Instant Family

Directed By Sean Anders

Starring – Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner

The Plot – When Pete (Wahlberg) and Ellie (Byrne) decide to start a family, they stumble into the world of foster care adoption. They hope to take in one small child but when they meet three siblings, including a rebellious 15 year old girl (Moner), they find themselves speeding from zero to three kids overnight. Now, Pete and Ellie must hilariously try to learn the ropes of instant parenthood in the hopes of becoming a family.

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual material, adult language and some drug references

POSITIVES

– Much of the humor works here, because it is grounded in reality, instead of the screenplay writing that is all but missing a laugh track to accompany its punchlines. The material is very much grounded in parental life experiences, often feeling like a collection of instances that feel like a right of passage for every parent who has ever taken care of children. This is because Anders himself adopted three children, so it’s a project that he feels very passionate about telling, and I found myself laughing frequently throughout the film, even when the consistency of the tone didn’t cater fully to a comedy genre film. More on that later.

– The chemistry bonds between these actors, making them feel authentic as this growing family. While Wahlberg and Byrne easily dominate the screen time as this remotely monotonous couple who are going through the motions, it is actually Moner who steals the screen, giving way to an adolescent who competently channels the ever-changing emotional range of teenage personality. Moner’s Lizzie is easily the glue that holds this family together, and when that glue is tested, it’s easy to see why the rest of the components fall apart. Moner has been in big films before, but this is easily a star-making turn that will earn her many future roles that she will undoubtedly captivate like she does in this film.

– There is very much this late 80’s John Hughes vibe that I get not only from the treading of dramatic content, but also in Michael Andrews presence on the film’s musical score, that channels vibes of a faithful homage. Lots of synth keyboards and gentle tones throughout, carving out a niche to movies like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” or “The Breakfast Club”, in which you can easily trace the similarities. When Andrews isn’t orchestrating the tempo of sound, we are given popular tracks like “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Starship, or “What Is Life” by George Harrison to hold us over until the next throwback immersion.

– Entertaining as a stand alone film, but educating in its material. “Instant Family” seems intent on squashing the many perceptions, both good and bad, about adoption that our current environment currently has. Along the way, the film takes ample time to guide us through the many steps necessary not only in signing up, but also in raising said foster kids once they are inside of the home. As you can imagine, a lot transpires, and these adults lives are turned upside down, but through it all they, as well as us the audience, are presented an often ignored perspective of the children themselves, narrating a psychological volume to everything that they endure at such a young and character building time in their lives.

– Perfect occasion for the entire family to get together. It’s rare to see a film these days where families of every age demographic can feel entertained for nearly two hours of a film, but “Instant Family” bridges the diverse gap, providing plenty of examples along the way for why it might be the perfect holiday movie this year. Some of the light-hearted humor and brief bodily humor will engage youthful audiences enough into believing this is the typical Mark Wahlberg comedy that is par for the course, but the teasing of this PG-13 rating, involving some testy but tasteful material, will cater to parents who are the only ones in on the kind of jokes that I mentioned earlier regarding parental instances.

– The maturity of heartfelt moments that will have you reaching for the tissues. Many times during the film, my cold heart was on the verge of tears through the material by Anders, that does eventually mature and finds itself at the center of some internally stirring moments. This for me gave the film a lot of depth, acting against a trailer that had it feeling limited to being just another Wahlberg parental comedy, which the film is anything but. One such scene involving the combing of hair between mother and daughter feels every bit as sentimental for how it’s intimately shot, as it does therapeutic for the backstory behind it. This is one of many examples of how interested Anders is as a screenwriter to breaking down walls and healing the emotional scarring of these children by giving them a thought-provoking platform to air their side of things.

– Editing is rarely as important as it is when played towards repetition. As to be expected, the film does have a couple of musical montage sequences, but I feel that they work here because they highlight the tedious and often times overbearing nature of parenting that is often glossed over when described. One such scene is focused outside of the bathroom with a one angle take, and shows the frequency of each character moving in and out of frame to destroy and then clean up, and this gives the film an intelligent side of creativity that other films would use-and-abuse without much meaning behind it. If Anders is a magician at just one thing, it’s in his ability to focus on a particular area, and exploit it for all it is worth, and these instances of delight visually narrate the drastic change of environment that these two adults now find themselves in.

NEGATIVES

– Two hours might be a bit too much for this particular story. While the maturity of the material does evolve and refresh the tribulations inside of this family’s daily routine, the boundaries of repetition are a bit stretched, especially during the second act that feels like it is rehashing much of the same material that we already went over in the first forty minutes of the film. Overall, it’s easy to see what could be spared on the editors floor, and I would be far more supportive of a 100 minute film that keeps with the consistency of pacing that started to slug just before the film’s emotional climax.

– Tonal inconsistencies. Most of the film feels like it is engaged in a tug-of-war battle between this “Cheaper By the Dozen” style of family comedy, while playing against some adult themes in material that are played out as comedy, but should be anything but. For instance, there’s a pervert janitor who sends the oldest daughter (15) penis pictures, there’s physical agony for the little boy, who is the butt of constant jokes about him getting hurt around the house, and an overdone joke about “The Blind Side” that probably isn’t the most racially sensitive, in terms of depiction. “Instant Family” feels like there’s a struggle within itself to properly nail down what kind of film it wants to be, and with more consistency developed, the movie could feel more comfortable in how it attacks these important subplots.

– A bit formulaic and predictable. This is especially evident during the third act, when a series of easily telegraphed events distance the family for the same third act distance that we’ve come to expect. It never goes anywhere that is daring or conflicted, instead neatly packaging up the film’s remaining moments with a bit too much clarity in the form of a perfect existence. This felt like the lone betrayal to the otherwise honest side of adoption that the film takes, and I could’ve used some level of spontaneity to pull itself out of familiarity.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

The Grinch

Directed By Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier

Starring – Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Angela Lansbury

The Plot – Tells the story of a cynical grump who goes on a mission to steal Christmas, only to have his heart changed by a young girl’s generous holiday spirit. Funny, heartwarming, and visually stunning, it’s a universal story about the spirit of Christmas and the indomitable power of optimism. Cumberbatch lends his voice to the infamous Grinch, who lives a solitary life inside a cave on Mt. Crumpet with only his loyal dog, Max, for company. With a cave rigged with inventions and contraptions for his day-to-day needs, the Grinch only sees his neighbors in Whoville when he runs out of food. Each year at Christmas they disrupt his tranquil solitude with their increasingly bigger, brighter, and louder celebrations. When the Whos declare they are going to make Christmas three times bigger this year, the Grinch …

Rated PG for brief rude humor

POSITIVES

– Even throughout the many on-screen adaptations of The Grinch stealing Christmas, it’s the un-mistakeable message of Christmas that remains persistent, guiding a new generation through what really matters. As to where presents and material matters can be replaced, it is time with loved ones, involving friends, family, and loves, that truly make the holiday season what it is, and especially in 2018, at a time when we might forget such values, a film like “The Grinch” stands the test of time for this direction alone.

– Vibrancy in animation that harvests Illumination’s single best presentation to date. In channeling the articulation of Whoville, the production team use a fruitful combination of shape and color to really capture the pulse of this town that feels so far from our own, giving the set pieces a one of a kind design that prove a lot of time and energy went into them. The outlines of backdrops generate with a pop-up novel kind of stature, and the color pallet itself radiates off of the screen, treating us to several intoxicating visuals that you may need a pause button to properly take in.

– A Cumberbatch of range. In seeing the trailers, it certainly wasn’t a surprise that this was a one man stage show, but rather how much depth that Benedict Cumberbatch has as a vocal actor. Benedict uses these long stretches of delivery that have him sounding like a combination of Moe from “The Simpsons” and the snooty receptionist from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, and after a while you truly get lost in the versatility of his ever-changing tone. In casting him as The Grinch, it not only adds respectable accolades to the taking of the character, but it also gives Cumberbatch depth in the form of a filmography, that above all else proves that this serious actor can deliver on fun when the time calls for it. Beyond this, I also felt SNL’s Keenan Thompson did a great job vocalizing Bricklebaum, and there isn’t a more synthetic pairing of voice matching visual than Thompson’s dry baritone range with the illustration of a husky bearded Christmas junkie. It’s surefire laughs each time he pops up.

