Ant Man and The Wasp

Directed by Peyton Reed

Starring – Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena

The Plot – In the aftermath of ‘Captain America: Civil War,’ Scott Lang (Rudd) grapples with the consequences of his choices as both a Super Hero and a father. As he struggles to re-balance his home life with his responsibilities as Ant-Man, he’s confronted by Hope van Dyne (Lilly) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) with an urgent new mission. Scott must once again put on the suit and learn to fight alongside The Wasp as the team works together to uncover secrets from their past.

Rated PG-13 for some mild profanity, and scenes of sci-fi action and violence

POSITIVES

– Rudd and Lilly, while still leagues away from feeling authentic in a romantic staging, preserve their chemistry with a tag team dynamic that compliments the other one. With Marvel movies, we typically get solo efforts or a group of superheroes, so the elements involved with a man/woman duo can compliment the choreography in action in the same way tag team wrestling does. Along the way, there are plenty of set-ups and knock-downs that each of these characters feed each other, making it difficult for antagonists to look one way without something coming at them in a different direction.

– The visual effects work is leaps and bounds the single greatest aspect of the film, bringing to life childlike imagination and creativity in spades. Ant Man and The Wasp is certainly a film that couldn’t be made ten years ago, and much of that perfection amongst green-screen assistance is something that has come with time, with in-sync color shadowing and precision volume in movements and weight that ease the boundaries of believability. There is one certain problem that I had with a scene involving hot wheels that doesn’t make sense in any way, shape, or form, but it’s just part of the tone set for the film.

– Pacing that literally FLIES by (Get it?). While the run time for the film is nearly two hours, the final conflict wrapped itself up in a way that finished before we as an audience were ever aware that resolution was coming. Not that this happens in a way that is anti-climatic, but rather screenwriters Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari leave us wanting more by exiting at the highest peak of the intensity mountain.

– Perfect timing. The film doesn’t hold much weight with everything else currently going on in the Infinity War and Thanos, and maybe that’s for the best. Considering so many people were depressed coming out of Infinity War, the necessity for something like Ant Man and The Wasp is that much more appreciated, because of its colorful textures and substantial value in light-hearted thrills. So many people just want to laugh anymore, especially in our own real world, and if Rudd avoiding house arrest while watching Animal House doesn’t do it for you, then nothing will.

– Much of the tone for the film stays grounded, leaving very little to even push forth with a PG-13 rating that even I felt was stretching it a bit. This film’s biggest strength is in its adaptability for all members of the family, especially considering it is the first Marvel property to feature a female presence in the title of the movie. With Wonder Woman kicking so much ass for DC, it was certainly time that Marvel engaged the female fans of its inner circle, and the film does a superb job at leveling the playing field for both characters gifts that they bring to the table. Also, some of my favorite scenes harvested that family element beautifully, with Rudd losing the suit to play dad to his adorably precocious child daughter.

– The marriage of C.G and makeup sets back the clock. As we saw with how Marvel made Robert Downey Jr twenty years younger in Civil War, it too brings a more impressive palate in the designs of Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeifer for this picture. Not that either have aged terribly. Pfeifer is still a fox, but the scenes relating to their pasts remind us of the prime for some of Hollywood’s once prosperous A-list hitters, proving how scary realistic these transformations feel without ever coming across as hollow.

– It should be obvious that you stay for the credits for one amazing post credits scene, and one that was an extreme waste of time. However, my post-movie cheers goes to a credit sequence that storyboards the movie’s biggest scenes with action figures. It harvests the energy of what it meant to be a kid, dreaming up these superhero scenarios when anything was possible.

NEGATIVES

– While the humor in dialogue for the film did hit its mark around 80% of the time, there were some examples where this direction did harm for the atmosphere. Considering Reed also directed the first movie, it’s interesting to see how much more he values sitcom comedy in the sequel as compared to the original film. Quite often, there is a desire to supplant a laugh or sight gag in every single scene, making it difficult to feel dramatic tension in the form of urgency . Beyond this, the over-extending use for puns became eye-rolling about midway through the movie.

– The biggest disappointment for me was easily the setting. While the first film entirely took place in the real world, I was hoping that the sequel would establish the rules and atmosphere inside of the Quantum Realm. Sadly, we only invade this outerworld with a mere 30 minutes left in the movie, and even then it is only temporary. I didn’t care for either of the dual antagonists for the movie, and often times it feels like they are created to give each protagonist their own conflict. Instead, I wish the Quantum Realm itself, in all of its mysteries and risks, was the antagonist for the movie. It’s that rare case I feel where a superhero film didn’t require an antagonist, and now makes this series 0 for 3 in terms of compelling villains who offer no kind of depth to their missions.

– When you really think about it, this film is a big game of Hot Potato, and for it to be reduced to something that elementary with as many elements that are boiling around the pot, it’s a bit of a glaring negative that the character development in exposition feels secondary to the prize itself. This is big on the antagonists, but also on someone like Pfeifer’s Motherly character, who with the exception of the opening couple minutes of the movie, goes a long span of time before appearing again. Why even reach for a big name like Pfeifer when the best you have for her is three scenes throughout nearly two hours of film?

7/10

Tag

Directed by Jeff Tomsic

Starring – Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner

The Plot – For one month every year, five highly competitive friends hit the ground running in a no-holds-barred game of tag they’ve been playing since the first grade; risking their necks, their jobs and their relationships to take each other down with the battle cry “You’re It!” This year, the game coincides with the wedding of their only undefeated player, which should finally make him an easy target. But he knows they’re coming… and he’s ready. Based on a true story, Tag shows how far some guys will go to be the last man standing.

Rated R for adult language throughout, crude sexual content, drug use and brief nudity

POSITIVES

– Games are supposed to be fun, and Tag lives for this philosophy in spades. With a satisfying compromise of hearty laughter in material from some of the best comic actors going today, as well as some surprisingly detailed shot slapstick action sequences, and you have an early favorite for most fun at a theater for the Summer 2018 movie season.

