The Babysitter

The crush of an adventurous little boy is not who she seems to be, in McG’s newest horror comedy ‘The Babysitter’. Currently airing on Netflix, the film revolves around Cole (Judah Lewis) who is madly in love with his outrageously beautiful babysitter (Samara Weaving) Bee. She’s hot, funny, and popular. Everything a boy of his age could ever want. However, One night, in a moment of defiance, Cole secretly stays up his bedtime to discover she’s actually a cold-blooded killer who’s in a league with the Devil. He now must spend his night evading Bee’s band of vicious killers who will stop at nothing to prevent Cole from spilling their dark secret. It’s up to Cole to survive the night (and blow up a few people along the way). ‘The Babysitter’ is currently not rated, but does have scenes of violence, bloody gore, and adult language.

Many of teenage boys first loves are those temporary teenage parental units who bridge the transition from child to teenager with ease. In this regard, there’s plenty to take away from personality alone that ‘The Babysitter’ picks away at in the face of the complicities within a coming-of-age plot that adorns the film. If ‘Home Alone’ and ‘The Lost Boys’ made sweet love and were giftwrapped with a blessed child, that child would be McG’s newest film, and for my money, ‘The Babysitter’ works because of its streaming release that smooths out the problems that a simplistic structure like this inevitably deals with on several logical and illogical concepts within its build. If I paid for this movie in a theater, I would probably be a lot harder on my final grade for the movie, but as a Netflix night in, it’s a full-proof evening planner of laughs and solid kills in execution that offer at least one thing for every respective age group looking to have fun. It’s kind of a callback to those 80’s satanic B-films like ‘Fright Night’ that are disposable because of the fire power that resides within one watch, but the more you re-watch and think about it, the bigger the glaring problems start to arise.

The value from within this script weighs heavily within the bond of the title character and her child client that sets the precedent for everything that follows. The Babysitter feels like a quest to Cole in more ways than just a romantic one, and the deeper the film goes, we start to explore their relationship as one that evolves with each twist in the narrative. I love that this is a film with concrete pacing, clocking in at only an 80 minute sit, yet the film doesn’t feel like it rushes or flies through anything in sacrificing its material. The first act of the film is used almost entirely to build the friendship of these two characters who feel like they should be worlds apart to us at home, but are such a dynamic team that it feels like nothing else can touch them within their anything goes time frame together. The second act hammers home the idea that a babysitter can prepare a child for anything, but there will come a time when that kid will break away from the confines of guidance to blaze his own path to adulthood, and that stance comes to fruition throughout this night of madness that has him taking the reigns of man of the house. Fighting for your life is an easy concept to understand for any character, but when you start to see the carving out of adolescence taking place from within, you start to see that the bigger picture is in this evolution that Cole is enveloped in when he must stand on his own two feet for the first time in his life, setting the stage for a third act showdown that didn’t disappoint in anything that this production threw at the screen.

Perhaps the single greatest positive that I took away from the film was the pulse-setting kicks in production that give the film that much needed uproar in attitude that it required. The editing is sound, cutting into a lot of chase and suspense scenes with the standard panning out shot that quickly reveals the kind of environment that Cole is wrapped in. I also thought the use of on-screen colorful text to visually narrate the various weapons and even sounds that came from this nonstop action, gave the film a crisp throwback to the 70’s shootout flicks that always feel like the sounds required text. This is further emphasis on the kind of personality that the film tries to convey for itself, even if the tone can feel terribly juggled at times. More on that later. The sound mixing is crisp, delivering the devastation of every bone-crunching sound with the kind of impact that brings emphasis to the film’s brutality. In the wrong hands, sound can come across as corny or even meandering, but the work done on this production values the importance of such a presence, blessing the marriage of sight and sound beautifully that a campy horror film commands.

On the subject of some of that jumbled tone, I feel like the film worked best in its individual feats, but failed in bringing them together seamlessly. As a comedy, the film succeeds for its high school kind of personality that grants the movie a ‘Scream Queens’ kind of vibe. As a horror film, there’s plenty to love in gory death sequences that really strike a match for pure imagination. Yet interestingly enough, the two together never merge successfully on the same timeshare to craft a solid hybrid that can articulately juggle both. The film knows this too because by the third act, it loses all of its personality in humor to deliver entirely to the audience that will more than likely seek it out; the horror buffs. I blame a lot of this on the extremely immature direction in tone of the comedy versus the very adult surrealism of these brutal bloodbaths. Because they are so extreme in their respective directions, it makes it much more difficult to guide them back to that point in the middle where they both echo off of one another, catering to a law of averages that could’ve done them both a great justice.

Aside from the sometimes jumbled tone, I had a few problems with inconsistencies and logical stances that hurled a beating of my intellectual investment into this picture. For one, it always drives me nuts in horror films when so much noise and destruction is taking place in a neighborhood, yet nobody from any of the houses see this or call the authorities. One such example is a firework that blows up underneath the house and into the front yard, but five minutes later you never even knew this happened because of how quick it disappears. Speaking of vanishing acts, where do some of the antagonists go during these long fight and chase sequences with Cole? It definitely feels obvious that every sequence is structured as such because I find it difficult to believe that they all wouldn’t try to jump him at once, instead of leaving that gap of possibility for him to escape when going against just one of them. Objects too are getting in on the vanishing act as well, as a police car vanishes from the driveway, then re-appears in the end of the movie to provide an antagonist with a useful weapon. It’s parts like these that drive me nuts with the continuity of a story, and it’s something that holds no excuse for how simple it could all be preserved.

Not all is a negative however, as the performances I felt held up respectively for a magnitude of age brackets. Judah Lewis is solid as Cole, channeling a welcoming of adolescence that has felt as natural for a transition as I’ve seen in quite some time. Samara Weaving is also devilishly delightful as the title character who orchestrates this whole night. Weaving is the cousin of Hugo for those unaware, but to me she gave me such Eva Green kind of vibes in a crooked smile and rebellious demeanor that makes it easy to fall in love with her. The chemistry between these two is the single most important benefit for the film because without it, you never comprehend the betrayal and the tragedy that envelopes the spinning road that their friendship takes. Also, the entire group of antagonists each add something clever and defining for their respective character arcs. My personal favorite is Bella Thorne’s annoying cheerleader type who toes the line admiringly with a satirical sting that kept me laughing and rolling my eyes an equal amount.

THE VERDICT – Like its child protagonist, ‘The Babysitter’ grows up before our very eyes the longer it goes, even withstanding the blow of a few logical inconsistencies and constant tone juggling along the way. The film harbors an underlying gentle fable of growing up to counteract its bloody brigades, providing an earning of the coming-of-age tag within its funhouse of horrors that satisfies many crowds. Lewis and Weaving indulge in the teenage fantasy mindset above the clouds of imagination, leaving us anticipating the occasions they come down to transfix us with their bond. As for McG, you’ve finally done something valuable. Don’t screw it up from here.

7/10

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

The foundation of the world’s most popular female superhero is given a real life origin story, in ‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’. Angela Robinson writes and directs this melodrama that details the unconventional life of Dr. William Marston (Luke Evans), the Harvard psychologist and inventor who helped invent the modern lie detector test and created Wonder Woman in 1941. Marston was in a polyamorous relationship with his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), a psychologist and inventor in her own right, and Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), a former student who became an academic. This relationship was key to the creation of Wonder Woman, as Elizabeth and Olive’s feminist ideals were ingrained in the character from her creation. Marston died of skin cancer in 1947, but Elizabeth and Olive remained a couple and raised their and Marston’s children together. The film focuses on how Marston dealt with the controversy surrounding Wonder Woman’s booming creation. The film is rated R for strong sexual content including brief graphic images, and adult language.

Origin stories are all the craze with superhero films anymore. In just this year alone, ‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’ is the second helping of its lasso whipping heroine, but it takes an unorthodox approach in the roots of its story when compared to other establishing beginnings. For one, this is a story about Wonder Woman, but never does it feature Diana Prince in a single scene, nor does it include an overcooked antagonist who hunts her down to rid her of her powers. No, this beginning centers around the real life formation for one of D.C’s finest properties at the mind of William Marston, and the biggest battle within its confines is the threat of empowering feminism that has got the world in an uproar for the stances it takes in bridging the gaps of inequality. Because of such, Robinson’s film is inspiring, revealing, and even uncomfortable for the necessary ways it depicts shielded love and desire during a time when anything against the ordinary felt like a slap in the face of conventionalism. It spun a needle of truth and self-reflection within the pages of its comic book, educating us the audience on the traits and physical features of this animated character that are so much more than just cosmetic.

What I dug about the way this story is presented is in its teaching style of method that puts us front-and-center in the desks, with the events playing out before us. As a teacher at a college, Marston educates his students on the importance of feminism, but this is nothing more than table dressing for the real students in this lesson plan; us the audience. The film’s focus hinders on the four traits of Marston’s DISC Theory. This stands for Dominance, Inducement, Submission, and Compliance, four angles of feminist silence that overrun family ideals during the 40’s, and it’s in those individual letters that each get a chapter in the film’s screenplay where we piece together the reasons in logic for Wonder Woman’s uproar in repertoire one step at a time. This establishes that her greatest adversary never took place on pages, but instead in the real world where we were doomed more than the citizens that Diana saves each issue. At the heart of it all, is the secrecy between these three protagonists who are living the very same story that is visually narrated to us throughout, presenting us firm examples of the four letters that hammer home the visibility in their truths.

