I Love You Daddy

One teenager has her buckling father wrapped around her finger with the repeated phrase ‘I Love You Daddy’. Glen Topher (C.K.), who panics when his spoiled 17-year-old daughter China (Chloë Grace Moretz) starts spending time with 68-year-old Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich), a legendary film director with a reputation for dating underage girls. Caught in a writing dry spell, he distracts himself by courting glamorous movie star Grace Cullen (Rose Byrne), who is interested in playing the already-cast lead role in the upcoming TV series he hasn’t yet begun writing. Glen’s teetering world is further upended by his interactions with Goodwin, who is both the increasing focus of China’s attentions and the revered idol who devastates Glen by appearing to dismiss him outright as a creative person. Glen’s brash TV actor buddy Ralph (Charlie Day) makes matters worse through rude observations that inflame Glen’s deepest insecurities about his daughter. The real problem, however, is that Glen isn’t sure exactly what is going on between China and Goodwin-and what he should be doing about it. ‘I Love You Daddy’ is written and directed by Louis C.K, and is rated R for crude sexual content, adult language throughout and brief drug use.

Some films fall victim of the wrong place, wrong time scenario. This happens when a movie couldn’t be released at a worse time for the very material that it harvests from within its daring script With much reluctance, I bring you ‘I Love You Daddy’, a film so marred in controversy that it had its big screen release pulled from theaters the week before, only to find a limited audience online from cult movie fans who shell out as much as $1000 on Ebay to finally allow C.K’s film to see the light of day. Is it worth it? I personally don’t think so. After admitting to sexually abusing females, as well as the recent uncovering of abuse cases that have swallowed Hollywood whole, a film like ‘I Love You Daddy’ seems too perfect of a synopsis to be released in such a delicate time for many in front of, and behind the lens. It’s a wannabe poignant approach to pedophilia and the rules that come with such a damning title, challenging us as a society to look at the glass half-full for such a taboo subject that frankly doesn’t offer a lot of room for debate. In my eyes, you either are or you aren’t, and because of such logic in establishing, ‘I Love You Daddy’ loses its lease on responsibility only minutes into the production.

There’s a constant feeling of uneasiness in the air of this picture that goes much further than the colorless scheme of cinematography that I will get to later. The script for instance, holds an obvious center to the kinds of films that Woody Allen has been making for years. coincidentally, C.K even adorns Allen’s famed black-rimmed glasses as the protagonist of the film. For a film that had no sexuality or nudity of any kind, it had me remotely astonished at just how effective that it felt in getting under my skin. In material, the first half of the film did move along quite wonderfully with a somewhat satirical blend of depiction for the very poison that seems to be clouding Hollywood on this touchy subject. It was in this direction where I felt that the film was able to offer something of substantial returns in daring to explore what very few have only able to talk about up to this time. Then the second half of the film comes into focus, and suddenly you’re made aware of a film that is not smart enough to capitalize on its challenging stance, but one that reverses the examination light and tries to convince us that we are wrong. Some of the arguments being made in the film is that women, even those at minor age, are responsible enough to know what they are getting into. This is not only a terribly shallow point to argue, but one that will inevitably come with such consequences that will force audiences to disengage with its new found direction. Could this be more to the satirical approach that I mentioned earlier? I don’t think so, considering the transformation that our lead protagonist embarks on is one of great understanding and leniency for the kind of transpiring details that creeped him out only scenes earlier. Because of this jumbled approach, we get two films for the price of one that doesn’t feel daring enough in exploiting the extremes of either with commitment or exploration that breakout films so desperately require.

The artistic merits of the film keep this one above water, offering a reflective glance of the golden age of cinema. I mentioned earlier that the film is in black and white, and I think this speaks levels to the colorless level of morality that the film associates itself with. Everything in this world is either black or white, and no grey, as a way to feed into the dominant sides that each character associates with. On top of this, C.K’s decision to film everything in 35mm film, gives the movie the rich authenticity of the kind of films that Louis himself grew up entranced in, as a child growing up. The feeling throughout plays like you’re watching something along the lines of ‘I Love Lucy’ with a modern spin of material that is currently plaguing the world. I wish more films would take this stance with an artistic tweaking, and at the very least, ‘I Love You Daddy’ earns the unorthodox approach visually by contributing it to the unapologetic stance that the movie garners for itself.

But in proving that style never flourishes over substance, the over-indulgence of runtime at nearly two hours that undoubtedly requires an edit button that the film never receives. C.K as a screenwriter isn’t terribly underdeveloped here when compared to some other hollow scripts that I have sat through this year, but it’s clear that his screenplay has an essence of pretentiousness to it that makes him feel like he is in love with the environments and dialogues that he engages in. Far too often do scenes duplicate and offer a dragging detour for where the characters and their situations were playing out. Much of the finished product feels like it could’ve used some removal, particularly towards the end of the first act that takes far too long to set up our on-going conflicts. There was never a point in the film where I was bored, but I never felt invested in the shapeless characters that aren’t set up with any kind of depth to make them stand out with pulse.

Despite this, the film did have some meaty performances that are able to escape the shackles of character outlines that do them little favors. Charlie Day for instance, is someone who doesn’t fit in to the mold of this story in atmosphere, but one who I greatly appreciated for adding any kind of emotional firepower to this sagging satire. Day is typically playing himself here, but his proficient comedic timing is something that makes him destined for the taking of every scene that he easily steals. Edie Falco also isn’t bad as C.K’s jaded assistant. Through her, it’s clear that we get the best representation of Glen as a person more so than C.K ever could in soaking up precious screen time, and Falco’s fiery deposition’s gave the movie stamina through lengthy expositions that are telegraphed from miles away. C.K’s lazy performance continues his comfortable stance on where his prolific career has taken him to this point. This feels ideal for how he inspires his other co-stars like Moretz and Malovich who don’t feel the slightest bit of energy to exude here. Sadly enough,  I did feel more uncomfortable with C.K’s character rather than Malovich’s intended pervert, and as far as protagonists go, you would find yourself better suited to follow literally anyone than the man with such a diluted moral compass.

THE VERDICT – ‘I Love You Daddy’ is the equivalent to the drunk uncle who comes over during the Holidays and says the wrong thing at the wrong time. Even when it’s in satirical mode, C.K’s tone-deaf awkward situational lacks the pushing of the envelope in form that it needs in matching a visual compass that is out of this era. Highs and lows aside, it feels like an interpretive litmus test to the kinds of perverted animal instincts that the film world has deemed acceptable for far too long. If this film offends you, it’s probably a good thing.

5/10

The Disaster Artist

James and Dave Franco step into ‘The Room’, with a behind the scenes look at arguably the most infamously bad film of all time. Based on Greg Sestero’s best-selling tell-all about the making of Tommy Wiseau’s cult–classic disaster piece ‘The Room’ (“The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made”), ‘The Disaster Artist’ depicts the meeting and early friendship of Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) and Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). The duo of aspiring actors are shunned by everyone in Hollywood, until it becomes apparent that if you want something done right, you must do it yourself. The actors set out to pen and helm a film called ‘The Room’, a film often hailed as the Citizen Kane of bad movies, but the troubles making it, as well as the cost of fame, good or bad, afterwards is only the start of the dream for notoriety that comes with quite a steep price tag. ‘The Disaster Artist’ is directed by James Franco, and is rated R for adult language throughout, as well as some sexuality involving nudity.

It would’ve been easy enough for James Franco and his crew of long-standing friendships to simply use ‘The Disaster Artist’ as nothing more than a reason to imitate the most notoriously bad film of all time, but the surprisingly poignant approach to telling this story won me over completely and gave me back that ounce of dignity for him that I have lost in some questionable career decisions prior. It’s clear that Franco has definitely done his homework on this story and production, mimicking ‘The Room’ in such a way that feels like this film closes the gap seamlessly of the more than fourteen years that has passed since its infamous debut screening in Los Angeles. Considering we know so little about Wiseau or even aspects surrounding his screenplay, the film attacks this uncertainty in a way that gives us an undefined perspective in offering some subtle suggestions to further enhance our creativity in filling in the lines. This not only caters to new generations of fans who are somehow embracing ‘The Room’ folklore for the first time, but also gives back to those faithful worshippers of Wiseau looking for the next chapter in this storied career, and it turns out that it comes from exploring the past once more.

The screenplay that is co-written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber offers a healthy dissection of Hollywood logic that comes with creating fame. This is certainly no love letter to the city of angels, and instead depicts the brutal and unforgiving nature that comes with rejection of the silver screen in its cruelest form. It’s in this angle that crafts Wiseau and Sestaro as the ultimate underdog story, inspiring them not to live by someone else’s definition of fame, and instead blazing their own respective trail to the eyes of the world. Because of this, the film does beg the question of just what the cost of such universal praise is, and is any kind of fame worth it in the long run when so much of your heart and soul is invested in your work? Beyond this, it’s a story first and foremost about friendship, and how the unlikely pairing of two complete strangers balances out what the other needs, under an almost romanticized lighting. Greg is the guy who is all talk and no walk, and Wiseau is the complete opposite. So Tommy inspires Greg to finally attack his dreams with no regrets, and it’s in that fearless attitude where we understand how easy it is for Greg, as well as us, to fall under Wiseau’s mumbling spell. In Greg, Tommy’s poking loneliness is reduced dramatically, giving our leading character a feeling of belonging for what feels like the first time ever in his life.