– Despite the film’s minimal plot revolving around a 30 year old game of tag, the script surprises us with an overwhelming amount of heart that fleshes out the foundation that this friendship was built on. Much of the trailer alludes us to this depth in emotional registry that the film harvests, but seeing the actual film itself adds extra emphasis in context to some bottled issues that lie unresolved beyond this game.

– The music as well plays vital importance to the film’s newly-emerging direction that withholds some surprises. I spoke earlier of beautifully shot action sequences, but what pushes this even beyond just a comedy posing as something bigger is the enthralling musical score by Germaine Franco that feels like it could easily be ripped by a Lethal Weapon sequel. Besides this, the soundtrack of assorted 90’s favorites also adds a faithful homage to the perspective youth of these main characters. What I like is that no song choice is too obvious and gimmicky, instead choosing to browse some B-side gems that have sadly dissolved with time.

– Great credit goes to the bold personalities of this cast for committing themselves to their respective roles, although there is one glaring negative that I will get to later. Isla Fischer’s overly anxious rage to be included in the game, as well as Jeremy Renner’s perfectionist are among my very favorites to this impressive crew that never relent from the fun they are omitting on-screen. If Renner was this well developed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then maybe people would be itching for more Hawkeye. It was great to see him return to comedy, as there’s something ridiculous yet believable about the traps he sets up for the game, underlining not just an importance to where this lies in his own blessed life, but also reminding you how he has stayed undefeated for so long.

– Light, breezy pacing that never lags. Considering Tag clocks in at a respectable 95 minutes for its run time, I was surprised during a free-flowing second half of the film when I checked my watch to see only fifteen minutes remained. The third act in this movie snuck up on me like no other film this year has managed to do, a testament to the script’s ability to immerse me in the moments and conversations that you never want to walk away from.

– There were a few times when the comic material feels like it’s about to fall into that trap of unnecessary raunchiness that most modern comedies fall into, but thankfully these few spare instances are played off only to show how much they, as well as the game, has grown around them. Even more appreciative, the best material wasn’t just in the trailer. Some of my favorite quips were those throwaway lines that hang on to the end of each sentence after a big drop in comedy only seconds before. This allows the film great replay value, because like a film like Deadpool, you won’t catch all of the good ones the first time.

– Much of the film revolves around this interview being conducted by Annabelle Wallis’s journalist character, so the film’s creativity sparks many instances where members of the group are being interviewed while giving a confessional. Likewise, we are learning the rules and history of the game like Wallis is, so it all feels like we too are reading her article, one page at a time.

 

NEGATIVES

– Too many instances of telegraphed information that almost immediately come into play. For my money, I could’ve used a little space in between the insert of the exposition and the delivery that happens right after. Have more faith in your audience to remember an important tidbit. This will also prove that you have enough patience to let the tension in gags grow to suffocating heights before the big blow off

– The film’s conflict is of course finally tagging Jeremy Renner’s Jerry, and while it remains faithful to this objective all the way to the final scene, the juice doesn’t feel worth the squeeze with the final result. I have no doubt that people will enjoy the bittersweet conclusion that the film wraps up with, but to me it felt like a copout to everything that Jerry’s opponents have been through up to this point, and trust me this is NOT a spoiler.

– As I mentioned earlier, there is one casting in the film that just doesn’t blend well with the other elements in this cast, and that is Hannibal Burress. I have no disrespect normally for Burress, as his stoner-head gimmick has provided me with plenty of laughs in other films that have most certainly needed it, but here it feels like it intrudes on Jake Johnson’s character, as well as limits the appeal of the comedic material with each chance he gets to speak. Aside from all of this, Burress isn’t even involved in the game all that much, making his inclusion in the screenplay a mystery for why the film even needed him.

7/10

Ghost Stories

Directed by Jeremy Dyson and Andrew Nyman

Starring – Martin Freeman, Andy Nyman, Paul Whitehouse

The Plot – Three spine-tingling tales of terror to haunt your dreams. A debunker of all thing paranormal, Professor Phillip Goodman (Nyman) has devoted his life to exposing phony psychics and fraudulent supernatural shenanigans on his own television show. His skepticism is put to the test, however, when he receives a file of three chilling, inexplicable cases: a night watchman (Whitehouse) haunted by disturbing visions as he patrols an abandoned asylum; an edgy young man (Alex Lawther) involved in a hellish car accident deep in the woods; and a wealthy former banker (Freeman) visited by the poltergeist spirit of his unborn child. Even scarier: each of these macabre stories seems to have sinister connection to Professor Goodman’s own life. WIll they make a believer of him yet?

Currently not rated

POSITIVES

– This was a nostalgic trip for me, to the days of anthology horror films like Trick R Treat or Creepshow, or even television bedtime stories like Tales From the Crypt. Within Dyson and Nyman’s creepy world, anything beyond supernatural not only feels possible, but also expected.

– The duo of directors have many worthy mentions here, but it’s in their impeccable direction with the three victims where they find their biggest impact. Each of the three men are affected differently from their interactions, with Whitehouse feeling confused, Lawther feeling paranoid, and Freeman feeling haunted. Because of this, we get three different protagonist at respectively different times during this film, and each of the actors polish off emotionally stirring gifts. The directors are also careful to leave enough room to make you question if these unstable characters are actually telling the truth with their testimonials.

– Refusing to settle for repetition amongst shot composition, Ghost Stories harbors a wide range of lens effects that provide much needed versatility. The overall presentation feels like we’re watching a documentary in 1.33 box cut ratio, while the film’s grainy texture within the story unfolding before our eyes pays homage to the Hammer films of the 70’s that provide the perfect feel for this anthology.

– In terms of variety, I felt like each of the three stories were satisfying for completely different reasons, and kept me mentally invested throughout the 93 minute run time. Each are given ample time for audiences to immerse themselves in their respective atmospheres, keeping the flow of the narrative continuously moving without one compromising the fluidity of the other two.

– Confidence amongst the blending of tones. Of course this is a horror movie first and foremost, but the screenwriters are not afraid to include awkward humor and unorthodox line reads in granting audiences that brief moment of release after the build-up of tension.