The visual spectrum is sound, radiating a distinctive look in production design that gently immersed me into seventy years prior. My favorite examples of time pieces in films are the ones that use style and atmosphere to communicate its jarring differences from our own era, and this one is certainly keen on that perspective. The authentic touch in lighting mostly plays around with soft tones, but does so in a way that doesn’t give them that fake look that sappy melodramas are known for. Everything is kept within reason of distinctive vision, and the film’s clean cut design grant us a perspective of clean air before any of it is compromised with the ugliness that’s right around the corner. The musical score by composer Tom Howe can sometimes play at deafening levels as it overtakes a scene, but his mostly piano infused sounds are moving in the way they audibly translate the emotional response of each scene granted. Interestingly enough, Howe also worked on this year’s ‘Wonder Woman’, so he feels like the right man for the job in the before and after in the evolution of a cultural icon.

What few problems that I did have with the film reside soundly on the film’s running time (103 minutes) that present some glaring holes in narrative approach that hinder the consistency of its pacing. For one, there’s simply too many different eras in the lives of this trio that is being depicted for such a brief amount of time on-screen given to them. Because of such, some aspects in subplots have to be dissected with the painful knife of the editing room. The transitional scenes between years lacks the kind of defining weight that make them believable from scene to scene. Some of them have musical montages to try to feed some exposition into bridging the gaps, but the jumps that lack these informative stances leave us abandoned at random points during the film where you feel like more story deserves to be told. My only other problem resides in the provocative sting of its punch. It’s not that I felt the film gave me too much sexual fuel, but rather not enough. For a film that deals with the scandalous, there’s little drama in the overall subject matter that payoff soundly for moments of dramatic pull. I feel like the film deserved to play up the tension in getting caught slightly more, otherwise it was just biding its time for the inevitable that we know is coming.

Those problems would normally be enough to sour a film to the lower grades, but thankfully our more-than capable trio of actors each give a stirring performance that opens our eyes to two promising careers. Before I get to them, Rebecca Hall is the very pulse of the film’s heart, portraying Elizabeth as a brave freedom fighter years before the term ‘Feminist’ was properly defined. Hall is currently one of my favorite actresses going, and it’s clear to see from the immense versatility in her fiery range to turn on the tears whenever necessary that she is a beneficial firework to any film who continues to stay lit. As to the two actors who really surprised me here; Luke Evans and Bella Heathcote are superb. I’ve only seen Heathcote once before, but this is the kind of role that I can never un-see her warm compassionate touch ever again. Bella’s internal battle as Olive is one that is emoted candidly in her facial depth, paying tribute to a generation of actresses who can say so much with just a look. Evans was born to play Marston, channeling an energetic surge for love and respect that grant him a philosopher’s touch. It’s easy to see Evans become this teach because throughout the screenplay he is teaching us one valuable lesson after another, leaving little doubt the kind of gifts he can bestow if given the proper direction to bring it out of him. If three is company and four is a crowd, I’ll stick with this threesome and the dynamic performances that give the characters life.

THE VERDICT – ‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’ definitely suffers from some of the glaring problems in structure from turgid time constraints, but it’s a film that deserves to be seen by every woman regardless of superhero feelings for its inspiring stance on feminist retribution. This is one origin story that tells the true origins, and gives way to the lasso of truths that Wonder Woman is actually fighting for. Despite never seeing Diana Prince once, I feel like the trio of Evans, Hall, and Heathcote have taught me more about her than any big budget epic ever could, proving behind every good man is two great women who give him inspiration.

7/10

The Foreigner

Jackie Chan returns to the silver screen, this time to do battle against Pierce Brosnan as a deceitful business head, in ‘The Foreigner’. Quan (Jackie Chan) is a humble London businessman whose long-buried past within the crime underworld erupts in a revenge-fuelled vendetta when his teenage daughter dies in a senseless act of politically motivated terrorism. Quan struggles to find a reason to go on, but the thrill of revenge against those who hurt the one he loved most, motivates him to keep going. His relentless search to find the terrorists leads to a cat-and-mouse conflict with a British government official Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), whose own past may hold the clues to the identities of the elusive killers. ‘The Foreigner’ is directed by longtime action director Martin Campbell, and is rated R for brutal violence, adult language, and some sexual material.

At its heart, ‘The Foreigner’ spends a minority of its screen time as a revenge action flick, and a surprisingly overwhelming majority of it as an espionage political thriller. It attains this satisfying counterbalance between these two parallels well enough by a sharing of screen time between many characters whose twists and bends in storytelling binds them together with many different motives, synching it all together in one free-flowing movement of direction for Campbell at the helm. I had a lot of fun with this film personally, and adored it for putting Chan back on the map after a couple of bombs during the early 2000’s that hindered his status as an action star. In many ways, ‘The Foreigner’ feels like Chan’s ‘John Wick’ moment, re-introducing the world to perhaps the very best on-screen martial artist going today, and leaving very little doubt if the man does indeed still have it. Thankfully, this is a serious adult action flick, and it’s in that perspective where it feels like Chan can benefit the most, offering a compromising blend of heartfelt acting to match his ruthless aggression in fight sequences that still pack a wallop of a punch internally to anyone who is watching.

Over the course of 109 minutes within its clutches, you start to understand the evolution that this story takes in comparing the decisions in one’s past that comes back to haunt each respective character. For Chan’s Quan, it is finding the momentum to get back up after losing the last piece to his ravaged past. We see a man who is rendered visibly emotionless after this terrible tragedy, deciding to take the law into his own hands when the higher-ups decide to keep the investigation from him. There is of course a reason for this, as Brosnan’s Hennessy is a conniving chess player with his own self-centered inspirations for getting things done. His character feels like he’s in too deep with the many movements that he is making to the board from both sides, and it kind of creates a suffocating atmosphere in which the water keeps filling deeper for him and his family, especially now that Quan is knocking on his door and searching for answers. It makes for two incredibly fleshed-out characters who no matter how you feel about them personally, you understand the equal importance in the value of each coming out on top. This doesn’t feel like a world with good guys and bad guys, it’s just a big shade of grey that groups them all together, and it’s in that perspective where the film feels like it doesn’t adhere to the conventional tropes that limit an action screenplay in a particularly predictable method.

As for the entertaining factor, my favorite act of the film was during the second act, in which several pivotal movements are made in setting up some jaw-dropping third act surprises that gives the film longevity. This is also when the intensity in action sequences feels like it picks up dramatically in spades, leveling us with impactful fight choreography that riveted with each concrete blow. Overall, the decision to stitch Quan, Hennessy, and the terrorist’s stories together on one screenplay does become a slightly cluttered in a fight for screen time, but I can say confidently that I was never bored or taken aback enough to jar me out of interest for the film. The second half of the movie is so much more beneficial for me personally, and I could see a lot of other people who see the film who might be conflicted by how difficult it can be to get to this point. The first act was definitely the weakness of the film, mainly because the lack of exposition for Quan is something that I feel was a major disappointment to the overall investment in who is supposed to be our central protagonist. This area of the film noticeably stands still when compared to the cerebral movements that take place later on, but I promise that if you can stay patient this film will pay off beneficially to anyone seeking a gritty, bare-knuckled brawler.

The aesthetics aren’t completely a winning combination here, but there’s enough to be praised from some stand out gripping touches that livens up the destruction action sequences. For one, the musical score from legendary composer Cliff Martinez brings so much riveting urgency in influence to each chase scene, bringing a sort of callback to the same late 90’s heart-stoppers that Chan mostly adorned. The camera work during the fight sequences are also done competently well enough, relying on a lot of handheld artistic directions that tend to follow the actor’s movements faithfully. What does drive me nuts occasionally about some of these scenes is the choppy editing that can get carried away with the complexities of a sequence that is so simple. The unnecessary amount of cuts that take place is something that has driven me crazy for years, and ‘The Foreigner’ certainly isn’t going to change my stance on this anytime soon. It gives the film a feeling of ADHD from its most exciting scenes that humbles the pacing of each sequence in the least flattering of production enhancements.

One thing that I want to talk about candidly is the enjoyment from the dual offering of seeing Chan and Brosnan prove they have plenty to offer in their respective action careers. It is such a delight to watch them collide in the few scenes that they are on screen together, bringing out the prime of two charismatic heavyweights that each offer something vividly different in portrayals. In Chan, we get a surprisingly limited amount of screen time, but he’s up to the task in making a lasting impression from a brief portrayal. He’s older, a little slower, but it’s in his vulnerability where Jackie feels like he finally earns each physical encounter. As a performance, Chan sports Quan with a ruthless, yet human approach to the young man’s game of revenge. This feels like the first time that we are treated to Chan’s acting first, and it shows that he has a lot to offer, emoting an emotionally crippled man with a fire of revenge in his eye that will burn for miles. Brosnan definitely steals the show, and why shouldn’t he? He is given an overwhelming majority of the film’s screen time to portray one of the most versatile villains of the year. It shows that Pierce is having the time of his life here, and that’s always the biggest benefit to individual performances. He proves that the most dangerous men in an action movie are often the ones who never throw a punch.

