Reflective soundtrack for the time. This film takes place in the late 70’s through the late 80’s, so the proper essence in collective audible enhancement is essential. Some of my favorite tracks for the time are featured, like “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James, “Do You Believe in Magic” by The Lovin Spoonful, and of course “We’ll Face This World Together” by The Tommy Smith Band, and they not only help with better placing the timeframe, but also in supplanting a subliminal message that echoes the situation of the couple front-and-center. For a Netflix only film, I am beyond surprised that the production was able to conjure up the budget necessary to include so many timeless favorites, and thanks to the imprint of modern cinema with all of its dark material, you will definitely view these songs in a different light from now on.

– Berlinger’s factual direction. Not only is everything depicted in the film based on factual evidence from the crime scenes and courtrooms alike, but Joe’s directed is commended for playing everything close to the chest. This allows his gimmick of depicting Bundy as this misunderstood soul of sorts to shine fruitfully through the duration of the film, leading to a final confrontation between the two main stars that brings everything full circle. This is how you do an introduction scene beautifully, because not only did I forget that the movie started this way with this examination scene, but it’s a scene that is so vitally important to the climax of the film, especially in how it positively contradicts everything that we’ve come to understand to that point. In addition to this, a credits sequence depicting the real life events showcase just how on-the-nose Berlinger was at mastering the looks of the sets and wardrobe of its real life counterpart, and the overall attention to detail in signifying that he was the right man for the job in handling this picture. Above all else, Berlinger should be applauded for crafting a different direction for the serial killer exploitation genre, and his film breathes newfound life into a haunting period in American history that really brought attention to courtroom proceedings for future telecasts.

– Perhaps my single favorite aspect of the film is the manipulation of lighting used to toy with the audience in all of its shadow play. Particularly in the establishing scenes between Ted and Elizabeth, there’s a darkness that clouds Ted with a sort of ambiguity that speaks volumes to what he is hiding from his significant other at the time, and painting him as this cryptic figure with a lot to hide. There’s also a daydream sequence involving Elizabeth’s first recollection of intimacy with Ted, and it happens with such minimal lighting that we can’t see his face or make out what emotion he is depicting at that particular moment, and it stood out as the one scene of unconventional between them that unnerved me in this film, if only for the uncertainty that lingers in the atmosphere during a scene when the couple should be at their most intimately strongest. It’s a fine use of technical articulation, and continuously hints that something darker and more sinister is beating beneath the table dressing of this master manipulator.

– Juggles many different tones within its atmosphere. It’s funny how well the moments of seriousness like the murders themselves play seamlessly with the audaciousness instilled upon scenes of escape by Ted. In a fictional screenplay, this would come across as hokey or even condemning to the opposite direction, but because these are factual events that played out in real time, we have to respect the art of the irony for its strange-but-true honesty. These scenes never soil the impact of the dramatic weight instilled upon the film’s many character confrontations, and even more beneficial, they hook the attention of the audience during sequences when you think this film is finally evolving into the darkness that we’ve come to expect with Bundy’s documented history.

NEGATIVES

– Stumbling pacing. Easily the film’s biggest weakness, as the first half of the movie is speeding its way through some of the more important building blocks between the relationship of Ted and Elizabeth, as well as virtually ignoring the passage of time. Ultimately, 108 minutes isn’t enough to tell a fully compelling Ted Bundy narrative, as much of the subplots associated with his cryptic parents, or his ability inside of the classroom are rarely elaborated on, giving a noticeable gap between tidbits of knowledge that will come into play during the pivotal third act. Speaking of which, the film’s finale doesn’t move nearly as quick or transcendent as the previous two, as much of the final forty minutes of the film is spent inside of a courtroom. This isn’t a problem for uneducated viewers, but for someone like myself who has studied this case endlessly, I could’ve used more emphasis on the events going on outside of the courtroom. For my money, this film could’ve used another twenty minutes to better solidify the believability of the relationship of the duo during the beginning of the film, as well as flesh out those additional details of subplot that the film rudely tiptoed over.

– Terrible title. I rarely complain about a film’s title, but in this case it is easy to forget, as well as far too lengthy to easily convey to other people. I understand that it has meaning within the context of the courtroom itself, as the judge (Played by John Malkovich) relates these words to Bundy, but they just don’t click for me as a proper title, and even as I type them repeatedly in this review, I still find myself having trouble remembering every word.