– An acceptable time for narration. Considering this film originates from a children’s book, it’s understandable that the producers would include a rhyming narration throughout, read exceptionally by multi-time Grammy winner, Pharrell Williams, but even more than that, it’s acceptable because of Williams positive demeanor being combined with lines that don’t often intrude on what we’re already seeing on camera. It’s true that there are some examples of arguments to be made for this point, but the narration mostly keeps its hands clean, instead serving more as a delve into the mind of a green madman, whose own history with Christmas greatly challenges the on-going narrative.

– While I have problems with the character of The Grinch himself, that I will get to later, one aspect of the film that gave me pleasure was in the kind of justifying that comes with getting an up-close-and-personal depiction of Christmas maniacs, in the town below. There’s certainly nothing wrong with people who enjoy Christmas religiously, but the film takes pleasure in pointing out how overzealous each and every one of these people truly are, and it’s in that passion where you can comprehend why someone would have such a distaste to this. Of course, this isn’t the complete reason for The Grinch’s disdain, but the endless cliches like non-stop Christmas music and commercialism from opportunists, welcome us in to his isolated side, and dare you every step to tell him he’s wrong.

– Kids versus adults. In my opinion, I think there are laughs for both sides of the age spectrum, but I feel like kids will get more from the mostly physical slapstick sight gags that dominated the film’s comic muscle. That’s not to say that nothing is smart about the comedy in the film, but rather the film’s dedication to the bright and bold cater more to those who can be considered attention challenged, and as far as holiday kids movies go, it’s as safe a bet as you can get.

– Modern updates to familiar classics. To go hand-in-hand with Danny Elfman’s ambitious musical score, the collection of songs from assorted artists are given a hip-hop refreshing to not only channel a different sound to familiar lyrics, but also give the title character himself a beat to play against his madness. I’m usually against this particular kind of thing (See hip hop music in the Jesus film “The Star”), but for whatever reason it worked here because of how timeless The Grinch narrative has always been. There’s no yearly designation for when this all takes place, therefore there is no limitation for where any artist can take it in future projects.

NEGATIVES

– Careless subplot. The Cindy story has always been an important part of this story, but why it doesn’t work here is a combination of thinly written characters and overall lack of originality that constantly keep it grounded. I couldn’t of cared less every time the film cut to these characters, and any momentum gained from pacing with its own problems is cut short each time the story shies away from the meat of this plot. On top of that, Cindy and her friends are kind of a bunch of criminals in training, blurring the line between good and bad in a way that wipes protagonists entirely from the picture.

– Stretched screenplay. This film should finally cement the idea that The Grinch story is best suited as a half hour idea, and if this film trimmed itself to a half hour television special, it might be able to compete with the Boris Karloff classic, that is every bit still the measuring stick for this property. To say that the build-up for the heist is stretched is the understatement of the year. This film takes what should be nothing more than a musical montage of training for the big day, and gives each of them five minutes of precious screen time to pad a thinly written 82 minute film. Yes, even with a film that doesn’t reach an hour-and-a-half, there are still these moments of bland that move as slow as syrup, and should be treated as an intro credits scene from Netflix that you can thankfully click skip through.

– Perhaps my biggest problem with this film is in the aspect that The Grinch simply isn’t a grinch. Does he do rude and careless things? Sure, but nothing he does ever feels condemning or personal to the people below. In fact, because of a subplot involving his tortured past, we can justify his actions to an extent, and that’s a major problem for someone described as “Rotten” in song lyrics. Even for a kids movie, this is as safe and inconsequential as it gets, and I wish there were more examples of the detestable side of The Grinch, to make his eventual third act transformation that much more of a distance.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

The Other Side of the Wind

Directed By Orson Welles

Starring – John Huston, Robert Random, Peter Bogdanovich

The Plot – A satire of Hollywood, the story focuses on the last days of a legendary film director named Jake Hannaford (Huston), who is struggling to forge his last great comeback as a major filmmaker. Hannaford is hard at work on his final masterpiece, “The Other Side of The Wind”.

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

POSITIVES

– Time machine effect. Certain films will transport you to a particular era because of articulate production value for intended purpose, but “The Other Side of the Wind” is a film that attains this by quite literally being a film from a different era of filmmaking. This is a movie that has sat on the shelf for over forty years because of bankruptcy, and is just now seeing the light of day, so the ability to watch something from a time when the things we take for granted were in their infancy, is something that gives the film a one-of-a-kind experience, and grants us one more day in the sun with a genius director who unfortunately left us far too early.

– Crime Noir influenced musical score by Michel Legrand. With plenty of rhythmic jazz instrumentals and an enhanced modern age buffering to clean up the sound, Legrand instills a vibrant sense of the golden age of Hollywood that feeds hand-in-hand with the plot and setting of the film. The easy listenings excel at transcending the screen psychologically in a way that a mockumentary like this requires, and establishes a classy outline to the audibility that envelopes the film synthetically, giving an element of cool to Welles final project.

– Although denied by Welles himself, there’s plenty of reasons to suggest that this film is a bit auto-biographical for the director. Considering this was a man who was very much a mystery wrapped inside of an enigma for admirers who studied him for decades, “The Other Side of the Wind” feels like the most revealing look into a man who was prickly and compromising in the same ways that the main protagonist of the story is. Beyond this, experiences of Welles are decorated throughout the film, engaging us in angles like a snobby critic, the intimacy between a director and his leading ladies, and the urgency of a studio-backed project that often feels like a soul-selling deal to the devil. This all feels a bit too precise to be just another project from Orson, and that thought will hit you almost immediately, should you decide to take this film on.

– Surprisingly, a great amount of dependency upon comedy. Not only is the humor for the film necessary in keeping the audience invested into the dialogue heavy banter throughout two hours of the movie, it’s also finely tuned with a strong combination of sarcasm and reveal, to give us the elusive backlot commentary for most productions during the time. While nothing is truly laugh-out-loud in terms of material, the accuracy of its modest deliveries were something that remained consistent, creating an open door for people to hook themselves into these characters and situations.

– Razor sharp editing. Some of Welles best work in film has always been his ahead-of-its-time editing, and that is certainly on display here, through sequences that sometimes juggle two or three on-going narratives. There was over four hundred hours of film shot in total for this film, so the production team had quite the challenge in trimming this to just two hours, but I think old Orson would be proud if he managed to see the exceptional work involving visual psychological twitches, as well as the juggling of cinematography styles, to make a presentation that feels chaotically subversive. Editing like those depicted in the film are thought of as conventional in 2018, but that thought process is because of a visual pioneer who had the vision to try it first.

– Symbolism of life versus film. There’s a film within this film that is also called “The Other Side of the Wind”, and it’s in dissecting the real film’s two sides where you see Orson’s most obvious discoveries. The fictional film is not only shot more beautifully, involving a rich blend of color to compliment the stained-glass feel, but also feels less complicated because of the lack of dialogue used from within. I believe Orson was telling us that real life is anything but the movies, and that the desirable world we seek lies somewhere in the middle of the fantasy and reality that became his artistic expression. I did manage to find much more in the comparison, but I would start reaching spoiler territory, and I’d rather let you experience it for yourself.

– A duo of fully-committed performances. I’d like to see Huston receive an Oscar nomination, for the ink blot test of a character that Hannaford comes across as. There’s an essence of sadness that comes from his unlimited wisdom inside of the game for so long, and Huston’s grizzled face and unabashed nature in tearing down every relationship and honor he’s attained, lend to a trapped personal hell that the director can’t escape. Matching him nearly jab-for-jab, is Bogdanovich, as my favorite character, Brooks. Peter is himself a director in real life, so he knows what it takes to channel a character in a way that makes him essential to the film, and that’s what we have here. When Brooks is off camera, with the noticeable lack of delightful banter between he and Hannaford, as well as his collection of celebrity impressions, the movie stalls. His inclusion is that important, and the chemistry with Huston cements a friendship that hangs in the balance between student/teacher and best friends. It also doesn’t hurt that Bogdanovich is the single best Bill Hicks look-a-like that I’ve ever seen.