– Deep hitting message. Beyond the hauntings on a supernatural level, I believe the film is trying to hint that those things that seem to stick with us the longest are the events from our past that we simply cannot change, and don’t necessarily involve an entity or spirit that stalks us and is status quo for movies like this. Because of such, the film hits on such a grounded level with human response that I simply wasn’t expecting.

– There is a twist ending that is anything but original, but I can honestly say that I didn’t see coming. What works about it, is how we’re given all of these out-of-context puzzle pieces throughout the film, and we don’t really see the bigger picture until the movie truly wants us to. In addition to this, I feel like Ghost Stories has great replay value because once you know the name of the game, you can start the film all over again and perhaps catch some more of those subtle clues that originally felt like nothing more than unsettling atmospheric strings.

NEGATIVES

– One of my complaints with the individual stories involves their inept perception on when to leave audiences with the lasting impression. Timing is a bit of an issue with where they decide to end each of these three subplots, leaving much to be desired in terms of lasting presence within me, long after I left the theater.

– Far too much dependency of jump scares that get old about thirty minutes in. Jump scares can be used accordingly if they are spread out and used vitally and honestly enough, but Ghost Stories can’t ever escape this unnecessary concept, leaving it to feel like they don’t have a lot of faith in the nightmare dreamscapes that they have created.

– For my money, I could’ve used more exposition devoted to Nyman’s character involving his obvious troubled past with his father. What is evident from the credit introduction is that the two had a rocky relationship. We know this because a barrage of family movies play during this sequence, but the problem is that we never really return to this angle, leaving much to be desired from the psychological side that the film eventually leans so heavily on.

7/10

Hereditary

Directed by Ari Aster

Starring – Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff

The Plot – When Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family, passes away, her daughter’s (Collette) family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited. Making his feature debut, writer-director Ari Aster unleashes a nightmare vision of a domestic breakdown that exhibits the craft and precision of a nascent auteur, transforming a familial tragedy into something ominous and deeply disquieting, and pushing the horror movie into chilling new terrain with its shattering portrait of heritage gone to hell.

Rated R for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and brief graphic nudity

POSITIVES

– First things first, if you’re expecting a typical modern day horror film, be warned against it. Hereditary instead puts tension above cheap jump scares that have become all the typical, ranking a refreshingly gloom-and-doom backdrop to compliment the setting stage that is as thick as fog.

– When watching the film, you sometimes see supernatural things happening in the air despite the fact that this film is anything about entities or ghosts. The reason for this is because you are being forced to watch Hereditary from a mentally disturbed person’s point-of-view. Keep that in mind when you watch the film, because much of what you’re seeing is being seen from a particular character’s frame and not so much the audience at home who are looking at what’s happening with blinding goggles of their own.

– In addition to the concepts of wrapping your mind around the things you’re seeing, the sound mixing design is impeccable to say the least. There were many times during the movie where I myself questioned whether or not the things I was hearing were legitimately there, and Linzy Elliot’s manipulation of casual conversation dialogue certainly cast extra emphasis on the unnerving atmosphere that Lester as a director has perfected in his latest.

– Toni Collette overwhelms for two hours of dominant screenplay. Collette has always been an actress who provides an outstanding amount of range with her visual transformations for the role, and this is certainly no exception. Through the many stages of grief and what feels like never-ending stress, Collette takes us on a bumpy coaster of emotional distress that never relents even for a second.

– The shadow work and natural lighting as well, touched an artistic nerve with the art fiend from within. Besides the storyboard miniature art pieces that Collette’s character adorns throughout the film, there is also great care taken with the pursuing of the tricks that your eyes play on you in the dark. Many times during the film, a person or a vital object to the plot can be seen in the corner of the film, bringing a marriage of exceptional framing and ominous lighting that eludes to the audience long before it does the characters within its own movie.

– Much of the family confrontations feel honest in an appreciative kind of way, because of the authenticity of their sheer confrontations when playing against the increase in volume. Most films stumble on this concept by reaching for the dagger blow far too early in the sequence, but Lester as a screenwriter puts enough confidence in his reactive dialogue that reaches for the crowning knockout at the right particular moment.

– Exceptional camera work all around that feeds into A24’s continued presence on horror. Some of my personal favorite touches involved the panning movements that follow a character when they look in a certain direction, the long-winded group meeting sequences that slowly bring Collette front-and-center with our attention, and of course the endless spinning from upside down to downside up when it feels like the crescendo of tension just can’t maximize any further.

NEGATIVES

– While I had zero problems with the pacing of the film, despite the fact that it could afford to lose fifteen minutes or so, a pacing issue I did have revolved with Lester’s script. Midway through the film, a cult subplot is introduced and tends to take up more time than I was hoping when colliding with the family disease plot that was promised in advertising. The link between them is eventually tied up, but it’s within the final twenty minutes that this overload of information is unleashed at us, instead of being paced across the more-than-generous 122 minutes that the film was given.

– Nothing personal to actor Alex Wolff, and I know the role called for him to be childish of sorts in his relationships with his parents, but he stole charm from sequences and completely unglued my immersion in the film every time his character was asked to cry. There is no shortage of this horribly nasal whining throughout the movie, and surely Aster understood how these instances would leave people with unintentional laughter.

– Despite the unnerving presence that is second to none with Lester’s work here, I never really found the movie anywhere near as terrifying as I did educational. I say educational because of the mentality behind someone with mental sickness. But the scares in the film were rarely ever anything above a momentary wince at the sometimes nerve-shattering visuals that I was being presented. I can understand that an out-of-context theme like a film’s trailer will move people more because of what’s being incorporated with those visuals, but on there own I was able to watch Hereditary without ever feeling the paranoia of this family falling apart.

7/10

Hotel Artemis

Directed by Drew Pearce

Starring – Jodie Foster, Sterling K Brown, Sofia Boutella

The Plot – Set in riot-torn, near-future Los Angeles, ‘Hotel Artemis’ follows the Nurse (Foster), who runs a secret, members-only emergency room for criminals. All hell breaks loose when one of the hotel patrons (Brown) gets his hands on a valuable asset that will turn their tranquil hotel into a turf battlefield.