– Cheap production value. I can easily understand why the studio went the Netflix direction with this release, as nothing inside of it screams of big screen presentation to me. The cinematography is mundane, the dialogue is too on-the-nose to feel naturally convincing , especially during the initial meeting between Ted and Elizabeth, and the screenplay refusing to stray from the more universally established events structures this film similarly to that of a television movie of the week special. When I watched “Bird Box” a few months ago, there was nothing about the production that ever felt minimally capturing, but with Berlinger’s picture here, there’s instances of gaps where my immersion into the film was broken, reminding me constantly of the miniscule budget that is left to grasp at after Netflix pays a fortune for the right.

– In the shadow of a better film. Berlinger also directed the recently released “Ted Bundy Tapes” on Netflix as well, and this is great in regards to one man knowing the complete picture of this dangerous serial killer, but does this film in particular no favors when the comparison between them is brought to light. As to where the prior film nailed down the details of every single little tidbit of Bundy’s trip of terror, “Extremely Wicked” (Again, I’m not saying that stupid title) feels like the inferior piece for the stumbling execution that leaves too much information omitted from what transpires. It’s possible that this film would’ve gotten a higher grade from me if it didn’t come out within a couple of months of that previous better documentary, but with it still fresh in our minds, the current reviewed film feels like the cliff notes version waste of time when compared to the complete captivating story.

My Grade: 6/10 or C+

Pet Sematary

Directed By Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer

Starring – Jason Clarke, John Lithgow, Amy Seimetz

The Plot – Louis Creed (Clarke), his wife Rachel (Seimetz), and their two children Gage (Hugo Lavoie) and Ellie (Jete Laurence) move to a rural home where they are welcomed and enlightened about the eerie ‘Pet Sematary’ located nearby. After the tragedy of their cat being killed by a truck, Louis resorts to burying it in the mysterious pet cemetery, which is definitely not as it seems, as it proves to the Creeds that sometimes, dead is better.

Rated R for horror violence, bloody images, and some adult language

POSITIVES

– Contrasts from the original. The point of any remake is to experiment with the property in ways that separates itself from the legend of the original, and thankfully there’s enough here to recommend in this regard. During the first half of the film, I shamefully will say that I was nearly falling asleep because of how safe to the chest this film presented itself, but the best was yet to come. Once the third act kicks in, the film takes some unexpected steps in finality that I truly didn’t see coming, and offers an ending, which for me, was exceptionally more satisfying than that of its predecessor, all the while paying tribute of sorts to the deranged nature of the novel. Likewise, the film also rewards fans of the original movie with a couple psych-out scenes, that make you think you know where the action is headed, but in reality spins a different take with these deviating wink-and-nod’s to the faithful fan in all of us. My only problem with these is the terrible trailer reveals far too much with them, and anyone who sees it will already know what’s to come because of its burdening spoilers.

– Deeper meaning with the material. One thing that has always glued me to the Pet Sematary concept is this unshakeable feeling of mourning, and how difficult it can be, especially for a parent, in letting go, and that’s certainly the case once more, as Kolsch and Widmyer make the grief feel every bit as thick and suffocating of that of the fog that surrounds the Pet Sematary itself. It justifies the premise of such a preposterous idea by tapping into our psyche, and asking if we would risk it all to get one more chance with the person we love most, and it’s really in that question where so much of the material compartmentalizes itself with, minimalizing the line of rationality that we usually call a movie out for, in favor of understanding for someone going through something so tragic, so recent.

– Imaginative set designs. This is the aspect that makes me gleam with pride the most, as the cemetery and surrounding woods capture Stephen King’s descriptive vocabulary to a tee, with a combination of props and effects that sustain that aura of uncertainty all the way to the finish line. I mentioned earlier about the flow of never-ending fog, but it’s the way the fog interacts with the creativity associated with the grave structures that adds emphasis to such an ominous setting. There’s also great telegraphing of each layer of the woods itself, and I was never struggling to keep up or left subdued with the versatility of where the story took us and how deep we pursued.

– The kid steals the show. Jason Clarke continues to harvest the emotional registry of a celery stick, garnering a complete lack of emotions during a pivotal moment of loss that should cripple him. Lithgow is solid enough, but his performance is consistency on one level, that never elevates or adds to the pacing of the material. Seimetz contains both emotion and fragility, but a mother becomes a supporting character in a film that she co-leads. Where this statement turns into a positive is in the nearly flawless work of Jete Laurence, who has many leading roles ahead of her. Here, it’s her emotional as well as her physical performance that gives the film grit in circumstance, and allows the young phenom to have fun with the role that doesn’t require clever editing or manipulation like Gage in the original film. Laurence is a thrill to watch, and breathes life into the movie’s much better second half, giving us the single best child performance since Jacob Tremblay in 2016’s “Room”.

