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

Final Portrait

Directed by Stanley Tucci

Starring – Armie Hammer, Geoffrey Rush, Tony Shaloub

The Plot – In 1964, while on a short trip to Paris, the American writer and art-lover James Lord (Hammer) is asked by his friend, the world-renowned artist Alberto Giacometti (Rush), to sit for a portrait. The process, Giacometti assures Lord, will take only a few days. Flattered and intrigued, Lord agrees. So begins not only the story of an offbeat friendship, but, seen through the eyes of Lord, an insight into the beauty, frustration, profundity and, at times, downright chaos of the artistic process. ‘Final Portrait’ is a portrait of a genius, and of a friendship between two men who are utterly different, yet increasingly bonded through a single, ever-evolving act of creativity. It is a film which shines a light on the artistic process itself, by turns exhilarating, exasperating and bewildering, questioning whether the gift of a great artist is a blessing or a curse.

Rated R for adult language and some sexual situations involving nudity

POSITIVES

– As a director, Stanley Tucci has always banked on these films that center around the creative process, and ‘Final Portrait’ is certainly no different. In his screenplay, he captures the involvement of art and how it isn’t a career that you can simply sit down and do. It’s very much a process of before, during, and after that speaks volumes to the kind of passion necessary for indulging in it. Through Giacometti’s life, we come to learn that it’s easy to get so lost in your work that you find it dominating the other aspects of your life that require attention.

– Cinematographer Danny Cohen is the real MVP here. With his unorthodox style in camera angles, Cohen often chooses to trail slightly behind the actors who move from room-to-room, as well as give us a unique perspective from the point of view of the artist. With a handheld style, he studies Lord from many angles in the same way that Giacometti does, and it’s in this refreshing perspective where we really immerse ourselves in the mind of the creator.

– The musical inclusion by composer Evan Lurie speaks waves to the turning of the creative wheel within the confines of the artist’s mind. The film of course has musical influence throughout, but it’s in those scenes of movements with the brush where those tones feel almost louder and more distinguished than those mentioned prior.

– Rush of genius. While the acting performances are a mixed bag to me, with Hammer’s Lord being terribly undercooked in his influence to the film, it is Geoffrey Rush who easily steals the show with easily his most dedicated role of the past decade. What Rush does that is so genius is truly capture the neuroticism of the tortured genius, emulating a ticking time bomb who just doesn’t have the passion anymore to blow. It’s still obvious to see Rush’s stern demeanor of humor leaking out of Giacometti, and that is what makes some of these dry sequences of exchange between he and Hammer more tolerable.

– Much of the set pieces like Giacometti’s studio are not only authentic in their visual capturing, but also metaphorical from a stance of what is going on within his mind. Everything feels tight, cluttered, and those unfinished projects that have stacked up feel like a reflection that some projects simply never finish.

– Off-color imbuement. This stance on almost colorless backdrops honor the blank canvas of friendship that slowly develops between the two male leads. The biggest difference within this studio is that it feels so far away from the beautiful Paris landscapes of the 60’s that the film occasionally gets to embrace, but the majority of such takes place in this callous contrast that articulately captures the tone inside this room of perfectionism.

NEGATIVES

– The first act of the film feels incredibly rushed, limiting the potential to truly understand the legacy of Giacometti as well as his final model. This stance comes into play later when you come to understand how truly underwritten these characters actually are.

– On that prior stance, I think that this film will be a tough sell to audiences. ‘Final Portrait’ is a film that focuses almost unanimously on the art, and rarely ever towards the artist. Because of such, Tucci as a screenwriter doesn’t delve too deep in understanding what makes him tick, instead choosing to watch the hands of the clock move from afar without understanding how.

– My feeling is that this story would work better as a play than a feature film. I say this because much of the structure already takes place in and around this apartment building that Giacometti owns. Beyond this, the film doesn’t follow the outlines of the three act structure that films especially today have become saddled with. Not to say that it’s not possible that this film could be entertaining without that, but this is a movie that hangs its hat on the performances more than the material, and there’s no better place for that ideal than the stage.