THE VERDICT – Jackie Chan returns to the forefront of action cinema with a complete offering of physical stunts and emotional acting that supplants his most versatile role to date. ‘The Foreigner’ feels a little convoluted in story midway through, and will test your patience early on, but once the smoke clears on some of these important subplots, you’ll start to see the materializing of a much bigger picture at work. Director Martin Campbell fires off more than a round of riveting revenge, hitting his target with unstable force each and every time he re-loads with satisfying shifts in coil.

7/10

Victoria & Abdul

Assistance comes in the least likely of places for an aging queen who seeks the proper inspiration to reclaim her imposing status. ‘Victoria & Abdul’ is the extraordinary true story of an unexpected friendship in the later years of Queen Victoria’s (Judi Dench) remarkable rule. When Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), a young clerk, travels from India to participate in the Queen’s annual Golden Jubilee, he is surprised to find favor with the Queen herself, striking up an unusual friendship between them. As the Queen questions the constrictions of her long-held position, the two forge a devoted alliance with a loyalty to one another that her household and inner circle all attempt to crumble and destroy. As the friendship deepens, the Queen begins to see a changing world through new eyes and joyfully reclaims her humanity. ‘Victoria & Abdul’ is directed by Stephen Frears, and is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and adult language.

Victorian era films aren’t the easiest sell in terms of entertainment factor for this critic. Mainly It’s in their stuffy atmospheres and outdated lifestyles that make for something that feels entirely compromising to the continuous pacing of a film. But Stephen Frears feels up to the arduous task by inserting an appreciated light-hearted blend of comedy to parallel some of the meaty subject matter in issues that make up a majority of the film that are still present in today’s society. As far as tone in concerned, this is basically as close to Monty Python movies as you are going to get in the 21st century, resulting in more than just a handful of legitimate laughs that carefully set the tone for what’s to come. This does result in some bending liberties of storytelling with the factual backstory of Queen Victoria’s final days as ruler, but the satirical sizzle of parody to just how utterly ridiculous the daily routines surrounding this queen are, make for some awkward tension in the air that will force the audience to do nothing but giggle in the inane amount of childish traditionalists that adorn the film’s central cast.

What is truly compelling about this story is that you are taking the two title characters and offering an unlikely comparison between them that brings them close in the viewer’s minds before the screenplay ever attempts to. Screenwriter Lee Hall sees a lot of polarization in the decisions and attitudes of each respective character, therefore casting them under a similar light to that of Romeo & Juliet without the romance. It feels like the rest of the world around them is crumbling under the weight of inevitable progression, and that makes the unity of these two polar opposites that much more beneficial in feeding into the very message that the film is trying to convey in bridging the gap of divide that has shunned their territories for hundreds of years. This queen feels untouchable to anyone fortunate enough to come across her, but Abdul sees the human side buried deep beneath her royal exterior, and it’s in the chances that he takes to reach out to her that is mutually beneficial in building a friendship against all odds.

As far as problems go for the screenplay, I think that the second act in particular is the weakness of the script for two compromising reasons that are opposite to that of a first act that flies by in pacing. For one, there’s a lot of subplot set-ups in Victoria’s newfound knowledge and embrace of her Indian territory, but we never see this knowledge put to action for better. There are mentions of her never being to India, nor ever speaking to her Indian citizens, and yet it passes by as an afterthought to the film as a missed opportunity. If there are proven liberties taken within the script, then surely embellishing in showing her compassionate side will do nothing but flourish Victoria’s newfound moral wealth. My other problem comes in the form of too many conflicts being thrown in at the screen at once that omits the very light-hearted personality from the movie. None of these conflicts are as serious and deserving of time as is the borderline racially fueled discrimination that takes place between Abdul and Victoria’s housemates, but is never addressed personally by her. I would’ve rather they used this as the film’s prime conflict, as anything else feels like a grasping of straws that stumble with how little lasting power they each have.

Beyond that, ‘Victoria & Abdul’ is an easy sell, as there’s plenty within the production that garners a faithful design to the foregone era that will make it simple to immerse yourself in. The cinematography is enveloping, complete with some shooting and establishing shots in locations that visually enhance the differences of wealth in worlds between India and England. India always feels like the sun is burning a yellow filter to the coloring of its scenes, while England looks and feels cold, wet, and damp. Three traits that couldn’t be further from the thousand mile journey that Abdul took the day his life changed forever. The wardrobe design by Consolata Boyle picks up right where she left off with Dench in 2006’s ‘The Queen’, and provide solidarity in the ideal that no one is better suited in channeling the elite vibrancy of colorful wardrobe. The stage as well is lavishly set, complete with elaborate set designs and rich furniture that adorn the most of every shot. It all comes together in a genuine kind of assembly that spares no cost in radiating glow from the practical and the cinematically manufactured.

Dench and Fazal also radiate above the pack, channeling two characters who are pivotal to the other. Judy Dench can play this role in her sleep, mainly because she’s done it twice already in her acclaimed career, but there’s a spark of personality and humor in her portrayal of Victoria here that wasn’t present in her previous delve. As the film progresses, we see the spark in her eye come to life again because of Abdul’s eager influence, and it feels like her queen finally has a positive reason to live again and serve her people. This is my first take on Fazal in a film, and I have to say that his cheery Abdul is a triumphed debut against all adversity that sometimes limited his capability in the script. In the second act of the film, he’s kind of pushed to the back of the pack, but Fazal’s persistence and unshakeable confidence prove that he will be a heavy hitter for years to come. The chemistry between these two co-stars is a bit surprising considering their vast age difference, but there’s a kind of romanticism between them despite them not being love interests. It makes for a truly poetic exchange every time they share the screen together, and I couldn’t get enough of how they equally complimented one another’s genuine portrayals.

THE VERDICT – ‘Victoria & Abdul’ is one of the more pleasant surprises of the fall movie season. Through some artistic liberties taken with the biography of Queen Victoria, the film supplants a compassionate point of view about the many colors of the world that keep it spinning. The second act is slightly sluggish in lacking significant weight to the overall plot, but the free-spirited comedy of the first act, as well as the bittersweet tug of it’s finale, make for a well-juggled range of emotional prosperity that will touch anyone with a pulse. Come for the real deal performances of Dench and Fazal, stay for the attention to detail in top-notch production quality.

7/10

Super Dark Times

A gruesome cover-up between two best friends will have them running from the ‘Super Dark Times’ that haunt them. A harrowing but meticulously observed look at teenage lives in the era prior to the Columbine High School massacre, the film marks the feature debut of gifted director Kevin Phillips, and stars Zach (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan) as longtime best friends growing up in a leafy Upstate New York suburb in the 1990s, where teenage life revolves around hanging out, looking for kicks, navigating first love and vying for popularity. When a traumatic incident drives a wedge between the previously inseparable pair, their youthful innocence abruptly vanishes. Each young man processes the tragedy in his own way, until circumstances grow increasingly complex and spiral into violence. ‘Super Dark Times’ is currently not rated.

‘Super Dark Times’ feels like one of those films that blew completely over my head, leaving a trail of uncertainty to the film’s critical praise that leaves me mostly stumped. The acclaim that this film is currently getting, including a near 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, proves that it is finding a voice within the horror community that warrants it as a modern day classic. For me however, Phillip’s film successfully harvests with much confidence that feeling of loneliness and dread that comes with the awkwardness of adolescence, yet it is in the conflict of his narrative where the film flounders off the very uncertainty in direction as to where it’s headed. I didn’t hate or even dislike this movie, but the juice of positive returns didn’t grant me equality from the expectation grip that I was expecting for the film. On basic terms, the film’s attention comes in the form of grief and how these young protagonists are expected to deal with the consequences of a terrible accident that has left each stumbling in their own emotional release. To that degree, the film garners a conscience that speaks in depth about the kind of teenage tragedies that are unfortunately all the repetition these days. But it’s what it chooses to do after picking up that narrative that will make or break it for those who get the chance to see it.

For me, a lot of the problems with this storytelling reside in a curveball that comes completely out of right field about halfway through the film. For much of the its first half, there’s a meaty edginess to the screenplay that involves these two best friends keeping their secret from the rest of the town. I found great intrigue and investment during this period of the movie because these characters feel very human in the mistakes and clumsy efforts that they take to not getting caught, leaving the door wide open for their ignorance to eventually come back to bite them. It feels like Phillips has spent a lot of time around modern teenagers, replicating their speech patterns and shy communications impeccably with much success. Unfortunately, the film’s curveball that I mentioned earlier comes at the hands of very little build or clues along the way that it lays at the feet of its audience, and suddenly we have a direction that feeds more into the friendship of these two male protagonists, as opposed to the horrifying realities and consequences of what they did. This film does feel like it takes place in a dream world of sorts with Phillips attention residing on the very pulse of victim’s guilt, but the lack of answers from the film’s original set-ups left this one feeling quite inconsequential to the overall structure of what was crafted from a chilling first act that laid the groundwork for an enticingly horrific coming of age story.