– Blood thirst satisfied. This is an unnerving film in regards to bone-crunching sound mixing and brutality accentuated by make-up detail, and both of those things go a long way in lasting impact for how they’re used sparingly. What I appreciate about the spread out nature of these is it not only makes you appreciate them more when you do see them, but their sudden inclusion forces its audience to wince in depiction because they pop-up out of nowhere in a scene that is otherwise tranquil. This also points to the gore making up a majority of jump scares for the movie, conjuring up a combination of consistency and impact that make them necessary for inclusion, and I don’t say that often. This is an R-rating that doesn’t go out of its way to remind you why it’s given the coveted honors, but the lasting permanence of some jaw-dropping blows sneak up on you in a way that occasionally earns it.

– Like Marvel after credit sequences, we’ve come to expect Easter eggs in a Stephen King movie that ties some of his properties together, and this film is no exception. Without spoiling anything, there’s a sign displaying a familiar town in King novels being close by, and adds only further speculation on a Stephen King shared universe that all of these stories are tied together by. As is the case especially by some recent King stories like “It”, “Gerald’s Game”, and “1922” getting the big screen treatment, it feels pretty cool to think that all of these crazy things are taking place within the same realm of this twilight zone that feels not too far from the familiarity of our own world.

NEGATIVES

– Clunky exposition. The film takes a bit too long to set up the Pet Sematary lore, as well as family back stories, that often make the progression of the current day narrative feel a bit stalled because of it. What’s even more revealing about the strain it causes is in Lithgow’s character knowing everything there is to know about the area, and yet still choosing to live there regardless, creating a hole in logic that we’re just forced to go along with. Finally, because this is a 96 minute movie, the detail discoveries feel far too quickly paced to race to where this story is inevitably headed, and not given the typical few days before weird things start going bump in the night for this family.

– Obvious green-screen effects. Two scenes in particular stand out like a sore thumb for me, and create the usual darkened background when compared to our character in focus that we’ve come to expect with cheap digital effects. This screams artificial during the scenes when supreme filmmaking is supposed to impress us, and it let me down for how little the directing influenced what is transpiring on film, leaving far too much to imagination during one of King’s most gruesome stories. If a scene looks fake, it takes my immersion completely out of it, and suddenly I’m only focusing on the strings and lack of fully rendered textures that especially stand out in a film this grounded in budget effects work, and it makes me wish that practicality was more of a distinguishing feature, even if it is at the expense of child actor risk. It’s so poorly directed that I felt nothing for arguably the film’s biggest emotional gut-punch.

– Limited directing capabilities. Lack of actor handling, ignorance in its lack of use with the set designs, poor character decisions for the sake of script progress, choppy narrative overall, and lines feeling completely out of place. On the latter, one such line involved a female medical student shrieking “I CAN SEE HIS BRAINS!!!” and we’re supposed to believe that a woman who trained her whole life for this career never thought that she would see gore in her life. These are all examples of these two guys feeling so inferior for the importance of the material, giving it in some aspects a made-for-TV remake feeling that I couldn’t escape because this film never reached the potential that it truly could’ve.

– Not enough deviation. Perhaps the biggest problem that plagues this film is it inevitably does nothing to free itself from the shadow of an only decent original movie. In my opinion, I could’ve used more dark humor, especially after the final shot of the movie confirms every feeling that I had in this respective direction. The tone, the story movements, and the pacing are all very similar to the 1989 original that was so conventionally made, it practically begged a remake to make everything right, and this just isn’t that film. It plays itself far too close to the belt to ever stand out in its own unique perspective, and just settles far too often for soulless horror tropes that make all of these movies interchangeable.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

The Best of Enemies

Directed By Robin Bissell

Starring – Taraji P. Henson, Sam Rockwell, Wes Bentley

The Plot – Based on a true story, the film centers on the unlikely relationship between Ann Atwater (Henson), an outspoken civil rights activist, and C.P. Ellis (Rockwell), a local Ku Klux Klan leader who reluctantly co-chaired a community summit, battling over the desegregation of schools in Durham, North Carolina during the racially-charged summer of 1971. The incredible events that unfolded would change Durham and the lives of Atwater and Ellis forever.