– There’s an overall lack of dramatic pull or urgency that leaves the second half of the film hanging on an easel untouched. The reason for this is the lack of overall variety or tension with conflicts that plague the pacing of the film. I could do without these things if the material was more expansive, but much of the concepts associated with the plot stay too grounded in ever capitalizing on the benefits of a revealing biopic.

6/10

I Feel Pretty

Directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein

Starring – Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Emily Ratajkowski

The Plot – a woman (Schumer) who struggles with feelings of deep insecurity and low self-esteem, that hold her back everyday, wakes from a brutal fall in an exercise class believing she is suddenly a supermodel. With this newfound confidence she is empowered to live her life fearlessly and flawlessly, but what will happen when she realizes her appearance never changed?

Rated PG-13 for sexual material involving brief nudity, and adult language

POSITIVES

– While the overall soundtrack feels a bit too topical for the particular scenes that they are deposited in, the film’s musical score from composer Michael Andrews surrounds us with a New Wave homage to 80’s John Hughes flicks. The soft listening tones are the first attempt at elevating this comedy into something more, and Andrews precision with the keys gives a gentle touch to a screenplay so vain.

– Whenever you get a comedy starring a comedian, you can bet that they will bring along their friends, and this film is no exception. Along the way, I spotted Nikki Glaser, Dave Attell, and plenty others that have played pivotal roles and blossoming friendships to Schumer’s rising stardom.

– A couple of noteworthy performances. Schumer actually gets a chance to develop some dramatic muscle here. Her empathetic range rises leaps and bounds above a script that is trying everything in its power to get you to hate her, but Amy proves that she can make you love just as much as she can make you laugh. In addition to Schumer, Williams steals the show as a bimbo-type executive that totally re-shaped the boundaries of Williams greatness. This is an Oscar nominated actress, so to see her commit to a character so opposite of her own personality, is only a shining example of her at her best. The vocal tones that she omitted for this role were so different from anything that I ever heard from her that I thought the film inserted some terribly awful A.D.R for her mouth to mimic.

– My favorite part of the film is definitely the romance between Schumer and Rory Scovel’s characters, and a lot of that centers around it feeling like the balancing act to so much superficiality that surrounds them. If only this magic had more time to materialize, then the importance to its meaning wouldn’t feel so forced during the third act.

NEGATIVES

– We all see the comparisons between this and 2001’s ‘Shallow Hal’, but the script outline feels almost like an unflattering form of plagiarizing. Scenes and progression mirror that of the predecessor, and while Hal isn’t a film that I would recommend to anyone for moral fiber, I can say that its heart beats twice as strong as Kohn’s diluted effort for the commentary it holds on the real world.

– The comedy misfires far too often. Considering most of the humor in the film deals with embarrassing Schumer’s character, I found myself feeling dirty or callous for even attempting the laugh towards it. Sometimes the right timing is accomplished, but often you forget that this film is a comedy first, and I blame that on the passing time between laughs that will have you checking your watch.

– Speaking of time, the endurance test of pacing in this film starts to show its hand by early on in the third act, when predictability feels evident. There are no fewer than three times during the final twenty minutes when this film could easily end, but the persistence in building to a memorable, self-conscious ending takes center stage above all else in making these 105 minutes feel like half of that.

– As a screenwriter, Kohn also feels inspired in elevating her comedy into a drama or romantic comedy level, similar to what Judd Apatow has perfected with films like ‘Trainwreck’ or ‘This is 40’. Where this fails is in the resistance in letting go of the bumbling humor escapades that do it no favors in harvesting inspiring moments to pull from. ‘I Feel Pretty’ could’ve easily been the female renaissance film of 2018, speaking levels to the kind of insecurities that all women face, but instead it only goes skin deep in its dive, sticking to the shallow waters of social standing in pursuing its merit.

– Much of the camera angles made me moan to the point that they lacked originality in their depiction. As I mentioned before, you get the sense that this is trying so desperately to be a rom-com, and the camera movements around our two love interests feel contrived and redundant from every 90’s film of the genre that you have ever seen. I found myself actually predicting how the camera was going to shift during certain scenes, creating what may be the best underground drinking game that will soon take over the world.