Much of the look and feel of the production feels authentic to what they are covering from the low quality original film, even if some aspects stick out like sore thumbs to dedicated fans like myself who can’t easily turn a blind eye. If Franco is going for authenticity, there are a few things that misses the boat tremendously and drops the ball in garnering the greatest reaction in terms of laughs from his audience. The set pieces are mostly reflective to that of the green-screen work that adorned ‘The Room’ endlessly, but there are a couple of scenes (mainly Denny’s famous gun scene with Chris) where the green-screen is nowhere to be found, and this is a big mistake considering the scene takes place on the rooftop where the majority of that effect is displayed. Besides this, the biggest problem that I had was in the absence of A.D.R from the film that was the single biggest reason that I laughed in ‘The Room’. To play these scenes audibly in live action form is a huge mistake, and I feel like a ball dropped by Franco who up until this point felt like an extra on the original production for how tightly he nailed everything.

As a director, it’s clear that Franco is definitely getting better, as there’s nothing of extreme distaste here, but his limited style can sometimes feel like more emphasis was taken with his on-screen performance. I feel like Franco was the wrong person to direct this film because too many camera angles and sequences feel foreign in terms of consistency to the fluidity of the 98 minute entirety. For some scenes, we get a handheld look that gives us that impression of being a member of the set, but the scenes of Tommy and Greg alone are illustrated with a traditional quality of angles that honestly doesn’t stick around long enough to warrant its effect. Also, the lack of focus particularly on the romance of Greg and his girlfriend feels like it comes and goes without much weight to the overall bigger picture of the story. What Franco does do well as a director is in sturdy framing work that proves he at least knows where to aim the camera at all times. Particularly that of the bar scene where Greg meets his future girlfriend is one that presents plenty of focus on the foreground, while playing carefully into what is transpiring with Tommy beyond them. This is unquestionably Franco’s biggest growth to date as a filmmaker, but the overwhelming balance in trying to match the work he did as an actor here, proves to be too much, and leaves James work as a director inferior to serving his greater master.

On that account, Franco transforms himself wonderfully as Wiseau, and hints that no one else could play this character with such respect and conviction. It doesn’t seem like there’s anything truly demanding of what James is doing in taking on Tommy here, but with closer focus you will soon see an actor’s craft at heart. In keeping the consistency and vocal range of Wiseau well in hand at all times, Franco immerses himself and eases the suspension of disbelief in a matter of minutes once he is on screen. The best kind of adaptions of real life figures are the ones that never feel like an impression, allowing you to forget that you aren’t watching the real thing. In addition to this, once the laughter settles down from Wiseau’s larger-than-life personality, you start to feel great empathy for his portrayal because this is a man who doesn’t know the world isn’t laughing at him, instead of with him. Besides James, brother Dave also wows as Greg, a wannabe actor who confronts fear in every opportunity he’s ever given. Dave visually captures Greg’s likeness without much prop work, but its his childlike innocence that offers the ideal counterbalance to his brother, and reminds us that there is no substitute in chemistry for blood-born kin.

THE VERDICT – As to where ‘The Room’ was so bad that it’s good, ‘The Disaster Artist’ abides by a higher standard, depicting the former with enough respect and dignity that values Tommy’s rise above just playing dress-up. Franco’s directing leaves slightly more to be desired in creativity, but he makes up for it with a lead performance as Tommy that allows pretty boy James to get lost audibly and visually in the cellar of Wiseau with his widest range of performance to date. Most importantly, it gives fans another reason to open the door once more into this room and indulge in what made it a lightning in a bottle offering to begin with.

8/10

Darkest Hour

Britain’s ‘Darkest Hour’ involves standing in the way of Adolf Hitler’s worldwide domination, in this biopic detailing the famed Prime Minister. Set during the early days of World War II, with the fall of France imminent, Britain faces its darkest hour as the threat of invasion looms. As the seemingly unstoppable Nazi forces advance, and with the Allied army cornered on the beaches of Dunkirk, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the leadership of the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman). While maneuvering his political rivals, he must confront the ultimate choice: negotiate with Hitler and save the British people at a terrible cost or rally the nation and fight on against incredible odds. Directed by Joe Wright, the film is the dramatic and inspiring story of four weeks in 1940 during which Churchill’s courage to lead changed the course of world history forever. ‘Darkest Hour’ is rated PG-13 for some thematic material.

Winston Churchill was a revolutionary in the office, but merely a frail man outside of it, and it’s in Wright’s tenderly revealing portrait of the legendary figure that we come to understand the parallels of either when combined to elaborate on what made the man tick. Churchill was very much a man who came into office under less-desirable circumstances, facing extreme opposition not only in the face of an evil regime led by Hitler himself, but also in those he considered constituents all around him that made his tenure the more difficult because of it. Yet, Winston as a man who lacks the ability to even fry an egg in his daily routine, so when you consider the immense weight of position and progression from war that continues around him, it’s that much more appealing in screenplay value as it caters to a figure that we are seeing as legitimately human for perhaps the first time in screenplay form. As a Prime Minister, Winston comes to learn that the right decisions aren’t often the easiest, and in a time when everyone is looking to sell their souls to stay above ground, Churchill himself feels passionate about pointing out the necessities of war to those who are already convincing him to taste the agony of defeat.

Coming off of the success of ‘Dunkirk’, this Summer, ‘Darkest Hour’ proves to be a worthy successor to continuing the events of this story once more, but this time from an entirely different angle that caters to the strategist’s side of history and less to the physical side of it. The lack of wartime documentation did puzzle me about this film dearly, choosing only to drop in occasionally for the Wikipedia summary of biggest events, but what did make up for it was the triumphant work of Academy Award nominated screenwriter Anthony McCarten who chooses to stay closely hand-in-hand with our male lead. Through two hours of exceptionally paced substance that carefully fills in the blanks, this is a script that more times than not humanizes the spirit of Winston that works out nicely. My very favorite perk of this film was seeing Winston in his time with his loving and supportive wife Clementine (Played wonderfully by Kristen Scott Thomas) who kind of balances the uneasy circumstance within this man who is responsible for hundreds of thousands. But choosing not to rest there, the film does pack a spell-binding punch from some truly compelling dramatic tension that clouds the entirety of this finished product. As I mentioned before, there’s little war sequences to the film, so instead we are treated to the tug-of-war in the battle for power from Churchill’s own cabinet who deem him unfit for such a job.

Perhaps the most evident angle that resides within the film is the concept of relationships and what they mean to Winston in his decisions. I’ve already mentioned the heartfelt center of Winston and his wife Clementine, and what they give the film, but the additional dynamic duo’s of Winston’s embracing of a dedicated typist (Played by Lily James), as well as the developing friendship that he had with King George the 6th (Played by Ben Mendelsohn), sort of carve out this very surreal sense of hope that resided within the country that fuels Winston’s desire to keep proceeding forward. In a weaker written film, this could’ve easily went sour in presenting something that could combat the repetition of meetings that make up a majority of the picture, but I think McCarten knows how to make them stand out for their own reason. For King George, it’s the importance of history and tradition, and for James character, it is in presenting a very harrowing representation of seeing things from a citizen’s perspective. All of these bricks of exposition stack up tremendously in presenting us with the final and often times praised leader that adorns our closing moments with him.

The production value to the film is one that carries it over oceans of length creatively in offering something new to a common Churchill film. The presence of Wright’s stamp of approval here is evident, most notably in the exceptional coloring palate and camera work of Bruno Delbonat that accurately depicts the sense of inevitable dread in the atmosphere. From afar, the film can often times look like it is being shot in black and white, speaking levels to the kind of post-apocalyptic heartbeats that were echoing on our doorstep, but with closer dissection, it’s clear that a necessary shade of grey (Pardon the pun) faithfully illustrate the classic look in film design of yesterday. There’s also some experimental sequencing involved with a slow panning out shot that frequently ends scenes in and around war that reach out to the audience personally and make you feel their dimming disposition of hope. This shot is never overdone to reach levels of cliche within its filmmaking, and offers something different in modern day transitions that we thought have nothing of originality left within them. Finally, the sound editing and mixing spare no expense in their qualities with the film. There are a few sequences in the film in which we get to hear the actual Churchill reside over his increasing audience, and this offers an indulging side to the setting that puts us front-and-center in the seats of many who were searching for anything to hold onto during such an unpredictable time in Britain’s rugged history.

This is without question a one man show, and while that single performance is the very best in a year of phenomenal performances, the lack of inclusion as a whole leaves a negative stamp on an otherwise reputable ensemble cast. For my money, I could’ve used more of Mendelsohn and Scott Thomas in the film, as I felt the few scenes that they invade are made that much more endearing because of their contrast to Churchill. Lily James gives definitely the most moving performance of her young career, but I don’t support the way her character overrides the importance of exposition time to that of his own wife that the film desperately needed. With that out of the way, Gary Oldman is currently polishing the Oscar statue as I write this. Oldman is virtually unrecognizable as Churchill, represented with a balding look and protruding gut that accurately cement his riveting transformation here. But it’s the little things that positively startled me about his dive into Winston. His speech patterns are perfect, mumbling and stuttering through miles of dialogue that feel like they last a lifetime because of it. That may sound like a negative, but that in many ways was how Churchill himself was as a public speaker, and Oldman’s consistency and dedication moved miles in this regard. In addition to this, the exhaustion from Oldman during long walking or scenes in which he walks up stairs is clearly evident in increased breathing patterns that echo that of someone with decaying health. It all summarizes wonderfully the kind of value in returns that you get when you cast an actor like Oldman, who is one of the last true method actors of a prestigious era.