Rated PG-13 for thematic material, racial epithets, some violence and a suggestive reference

POSITIVES

– Eye for detail. With an on-going story that is based entirely during the early 70’s, Bissell’s finest quality as a director is the attention she channels in generating the proper aesthetics. Beyond articulating the heat of the sunbaked temperature, which vibrantly reflects that of the underbelly of tension by a group refusing to change with the times, the film also uses its budget for wardrobe and automobile choices that were literally ripped from 70’s pop culture. What’s important is that nothing feels out of place or remotely counterfeit to where it’s plucked and placed, and this makes the story setting transition feel that much more fruitfully realized, keeping with the consistency of recollection that is out of this world in terms of its depiction.

– Charismatic performances. While the casting of Henson and Rockwell is a bit too gracious in terms of visual likeness to their real life counterparts, the duo do a magnificent job in juggling the complexities that each battle in the face of change. For Rockwell, the transformation is obvious: we have the leader of a racist organization, whose ignorance is eventually silenced the more he learns that color is merely only that, and that these are real people who he’s hurting. Rockwell maintains the air of energy associated with his comedic roles, all the while combining it with the dramatic pulse for long-winded speech deliveries that have made him a sought-after commodity. Henson herself has a flare for the dramatic, instilling a personality in Ann that brings the elements of bravery and resiliency to the forefront. The film thrives the most when the duo are on-screen together, but the ever-changing complexion to the way they view each other is better documented during scenes of isolation, and it establishes a twinkle of magic between two Hollywood heavyweights that each bring the thunder for such an important story, especially to a world still dealing with racial inequalities.

– Simmering soundtrack. Music plays such a pivotal role to the very pulse of the events that transpire in the script, and each insertion of audible familiarity is deposited without so much as an ounce of topical or obvious nature, that often take away the message of its inclusion. Roy Orbison, Al Green, and my personal favorite: Bill Withers are just a few of the names that play against what feels like such a lawless and evocative setting, and it adds a layer of depth and nuanced intensity to the tonal inconsistencies, which can sometimes feel overwhelming in the heart of the material. Setting a film in the south during a 70’s can be daring in what it’s trying to depict, but if it gives us one more chance to soak of that Southern sizzle of collective song stimulation, then I will be in every single time.

– Surprises within the screenplay. Some things that I commend this film for is in the touches of originality that left me appreciating as so much more than a two person show. For one, the supporting cast themselves are anything but one-dimensional characters, and the over two hour runtime gives more than enough opportunity for each of them to breakout of the subdued shadow that supporting roles can sometimes force. Two such actors, Babou Ceesay and Gilbert Glenn Brown, stole the show for me, breathing these articulate, open-minded people, who provide a sense of social commentary for each respective side of the color spectrum. Also, the necessity to include Ann’s flawed moral compass is another aspect that I give the film great respect for. It would be easy to focus solely on C.P., and what needs to change from within him, but Ann is someone whose darkest adversity has also rubbed off on her, and it’s led to a female protagonist who battles just as many demons as her white male adversary. Race subgenre films are usually one note when it comes to who leads and who follows, but “The Best of Enemies” reminds us of the condemning similarities that bind them.

– Strength in adversity. After a movie like “Green Book” taking Best Picture honors last year for feeling a bit too shielded of its material, it’s nice to see a film like this come along and remind us that the sweetest rewards of unity are only fully realized from the deepest conflicts, and it gives the story that much more of an urgency from within, because this town could literally burn to the ground at any moment. For my money, films depicting racism should always offer a gut-punch to audiences that endure them, and while “The Best of Enemies” isn’t a knock-out blow in this regard, it leaves enough damage on the complexion of audience feelings to leave you feeling stimulated by it, long after you leave the theater. For a PG-13 movie, there are scenes of daring nature, and it doesn’t balk whenever it starts to feel the weight of its daring impact.

– Insightful post credit offerings. If you’re seeing this film, definitely stay in your seats for the film’s epilogue, which includes footage taken from real life interviews between C.P and Ann that better paint the vibes in friendship that the film otherwise stops too early to fully realize. What’s so effective about these vital inserts is that the air of rivalry from between them didn’t die, even all the way to both of their final days on Earth. In particular, there’s a scene of the two dancing that reaches back into the arms of time, and allows the two aging figures on-screen to emulate their youthful strides for even one more minute, and it’s proof that the memory of these two touched so many people, yet it was the work that they did on each other that carved out two monumental figures with racial integration in Southern schools.