– That ending reeks. Even Schumer has been quoted in tabloids for how much the ending simply does not fit into this film, and I have to agree with the leading lady. For one, a cosmetics company whose whole campaign is dividing women, feels very contradictory to the film’s message that is hammered home with the subtlety of a sledgehammer driving through a brick wall. As well, the ideal that women need cosmetics in finding the inner beauty from within, gives me a feeling of nausea so deep within that I wanted to condemn this film from being seen by any of my female readers.

4/10

Beirut

Directed by Brad Anderson

Starring – Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Mark Pellegrino

The Plot – A U.S. diplomat (Hamm) flees Lebanon in 1972 after a tragic incident at his home. Ten years later, he is called back to war-torn Beirut by CIA operatives (Pike) to negotiate for the life of a friend he left behind. (Formerly titled High Wire Act)

Rated R for adult language, some violence, and a brief nude image

THE POSITIVES

– Razor Sharp Editing and technical prowess. Much of the scene transitions and man-to-man perspective conversation pieces rattle off of one another with the kind of precision that constantly keeps the audience engaged. In addition to this, I also greatly appreciated the incorporated images of historic Beirut film that cinematographer Bjorn Charpentier pulls from marvelously for visual design work.

– Excellent communication in storytelling. While I felt that the film struggled in informing us of the ugly and dangerous pasts between those at war, I did feel that at least the tone and conscious of the environment was replicated wonderfully. In particular, Hamm’s intro to the film divulges a sad-but-humorously true metaphor for why this place is plagued with the reputation it has garnered for itself.

– Most of the performances come and go, but as a lead Hamm dissects his character as two different people, before and after the incident, and does wonders in cementing the leading man status he’s always yearned for. The most evident difference between these sides is that this now feels like a man scarred by his past and his newfound hatred for what this hostile land has taken from him.

– The characters are written as so much more than good versus evil, and cater more to the shade of grey that allows you to understand every motivation for said action.

– Two supercharged twists that absorb great weight in the overall growing complexity of the story. What matters most of all is that these twists make sense, an art that many films can’t seem to connect when drawing the dots together.

– What’s interesting about this screenplay is how one vivid night that only affects a small group of friends has a butterfly effect with where screenwriter Tony Gilroy’s spy thriller goes. There’s a reason why Hamm’s character is called upon, and everything lines up in a kind of air-tight execution that Gilroy attained in films like The Bourne trilogy.

THE NEGATIVES

– There are impactful, albeit brief action sequences in the very beginning and very end of the film. This makes it difficult to attain the thriller tag in ‘Spy Thriller’, doing nothing but harm to the already tiptoe pacing that is fading away before our eyes.

– Hamm’s character suffers from alcoholism, and this plot device is very seldom used in generating something of a character flaw for him to overcome. It’s a kind of tell-not-show kind of exposition that is rarely if at all explored and never adds any kind of growing concern to the way he performs under pressure.

– I had a major problem with the overall lack of Muslim actors and characters in the film who weren’t terrorists. I get that terrorism is associated with a lot of their people in this instance, but in an era where White-washing is all the craze, maybe offer some examples of diversity for dissection in instilling the thought that not all Muslims are gun-toting terrorists.

– The screenplay was written in 1991, and that’s clearly evident for how the film misuses Rosamund Pike’s leading lady character. Pike makes the most of what limited opportunity, but it’s a shame that in a character who surprisingly has a lot of resolve with this particular plot doesn’t exactly come across as a major player in a male dominated ensemble.

6/10

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

The Leisure Seeker

Directed by Paolo Virzi

Starring – Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland, Christian McKay

The Plot – A runaway couple go on an unforgettable journey in the faithful old RV they call The Leisure Seeker, traveling from Boston to The Ernest Hemingway Home in Key West. They recapture their passion for life and their love for each other on a road trip that provides revelation and surprise right up to the very end.

Rated R for some sexual material

THE POSITIVES

– Like any enduring road trip, you at least get to see some beautiful scenery, and ‘The Leisure Seeker’ certainly continues this feat. Through a vast change in agriculture, we see plenty of on-screen representation from the east coast, all the way down to the southside of the Orange State, providing plenty of detail to showcase with Virzi’s competent hands behind the camera.