Rated R for violence and adult language throughout, some sexual references, and brief drug use

POSITIVES

– The set pieces of the hotel are very elaborate and detailed for bringing together the relationship between hospitals and hotels. There are subtle hints at movies that display hospitals, in that there are blinking lights, isolated staff, and even that feeling of a world so far away from that of the outside. Yet the digs at the hotel side clearly make up the blueprint for the housing designs, as well as the interior decorating that speaks levels to some hotels ideas of tropical getaways in themed room designs.

– While the character exposition is as minimal as you’re going to find, this star-studded cast more than make up for the temporary dilemma. I could talk wonders about Sterling K Brown’s everyman approach to his taking of this thief, or Dave Batista’s continued comedic humbling for tearing down stereotypes for what big men can do in Hollywood, but it’s Foster and Boutella who easily stole the show for me. Foster gets lost in this character, juggling a conscience of sorrow and intelligence that makes it clearly evident why everyone turns to her in dire straights, and Boutella finally is granted a screenplay that allows her to find her own unique voice in the role, cutting and stacking bodies like they are bags of fertilizer.

– Hotel Artemis is marketed as an action flick, yet shows great restrain until the final twenty-five minutes of the film to stash its flash. We know that these are very dangerous people, but the film doesn’t deem it necessary to overly drive this point home, and because of such, we are treated to a rumbling third act that tests the walls both in Artemis and in theaters for rich sound design.

– Of course the legendary Cliff Martinez again serenades our ears with a gut-punching score that amplifies the tension behind every corner. Hotel Artemis constantly raises the stakes with each passing minute, and because of such, the gifted Martinez pushes the pace, constructing these dreamy, yet urgent levels of tone that never require repeating to flourish their message.

– This is the second film in two weeks (Upgrade) that injects itself with a futuristic sense of technology without feeling weighed down by the gimmick of presenting something visually surreal from our own world. Because Hotel Artemis is set only ten years in the future, there’s enough responsibility by Pearce as a screenwriter to keep us grounded in terms of the politics taking place outside of the wall, while also offering us an air of optimism for the mind-blowing advancements within the medical field that hint this world may have plenty of room to grow.

– Much of the camera work here is stylishly sleek, following characters with enough of a presence of lens without it ever coming across as compromising to the sequence. When the action finally does pick up, it is detected easily to the audience eye and leaves plenty of allowance for ambiance within the atmosphere to treat the overall presentation as poetry in motion. Boutella’s ass-kicking finale was something that carried with it an array of arsenal, yet I never felt behind or blinded by amateur filmmaking.

– It’s not often that I say this, but I would be all for a sequel or even sequels within this setting, due to the way the script hints at the challenges that such a desolate place would face if it came across the wrong customer. 92 minutes of screen time certainly limits the movements that this place can garner, and because of such, I would be interested in diving more into this futuristic pre-apocalypse with this back-handed building of health residing right in the middle of it all.

NEGATIVES

– This film does the famous cliche where the antagonists have guns, yet never choose to use them when the shit hits the fan. I can suspend disbelief for a few times, but when the film makes it a point in highlighting that people are denied access because of their firearms, I can only ask myself why those advantages don’t take shape once the rules are thrown out of the window.

– If you’re looking for a film of resolve, Hotel Artemis will only satisfy you for half of the cup. So much is introduced then never further elaborated on throughout the film, leading me to believe that this finished product is either a victim of slash-and-gash re-writes or Pearce as a screenwriter doesn’t think these subplots value much importance. Either way, what is the point?

– Because the film is a quick sit, character backstory and exposition are harshly limited to the minimalist of variety amongst thieves. What this does is present a film in which the characters don’t ever feel as remotely important as the setting they are all destined to, relying far too heavily on the talents of this cast to fill in the blanks where character motivations have left them feeling floundered. My feeling is that I would appreciate another twenty minutes not only in setting up the history of this hotel, but also in pacing out those confrontations amongst dangerous patrons that could help carve out more intrigue for a group so morally bankrupt who could all use more time.

7/10

Adrift

Directed by Baltasar Kormakur

Starring – Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, Grace Palmer

The Plot – Based on the inspiring true story of two free spirits whose chance encounter leads them first to love, and then to the adventure of a lifetime. As the two avid sailors set out on a journey across the ocean, Tami Oldham (Woodley) and Richard Sharp (Claflin) couldn’t anticipate they would be sailing directly into one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded history. In the aftermath of the storm, Tami awakens to find Richard badly injured and their boat in ruins. With no hope for rescue, Tami must find the strength and determination to save herself and the only man she has ever loved. Adrift is the unforgettable story about the resilience of the human spirit and the transcendent power of love.

Rated PG-13 for injury images, peril, adult language, brief drug use, partial nudity and thematic elements

POSITIVES

– Above all else on the production side, it’s great to see a film where the female of the relationship is the one making moves to secure their safety. What makes Woodley’s portrayal of Tami work more than anything is the resilience and determination in her spirit that keeps her drive going, all the while the vulnerability from being inexperienced in this particular situation speaks levels to the overbearing volume of being isolated.

– On the performance front, this is clearly a two person show between Woodley and Claflin that offers mixed results. I don’t have a problem with Claflin as an actor, but here he is kind of subdued to play second fiddle to Woodley, and because of such, his endless charm and charisma that he has exerted in films like The Hunger Games saga, and Me Before You is virtually non-existent. The chemistry between them still burns the end of the wick, and a lot of that is because of Woodley’s transformative and physical displays of strength that left me awestruck. It’s great to see her get these kind of roles, because she really dedicates herself to the most brutal kind of physicality that each role demands, and I commend her iron will not only to survive but to save the one thing in this world that makes sense to her.

– This film is shot beautifully by Robert Richardson, who really paints an immense, yet immerse picture of the sea that feels never-ending. It’s quite interesting because Robert shoots these tight-knit, but revolving pan shots inside of the boat, replicating the movements of the sea ferociously. Yet his depiction of the world outside of the dock depicts the sheer magnitude of the situation unfolding before this couple that are certainly on borrowed time.