Clocking in at 102 minutes, the film stays appropriately paced until that switch in direction that does make you feel the consequence of every following minute. I can say that the first two acts of the film flew by, pushing us closer to the inevitable confrontation that Zach and Josh parlay for themselves, and constantly kept me firmly immersed into this 90’s setting that served as a trip down nostalgia lane. But the final thirty minutes of the film just kind of stands idly by to wait for when the audience catches up to the obvious foreshadowing that screenwriters Luke Piotrowski and Ben Collins supplant. Along the way, there is the decision to implant some meandering reminders to show you that the clues were there all along, even if this spiraling twist comes with more consequences than rewards for the film’s conclusion. The final scene in particular is one that I am still left bumbling about, wondering if the writers are hinting that this story isn’t necessarily over yet, or if the realities of shock and devastation cater on like a cancer to the next unfortunate soul.

As for the positives, the artistic direction and shot composition for the movie are two hearty centers that constantly kept the blood pumping throughout this project. I enjoyed that the setting of the 90’s only popped into focus at certain aspects in the film if you were paying attention, and didn’t cloud too much of the frame from what was transpiring in narrative. The best kind of ways that you can use a time-stamped gimmick as such is when it doesn’t feel forced and lets the audience come to it instead of vice versa. The overall cinematography submits to a kind of handheld student picture kind of vibe, and this decision alone merits the kind of authenticity that comes within the kind of framing set from teenagers that makes us feel like we’ve come across a video project to fight the cure for boredom amongst them. The overall gloomy coloring for the film is also a nice touch, radiating a vibe of impending darkness for the characters involved. It all feeds into a visual spectrum that never quit on us even when it feels like the story does, and whether you enjoy or hate this film, the production will most definitely be your favorite aspect.

The performances are very hit or miss, but none of that falls on the responsibility of the main cast. Campbell and Tahan trigger their positions superbly, giving off the vibe of best friends Zach and Josh impeccably authentic. From their unabashed speech patterns to their blossoming on-screen chemistry, the duo’s “us against them” mentality shines brightly through the cloudy setting and tone for the film, presenting levels of depth in their depictions that are leap years ahead of this being their first starring roles. Besides this unfortunately, the extras for the film are quite bland in delivery, and lack the kind of persistence to line reading that lacks believability. I won’t call anyone out by name, but whenever our acclaimed duo aren’t on screen together, my immersion into the film stalled, being treated to underwhelming emotional release that is well under that of status quo. There were many points in the film where I wondered if this film was supposed to be satirical because of the very lackluster ensemble that slowly omits the energy presented by its two male leads. Campbell and Tahan are definitely in grasp of what the material needs to channel teenage grief and angst alike, but their co-stars would rather phone this one in.

THE VERDICT – ‘Super Dark Times’ feeds accordingly on the very cerebrum of teenage boys when they come into contact with traumatic experiences that idle them for existence. Phillips debut feature film is a visual centerpiece that keys in firmly on the mood of isolation and despair that communicates this disposition articulately to its outsiders. Where the film could be better suited is in an attention to just one detail in the film’s script that forces it into a terribly obscure direction from what we were once promised. The final twenty minutes are the most intense, and yet the most reprimanding in terms of consistency from what message it is trying to convey. In the end, there’s enough unsettling atmospheric tension from the train-wreck that we see coming from miles away, inviting us on for the departure of an inevitably prominent directing debut.

7/10

American Made

An airline pilot will have to fly above the clouds in order to escape the feds who are hot on his trail, in ‘American Made’. Director Doug Liman and Tom Cruise team together one more time, this time centering around the story of Barry Seal (Cruise), a TWA pilot in 1978 who is recruited by the CIA, specifically a seedy mastermind deep within the department named Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) to provide reconnaissance on the burgeoning communist threat in Central America. Barry soon finds himself in charge of one of the biggest covert CIA operations in the history of the United States, smuggling in hundreds of pounds of cocaine to the Southern territories. This story spawned the birth of the Medellin cartel and eventually almost brought down the Reagan White House with the Iran Contra scandal that rocked nations across the globe. ‘American Made’ is rated R for adult language throughout and some sexuality/nudity.

Pablo Escobar is perhaps the most notorious drug trafficker ever, so there’s certainly no shortage of screenplays based on his controversial life as a smuggler. ‘American Made’ is yet another of those chapters, but with a bit of the twist that supplants the domestic side of its surreal storytelling. The film itself features Escobar for all of about twenty minutes, choosing instead to focus on an original narrative to the story by centering it around one of his pivotal chess pieces when it comes to moving his product in. When you think about the harsh realities of how drugs have shaped and poisoned our society, guys like Barry Seal shouldn’t come to mind, but the green of dollar bills will make even our own citizens do the most irrational of things, and that is what we have here. ‘American Made’ feels like a take on entrepreneurship post ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, and while I do feel like those comparisons in structure and the complementary breaking of the fourth wall are completely justified from Liman’s film, this one does fall remotely short in capturing the same kind of immersive essence that kept me on the edge of my seat for nearly three hours with its predecessor.

Many things do however compliment this as a strongly put together piece of cinema, pushing authentic vibes in cinematography and direction that craft this as something so much more than just an entertaining film. We are treated to some intricate levels of artistic merit throughout the presentation that really establishes the kind of setting in time that showcase just how different and untested the laws were then. Many films anymore include the choices of authentic 70’s grainy footage during that era for its establishing shots and narrative storytelling, but it’s in those same grainy filters and cheap style choices that Liman brings along with us to keep its visual enticement fresh and consistent. From the guerilla style shooting, to the tight-knit camera angles, there were many times during the film when I felt like I was watching government footage that I just happened to stumble across. In addition to this, the beautiful and breathtaking cinematography is aplenty, focusing on the depiction in differences between the landscapes of Arkansas and South America that figuratively and literally fly by with our protagonist’s plot.

On the subject of style alone, this film is a ten, but some of the lasting power of the screenplay by Gary Spinelli does leave slightly more to be desired. This isn’t a boring film at all, and there was never a point when I wasn’t invested in the unfolding series of uphill climbs that Barry faces, but the film takes very little time, especially early on, to get to know the man when he isn’t in the cockpit. To that degree, this feels like a one-sided effort that focuses entirely on his missions and less with what makes him such a protagonist to get behind. What I did enjoy is Barry’s breaking of the fourth wall by narrating to a video camera to us who are watching. Narration is always a slippery slope, but because the career of drug-smuggling is one that requires further elaboration, there’s plenty of chances for Barry to get personal, and it works in furthering the exposition that are skimmed but not scanned in the first act. Besides this, there is also a great overall attitude to the film that does poke fun at the cynicism and mounting tension of this once prosperous pilot being in over his head in a world where he knows very little. This kept the film at a light-hearted atmosphere while playing up plenty of the consequences that shock and level Barry and his surrounding set-up. Because of this, I feel that ‘American Made’ does have solid replay value because it chooses to never weigh to heavily on conscience, instead remaining focused on just having a good time.

The pacing for the film is slightly uneven during the first act, mainly because it feels like it is in a rush to get to the good stuff, but the later acts smooth things out by feeling like it is taking what necessary time it needs to educate. On the subject of that first act, it was flooring to see how quickly this plan all came together, and I do wish that more precious minutes were used to hammer home who Barry was before it all went down. This could give us reasoning to side with Barry and understand his desire to do something that he himself knows is illegal, but pushes forward. The runtime too is valuable in this aspect. At 105 minutes, ‘American Made’ can feel like some angles are being glossed over, but the focus remains firm in supplanting the audience with the kind of insurmountable odds that Barry and crew now have to overcome. This could all of course fall behind with redundancy before the grand finale, but the tempo of this direction always keeps us one step ahead by giving us an easy sit in the face of all of the mayhem.

As for performances, this is all kind of a one man show, but that doesn’t mean that one man doesn’t commit himself to a role that doesn’t cast him in the most admirable of lights. Cruise is of course that guy, and as Barry we see a man who is a bit rude, a bit careless, and even a bit lost in something bigger than him. Through his usual endless energy, Cruise commands Barry to dizzying distress and an unflinching southern accent that grants him a nosedive into this charismatic side. Tom seems to be accepting these roles in the later part of his career that don’t highlight him as the flawless hero, and that embracing of the vulnerability that has garnered him some acclaimed attention over the past few years, has granted him staying power decade after decade. Despite this being a one man show mostly, Gleeson is also sneakily terrific as the boss of sorts for Barry. Domhnall is quickly carving away a reputation for versatility in the jobs he undertakes, and the spin of Schafer here is certainly no different, as Gleeson feels conniving and brash in a race for riches that is unlike anything we’ve seen him in yet in his blossoming career.