THE VERDICT – Despite this being only a brief period in Churchill’s historic life, ‘Darkest Hour’ feels like the first Churchill film worthy of telling the entire story. Through Oldman’s definitive impeccably perfect performance, as well as Wright’s flashy effects in visual affection, the film is a stirring shape of inspiration that reminds us how different things could’ve been without the love of country that one misunderstood man had. The storytelling could’ve been extensive and more elaborate in its wide scale, but it’s difficult to fault too much away from a film geared towards one man in and out of the costume.

8/10

Novitiate

A woman’s declaration to faith is tested endlessly when she deals with life’s constant yearning, in Margaret Betts debut writing and directing effort ‘Novitiate’. Spanning over a decade from the early 1950s through to the mid-60s, the film centers around a young girl’s first initiation with love, in this case with God. Raised by a non-religious, single mother in rural Tennessee, a scholarship to Catholic school soon finds Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) drawn into the mystery and romanticism of a life devoted to the worship and servitude of God. With the dawn of the Vatican II era, radical changes in the Church are threatening the course of nuns’ lives. As she progresses from the postulant to the novitiate stage of training, she finds her faith repeatedly confronted and challenged by the harsh, often inhumane realities of being a servant of God. Cathleen soon finds herself struggling with issues of faith, sexuality, and recent changes in life of the Church. ‘Novitiate’ is rated R for adult language, and some sexuality involving nudity.

“There can not be love without sacrifice”, this is an on-going theme throughout the film that tenders ‘Novitate’ as being one of the most unnerving sits that I have experienced over the past twelve months. As to where a film like ‘Silence’ valued the very same devotional quality to its men who adopt the cloth, Betts film does the same for females that questions the very intentions of feminist empowerment. That’s not to say that ‘Novitate’ shouldn’t be absorbed by a female audience, quite the opposite actually. This is a grueling test of love and even mental endurance for just how important it is to give and receive love in physical form, and it’s in that perspective where the film casts an overwhelming amount of empathy in approach to those kneeling at the cross. What I admire about Betts abilities as a screenwriter, especially one that is a first-timer, is that she never feels like she is pushing her audience into one direction or the other, and instead would rather let the atmospheres and treatments speak for themselves in the bigger picture that was every bit as frightening for me as it was enlightening for the valuable price paid that has only been hinted at in passing, to this point.

This is a screenplay that doesn’t just follow our soul protagonist, but also the sisters around her who are training to take the vows, and who each strive through it in their own temperaments. Some feel as strong about this decision as anything they have ever taken on, some know in their hearts that it is a big mistake, and some seek it just for the need to be desired at anything in their lives. On the latter, the film definitely casts an overwhelming sentiment to the feeling that many of these women are just lost souls who have never experienced the best of what life has to offer. Some inherit this teaching because of a family tradition, but it’s in Cathleen’s story that feels like an unpaved path to the lord because of her unorthodox background. Coming from an agnostic Mother and a Father who was never there to begin with, it’s easy to see why Cathleen reached to the dark for something, anything that would bridge the gap to finding something to live for, and it’s in the angle where Betts focuses on; the lost souls that the church greatly take advantage of in their reprimanding with the benefits selfishly of mind control and all of its virtues.

At nearly two hours long, the film is a bit of an endurance test, not because of the ambitious runtime, but because of the minimal level of atmospheric tension that the film doesn’t always capitalize on. If I was in charge of penning this script, I wouldn’t remove a single thing from the screenplay, even if some sequences tend to repeat themselves in less desirable fashion. I took this repetition as intentional because the boredom of routine plays a pivotal role in displaying just how unappealing this lifestyle is to our pledging youth. There is definitely uneasiness from start to finish of this movie, but it always feels like the film is building to something constantly bigger, and the air of momentum eventually surrounds itself in the fog that grows too thick to see through. There are moments of payoff that any blind person can see coming from miles away, but the most evident absence of unpredictability from within can sometimes fumble away the chance at drawing out that strong semblance of feminist entendre that the movie so desperately requires.

As for visual displays, this is a very beautifully looking, closely shot movie that focuses solely on the greyish shading that echoes the questionable lessons that are being taught at this institution. Even when the sun shines, there’s a constant feeling of dread that engulfs the production and its characters whole, and feeds into the colorless lifestyles that these young women have adopted upon themselves, so as to remove any kind of temptation. Most of the style in camera work is vibrantly shot with claustrophobic angles, ringing true a feeling of enclosing freedom that removes itself with each passing day. What’s commendable coming from cinematographer Kat Westergaard’s presence behind the lens, is the capability to take such practical shots and churn them into something that is gorgeously decaying in channeling the very consistency that the atmosphere is going for. I say practical because there’s nothing truly experimental here, but Kat’s harbor of creativity shouldn’t be overlooked, for it’s in her capable hands where she presents the bland as something bold, and I never once felt that her resonation on this project ever lacked or distorted my fluent absorbing of the crumbling walls that were figuratively coming down with each passing minute.

These performances are right on as well, echoing a female dominated cast that mirrors the female production team. With the exception of two males that come into frame for about two minutes each, the film harvests the strongest circumference of female force that I have seen in recent memory. But the numbers game isn’t enough to just let this one skate by, as a trio of deliveries constantly raised the stakes in getting this story over. Margaret Qualley is riveting, channeling Catherine with a confidence that is slowly transformed into panic when everything she thought she knew is questioned. There’s a scene between her and another actress when Catherine needs comforting later on in the film, and it is among the most enthralling displays of anguish that I have ever seen. Dianna Agron is also commendable, despite only being in about half of this movie. Agron is someone who continues to grow with more big screen credits to her name, and as Sister Mary, Dianna presents a rare empathetic side to the convent that offers a welcoming breath of fresh air to these pledges, and more importantly a shining example of sisterhood to us the audience that this film very much required. Without a doubt though, the stealer of this show is once again Melissa Leo as the trivially jaded Reverend Mother. Leo stimulates with enough compromising soft tones and manipulative presence to really feed into her power play that she feeds on, but it’s in her ability to tear it all down and present some hearty vulnerability during the earthquake third act that earns her the most praise in terms of versatility that I can compliment. This woman can truly do no wrong in my eyes, and the last five years specifically of her career has shown us that she will be an emotional heavyweight for decades to come.

THE VERDICT – Taut, mesmerizing, and impactful. ‘Novitiate’ outlasts some of its brief moments of repetition with a compelling screenplay by the debuting Betts that questions the value of what you can feel physically. Through this female adorned production and cast, we get a methodically challenging melodrama that serves a higher power of profound than we’re used to for these movies. Put your faith in the lord, your ass belongs to Leo and all of her stirring passion on a narrow path to righteousness.

9/10

The Florida Project

Writer/Director Sean Baker adds another human depiction to his credible filmography, this time in ‘The Florida Project’. Halley (Bria Vinaite) lives with her six year old daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) in a budget motel along one of the commercial strips catering to the Disney World tourist clientele outside Orlando, Florida. Halley, who survives largely on welfare, has little respect for people, especially those who cross her, it an attitude that she has passed down to Moonee, who curses and gives the finger like her mother. Although the motel’s policy is not to allow long term rentals, Bobby (Willem Dafoe), the motel manager, has made arrangements for people like Halley to live there while not undermining the policy as he realizes that many such tenants have no place to go otherwise. Halley, Moonee and Moonee’s friends, who live in the motel or others like it along the strip and who she often drags into her disruptive pranks, are often the bane of Bobby’s existence, but while dealing with whatever problem arises, Bobby has a soft spot especially for the children and thus, by association, their parents, as he knows that Moonee and others like her. ‘The Florida Project’ is rated R for adult language throughout, disturbing behavior, sexual references and some drug material.

Director Sean Baker has quite a unique perspective of the world. After presenting us with an original take in 2015’s ‘Tangerine’, in which he shot the entirety of his film on an Iphone, Baker returns with another unorthodox reflection of today’s youth. Through that vantage point, we get perhaps the most unabashed depiction of modern day parenting that goes a long way in pointing out the true value of a shining parental unit. Baker is a filmmaker who values honesty first and foremost in his films, and because of such ‘The Florida Project’ has the ability to take this story as deep as it once to go. The film once again exposes us to the unlimited amount of sunshine in its beautiful landscapes, this time in Florida, hinting at the manufactured illusion that is the Disney World dream, and while the film articulately showcases those illustriously decorated buildings in all of their vibrant colors, there’s certainly enough emphasis below the surface to speak volumes to the audience that something deeper is going on. Almost in a way that is similar to the picket fences theory, in that the most troubling households take place behind the prettiest houses, ‘The Florida Project’ too concludes that hotel lifestyle isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

While shooting a film’s entirety with an Iphone is a tough gimmick to beat, I can say that Baker at least maintains the kind of consistency in his candid photography for the picture that treated my eyes to something tasty behind every corner. This is a handheld camera kind of style, and this decision works wonders in presenting many angles and perspectives to our central characters for the film; the children. So many of the shots are tight-knit with over the shoulder following shots, or single frame luring shots that have our characters walk into what’s already running. Besides this, there are some gorgeously decadent panning shots from side to side that often gave off the illusion of a moving screen in our auditorium. Baker has enough confidence to leave the camera on for these long takes because he believes in his child-dominated ensemble cast that can hold and maintain the attention of the audience without fail, and his faith is rewarded in spades with such sleek style that highlights the domestic landscape with tasty sunshine that covers the properties.