– I feel like Adrift taught me more about the sea than any other sea-based film of the previous ten years. Instances of paranoia, mental stress creating mirages, and even means of survival are all highlighted with the kind of detail that other films can’t even mention. Because of such, this is so much more than an entertaining film, it’s a surreal film for those who spend so much time in the water.

– The screenplay uses a dual narrative between two respective timelines to paint a picture of this relationship, and while I’m usually against this sort of thing because it over-complicates for no reason what so ever, I feel like Kormakur paints enough information in both time periods to make its incorporation necessary to fit into a 95 minute film. Spending too much time in either period would drag, but to do it simultaneously, you constantly keep the energy of the script moving while bringing out the importance of each hinted backstory.

– During the age of Green-screen backdrops and computer generated effects, it was refreshing to see a film shot almost entirely at sea, proving the dedication associated with getting the look and feel proper. The crew shot 90% of the movie at sea, working 12 hours on water with little to no land in sight, and it’s those kind of production notes that show in the bigger picture of a film’s authenticity.

– There’s something almost poetic about a disaster movie mentally moving its audience without the necessities of big budget blockbuster to push its gimmick. To me, the storm always feels secondary to what is taking place on-board, and that’s a sure sign that Baltasar believed even more in the characters than he did their ensuing predicaments.

NEGATIVES

– Compromising first shot. The opening shot of the film will divide audiences into two groups. If you understand what this means right away like I did, then the film will feel very predictable every step of the way. There’s a big twist that happens at the beginning of the film’s third act that I actually saw coming from a mile away, and felt disappointed because the opening minute of the movie, as well as a few scenes of shoddy dialogue that further hint at this point, gave me the answer I wasn’t looking for.

– There’s never a pushing for urgency here, despite that the two characters mention how limited their rations for food are. The whole stranded aspect of this film feels more like a temporary hiccup instead of a life-threatening plunge, and because of such, the film’s dramatic tension sinks about midway through the movie. For my money, I could’ve used more danger in the way of streaky weather patterns, or even long-term frailty that lasted longer than a scene.

– Limited character exposition. It’s funny to think how little we really know about these two characters despite the fact that we spend nearly two hours with them on a boat. Woodley’s character for instance speaks of trouble at her home back in San Diego, but we never learn much of why. For Claflin’s character, we hear about his family in England, as well as time sailing in other countries, but that’s just table dressing that is never touched or devoured upon. It’s a testament to the performances that the chemistry of this relationship even works, because I feel like this is watching two strangers speaking on the importance of their love without understanding why.

7/10

Disobedience

Directed by Sebastian Lelio

Starring – Rachel McAdams, Rachel Weisz, Alessandro Nivola

The Plot – Based on the novel of the same name by Naomi Alderman, the film follows Ronit (Weisz), a woman returning to the community that shunned her decades earlier for an attraction to her childhood friend, Esti (McAdams). Once back, their passions reignite as they explore the boundaries of faith and sexuality that test everything else in their lives.

Rated R for some strong scenes of sexuality.

POSITIVES

– Subtle, patient storytelling by McAdams and Weisz that meticulously fills in the blanks of their reputation together. Most of this respect goes to Lelio in telling the story that doesn’t require a single flashback sequence or forced dialogue that doesn’t drift from anything other than a conversation between friends.

– Strong performances. Even though I didn’t feel the romantic chemistry between McAdams and Weisz as strongly as the film intended, the stripped down work of them trigger such authentic feelings of longing, torture and regret that have shaped their lives over the years. In this regard, the two women sink back into their union without a single day ever having an effect on it.

– Callous, grey cinematography by Danny Cohen that reflects not only the centuries old philosophy of the Jewish Orthodox, but also in the feeling of incomplete that is hard to ignore from the two leads. It feels like Cohen has brought along the same look and feels of his award-worthy work in ‘Les Miserables’, clouding the air like a poison that plagues this super conservative community.

– It’s nice to see an honest representation of the ages-old rules and lifestyles of the Jewish Faith. I fail to think of a film that has accurately shaped some of the marriage and sexual agreements between husband and wife that feel medieval or archaic when compared to today’s progressive standards. Quite often in the film, I felt like this movie took place in a different decade, but was quickly brought back down to Earth when technology or a dated automobile appeared.

– Lelio is a craftsman’s director at speaking out against causes that he fully believes in. As the director of this year’s ‘A Fantastic Woman’, Lelio goes two-for-two with films that capture the polarization of women deemed different by society, and omitting the prejudice that comes with those candid takes that could otherwise only be done by a woman. Sebastian is that great male hope of sensitivity.

– From the fabulous costume work to the musically enhanced Jewish hymns, this is a educationally subversive look of Jewish faith and traditionalism.

– Excellent camera work in angles and framing that shapeshift with the progression of the inter-changing relationships in the film. In the first half of the film, Ronit feels very much alone in her respective point-of-view, but as the film carries on we start to notice a lot more close distance in frame between her and Esti, as opposed to everyone else that just doesn’t factor in. This is visual poetry at its finest.

NEGATIVES

– I never felt the pull from Esti’s compromising situation to combat Ronit’s feelings of passion for her. What I mean is that it feels like Esti’s life is very much one of planned routine, so the struggle for which way to go ultimately underwhelms and feels obvious from the beginning. I wish the script would’ve done a better job of applying her stability and married happiness into frame to make the choice feel much more difficult.

– Sloppy first act that sometimes feels like scenes are missing. The death of Ronit’s father in particular feels lacking of definition, and I could’ve used more emphasis on the delivering impact of the moment.

– The third act developments give the film enough gas to sludge through, but it greatly takes away steam from the conflict at hand. While I overall didn’t care for the tacked-on sequencing of the film’s ending, that wasn’t the biggest problem. It almost feels like when the film’s conflict should be reaching its boiling high, we begin to simmer down into complacency, and that doubt from within suddenly creeps in that this is as good as it’s ever going to get.