NEGATIVES

– This is a tough sell to any kind of audience, mainly because the disjointed nature of these scenes can sometimes come across as hollow and inconsistent. Especially in the first act, there’s a real lack of definition from what transpires, and the collection of scenes feel like just that: a collection of separated instances that don’t necessarily gel as one cohesive unit. If you can make it through this, the film does eventually pick up, but it’s clear that a lot of the heart and instinct that comes with the director of such a passion project is missing from the scene.

– While the film within the film is stylishly provocative and sensually sinister, it takes up far too much of the finished run time, for my taste. This serves as a major distraction to the continuity and progressive flow of the characters we become invested in, leaving them far too often to come across as nothing more than a test of patience that the audience frequently has to endure.

– Certain aspects of the film unfortunately don’t age well. Female abuse treated like a hiccup, free-flowing use of the derogatory term for the gay community, and the main protagonist’s desire for underage women only do damage to a movie that is at least a product of its time, and at most an offensive time stamp that reminds us how far we’ve come as a society. These three things are tied to necessary developments in the plot, but don’t erase the elements that make it difficult to embrace a character like Hannaford.

My grade: 7/10 or B-

Mid90s

Directed By Jonah Hill

Starring – Sunny Suljic, Katherine Waterston, Lucas Hedges

The Plot – The movie follows a teenager named Stevie (Suljic) growing up in Los Angeles. He’s struggling with his family, including his co-dependent single mom (Waterston) and his abusive older brother (Hedges), and at school, where his richer friends seem to overlook him. When Stevie befriends a crew of skateboarders, he learns some tough lessons about class, race, and privilege.

Rated R for pervasive language, sexual content, drug and alcohol use, some violent behavior/disturbing images – all involving minors

POSITIVES

– Jonah Hill’s impeccable sense of sight and sound within this designated time frame. Being a youth during such a progressive period in our history, grants Hill as the ideal candidate for such an expressive project, and the Oscar nominated actor’s first swing as a director connects hard with audiences who, like Jonah, bare witness to the expressive trends in fashion and music alike. Because of such “Mid90s” is very much enriched in a nostalgic gloss that intentionally feels dated for all of the right reasons.

– Style with substance. The decision to craft this film in 16 MM with a 4:3 ratio is one that moves the creativity of the film miles in terms of duplicating that authentic 90’s home video dazzle of filmmaking, giving it at times a documentary feel of realism that the entire picture is cloaked in. Imagination is big with me, and there’s nothing out currently that looks or even feels like Jonah’s subversive spin on skate culture, that goes hand-in-hand with this particular story and set of characters. Obviously we can’t return to the 90’s to film a movie, so cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt is more than happy to oblige bringing the 90’s to us.

– Another slam dunk score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch. I had no idea that these two Oscar winning composers were scoring “Mid90s”, and it only takes minutes for the film’s tones to channel those of the duo’s cold, callous repertoire that we’ve come to expect. The piano triggers loudest during Stevie’s deafening levels of isolation, and if anyone can articulate the angst associated with teenage perplexity, it’s the man who fronts Nine Inch Nails. Unfortunately, their cues don’t come often enough, as too much of the film’s accompanying music relies more on the soundtrack, which presented problems that I will get to later.

– What’s so effective and relatable about this film is that it transcends the group tag to give us feelings and situations that hit on everyone’s awkward adolescence. For me, it’s Stevie’s deteriorating relationship with his family, as well as the timidness and conformity that goes with wanting to fit in. This is perhaps the single greatest strength that Hill as a screenwriter instills, because his sequence of events feel every bit as natural as they do compromising to our main protagonist. In trying to be cool, we see how uncool it all really is, and its wisdom that comes with living through such experiences, that make you want to reach out and speak to Stevie personally.

– Breakthrough performances from a relatively unknown ensemble cast. This decision alone feeds into what we’re watching feeling like real life, giving the film a rich side of candidness that many films can’t hit on because of familiar faces. Even more impressive, the kids themselves are actual skateboarders. Suljic roars in his first starring role with a combination of innocence and ferocity that equally mold this outline of a teenager, who by the end of the film still feels in search of an identity that’s his. I felt great empathy for this character because every action comes at the desire to please someone else, a move that will inevitably move him no closer to self-happiness. The rest of the cast meets their marks equally as effective, even if the decision to cast Waterston and Hedges stands out like a sore thumb from the rest of the fresh-faced ensemble.

– Underrated editing that strikes a nerve psychologically. This aspect is great purely for its minimalist approach. There are times during the film when you blink and you could miss aspect of clever filmmaking, making you wonder if what you saw actually happened in real time. Without spoiling much, conversations between two characters clip on and off, jumbling up the continuity from shot-to-shot, and unnerving us in a way that we can’t explain or justify. This is especially the case during the beginning of a major sequence towards the end of the film that gave me a great jump scare for how visually and audibly arresting it comes across. It all serves as manipulation of the product that kept my attention firmly during these brief tweaks of creativity.

– Unapologetic dialogue that is anything but politically correct. This too feeds into the particular place and time that this film takes place in, depicting a world that feels far from our own in terms of offensive reactions that follow such R-rated banter. There is such a naturalism to it all that accompanies these exchanges that other films feel far too prepared to capture authentically, and while some of it is indeed racy, it’s refreshing to view a world where the youth feel tougher than adults, in that they don’t let throwaway words cloud their judgment of people.

NEGATIVES

– Minimal plot that lessens the dramatic pull. While I don’t have a problem with a film that has little to no story, its presence on this screenplay is one that hinders the impactful third act, reaching for weight on its characters and subplots that never feels fully rendered. Specifically, it’s in the lack of character exposition that feels forced during a brief five minute conversation that feels most obvious, and the forgettable, incomplete ending is a reminder of such inconsistencies that Hill could better steer as rider of this board.

– I mentioned earlier that the soundtrack, while offering a wide variety of genre favorites for the decade, felt forced for all of the wrong reasons. What I mean by this is there’s no context or syntax to their disposals, feeling very much unnatural and spoon-fed for the recognizability of the tracks that will inevitably warm a soft spot in the guts of audience members. A film about a particular decade certainly requires the use of some songs to represent its era, but the sloppiness associated with their deposits made for some truly distracting scenes that illustrated the intruding line of production that sometimes overshot the synthetics of the 90’s feel.

– Loose ends that come and go without resolution. There’s a Hispanic character in the group who has a conflict with Stevie early on that eventually comes to blows between them. My problem with this is the many things set up with this character that goes absolutely nowhere in comparison to the final direction. There’s also a confrontation between the two most influential characters in this skateboarding group that seriously is never mentioned again after its introduction happens with only twenty minutes left in the movie. It’s a little late at that point to be introducing new subplots to the story, and the lack of conclusion between their conflict feels like something more was left on the cutting room floor, that wasn’t important enough to reach the finished product.

My grade: 7/10 or B

The Sisters Brothers

Directed By Jacques Audiard

Starring – John C Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal

The Plot – Based on Patrick DeWitt’s novel, “The Sisters Brothers” revolves around the colorfully named gold prospector Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), who’s being pursued across 1000 miles of 1850s Oregon desert to San Francisco by the notorious assassins Eli (Reilly) and Charlie (Phoenix) Sisters. Except Eli is having a personal crisis and beginning to doubt the longevity of his chosen career. And Hermann might have a better offer.

Rated R for violence including disturbing images, adult language, and some sexual content

POSITIVES

– Benoit Debie’s dreamy western canvas that stretches as far as the eye can see. The first step in any good Western is to paint the screen with these entrancing visuals that articulate the distance and immensity of the land that our characters travel, but what Debie uses these instances for is more of a navigation tool in communicating to the audience the settings that they are headed. It starts on the characters it is focused on, then slowly pans out to reveal the bigger mapped out picture that we otherwise would be oblivious to while trailing them on the ground. This aspect perfectly sets the stage for what hits next, and amplifies the artistic value of the film tenfold, for those like myself who require gorgeous scenery in their westerns.

