Everything, Everything

The well-being of a terminally ill teenage girl could rest in the clutches of a newfound love with her next door neighbor, in ‘Everything, Everything’. Based on the Young Adult novel of the same name, the film centers around A 17 year old girl named Madeline Whittier (Amandla Stenberg), who has a rare disease that causes her to have to stay indoors 24/7 with her filtered air, free from the joys of adolescence . Her whole life is basically books, her mom Pauline (Anika Noni Rose), and her nurse Carla(Ana de la Reguera). One day, a moving truck pulls in next door. There she sees and meets Olly (Nick Robinson). Olly Bright is Maddy’s new neighbor. They get to know each other through emails. The more they get to know each other, the more they fall in love. Olly starts to make Maddy realize that she isn’t really living until she faces her fears and steps outside of the box. This starts the adventures of Maddy’s new life, stretching the stability of her fragile situation. Everything, Everything is directed by first time director Stella Meghie, and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief sensuality.

When a Young Adult novel is translated from page to screen, there’s usually a big sacrifice involved in the screenplay to chop and edit the lengthy exposition that favored the unlimited amount of time in pages. Everything, Everything doesn’t necessarily suffer from these kind of problems, but there is a certain feeling of description and pulse from the pages that I took away from this movie. Considering we get a Young Adult romance movie every year now since The Fault In Our Stars stole our hearts in the Summer of 2014, the imitators often feel exactly that; imitation. But Everything, Everything has a heart that beats efficiently well because of the chemistry that is harvested by its two youthful leads, as well as a script that amazes within the first two acts for its simplistic touch in transpiring screenplay. There is the case for usual laughably executed cliches that reside fondly in these kind of movies, but they all echo to that place in teenage romance that burn on the plateaus of awkwardness and embarrassment that we’ve all been through at one time or another during our first loves.

What I commend Stella Meghie for in sense of direction, especially considering this is her debut film, is that she captures the purity within this interracial relationship, and never uses it as a gimmick or a balancing act in the adversity between the two. Their love is very organic and radiant because of an element of innocence that resides within Maddie’s personality in particular. As the film continues on, you begin to see the transformation within her in terms of her living for the first time because of this slice of the outside that has so fondly tightened his grip around her daily routine. Never for a minute does this movie require to bait racial divides as a subplot within its rich exterior, and I can’t say enough great things about what that does for the maturity of the film, as well as the progression of where our still narrow-minded world paints this kind of picture, nearly twenty years into the 21st century. This should be a story first and foremost about the kind of physical obstacles that divide them, and thankfully the film has enough of these to really throw a few kinks into the emotional investments of each-and-every one of the audience watching the screen.

I mentioned before that the script stays quite simplistic, and it accomplishes this by focusing purely on the growing friendship-turned-relationship between Maddie and Olly. The introduction to the film does tell us what we need to know about Maddie’s condition, but the visuals of a secluded house that feels light years away from the outside world does more than enough to tell us about the fragile situation that this girl entails every single day. I found myself finding the first hour of the movie corny but cute, never for a second alienating its teenage audience who will shell out the bucks to see it. The chemistry between this duo intrigued me enough to where I felt that their relationship was the only thing that I needed to be entertained for an hour-and-a-half, even if it lacked complexity or depth with couples like Hazel and Augustus from The Fault In Our Stars. The second act ups the stakes slightly, as the duo take an exotic trip that really stretches the immunity of Maddie’s condition. We’re so glued and invested in their growing bond that we forget that at any moment this whole thing could crumble down around them, and surprisingly, the disease is the least of the problems for them moving forward.

To say that I didn’t fully understand the direction or the pacing of the final act is an understatement. For an hour, the film didn’t need obvious suspenseful tropes to be used to springboard the intrigue for this very film, and then in the last half hour, the whole story kind of gets flipped on its head with a plot twist that does stretch the boundaries of believability quite a bit. Even in the novel sense, this alteration in direction and tone for the movie does feel desperate with needing a dramatic pulse to close out the film. I mentioned the pacing a minute ago, and it feels like so much is crowded into this final half hour that you could’ve easily stretched this film to two hours, creating a fluent flow of sequencing that would at least give respect in time to these serious hurdles that often feels slighted over. It didn’t completely ruin the movie for me, but the flaws of cramming too much in and shattering the conveniences of conventionalism within this young romance, gave off the impression that two contrasting films were being pushed together to craft a Frankenstein monster that only has one leg to stand on.

As for the performances, nobody does a terrible job, but in the case of our two leads, it constantly felt that they were better whenever they were together. Separately, there’s just not enough material for any of them to take control of the screen. Most notably, Stenberg’s Maddie is the most versatile and commanding of the entire cast, and not just because she is in 95% of the scenes, but more so that this young phenom warms our hearts with a smile that could and often does light up a room. Together, Robinson and Stenberg show us what it means to be young and experience the single greatest emotion that elevates the both of them from their empty lives. I wish some more emphasis was used on Olly’s subplot with his abusive Father. I feel like this would’ve given Robinson the opportunity to equal his female counterpart, but as far as male protagonists go, Olly just isn’t given the screen time to make him truly memorable.

THE VERDICT – Everything, Everything has enough soul to go with its overwhelming heart, to make this truly one of the most splendid surprises of the Spring season. Between the dynamic duo of Steinberg and Robinson, as well as the majority of the script that depicts a feel good romance without stooping to levels of Nicholas Sparks, Meghie’s first sit in the directing chair is a rousing success that has the powerful push to steer beyond the sometimes eye-rolling dialogue and shoddy third act. Target audiences will swoon under a weeper that warmed the center of even this cold-hearted critic.

7/10

Risk

How much of your own life are you willing to ‘Risk’? Laura Poitras, Academy Award winning director of CitizenFour, returns with her most personal and intimate film to date. Filmed over six years, Risk is a complex and volatile character study that collides with a high stakes election year and its controversial aftermath. Cornered in a tiny building for half a decade, Julian Assange, the founder of Wiki Leaks, is undeterred even as the legal jeopardy he faces threatens to undermine the organization he leads and fracture the movement he inspired. Capturing this story with unprecedented access, Poitras finds herself caught between the motives and contradictions of Assange and his inner circle. In a new world order where a single keystroke can alter history, Risk is a portrait of power, betrayal, truth, and sacrifice. Risk currently has no rating, but does have scenes of peril against our cast.

Over the last five years, Laura Poitras has quickly become one of my absolute favorite documentary directors, and a lot of that has to do with her unbias sense of direction with who and what details her pictures. She’s someone who is fortunate enough to be there live and in person when the breathtaking events of a government that is supposed to have our best interests fouls up, and often lets those events tell the stories for themselves without steering the audience in one direction or another. Risk is the latest of that momentous roll by Laura, as she depicts an ambitiously wide scope of six years to depict the events that surround the infamous leader of the WikiLeaks. As an entertaining and educational piece of filmmaking, Risk falls just short of its CitizenFour predecessor because of its jumbled narrative that doesn’t just focus on that central figure, but also of Jacob Appelbaum part in espionage intelligence, and at times basic reveals that offer very little in the way of shocking revelations. From a technical standpoint, it’s as good as any documentarian working today, weaving its way in-and-out of a world of great fear and uncertainty, with a mellow-dramatic musical score to follow. But if you’re watching Risk for the same kind of shock value that CitizenFour adorned as the single best documentary of 2014, then you will be left feeling a little empty.

Right off of the bat, we’re positioned to understand that this is Assange’s story to make or break. What I dug about this particular angle is that Poitras’s film shows an unusually honest side of its supposed protagonist, refusing to hide the sour tastes in bites that we get from being slightly too close to his on-going conversations. This is a man and character that feels very human in that regard, so there’s very little in the way of manipulation to make him into something that he is so clearly and evidently not. It did take me some time to envelope myself into this particular story in the same way that I did Edward Snowden’s in CitizenFour, but if you wait long enough, the second act pays off with an unsettling cloud of paranoia that engulfs Assange like a poison. In this regards, I found the second half of the movie much more intriguing than the first, especially when this particular chapter of the WikiLeaks saga played into last year’s presidential election. Once again, Poitras chooses not to endorse either candidate, and her stance on both being equal devastations to the world’s well-being is one that I commend greatly for her putting her work before her own political admirations.

Props also to the subtle musical accompanyment that feels slightly influenced by composer Trent Reznor during one of his many collaborations in David Fincher movies. The ominous and eerie organ tones used in Risk audibly paint the kind of ambiguous dread and secrecy that hide behind the uncovering of each technological advancement that serves as a positive and a negative to our likeness. The movie also has strong editing, complete with narration from a particular scene to stretch the impact of those lasting words on each and everybody in the room’s reaction being played on camera. This is brilliant because these scenes don’t just play to one general impulse, but rather a dozen because the human feedback to discovering such betrayal doesn’t just rest on a single emotion. The establishing shots of Hong Kong, Egypt, Washington D.C and every other location that the events take place in are also capturing of the global scale impact that Assange’s trysts have taken effect of. Because of this, Laura paints a canvas of uncertainty that will really make the audience question just what kind of swept-under-the-rug details that their leaders are keeping from them.