THE VERDICT – The success of ‘American Made’ is based solely on its impeccably authentic artistic expression, as well as the fiery wild card performance of its male lead that feels fine on Cruise control. Doug Liman’s cautionary tale about 70’s greed and corruption feels rushed in some spots early on, and overall lacks the kind of permanent, poignant humbling that better films in the genre unleash upon, but there’s enough charm in the air from the familiar off-screen dance partners here to leave it on auto-pilot and just let it fly.

7/10

Cult of Chucky

The world’s smallest serial killer returns once again to torture and brutalize once more, years after the events depicted in ‘Curse of Chucky’. This time, in ‘Cult of Chucky’, we bring back all of the central characters from the previous movies. The film centers around Chucky’s (Brad Dourif) return to prey upon Nica (Fiona Dourif), who’s been confined to an asylum for four years after being framed for the murders in the previous installment. Chucky’s nemesis from the original Child’s Play, Andy (Alex Vincent), tries to save Nica, but he has to deal with Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) and her sinister intentions, as well as more than one good guy that shows up to wreak havoc on the Asylum and its inhabitants. ‘Cult of Chucky’ is written and directed by Don Mancini, and is rated R for brutal scenes of violence, adult language, and scenes of peril.

The Chucky films have kind of found a new home on the Video-On-Demand route, and it’s all probably a good thing because the last two movies in this series have breathed new life into the decades old franchise, with some new spins and directions that keep it from ever growing stale. ‘Cult of Chucky’ is the latest of that creative spin, and with the exception of the typical leaps in logic that plague these movies, I had a really good time with this film as well. It might not match the originality of the first film, but it makes up for the lack in overall presentation and creative ruthlessness that prove committed to the individual personality that its tiny killer has enjoyed. It’s kind of refreshing to see a horror film in which all of the principal characters from the previous movies return to lend a hand in prolonging the staying power of this series. This points to the fact that more than any other horror series, the Chucky movies seem to really invest everything they have into making a film for its fans that entertain them while playing into their nostalgic feelings for these stories and respective characters. More than anything though, ‘Cult of Chucky’ is as grounded in gore as the series has gotten, cashing in on a collective juggling in offering of practical and C.G effects that will bring out a wince or two in choosing to never cut away on the camera angles.

What’s enticing about this film is that it does require you to watch the prior film before you proceed. This gives these movies a kind of cohesive direction, instead of the choice to craft each one as individual efforts. The movie picks up after the events of ‘Curse of Chucky’, offering a dual narrative between that of Nica and Andy each in their tortured and respective pasts with the doll that has plagued them in different ways to this point. The satisfying feeling in tone with this film is that it more than any previous installment picks up on the very empathy of these two characters. There’s a real sense of sadness within them for how these two lives have been ruined and the common bond that unites them. I also dug the idea of multiple Chucky’s in the movie that really played well with stacking the odds and giving us more of Dourif to soak in audibly. The story is competent enough, despite some glaring plot holes with the Nica and her situation inside the prison itself. Not that this series doesn’t already have enough suspension with disbelief, but the film could be used as a satirical screenplay for our own very accommodating takes with the justice system that sometimes lends more opportunities at these cliche setups than we’d like to admit.

On the subject of that location, the film’s artistic integrity does hold up well with its end of the bargain in supplying some visually stunning displays that pack a punch in and out of our primary setting. There’s almost a futuristic vibe within the design of this prison, in all of its metallic luminous and spot clean corridors that make it stand out more than anything you’ve ever seen by comparison. The death sequences themselves are sadistically hypnotic in the way that they manipulate slow motion technology to play into soaking in every devastating blow. The gore can be quite excessive, but you pretty much know what you’re getting yourself into by this point, especially considering that this property no longer caters to big screen release restrictions. The color filters cater to mostly white backgrounds, and I think this is to replicate the Winter setting that is present outside of the prison, and could be taken for this cold and isolated feeling internally that feeds on Nica. This series of movies isn’t known for its visual appeal, but it’s clear that Mancini continues to approach his acclaimed property with a hands-on approach that gains him illustration points aplenty.

As for characters and performances, Fiona Dourif is once again fantastic as Nica, emoting her as this fragile helpless protagonist who feels like she is alone in the world at this new home for her. Father Dourif as well continues with his most famous role to date, voicing the sinister doll with harmful intentions and endless jokes to give him the extreme likeability that we have come to love. Together, these two are a pleasure to watch, and there’s something pleasantly surreal about watching a passing of the torch in ways from Father to Daughter that surprisingly touched my heart. Unfortunately the rest of the cast are underwritten in ways that bring to mind the very outline of nameless bodies that are known to stack up in these kind of films. Considering absolutely zero expositional minutes are wasted on their respective characters, it shouldn’t come as a surprise where they’re headed, and Chucky has no qualms about wasting time to send them on their ways. This is a continuing problem that I feel with horror today, because I think screenwriters should write for ensembles and not just one or two characters who the audience already knows will be in the final confrontation. With an emphasis on supporting cast, we can use those sparing minutes thoughtfully in ways that won’t drag the film down whenever neither of the Dourifs are on camera, and that’s a though that I think this film should’ve subscribed to dearly in its screenwriting phase.

THE VERDICT – Even seven films deep at this point, Mancini and company splatter enough lowbrow thrills and buckets of blood to add a fresh perspective to this constricted setting. There’s still a great lack for compelling protagonists, as well as a great concern for where this series overall might be heading, but if the future is anything like the Curse or Cult, consider this good guy built for stability. ‘Cult of Chucky’ crafts legitimate scares without succumbing to the overabundance of jump scare cinema that has plagued the genre. This is shock violence at its finest, and who better than one of the famed fathers of the slasher genre?

7/10

Brad’s Status

The life and accomplishments of A middle aged Father will force him to confront ‘Brad’s Status’. When Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) accompanies his college bound son to the East Coast, the visit triggers a crisis of confidence in Brad’s Status, writer and director Mike White’s bittersweet comedy. Brad has a satisfying career and a comfortable life in suburban Sacramento where he lives with his sweet-natured wife, Melanie (Jenna Fischer), and their musical prodigy son, Troy (Austin Abrams), but it’s not quite what he imagined during his college glory days. Showing Troy around Boston, where Brad went to university, he can’t help comparing his life with those of his four best college friends: a Hollywood bigshot (White), a hedge fund founder (Luke Wilson), a tech entrepreneur (Jemaine Clement), and a political pundit and bestselling author (Michael Sheen). As he imagines their wealthy, glamorous lives, he wonders if this is all he will ever amount to. But when circumstances force him to reconnect with his former friends, Brad begins to question whether he has really failed or is, in some ways at least, the most successful of them all. ‘Brad’s Status’ is written and directed by Mike White, and is rated R for adult language.

It has taken Ben Stiller some time and a very long distance to finding his proper footing, but ‘Brad’s Status’ feels like his return to form with a journey back to the top in a memorable role. That’s not to say that his work in recent films like ‘While We’re Young’ or ‘Zoolander 2’ didn’t peak my interest, but it’s clear that Stiller has a lot more to offer as an actor that being just a one-dimensional comic genius. As the title character here, Stiller feels most at home because he’s walking in the shoes of a man who feels like he is at a crossroads with life, wondering where it all went wrong. Call it a midlife crisis or whatever, but Brad’s questions seem to merit some discussion within his own psyche at picking apart the decisions that he made that may have caused such discontent. Stiller controls Brad with a childlike innocence that makes this character empathetic with our own opinions, even if his close-minded thinking hints at the life lessons that we already understand, making the audience feel light years ahead of its protagonist. It’s clear that no matter how old Brad is (47 in case you’re curious), he still has plenty of room to go, and the stuttering ramble of Stiller at its finest tuned in years, proves he’s back to compliment his dry humor with a dramatic pull that did have me fighting off a tear or two.

This is very much a film that people should flock to because it hammers home the life lessons of material versus physical, and the importance that we cast particularly upon one that doesn’t deserve it. With ‘Brad’s Status’, it sometimes feels like a lashing out against the upper one percent, and while that feels satisfyingly therapeutic, it shouldn’t be misinterpreted that Brad’s war comes within himself and the worst of times that this is taking place during his son’s college interview. Even if the material is predictable and had me feeling like I mapped out its general direction within the opening half hour of the film, I can’t say that I was never drawn to understanding the teachings that Brad was picking up on, something that I credit Mike White on dearly as a screenwriter that really gives his film a rich feel. In fact, one ironic delight is that it feels like the youth are the ones living with their eyes open in this one, and that being an adult can blind you to what is really there.