– Unique chapter introductions. This is an homage to classic westerns, in that the beginning of an important exchange for our characters begins with an image to summarize what’s to come. It isn’t so much in the inclusion of this trait as it is the presentation that accompanies it, charming us with what looks like a blurred gun scope outline for the depiction. This alerts the audience to an important scene every time its gimmick pops up, and gave the movie a delightful marriage between classic and present film that values each respective era.

– Buzzworthy performances from four big name actors. Nothing against the ladies, but this is definitely a men’s show, bringing along impeccable chemistry from two different duos (Reilly and Phoenix, Gyllenhaal and Ahmed) that constantly fight for leverage of the camera. For my money, it’s Reilly who may just steal the show, exchanging his usual comedic stick for empathetic drama that looks good on the veteran actor. It’s a bit confusing as to why he’s billed as the main character because the film sticks with Phoenix remotely more, but Reilly’s somber ambition for the character steals our hearts and scenes repeatedly. Gyllenhaal’s English accent also shouldn’t be overlooked.

– False advertising. This trait would usually be in my negatives category, but I’m glad that the manipulative trailers that presented this film as a comedy were a complete fabrication. Is there comedy in the film? Sure, in small appropriate doses, but I’m very much thankful for the dramatic depth of the script that is continuously dark and depressing in a way that only increases your emotional investment into these characters and the opposition they face. Fans looking for the usual bumbling Reilly comedy will be severely disappointed, but I challenge you to continue your interest from the trailer into a world of consequential drama that never relents.

– What I found so compelling about these brothers is that they are anything but your conventional heroes. Instead, they present a very honest and engaging depiction of two men who are ruthlessly cold-blooded killers, whose only solace is in the bond that they share while committing these crimes. In regards to their chemistry beyond the casual brothers label, these are two men who thrive because of the presence of the other. I have no doubt that they would be lost if they went it alone, and the film spends valuable minutes of screen time to further prove my theory. It’s the single most definitive brother depiction that I’ve ever seen in a western.

– Desplat simply doesn’t sleep. Alexandre Desplat is quickly becoming one of my favorite musical composers going today, and his work in “The Sisters Brothers” continues the trend with somber tones and wondrous numbers that do a great service to the presentation. My single favorite aspect of his score is that it never feels intrusive or manipulative despite continuously elevating my investment into every scene. The moments on screen and the music work hand-in-hand together without one of them overstepping the other, and if you’re ever curious how sound elevation should be handled, check this one out.

– Even with the linear style of storytelling between the two sides, the film never felt predictable or stale for where it was headed. In displaying two duos of characters with equal time devoted, the film sets up an inevitable confrontation where only we the audience know when and where it will take place. Despite this, there’s enough twists in the dynamics of both groups, as well as the slow reveal of character backstories that constantly kept me glued to the screen, and rarely ever let me down.

NEGATIVES

– A limited eye for action sequence capacity. Much of the action in the film is spread out and secluded over the course of a film that is nearly two hours in runtime, and my problem isn’t so much with the amount of action as it is the way it is captured on screen. Much of the angles felt compromisingly close for audience detection, and the rapid fire cuts of brash editing made it increasingly difficult to focus on just one character perspective. It’s a bit shocking that the action is shot so terribly because the rest of the movie’s camera movements are beautiful, but these flaws stick out like a sore thumb .

– Stilted pacing. Complaining about pacing in a western movie is like complaining about snow in Ohio, but there are times during the third act where the film has trouble moving forward after a series of bombshell events that leaves characters leveled. This is the first time where I truly felt the stretching of runtime that was up until then engagingly persistent. There’s nothing that I would erase or leave on the cutting room floor, but quick cut treatment in these closing moments could’ve kept the energy on high for the closing moments that serve as the big payoff.

– There’s a pivotal moment late in the third act that changes the complexion of our characters moving forward, and my problem with this scene is how illogical the characters feel after molding them a particular way prior. It’s almost comical how this mistake of epic proportions takes place, and requires a great suspension of disbelief for how it physically alters them moving forward. I understand that this element is in the book of the same name, but certainly there are better ways to adapt this that feel more consistent with character details present in the film.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

Never Goin Back

Directed By Augustine Frizzell

Starring – Maia Mitchell, Camila Morrone, Kyle Mooney

The Plot – Jessie (Morrone) and Angela (Mitchell), high school dropout BFFs, are taking a week off to chill at the beach. Too bad their house got robbed, rent’s due, they’re about to get fired, and they’re broke. Now they’ve gotta avoid eviction, stay out of jail and get to the beach, no matter what.

Rated R for crude sexual content and adult language throughout, drug use and brief nudity – all involving teens.

POSITIVES

– A harvested value of friendship that bonds the female leads and the audience alike. It’s rare to see this kind of female chemistry being exuberated on film, and not since “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion”, has a duo felt so in-sync to the point of them often feeling like the same person. Much of what you feel for this film will rely on your investment upon these characters alone, and my satisfaction with the work of Mitchell and Morrone, that feels like they’ve been friends for years, puts it right up there with Michael Cera and Jonah Hill from “Superbad”, in terms of sharp comedic timing and tag team banter that never withered under the dependability of them in the film. On a superficial level, the girls are remarkably beautiful, and I mention this because the lack of makeup on them throughout the film gives their characters that stripped down edge that values them for so much more than just a pretty face.

– Frizzell’s respect for the characters. It would certainly be easy to mock and ridicule Jessie and Angela for their limited social standings in life that come off as less than desirable initially, but in pulling the camera back through 82 minutes of exposition, Augustine highlights the drive in ambition and intelligence that keeps pushing them forward, proving that they are anything but dumb stereotypes. Women will love this angle because it shows the unapologetic rawness of two leading ladies, combined with the emphasis and intrigue to value the story that is theirs and many like them who are watching at home.

– Weight within the Fort Worth environment. This film reminded me a lot of last year’s “The Florida Project”, in that the humidity and steaming decay of western mini malls and temporary business fronts overcrowd the area, giving way to a mentality that opportunity is present, it’s just limited in terms of prospering and potential growth. The landscapes here are staged with an appearance of advantageous commercialism, and additionally the bleak surroundings of a claustrophobic apartment that sees our ladies sharing a bed to get by. It’s not quite the slums, but it’s not entirely far off either, and Frizzell’s dependency on the setting here instills even more empathy for the characters that you would otherwise overlook in a conventional setting.

– I am not an easy laugher by any means, and “Never Goin Back” had me chuckling to the point that I required pauses in between readings of dialogue. What’s charming to me is that this isn’t simply actresses reading lines, it’s also R-rated bodily humor that never relents, facial documentation that allows you to accurately read what the character is thinking or going through at that moment, and especially the work of some zany supporting characters around our two leads that attribute to what feels like their normalcy. It’s a world inside of a world that is colorfully articulated, and it leads to one of the best comedies of the 2018 Summer season.

– Intelligent use of easy listening favorites. Without question, my favorite aspect of the film is in the occasional inserts of sax-heavy tracks that audibly narrate the disgust or the desire of a character need in the frame at that particular moment. It feels like irresistible delves into the psyche of two stoners, whose minds are always on the hamster wheel, and allows us that rare opportunity to pull away from them and laugh at their torturous disposition. I definitely won’t give away anything here, but any movie that can add layers to Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You” is brilliant in my book, and the scene that it accompanies could be a gift-wrapped present to IHOP if they were wise enough to take advantage of it.

– As easy of a sit as you’re going to get. As I Mentioned earlier, the film barely clocks in at 82 minutes of recorded film, and the progression of the free-flowing narrative combined with the untimely mayhem of what transpires along the way, moves the pacing miles ahead of what is asked of it, allowing “Never Goin Back” the power to keep the audience firmly in its entertaining grasp without convoluting or alienating audiences along the way.

– 90’s weightless cinema at its finest. This film feels like a more-than worthy representative of what I call “Hang around comedy”, a frequently visited subgenre at the turn of the 21st century that gave us classics like “Clerks” or “Empire Records” among others, and fed into the notion of so much happening to a limited amount of characters in a day or two of story time. In this aspect, what feels like the end of the world for Jessie and Angela is really just another day for those around them, and I respected Frizzell for this status of script that gives the film a positively throwaway sense of viewing by audience. These are the kind of films intended when people say to shut your mind off and just enjoy, and for a movie with such a limited range of impact, it certainly left a lasting memory on me hours after I watched it.