7/10

Lean On Pete

Directed by Andrew Haigh

Starring – Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi, Chloe Sevigny

The Plot – The film follows fifteen-year-old Charley Thompson (Plummer). He wants a home, food on the table and a high school he can attend for more than part of the year. As the son of a single father working in warehouses across the Pacific Northwest, stability is hard to find. Hoping for a new start they move to Portland, Oregon where Charley takes a summer job, with a washed-up horse trainer (Buscemi), and befriends a failing racehorse named Lean on Pete.

Rated R for adult language and brief violence

POSITIVES
– Crisp, subtle sound mixing that audibly paints with such vivid precision of the revolving environments. In addition to this, I’ve always been a fan of a voice on the phone sounding mumbled because of the noise surrounding the caller being overwhelming. ‘Lean on Pete’ masters this concept, and does so in a way that transcends movie stages and confident sound editors.

– Captures the angst of a teenager plagued by loneliness and the family life missing that noticeably shapes his demeanor. In meeting Pete, Charley finds a reflection in the thoroughbred that (Like his own circumstance) people around him have written off. Because of such, the importance of this relationship and what it does for Charley is immense.

– The importance of rating. A film with this premise could easily fall by the wayside of a cheesy 90’s kids movie like ‘Free Willy’, but the brash setting within the cruelty of this adult world, combined with Haigh’s sense of awareness in pointing out the awkwardness of this particular set-up, pave the way for an inspiring animal story for adults that we rarely get a piece of.

– The film isn’t afraid of getting its hands dirty with the question of unnecessary treatment to the horses, and because of this, it earns all of the dramatic muscle that it pulls from its dramatic material

– Plummer’s resiliency gives way to this candid coming-of-age story that packs a punch for the homeless youth walking the world. In Charlie’s soft-spoken and often times gritty demeanor, we get a grasp of the instinct of survival that stands true with his best friend beside him.

– Wide angle lens shots of the beautiful countryside surrounding these terrible people that come in and out of the narrative. This gives the cinematography great meaning in terms of setting the stage not only for Charley and Pete’s cross-country adventure, but also in stacking the odds against them in finding a place of their own. There’s something beautiful yet simplistic about the framing of one boy against the entire world.

– Some surprising choices for the soundtrack that work undoubtedly well. Selena Gomez’s “The Heart Wants What It Wants”, as well as a folk cover of “The World’s Greatest” by R Kelly are just two of the musical choices that give narrative wings to the poetic beauty instilled in these sincere sequences of reflection for Charley that accompany a moment of triumph or heartbreak.

NEGATIVES
– Very slow starting off in the first act. Setting this kind of precedent early on could alienate a majority of its audience, and I found it very difficult to get intrigued by this story until about an hour in.

– Another form of trailer manipulation that will do a lot of damage to people expecting a certain kind of film heading into it, and then being trounced by the ideal that this is anything BUT a story about a boy and his horse.

– Some surprising choices for the soundtrack that work undoubtedly well. Selena Gomez’s “The Heart Wants What It Wants”, as well as a folk cover of “The World’s Greatest” by R Kelly are just two of the musical choices that give narrative wings to the poetic beauty instilled in these sincere sequences of reflection for Charley that accompany a moment of triumph or heartbreak.

7/10

Kodachrome

Directed by Mark Raso

Starring – Jason Sudeikis, Elisabeth Olsen, Ed Harris

The Plot – Matt Ryder (Sudeikis) is convinced to drive his estranged and dying father Benjamin Ryder (Harris) cross country to deliver four old rolls of Kodachrome film to the last lab in the world that can develop them before it shuts down for good. Along with Ben’s nurse Zooey (Olsen), the three navigate a world changing from analog to digital while trying to put the past behind them.

This film is currently not rated

POSITIVES

– The father/son dynamic between Harris and Sudeikis feels rich in honesty because of the distance between them, despite being in a car together. In particularly, it’s Sudeikis’s conviction to anger that outlines a very tortured soul who is afraid to open up much in his life, blaming his father for a past that follows him like a shadow. Matt feels like the perfect follow-up role for Sudeikis’s eye-opening dramatic turn in last year’s ‘Colossal’. As for Harris, he gives one of the most nuanced performances of his career, living Ben as a man with loads of regrets, but the inability in time to fix them all.

– Road trip movies 101 says that at the very least you should document some beautiful scenery to accommodate the unfolding story, and cinematographer Alan Poon feels up to the task. In his sun-drenched skies, Poon shoots the surrounding road with much distance, giving way to the feeling that this car feels isolated from every other vehicle taking its routes. Beyond this, the film feels appropriately titled since it is being shot in 35 mm film.

– Hip soundtrack for the hip indie filmgoers. Songs like ‘Just Breathe’ by Pearl Jam or ‘Lightning Crashes’ by Live didn’t surprise me so much because of their mention in the dialogue, but eclectic tastes like Indians, Graham Nash, and even Galaxie 500 give way to the versatility and depth that a film that centers around music should and does grant.

– Much of the message in the film is the concept of there being no future when you live your life by the past, and this is something that not only binds these characters together, each for their respective reasons, but also offers a poignant approach for audiences looking to leave the film with something that they can translate to their own lives.

– I Couldn’t escape this sense of somber atmosphere that overflows throughout the film, feeding food for thought that this newly-digital aged society isn’t meant for the iron man head of the household who aimed and pointed at all of life’s beauty. Feeding into this is the metaphor throughout of our trio of characters heading down one road, and other families in cars split off and take their own.

– Even despite the fact that I knew what was coming, I have to commend the pivotal third act of the film for its unflinching nature in the way of the inevitable. It’s not often that I’m moved to the point of borderline tears, but the stirring and unsettling feeling from within me cemented this film with the value in return triple that of what I paid to watch it on Netflix.

– Much of the film’s material in subplots have definitely been witnessed in other road trip genre films before, but it’s in the heart and tender care that Raso takes in bringing life to this script that can at times feel bland. Raso invests himself in the thick of these moments, because without them and the coveted performances that he commands this film would be forgettable.

NEGATIVES

– There’s a bit too much obviousness within this screenplay to ever keep it from elevating itself to a great film. Plot devices like Olsen’s nurse character joining them on the trip, as well as Matt’s impending doom with his job, each feel like they plague this film to fall into the typical road trip cliches that it wants so desperately to avoid.