NEGATIVES

– Dry spots. The first hour of this film was a bit of a challenge to get through for me, not because of the pacing of the film, mind you, but because outside of C.P’s introduction, we go so long without a flare for the dramatic in the pulse of this story. It almost gives a sense of what’s transpiring outside of this group is less important to the context of the story, only to be put on pause until the film absolutely requires it. Thankfully, the final forty minutes of the film is easily the highlight for me, but it’s such a task in getting there that some might turn back before making the upward climb through 128 minutes of dialogue driven material.

– Convenient and manipulative plot device. C.P Ellis did in fact have a mentally handicap son, who lived his life in a group home, but my problem is more with how this tier is included into the film, making it feel every bit as predictable as it is assisting. On that second adjective, I mean that the film only cuts to it when it needs reason to tie clunky storytelling together. Likewise, this subplot is the breath of air that the film gives us to never completely hate Rockwell’s character, allowing him enough wiggle room to get out of the ties that he binds himself in early during a disgusting scene that tests your first impression of him. What’s so obvious is that his son is brought into the fold in the immediately next scene after this introduction, making me roll my eyes because I knew that this kid was only going to be called upon for the meandering.

– Technical issues. While not the biggest of blunders here, the editing to me felt a bit too strained, as well as yearning for the two hour plus runtime that would otherwise be unnecessary. Anyone who knows me, knows I love long-take sequences in a film, but here their only intention is to halt the audience from looking away from a facial reaction (Particularly from Henson) after engaging in something humbling for her character. There are honorable intentions in this kind of visual creativity, but the reaching scenes never pull anything of depth for the performances themselves, and as a result, we’re left with with sequences that feel a bit delayed in their transition, instead of converging in one fluid movement that solidifies consistency.

– Tonal inconsistencies. I feel weird asking if a film about racism is a comedy, but the first half of this film plays its terrible events with a sense of ironic dark humor that is confirmed in the gleeful musical score and lively line delivery that could’ve definitely used another take. On a whole, the tone of the film never blends together as one cohesive unit, often feeling like a film of two halves, where each of them blend about as well as a train-wreck approaching each other at full force. In my opinion, the film should’ve remained faithful to being a drama. The humor itself never worked for me, and only adds confusion to scenes and sequences that are anything but humorous.

My Grade: 6/10 or C+

Dumbo

Directed By Tim Burton

Starring – Colin Farrell, Eva Green, Michael Keaton

The Plot – Holt (Farrell) was once a circus star, but he went off to war and when he returned it had terribly altered him. Circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) hires him to take care of Dumbo, a newborn elephant whose oversized ears make him the laughing stock of the struggling circus troupe. But when Holt’s children discover that Dumbo can fly, silver-tongued entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Keaton), and aerial artist Colette Marchant (Green) swoop in to make the little elephant a star.

Rated PG for peril/action, some thematic elements, and brief mild adult language

POSITIVES

– Just enough deviation. For my money, there’s a strong combination between the familiarity of scenes from the original animated property, as well as a healthy helping of experimentation with the gut-punch of the source material, that allows the film enough balance to prosper without playing it safe and conventional, as Disney often does with these live actions remakes. What surprised me most is the focus and unapologetic attention rendered to animal abuse, especially under that of a business model, which allowed the script to master some of its finer dramatic elements, in turn transcending itself from the safety net of feeling like a Disney movie. Part of that is on Burton’s gritty surface level temperature, which at times does push towards a PG-13 direction of harsh realities, but swings itself back around for more of the fantastical imagery needed to transfix the youthful audience.

– The complex case of Ben Davis. As a cinematographer, Davis is a mixed bag. After the bland presentation that was “Captain Marvel”, he redeems himself here, getting lost in a Burton-esque world, complete with weathered color design and the vibrancy of the circus, which transfixes and serves as an ode to fantasy visuals. The glowing of radiant lights surround our characters, giving the setting a surreal feel of the attention they command over the army of eyes ready to be dazzled, and placing these familiar faces in cast in a place and time far from anything they’ve ever been a part of. Whether Burton opened up the mind to expand Ben’s creativity, is a question we’ll never know the answer to, but one thing remains certain: he has a visual encompass that perfectly captures the radiance and imagination that lives and breathes in this palace of outcasts, and with such an echoing ambiance, we too are delighted to be a part of it.