As for the problems that I alluded to earlier, Poitras juggles two stories that while they are related in business sense, couldn’t be more different in directional pull. Assange is very much dealing with the snowball effects of his whistleblowing antics catching up to him, yet Appelbaum drops in occasionally to distribute the knowledge of countries whose internet usage is being banned by their governments. I certainly see the common link between their stories, but Appelbaum’s subplot often feels like it doesn’t fit into this particular narrative, trimming and cutting down Assange’s arc that definitely serves as the meat and potatoes of the movie. Another aspect that pales in comparison to that of its CitizenFour counterpart is the proof in the pudding, as well as the shocking reveals that will undoubtedly push audiences over the edge in one direction or the other. Poitras has usually never missed her mark as extreme as she has here, but it always feels like the strongest acts to this story are the ones that we hear about in passing. Ones that could certainly be illustrated better in capturing the essence of the development even further. Because of that, things do tend to feel rushed in this brief 86 minute offering that has only so much time to convey the information.

THE VERDICT – Risk manages to be capable enough of telling its own controversial plot with government mingling, but falls just short of capturing the riveting unfolding of events that made CitizenFour a must watch. Even still, the production quality does a solid enough duty in bringing chills and uneasiness to the audience at home, and Assange is the kind of credible protagonist who doesn’t have to be maneuvered one way or the other of the moral spectrum, instead opting for the human side of characteristics. Despite the clever title, this is as informative and as mind-bending of a documentary as you will watch this year. Very few films have this kind of gravitational pull. Check it out.

7/10

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

The most unlikely of heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe return to save the galaxy again, in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. Written and directed by the original film’s James Gunn, the film is set to the backdrop of ‘Awesome Mixtape #2,’ Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the adventures of Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper), and the newly born Mini Groot (Vin Diesel) as they traverse the outer reaches of the cosmos to stop a new threat. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mysteries of Peter Quill’s true parentage involving a mysterious new acquaintance (Kurt Russell). Old foes become new allies and fan-favorite characters from the classic comics will come to our heroes’ aid as the Marvel cinematic universe continues to expand. The movie is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, adult language, and brief suggestive content.

After the surprising smash hit that was Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel Studios has decided to strike fast while the iron is hot, churning out an ambitious sequel three years after that original effort. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is very much that first film turned up to eleven, with an unabashedly driving force direction for the best aspects of that original effort, and pushing them into overdrive here. This was a movie that I found very entertaining, with some problems on the side that Marvel still has had trouble with adjusting to. Because of those hiccups, Volume 2 falls just short of the first effort for me, but there’s still more than enough in artistic overdrive to recommend this movie to the faithful fans of the first film. For story in concept, In the same manner that the first movie was about this rag-tag group of misfits becoming a family, Volume 2 focuses on them actually being one, a decision in directional force that caters more to the light-hearted atmosphere of these worlds and characters respectively, and focuses almost entirely on the bond by these protagonists. What follows is over two hours of the most colorfully explosive action that you will see this Summer on the big screen.

Striking a perfect stroke of artistic expression is the color scheme that radiates the contrasting blends of a vintage comic book. Gunn plays so distinctly to color in each and every planet that is depicted here, and it really casts such a gorgeous detail to a setting that is already polar opposite of the one that we live in. Some of my personal favorites were that of the army of gold soldiers that really pop in the dark blue backdrops that illuminate these ships. This use of gold signaled the royalty that was inhabited amongst these people, setting the stage mentally for the kind of character exposition that is to come from us just meeting them. I also enjoyed that very vibrantly breathtaking visuals in explosions and fireworks that is sure to cash in on the most bang for your buck with paying extra for a special screening. I saw this movie in XD, with the wall-to-wall big screen, and I feel like I underpaid for a spectacle that radiated color in comic book movies far greater than anything that I have seen to this point. With Thor: Ragnarok just around the corner, it’s clear that Marvel is moving into an artistic phase to match that of the colorful contrasts in characters that we have come to know and love.

Perhaps that mission in color might’ve cast a shadow slightly too thick however, because the story in Volume 2 pales greatly in comparison to that of the original movie, and that’s mostly because this film is overstuffed with subplots that doesn’t know where to trim. First of all, the positives. I did enjoy the introduction of Peter Quill’s father to the story, and felt that it added a satisfying layer of conflict to that of the family that Peter has come to know with his family in arms. With the introduction of Ego, Peter clings to that last bastion of his past life that still burns inside of him, and the temptation to get closer to a figure that he has only heard about proves to be too intriguing. Another satisfying plot was that of Gamora and her Sister Nebula (Played by Karen Gillian), and the peeling back of their pasts that comes to light. Volume 2 casts Nebula in a different light of sorts with these big reveals, and you tend to feel great empathy for her character and the deadly game of revenge that boils in her fragile state of mind. Unfortunately it’s all downhill from here, as I thought a lot of the film’s tone in scene-to-scene transition felt very jumbled and all over the place. This is a film that rarely ever slows down (Not a good thing) and allow itself time to build to the next big reveal, therefore hurling everything in our direction of narrative too quick to fully register the impact of its reveal. There is a big twist midway through the movie with our intended antagonist, and it just never felt earth-shattering to me or the characters that it impacts. This is mainly because Gunn lacks great restraint in orchestrating sequencing in transition, leaving many scenes of jarring correlation that doesn’t flow together smoothly.

This movie also continues the spell that Marvel has been under since using Loki as a central antagonist in two different films, and that is a great lack of compelling villain to match the protagonists that it so richly devotes time to. Many people will disagree with me here, but this movie uses three different antagonists to make up for its lack of vision with even a single one. When the answer and intended direction finally does appear, it not only feels far too late to make the impact that this character deserves, but this character’s brief appearances on-and-off never give us time to build their importance. This can also be said about the other two groups of antagonists that couldn’t have been more boring during the first two acts. What does work about the characters is that this film feels like an apology to some supporting characters in the first movie that were glanced over. Nebula is given appropriate time in character dissection to finally cast an element of humanity to her tortured soul, Drax the Destroyer carries the comedy with brutish strength and stability that serve as the most dependable aspect in personality that Gunn is trying to convey, and Yondu embraces a road to retribution that has him seeking his own identity. Each of these characters play pivotal roles in the movie’s pacing and entertainment factor, and Volume 2 levels the playing field for their lack of involvement in the first movie that proves it may have been a tragic misstep.

I mentioned earlier that some aspects of the movie are slightly overdone, and this distinctly speaks to that of the music and comedy that was depicted in the film. What I can say positively about the music is that very few films use it to the level of importance that Guardians of the Galaxy does, and this revival of 70’s and 80’s rock favorites kind of serves as the Glee of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for what it does in reverting interest back to these tracks. But here it is gone to the well a bit too much. At 135 minutes, a lot of the length can be attributed to these scenes that completely stop every story or subplot to show Peter or Rocket listening to their favorite track. It doesn’t feel as smoothly depicted as the first movie because it’s so practically delivered here, and it’s a shame because it really is a smashing collection of toe-tapping struts. The comedy level is also raised much higher here, catering more to the laughs instead of the character in the sake of our actual Guardians. You will definitely laugh more than a few times if your experience is anything like mine, but once again this humor slows the movie’s progression down to work in scenes of improv that feel irritating after the first few times. If it’s a one-off line, I’m all for it. Make them laugh and move on. But there are quite a few scenes in this sequel that overstay their welcome far too much and far too long, giving the audience ample time to use the restroom and not miss anything. I’m not naive to not think that this group doesn’t cater to the feel good mood, but much of these lasting setups should’ve been deleted scenes that pushed the sales of the DVD, instead of testing the patience of humorous flow that took a beating by the stretched third act.

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 lacks the patience or practicality to play its greatest go-to hits of the first film that made it such a breakout smash, but Gunn’s return to the scene of his delightful crime does possess enough infectious laughter and visual flair to make this enticing well into the second hour. James sequel is overstuffed, but it’s overstuffed with the kind of joyous, silly, and often heartfelt family elements that makes this latest return to the galaxy one of undeniable pleasure. Good not great.