The uniqueness isn’t just in the visual spectrum of the film, but also in the tweeks made in cast and story that cement a feel of documentary filmmaking. I say that because much of the film doesn’t feel like it follows a script towards a particular outline here. Instead, there’s that feel that Baker has stumbled across these everyday people (Minus Dafoe) and decided to turn a camera on to see what springs. The majority of the cast are amateur actors and actresses, some of which are acting in the first role of their careers. This adds weight and believability to the ideal that maybe we are watching something that wasn’t intended to be seen, making you wonder just how truly dramatic it can get at a hotel. If it’s drama they want, it’s drama they will get, because this film never relents on its tight grip upon the audience. Because there are children involved, it’s easy to imagine that this film could get a bit manipulative, but their trials and tribulations feel authentic because of what little adult supervision is cast over them. The film is just shy of two hours, and for the most part paced accordingly, however unlike a Hollywood script that will take the audience on a pre-determined roller-coaster of up and down, ‘The Florida Project’ maintains the balance of life, in that some times are smooth, and some times are unpredictable. In this manner, the screenplay replicates life wonderfully, using boredom as a comparison to excite when something does come to fruition.

Without question, my least favorite aspect of the film and one that Baker still needs help on is his editing transitions. To say the sequencing from scene to scene felt rocky throughout the film is an understatement. There were many times during the movie when I either couldn’t tell how much time had passed between two scenes, or they felt out of place with the plotting of storyboards. The former is great when you’re dealing with montages or scenes that duplicate the certain event that the children are living through, but when it’s used in a way that divides the transitions, it throws you off from where we are in a scene or the script. While this is only an occasional problem, I can say that it brutally throws off the pacing of the second act in particular, feeling like the screenplay is searching for something of equal value to the first and third acts that transpire smoothly because of their fluidity in keeping the entertainment level high. With this fix, Baker could definitely be one of the very best directors going today, but his unorthodox method of transition is sure to alienate some who feel like scenes could be cut far too quickly or not quick enough.

There has also been a lot of commotion about the ending that many have shunned because of its off-the-wall final shots that feel so jarringly foreign from the rest of the film. While I can say that I don’t have this same particular problem with the final scenes, I can say that the ending feels abruptly forced and very bitter when compared to the magnetic pull from the glowing performance of Prince when the film relies on her. My suggestion was that the film ended two minutes prior when it felt like our nerves couldn’t be anymore shattered from the crippling blow of devastation that rivets the inhabitants of the hotel. This wouldn’t have been as pleasing to audiences looking for the lighter side of conclusions, but it would be the glaring example of parental harm to impressionable minds, giving Baker a side of bravery and attitude with his characters that wouldn’t disappoint in profound reliability.

Despite this being a child-led ensemble for 90% of the movie, I was pleasantly surprised at just how effortless these kids were with sinking into some pretty meaty performances. My problem with kid actors is their inexperience that usually hinders a film’s immersion whole, but the value of the youth presented in this film serves as a reminder that even this critic can be wrong. Brooklyn Prince is a wonder of imagination with enough sass and personality that makes her irresistible even when she’s doing things that we know are wrong. Prince’s Moonee is definitely a product of her environment, but the sweet and tender side to her sometimes destructive personality is still in there fighting to get out and salvage this dreaming soul. Willem Dafoe also portrays one of my absolute favorite characters of the fall movie season as Bobby, the sometimes ignorant manager who feels like the best parental figure that these kids got. Bobby sometimes turns an eye for his own good, and there’s definitely a hint of family troubles with his own kin, but Dafoe’s moral stigma and protective shield is a constant reminder of everything that is good and could be again with these struggling people.

THE VERDICT – ‘The Florida Project’ and Sean Baker alike, raise the kind of sobering questions about parental struggles in a world still learning that pleasures with its poignancy. Because so much of its visual appeal springs from the unorthodox approaches of a prestigious stage hand, it’s easy for the production to overlook some glaring problems of sequencing that just doesn’t add up. Dafoe and his rag-tag group of youths remind us of the invincibility associated with being young thanks to some nuanced performances that always maintains the light-hearted adventure of being a child before the rules of society catch up.

8/10

Last Flag Flying

Three friends unite after a long period of distance, on a road to redemption, in ‘Last Flag Flying’. In 2003, 30 years after they served together in the Vietnam War, former Navy Corps medic Richard “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) re-unites with Former Marines Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) on a different type of mission: to bury Doc’s son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War. Doc decides to forgo a burial at Arlington Cemetery and, with the help of his old buddies, takes the casket on a bittersweet trip up the East Coast to his home in suburban New Hampshire. Along the way, Doc, Sal and Mueller reminisce and come to terms with shared memories of the war that continues to shape their lives. Director Richard Linklater and author Darryl Ponicsan collaborated on the screenplay which follows the trio as they wrestle with the pangs of war both past and present. ‘Last Flag Flying’ is written and directed by Richard Linklater, and is rated R for adult language throughout and some sexual references.

At its core, ‘Last Flag Flying’ is a buddy road trip movie that tests the boundaries of friendship. However, unlike those silly raunchy comedies that usually adorn the subgenre, Richard Linklater entertains in spades without any of the unnecessary physical humor or situational gags that dumb down audiences into thinking that there’s a shread of sentimentality. Instead, Linklater and company invest in the dynamics of something far greater than a friendship; the brotherhood of the United States Marine Corps, and it’s in that direction where the film’s journey treads along smoothly without feeling much of the wear-and-tear from the long distance of two very thought-provoking hours spent with this delightful trio. This is very much a love, as well as a Dear John letter to the Marines, as well as every branch of service. The film asks these warranted questions that deal with signing your life away with the utmost respect to the men and women who make the ultimate sacrifice, but does so in a poignant method that should require proper answers for those who are appropriately considered heroes.

Despite this being a drama first and foremost, the film surprised me with just how much I laughed thanks to the impeccable chemistry from three veteran actors who consistently hit their marks in different kind of performances. This is the most unchained that I have ever seen Bryan Cranston, and it’s probably a good thing because his role as Sal totally stole the show for me and proved that Cranston can adapt to any kind of tonal transition with ease. It’s certainly clear that Sal’s best days are behind him, but with the feel good attitude that he takes with him everywhere, he is constantly the life of the party that keeps this film from ever getting too down in the dumps with the downtrodden. Laurence Fishbourne is virtually playing two roles for the price of one, commanding the new Richard who walks the straight and narrow path, while also silencing the old Richard who is a victim of his legends. Fishbourne is definitely the friend who is the most secure in life, and more than a time or two feels like the group’s shoulder of much needed support to get by. Also, Steve Carrell gives another dramatically wrenching performance that alludes this man’s time would be better spent if he stayed out of comedies. That’s not to say that Steve isn’t funny, but it’s roles like Doc that brings the heart out in Carrell, and makes for an uneasy fragility in the film’s central character that comes at an inevitable crossroads with his own feelings towards the government after the leaps that he has to take just to bury his son.

With this being a Linklater helmed production, there’s plenty to prove that the director has advanced in spades with his unique voice of artistic perspective, but that he also still abides by the tricks of the trade that have garnered him a reputation amongst independent movie legends. The most obvious chair that Richard leans on is his passion for dialogue and conversations that tell stories better than anyone going today. In fact, it’s in his ability to let his characters unload on long-winded spells of dialogue that is the blessing and curse to the man’s madness. There’s no question that these reflections by the characters unfurl that flower of wisdom from the past one pedal at a time, but in usual Linklater fashion, sometimes the scenes can drag on a bit too long, sketching an outline for editing that could’ve easily narrowed this down to 105 minutes without sacrificing a single perk of the story. Thankfully, the scenes that feel long are few and far between, as a majority of the film’s banter authentically scales the boundaries of what feels like a lifelong friendship that has picked up after thirty years without missing a sacrificial beat.

The script very much plays on a crossing of worlds, in which for the friends to embrace the future, they must first deal with the unfinished business of the past. The three of them have forgotten a devastating secret between them that occurs during their last days together in the service, and it’s in that perspective angle where the film adds necessary layers of depth to something that honestly wouldn’t succeed as just a two hour road trip flick. Like any great storyteller, Linklater slowly reveals a piece of the puzzle at a time to his audience, revealing the grand picture when the time is right, and when you know it level the most impact. I was worried that this would be the typical, predictable divide in a group that is present in nearly every film that revolves around friendship these days, but thankfully Linklater doesn’t abide by any rules that he doesn’t make, and constantly keeps his grip firmly on the strength of friendship that doesn’t budge or stand down under any pressure.

Besides the hearty investments of time that I mentioned earlier, the only other real problem that the movie has is Linklater’s heavy-handed commentary to sometimes go off in directions that offer nothing of balance or addition to the plot. A fine example of what I’m saying is a scene early on in the third act in which the group stumbles into a cell phone store and decide to buy cell phones, and since this is 2003, just imagine the kind of humor and naive commentary that we can include to give a nod and wink to the 2017 crowds who are watching this who know how important their cell phones are to them. Sometimes it is in its ability to play a little too cutesy to the crowd for it’s own good, and it left me screaming to get back to the story that got my butt in the seat to begin with. Down time is fine, but what this feels like is nothing more than a distraction to the progression of the film, but I wouldn’t believe for a second that this was a Linklater film if there wasn’t some incoherent rambling that has absolutely nothing to do with the material or central premise of the film.

THE VERDICT – ‘Last Flag Flying’ flies high thanks to the mastery of one of the world’s great storytellers in its writer and director Linklater, but also because of the camaraderie between his three accomplished actors who never waver in the ultimate test of friendship. The film could afford to lose around fifteen minutes of needless exposition, however the modesty of presenting patriotism with a price tag is one that will resonate strongly towards anyone in or out of uniform. Linklater brings to life a sharper focus for the issues that other bloodier war films are afraid to grapple with, and as a result gets his most candid film to date over thirty years into his storied career.