– Superb visual effects. While not perfect in its movements during scenes of flight for its title character, I can say that the illustrations and aesthetics associated with the film do master not only a believable quality to the color and shapes of its animals, but also a heavy one with the way its manufactured properties interact with the sets surrounding them. In my opinion, it’s the details in attention to Dumbo, complete with wrinkled skin texture and baby blue eyes as big as oceans, that take the cake, and blend synthetically with the grade in visual cinematography that I previously mentioned above. Nothing ever feels counterfeit or out of place to the integrity of each frame, and masters a visual immersion that is second only to 2016’s “The Jungle Book” in terms of spell-binding accuracy.

– Elaborate set designs. Where does one start with the single best aspect of the movie? Perhaps in the intimate atmosphere of the small-stage circus, complete with man-made posters and signs, giving it that cult-like quality of better days being behind this family troop. Or maybe it’s the collision of present and future in the devil’s nest known as “Dreamworld”, garnering no shortage of stadium lighting, ride attractions, and the promise of science to hook its curious minds. Every prop or gimmick in the film holds immense weight to the complexion between two completely different settings, and this allows us the audience to be visually seduced by the pageantry of it all, in the same way that these performers thirsty for a chance are embracing for the first time ever. Instead of telling us what makes these places so different, Burton shows us, and it’s in that immense size where we understand the disposition of being seduced by greed, regardless of who gets hurt along the way.

– Burton brings his posse. What’s unique about this film is that it not only brings forth some of Burton’s most favorite alum, but it also treats us to a reunion of one of his most legendary films: “Batman Returns”. I couldn’t get enough of seeing Danny Devito and Keaton interacting, albeit in reverse protagonist and antagonist roles from their previous engagement, but there’s definitely a winner between them. Keaton easily steals the show from the rest of the gifted ensemble, chewing up enough scenery with a hokey inconsistent accent and relish for the fame, which make this role unlike anything we’ve ever seen from the decades-old performer. If Keaton has one adversary in scene-stealing however, it’s definitely from 14-year-old Nico Parker, who herself comes from acting royalty being the daughter of Thandie Newton. Parker has the childlike innocence in facial resonation, but it’s really the sass that boils just below the surface that made her endearing to the cause, and made her so vital to Dumbo’s development as a stage act throughout the movie. In fact, the film knows this so much that it focuses repeatedly on her, and nearly forgets about her on-screen brother (Played by Finley Hobbins).

– Perfectly paced. At 104 minutes, “Dumbo” is more than double the screen time of its animated predecessor, so immediately you know that plenty is going to be added to the story and subplots associated with the film, and thankfully I can say that all of it works in a way that never dulls or sags with the movement of the material. For a movie that thrives on redundancy, in that we’re seeing a lot of these scenes repeated to perfect the act of the flying elephant, there’s a surprisingly increased interest with each passing scene because the stakes are being constantly raised, not only for our big-eared protagonist, but also for the family that have taken him in to this point. It, as well as the fact that the entire second half of this movie is new material for the Dumbo folklore, gives the film strong urgency and uncertainty for where the story is headed, and despite its desire to repeat so much of what comes and goes, there’s not a single sequence during the film that I would change to fan dwindling interest. I was glued to my seat throughout this film, and that isn’t easy to do with someone like me who doesn’t support Disney live action remakes.

NEGATIVES

– An unwanted guest. Legendary ring announcer Michael Buffer makes two surprise appearances in the film, and you can pretty much guess what his involvement is here, as well as what line he mutters that made me completely want to punch a wall for how it broke my immersion into the film. I compare it a lot to 2013’s “The Great Gatsby” when rap music is being played throughout the film, despite the fact that this is taking place in 1922, when rap genre music wasn’t even a glint in the beatboxer who developed it. Buffer’s involvement in this film is every bit as cringey as it is unnecessary to the integrity of the time period and the consistency of the movie’s tone, and it reeks of desperation in the worst way possible.

– Lack of human character development. There’s so many scattered plot threads introduced early on in the film that are never followed upon or elaborated further with for the integrity of depth needed for the people whose names aren’t in the title. Dumbo is Dumbo. He will be alright regardless of what we learn about him, but it’s really those other pivotal leads who are never given the light of day to enhance your interest into them, particularly that of Colin Farrell’s wartime hero, who goes virtually unnoticed during the climax of this movie, minus climbing a stadium sized building along the side of it with one freaking arm, and without any sweat or conflict what so ever. I wish this film wasn’t afraid to dig a little deeper with the people we spend the most time with, and as it stands we learn more about a character who doesn’t talk than people who can’t shut up.