7/10

Free Fire

The meeting of the minds between two rival gangs takes them to a warehouse the ends in an all out ‘Free Fire’. Set in a colorful yet gritty 1970s Boston, Free Fire opens with Justine (Brie Larson), a mysterious American businesswoman, and her wise-cracking associate Ord (Armie Hammer) arranging a black-market weapons deal in a deserted warehouse between IRA arms buyer Chris (Cillian Murphy) and shifty South African gun runner Vernon (Sharlto Copley). What starts as a polite if uneasy exchange soon goes south when tensions escalate and shots are fired, quickly leading to a full-on Battle Royale where it’s every man (and woman) for themselves in a heart-stopping game of survival, with enough firepower to take down an army. Free Fire is written and directed by Ben Wheatley, and is rated R for strong violence, pervasive adult language, sexual references and drug use.

What Ben Wheatley does so efficiently is blending two distinct styles of shoot-em-up blends to compliment one another to make the ammunition-riddled Free Fire. From a filmmaking standpoint, Wheatley’s visual stylings and quick-cut edits reminded me so strongly of an early Guy Ritchie kind of offering. From a dialogue perspective, this film hits close to my heart in narrating the kind of personalities and speech patterns of an Elmore Leonard novel. These two effective combinations, in conjunction with the echoes of a John Denver soundtrack makes Free Fire live up to its name in the game of riveting surrealism. What I found so provocative about this plot was just how simplistic the approach to storytelling is. If you’ve seen the trailers, you know that the shootout itself is what stands out the most, and that’s because it makes up the heralded second and third acts of this film. Wheatley’s distinct voice of unapologetic response to gun violence is one that speaks volumes to our own current dependency on them, and that killer instinct to always keep pulling the trigger. In that response, you can’t help but laugh at the responses and directions that these hot conversations take. A room full of egos is always one second away from jumping off, and Ben proves to us that jump comes from the least likely of places.

The first act is the most in storyline narration that you are going to receive. While it’s true that these characters aren’t exactly chalk full of depth, it’s more than made up from in the concept of coincidence. To see these two rival gangs who essentially are supposed to be shadows to one another, is quite intriguing when the pasts of each person is brought to life, instilling a backlash of sorts against the opposition. I find it humorous that the reason this hour long shootout happens is because of something that happens entirely off-screen, and therefore it is in the confidence of these actors as storytellers to relay the information to the audience watching at home. Do they succeed? I think so. While this film leaves storytelling behind for the wounds of semi-automatic fire power, these actors each bring something vibrant and delightful about their quirky personalities that gets us over the hump. It all leads to a showdown in the closing minutes that provides some poetic justice and some middle fingers to the kind of movies that treat one room presences like there is nothing waiting outside of this particular room. The last shot gave me a smile of sorts for the coaster of thrills that Wheatley so brilliantly conducts.

The violence is impeccably gory in brutal detailing, richocheting the cause-and-effects that each and every character seem to never run out of. One thing that did make me kind of scratch my head was how many bullets that each character could endure, but I guess it only adds to the setting and sequencing that you can’t help but laugh at. Every character has no problem spouting off at the jaw, so it makes it humorous to see them taken down a step when the reality sets in. Some of the death scenes in this film will satisfy even the most deranged of gore-hounds, like myself. There is a contrasting irony to the basis that the most impactful deaths in the film do not involve the gun, but the human instinct, signaling that the person holding is every bit as cold and calculating as that of the chamber they unload. The third act does kind of pay homage in an indirect sort of way to Tarantino for how cartoonish some of the death scenes become. It does this without really sacrificing the authenticity or the severity of the movie’s creative, and I was often time reminded of 2015’s The Hateful Eight for this one dangerous setting in which these walls have witnessed so much.

The camera angles were a little too jumpy and inconsistent for my taste, often times speeding through too closely or too quickly to truly grasp the consequence of the bullet. This is most notable late in the second act when characters are clearly hit but there were many times when I couldn’t tell you where or by who. Because there are a lot of characters in this particular shootout, the film’s editing team have to walk a very tight line of registering each and every action along the way, and they don’t always succeed. This was a problem that I mentioned in films like Jason Bourne or Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, and it seems to be something that is slowly taking over these important action movies. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the lone major problem that this movie has, so it doesn’t cost it too much on my final score, but I would’ve preferred that the audience were given the capability to see all of the pieces on the chessboard interact at the same time, more often.

Props to Wheatley’s dedicated direction and this wide range of character actors for bringing to life some energetic personalities. There’s a respect to be found for a director who doesn’t deem it necessary for one person to stand out above the rest, and because of that we are treated to one of the most balanced ensemble casts in recent memory. Each person knows the kind of gritty traits that they have to get across, and there’s certainly no one who feels like they don’t belong here for the kind of lifestyles that they live. Some of my personal favorites were that of Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, and Sharlto Copley, whom all are given ample time to get across the manneurisms of their respective characters. Hammer continues to be Mr. Dependable, and I’m glad that he is getting the scripts that he so rightfully deserves. As Ord, Hammer balances equal parts cocky and cool, making for a side of the young actor we have yet to see. Murphy and Copley are the leaders of their respective clans, so it’s interesting to see the contrasts in their leadership. Copley repeatedly made me laugh for his flamboyance, as well as his interaction with Ex-girlfriend Justine. Murphy is more of the calculated bloke that we’ve come to expect, but never fails at giving us a three-dimensional character that blurs the lines of moral righteousness.

Overall, Free Fire more than lives up to its name by delivering on some thought-provoking social commentary with our own thirst for violence, as well as instilling another chapter in the ever-growing procedural of The Butterfly Effect. An energetic and committed cast is more than enough to get over the hump of some sequence backfires that don’t always reach their marks with shaky camera and overabundance in zoom options. Wheatley empties his creative clip on a bullet-riddled battle royale that never overstays its welcome. Loud, brash, and delightful.

7/10

Gifted

The responsibility of a vastly intelligent little girl falls on the shoulders of an uncle who knows that she is ‘Gifted’. In a small town in central Florida, seven-year-old Mary (Mckenna Grace) shows remarkable mathematical talent on her first day of school. She is offered a scholarship to a private school for gifted children but her uncle turns it down. It emerges that Mary’s mother had been a promising mathematician, dedicated to the Navier–Stokes problem , before committing suicide when Mary was six months old. Since then her uncle Frank (Chris Evans) has acted as Mary’s de facto guardian. Believing that his sister would want Mary to experience a “normal” childhood, Frank is adamant that Mary be enrolled in regular public school. However, she somehow has already mastered advanced calculus before first grade. Frank’s mother (Lindsay Duncan) seeks custody in the Florida courts, believing that Mary is a “one-in-a-billion” mathematical prodigy who should be specially tutored in preparation for a life devoted to mathematics. Gifted is directed by Marc Webb, and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive material.

In 2009, director Marc Webb materialized perhaps the most honest and heralding look at love in 500 Days of Summer. After falling off with the two Amazing Spider-Man movies that divided audiences right down the middle and blurred Webb’s hearty attention to detail, he seems to have returned to form with Gifted, a movie that is every bit as heartfelt as it is a study of what we deem as different in the prestigious sense. If Marc is gifted and excels at just one thing, it’s in his ability to take audiences on a bumpy road, full of feel good moments and tear-jerking sobs that will give something for everybody in the audience. Surprisingly, I had a great time with this movie, and I say surprisingly because it wasn’t one that I was necessarily looking forward to after a trailer that felt very meandering and manipulative to what we as a society deem as cutesy funny. Add on top that I saw the trailer half a billion times during every movie that I saw over the last six months, and I worried that Webb’s one hit wonder would further feel like miles away. Thankfully I was wrong. Gifted orchestrates its magic through the eyes of one exceptionally special girl, one whose gifts include but are not limited to carrying the integrity of this movie.

This is one of those rare movies where the youth takes center stage and you’re either on-board or you’re not. As Mary, we come to embrace a protagonist who dominates the equations of advanced mathematics, but her gift is only limited to this one aspect. What I appreciate from this screenplay is that the film feels responsible in leaps-and-bounds by depicting that certain kids excel at different aspects, and while much can be said about the prestige in solving problems before her teacher can, Mary struggles with the concepts and conflicts of friendships and fighting back against the alienation that comes with possessing such a gift. It’s proof that this kind of road has difficult decisions ahead, in that Mary must choose between having a real childhood or having the legacy that comes with being one of the truly great minds. There’s plenty of contrast to the positives and negatives of each possibility, and I really dug that position because it casts the audience to almost make the decision for this little girl, offering a conundrum of ‘What Would You Do?’.

For the first act of the movie, I was pleasantly surprised with how much hearty laughter that I exerted on the very timing and emotional responses of our little girl wonder. I haven’t laughed this much during a movie in quite a while, and I award a lot of that response to real life situational humor that doesn’t overstay its welcome. However, the screenplay does mature as the film moves forward, trucking through a second act that does take a quick step into the dramatic territory. The movie is happy to oblige, taking us through a battle between family for the well-being of this cherished mind. The shift never felt glaringly obvious nor disjointed with the first act of the film, but could’ve used more time accentuate its importance in subplot. More on that later. After 96 minutes, the finale did leave me feeling good, hinting that the truest of gifts don’t come from that of what makes us different, but the heart that makes us one in the same. Webb instills in our visions that maybe one can have it all, a concept that Mary is happy to indulge in.