8/10

Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig makes her directing debut and pens the new indie comedy about a teenage girl known as ‘Lady Bird’. Set in Sacramento over the 2002–03 school year, the story focuses on a high school senior, Christine McPherson (Saorise Ronan), who prefers to go by the name “Lady Bird”, who is fighting against but is exactly like her wildly loving, deeply opinionated and strong-willed mom Marion (Laurie Metcalf), a nurse working tirelessly to keep her family afloat after Lady Bird’s father Larry (Tracy Letts) loses his job. With the west coast backdrop serving as a dead end environment for Christine, amidst a rapidly shifting American economic landscape, “Lady Bird” attempts to get out of Sacramento by applying to colleges in New York behind her mother’s back, setting up an inevitable clash between Mother and Daughter unlike anything before. ‘Lady Bird’ is rated R for adult language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity and teen partying.

For Greta Gerwig’s first dive into the director’s chair, ‘Lady Bird’ is very much a hands-on approach to the teenage coming-of-age story that values her pen just as much as her presence behind the camera. Not since ‘Juno’ has there been such a refreshing blend of honesty and personality in teenage dissection, but Gerwig understands how to let her leading lady breathe with calculated movements. There’s been much said about this being a possible autobiographical connection to Gerwig’s real life stories, with all of the subtlety of a highway crash in the comparisons that mimic her own life closely. Whether that is true or not, I can say that Gerwig has a tight grip on the pulse of post-millenial teenagers and all of the cures for boredom that riddle them to tears of depression. This is a film with a lot of spunk to its unapologetic personalities, catering to Gerwig’s own brand of humor that radiates the irony in each and every awkward situation. For this being someone’s first helming of a major motion picture, there’s plenty of proof in the executional pudding that cements this girl not only as a well educated student of the game, but also one that gives powerful female characters a prominent voice for decades to come.

From a technical standpoint, ‘Lady Bird’ echoes the vibes of early Wes Anderson, in all of his brunt quick-cuts and quicker-witted humor that carves out some truly memorable characters for us to feast on. For Gerwig, her stance rests firmly on the reflection of a teenager’s life feeling like solitary to him or her in the moment, but in reality spinning by with little reservation in terms of continuous life movements for us as an audience to take in. Because of this, the film can at times feel like it is racing to a red light, but in all reality it’s just the depiction of life’s many opportunities that are quickly passing up our title character, and giving her little to reflect on in the bigger overall picture. The editing itself is precise, faithfully depicting the humor of repetition in boredom that the students in this school endure in what feels like without ending. Her framing too, brings out the beauty and girth of the Sacramento landscape in size when compared to that of the teenage protagonists and their lives in the grand scheme of things. To them, their mistrials feel like the end of the world, but to those of us who already lived through teenage angst and gotten out alive, we can embrace in the visual representation that Gerwig harvests here, and harvest she does well with a clean visual stimulation that breeds that independent comedy kind of vibe that she has been known for in her acting career.

The script and overall tonal shifts for the film are right on point, echoing Gerwig’s attention to even the smallest detail for the many changes in a young woman’s life. I myself am obviously not a female, but what I can say that floored me about Greta’s atmospheric resonation is that she gets what outsiders of a Catholic school will bark at the loudest in terms of laughter, and she exploits this bluntly in a series of montages that sarcastically poke fun at the outdated concepts of these charter schools. Being that I myself went to one for nine years, I can tell you that Gerwig hits the nail with enough force and aptitude that she simply cannot go wrong on, and carries that ball of momentum all the way through to the dramatic circumference of the second half. The film doesn’t abandon the comedic aspect entirely, but the drama is definitely more invasive as the film progresses, and I think it was the right decision. There’s a kind of parental feeling that I felt as Lady Bird was going through these events that are supposed to feel special to a young girl, but end up being just another in the long list of regrets that spans longer with age. The film feels so honest in this depiction that it feels like a must-watch for any teenage girl who needs comfort in the solace that she is never alone, and that every girl is Lady Bird in their own individual adventure.

My favorite aspect of the film however, is definitely the collective performances of a female dominated cast, with a little extra room for male inclusion. Ronan gives a performance that solidifies her as the next generation of great actresses. As Christine (or Lady Bird), Saorise embraces her character with the ignorance of her age, but the exuberance of her inspiring personality that never quits, and Lady Bird as a summarization is one of my absolute favorite characters of the year. Saorise is more than capable of commanding the screen alone, but I feel the best moments are between her and Laurie Metcalf, whom herself channels an unorthodox approach to a Motherly dominated household. It’s certainly clear that this story was written by a female perspective because there’s so much authenticity in speech patterns and constant nagging-turned-confiding conversation pieces that sparks a feeling of attention deficit between them, and gives way to a Mother/Daughter relationship that lasts a lifetime. Tracy Letts also breathes great life into the few scenes that we are fortunate enough to see him steal. As Lady Bird’s father, Letts is definitely the household presence to Metcalf’s workaholic doctor character, but it’s in those shining examples of talks between he and Christine where the film earns an honest and burning presence of heart that is sure to touch anyone in the audience with at least one, if not two of these kinds of parents.

What problems that I did have with this film are the very definition of nit-picking, and weren’t even considered for my overall final grade, but some tips of advice that Gerwig might need for her next presentation. For one, the pacing can slightly feel uneven. I mentioned earlier that the purpose of quick pacing was to feel the constant moving of the world around Lady Bird, but when compared to the final act of the film, there is definitely an off-beat path that is taken in closing this thing out before the final somber blow. In addition to this, I feel like the film tried slightly too hard in the musical soundtrack that constantly beats you over the head with its 2003 setting. A way to maximize this better would be to include songs that aren’t as obvious as ones used in the top 40 hits of that year, that way they don’t feel like a gimmick that is constantly reminding us of this time in era that honestly has very little to do with the film’s overall presence of setting. I felt that this film could’ve easily been set in modern day and not lost a single thing, but it’s obvious that Gerwig wanted to hit home during her age of adolescence.

THE VERDICT – Gerwig’s responsibly honest approach to teenage maturity is one that keeps ‘Lady Bird’ flying high above the clouds. With the power of Oscar worthy performances from Ronan and Metcalf at the disposal of this first time director, the film harvests two emotionally complex female characters with the kind of care and strength needed by a woman’s touch. During a year when ladies voices are needed louder than ever before, Lady Bird feels like the front line figure necessary to lead us to a new age of much-needed female depiction. Proving that the best stories are told on the wrong side of the tracks.

9/10

Mudbound

The muddy landscapes of a Mississippi farm divide two racially diverse families, in the Netflix Oscar contender ‘Mudbound’. Set in the rural American South during World War II, Dee Rees’ written and directed Mudbound is an epic story of two families pitted against one another by a ruthless social hierarchy, yet bound together by the shared farmland of the Mississippi Delta. Mudbound follows the McAllan family, newly transplanted from the quiet civility of Memphis and unprepared for the harsh demands of farming. Despite the grandiose dreams of Henry (Jason Clarke), his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) struggles to keep the faith in her husband’s losing venture. Meanwhile, Hap (Rob Morgan) and Florence Jackson (Mary J Blige), sharecroppers who have worked the land for generations struggle bravely to build a small dream of their own despite the rigidly enforced social barriers they face. The war upends both families’ plans as their returning loved ones, Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), forge a fast but uneasy friendship that challenges the brutal realities of the Jim Crow South in which they live. ‘Mudbound’ is rated R for disturbing violence, adult language, and nudity.

With a film like ‘Mudbound’, the Oscar statue finally feels within the firm grasp of Netflix capabilities, especially considering how close they have now bridged the gap with reputable production qualities that rival the big screen experience. Not only is Rees adaptation a worthy suitor for the literary counterpart that has since been handed down as a tale of racial inequality for generations, but also one astonishes on nearly every front to being a credible nominee during a year of films that feels completely wide open. I was floored by this film, not because of anything surprising in the material that offers a disturbing view of what has transpired across history, but rather the equality in responsibility that the script takes in presenting a rare side to both angles of the story; black and white. The film is a shining example of two diverse families forced to live in such close proximity of one another, and what that miniscule distance means in the bigger picture for a world that was slowly coming together for the ideals of one complete race; humans.

Rachel Morris’s outstanding visual presence has always made atmospheric advances in setting the stage properly with films like ‘Dope’, ‘Cake’, and my personal favorite ‘Fruitvale Station’, but her work in ‘Mudbound’ far succeeds those prior movies in breaking the fourth wall for the audience to soak in. The cinematography here is what I describe as being “beautifully sooty”, maximizing the appeal of a muddy surrounded territory that reflects on the camera’s overall shading and color palate. There’s a real sense of grime in the air of this picture that can portray dirt for the kind of artistry that can be presented in something so pale and lifeless. This reflects accurately the kind of muddying in the air by these two sides that have been at war for ages, and really feeds into preserving a kind of toxic environment that our characters young and old are breathing in with each passing day that the camera well preserves in its visual compass. There’s beauty in decay, and Morris’s accommodating touch physically immerses us in this fledging mud-bowl that solidifies the murky relationship between our two family protagonists.