– In my opinion, this film required a bit more light-hearted humor to balance the clumsy genre classification that studios have given it. Everything is played to a crisp with the performances, so I don’t blame that. It’s really just that ‘Kodachrome’ doesn’t give audiences much reminder of how much fun they are having on this road trip with these three magnetic personalities to enhance the dramatic pull it frequently reaches for.

– Singularly, I don’t have a problem with any of the performances. But the on-screen chemistry of Sudeikis and Olsen didn’t convince me in the slightest, and even felt forced at times to meet them appropriately with their obvious direction. The missing magic between them left me uninterested with where fate was taking them, and I wish the natural flow of dialogue between them would smooth the distance between them.

7/10

Chappaquiddick

Directed by John Curran

Starring – Jason Clarke, Kate Mara, Ed Helms

The Plot – The scandal and mysterious events surrounding the tragic drowning of a young woman, as Ted Kennedy (Clarke) drove his car off the infamous bridge, are revealed in the new movie. Not only did this event take the life of an aspiring political strategist and Kennedy insider, but it ultimately changed the course of presidential history forever. Through true accounts, documented in the inquest from the investigation in 1969, director John Curran and writers Andrew Logan and Taylor Allen, intimately expose the broad reach of political power, the influence of America’s most celebrated family; and the vulnerability of Ted Kennedy, the youngest son, in the shadow of his family legacy.

Rated PG-13 for thematic material, disturbing images, some strong adult language, and historical smoking

THE POSITIVES

– Casting directors Marisol Roncali and Mary Vernieu confidently conquer the immense task of putting together an ensemble cast that emotionally and especially visually brings these historical figures to life. In seeing the real life pictures of Mary Joe inserted throughout the film, you really see an eerily similar identity to that of Mara who plays her.

– The makeup and props department set the bar high, offering a subtle touch for Ted’s trademark teeth and signature hairstyle granted to Clarke. What I love is that their influence is nothing over the top in a characature kind of way. The influences are subtly deposited, and make the immersion into buying these actors that much easier by comparison.

– This really is an eye-opening kind of movie for many actors who you didn’t think had it in them. From a comedic standpoint, Jim Gaffigan and especially Ed Helms are two people who I didn’t expect to steal the film with dramatic depth, but most certainly make the most of the occasion. Clarke too, is better than I have ever seen him, breathing in Kennedy with kind intentions, but not exactly the kind of intelligence needed for thinking on his feet at all times. Clarke’s Australian accent is nowhere to be found, and his Boston tongue in the film is impeccable throughout.

– The screenplay by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan captures the immense pressure that comes with such a heralded last name. To be a Kennedy is to have your whole future mapped out for you, and that ensuing pressure to always pick up where your brother left off, surrounds the movie, giving us a taste of a protagonist constantly living in bigger shadows.

– Beautiful cinematography by Maryse Alberti, who brings to life the 60’s essence of Cape Cod beaches and colorful surrounding neighborhoods with a sunlight glow. Alberti shot one of my favorite movies of all time in 2008’s ‘The Wrestler’, and it’s clear she hasn’t lost her touch, paying homage to a past era of baby-boomers in ‘Chappaquiddick’ that define the bad things happening behind picket fences kind of logic.

– Entertainment Studios has been anything but a success for the films I’ve reviewed so far. After stinkers with ‘9/11’ and ‘The Hurricane Heist’, ‘Chappaquiddick’ is easily the best film for the studio to date, making the most of minimal budgets and third-tier reputation amongst studios in crafting an entertaining slice of history that anyone familiar or unfamiliar with the story will indulge in.

– Curran’s direction feels influenced by this tragedy in American history. His depiction of events leaves enough room open to still fuel speculation for the very holes in this story still unanswered, yet settles in close enough to Ted to grasp the weight of a developing situation that will no doubt take everything from him. On some instances early on, this feels like a horror film, but it’s in the lunacy of a situation that Curran settles down with later on and relates that this nightmare could happen to any of us, even a U.S Senator.

THE NEGATIVES

– Much of the movie builds up these characters for 96 minutes, and at the end of it all it solidifies just how different the justice system is for the rich and powerful. What this does in terms of damage is speed up the process of you souring on these people because everything that they go through is pretty much all for nought. Frustrating

– This film, while exceptional in almost every way, would be better served on HBO or a cable network that allows them more time to expand on the character developments and mystery surrounding the events that is needed to push the intrigue further. People switch motivations and sides without much reasoning, and Ted’s wife (Played by Andria Blackman) comes virtually out of nowhere during the final twenty minutes in presenting us a side to their marriage that could’ve played a pivotol role in fleshing out Ted.

– There certainly are consequences that are talked about throughout the unfolding events of this night, but overall I felt a great lack of suspense or thrills from the film to keep Ted on his feet. The strategy scenes with his legal council feel like they do more damage than good, and Ted’s third act epiphany feels like one that comes and goes without much logic or defining emphasis behind it.

7/10

You Were Never Really Here

Directed by Lynne Ramsay

Starring – Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Larry Canady

The Plot – Balancing between feverish dreamlike hallucinations of a tormented past and a grim disoriented reality, the grizzled Joe (Phoenix); a traumatized Gulf War veteran and now an unflinching hired gun who lives with his frail elderly mother (Roberts); has just finished successfully yet another job. With an infernal reputation of being a brutal man of results, the specialized in recovering missing teens enforcer will embark on a blood-drenched rescue mission, when Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), the innocent 13-year-old daughter of an ambitious New York senator, never returns home. But amidst half-baked leads and a desperate desire to shake off his shoulders the heavy burden of a personal hell, Joe’s frenzied plummet into the depths of Tartarus is inevitable, and every step Joe takes to flee the pain, brings him closer to the horrors of insanity. In the end, what is real, and what is a dream? Can there be a new chapter in Joe’s life when he keeps running around in circles

Rated R for strong violence, disturbing and grisly images, adult language, and brief nudity

THE POSITIVES

– My Love is deep for the way the camera revolves and studies each new room that the story takes us through. This allows us time to soak in the placement of every person and object. Beyond this, much of the framing in the film keeps Joe’s facials out of focus to relate the very struggle for identity within himself.