The pacing definitely could’ve used some slowing down through the court scenes in particular to play to the dramatic effect of the movie. Until the final half hour, there is so very effective conflict or obstruction in the light-hearted of this story. Sometimes the court scenes feel slightly out of place when a scene will take place outside of the courtroom that will all but seal up the very reason for the conflict, then in the next scene were back at it like the scene before never even happened. Also in relation to the speeding is a romantic subplot between Chris Evans and Jenny Slate that not only feels forced because they are two good looking people who we have to hook up, but also never gets the screen time to push the value of its importance with all of the events that are speeding by. Slate could be the solidarity that Evans needs to settle down, but sadly their romance is one in a few aspects to the movie that just never lands its feet on the ground.

As I mentioned before, Mckenna Grace wins the award of the night for show-stealing performance. She gives Mary a maturity in speech patters well above her age, but does it in a way that isn’t cutesy for the camera. Some of her responses early on in the movie I would legitimately rank with some of the better comedic performances for timing, personality, and facial reactions that never hide for a minute what this marvelous mind is thinking. The chemistry between her and Evans is evident in that the film casts them as uncle and niece, instead of the usual Father/Daughter that we’ve been saddled with often. What this does is blaze a layer of friendship to play to their family bond, doing wonders for emotional clarity when the two characters find themselves on opposite sides of the road in conflict. Evans as a D.I.L.F (look it up), is the aspect that is for the ladies in the audience. Chris tightropes a thin line of adult responsibilities while still trying to embrace the rebellious youth that was practically stolen from him overnight. It’s nice to see him in more dramas recently, as I think he’s much more than just another Marvel superhero. Octavia Spencer also shines during the few scenes that she spoils us with. You get a Motherly instinct of sorts from her character in what Mary means to her, and Spencer’s moral stigma is greatly appreciated to often times set in motion the focus of what’s really at stake for Chris’s character.

There’s enough uplift and compassion to keep Marc Webb’s newest gift an unwrapped treat for all of us through some murky waters of hollow exposition. This is a film that feels like it’s in a race to reach the finish line, but the hamster wheel keeps moving along with a trio of solid performances, particularly in the coming out party of 10-year-old Mckenna, as well as the responsible observation telling us to find the gift in all of us. This film does live up to its title, and its film is one that is a safe bet for the entire family.

7/10

The Void

An evil presence known as The Void overtakes a deserted small town, and a night of evil follows a group of townspeople who choose to fight it. Written and directed by the duo of Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, this small Canadian horror film tells the story of one terror filled night of unexplained phenomenon. When police officer Carter (Aaron Poole) discovers a blood-soaked man limping down a deserted road, he rushes him to a local hospital with a barebones, night shift staff. As cloaked, cult-like figures surround the building, the patients and staff inside start to turn ravenously insane. Trying to protect the survivors, Carter leads them into the depths of the hospital where they discover a gateway to immense evil and unspeakable intentions that will only make their realities even more sinister by comparison. The Void is rated R for adult language, scenes of brutal blood, gore, and violence, and peril.

80’s horror fans from all around, lend me your ears. The Void is the latest B-movie Canadian horror effort that is quietly taking the nation on a ride of devilish delights while paying homage to a past generation of horror that clearly has influenced more than a few of respective horror directors working today. The creature feature is in full effect with this one, signaling a collection of terror and frights that ring loud call-backs to the days of George Romero or John Carpenter taking the chair, and does it with so very little that results in so much effectively. The best kind of horror is the kind that is cryptic to the people around you, and there were many times during this movie where I was floored not only at the shivering reality of this unknown force that feels unstoppable plaguing this small town, but also in the production of such a movie that simply deems it unnecessary to settle for the computer generation that is currently disintegrating the horror genre. Students of the B-movie scene, Gillespie and Kostanski, earn their shrieks through 90 minutes of nightmare fuel that relies on the methods that we know best from the movies that came before it.

Some of those tricks of the trade come from that of the very visuals that we are embracing, complete with abandoned hospital at night that rings back to the days of Friday the 13th and Halloween. There’s always been something laughable about this concept to me, simply because the idea of a hospital being run by a few people is frankly ridiculous, but I understand the setting for a film of this kind. The lighting serves as a blanket of dark, mysterious fog and doom the envelopes our crew of characters, plaguing them with a fear of the unknown for what surrounds their building. Showing less is the right way to go until the big finale because it constantly builds the tension and suspense within our own minds to see if the monster really does live up to the hype. More on that later. Speaking of less being more, this is a story that constantly stays pretty cryptic in answering questions or providing clarity to unpredictable scenarios. This could potentially alienate some watchers of The Void, but I felt that the more mystery the better with actuality in the story. If you were in this situation, there’s a chance you too would die without many answers being discovered, and that ideal is what led me to further embrace keeping everything as mysterious as possible. In addition to what I mentioned above, I also greatly enjoyed the overall cinematography and setting style that never limits or suspends any ideas for what particular decade the story takes place during. Horror truly is transcending of time, and that emphasis crafts an aura where the vulnerability of the unknown that is in the air and frequent throughout the movie.

The decision to use mostly nothing but practical effects on the monster and gore on the film is one that I take with the highest honor of respect, and proves that the craft of practicality is alive and well in a society that breeds technology. The overall costume and prosthetic makeup on the monsters of the film point to a skinless appearance, complete with gouging muscles that constantly pump blood around them. I compare it very much to John Carpenter’s vision for The Thing in how this creature moves and attacks. There is constantly a ring of unpredictability behind it that leaves this among the more memorable of recent creature features. The method of menace borrows a great deal from that of Ridley Scott’s Alien, in that it invades the womb of women to breed a new monster baby. I’ve always found that this method is the most terrifying because it tenderly pokes at the fears and polarization of rape within our own world. Being taken against your will is a frightening thing, let alone by a species that you are completely clueless about. Its intentions are mostly ambiguous, but I’ve always believed in the fear of the unknown adding a layer of menace to the antagonist before us. When we learn of its look, weakness, and identity, more times than not, the suspense slowly bleeds out, but never for a moment here. It builds to an ending that doesn’t bring us any closer to clarity for what could stop this thing.

The duo could use more time to flesh out mostly all of their cast, as they all lack great exposition in development to make them appealing to the audience. This isn’t a movie with many negatives, but I never found myself caring greatly for the characters will to live, and that lacking causes the increase in bodies dropping by the minute to reach out to the audience, who simply aren’t fully there in character embrace. If I had to pick someone whose work I enjoyed, it was in that of Twin Peaks cast member Kenneth Welsh as the head doctor at this hospital, who has his own shuttered past. Welsh’s performance is so off-the-wall that it easily stands out in a room of otherwise bland deliveries. What our duo of filmmakers do well enough to fix this problem of sorts is to actually offer a killing order that constantly surprised me after each sequence. What we’re left with during the final ten minutes, completely floored me with where I thought this story was headed. This at least offered some reprieve to characters who never even remotely lived up to that of their supernatural opposition.

During a year of noteworthy horror cinema, The Void stakes its claim at being a limb up on the competition by paying tribute to perhaps the golden age of horror effects cinema. Prominent inside of its dark and gloomy walls are top notch practical effects, as well as a visual presentation that doesn’t overthink or overdo its intended purpose. The character backstories are slim, but the capabilities of an ambiguous story will constantly keep the audience intrigued and guessing for every step along the way. Gillespie and Kostanski don’t run from the tag of horror enthusiasts, they embrace it and let it build a seed inside of them that we will remember during both of their inevitably prestigious careers.

7/10

Personal Shopper

A recently recovering woman deals with grief and the afterlife, in CG Cinema’s ‘Personal Shopper’. This ethereal and mysterious ghost story stars Kristen Stewart as Maureen, a high-fashion personal shopper to the stars and celebrity community alike, who is also a spiritual medium. Grieving the recent and sudden death of her twin brother, she inhabits his Paris home, determined to make contact with him and resolve the conflict deep within her own heart. ‘Personal Shopper’ is written and directed by French filmmaker Olivier Assayas, and is rated R for some adult language, sexuality, nudity and a bloody violent image.