The script for this film runs into a few problems that sometimes hinders progress, but for over two consistent hours of constantly raising the stakes of suspense for their on-going working relationship, Rees comes out nearly unscathed in the grander picture. I mentioned earlier how responsible this film is at depicting both sides fruitfully in the epic running time of 128 minutes for the film, but what’s even more enlightening is just how much tender care and ears that Rees lends herself for every angle of the spectrum. No fewer than eight of the central characters narrate us through the entirety of the film, feeding into the kind of mental exposition necessarily needed to define these nearly barbaric movements of communication. This gives the film a novel-like approach to its sequencing that feels so close to the infernal fire that it could easily burn us.  In addition to this, I loved the comparison between the two families scene-to-scene that nearly echoed one another to showcase that no matter how different they may feel in living scenarios, they are one in the same on the beating heart scale that lives and dies through the same surprises of life. Beyond this, the film has an intricate way of getting the most out of its wartime subplot by comparing and contrasting the similarities to war overseas as compared to the war that is transpiring on our own soil. To that degree, America’s war feels much more urgent, especially in this movie, mainly because of how culturally behind we are compared to the rest of the world that doesn’t see the same hinders of color that handicap our progression. This is perhaps the most startling revelation behind Rees credible voice, and one that moved miles in terms of needing those differences elsewhere to highlight what is going on inside of this cancer.

There are two noticeable problems that can sometimes challenge the attention span of the audience in ways that could divide this experience. For me, it took three different sits to finish this film, not because of the disgusting treatment of minorities that transpires throughout, but rather the plodding exposition of the first act that doesn’t take off running with its feet in the air. It’s normal for set-up’s to feel lengthy because of the introductions to characters and scenarios, but so much of the first half hour of this film could easily be trimmed and combined together in keeping this film confidently under the two hour mark. Around the halfway point, the film’s dramatic pulse does beat a satisfying drum of intensity, but it’s such an investment to get to that point that could drop some moviegoers off along the way. The other problem deals with the predictability of this script that is easily mapped out from the initial engagements. Sadly, this film didn’t surprise me any in the least with its screenplay, and I wish so much of the exposition wasn’t so translucent so as not to see what will eventually come. Because of this, it was like playing the waiting game for this movie to catch up, treading through the muddy waters of progress to reach the emotionally engaging finish line of material that we patiently yearn for.

Every aspect of the cast hits their marks with precision, even including the ones who have never given me anything positive to say until now. Garrett Hedlund is great in this film, and his transformation between his pre-war swinging personality to his post-war traumatic troubles, outline a character who very much matures before our eyes and evolves into a positive male protagonist that this film so desperately needs. On the female side of the spectrum, Carey Mulligan and Mary J Blige could easily be their own competition towards an eventual Oscar nomination. Blige for me is the greater sell because her stripped down performance as Florence is the kind of inspiration for future female revolutions to stand up and prosper. She’s almost unrecognizable in this role, and I attribute that to the dedication that Blige has to letting this performance tell itself without needing the familiarity of a pop star’s presence at face value. Mulligan too continues to be one of the very best emotionally distraught actresses working today. That may sound like a negative, but a film as somber as this one requires that kind of emotional registry, and Carey is certainly up to the task, breathing in Laura as a woman who has been subjected to decisions being made for her for the entirety of her existence. While this may be a racial divide story first, it’s Laura’s subplot that provides us with hints of a woman’s revolution eventually taking place and providing many layers to the family household.

THE VERDICT – Considering this a stream-only release, there is absolutely no reason for you not to indulge in the muddy waters of ‘Mudbound’ that tread through the absorbing details of inequality that still reeling us to this very day. This is groundbreaking material for Netflix, a company which up until now has made some reputable documentaries but nothing in the motion picture presence that stood among Hollywood’s best. The performances are raw, and the visual likeness radiates a murky surrounding that treads softly on the surface before engulfing itself whole on what’s bubbling underneath.

8/10

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

There are ‘Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri’ that are the key to calling out a murderer who has alluded police. Writer and Director Martin Mcdonagh’s newest black comedy-drama takes place in the heartland of America. After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing’s law enforcement is not only exacerbated, but taken to new levels of heightened tension between both sides. ‘Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri’ is rated R for violence, adult language throughout, and some sexual references.

Martin Mcdonagh has always been one of my favorite directors because of his humanistic approach to dialogue within awkward situations that offers an abstraction of emotional releases. Martin always manages to get funny and sometimes appalling responses out of these darkly intense situations, so a film like ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Misouri’ shouldn’t be a difficult sell by proxy. Without question, this is Mcdonagh’s single best film to date, and one that I feel will serve as a valuable piece of conversation stimulation that will aggressively divide two sides on the many moral crossroads that envelope the themes within this picture. Inside are bouts with racism, sexism, media manipulation, and of course murder. These devastating issues have always been cancers to our society, but especially prevalent in today’s day and age where it feels like we (similar to the town of Ebbing) are enduring our own moral trial in making so many of these wrongs right within the structure of our own future. Mcdonagh knows this and crafts a movie that feels like our wildest fantasies of grievance coming true in the hands of one emotionally scarred woman who is lashing out against the very system that failed her and cost her arguably the greatest single thing about her life; her daughter.

Behind the wheel of that wrecking ball is the one woman tour de force performance of Mcdormand that silences any doubt that 2017 is her year. As Mildred Hayes, Mcdormand brings to life the sadness, anger, rebellion, and release that is sure to chill anyone who has ever lost someone valuable in their lives, bringing with it a kind of small town superhero who just keeps coming at her opposition. Mcdormand commands the screen because each and every time she appears, she feels like a hurricane that is coming to blow through anything and anyone that gets in her way, and she is simply as good as it gets in a year that features some gritty leading lady performances that are destined to shine. Besides Mcdormand, there are also captivating performances by Harrelson, Lucas Hedges, and Mcdonagh favorite Sam Rockwell like you’ve never seen him. Mcdormand gets a shot at every one of them, but it’s her chemistry with Rockwell that gives the film its greatest example of casualties involved in the face of war. Rockwell’s character goes through a well taut transformation that feels genuinely earned, and his assertion into the movie articulately depicts the truest cancer of ignorance that is slowly eating away at this town of complacency.

The setting for the film feels like a character in itself, demanding the most of small town problems and ideals that appropriately channel the vast personalities in culture. There is a brief feeling of ‘Fargo’ ambiance in the air, echoing the beat of the singular drum that the townspeople alone vibe to, and one that feels so distant from the rest of us in existence. Ebbing feels like a place where anything is possible. A virtual soap opera of a town that caters to the kind of slow news days that CNN is just itching to delve into. There’s an almost engulfing cloud of intimidation by the police department’s grip on this invasive community, but that all is tested like never before when Mildred decides to invest everything she has into exposing their incompetence. What I find so credible is that while this film wasn’t actually shot in Missouri, the doubling from Sylva, North Carolina more than feeds into the small town characteristics that bring to life the fictional town fluently and leave nothing to be desired in terms of bridging the gap of production synching.

In terms of the story, there’s plenty from Mcdonagh as a screenwriter that lends itself accordingly to keeping the pacing of this film moving smoothly. Most notably, the film never loses its sense of humor despite the adult themes that take over the second half of the movie and up the stakes with unnerving uncertainty from the community whole. There are some patches where the script hits some dull spots, but just when you think it is beginning to lose steam, Mcdonagh always seems to throw a wrench into the film that constantly keeps the audience guessing, and I can’s say that ever for a moment that it felt choreographed with where I felt the story was heading. That, in addition to this crumbling family in scenes of the past and present, and I felt like Mcdonagh is a writer who definitely hasn’t lost his stride, valuing the importance of famous last words and what effects that they might have on future bearings. Little moments hold the biggest consequences, and it’s those instances when the truth shines for better or worse.

Up to this point, ‘Three Billboards’ was easily one of my favorite films of 2017, but then the dark cloud of arguably one of my most disappointing endings in recent memory took place and soured my final grade. I didn’t hate the film’s ending, and certainly understand the approach to “anger begets more anger”, but I feel like the ending is too speculative and not satisfying enough in terms of answers to the film’s core mystery. This left me with more questions than answers coming out of the film, and one that I wish would’ve continued at least for ten more minutes, not necessarily for therapeutic release, but rather for emphasis in conclusion from an ending that just kind of trails off. For my theater, the final shot omitted so much air of suspense held in by the audience who were ready to explode to that point, but it just ends on a final direction that has been cemented for the final five minutes of the film, leading us ready for the crushing blow of disappointment that this film couldn’t run away from after being written into a corner. You understand from a character perspective the purpose in this journey, but the tank of consistency runs on empty during the film’s finale, giving up on itself before we ever have a chance to.

THE VERDICT – ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ stands tall under the lights because of a gut-wrenching performance by Mcdormand, as well as the endless puppeteering by Mcdonagh’s empathetic approach to everything that is right and wrong with the world. Though the ending is riddled with a lack of impact for the many satisfying directions of conclusion that this film could’ve given us, the previous 9/10’s blew me away with complexity towards cunning emotional depositions that prove this film is too big for just one respective genre. There’s truth in advertising, and this billboard says poetically profound.

8/10

My Friend Dahmer

Jeffrey Dahmer murdered 17 men and boys in the Midwest United States between 1978 and 1991 before being captured and incarcerated. He would become one of America’s most infamous serial killers. This is the story before that story. Jeff Dahmer (Ross Lynch) is an awkward teenager struggling to make it through high school with a family life in ruins. He collects roadkill, fixates on a neighborhood jogger (Vincent Kartheiser), and copes with his unstable mother (Anne Heche) and well-intentioned father (Dallas Roberts). He begins to act out at school, and his goofball antics win over a group of band-nerds who form The Dahmer Fan Club, headed by Derf Backderf (Alex Wolff). But this camaraderie can’t mask his growing depravity. Approaching graduation, Jeff spirals further out of control, inching ever closer to the madness that was destined to overtake him. ‘My Friend Dahmer’ is written and directed by Marc Meyers, and is rated R for for disturbing images, adult language, teen drug use, drinking and sexual content, and for brief nudity.