NEGATIVES

– The subplot involving Jessie’s brother (Played by Joel Allen), is entertaining enough in its element, but to me required a bit more satire and commentary in fully fleshing out a character who is twice as lazy and degraded as our two leads. There isn’t a positive male influence anywhere in this film, and that’s OK, I don’t mind that, but the overabundance of time devoted to him despite a subplot that goes literally nowhere is something that I felt unnecessarily weighed down his character arc, and never allowed him the opportunity to grow as anything other than the loser we first meet in minute eleven of the film.

– It made me a bit uncomfortable that two characters who are mentioned as being 16 or 17, are oogled upon in the most Michael Bay method of visual storytelling that you could possibly imagine. Considering this is all helmed by a woman, it’s a bit of a disappointment that her one glaring flaw is in the way that she, like many male directors before her, objectify women in the most awkward and unnecessary manner that Hollywood can offer. Are these two beautiful women? Yes, but they’re beautiful because of their undying spirits despite life’s brutal hammering, and it constantly felt I learned that when the movie didn’t.

– Late reveals during the final scenes of the third act involving a restaurant owner, felt a bit too convenient for me on two separate occasions. The first, a reveal about his occupation proves just how small the worlds inside of a movie can be, but the second reveal caters to a character mention earlier that should have been nothing more than a disposable drop of dialogue. Instead, drawing this out to be a major factor in the film’s conclusion hints that Frizzell is a student of coincidence, giving the ending a contradicting feeling of surrealism that tucks it away neatly.

My Grade: 7/10 or a B-

The Old Man & The Gun

Directed By David Lowery

Starring – Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek

The Plot – Based on the true story of Forrest Tucker (Redford), from his audacious escape from San Quentin at the age of 70 to an unprecedented string of heists that confounded authorities and enchanted the public. Wrapped up in the pursuit are detective John Hunt (Affleck), who becomes captivated with Forrest’s commitment to his craft, and a woman (Spacek), who loves him in spite of his chosen profession.

Rated PG-13 for brief strong adult language

POSITIVES

– Redford’s last stand. If this is the final film of Robert Redford as rumored, then it feels appropriate that his career has begun and ended with a western. In fact, I feel like this film works better as a goodbye to Redford than it does a movie on its own. Especially with clips of Redford’s earlier film “The Chase” being inserted into a montage sequence. The philosophies behind living, growing old, and the constructs of time echo Redford’s career to a tee, and this allows the screenplay to transcend that of a film many times throughout.

– Impeccable chemistry. Speaking of Redford, the work between he and Sissy Spaceck charms and delights our senses in each and every scene. The dynamic between them is rich with charisma and on-point banter that we can never get enough of, making it easier with each scene to fall in love with both of them, especially when Daniel Hart’s jazz-flowing scores narrate such a seduction. Seriously, when they are together, the film flies by so much smoother, but the distance that grows between them does a disservice to a film like this that has a big enough outlet for romance in its live fast lifestyle choices.

– Unique production values. To say that this film feels like something straight out of the 70’s is an understatement. Joe Anderson’s grainy cinematography graphics combined with vintage side pan and slow zoom camera movements succesfully pays homage to the disco age of filmmaking, giving “The Old Man and the Gun” a one of a kind presentation that is totally out of this generation. In fact, it’s jarring to occasionally see newer film stars of this decade on screen, because it feels like they got into a time machine to the 70’s to further convolute their respective filmographies.

– Accurate depiction of the real Forest Tucker. Considering this is based on a true story, it would be expected that the film would take a few liberties with the material, but “The Old Man and The Gun” stays on a narrow path of fact and tastefulness that prove why he was arguably good or bad at his role of a robber. The film highlights Tucker as an intelligent individual whose biggest curse was the inability to live a normal life, and it’s in this curse where we learn the most about the mild manners of the man who charmed many he came into contact with.

– One song broke my replay button. Beyond just the use of this song in my single favorite scene in the movie, Jackson C Frank’s “Blues Run the Game” is on my limited list of favorite tracks from a film for the 2018 movie season. Frank’s somber repetitve lyrical deliveries echo that of a Dylan-meets-Buckley kind of vibe, and it’s a track that haunted me in the most intoxicating way, long after I left the theater. I suggest you give it a listen and turn it up.

– Part of what I love about Lowery as a director that makes him perfect for this particular project is the inclusion of random images that don’t necessarily add anything but atmosphere to the unfolding scene. For example, the editing cuts at random times and cuts to people or objects that were initially out of frame, but are now receiving focus in the most charming out-of-context manner. In this perspective, it feels like David is trying to relay the idea that little things happen are happening all around us, and the matters of random play into fate whether we want them too or not.

– My favorite kind of westerns are the ones that build two sides equally without compromising the other, and the fight for leverage between Redford and Affleck equally provides two sides that you want to come out unharmed. When you have two characters from different sides you care about, your investment in the movie and their well-being doubles, and Lowery as a screenwriter is intelligent enough to understand that the chaser is just as important to the story as the one he’s hunting, giving away the concept of an antagonist for the movie to be anything other than the inevitability of time.

NEGATIVES

– Something’s missing. When I left the theater, I had an overwhelming feeling that something was missing from the movie, and then it finally hit me. This film for the entirety of 88 minutes has little or no danger or urgency to it. My opinion is that it might focus a bit too much on the charms of Tucker to ever make him look truly bad or wrong in his convictions, giving away any remote thrills or tension that a film like this could desperately use.

– Occasionally meaningless scenes or characters. Without spoiling much, I can say one scene in particular featuring Elisabeth Moss as Tucker’s distant daughter did nothing for the complexion or even the sensibility of the film’s unraveling narrative. What confuses me is how this woman who has never met her father once not only knows so much about his traits, but also how she even has pictures of him in the first place. In addition to this, the very existence of Affleck’s character considering where the film ends. This is summarized by an in-person exchange between Redford and Affleck that sounds cool on paper, but only feeds into the lack of energy that I mentioned in the previous negative. It’s sad because I love Lowery as a director, but his writing is faulty at best.

– Lowery has always had a desire to pan out his scenes, testing the pacing time-and-time-again in ways that would paralyze other films. Where that worked in a film like “A Ghost Story”, when Rooney Mara is devouring a pie for five straight minutes, is in how he depicts the isolation and condemning feeling of grief and what it does to the human soul. Here, that same stretching of the pacing hinders the entertainment value of the film without adding anything of substance to what its plodding is trying to convey. More than anything, this is present during the second act, when Affleck’s subplot overstretches its boundaries and domination on screen time over the Redford/Spacek dynamic. It’s nowhere near as testing as eating a pie continuously, but it’s nowhere near as substansive as that take either.

7/10

Colette

Directed By Wash Westmoreland

Starring – Keira Knightley, Eleanor Tomlinson, Dominic West

The Plot – After marrying a successful Parisian writer known commonly as “Willy” (West), Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Knightley) is transplanted from her childhood home in rural France to the intellectual and artistic splendor of Paris. Soon after, Willy convinces Colette to ghostwrite for him. She pens a semi-autobiographical novel about a witty and brazen country girl named Claudine, sparking a bestseller and a cultural sensation. After its success, Colette and Willy become the talk of Paris and their adventures inspire additional Claudine novels. Colette’s fight over creative ownership and gender roles drives her to overcome societal constraints, revolutionizing literature, fashion and sexual expression.

Rated R for some sexuality/nudity

POSITIVES

– Rich and vibrant performances from the film’s leading duo. These are the kind of stirring renditions that lift a so-so screenplay to one that is full of radiant energy and impeccable chemistry between them for all of the wrong reasons. As the film’s title character, Knightley is intelligent, cunning, and especially confrontational. For a woman in the late 1800’s, Colette feels like a revolutionary for her respective gender, decades ahead of her time, and Keira is happy to oblige in giving the character the ambiance in fire that is dutifully required. West also shouldn’t be overlooked for his seedy brand of manipulation that gives the film the constant headache and obstacle that it’s protagonist requires.