– The magic of Mirren and Sutherland radiate tenfold throughout their journey across the open road. Through each’s unapologetically honest depiction of the married life, we embrace two people who have spent too much time together, but would certainly be lost without the command of the other.

– I myself am someone who has dealt with the crippling side of dementia with my own family, and the depiction in Virzi’s film certainly provides the emphasis needed in understanding the dire of the situation. This disease not only shapes the person plagued by it, but also the entirety of everyone around them, and that is perhaps the one side to this film that I greatly respected.

THE NEGATIVES

– There’s often not enough of a stance on humor versus drama that clearly navigates us through this tone deaf screenplay.

– The film feels like it is around twenty minutes too long, leading to many tedious and often repetitive scenario’s that could’ve easily been left on the cutting room floor.

– Throughout the film, there’s a hinting of an almost bigger picture that will inevitably be waiting for us at the end of the road, but it never materializes into anything that feels satisfying for taking the journey. More on that ending in just a second.

– I certainly get the point of the political subplot instilled from the Summer of 2016, at the heart of Trump versus Clinton, but far too often it feels irrelevant with finding an identity of its own in this kind of picture. Is it telling us that this couple isn’t made for this newfound world?? Is it there to poke fun at the uninformed people who foolishly voted for one side or another?? I feel like we never find out, and it ends up being nothing more than a scene or two for the audience to roll their eyes at.

– Far too predictable in its entirety, except for the unnecessary twist midway through that leaves a lasting impression for all of the wrong reasons. The heartfelt sentiment is soured in favor of a late act development that feels like a betrayal on everything we’ve learned up to that point.

– Much of the child subplot is forgotten during the second half of the film. Where I feel this was important in inclusion is because it offered a satisfying contrast to the repetition of Mirren and Sutherland’s story that I mentioned earlier for getting repetitive. It felt great to learn more about these lead characters from the people who knew them best, but their time is sparse, and that’s a major shame.

– Some endings work well on paper but don’t translate as strongly to screen, and that is the case here. While the film is faithful to the novel of the same name, that doesn’t mean that it’s the right move in terms of leaving people with the impression that they witnessed a satisfying conclusion. Not only did this ending alienate me in terms of any small positives that I had left for the film, but it also soiled the integrity of the characters who clearly didn’t think of anyone but themselves in these concluding moments.

3/10

The Miracle Season

Directed By Sean McNamara

Starring – Erin Moriarty, Helen Hunt, William Hurt

The Plot – After the tragic death of star volleyball player Caroline “Line” Found (Danika Yarosh), a team of dispirited high school girls must band together under the guidance of their tough-love coach in hopes of winning the state championship.

Rated PG for some thematic elements

THE POSITIVES

– Both Hunt and Hurt outrun the hurdles of abysmal character exposition by granting us two strong performances in a film that needs that most of all. For Hunt, it’s clear that Caroline’s passing has opened her up to the relationship side of her team that was all business before, and for Hurt, we see a grieving father with the arduous task of picking up the pieces and finding the will to live happy again.

– The volleyball choreography here feels very in-tuned to the kind of sequencing and designs that the sport merits. Even if you aren’t a fan of the sport, you will appreciate the kind of chemistry that goes into building a team from the ground up that West High must now face without their star player.

– Much of the camera work starts off rudimentary with quick zooms and pan-outs, but then settles in to find its stroke. The later games in the film offer a panning shot from side-to-side that articulates the balance of power between two teams, and does so in a way that feels authentic to the actor’s having to depict plays for themselves in long takes, as opposed to quick edits that could make any of them look amazing without trying.

– Whether you find yourself invested in the characters or not, ‘The Miracle Season’ does bring with it a somber sense of heart-tugging dramatic sadness that will have you battling back tears a time or two. With more conviction to taking time, this film could’ve been remembered along the lines of sports biopics like ‘We Are Marshall’ and ‘Remember the Titans’ for making the most of the inevitable gut punch that you know is coming.