‘My Friend Dahmer’ is a cautionary tale about observation. Through the eyes of those who knew him best, Jeffrey Dahmer was failed, living without the kind of love and acceptance that every single person living needs to survive. He was failed by his friends, family, teachers, school board, and all around community that ignored the signs of something much more powerful lurking beneath the quiet exterior of a kid just looking for attention. The one constant that rang true throughout this film is the cancer of loneliness that seemed to amplify Jeffrey’s metaphorical voice that was ringing in his head to expose what he was born to eventually become. Because of such, Meyers film feels like the most revealing look into the mind of one of America’s most gruesome serial killers, taking us through the many depositions in and around his tortured life that presented an roarschach test of possible answers for where to point the blame. The most responsible answer is everyone, and it’s in that stance where the film commands its audience to live with your eyes open at all times because the next Jeffrey Dahmer might be right under your nose the whole time.

As a narrative, ‘My Friend Dahmer’ is a bit of a coming of age story with a twist, in that this isn’t just a teenager maturing into what he was born to become, but also into something that terrified everyone else. To be honest, if you’re expecting a bloodbath of epic levels here, you will sadly be mistaken. ‘My Friend Dahmer’ isn’t fully a horror movie, but instead a psychological spin that puts the scattered pieces together and allows us to see the bigger picture from a step back. There are plenty of examples of broken relationships all around the boy that all collide with him on this demolition course that is lacking of any kind of intimacy for him to crutch the pressure onto. Because of this, I found it to be an entertaining sit in spades even if the entirety of the script is hearsay. Because the writer, Bergdorf, is a central character in the film, we rely on him to faithfully color in the lines of mystery for our own satisfaction. The problem is that Bergdorf himself wasn’t in but maybe forty percent of the scenes that are shown in the film, so there is that level of doubt from his script that makes you wonder just how authentic Dahmer’s solo scenes are to the story. With that said, Bergdorf as a writer feels like a valuable piece to the spectrum not only because he accomplishes the menacing presence of a young Dahmer, but also because he juggles it with this light-hearted atmosphere of teenage hormones humor that fills the air until the cloud of Jeffrey’s alienation overtakes the production whole.

For my enjoyment of being a local who lives only fifteen minutes from where these events took place, Meyers decision to shoot in and around Bath Township is one that pays great dividends to immersing yourself in the proper environment. This presents an extra added glee of being able to point out certain roads and buildings that still stand to this day that out of state audiences won’t fully grasp, giving it a surreal feeling full circle because these are the very same halls and roads that the killer once walked. How many biopics can confidently say that they shot in the exact same house that the original story took place? But because I have visited the former Dahmer house on many occasions and can see it fruitfully displayed on camera, I can appreciate the speculated difficulty that went into crafting such a solid truth to this picture. Most of the names remain untouched in the script, and the only change that I saw was that of the school buses that say Summit Township, instead of Bath Township.

The production does a mostly solid job of keeping out of the television movie-of-the-week category that can sometimes doom the immersion into a true story. The cinematography from Daniel Katz omits a kind of cheap aura to its shot selections, but I think this does wonders in feeding into the very look and fashions of 1978 that are depicted all over this film. On that ground, nothing felt outdated or out of place for the era that the story took place in, and I value a film even more that can paint such a picture without it feeling obvious or forced. What I mean is that sometimes a film can drive home a series of songs repeatedly or throw in a bunch of posters of 70’s pop culture to constantly remind you, but ‘My Friend Dahmer’ feels more confident in establishing these grounds more so in its visual compass instead of its physical properties, and it’s a decision that I feel goes miles in determining the kinds of hands-on decision making from the proper people without the interruption of Hollywood big wigs not willing to take the time to understand the character or the world that envelopes him.

As for performances, the majority are solid, but the overdone line reads of some extras were painfully obvious on a few occasions. These are nothing more than the occasional teacher or popular student characters who are clearly reading lines for the first time in their early careers, and thankfully don’t stick around for the long haul. What I can say positively begins with Ross Lynch giving a stirring revelation as the title character. Lynch commands Dahmer with the kind of patience and transfixing movements that faithfully keep your eyes on him at all times. What is so chilling about his performance is the cold stare from his facial reactions through any kind of atmosphere taking place around him, that hint that he’s got a dirty secret that only he knows. In addition to Lynch, Dallas Roberts was also good as Dahmer’s exhausted father Lionel, who feels like the last chance for Jeffrey in keeping him afloat. Lionel is the character who I reasoned with the most in this broken home kind of family, and the few sensitive scenes that he shares with Jeffrey feel like that warm breath that is needed in getting us through some very haunting chain of events that our young protagonist of sorts deals with on an almost daily basis.

THE VERDICT – ‘My Friend Dahmer’ is a cut above the rest in terms of credible real-life biopics that choose to get a step closer psychologically instead of settling for a Wikipedia summary. Though the film’s speculation can sometimes lead to noticeable patches of dry and direction-less scenes, the majority of Meyers provacative work feels sharp for the dissection. Held tightly by the breakthrough performance of Lynch, as well as the charms of a local familiarity in backdrops, and you have a film that Jeffrey would devilishly eat up.

7/10

Roman J. Israel Esq

A driven, idealistic defense attorney finds himself at the hands of a difficult dilemma that will have him questioning everything that he ever knew. In ‘Roman J. Israel Esq’, Civil Lawyer Roman J. Israel (Denzel Washington) has been fighting the good fight while others take the credit. When his partner, the firm’s front man, has a heart attack, Israel suddenly takes on that role. He finds out some unsettling things about what the crusading law firm has done that run afoul of his values of helping the poor and dispossessed, and he finds himself in an existential crisis that leads to extreme action. On the crossroads of one’s life, does he take the road less traveled, or the easiest path to victory? ‘Roman J. Israel Esq’ is written and directed by Dan Gilroy, and is rated PG-13 for adult language and some scenes of violence.

The trailer for ‘Roman J Israel Esq’ felt like a bunch of unassembled puzzle pieces thrown together out of context that didn’t gel into one cohesive unit. The first thing that I grab from a film’s trailer is the overall plot because it’s in that aspect where I decide just how badly I want to see said movie. After seeing the full length feature film, I can understand why I didn’t have the slightest clue what this film was about, nor where the direction it was competently headed. The film structured all around by Gilroy, feels like four different stories that are fighting for the allotment of the 112 minute runtime that hints at some of them being dissected in order of importance along the way. As far as fluidity amongst scripts is concerned, Gilroy takes an unpredictably tragic misstep after the success that was 2014’s ‘Nightcrawler’ by trying to establish too many profound observations on the seedy world of practicing law. Because of such, this film from bell-to-bell is a chore to get through, juggling enough violent tonal shifts and jarring sequencing that gave me a feeling of amnesia to the ideal that I may have just watched four different films take place, and possibly nodded off between them to where they now feel like one finished product.

Some of the advantages of this script revolve around the cryptic movements positioned by our protagonist that constantly feels one step ahead of us the audience. As a character, Israel feels conflicted by the crossroads that forces him to choose between continuing the fight for good, or surrounding himself with the material things that serve as the greatest reflection of success for one’s career. This to me was the single greatest movement in terms of direction for the script, but it’s just unfortunate that the film often feels like Israel’s story isn’t compelling enough to dedicate the majority of minutes to, despite he himself being in 100% of the scenes for the movie. This certainly isn’t one of those movies that will have you on the edge of your seat, but the tugging between good and evil inside of one man’s conflicted point of view felt satisfying enough because of the truly vapid wild card of a man that we are dealing with here. To that degree, Gilroy feels like the kind of screenwriter that offers an unapologetic stance for how he sees the world in all of its gluttony for getting to the top with each pawn having a price. Similar ground is treaded in ‘Nightcrawler’, albeit in slightly less disjointed ways, but ‘Roman J Israel Esq’ further establishes this theory, treading through shaky ground to find comfort in a moral conundrum that could’ve used more development on the surface.

Besides this favorable subplot, the rest of the film muddles itself to paralyzing by pulling at the arms of ambition one time too many. Besides Israel’s mental change, the rest of the film deals with a client of Israel’s behind bars who may have details that the authorities seek in order to put him away for life, a romantic subplot involving a character played by Carmen Ejogo that completely comes out of nowhere and feels so unnatural because of a great lack of chemistry, and finally the crumbling of his law practice after the untimely death of his best friend and partner. You can certainly understand the balance of power when you hear so many establishing points for the screenplay, but what you can’t tell by reading this is just how weighed down the script feels in details that dispose it of any kind of entertainment value that will keep you invested. By the halfway point of this film, I found myself fighting for the slightest tinge of excitement that would prolong my attention, but it simply wasn’t there. This isn’t because of unnatural pacing mind you, but rather the long-winded diatribes of exposition that overly states instead of shows what is transpiring, and I for one could’ve used more of a hands on approach to prove that this film isn’t afraid of getting its hands dirty.