– “Colette” is enriched with an overwhelming feeling of stage presence that constantly persists throughout the film. In translating to the screen, it’s nice to see that the meat and conflicts aren’t lost, because it’s in those moments when the dialogue diatribes becomes evidently louder, and the movements of camera remain firmly grounded. There were times during the film when I immersed myself into believing that I was watching a stage play, and it’s a testament to Westmoreland’s grip on the film, to never lose sight of what works from within.

– Vibrant production value in wardrobe and shooting locations. Duplicating Paris during the late 19th century presents many coveted opportunities that other films don’t get the blessing of, and “Colette” never squanders this chance, offering a wide variety of triple stitched dresses and suits to capture the ever-changing essence of our leading lady in a conforming male-dominated society, as well as a fine collection of gorgeous sites that were shot in Budapest to channel the vibe of French cultures.

– The depiction of fame in the 19th century. What I found so cool and unique about this perspective is the comparisons between now and then that highlighted many of the same parallels with being in the public eye. Rarely do we get a chance to see this angle played out in such a reformed and distant era from our own, and the inclusion of one informative montage sequence relates just how groundbreaking the Claudine novels were for escapism literature at their time, giving a vote of confidence to women everywhere whether their male counterparts knew it or not.

– Feels important without catering as Oscar bait. Whether this film receives eventual award consideration remains to be seen, but “Colette” thrives as one of these building blocks to a greater civilization without the necessity of feeling pertentious or callous as an independent film. Because of this, I feel like the film has strong crossover value with 21-40 year-old-males, who would otherwise never consider giving a film like this the time of day. It never loses itself in clunky, outdated dialogue, nor does it feel constrained by its sometimes dry time frame, and I hope many diverse audiences will give it a chance.

– Polished cinematography that was made for the silver screen. It’s so nice to see Giles Nuttgens stealing the show again after the triumph in visual storytelling that was “Hell or High Water”, one of my absolute favorite films of 2016, and his entrancing cruise control into the sights and sounds of Paris is something that certainly can’t be understated. It takes its time with painting us into the vibrant environment, and allowing us a vivid seduction of the landscape that are only surpassed by our leading lady’s impeccable character framing shots.

– Much of the dynamic between Colette and Willy is interesting, if only for the comparisons in infedelity that are labeled one way and ignored on another. What I found so honest and appreciative about their relationship is that these two people, who have fallen out of love, no longer wish to put on a charade to the dismay of their own homely environment. They embrace the arms of many other lovers, and do so without ever straying completely away from one another. One could say this is obviously because of Willy’s lock on Colette, and the fact that he needs her to keep writing, but I think it’s evident that if you are a part of someone’s life long enough, you inevitably will remain that way with or without choice. It’s anything but the conventional romantic rise-and-fall that you’re typically used to.

NEGATIVES

– It’s reach for poignancy far exceeds its grasp on some interesting subject material. Throughout the film, but especially in the ever-changing second act, the movie jumps from many pads to cleanse its pallet for many conversation starters, but unfortunately it never has much to say beyond the initial mentioning. Plagiarism, self-identity, and gay relationships are just some of the topics that move in and out of frame without much satisfaction for material, and I wish the film had more of an evident direction and fleshed out conclusion for why it required these stirring subtexts.

– Sharp time lapses. This is without a doubt my biggest problem with “Colette”, as the film feels like a jagged hack-and-slash that constantly trims the fat of some important time periods in Colette’s life. It’s more noticeable than ever during a first act that not only speeds us through three years of exposition within the opening ten minutes of the movie, but also finds itself fighting to gain any momentum in pacing that will challenge the audience right away. It does eventually payoff, but I can see a lot of people feeling weighed down for all of the wrong reasons before the film ever really gets going.

– The dramatic elements of the film are never fully realized, and it renders much of the consistency deaf in tone. There are parts of this film where I uncontrollably laughed at the mayhem that ensued, yet others when my face was a blank portrait for transpired, and for a movie so wrapped in manipulation and betrayal, I felt that the rendering of the finished product goes by without fully ever grasping what kind of feeling should exist within the atmosphere. This feels like 107 minutes that builds to a climax that just kind of comes-and-goes without much firepower, and it leaves the film’s closing minutes as nothing more than a Wikipedia page navigation.

7/10

Smallfoot

Directed by Karey Kirkpatrick and Jason Reisig

Starring – Channing Tatum, James Corden, Zendaya

The Plot – A yeti named Migo (Tatum) is convinced that a human known only as “Small Foot” is real and has to prove to his tribe that it does exist with the help of Meechee (Zendaya) and the S.E.S – Smallfoot Evidentiary Society.

Rated PG for some action, rude humor, and thematic elements

POSITIVES

– Infectious vocal work from this talented ensemble cast. Tatum is wonderous as Migo, the perfect childhood protagonist to immerse yourself in. Through a barrage of musical numbers and jolting vocal reactions, his range is as wide and set for the animated stage as ever. Also brilliant is the work of Zendaya and Common as two voices who couldn’t be more perfectly articulated for the visual traits and designs of their character. Common in particular hones his craft with respectable authority, carving out a leader who is every bit intimidating as he is assertive, and Zendaya’s Meechee is the voice of reason for the two sides within this village who seek factual evidence.

– Much of the comedic humor was on and off for me, in that the dialogue material felt very juvenile, while the sight gags reigned supreme at pulling out a laugh or two from me. The editing is crisp in working side-by-side with this shock style of animation, allowing Migo to take bodily harm for our delight in a way that is entertaining above brutally violent.

– The message within. Animation films cannot simply come and go without harboring a greater sense of purpose, and ‘Smallfoot’s’ heart and self-clarity message to challenge the status quo burns through the chilly mountainside that we feel with each passing breath. This allows the film to succeed as a family film, but above all else one that teaches our youths to seek answers for themselves, and never rely on someone else’s narrative to light the way.

– Breaks the fourth wall of animated films by attacking the language barrier between human and species. To be honest, this angle could’ve been explored remotely more in depth, but I commend a movie greatly for pursuing some of the aspects of kids movies that have always bothered me, with the perfectly spoken English by animals at the top of the list. In depiction, it’s refreshing to see two different sides who don’t understand each other, and have to communicate that message of unity with translated body language to bridge the gap.

– No antagonist? Well sort of. ‘Smallfoot’ doesn’t have a character with an evil vendetta, instead using its conflict for the clouded state of judgement that acts as a slow-burn poison through the ignorant, particularly that of Common’s Stonekeeper character. What’s refreshing about this is it only proves that kids movies can branch out and clear the hurdles of conventionalism that render their movies predictable by familiar, overdone movements. The enemy is in what they irresponsibly choose to believe, keeping them on the opposite side of progressive ideals that literally limits their culture.

– Surprising musical genre influence. In watching the few trailers for this film, I never got the sense that song was a major part of the film’s surroundings, but almost right away we’re treated to character spotlights that do a great deed to the unfolding narrative. The songs aren’t anything amazing or of noteworthy praise, but they proceed the plot in much quicker ways than the film’s exposition ever does, giving us the kind of wisdom in lyrics that song writers can only dream of.

– Poignantly progressive third act that perfectly sets the stage for the many battles that future generations will inevitably face. Now more than ever, our relationship with the media, police, and even with our politics feels challenged, and Kirkpatrick’s focused direction unapologetically invites audiences in offering many great conversation starters after the film, that will enhance its lasting power. One image in particular during a stand-off between two sides is literally pulled from our own rising tensions, and offers a subtle reminder at what we demean ourselves from when information becomes taxing.

NEGATIVES

– Uninspired animation. While the backdrops worked in what little focus we dedicated to them, the film unfortunately never excels at radiating the beauty of its chilling atmosphere. Even worse, the variety of character appearances and overall designs feel outdated, reminding us of films like ‘Monsters Inc’ or ‘Hotel Transylvania’ that never challenge the tracing eye of a skilled animator. When Pixar is doing great things with water and even body hair movements, there’s simply no excuse for artistic limitations.