THE NEGATIVES

– Sport Biopics 101. This is a virtual checklist of formulaic cliches that has everything you’ve come to expect. Musical training montages? CHECK, A team working their way out of a losing streak? CHECK, The emergence of an overlooked player who would otherwise be riding the bench? CHECK. It’s all there, and its complacency is something that offers nothing of substance or originality to this particular story that should be inspiring.

– Speaking of uninspiring, the predictability factor here constantly keeps this film grounded. Other than the passing of Caroline from the trailers, I knew nothing about this real life team, but was still able to accurately predict where every single arc of the story was headed. The worst feeling with any film is that lack of overall sense of moving through the motions, and this film couldn’t feel more mundane because of it.

– Something that the music soundtrack does in the first half of the movie that I found interesting was that it only played pop songs from the year the story takes place (2010). This is a refreshingly faithful take, but unfortunately only lasts for half of the movie. The second half decides to throw in anything from the last few years of pop music that has been associated with the terms “Inspiring”, “Feminist”, or “Tries too hard” to manipulate audiences into thinking it’s watching something better than it actually is.

– How bad is the character exposition in the film? Well, the main character barely has parents, is reduced to a terribly undercooked romance that I couldn’t have cared less about, and doesn’t remotely standout as anything special from the rest of the group, besides being Caroline’s best friend. Even with the main character of the movie, we can’t help but feel the impact of longing for someone else. A bad sign indeed.

– Let’s face it, volleyball isn’t exactly the most dramatic sport to depict in film. It’s too quick in point decisions to stretch the tension, it’s too repetitive in movements to think the next play is going to be any different, and it continuously lacks the physical interaction that underlines the concepts of overcoming the odds.

– It doesn’t have much crossover appeal besides the limited audience that it caters to. There’s definitely the teenager and sports elements at hand here, but what for people who don’t enjoy either? Very little. This film sticks far too strong on the beaten path, and doesn’t expand its depth to the spiritual side that takes place outside of the courts. I’m not asking for religious circumference, but anything that tells me that volleyball might not be the only important thing in this town would be excellent.

– Atrocious Hallmark flashback dialogue. “I may be the surgeon, but you’re the healer out there” might be my single least favorite line of scripted dialogue this year. My only question is when you write something this meandering and emotionally vapid, do you get half off of Apple products because the stores feel bad for you?

4/10

Tyler Perry’s Acrimony

Directed by Tyler Perry

Starring – Taraji P Henson, Lyriq Bent, Crystle Stewart

The Plot – A faithful wife (Henson) tired of standing by her devious husband (Bent) is enraged when it becomes clear she has been betrayed as a result of a hidden affair. After the news breaks, revenge is the game, and hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Rated R for adult language, sexual content, and some violence

THE POSITIVES

– Henson knows in her mind that she’s far too good for a Tyler Perry movie, but nonetheless she commits herself in omitting a truly haunting and emotionally scarred performance. Taraji was clearly given no boundaries here, and despite her filmography this year leaving slightly more to be desired, it’s clear that the talented actress gives you the most return for your dollar.

– If Perry can do one thing right, it’s that he knows how to keep his audience invested. The film is narrated throughout by Henson’s character while talking to a therapist. As the film goes on, it feels more and more like she’s really communicating with those ladies in the audience who have been down this very road a time or two, making it extremely difficult to ignore something that ties so closely to their own lives.

THE NEGATIVES

– Continuity errors. It’s funny that while the two love interests are in high school, the female is noticeably two or three inches taller than the male, but ten years later their characters have morphed to give us a depiction of the man now being at least five inches taller. That’s a huge swing for post-adolescence.

– Jarring Green screen backdrops. There are some beautiful shots of the city engulfed in fog that seems to hint at the unforeseen troubles ahead for these characters, but anytime a character is shown in front of this area, the outline of their bodily properties is so terribly shaded that you’re constantly reminded of this cheap presentation by a director with tight pockets.

– The run time of two hours is far too long for this screenplay. This isn’t because the film is terribly paced or boring, but rather the perils of repetition that could easily use another edit in keeping it closer to that 100 minute mark.