– Lots of mystery to the compromising, out of context visuals that you are seeing. This keeps the story intriguing and edgy from a cryptic standpoint in wondering what’s real and what is part of Joe’s delusions. This is credited to Joe Bini’s razor sharpe editing that always illustrates colorfully the outer dimension that we’ve seemed to slip into with this film.

– Johnny Greenwood again musically lifts the emotional palate straight from the pages, giving breath to the very nightmarish dreamscapes in lighting and environment that the film takes us through. His strident touch is quickly becoming one of my favorite musical composers, and has really given new life to his turn in music after his work in Radiohead. Beyond this, the inclusion of 50’s AM radio favorites from time-to-time gave the film a dreamy fantasy like feel to counteract the nightmare playing out before us.

– Phoenix’s physical performance that inhabits not only the sadness of this tortured soul, but also the very motivation for why he excels in such a field. He toes a fine line between paranoia and sensitivity that constantly feels like a struggle for control within him.

– My appreciation for not necessarily tying things up with this entire screenplay is very high. I think sometimes in film we try far too much to illustrate a silver lining, but Ramsay’s plan is to keep things grounded in communicating to the audience that things don’t always get better after help is sought.

-Joe’s remaining humanity really rests upon his sometimes comical relationship with his mother. These scenes feel like a warm blanket surrounded by an otherwise toxic cloud of violence that engulfs this troubled soul.

– I love a thinking person’s film, and this one gave me a few theories based on the evidence in the film that hinted to me that maybe not all is as it seems with Joe and Nina. Obviously based on the novel, which is more in-depth, that is not the case, but the film leaves enough room in leverage to bring to light some of your own theories with the side of Joe’s mind that is being covered up by all of the traumatic fright.

THE NEGATIVES

-There’s definitely great restrain from Ramsay’s direction with what we’re shown in action or violence, catering more to the psychological side of action movies. But I feel like it can occasionally lose its genre designation with such long spans in between that showcase why this man is so good at his job.

– The dissection of this character will leave more to be desired by some audiences. For me, it’s kind of refreshing to not have to be spoon-fed every single detail of his tortured past, but I can certainly understand why some people require more context to the visuals that are stylishly pasted in.

– Terribly unauthentic sound effects that don’t accurately register the weight of a particular blow. For instance, one scene involving a tie being whipped in the face of a character, sounds like a brick. This gives a cheesy underlying to an otherwise seamless presentation on the violence side.

7/10

A Fantastic Woman

Directed by Sebastian Lelio

Starring – Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco

The Plot – Marina (Vega) and Orlando (Reyes) are in love and planning for the future. Marina is a young waitress and aspiring singer. Orlando is 20 years older than her, and owns a printing company. After celebrating Marina’s birthday one evening, Orlando falls seriously ill. Marina rushes him to the emergency room, but he passes away just after arriving at the hospital. Instead of being able to mourn her lover, suddenly Marina is treated with suspicion. The doctors and Orlando’s family don’t trust her. A woman detective investigates Marina to see if she was involved in his death. Orlando’s ex-wife forbids her from attending the funeral. And to make matters worse, Orlando’s son threatens to throw Marina out of the flat she shared with Orlando. Marina is a trans woman and for most of Orlando’s family, her sexual identity is an aberration, a perversion. So Marina struggles for the right to be herself. She battles the very same forces that she has spent a lifetime fighting just to become the woman she is now; a complex, strong, forthright and fantastic woman.

Rated R for adult language, sexual content, nudity and a disturbing assault.

THE POSITIVES

– There’s a vintage kind of Mexican cinematography glow that makes the setting feel timeless, and really feeds into Lelio visionary aspects as a student of classic film.

– This is one of those films that I feel will benefit you the less you know and hear about it going in. In this beneficial stance, the unfurling and turns that the screenplay takes will be able to omit more versatility in your emotional palate.

– The decision to cast an actual transexual actress is one that pays dividends to the many kinds of audiences who will take in this film. From this angle, you feel like you are actually witnessing prejudice taking place before your very eyes, removing that safe shield of watching something that is being controlled in screenplay.

– Speaking of said actress, Vega’s exceptional turn as Marina speaks levels to her presence as a screen commander. Once she is alone for a majority of the scenes, you start to really immerse yourself in her loneliness, and that solid streak of empathy really invests you in her transformation by film’s end.

– Perhaps the biggest positive to this screenplay is that it examines social prejudices from many angles and levels. For instance, well beyond the backlash that Marina faces from Orlando’s family, she also faces it from strangers, colleagues, and even law authority that all see her as the thing they’ve been taught to hate.

– Beautiful lighting scheme that speaks levels to the rise and fall of love. When Marina and Orlando are together, the film’s backdrops are very vibrant and full of life, yet when she’s been widowed, there’s a very cold and callous cloud surrounding her. It’s almost something poisonous that you can taste in the air.

– Composer Nani Garcia’s occasionally somber and mostly flute-influenced musical score that audibly narrates the many stages of grief with compassion. While the film can sometimes have trouble accurately channeling the correct tone that they are going for in a particular scene, Garcia’s commanding presence really offers us a candid dive into Marina’s psyche during the times she could use that love that once protected her.

THE NEGATIVES

– The screenplay can periodically feel too meandering because of its popular song choices and fantasy sequences that feel forced into the rest of its parts. Often, these scenes come out of nowhere and really feel like they’re hammering the points home desperately that they were already doing succesfully without them.

– Because this is a film that centers around grieving, the pacing in particular will test the audience’s patience. I say this because (Like Marina) what you see is what you get with this film. It never involves itself with subplots or anything that doesn’t match its agenda, and while that might not sound too harmful, the straight and narrow path of progression is one that can negatively effect moviegoers.

– I was regrettably a little disappointed with the final couple of scenes in the movie. This doesn’t have anything to do with Marina’s finishing state of mind, but rather her closure with the characters around her who feel like they never learn anything from that conflict.

7/10