– Ruining a solid musical score. Legendary composer Danny Elfman pens one of his most emotionally stirring scores in quite some time, bringing along compositions that impact important scenes, just not in the way I was positively hoping. The music elevates the scenes, but it’s done in such a way that is mixed far too loud in each scene of inclusion, making it stand out as more of a distraction rather than a necessary inclusion, and it takes something that should feel inspirational, and instead brings out the emphasis in meandering from the audience what they are supposed to be feeling. Elfman brings the lightning, but the deafening delve of its level of incorporation is the thunder that unnecessarily shakes.

– Disappearing antagonists. One of my favorite clichés from movies is when a bad guy character will disappear in favor of a bigger, badder character, and that’s totally the case here, as a throwaway character during the first act, who says some of the most ridiculous lines to children that I’ve ever heard, practically vanishes once Vandevere’s character is brought to the forefront. Think of it as the movie’s inability to build two of the same characters simultaneously, but I think it’s a testament to just how unnecessary this prior antagonist feels, especially when you consider that he exists in an environment where everyone else interacts so positively.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

Captain Marvel

Directed By Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Starring – Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law

The Plot – The story follows Carol Danvers (Larson) as she becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races. Set in the 1990s, Captain Marvel is an all-new adventure from a previously unseen period in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language

POSITIVES

– Delightfully engaging cast of characters all around. For the title character, Larson is solid at conveying the dramatic pull of Carol’s loss of life on Earth, as well as the personable side of her demeanor that allows her to have fun through some truly trying times in the balance. My lone problem is in her ability to come across as intimidating to her opposition because of her inherited powers. Perhaps it’s in the way that her enemies view her, as a weakling woman, but to me I felt that anger and fire deep below in Larson’s performance was missing from her complex character, and I hope it’s something they can further flesh out in future movies with her. What Larson does thrive at however, is being a sponge that soaks up and adapts to the change in personalities she comes across. Most notably, it’s in her impeccable chemistry with Jackson’s Fury and Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg where we get the most indulging sense of banter between scenes and characters, making for thoughts of a buddy cop movie that floats to the surface. Jackson is definitely the show-stealer for me, as finally we get a film where Fury is brought to the forefront of the conflict and resolution, allowing us to see him in his prime, long before time and shadows forced him to step away from the action. Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos also shouldn’t be slept on, as his exceptional range as an actor gives him the power to connect to the audience despite being under layers of make-up and prosthetics for his character.

– Complete musical package. For the first time in a Marvel film, we are treated to a female’s perspective in musical score and accompaniment, as Pinar Toprak’s electronic atmosphere gives the film’s scenes of war and reveal a fine combination of pulse and energy necessary to hook the audience firmly into the sometimes abrupt movements of the camera. Likewise, the film’s soundtrack collection of 90’s favorites, although topical at times, does succeed in capturing the eclectic essence of 90’s top 40 radio for now future generations to immerse themselves in. One such song near the end of the film, I actually predicted would pop up, and while there are instances like this that sometimes feel obvious, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t lip-sync along once they made their presence felt to the dynamic of the story and title character.

– Computer generation effects at their finest. For my money, the transformation effects used on Fury and Coulson in the film, to make them look decades younger, is some of the most seamlessly effective enhancements that I have seen to date, and speaks volumes to the way Disney calculates where to spend their cash. This is of course a story that takes place in the 90’s, so obviously make-up isn’t going to cut it. Instead, the actors are shot and redistributed to the audience in a way that adds an inspiring layer of reality to the movements and authenticity of their shapes and size to the film, that would before feel obvious in its inclusion. There’s subtlety in artificial effects work, and Marvel just paved the way for an entire generation.

– Touching tributes. Being that this was the first film after the untimely death of Marvel founder Stan Lee, you knew that the familiar face would pop up a time or two, and thankfully the movie takes ample time to pay respects to the reason we’re all here in the first place. I won’t spoil much, but there’s an introduction to the movie that is every bit as clever as it is resounding, as well as a usual cameo appearance that may be my new personal favorite for Lee, considering the prop that he carries with him in the scene, and where it fits from a timeline perspective. I’m not sure if this scene was shot before Lee’s death or not, but the computer generation that I mentioned earlier gives me hope that Excelsior will live on forever.