– In addition to that repetition, the film is also prolonged by convenient plot devices that pop up out of nowhere. These scenes puzzle me even further because they often feel like they accompany a scene that is missing from the movie. One such example is a woman’s purse that shows up in our leading man’s truck, but the scene before that one the woman mentions how she refuses to be alone with him. So did she change her mind, or do purses fly all of a sudden?

– I had to check how many different writers penned this script because I refused to believe that the sharp turns in character logic were written by a single author. Much to my surprise, Perry also wrote this film, leading me to believe that he himself suffers from mixed personality disorder. Characters switch sides at the drop of a hat, and the film’s third act flies so far off of the rails that it feels like we’ve stumbled upon a completely different film all together. Just more proof of the man’s genius.

– This film is every bit as manipulative as it is morally bankrupt. If you saw the trailers, they made it look like Taraji’s character was taking revenge on a former lover for cheating on her and giving the new love all of the things that she deserved. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the last act of the movie convolutes character motivation so drastically that it almost approaches the clutches of Stockholm Syndrome with arms wide open, refusing to ever punish those who laid the groundwork for such conclusions.

– ‘Acrimony’ was made in eight days, and it clearly shows. In addition to the missing scenes that I mentioned before, much of the dialogue feels sloppily rushed and overall in a hurry to get to reach its destination without cutting to the psychology involved in spousal abuse. Any person with a shred of logic can comprehend that no sane adult would ever make these movements. On top of this, the film takes the time to visually define what Acrimony as well as other words associated with the script mean. That’s great because the only thing that can top laughably bad dialogue is an English lesson. SWEET!!!

– This is a thriller that for the most part lacks the thrills. We get one scene of action early on in the movie, then nothing until the final twenty minutes that I mentioned above. Perry as a screenwriter relies upon frantic dialogue reads by Henson, instead of the unchained Taraji that was promoted. For my money, watch the final twenty minutes. You could probably fill in the blanks as to what happened even without the rest.

2/10

God’s Not Dead: A Light In Darkness

Directed by Michael Mason

Starring – David A.R. White, John Corbett, Shane Harper

The Plot – A church destroyed. A congregation silenced. A relationship shattered. Yet even in life’s darkest valleys, a small flame can light the way toward healing and hope. After a deadly fire rips through St. James Church, Hadleigh University leaders use the tragedy to push the congregation off campus, forcing the church to defend its rights and bringing together estranged brothers for a reunion that opens old wounds and forces them to address the issues that pulled them apart.

Rated PG for thematic elements including some violence and suggestive material

THE POSITIVES

– Corbett is the character that someone like me, who has sat through three of these films, deserves. Besides the fact that this guy should obviously be our main protagonist for his own battle with how he sees Christ, much praise can be given to John’s performance for the way he not only makes everyone else’s roles around him stronger by comparison, but also the entirety of the film’s personality that he eats up in spades.

– By comparison, this is easily the least off-the-rocker ‘God’s Not Dead’ of the entire series. While overall not a success none the less, the film finally feels able to define itself without being overly insensitive to those who don’t kneel before it.

– There’s a surprisingly responsible touch taken here that reveals the blame of miscommunication might be on both sides. This not only proves how much this film series has grown as a whole, but also allows someone like me an open arms approach to give this one a clean slate.

THE NEGATIVES

– This film’s idea of symbolism is held entirely in its cringing lighting scheme. The protagonists are blessed with sunlight beaming around them in the holy halls, and the antagonists (If you can call them that) are often surrounded by darkness or red luminous lighting to signify the negative influences in their lives.

– As usual with the series, there is no shortage of characters and subplots that creates a convoluted sense of pacing within the film. One subplot involving a young woman’s spiritual outcry is ignored almost entirely until the final act, when it felt like from the beginning that this would play a prominent role in the story. Because the focus is never where it should be, much of the movie lacks a gaining of momentum.

– It’s amazing how the atheists in these films are always presented in the light of ruthless vandals whose soul motivation is to wipe religion from their counterparts. News Flash – Most atheists don’t care if you believe in Dr. Mario. Live your life and stop worrying about the other side.

– There’s no secrets about it, this film isn’t exactly what you would call subtle. Much of its focus in diatribe is aimed at the media, social platforms, and the long-going battle between church and state. As a measure of on-going clumsy exposition, we are treated to obnoxious CNN types who broadcast on channel WARC. Because I guess W-ARK would be too obvious??