White should also be credited for commanding a two-part tone within the film that caters more to the underlying dramatic pulse and less to badly timed comedy that can come off in movies as heavily scripted. Here the humor does flow but it flows in a natural manner in which the true awkwardness of any and every situation bubbles its way to the top, tingling on the true complexity of Brad’s current situation. No, instead the movie presents itself in a way that should be taken seriously in all of hits social commentary on how the world distributes its wealth. Without getting overly preachy, White makes some valid strokes of genius in pointing out the very eye-rolling moments that come with fighting for a table at a fancy restaurant, or even the shady rules for coach flyers when purchasing air travel. It’s funny, yet painful because we have all been there at one time or another, and White’s stark surrealism contrasts a fine abstraction that will pull out either side of the emotional release; to either laugh or battle back tears from the painful rejection that society plays in its political card time and time again.

The runtime can sometimes feel like a point of contempt with me, although I don’t know if it will have the same negative condentation with people who take in White’s film. The material often stays firmly in the grip of his pen holder, choosing to take very little risks or unorthodox directions to play into Brad’s unwinding, and the actual ending feels like it takes place with about twenty minutes left in the film. The fortunate aspect is that the best scene of the movie takes place at the very end of it, sending the audience home satisfied by fighting off a tear or two that this scene cleverly earns. I just wish that some of the footwork to getting to that moment could’ve been left on the editing room floor, because it slowly omits the momentum of Brad’s triumphant moment when he puts it all together. Aside from this small critique, 97 minutes doesn’t do too much harm to the over presentation and pacing of ‘Brad’s Status’, and thankfully the delight of the supporting characters adds some much needed help to Stiller for being shouldered with the burden of carrying yet another picture.

Aside from Stiller’s delightful Brad, the film weaves a few impacting performances from some heavy-hitting A-listers, as well as one youth who really stole the show for me. On the latter, Austin Abrams is a breath of fresh air as Brad’s son Troy. On the surface, it feels like Troy might be the typical teenager who is embarrassed at the very sight of his parents, but it’s clear midway through the film that Brad and Troy share a bond that transcends their respective ages, and really hammer against the ideal that parents can’t be best friends with their children. At such a young age, he already has such a vibrant and choreographed view of the world that will make you wonder who is the parent here. Abrams witty and dry delivery does do battle with Stiller, in a kind of callback to Ben’s earlier years, carrying him as the perfect casting to play his son in the movie. I also greatly enjoyed the brief but blossoming work of Michael Sheen as Brad’s former best friend Craig, as well as Jermaine Clement who steals a scene as an island inhabitant with two wives. Clement’s Billy feels like Brad’s fantasy for everything he wants to be, but it all seems hilariously terrible to anyone who sees the bigger picture beyond what Brad conjures up in his mind. Sheen is again devilishly delightful as an analyst in Washington who grew a little too big for his one-time friendly britches. If you seek an asshole for a film, you go to the best, and Sheen is quickly making a name for himself as that condescending antagonist in films who you can’t help but grit your teeth at.

THE VERDICT – ‘Brad’s Status’ overcomes the midlife crisis tropes of familiarity with insightful observations and humorous commentaries towards the state of the material world and all of the things that Gordon Gecko fought so hard for. It is fairly predictable, and the third act could compact itself slightly more by trimming some time, so as not to lose so much of the impact from that gripping final exchange, but the work of Stiller and Abrams as a father/son duo prove to be the pivotal pieces in White’s unapologetic and thought-provoking diatribe about the value that we cast upon things that are out of our control.

7/10

Patti Cakes

The journey to the top of the overcrowded rap game inspires a new and unlikely story from the stage name of a gifted female MC, named ‘Patti Cake$’. In a coming-of-age story straight out of the dirty streets of New Jersey, an unlikely rapper finds her voice as a one-of-a-kind hip-hop legend in the making, turning a cold shoulder to the adversity that her unsupportive environment around her that tries to limit her potential. It’s Patti’s (Danielle Macdonald) determination that will earn her undeniable street cred, and ushering in the era of a new lyrical lion-heart. The first feature film written and directed from (appropriately enough) acclaimed commercial and music-video director Geremy Jasper. Set in gritty strip-mall suburbia, “Patti Cake$” chronicles an underdog’s quest for fame and glory with humor, raw energy and some unforgettable beats. The film is rated R for adult language throughout, crude sexual references, some drug use and a brief nude image.

If ‘Patti Cakes’ were A track, it would be compared to A Top 40 club hit that requires some time to grow on you. Sure, at first it’s annoying and A bit too forced for its genre or classification, but after you’ve heard it A few times and know what it’s about, it starts to grow on you until you can’t get its irresistibly infectious tones out of your head. Jasper’s newest project definitely feeds into the underdog appeal of the hip hop community in the same way that films like ‘8 Mile’ or ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’ did across the last decade. But the appeal with ‘Patti Cakes’ is that it takes A protagonist who is audibly and visually unlike anything going in the hip hop game today, and appeals to those dreamers watching at home who stare into A mirror wishing for greener pastures. In that sense, it’s A story for all of us. The dreamers tale is certainly nothing new, especially in modern cinema, but Patricia feels like she has earned that prestigious title by keeping her head above the clouds and silencing the doubters who have written her off A long time ago.

From A storytelling perspective, there’s plenty to be commended about in Jasper’s co-written script, but none more powerful than the honesty that it bestows upon its framing of the real world. Set in Bayone, New Jersey, A town that is anything but A hip hop community, this screenplay pokes and prods at the concepts of how something completely out of our hands in decision-making like hometown can serve as the single greatest antagonist in obstacle to ones success. We’ve heard critics before mention how A setting in A particular film feels like A character within the movie, but in ‘Patti Cakes’ that labeling feels far more appropriate because it really is all of these antagonists like local rappers, childhood bullies, and even family that plague this woman from making something of her rare talent to silence them all. There’s almost A feeling of rotting in the air here without feeling too forced, A poison that keeps you grounded the longer that you stay within its clutches, and we see this direction affected many times because of the many people who see Patti as the typical overweight lazy burden that doesn’t seem to visually match the part by her white skin color or curvy physique for all of the wrong reasons to them. This is that rare film that bottles all of those historical attributes up and carries them out for A protagonist whose greatest strength is in the pipe bombs that she unleashes whenever the doubters fill the room.

If there is A weakness to the film’s progression, it’s definitely in the overall presentation that caters to the music video style pizazz of cinematography. This is of course intentional, after all Jasper is A former music video director, and the decision to craft A plot that centers around music feels like A no-brainer from his position, but it always feels like it’s limiting the atmosphere of these situations that hover above and wait to be embraced with patience. In that regard, it is the one soul emotion that is clearly missing here because jumpy editing and extreme close-ups during sequences that deserve A wide angle lens alienates more than appealed my viewing and ever kept me from fully embracing this unorthodox style of filmmaking. The pacing too is slightly off, especially during the second act when it felt like this film should’ve been wrapping up where it still had forty minutes left. The third act does triumph gorgeously with more pills of truth to swallow about the prejudices plaguing the hip hop community, but it’s in that middle where viewers will find the most trouble staying hooked firmly into this story. Nothing feels like it should be cut, I just think the film is sometimes trying to approach from too many angles the many people involved in Patti’s life instead of focusing on the title character who never fails to steal the show.

On that regard, welcome to the show Danielle Mcdonald, your time is now. The one thing missing from Mcdonald’s performance here is that long-winded speech that surely nominates her for an award or two, but she more than makes up for that loss with A harrowing and committed performance of this alter ego that has no shortage of confidence or charisma in the swagger that she strides with. This will definitely be one of those roles that will be difficult for Danielle to shake because she simply is Killa P, the urban princess of Bayone who attacks more bars than A jail of prisoners, and she became this role so fluently that I’ll never be able to see her as anything else for A long time. Mcdonald feels like the right protagonist for the right time in our society, when body shaming is getting out of hand. Here comes A girl who takes the worst that her community spits at her, and she spits right back with an arsenal of vicious rhetoric. Besides Mcdonald, this entire ensemble cast plays their parts accordingly, and really made for some emphatically entertaining exchanges by this group of misfit toys. The best moments for me are definitely when Patti and best friend Jheri (Played by Siddharth Dhananjay) are together, but this script would feel hollow without the riveting exchanges that Patti endures from an immature Mother (Played by Bridget Everett) who places far too much responsibility on the shoulders of A kid who clearly didn’t grow up with A needed parental figure. That effect has shaped Patti’s outlook on life clearly, and there is A taste of that anger from Mcdonald’s register boiling beneath the surface, even if her demeanor portrays A devastating force who can’t be stopped, only slowed down.

Soundtrack tastes are always entirely subjective, but I rode the wheel of indecision for the majority of this film, enjoying and disliking what was offered. What I will say is that music does indeed play A vital role to the movement of this screenplay, dominating the first and third acts of this movie like A modern day hip hop musical that does the occasional pausing of progression to drop some character exposition in the most literal of ways. What was difficult however, was when the rhymes and pacing of the lyrical lines does feel slightly off in the amateur songwriter kind of way. Could this be intentional because this story is about A local rapper? Quite possibly, but that doesn’t make them anymore enjoyable to indulge in. I can remember being floored in positivity by each and every track in ‘8 Mile’, so there’s very little excuse as to why ‘Patti Cakes’ can’t quite accomplish the same feat, especially when you consider Mcdonald’s precision with becoming this personality. For my money, the best track was involved in the closing of the movie, that takes place on A local talent show to scout future talent. The duality of rock and rap involved in the track mentioned gives this soundtrack A stamp of experimental that reminds us what could’ve been had they not stuck so close to the gimmick rap of easy rhymes and cheesy sound effects.