Personal Shopper is one of those kinds of movies that plays to a familiar genre narrative, this time a psychological ghost thriller, but tweeks it full of touches that oppose that of the conventional storytelling to present a different take all together. This is very much a movie that channels the long and tedious road of grief, stimulating audiences in relatability for those of us who have lost someone important in our lives. In that aspect, this film sticks its claws into the audience early, communicating the similarities that we go through in trying to pick the pieces back up and assemble some kind of life. For everyone it’s different, and this particular story speaks to those of us still longing to find a therapeutic solution. Assayas is a director who I’m not particularly fond of, especially after 2015’s Clouds of Sils Maria, which I thought was a pretentious disaster, but for Personal Shopper Assayas has found a simple touch that ignites the flames beneath a cerebral slow-burner like this one, and doesn’t need contrivances or convolution to appeal to both the independent cinema audience and mainstream audiences alike. This is a very difficult film to recommend to my readers, not because it isn’t good, but rather it is anything but the conventionalism from these kind of ghost flicks that you are used to seeing. An artistic touch in an otherwise overcrowded subgenre.

For most of the first act of the film, I was very impressed with what this film managed to do with setting the right mood to depict the cold and damp surroundings of this immense empty mansion that Maureen has been hired to mediate. The sound mixing and editing are so crucial here because it constantly feels like we are one step ahead of her in terms of realization and clarity for the pokes and prods that are moving around her. This is very much a movie that doesn’t dispel in one way or the other if ghosts exist, leaving both sides with fuel for the fire, and even offering some frightening blurred visual apparitions that served as the highest expense in terms of visual pizazz. As far as scene editing goes, the film offers a dual compromise of fading out and quick-cut editing that does somewhat compromise the scene integrities. I felt that quick-cut was perfect for this particular style and look of film, but the fading effect was one that hindered the progression of a couple of scenes by cutting far too early and limiting what last bits of dialogue that we were following before the scene abruptly ends. This is my only problem with the visuals of the film, but it shouldn’t be a big deal unless you’re a visual purist like myself.

As for the story, there’s so much that I want to say but can’t because of spoilers, so I will do my best to navigate through the emotional roller-coaster that the movie took me on. As I mentioned before, this isn’t the movie to expect thrills and jump scares, this is very much a slow-paced sizzler that depicts the human confrontation with death and how hollow that process can leave us. There are what I like to call two different narratives going on within the film; reality and desire, and those two are integral parts to Maureen’s psyche in how she embraces the unbelievable around her. During the film, I found myself dreading the latter, but with an ending as brilliantly constructed as this one, everything suddenly comes into focus and manages to achieve one of those rare feats of answering every logic-bending question that I had with a single move. With those two aspects in story, one clearly outweighs the other, and once the big reveal happens, if you’re like me you will find yourself grinning from ear-to-ear with the fact that this movie didn’t take the cliche way out in wrapping up its familiar steps that other films have touched on.

The second act is definitely the weakness of the script, as it’s during this time when we get some temporary tone shifts that are unnecessary to the progression. More particularly, there are a couple scenes of forced humor that not only completely miss their targets, but also feel like a desperate attempt to appeal to moviegoers to keep them moving through some rough pacing. As I said, this is really only during the second act, but the transition from one narrative to the other between the tighter acts, does make the middle portion noticeably shaky when compared to a riveting beginning and end.

Kristen Stewart where have you been all this time? For the record, I’m not someone who despises Stewart’s acting, nor find her insufferable. Stewart (Like any actor) just needs the right kind of tone and script to appeal to her personality, a feat that she has had limited success with in her early career. Stewart here is breathtaking, channeling an exterior of boiling despair that cripples her the closer that she gets to emotional clarity. What is so clever about Maureen’s character is this aspect of being a personal shopper for a rich model, yet possessing a supernatural gift, and how the two play into the coming out of the shell for Kristen as an actress, and yet Maureen as a character. This is quite a transition from start to finish in this movie, and Stewart is happy to oblige with arguably her most versatile performance to date. There are other actors and actresses in the film, but this is very much a one woman show because of this compass of emotional vulnerability that never points in just a single direction.

It’s easy to buy a lot of what Personal Shopper is selling, and a majority of that is because of an arresting performance by Stewart, as well as precision storytelling that constantly keeps the audience guessing. Olivier Assayas’s newest is a spellbinding deconstruction on the perplexing properties of grief, and how sometimes saying goodbye takes years. It’s scary without needing jumps or jigs, and that’s because the strongest fear is that of the battle we constantly engage with on the inside.

7/10

Life

A crew of six highly intelligent scientists seek the answer to the question of the existence of another lifeform. In ‘Life’, we get the story of the six-member crew of the International Space Station that is on the cutting edge of one of the most important discoveries in human history: the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars. As the crew begins to conduct research, their methods end up having unintended consequences for them and the citizens of Earth, and the life form proves more intelligent than anyone ever expected. ‘Life’ stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds, it is directed by Daniel Espinosa, and is rated R for adult language throughout, some sci-fi violence and sequences of terror.

If you’ve seen one isolation in space horror movie, you’ve seen them all. Thankfully, ‘Life’ pushes past a conventional script by offering us artistic merit in the form of gorgeous cinematography, as well as a sound scheme that can at least present some peaking merits in an otherwise typical screenplay. This is a film that was originally slated to debut in May of this year, but got moved up two months to play against a March backdrop that is slightly less intimidating than that of the Summer blockbusters that invade around Memorial Day. It turns out that it pays off brilliantly, as Espinosa’s science fiction space shriek does more than enough to hold its own against previous similar offerings like ‘Alien’, ‘Event Horizon’, and leagues above the mindless ‘Apollo 14’. It’s solid proof that if you cast the big name actors, people will most definitely come, and this is a movie that is every bit as terrifying as it is cerebral. An ambitious float through the terrors of uncertainty that does more than enough to top Espinosa’s previous effort, 2014’s ‘Safe House’, also starring Ryan Reynolds.

What I love about the storytelling of this film is that it puts the characters first, and allows the story itself to follow those characters, meriting more positive returns when you care about their ordeals with this mysterious organism. Solid exposition time is depicted for all of them, and it’s in those introductions when the tragedy of this story and these people really sink into you. Space itself is an immense and unpredictable atmosphere to make a living in, and that lack of knowledge plays hand-in-hand to the kind of misfires that we make in decision making. It’s clear that this screenplay pays homage to those kind of films that adhere to the idea that man will be our society’s greatest downfall, and how sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone. I mentioned earlier that the film does play to conventionalism despite a first act death that was a little surprising for the name value expensed. Nothing in this film ever really surprised me, and that could be at the fault of seeing and experiencing all of these films, with all of their similar structures and conclusions. The film keeps its characters at the intellectual mercy of this creature, so the convenience of butterfly effects that render them helpless is a brief suspension of disbelief for minds supposedly as gifted as this crew. Even the conclusion is something that I accurately called once the setup become obvious. Even still, I can never say that the movie bored me. Perhaps a compliment to the performances of a charismatic cast that bring their A-game when acting against a CGI antagonist.

The design and computer generation of this property felt very in-sync with that of multi-cell organisms, and that attention to detail rarely makes this alien anything super extraordinary or cartoonish in terms of its capabilities. One thing is certain, this thing is very intelligent, mimicking and authenticating the responses and actions of the living properties around it. Perhaps my favorite aspect to its design is the growing of its physical stature. I love how this creature will often appear and disappear before our very eyes, and that shock and awe when it returns twice the size of when it left, made for an emphasis on urgency that never stops pumping. If I had one negative for it, I would say it was in the developing face of this thing in the third act, which reverted it to campy alien designs in other big budget space operas. Keeping this thing faceless and non-registering is what made its unpredictable movements so vicious and conniving in plodding, so the additions do occasionally render that originality uninspiring.

The visual backdrops of Earth and the surrounding nebulas captured the immensity in isolation with these characters forced to make their own under-prepared decisions for the fate of what hangs in the balance. With the camera styles in particular, I loved the revolving camera angles that followed our cast through the very tribulations of gravity. It’s no secret that I am not often a fan of flipping the camera upside down, but here it makes sense to put us in the middle of the chase. The tracking shots through many numerous tunnels were outstanding, playing to that vintage trick of associating the camera with that of the antagonist that is chasing the crew. Espinosa plays to the hand of claustrophobia so effortlessly, but then takes it one step further when it feels like such intimate surroundings continue on-and-on with a ship this intimidating.

The musical score by Jon Ekstrand also is weighed on heavily in capturing the very dread and doom that covers each scene like dense fog. So much of what Ekstrand does is dabbling in ear-piercing notes to capture the vulnerability of these characters navigating through a ship, where this creature can pop up at any time. This composition took me back to the days of 80’s horror scores, when music played a pivotal point in teaming with that of the monster that lurks behind every corner. An addition that can take any average or predictable sequence and make it that much more captivating by orchestrating terror in its most audible of forms.