– Too many characters, not enough variety. The seeds of repetition are sowed even early on in the film, when different characters begin repeating similar lines to what we’ve already learned in a previous scene. The problem with casting such a recognizable and accomplished cast is that you must give them reasons for their existence, and while the majority of performances exceed in emotional deliveries what the script tries so desperately to diminish, the importance of their inclusion never feels warranted. For my money, I could’ve used a more intimate tribe within this Yeti community, allowing the material to last a little longer.

– Ending twist makes no sense. MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD. There’s a scene involving a character creating a ploy for his friends to get him away from trailing authorities, and this character pulls this massive suit out of nowhere to fool them. Where did he get the suit? Where did he keep the suit? How does the masks movements move so real when it’s a suit? How does he operate the suit, considering it’s easily eight times his size? Who cares though, because it’s a kids movie, right?

7/10

Love, Gilda

Directed by Lisa Dapolito

Starring – Gilda Radner, Lorne Michaels, Melissa McCarthy

The Plot – In her own words, comedienne Gilda Radner looks back and reflects on her life and career. Weaving together recently discovered audiotapes, interviews with her friends, rare home movies and diaries read by modern day comediennes. The film offers a unique window into the honest and whimsical world of a beloved performer whose greatest role was sharing her story

The film is currently not rated

POSITIVES

– Vividly defines Gilda’s dive into comedy, that eventually made her a phenomenon. Comedy was much more than a job to Gilda; it very much serves as the bridging between her often-distant family, serving as a coping mechanism for the cruelties of life. In this regard, she used it to battle depression she suffered from weight gains, lack of friends her own age, and the decaying state of her father when she was only 14.

– Gilda’s influence. In the many varieties of interviewed guests, both in and out of the Saturday Night Live bubble, Dapolito constructs what may be Gilda’s most shining gift to the world, in how she paved the road for a generation of women starved for equality on television. Through Lisa’s absorbing timeline of Gilda’s rise, the film preserves her as an ahead-of-her-time feminist icon who rose much more than she failed, and held her own against a male dominated cast that included some of the biggest names in comedy history.

– Special gift. As to where other documentaries about deceased protagonists base their psychology on assumptions from the people closest to them, ‘Love, Gilda’ has the blessing of collecting a plentiful helping of tape recordings and diary entries from the title character herself, preserving the spirit of Radner for one more day of life. Aside from its use of style in displaying on-screen visuals of her writing, there are plenty of candid reveals from the celebrities who turn the pages on Gilda’s rocky road, allowing us a candid perspective that other documentaries just can’t pertain.

– Visual mastery. Dapolito treats us to many of Gilda’s most legendary moments, with a combination of stock footage and behind-the-scenes photography that perfectly immerse us in the particular time and place that Gilda’s journey passed through, giving it an enriching scrapbook style visual compass to compliment the material. In doing so, we’re reminded of the drug-and-disco 70’s that may or may not have been Gilda’s ultimate undoing, during a time when living free came with a valuable price tag.

– What I commend this film most of all for, is its dedication to its leading lady, that doesn’t wither or squander away, the deeper we get. One such example was my review for ‘Andre The Giant’ earlier this year, that focused for a solid 45 minutes on Hulk Hogan instead of its purpose character, but ‘Love, Gilda’ knows that its story and audience remain with her, so from birth to death we stand beside Gilda through it all, feeling like a cherished best friend who she always confides in.

– Relationship with Gene Wilder. This was the angle in the film that I was looking the most forward to, as most of their marriage together remained hidden from the public eye, and it didn’t disappoint. In understanding the importance of Gene to her at-the-time scattered life, we realize that marriage came across like a fresh take at a second start for Gilda, allowing her to immerse herself in the pleasures of life that up until that time she felt she didn’t deserve. It ultimately provided maturity to a woman who was afraid to grow-up, and proved that at the age of 38 she met the person she was destined to be with.

– Part of what made Gilda so infectious as a performer was her ability to reach inside and pull a smile or fit of laughter out of you regardless of the situation, and this homage to her more than accommodates this notion to the audience watching at home. Even for skits and material that are currently over forty years old, the essence of Radner’s personality remains persistently satisfying, giving us plenty of hearty laughter for a performer that always put her body and soul into everything she did. You might laugh or cry during this film, but one thing is clear: it is an effective watch.

NEGATIVES

– A bit disjointed in its pacing. In covering the entire spectrum of Gilda’s highs and lows, the film feels extremely limited at 81 brief minutes, refusing to allow us much lasting time of the events that move in and out of frame like the wind. Some chapters are given too much time, while others barely scratch the surface of learning exposition, and because of such ‘Love, Gilda’, like its leading lady, could afford to slow down and enjoy the roller-coaster of life.

– Dapolito certainly etches out a love letter, but it’s in her admiration for Gilda that takes away from some of the more compelling character flaws of Radner that the informative audiences will require. Particularly in Gilda’s experimentation with drugs, and her challenging interaction with her public, these angles definitely required more fleshing out and definition that Gilda wasn’t quite the saint that Lisa would like to illuminate her as.

– No epilogue? As you can imagine, this film ends in predictable territory. But it isn’t the formulaic direction that fills me with regret, but rather the lack of fitting conclusions from A-list guests that could’ve provided the underlining on Radner’s decades old lasting memory. It feels like the film just kind of unceremoniously ends because of it, capping off an otherwise interesting watch with the seeds of mediocrity.

7/10

Lizzie

Directed by Craig William Macneill

Starring – Kristen Stewart, Chloe Sevigny, Kim Dickens

The Plot – In 1892, after the Borden family welcomes a new Irish maid called Bridget Sullivan (Stewart), she and Lizzie (Sevigny) become friends. The friendship between these women becomes something more and that is not only falling in love, at the same time they’re are both victims of physical and sexual abuse from Mr. Borden. But tension in the Borden household, leading to a violent breaking point.

Rated R for violence and grisly images, nudity, a scene of sexuality and some adult language

POSITIVES

– A different take. While there are certainly no shortages of Lizzie Borden movies to quench the audiences thirst for answers on the mysterious night in question, ‘Lizzie’ takes an alternate approach in direction and tone that I greatly appreciated. This film is a star-crossed lovers story of sorts, between Lizzie and Bridget, that overrides some of the horror tendencies that you might be preparing yourself for, going in. I found this direction to not only be a fresh take on a century old story, but also one that pays off immensely for the artistic opportunities that the film capitalizes on.

– Macneill has such a subtle tenderness about the way he depicts this blossoming relationship, shooting the romance with more respect than a story like this would normally feel capable of. For one, the moves of affection feel carefully timed, springing to vision an evidence of fear that is evident in both leading ladies, but also enough glow from intimate camera angles that garner a much-needed essence to Lizzie as a character, and not just a hatchet-wielding maniac. Because of this, Craig puts emphasis in the focus of this story revolving around love, and it’s in that investment whether this film will grab you or not.

– Whirlwind performances on every spectrum. This film certainly feels like a group effort, in that every member of the immensely gifted cast bring their best to their respective characters. Sevigny captivates as the title character, with a plentiful combination of longing and menace that helps balance Lizzie’s disposition. It helps that Chloe is an actress who says so much in a single facial reaction, allowing us to soak up more of the suffocating atmosphere that swallows the character whole repeatedly. Stewart maintains the audience’s focus, with a turn as Bridget that has her feeling like the lone conscience of the audience inside of this toxic household, and Jamey Sheridan once again wonders with playing such a detestable lead that reminds us why he’s one of the best in the business at that particular role.

– Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is its script, which is hinged in this dialogue that makes you want to constantly pay attention to the character interactions, so as to gauge the many relationships. Like Bridget, we too are new to the engagements inside of this house, but once inside we firmly get a grasp for the troubled family’s environment that have riddled them full of trying secrets and desperate situations, and in this regard ‘Lizzie’ feels like a B-movie that Hitchcock might have helmed if his diminishing health didn’t cut his time in the public eye dramatically short.

– For my money, the nighttime sequences were the most eye-catching, for the way the lack of natural light invites us along to the things that go bump in the night. There’s a serene essence to the darkness that envelopes each scene whole, bringing forth the necessary scares that don’t require jumps or the paranormal to sell its taut, tense environment. The film never goes out of its way to feel like a scary movie gimmick, treating its visual capacity as nothing more than a stage for the madness that follows, and that’s something in patience that I commend this film greatly for.