– The film seems to have a strange idea of how murder is tried. Whether accidental or meditated, a trial will still be brought forward regardless if the key witness drops his charges. There’s this thing called Involuntary Manslaughter that the state has no reservations about bringing forth, so be careful who you frame because accusations don’t just magically go away because you forgive the person responsible.

– This is White’s 3rd appearance in this franchise, but first as the soul starring role, and it’s clear from the start that he should’ve been left as a supporting cast. Much of White’s line reads leave more to be desired in the believability department, but it’s in his stone cold and undercooked chemistry with his on-screen romantic interest (Played by Jennifer Taylor) that feels like time is standing still in all the worst ways. White’s squeaky clean persona voids the film of the edginess required in seeing a man of faith standing on his last leg against a community that shuns him.

– Much of the beginning of this movie deals with the state’s forceful attitude to see Pastor Dave’s sermons on paper, yet this subplot is never brought up again. Even the ending feels like it completely forgets this stance, choosing instead to indulge in bringing the masses together and put off this inevitable trouble that will always be with him. Sloppy.

3/10

Paul, Apostle of Christ

Directed by Andrew Hyatt

Starring – Jim Caviezel, James Faulkner, Joanne Whalley

The Plot – The story of two men, Luke (Caviezel), as a friend and physician, risks his life every time he ventures into the city of Rome to visit Paul (Faulkner), who is held captive in Nero’s darkest, bleakest prison cell. Before Paul’s death sentence can be enacted, Luke resolves to write another book, one that details the beginnings of “The Way” and the birth of what will come to be known as the church. But Nero is determined to rid Rome of Christians, and does not flinch from executing them in the grisliest ways possible. Bound in chains, Paul’s struggle is internal. He has survived so much; floggings, shipwreck, starvation, stoning, hunger and thirst, cold and exposure; yet as he waits for his appointment with death, he is haunted by the shadows of his past misdeeds. Alone in the dark, he wonders if he has been forgotten, and if he has the strength to finish well. Two men struggle against a determined emperor and the frailties of the human spirit in order to bequeath the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.

Rated PG-13 for some violent content and disturbing images

THE POSITIVES

– Religious films continue the momentum of earning themselves a valuable budget to spend on luxurious backdrops and authentic wardrobe displays. With more persistent success at the box office, this genre of films will only continue making the immersion into these stories that much easier.

– At its core, this is a strong character piece for Paul, and should’ve been used just for that. Far too often, too much unrelated exposition takes away from us translating the map of the world that he depicts on his face. I felt that these rare occasions in getting close to the character certainly made it a synch in understanding why he views Christ as his spiritual and life awakening.

– Committed performances that never crack or break under the pressure of the dependency of this screenplay. Caviezel’s Luke is stoic, Andre Agius’s Stephen is calculating, but it’s in the work of Faulkner as the title character that defines what it means to get lost in a role. As far as protagonists go, he doesn’t come across as preachy, instead settling for the effects of an iron will to get across his sermon.

– Never manipulative, but plenty inspiring. There’s certainly a message of standing for your faith over persecution, in ‘Paul’, but it never feels insulting or contradictory to any audience watching it at home. Because of this, I have to appreciate films like this that separate themselves from the Kirk Cameron’s and ‘God’s Not Dead’s’ of the world.

THE NEGATIVES

– Inconsistent lighting palates. One of my favorite things to pay attention to in films that take place before the dawn of electricity is how the lighting scheme works in every scene, and much of the use of candles during the nighttime sequences here feels far too bright without much shadow work accompanying them. Natural lighting should always be the decision for these kind of movies.

– This is definitely a film that feels ravaged by its rating. It amazes me that many religious films still don’t understand or grasp how R-rated the bible was, and as a result, the requirement to use your imagination in this film constantly exceeds the rewards in rare visuals that we receive.

– For my money, the most entertaining and informative parts of the film seem to happen off screen. There are no shortage of flashback sequences, so it’s my opinion that this is a three hour film that is trying so desperately to come across at 100 minutes. In doing so, much of the understanding of the conflict between the Romans and Catholics feels lost in translation, leading to……..