Finally, there’s the cast that brings a collaboration of A-list performers to the overlooked stage of horror for an exceptional union. Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada. A cast this well known for big budget blockbusters was a thrill to watch to see them juggle the very tones of horror, and there are simply no complaints from any of them. Gyllenhaal’s character in particular is probably my favorite because there’s a lot about him that embraces the secluded environments of space and what benefit that holds for him. This is rare for a character to feel this way in movies, but it’s depiction offers a fresh and untold angle to this particular perspective. Sanada also commands vast intelligence and humanity in his grip, juggling the complexities of a newborn baby with that of the frightening discoveries that are constantly changing with him being galaxies away. Sanada’s character feels like the one with the most to lose, so our embrace of his well-being is one that never fades over the course of several different shifts in leverage.

At 95 minutes long, ‘Life’ doesn’t necessarily need to take its time getting to the thrills and chills of a story that exercises the themes of seclusion and claustrophobic tension. With an exceptionally likeable cast, as well as sound achievements in the filming and music departments, Espinosa’s space serial is a tantalizing thriller that orbits through a galaxy of conventionalism trying its best to weigh this story down. Fortunately, the unnerving social commentary on the mission at hand offers a self-reflective view on the kinds of missions that we deem as important.

7/10

Beauty and the Beast

One of Disney’s most infamously cherished classics gets the live action adaptation treatment, in ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Twenty-six years after Belle and Beast warmed our hearts with a romantic tale of song and dance, this re-imagining introduces us to Belle (Emma Watson), a young woman who is taken prisoner by a Beast (Dan Stevens) in his castle in exchange for the freedom of her father Maurice (Kevin Kline). Despite her fears, she befriends the castle’s enchanted staff and she learns to look beyond the Beast’s exterior to recognize the true heart and soul of the human Prince within. Meanwhile, a hunter named Gaston (Luke Evans) is on the loose to take Belle for himself and later intends to hunt down the Beast at any cost. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is directed by Bill Condon, and is rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images.

The unfortunate aspect with watching any movie is that you can only watch it once to be surprised or in awe at the very majestic aura of one’s material. That is the problem that I find with the 2017 version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. It’s not a terrible or even bad film. I found it to be aesthetically pleasing, as well as musically sound for the new variations on timeless classics. When I first heard that they were remaking possibly the most notorious Disney animation movie of all time, my heart did kind of skip a beat. This is ‘Beauty and the Beast’ after all, a movie that was nominated for best picture at that year’s Oscars. The first thing that I look for is how the film stands on its own two feet without relying too heavily on the details of the original offering, a problem that 2015’s ‘Cinderella’ went to the well on one time too many. This movie too is unfortunately cursed to accept the same fate, as there’s very little originality to this script that does at least offer a faithful homage to its predecessor. Sure, there’s an informative scene that relates to Belle’s absent Mother from the original story, but it’s a quick glance into a story that should’ve had more weight on the finished product. These differences are too few and far between, and that lack of fresh perspective unfortunately doesn’t vary much from the 90% of this film that mimics scene-for-scene of the original. The remake feels like it has a lot of respect for that 1991 original. Almost TOO much respect, and because of that, this is one remake that will offer a fruitful trip down nostalgia lane, but won’t provide a lot of sound logic for the concept of breaking the remake spell.

The remake is forty minutes longer than the original animation film. For that very investment in run time, we’re not left with a lot that can pace it along accordingly for the two hour mark. There are some new musical numbers and some longer additions to certain classic scenes that we know and love, but it’s easy to remove this and have it hold no weight against the cherished screenplay. What I did commend the film’s script for is the emphasis on catering not only to its youthful audience, but also to that of the adults who have grown up around these pictures. There’s been a lot of controversy about a certain character’s sexual orientation in the film, but never did I feel the story was threatened or overtaken by pointless exposition in him. Where it does acceptably tiptoe that wink-and-nod response to the mature audiences is in the nature that it spoofs itself on more than one occasion. One such mention is during the snowball fight between Belle and the beast in the courtyard, and beast nails Belle with the biggest snowball that you’ve ever seen, knocking her off of her feet. It’s one of those harmless moments that shows the screenwriters accordingly knew where to command the strings of variation in emotional response from the audience, reminding them of the light-hearted nature of this story in between this story of romantic tragedy.

As I mentioned earlier, the aesthetics and artistic merit for the movie are leagues ahead of everything else. The biggest argument for this release is seeing the vibrantly radiant colors splash against the luxurious backdrops in shooting locations, and on that aspect alone this film would be a 10/10. One thing that movie does better than its predecessor in this subject is immersing the audience in the very immensity of the castle, and that cold, isolated feeling of being cut off from the rest of the world around our two protagonists. It’s only in this live action aspect that you can truly soak in the symbolism of how cold and damp that this home is in relation to the beast’s dwindling chances at breaking the spell. The live object CGI achieves and disappoints on many fronts. I did enjoy the designs on the clock and candelabra for their attention to detail in how the facial features of these respective characters felt authentic with the structure of their clock and candlestick design. One such example of not doing this well is with the designs of Chip the tea cup, whom feels like his design was skimmed over quickly, painting a face onto his tea cup. It’s examples like these where the CGI concepts feel like they were trying for something daring, like in ‘The Jungle Book’, but it isn’t sewed up entirely to make it a complete passing grade. Finally, the musical visuals capture the childhood imagination on more than one occasion. It should be no surprise that ‘Be Our Guest’ was my favorite performance, but not so much for the intricately clever lyrics that the song entails, more on the side of entrancing presentation that explodes in your face like an eruption of confetti. I didn’t see this movie in 3D, but I can recommend checking it out in that offering if only for the over abundance of in-your-face objects that fly in your face, nearly captivating you enough to soak in the tastes and smells of this fairytale world.

The costume designs also nail a possible Oscar worthy nomination on grounds of perfectly capturing the transition from animation to live action. Belle’s elegant golden gown shimmers a dazzling glow, and the tuxedo gown for the beast transports us to a bohemian era that really focuses on this French setting. Far beyond the script that plays it safe, it’s clear that the wardrobe department too wanted fans of the film to know that they were determined in bringing such rich fashions to life, emulating upper class fantasy for audiences who invest in these scenes much further than a delightful soundtrack and romantic material.

The overall cast excites and stimulates this fresh chance to try to make their characters their own, with very few negatives along the way. Lets get it out of the way; Josh Gad’s Le Fou steals the show from this decorated cast, because he chooses to add on to the legacy of a character that was nothing more than throwaway in the original. Gad knows who this character is, therefore he chooses not to quiet or hide that fact. He plays Le Fou with memorable flamboyance and debonair that reaches into your gut to pull out laughter each and every time. As for the rest of the cast, none of them ever rise to the occasion to unseat their original casting shadows. Emma Watson proves that she was the only choice for one of Disney’s most cherished princesses. She can sing, act, and most importantly radiate a warm and caring smile that makes it easy to fall under her spell, leaving little doubt that the casting agent hit a home run with this big name steal. As for negatives, I didn’t like anything about the beast, let alone Dan Stevens turn as the heralded figure. The design in concept is terrible, considering the film pulls on more of the human side and less about the beast. He never once treads like a beast, instead walking like a human on hind legs that never cause him to stumble or stutter. There’s a great lack of emphasis on the impact that his movements make that the original capitalized on so much more accordingly, and Stevens range never convinced me once that he BECAME the Beast. Luke Evans as Gaston is the worst though. Evans just doesn’t radiate enough charisma and bravado to channel this macho pig. We are told how great Gaston is, but never given proof of this praise in the form of physical strength or cunning intellect, with the exception of a five second lift of Le Fou. He’s as typical as a jerk antagonist can be, and pales in comparison to an animated counterpart that out-acted and out-charmed him on every capacity.

‘Beauty and the Beast’ is strong enough as a throwaway remake, but does little to convince fans to leave its predecessor in the dust. The lack of character from this lively cast, as well as a screenplay that plays it far too safely in conventional creativity, hinder what breakthrough possibilities that this movie had. Even still, the pagentry is mesmerizing, and the collection of classic musical favorites, as well as a few new additions, give Condon’s presentation a big screen feel. I’d place this one leagues above the ‘Cinderella’ remake, but just below ‘The Jungle Book’ in terms of fresh perspectives. Either way, The enchantment is still there for fans who seek whimsical nostalgia, and Disney is happy to oblige by opening their hearts….and wallets

7/10

Trainspotting 2

Twenty years after a heroin binge sent their lives in spirals, the gang of Edinburgh return to the silver screen, in ‘Trainspotting 2′. After betraying his friends and running off with (almost) all the money from a scam, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) is back in Edinburgh. It is his first time back since the events that split him, Spud (Ewen Bremmer) and Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) apart. He looks up Spud and Simon but their lives are hardly much better than when he last saw them. Spud, after getting his life together, has seen it all unravel, to the point that he is suicidal. Simon is running his father’s loss-making pub, in between bouts of blackmail. Meanwhile, the fourth person in their caper of 20 years’ ago, the psychotically intense Begbie (Robert Carlyle), is in jail. He has no intention of staying incarcerated and revenge is foremost on his mind. Mark quickly finds himself unraveling in the same circular direction that nearly ended his life two decades prior. ‘Trainspotting 2’ is directed by Danny Boyle, and is rated R for drug use, language throughout, strong sexual content, graphic nudity and some violence.