THE VERDICT – ‘Patti Cakes’ strikes A familiar flow in the underdog structure, but the flawless passion of A breakthrough performance by Mcdonald, as well as the honesty in attacking some truly vicious stereotypes in the hip hop community makes this cake A deliciously hard-edged treat that stands tall. The style of the film would be better suited to slow down and pace itself accordingly with the sometimes enduring 103 minute runtime, but it can be forgiven for its creative mistakes by hammering home the heart, soul, and resiliance of its title character. Proving that Patricia (like Mcdonald) was made for the big stage.

7/10

Good Time

The brothers Nikas seek a devilishly ‘Good Time’ even if it kills them. After a botched bank robbery lands his younger brother Nick (Benny Safdie) in prison, Constantine Nikas (Robert Pattinson) embarks on a twisted odyssey through New York City’s seedy crime underworld in an increasingly desperate-and dangerous-attempt to get his brother out of jail. Over the course of one adrenalized night full of booze, drugs, and off-the-wall characters, Constantine finds himself on a high-speed mad descent into brutal violence and mayhem as he races against the clock to save his brother and himself, knowing their lives hang in the balance, which up until now has been an everyday waste. ‘Good Time’ is directed by the brotherly duo of Joshua and Ben Safdie, and is rated R for adult language throughout, violence, drug use and sexual content.

‘Good Time’ is more than just a clever name, it’s a gritty, hostile, and often entertaining run-all-night that brings to life my memories of 2006’s ‘Running Scared’, starring Paul Walker. While that film is A better overall presentation, it’s easy to see how the brothers Safdie could certainly feel influenced by that previous picture, in presenting this film based in a neon-fueled nightmare world where every solution feels like it’s getting worse for our brother protagonists. Despite some stretching in situational logic that does require the occasional suspension of disbelief, this is A film that merits vital consequences responsibly, speaking to the theme that no good deed in this world goes unpunished. The film for me was A lot of fun to just kind of entertain myself for 95 minutes without thinking about what pertains to how easy and simple-minded some of these escape plans likely should’ve been for these characters. When you think about it too much, you’re likely to miss the point of this crime drama; and that is that we would commit terribly stupid measures to assure the well-being of those we love. That concept alone gave ‘Good Time’ plenty of heart in an otherwise dismal landscape of robberies, drugs, and even underage sex.

For my money, the set-up to this film is brilliant. I love the idea that Constantine very much feels responsible for his brother landing in jail because of an irresponsible goal that was in fact his idea alone. Constantine feels like the terrible influence to Nick, not only because the latter is mentally handicap, but also because he’s kind of the shit-stirrer that often jumps when he realizes a sinking ship. Throughout the film, Constantine has only one other alli, and that is in his relationship with a female character whom he uses and throws away at his discretion, so it feels like this guy seems aware of who he has to betray to get what he wants, but there’s definitely a family bond that moves this script miles in terms of its urgency. The second act is very much elevating the tension, taking Constantine through the overnight lunacy of the New York streets. The film does kind of forget about Nick during this time, bringing him up only when it’s important to serve A reminder to the audience, but this doesn’t mean the film rests from its ambitions, keeping the eye on the prize firmly until about the film’s final half hour when all else becomes a bit too convoluted amongst what is important here.

And that is where this film seems to blur the lines of moral clause that it was presenting in the film’s finale. Loose ends are tied up yes, and the wrong are left to suffer, but it does leave me with this unshakeable feeling of disappointment considering how this powder-keg continued to build and build until it felt like it was going to blow. The absence of a noticeable antagonist does feel greatly impactful to the plot because there are A lot of scenes when Constantine should be looking behind him waiting for something to catch up, instead of looking forward to the next big score, and there’s rarely enough peak in dramatic pull to ever top this tension off to edge-of-the-seat levels for the audience. The third act also makes A great mistake in introducing too many subplots to the film far too late in the film. A bag of money that has nothing to do with our main characters pops up in A park, and that seems to warrant more of the film’s attention than the mentally handicap brother who could be dead at any moment, rotting away in prison. Suddenly that human element that I mentioned earlier feels so absent from the film, and the movie’s closing moments don’t pack the kind of emotional punch that a far superior first half built up.

It’s not all bad however, as the film’s aesthetic department played vicariously well in conjuring up the imagination of this adult playground. The neon-inspired cinematography always does wonders in a red light district sort of feel, but it also caters to 80’s cop thrillers that uses this method of style to heighten the scary landscapes. The camera work here is exceptional, displaying the articulate method in using handheld camera direction without shaking the camera too much or dissolving what is playing out firmly before us. My favorite aspect of the presentation however is in the heart-pounding and alluring musical score by composer Daniel Lopatin. This is simply put my favorite musical score of the year, mainly because it is used at ear-shattering levels to heighten the impact of each establishing shot, and because it dips its synth/chillwave tones in 80’s 8-bit euphoria to bring a marriage to film that serves as A callback to 80’s action films. It’s definitely one that I plan on buying, and this film will have outstanding replay value for me even if just to listen to these elevating plateaus in audio perfection.

As for performances, there isn’t A wide range of cast here, instead ‘Good Time’ feels focused on a one man tour de force that brings out the best in Pattinson and stands him at the forefront of acting ardor. This is the same man who stole the show in possibly my favorite film of the year in ‘The Lost City of Z’, and thankfully he doesn’t have to fight as viciously for that spot here. As Constantine, we meet A flawed individual whose humanity feels like the one contributing factor to his madness. It’s true that he isn’t the smartest character in the world, but Robert’s eyes commute the idea that his brain’s wheel never stops moving, shifting for the next position of power to get him and his brother out of this deal. I gave Robert a lot of shit early in his career for taking the ‘Twilight’ roles, but he’s done an exceptional job in silencing the doubters like me with against-type performances that make his movies a notable watch to see a real actor hone his craft. The film also has A guest cameo from Jennifer Jason Leigh, who is solid in the five minutes that she’s in this movie, but unfortunately it doesn’t amount to much to the importance of this script. I wish her character could’ve come into focus more towards the ending, but it’s clear that she’s only A spoke on Constantine’s wheels of self destruction.

THE VERDICT – This ‘Good Time’ comes with a lethal dose of dizzying entertainment and A jaw-droppingly transfixing performance from Pattinson at the helm. The film’s closing minutes are definitely the weakness, forgetting about its commitment to family for A cliche heist effort that underwhelms all the way to the finish line. Thankfully the aesthetic touch is as pure as paint, combining illuminating lighting and A nostalgic 80’s action musical score to present an overall gritty visual graze that proves desert is still to come in this already overwhelming Summer platter.

7/10

Ingrid Goes West

The everyday boring routine of a down-and-out social media stalker requires a change of scenery, in ‘Ingrid Goes West’. Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) is an unhinged social media stalker with a history of confusing “likes” for meaningful relationships. Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) is an Instagram-famous “influencer” whose perfectly curated, boho-chic lifestyle becomes Ingrid’s latest obsession. When Ingrid moves to Los Angeles and manages to insinuate herself into the social media star’s life, their relationship quickly goes from #BFF to #WTF. Built around a brilliantly disarming performance from Aubrey Plaza, “Ingrid Goes West” (winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance) is a savagely hilarious dark comedy that satirizes the modern world of social media and proves that being #perfect isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. ‘Ingrid Goes West’ is written and directed by Matt Spicer, and is rated R for adult language throughout, drug use, some sexual content and disturbing behavior.

Social Media plays A more prominent role than ever in our society, so it was only A matter of time before that current concept reflected the material in our box office society. Along comes ‘Ingrid Goes West’, a passion project of sorts for the man responsible for filling up the pages and the screen with this cautionary tale of sorts, Matt Spicer. In only his first full length feature film, Spicer shows such promise and honesty in offering a reflective glance into our own addictions with social media apps and websites, and where it falls on the level of importance with our daily routines. Considering this was A film about A celebrity stalker, it did make me feel slightly uncomfortable that A lot of Ingrid’s methods and maneuverability online reflected some of my own traits, and in that regards, we’re all Ingrid. It’s an unprecedented move from what I can conjure up, that A movie takes what should be its antagonist of sorts and shuffles the cards in her personality to make us take A step back in proving how blurred that line of consequence could be when you’re dealing with people opening up their virtual front door to a world of strangers. Spicer sees this world, but doesn’t mind poking a little satirical fun at it while he’s here.