The tonal shifts are even more perplexing for the film because you never truly understand what kind of genre dominates this picture. Early on in the movie, I found myself laughing at the awkwardness of Israel having to takeover some of these cases that his deceased colleague tried, but then like a sharp tack, the humor from this script vanished into thin air, favoring a dramatic pulse of direction that stepped forth for the entire second act. During these scenes are when you feel the greatest sense of empathy for Israel because of a world that seems to be advancing around him without him, and even the level from this to the momentum of the earlier scenes felt like two different movies that alienated the other. So what happens towards the end? Strangely enough, the film turns into a bit of an action thriller with one of the most unnecessary car chase sequences that I have ever seen. It goes nowhere after it transpires and left me wondering further if a fight for power was taking place off-screen by the studio, or did Gilroy just never have a clearly defined ending to begin with?

What does keep so much of the inconsistencies at tolerable levels is the versatile performance of one of Hollywood’s last legendary leading men to fruition. Washington portrays Israel with levels of clumsiness and vulnerability that are rarely seen from the decades old professional. Roman’s depiction is honest at all times, so therefore he isn’t always the most likeable presence on camera, bringing to life an original side of Denzel’s character acting that allows him to get fully engulfed into this character for better or worse. Sure, the charisma and smile are still there, albeit behind a gap-toothed prosthetic that further immerses him into detail, but Washington’s spin as this mumbling revolutionary of courtroom law doesn’t take the same short cuts that the script around him does, relaying an idea that this leading man might simply be too good to be subjected to amateur hour. In addition to Washington, Colin Ferrell is also a welcome presence as the head of a big time law firm that hires Israel after his firm goes under. While Colin isn’t in the film a lot, he does make the most of every scene, emoting a refreshingly compassionate side to his character that I didn’t see coming from someone so wrapped in materialism. Washington and Ferrell are the right kind of 1-2 punch to keep ‘Roman J Israel Esq’ floating above the heavy waters of choppy story arcs that nearly sink it.

THE VERDICT – When a film is named after a character, it usually goes without saying that it will be a one man show. However, the ties that bind ‘Roman J Israel Esq’, limit its appeal as a whole because of too much puzzling circumstance in simple storytelling that overly-convolutes its case before it ever reaches the jury of moviegoers deciding its fate. Washington continues to be a Hollywood heavyweight without any of the energy or fiery depositions that his character pieces are known for. But Gilroy doesn’t harvest enough rolling momentum to ever accommodate his leading lawyer, and because of such we experience two men in Israel and Gilroy who feel like they’re being stretched too thin by the world that is crumbling around them.

5/10

Coco

The striking chords of music separate a boy and his deceased family to The Land of the Dead, in Pixar Animation’s newest ‘Coco’. Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel (voice of Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (voice of Benjamin Bratt). Through daily viewings of video tapes and a shrine dedicated to Cruz, Miguel puts in the hours to becoming a signature guitar player with very little luck along the way. Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events. Along the way, he meets charming trickster Hector (voice of Gael García Bernal), and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history. ‘Coco’ is written and directed by Adrian Molina, and is rated PG for thematic elements.

Music can serve and narrate the link between the past and present in ways that can tenderly preserve our memories. This was my biggest takeaway from ‘Coco’, the newest grand slam strike from a company that continues to amaze and raise the bar with each passing year; Disney Pixar. Once again, this company strikes gold in emulating the very traditions and lifestyles of a foreign land in a way that is not only educational for youths with a thirst for exploration, but also intelligent for the way that it carefully juggles the tone of every scene. Like only a couple of films before it, ‘Coco’ took me on a high speed rush of emotional versatility that made me feel bi-polar because of how much can resonate from within in a single 100 minute sitting. Besides the moral of the story that I took away, there’s so much more to this film that provides the perfect family gathering this Thanksgiving weekend, harvesting an urgency for life, as well as a celebration for the deceased that vibrantly decodes the link between these two entirely vast worlds. This is very much a movie that makes you feel enlightened when you leave the theater, and that’s a feat that I feel a lot of films (especially kids movies) are missing from this current day and age. This proves that Pixar isn’t just crafting kids films, but films that cater to every age spectrum that never limits their profound voice.

This is very much a script that takes its time in getting to know our characters pasts respectively, but it moves along so sharp that I never felt bored or dragged down by the endless exposition. The first half Molina’s script follows near the casual setups of a protagonist who is searching to find his voice in more ways than one, but what evolved proves that the information in the trailers is only table dressing to the much tastier main course. The film is a mystery at times, and crosses into the theme of needing to invest in our pasts if we are to continue forth with our futures. This provides plenty of surprises along the way, including a plot twist midway through that takes its cues from the ‘Blade Runner 2049’ school of storytelling that this film even did slightly better. There’s also great thought and imagination invested into the very world building that Molina confidently casts upon his shoulders. The kinds of themes and rules are a throwback to the very legends of Mexican tradition that are past down from one generation to the next, feeding into the finely tuned engine of intelligence that ‘Coco’ carves out for itself. Believe me when I say that this is a screenplay that will at the very least touch your heart, but for the select few, it will resonate in a way that transfixes you with the music that serenades your soul.

On that topic, we have a spirited contender for best musical soundtrack of 2017. At this point, Disney is turning out earworms that live and breed inside of our heads, and the best decision is not to fight it, but go with irresistible melodies that get your toes tapping. Michael Giacchnino’s collection of songs moves at many tempos fast and slow, highlighting the many moments that require an essence of song in the air, but what impressed me most was the insertion of these inevitable hits that built their deliveries. As to where most musicals insert songs every five minutes of the movie, often creating scenes of song that don’t feel authentic in their dissertation, ‘Coco’ carefully reserves the proper moment in time to deliver these numbers. The most important thing here is that the music is working hand-in-hand with the story, firing on double cylinders that brings out the most in terms of confidence for both aspects. Songs have been important in films, but in this movie it feels like breathing for this family of personalities that have either thrived or been left to rot because of it. Either way, I see a lot of Itunes purchases being made for Giacchino’s stirring audible revelation that struck more than just a chord with my heart and ensuing tears that followed.

The performances were all around incredible by this big name group of actors young and old that carve out something far beyond the one-dimensional protagonists that we’ve come to sadly expect. My favorite is definitely Bernal as Hector, the antsy wild card of the film that steers a bit to close to ever be forgotten. What makes Bernal’s voicing so memorable here is that he allows himself to get lost in the character, channeling a sadness and longing because of being forgotten that has paralyzed his time in the afterlife. The chemistry between the tag team of he and Gonzalez leaves nothing to be desired in the very way that it establishes two characters who we yearn to spend more time with, and soon it becomes evident how desperately they need each other. Speaking of which, the little boy himself commands the film with such innocence and wonder that make him feel years ahead of his young age in real life. Anthony himself is certainly no rookie when it comes to acting or singing, but his grasp of both firmly exceeded my wildest expectations for how a child can command a crowd both on and off of screen. Benjamin Bratt also leaves a lasting impression as charmingly arrogant De La Cruz. Behind every immense pop star, there’s a personality a mile long, and Bratt is happy to oblige with such suave debonair that makes it easy to fall to his musical seduction.

Without question though, my single favorite aspect of the film is in the endlessly intense attention to detail that fronts an artistic flow that crushes any other animated film this year in its path. When I see an animated film, I always speak of rendering, shading, and color palate, and this film hits the mark with precision on all of them. The backdrops and landscapes in this Land of the Dead provided so many awestruck moments when it feels like their luminous lights and high-stacked houses stretch further than the eye can see, but how is the character detail? My answer is PERFECTLY. It’s getting to the point where it is truly scary how much Pixar is mastering every small detail to make a character stand out. What I mean by this is just how many differences in bone structure that the film goes through for its hundreds of the dead that get even a second of screen time, as well as spots or moles on skin for those in the living. The hair threads themselves on character heads feel like you can reach out and touch them at any time, only to be topped by the design of Grandma Coco that better win the production an Oscar or I will scream my lungs out in anger. The wrinkle patterns and rendering of this aging woman confined to a chair had me demanding to pause the film just to soak in how fluently she moved to that of her respective age and situation, and I’ve never seen anything so jaw-dropping illustration when it comes to matching that of a live action counterpart.

What small problems I had with the film were so miniscule that it barely requires mentioning, but two things stand-out like a cancer in an overall production that is nearly perfect. The first is the one roadblock in the animation from a group of flying beast characters (they look like tigers) that alienated the consistency of every person or property around them. The beasts have a strange color design to their characters, but my concern is more in the outline of their designs that screams computer animation. If it were up to me, I wish they weren’t even in the film, as their inclusion even feels like it stretches the rules that were carefully constructed in this other world. The other (and much bigger) problem involved the rules provided in the exposition that doesn’t make sense later on. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I will just say that a character in the Land of the Dead is slowly deteriorating because his loved ones can’t remember him. This of course makes no sense because one of his loved ones is indeed with him throughout the film walking, talking, and all else communicating with him. If I spoke to my Mother directly, IT MEANS I DID NOT FORGET ABOUT HER. My point is that this character should never be deteriorating, and it otherwise feels like an obvious ploy to dramatic pulse in a film that was otherwise dealing with death and its themes maturely.

THE VERDICT – Coco will remind you that you have a pulse, in all of its heartwarming family pleasantries and endless ambition to follow your dreams that will provide inspiration aplenty to those who seek it. The animation feels three-dimensional without the need for eye-cramping glasses, and an energetically spirited musical score by Giacchino brings it all home with a tempo-building final performance that concludes with electricity. It’s a responsibly refreshing story that bridges the worlds of the living and the dead impeccably, bringing to light the importance of family that can’t be diminished by either.

9/10