Danny Boyle became notorious after crafting the original ‘Trainspotting’ in 1996, a movie that unapologetically depicted the live fast lifestyles of drug use and the consequences that came with them. Over twenty years later, it’s interesting to see an artistic imitation of life, as just like the protagonist of Mark Renton, Boyle too returns to the spot of his youth to dabble once again in the waters that would inspire him to grow as one of boldest artistic expressionists of our time. ‘Trainspotting 2’ might not prosper to a complete success in the same vain that its predecessor did, but there’s much to indulge in the nostalgic slice of pie that Boyle conjures up for his audience. It was certainly interesting enough to catch up with these characters with so much time removed from one film to the other, and the continuing script by John Hodge gels perfectly to bridge the gap of rust, emulating a story that feels very in-sync with that of the first movie. A difficult thing to do once so much time has passed not only in real time, but also in screen time between character to character.

From Hodge and Boyle’s standpoint, this film packs several impactful messages surrounding the importance of friendship and how the memories that we make as youths shape us to be the people we grow up to be. In regards to this film, it’s clear that so much can happen after two decades, but we can’t change the moral integrity of the heart beating inside, and it’s in that thought process where so very little has changed over time for our four main characters. Where the first film centered around addictions and selfish indulgences, ‘Trainspotting 2’ focuses more on the beauty of life and living with eyes wide open for the very first time. Sure, there is drug use in this film as well, but these feel like characters who are thinking clearly for the first time, and it’s more than satisfying enough to see them prosper, despite the ghosts of Edinburgh past coming back to haunt them occasionally. The difference in age and lifestyles go far beyond that of what’s depicted in story, but also that in pacing of this film versus the 96 original. At nearly two hours, this film feels sauntering when compared to the upbeat pacing and flow of the first movie, channeling the aging process accordingly of the 40-something cast that now deal with maturity. I found this angle in storytelling to be beneficial, even if there is about twenty minutes or so of the movie that flounders in purpose, and would’ve wisely been better left on the cutting room floor.

With Boyle being a magician behind the lens, we are once again treated to a visual fiesta of experimental lighting, editing, and overall camera work that integrates soundly into the picture. The scene-to-scene transitions are beautifully decorated here, characterizing the landscapes not only in Amsterdam to Edinburgh, but also in the coincidences in repetition that Mark realizes from his own past. On the latter, the touches and insertions of child actors being edited into what’s happening on-screen tugs at the heartstrings of anyone watching, highlighting the innocence in every one of us who once had a dream of greatness when we were younger. This film embraces nostalgia with open arms, so it’s beneficial to the creativity and relaying of internal feelings to the audience to include these youthful images, a feature that only someone like Boyle could master, with such similar touches in films like ‘127 Hours’ and ’28 Days Later’.

The character involvement was kind of hit or miss for me, treading a delicate line of material that could only go so far for so much cast. The redeeming friendship of Renton and Sick Boy, as well as Begbie’s escape from prison is a focal point of face value for the movie, but aspects like Spud’s new lease on life, as well as Diane’s one or two throwaway scenes felt very shoe-horned in for the storytelling that was taken place with the trio of main protagonists in the movie. Their performances all consistently reach their designated marks, particularly in that of McGregor who once again balances on a tight rope of personal wants that hinder his growth for the needs in his life, but there are times in this movie where it felt like I was watching two different films that were smashed together, both of which fighting desperately to get out. What I mean by that is it feels like Diane’s scenes in particular should be amounting to more, but they just never happen. I felt no one-on-one confrontation between her and Mark is a dropping of the ball for the ways some of the questions were left unanswered from the previous events, leaving a noticeable gap for the supporting cast of both movies.

My biggest gripe with ‘Trainspotting 2’ is that it feels like a commercial for the first movie, without ever selling its own chapter of merit for fans who seek the continuance. There is certainly nothing wrong with reflecting on events that happen in a previous movie, but this film goes to the well far too much, signaling a flimsy offering of original material that ‘Trainspotting 2’ has for itself. It feels like every time that this movie might be heading in search of its own identity, only to be told once again how great the first movie is. These reflections certainly coincide with that of the past playing such a prominent role in this movie, but after the third or fourth time, you can almost set your watch by when it will happen again, expressing a layer of predictability that these films should never have.

‘Trainspotting 2’ is a welcome and appreciative sequel that could do little better about having a twenty year lay-off that would normally doom a sequel with this kind of waiting power. Boyle and Hodge reflect artistically the kind of harsh realities that our pasts play on who we are shaping ourselves to be, and that disillusionment of age that forces us to earn our wisdom. Boyle’s return to Edinburgh is a good film that could be great if it had more faith in its current story, but the dabble into the past ironically enough is the undoing of a movie that centers around it.

7/10

Kong: Skull Island

The king of the jungle makes a roaring comeback, in ‘Kong: Skull Island’. Set In 1973, a secretive organization known as Monarch finds an island that is shrouded in mystery and identified as the origin for new and dangerous species wreaking havoc on the locals. The resulting expedition to the island reveals that a giant monstrous ape named Kong is at the center of a battle for dominion over the island, against the apex predators, nicknamed the “Skull Crawlers”, responsible for wiping out his kind. As the expedition crew makes plans to fight for survival against Kong and the other monsters on the island, some of them begin to see that Kong is worth saving, in the ensuing brawl for the island’s worth. ‘Kong: Skull Island’ stars Samuel L Jackson, John Goodman, Tom Hiddleston, and Brie Larson. It is directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language.

‘Kong: Skull Island’ is an accurate and intricate depiction of a creature feature set during the Vietnam era, and that setting does nothing but compliment the beautiful presentation in glossy cinematography that goes much further than cosmetic purposes. I found myself very impressed not only with the yellowish color tint, highlighting the screen full of endless sun and smoke, but also that of the superior editing of 70’s stock footage that is placed so sporadically throughout the intro scenes of this picture. The designs in costume and sets mold very faithful homages to the eras of Nixon and Johnson, and no price is spared to immerse the audience visually in this creative time period. Kong himself previously had a movie made during the 70’s, but ‘Skull Island’ feels like it outduels that previous effort, relaying the very socially binding concepts in war and patriotism that were called into question for the first times in U.S history. It’s a movie that has so much going on for it in socialistic commentary that only adds depth and layering to the concepts of setting this film in that age, and all of those issues do not go ignored in the initial plot and introductions of these human characters meeting their 100 foot tall counterpart.

The idea was evident from the opening act of this movie; presentation in ironic comparisons between this invasion with that of the Vietnam war. Upon the introduction of Samuel L Jackson’s character, we are told about Vietnam being a war in which the U.S lost, for its overabundance of lost lives, as well as the permanent stain that it left on the moral fabric of American-foreign relations. The group of soldiers in this film likewise must invade a mysterious island in which they know nothing about, tackle an enemy with all of the advantages of knowing its home, and make their way through an endless landscape of trees full of separate enemies that want them dead. Despite all of this being an obvious comparison, I found myself intrigued to see what Vogt-Roberts could do with this immense budget and ambitious production. The concept in design does wonders not only to the kinds of weapon responses that we unleash upon Kong and the creatures alike, but also in the mental instability of thousands of soldiers coming home to very little of a heroic return. It makes you understand the painfully tough decisions that each of them make, most of which go against protocol for the typical exploration mission.

As for story, the film kicks us off with a boost of adrenaline, supplying a 70’s soundtrack that perfectly captures this place in time. I commend this film for not making the audience wait the usual hour for giving us our initial intakes with its title character, the impact of which sets the stage for anything but your typical survival movie. The second act unfortunately doesn’t continue this pacing, as much of this period feels like it’s held in the air for the riveting conclusion that we’ve all been waiting for. It’s nothing jarring in terms of synthetic pacing or consequential to the material before it, but it just plays things far too safely, including a noticeable gap of about a half hour without Kong, in which we come to learn about some of the other creatures who inhabit the island. The final act resolved mostly everything that I was anticipating, building to a test of wills between man versus monster that will have you re-thinking everything that you’ve come to know to this point. Certainly, this isn’t anything original for a Kong flick, but I commend this film for not being afraid to tell the story that many Americans won’t be too encouraged to hear. When you invade and bomb somebody’s home, there are consequences that come with that feat, and ‘Skull Island’ reflects on a time when our own special forces were at a crossroads after the last of the tolling world wars.