First is the tone of the film, which I felt very fearful of after seeing the trailer that I was less than thrilled with. The two-and-a-half minute ad portrays this film as A comedy of sorts, and while there were moments in the movie where I did enjoy A giggle or two, Spicer never shies away from how dangerous the game of obsession truly is. What little comedy is used in the film is pursued more for the establishing of awkward atmosphere that rings true to Ingrid’s initial meetings with Taylor, and the kind of commitment that comes with trying to be noticed. Eventually, this all settles down by late in the second act, and that light-hearted atmosphere of Ingrid starting anew is eventually traded in for the very same mistakes and impatience that led her down that unstable road with another previous friend revealed in the film’s opening moments. From here on out, it’s very A game of nerves, with Ingrid’s mounting obstacle forcing her to take her actions, as well as the film’s attitude in the very directions that this script deserves. This balance of tight-roping the proper creative direction is A difficult thing to pull off, but the responsible stance of taking this very seriously is one that I commend the movie greatly for, and keeps it afloat for some of its weaker aspects later on.

The screenplay is solid, but does have the indistinguishable taste from time to time of A possible Lifetime movie-of-the-week scenario playing out before us. The preaching of this social media burden doesn’t ever become overzealous nor obvious in what its communicating, but the script never matures from using that one-note method to broader horizons, bringing us always back to where it originally started 92 minutes prior. The film also sets up some possible scenarios with Ingrid’s past that it never follows through on. Too much is going forward without understanding the consequences of Ingrid’s past, and I felt that was A valuable mistake. The pacing is exceptional, and I can never say that I was ever truly bored with the film. The ending did have me worried because there wasn’t A lot that was set-up to close this out, but I feel like the right direction was taken in showing that social media is a vicious cycle that some very rarely ever breakout of. While that sounds like A possible spoiler, trust me when I say that you have no idea where this movie is headed, and that aura of unpredictability is always best with a suspenseful offering like this one. It’s not a horror movie of any kind, and doesn’t need a cheesy score to accompany it, but this film’s shock factor comes from the very source that we take for granted every day; that little box that we open ourselves up to daily, breaking down a wall of vulnerability that up until now has guarded us with the privacy that all are entitled to.

What gets it through some of the mud of an occasionally conventional script is the detailed performances of A solid cast that all bring their A-game. It’s great to see O’Shea Jackson Jr stepping up to the forefront after stealing the show in 2015’s ‘Straight Outta Compton’. Here, Jackson is able to emote some of that endless charisma that he got from pops, occasionally breaking into some timely improv involving Batman of all things that proved his versatility. The chemistry between he and Plaza is certainly evident, even if their bond is anything but the typical romance in movies. Plaza steals the film with her best performance to date. As Ingrid, she’s the perfect casting, showcasing A cold and blank stare with her burning eyes that always relay A terrible idea being conjured up. Until now, Plaza has been stuck in raunchy comedies, very rarely being given the chance to do some actual acting, and thankfully Spicer sees the magic in his leading lady. Aubrey brought out A wide range of fear, embarrassment, sadness, and even pain for her character that is very difficult to do in A role as complex as this one. She’s not the kind of character you want to spend ten minutes alone with, but the film does a detailed job in depicting the crippling beast of loneliness that very few are able to run from.

THE VERDICT – ‘Ingrid Goes West’ and our jaws drop south, with A truly chilling performance by Plaza at the movie’s peak. Matt Spicer alike brings the best in an inventive and unforceful sermon on the vapid vulnerabilities of who’s watching on the other end of the social media specter, even if his film occasionally feels satisfied enough with approaching A-list stereotypes from just a face value. His film none the less is vividly humbling and socially relevant, issuing a call of warning to the world that is turning out a new follower every few seconds.

7/10

Brigsby Bear

The happiness of a child lies in the weekly broadcast of his favorite furry animal named ‘Brigsby Bear’. First time filmmaker Dave McCary brings to us his film starring one of the film’s writers, Kyle Mooney as James, a thirty-something man-child who is obsessed with his favorite television show, owning every cassette, and several pieces of memorabilia. After the show’s untimely cancellation, James’s life takes a turn for the extreme, forcing the number one fan to now finish the show himself, for better or worse. Along the way, James must learn to cope with the realities of a new world that he knows nothing about because he has never stepped foot outside of his protective weekly bubble. ‘Brigsby Bear’ is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, brief sexuality, drug material and teen partying, and teams up the acclaimed Saturday Night Live duo once more of Mooney and Beck Bennett.

Now that you’ve read my synopsis for ‘Brigsby Bear’, you should know that everything that you think you know about this movie is only an illusion. This is very much an independent dramedy that is more clever than what meets the eye. The plot and ensuing story surrounding it revolve around this surprising shock twist that takes place within the opening fifteen minutes of this film that completely blew my mind, changing the tone and material alike, and then proceeding on from there as A result of this big bang. This is a touch that is certainly nothing groundbreaking or original, but it does lend itself to the confidence that the duo of McCary and Mooney possess in their film to appeal to the audience that they have practically alienated themselves from, with anyone thinking this was going to be a goofball comedy similar to Mooney’s SNL stick. For Mooney, this is A Chance to breakout from a stereotype that has garnered him minimal time on that show, and to trade it in for a hearty performance that proves he is a force to be reckoned with when compared to the barrage of SNL greats that have and have not gone on to make a name for themselves when they no longer go live at 11:30 PM on Saturday night.

Once that plot twist that I mentioned happens early on during the first act, it feels very much like the film is playing into our nostalgia as an audience for the kinds of television show characters and worlds alike that we immersed ourselves in when we the young adolescent age, and pulled the wool from James eyes in the same manner that all of us ensued when we were forced to grow up. This is of course A story with A bit more devastation to it, and that mood layers itself with A screenplay that I never would’ve expected from the guys in The Lonely Island of all things. The film does stay a bit one note remedially, hinting at a bigger picture in reveal that those few possible subplots never pursue with much more persistence. There were a few aspects with the production of this television show that raised a few good questions in my mind, but it just felt like me making the direction into something that never became. This is a 92 minute brief engagement, so to say that this film sticks close to its three act structure, is putting it firmly. With that said, I can’t say that I was ever bored or disengaged from this film, and my fear of this man-child’s fragile psyche playing into this tight-rope of nerves between past and present that has brought him to this day, always kept me watching closely for the cause-and-effect that a sheltered life can leave on the mind of a dreamer with miles to travel creatively.

McCary’s film embraces the concepts of James past metaphorically through the eyes of the bear, so when the idea pops into his head to continue on with the show, it not only feels like A longing for his sheltered past, but also a halting of progress for his ability to move on, a concept that the film stands firmly at on the crossroads of repetition and influence. On the latter, this film becomes kind of this character study for James and how his interaction with other kids his age can feel can come across as mimicking. He’s only known this one thing for the entirety of his life, so it feels like the typical character from another world who is being taught our way of life for the first time, except here it warrants those concepts because we feel a great empathetic pull for James and the new experiences that he will never ever fully grasp for being late to the fold because of his limited past. That’s why the first half of the film was marginally better than the second half for me; its deranged nature comes across as the factor that gives it wings, and once that’s put away for good, the film’s moral framing hints that it’s OK for James to feel this reliant on Brigsby, A motion that I found difficult to cope with for the well being mentally of this nearly closed book.

The aesthetic touch is perhaps some of my favorite aspects of McCary’s film, as the television show within this movie feels like a callback to 80’s public access productions where the minimal money reaped the bigger monetary reward. Because so much of ‘Brigsby Bear’ feels cheap in design, it caters to the spandex generation of children who grew up knowing and loving shows with this kind of terribly under-utilized effects and dated synth-pop musical score to boost. The Lonely Island are known for this kind of thing, but while we as an audience might giggle from time-to-time, wondering what the appeal is to it, the film very much envelopes itself into every character that it comes into contact with, framing Brigsby as an irresistible hero just waiting to be believed in by all who take on his VHS challenge.

Kyle Mooney can rest assured that his performance as James will be the memorable role for him that turned the tide in his once one-dimensional career into A remarkable transformation as an acting darling. In James, we embrace a delivery from Mooney that is soft and gentle like a child, but rebellious and crass in the defiance of an expanding teen. With a lesser actor, this would come across as A condescending lead, playing more into a gimmick rather than an immersing, but Mooney’s shy and bashful delivery prove that he is the right man for the job, being not fully aware of the terrible things that have transpired in his early career. This makes him A character who is easy to get behind and embrace because we never like to see bad things happen to children, A thought that is ludicrous considering Mooney is 32 years old, but it’s A testament to how committed he embraced this cryptic adolescent. Handing in supporting turns are Clare Danes , Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, and Matt Walsh, A usual one line cameo artist who finally gets A major helping in this script. Everyone plays a pivotal role in James life, but it’s great to see so many memorable faces committing to something off-screen as different for A supposed comedy like this.

THE VERDICT – Make no mistakes about it, this bear isn’t soft or cuddly, it’s an earnestly eye-opening look at the dangers of addiction that never needs drugs or alcohol to roar with other cautionary tales. Mooney’s performance is right on cue, balancing the sentimental with the synthetic, and McCary takes a huge leap in the director’s race in only his first feature film. The lack of comedy might alienate some of its audience, but if you stay patient, this unusually poignant melancholic plot will steal your heart and your respect. Everything you want with nothing you are expecting. The less you know going in, the better.

7/10