– Composer Jeff Russo’s subtle ambiance in music that echoed the internal furnace of its title character. What Russo does that shouldn’t be understated is keeping his tones minimal in volume, never allowing his emphasis to exceed that of the situation that is playing out before our eyes. Beyond this, he audibly deciphers Lizzie’s feelings throughout much of what happens to her, allowing us the audience this necessary glance inside not only to comprehend, but also to anticipate what is coming next in her cryptic movements.

– Much of the costume work and designs also hit their desired marks, radiating the fashions of 1892 seamlessly. What’s even more appreciative is that these trends never go out of their way to sell the gimmick in the most extravagant of ways, choosing instead to mirror more of the three-piece Bohemian era suits and gowns that feel slightly outdated even for this particular year of setting. This sounds like a negative, but it actually provides layers for the character’s personalities, in that money will never be the whole picture to their well-being, and that subtle hint is something that I greatly marveled at.

NEGATIVES

– Even for a slow-burn, this film does test your patience repeatedly. There’s this very unnerving imbalance between the first and second halves of the film that divide its entertainment value ferociously, and I felt that with more concern paid to the plodding first half, the film’s final moments wouldn’t feel as much like a shred of lettuce for a starving hunger. The murder itself is satisfying, but ultimately not worth the thrill-less trail to get there.

– Trimmed down. This film originally was written as a four episode HBO series that was supposed to air a couple of years ago, and now that it’s a brief 101 minute feature film you can notice the constrictions to the story that rendered it a cliff notes version. Lizzie’s sister is introduced and barely included again throughout the story, Lizzie’s seizures are only touched upon on the opening ten minutes and then never again, and the backstory of Lizzie’s mother isn’t given enough respect to even be mentioned once in a passing conversation. This and many other tiers give the film an often impatient touch that unfortunately did nothing for its pacing overall, and for my money I think this story works better when it is allowed more time to cater to those side stories that help fill in the blanks slightly more.

– Differences in the real life story. I consider myself knowledgeable enough on the Lizzie Borden front, and because of such it was easy to spot the liberties that this film took with the cherished material. For one, the answers of the murder mystery itself has only been hinted at and never confirmed, so this movie’s ability to chalk it all up with nothing left to chance is a bit misleading and irresponsible. Another example is the film portraying Lizzie as this caring human being who took time to learn her help’s name, when in reality Lizzie was just as guilty as her parents with refusing to say their maid’s real names. This is a big deal to me when you’re speaking in terms of honesty for the material, and because of such, ‘Lizzie’ never feels like the whole story, just the parts that are convenient for its narrative.

7/10

Fahrenheit 11/9

Directed by Michael Moore

Starring – Michael Moore, Donald Trump, David Hogg

The Plot – Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9” is a provocative and comedic look at the times in which we live. It will explore the two most important questions of the Trump Era: How the f**k did we get here, and how the f**k do we get out?

Rated R for some adult language and some disturbing material/images

POSITIVES

– No film in theaters currently that is more important. In general, ‘Fahrenheit 11/9’ feels like a ferociously unnerving wake-up call to Americans everywhere, and it does so by displaying how we a freedom-seekers have abandoned our own ideals in favor of corporate greed and selfishness. Moore cuts to the heart of the issue, refusing to ever apologize or relent in the focus of his topics, and regardless of how you feel about him as a person, you understand that he’s someone who has more than done his homework of what’s enclosed.

– As a narrator, Moore excels at informing and relating these often cryptic governmental terms and conditions to the audience, allowing even the most inexperienced viewer a chance to keep up. In this regard, Moore feels like an everyman filmmaker who is here, first and foremost, for the people, standing at eye level to meet them every step of the way. There’s never a moment in his newest film that ever felt overwhelming or trailing off, and this sense of persistence within the material allows the audience to keep their attention firmly on the rapid discussion.

– Versatility in footage used. Whether it’s on the ground cell phone coverage, or network stock footage that captures the complete spectrum of what’s depicted, Moore is an editing magician at piecing together enough visual evidence to back up his salty claims. Being that his film ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ was so long ago, it’s a welcome approach to involving the benefits of technology, and Moore’s reach for a multitude of angles properly relays the whole story by conjuring up a curtain-peeking perspective.

– No voice goes unnoticed. In Moore’s desire to film and interview citizens in many diverse locations across this country, we are treated to a wide-range of on-ground commentary from the voice of the voiceless. This offers us the audience our most reflective glances of the real truths boiling beneath the fabricated media and hyperbolic headlines that we’re used to. Nothing of which is more somberly crippling than the citizens of Flint who take us through four trying years of heartache and loss. Moore goes front-and-center where most politicians haven’t, and it’s this candid delve that nourished the food for thought that comes with so many living in poisonous conditions.

– Electoral College faults. One of my biggest problems with the themes of democracy has always been the ideal of Electoral College voting. It’s a big business ploy to appeal to the upper one percent that does more damage than good, and the documentary does a solid job of expressing this disposition of compromise. This more than anything is proving to be a voter’s biggest obstacle, because when they figure out that their votes don’t matter, why should they vote? and it’s that thought process that candidates like Trump thrive on, diminishing the left majority of the country that gave him the second most amount of votes in the 2016 election.

– Without question, Moore’s strongest ability as a filmmaker is his ability to stay bi-partisan on issues and circumstances that are a reaction of so many things done wrong by the right and left. If you think this is a film that is just about what Trump has done wrong, then you’re sorely mistaken, as ‘Fahrenheit 11/9’ highlights the many insensitive and consequential decisions that negated the Obama presidency that often many left-wingers conveniently overlook. Michael, while a long time democratic voter, thrives as a reporter without influence, and because of such it allows him to be the curious party necessary to uncovering these shocking truths from two respective sides that have gotten us to this moment.

– While I had some problems with the pacing and linking of such deep-seeded issues that Moore discusses, I can commend him for touching base and giving attention to many important issues that require an eye of curiosity. Particularly in the subplots of the Flint Water Crisis, big bank meandering upon political parties, and my personal favorite: the new generation of blue-collar candidates who aren’t lifetime politicians. Moore tends to hint that if we want something done, WE have to do it ourselves, and this layer of optimism in seeing so many everymen and women from our own communities, is something that gave me great pleasure within the film.

– Lasting power. I believe this film’s greatest accolades have yet to be written, and that it will stand as a welcome mat for the next twenty years for how it shapes and re-defines what it means to vote. Films like these are inspiring for how they prove not only that politicians are regular people like you and me, but also how they prescribe the notion that one voice moves miles. If you don’t stand up for what you want, someone will come along and shape America in the way they see fit, and through Moore’s ever-changing ball caps and citizen arrests of high-ranking officials, we are treated to the man who practices what he preaches.

NEGATIVES

– Manipulative musical score. For my money, it’s a bit over-the-top when Moore accommodates people like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders with these popular tracks in pop-culture, yet narrates Trump with these darkly ominous Italian choirs, signaling something of Damien levels of terror. I see the intended purpose, but it feels too desperate and meandering over the facts that more than equate the problems. As I mentioned above, Moore does mostly a great job of staying in the middle, but this one example was something that had me rolling my eyes for how truly unnecessary and repetitive it was.

– Much of the material is etched in fact, but there is that occasional slip-up when Moore oversteps his boundaries in his hatred of Trump for what feels like mud-slinging. To know the problem, you must know the difference, with one being based on fact while the other is opinion, and it’s in the matters with the latter that I wish were left on the cutting room floor of a film that already exceeds two hours. Particularly the material involving Trump’s questionable affection of his daughter added nothing to the bigger picture of problems that feel leap years above this angle.

– Scattered second half. It doesn’t hurt to attack these many subplots one at a time, but when you step back and stare at the entire bigger picture, Moore’s anticipated sequel can come across as a bit disjointed. Particularly in how he transitions the material from one arc to the next requires a little more helming of the transitional bridging that smooths it all out. Because of such, it constantly feels like the film is in appropriately convenient DVD chapters instead of one cohesive project that works together.

7/10