The action sequences and creature designs also live up to par, emoting solid computer generated work to accomplish the mental game of its animated characters. This is by far my favorite Kong design of all time and a lot of that is because more attention to detail is given on his eyes and facial movements that speak to the heart of the animal. For most of the history of Kong, he is portrayed by a man under a rubber suit, and even though I am a sucker for practical stunt work, there is no comparison in monster movies to the kind of cutting-edge work that studios are manufacturing today. The designs of the bone creatures were also very enjoyable. The snap reactions to the way they stalk their prey communicate everything that you need to know about their character, and it’s in their cunning nature where they more-than measure up to the immense Kong, setting up a showdown that will remind you what you came to see. The action sequences impressed me not only as a powder-keg of ammunition riddled quick-cuts, but also in how grizzly and visceral the unapologetic violence kept topping itself. To me, ‘Kong: Skull Island’ feels like the first actual horror movie in the Kong franchise, and most of that can be attributed to its bone-crunching, crimson-colored carnage that pushes the envelope as far as it should rightfully go for PG-13.

The biggest weakness in the film to me was character exposition. Most people won’t watch a Kong movie for its ambitious characters, but an A-list cast this great were simply too big to be disappointing, and with the exception of three characters, they are mostly wasted in one-note designs that don’t do a single one of them a favor. I’ve read that most critics have a problem with the exposition for these characters, but I think the problem lies in the overabundance of characters that continue through the majority of this film. An opening crash scene that is shown in the trailers doesn’t do a lot to increase the body count, so this massive group of civilians bide their time before their number is called. Most notably, Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston are sadly wasted as flimsy one-note characters that stick too closely to their outlines. Larson is the photographer, so she must snap a picture in every cut to her, and Hiddleston is essentially James Bond with a gun or sword, so he must continue to be accurately perfect throughout the film. Thankfully, the trio of Jackson, Goodman, and John C Reilly present hearty and competent characters to give us something to chew on. I was amazed with how important Reilly was to the script as the movie went on, essentially centering around the past of his character that establishes him as something more than just the grizzled veteran. Goodman’s character narration enjoys a solid first act that unfortunately is for nothing, as he disappears late in the second. Up until then, he was probably my favorite character, but he is lost in the sea of faces once their feet land on the island. Jackson is devilishly detestable as an army captain with malicious intent. Early on, we learn why he has such an interest in this mission, but due to Jackson’s gritty performance, you start to see the mask of sanity slowly slip away, giving way to the weapon of mass destruction that earned his character a chest full of honorary medals.

‘Kong: Skull Island’ is certainly an improvement on 2014’s ‘Godzilla’, and does more than enough to even the scales for the massive 2020 showdown between the two. The film’s ambitiously gorgeous presentation, as well as thrilling action sequences does more than enough to push it through some of the weaker aspects, like a dry second act, and an overabundance of patient characters with very little to do. Vogt-Roberts masterful dab in visual tapestry paints an intoxicating canvas for Kong to roar his loudest. The king is finally back on his throne.

7/10

A United Kingdom

A proposal involving two people from completely opposite cultures has their love seeking A United Kingdom against the resistance. Based on extraordinary true events, the film takes place in 1947, with Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), the King of Botswana, meeting Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a London office worker. They were a perfect match, yet their proposed marriage was challenged not only by their families but by the British and South African governments. The latter had recently introduced the policy of apartheid and found the notion of a biracial couple ruling a neighboring country intolerable. South Africa threatened the British: either thwart the couple or be denied access to South African uranium and gold and face the risk of South Africa invading Botswana. A United Kingdom is co-directed by Amma Assante and Steven Hall, and is rated PG-13 for some adult language including racial epithets, and a scene involving sensuality.

‘A United Kingdom’ and screenwriter Guy Hibbert take a usually domestic hotbed like racism and push it further by giving us a different telling of history. Led by two more than capable actors giving stirring performances, the film offers a dual telling of racism from the white AND black side of hatred, garnering so much more than the typical one-dimensional flick during this particular era. If this wasn’t enough, the very locations in this film between Britain and South Africa cement the idea that this disease in logic is more of a worldwide epidemic than a Southern American bible belt where this genre of films usually revolves around. This idea, as well as a script that shows a heartfelt side to romance, gives Amma Assante a leg up on recent bi-racial love stories like ‘Loving’ that only flirt with the idea of equally portraying both sides of the racial coin. Hibbert has a clear responsibility to both sides equally in this story, and he dedicates himself to the idea that love is always more important than hate, a credo that envelopes the movie from start to finish, with this bi-racial couple endearing their newfound power.

The first act will undoubtedly be the biggest test for the audience. I myself found the opening half hour to be jarringly abrasive from the remainder of the film, rushing through various plots and character exposition that is only made up later from two performances that constantly meet their mark. The editing is slightly jumpy during this act, breezing us through the finer parts of this relationship that is vital to the audience falling in love with them. Thankfully, the second act smoothly transitions, and one thing is certainly clear; all of this rushing of developments was done to focus not only on the rising of tension between South Africa and the Brits, but also that of this duo taking their love to a new environment. One of great polar opposite to where the two met and fell in love. As the story pushes along, I found myself impressed with how Hibbert and Assante could succeed at the very merits of what their relationship meant to the conflict of the African village and vice versa. Most unrelated subplots in films will usually not tie with one another, but you start to see the impacts that one has on the other, culminating in a gut-wrenching finale that will have you on the edge of your seats if you don’t know the real life story of Ruth and Seretse.

But how does the relationship stack up? If it’s not believable, then surely this story will deflate. Thankfully, that is never an issue, as the chemistry of Pike and Oyelowo not only feels believable, but is also given appropriate time to supplant their characters. What I love about the layering of this story is that this duo not only grows wonderfully as a couple, full of heart and compassion for one another that radiates beautifully, but also as individuals braving their own uphill climbs. Midway through the movie, a startling controversy separates the two, and the battle within their individual character becomes just as important as the strength between them when they are together. It’s kind of brilliant to attack the issue like this, especially considering that this is a romance of sorts that revolves around the concept of two against the world. But to get there, Hibbert forces us to understand that these are two brave people who came together to mold a union that was leaps and bounds ahead of its time, asking their respective sides to change along with them.

I mentioned the on-screen progression of Ruth an Seretse, but they would be nothing without the two experienced actors who harness that positive energy into two hearty performances. Rosamund Pike is thankfully starting to get the kind of roles that she deserves in Hollywood. As Ruth, Pike feels fragile, but caring, wanting the latter to outweigh the former in a place that she is unfamiliar with. That sense of feeling lost could overcome her character at any moment, but Pike pushes on, signaling a caring in her eyes with the numerous dispositions that she sees in the citizens of her new home. Oyelowo continues to be Mr. Dependable in A-list roles. David has always been someone whose childlike eyes do wonders into his extremely likeable personality, and Seretse is the perfect role for someone of that stature. He’s a lover, but as strong of a fighter as it gets, and you really start to take in the kind of isolation that he feels being on opposite sides from the one person who makes everything going on easier to take. Oyelowo gives an Oscar worthy speech midway through the movie that turned my skin into a bumpy sidewalk of goosebumps, full of chilling emotional response that cements this man as one of the finest dramatic faces working today. The chemistry between Pike and Oyelowo transcends even their roles as this couple, making it easier to immerse yourself into this delightful coupling that radiates positive energy frequently. The only performance that felt unnecessary to me was that of Tom Felton. His performance felt very out of place and slightly cartoonish as one of a few villain characters in this movie. Because of this overabundance, his character feels unnecessary, as well as flawed with how little he is really given to impact. His brief scenes felt more like a speedbump to the more meaty issues that didn’t concern him, and Felton’s character feels expendable in the overall scheme of things.

On the technical side of things, this is a beautifully captivating visual piece that really exceeds in the backdrop of these two strong actors putting on a show. The establishing shots of South Africa are breathtaking, and comprehend the idea of just how cut-off and isolated that they appear to be from the rest of the world around them that treats them like outsiders. The editing finds its place after the choppy first act that I mentioned earlier, and a strong musical accompaniment by composer Patrick Doyle plays its way into the immensity of this situation in story. There’s great building tension in the notes that Doyle commands, and the jazz soundtrack that radiates audibly during the first act sets the mood appropriately for the running joke early on that establishes their overnight romance.

‘A United Kingdom’ has some spotty pacing issues early that doesn’t capitalize on the patience of established storytelling, but fortunately the charming duo of Pike and Oyelowo, as well as a refreshing originality in content to race relation genre films, gives Assante the proper pieces to unite audiences of all races. It’s a perfect story for the perfect time, and feels like a constant reminder that in a world of bleak situations, love always trumps hate.

7/10