– Overabundance of comedy. This would usually be a big negative for me, especially considering there are a few deliveries that didn’t land for my auditorium, but the film’s tonal decision to establish a healthy amount of humor for this character is one that I give great credit for. When the film was missing for me in waiting for this lead character to remember who she used to be, I was treated to clever quips in the form of a dangerous cat, Jackson’s impeccable straight man persistence, and of course 90’s nostalgia that constantly reminds us how far we’ve come with technology. The latter is also part of the genius of the particular place and time of the film’s setting, as they don’t have Tony Stark’s inventions or advanced technological measures to guide them through, therefore creativity is all of the rage, and it is incorporated in such a way that will poke and prod at anyone in the theater who is over the age of 25 and still remembers their America Online Password.

– Positive pacing. Perhaps the single biggest accomplishment in this two hour movie is how, despite its narrative flaws, it never manages to slug or stand in place for too long. Instead, the pacing of this script constantly keeps moving and keeps you glued to the unfolding characters who move in and out of frame in the fight for this unforeseen power. As far as Marvel movies go, pacing is often one of the biggest flaws that I have, often times padding a film’s run time to reach a certain time destination, but I feel like two hours was perfect with the knowledge dispersed inside, all the while allowing for just enough time to soak up these rare character engagements and 90’s setting all the same.

NEGATIVES

– Struggles under the weight of its responsibility. As a narrative, this is a link to the past, an origin story, a fitting chapter to the on-going Avengers story, and a potential entry way into the next phase of the Marvel universe, and I think all of that simultaneously struggles under that weight. This is a very scattered narrative in the form of a non-linear style of storytelling, and that direction presented some issues with exposition obvious dialogue, as well as audible character narration that was only used to solidify what the previous scene already showed us. Beyond this, the jump cuts are edited in a way that felt every bit as choppy as they did visually unappealing, and when sequences are this visually repulsive, you wish that they would just go with the conventional dream effects that, while overdone in cinema, at least don’t force you to stop every few minutes to wonder where they fit in.

– Speaking of visual presentation, the film never carves out a visual captivation for its film in the same way that Black Panther, Guardians of the Galaxy, or the Thor films made famous. It doesn’t have to be as beautiful looking or enchanted as those movies, but the coloring filters used in this film wasted some eye-catching landscapes in planetary details that would usually pop with their introductions, but instead came off as looking like they were clouded in a dense fog that rendered them colorless. I point particularly to the first act of the movie, when the establishing scenes waste away so much of the movie’s stylistic personality in ways that don’t even allow the colors of the costumes to make their presence felt, and it all made me think the finished product required one final post production edit to remind us of the vibrancy of the worlds that Carol is fighting for.

– Fumbled fight sequences. Too many cuts, too mundane of fight choreography, and especially far too close on the angle in depictions. It was not only very difficult to follow through with what was transpiring on screen between these scenes of physical conflict, but it suffers in the same way that D.C Films resolve their conflicts: By throwing everything at the screen in order to convince you of resolution. There are no shortage of explosion porn or crash devastation to make the audience flinch, but because we have an editor who is anxious in making their presence felt, it all just comes across as jumbled pieces from a puzzle that never fits together in the movement of the scene. My favorite fight scene of the film was a practice fight that happens in the first five minutes of the movie, and that’s a nothing fight between two characters. It’s all downhill from there.

– No struggle what so ever with her powers. Carol Danvers ability to adapt to any new knowledge or power that the movie gives her, is something that I think takes away greatly from the human side of Captain Marvel that is never truly fleshed out. In any superhero film, self-conflict is the strongest form of developing empathy, and there is none when there’s never truly a moment where this character fails. Even though Captain America or The Hulk now tangle with newfound capabilities, it’s their inner tortured souls in vulnerability that allow them to connect with the audience, and this movie doesn’t afford Danvers the same bend. Any miniscule level of adversity is really more of a hiccup or an accidental move incorporated by someone else around her, and it ultimately constructs what feels like an android developed in Tony Stark’s lab, as opposed to a human being coming to terms with the fear of a new gift that she knows nothing about. MINOR SPOILER – It doesn’t just stop with Carol however, as a little girl also manages to come up with a familiar costume, thanks to some Skrull technology that she herself has never used.

My Grade: 6/10 or C+

On the Basis of Sex

Directed By Mimi Leder

Starring – Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux

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

Rated PG-13 for some adult language and suggestive content

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

My Grade: 6/10 or C+

Escape Room

Directed By Adam Robitel

Starring – Deborah Ann Woll, Taylor Russell, Logan Miller

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

My Grade – 6/10 or C+