– An overall weak dramatic pull. Because much of the film involves a tell-and-not-show routine, its reach for a third act impact before the closing credits is one that comes and goes without much emotional impact on us. If a film doesn’t move you, it’s a reflection that it never attained the success of luring you into its conflicts.

– How is Nero not a presence in this film? Considering so much of the screenplay revolves around his actions and feelings towards the Catholics, the decision to make him a shadow figure in the ivory tower is one that comes across as a missed opportunity in crafting an ideal antagonist to rival the overabundance of protagonists that adorn the film.

– So much of the second half of this film drowns on because of nothing of physicality to accompany its overflowing dialogue. This would usually be where a war scene goes, but because the material is so stripped of anything confrontational, we play the listening game in waiting for something rumbling that never comes.
4/10

Midnight Sun

Directed By Scott Speer

Starring – Bella Thorne, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Rob Riggle

The Plot – Based on the Japanese film, ‘Midnight Sun’ centers on Katie (Thorne), a 17-year-old sheltered since childhood and confined to her house during the day by a rare disease that makes even the smallest amount of sunlight deadly. Fate intervenes when she meets Charlie (Schwarzenegger) and they embark on a summer romance.

Rated PG-13 for some teen partying and sensuality

THE POSITIVES

– Rob Riggle is surprisingly the emotional pulse of this film, putting aside the jokester gig for one night to play a compassionate father whose only gift left in life is someone so fragile. I would love to see Rob do more dramatic work, as I feel his comedic schtick has worn itself thin. ‘Midnight Sun’ gives hope to my request.

– The film does take the time necessary to see life through Katie’s eyes living it for the firs time. It is the lone time that I felt invested in her character, and does wonders for tugging at the heartstrings of the true tragedy of the situation for a life wasted behind closed doors.

– Much of the film’s ending did anger me because of the mindless character choices being made to manipulate audience into feeling something, but I have to give credit to a movie that decides to go all the way in committing itself even if it alienates some of its audience.

THE NEGATIVES

– Continuity errors like Bella Thorne’s hair going from dark red to strawberry blonde in one scene to the next, as well as her best friend in the film (Played by Quinn Shephard) who uses two different cell phones during the course of the film. Considering the movie takes place over what feels like a month, I’m going to say the latter isn’t because she’s clumsy with her possessions.

– In regards to one consequential scene, never at any place or time in the world does the sun come up at 4:50 AM.

– There is absolutely zero chemistry between the two leads. Much of this can be blamed on clunky dialogue that is so obviously written by adults who don’t interact with teenagers. However, the stone cold monotonous deliveries by Thorne and Schwarzenegger also feed into this glaring aspect. When the daughter of the film has more chemistry with her father than she does the object of her affection, problems tend to arise.

– The film doesn’t exactly present the most accurate portrayal of XP. Victims can in fact go outside for limited amounts of time with covering clothing. In the educating department, ‘Midnight Sun’ never takes the time to elaborate on the condition beyond its manipulation of the one thing about the disease that everybody knows, and even that is stretched thin.

– Obvious foreshadowing. The first act of this film might as well be labeled in the script SPOILERS SPOILERS because there’s so much transparency in what the writers want you to know about details that will eventually pop up later. This wouldn’t be a problem if it were slid in carefully, but so much of the rules of these characters and their respective positions come out of nowhere, sticking out like a sore thumb in a mind-field of tacked on exposition.

– If there’s one thing that Speer as a director doesn’t have a handle on, it’s bringing out the required reactions in each scene. For instance, there are several scenes during the film that present these quick cuts of Riggle’s character reacting to the changes in Katie’s life, and it omits a kind of gloomy and almost jealous lover vibe that made me wince from the unnecessary pressure.

– As for the pacing, the film feels like it stretches the material even at a measly 85 minutes. Much of this is attributed to scenes that never last longer than two minutes, and often never feel like one cohesive unit that continues to build momentum. The most basic of outlines feels persistent here, limiting the chances it takes in keeping us entertained.

3/10