Alien: Covenant

The crew of a colony ship, slash through a dangerous breed of indiginous creatures that inhabit their newfound land, in ‘Alien: Covenant’. Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created, with “Alien: Covenant,” a new chapter in his groundbreaking “Alien” franchise. The crew of the colony ship Covenant (Including Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, and Billy Crudup), bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world. When they uncover a threat beyond their wildest imaginations, they must attempt a harrowing escape, banding together to take out their acid-spitting antagonists hand-in-hand for survival. ‘Alien: Covenant’ is rated R for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity.

I’m someone who didn’t care much for Prometheus and the philosophical directions that it took one of the more prominent horror/sci-fi movie franchises, and unfortunately Alien: Covenant steers more in that same direction of where the previous left off. It is a better film in my opinion than that of its predecessor, but still suffers from the same problems revolving around its menacing antagonist that Scott still hasn’t fixed five years later. There are two tones in the film of Covenant, pushing to satisfy the diverse crowds of this series that were split right down the middle in their interest of Prometheus. For the supporters of it, this film does bring back the origin story of the creators, as well as the artistic and ambitious direction that only Scott can accomplish at this magnitude. For fans of the original Alien and Aliens movies, this film shifts back to the pacing of those movies, even so far as to include their increased appetites in brutal violence that reigned supreme during that era. The gore is very satisfying to a horror lover like me, and I felt that this film had some of the best deaths of the series. However, For this kind of juxtaposition in tone, it does often feel like a tug-of-war battle for the creativity of this movie, tightly jamming two different feels of movies into one Frankenstein-like finished product. The film satisfied in many ways, but had nearly as many problems to point out for my final grade of the film.

Ridley Scott still proves that after over forty years of sitting behind the director’s chair that he still has it in the visual presentations that envelope his films. Whether you love or hate Scott as a director, it’s measures like the interior ship designs and lighting of this movie that orchestrate the idea that this man is playing on a totally different ball field. The interiors of this film took me back to Aliens and Alien 3, opting for more of that faded cinematography to accommodate the yellowish tint in lighting that adorned these ships. In addition to this, I greatly adored the decision to film more scenes on the ground, as we very rarely have seen these aliens in their natural habitats. It also fruitfully paints the backdrop in picture for the creators and the kind of epic world that they once lived in, long before they met their genetic match in terms of conflict. These glances offer the kind of answers to the questions that were left anti-climatically in the air during the prior film, and did plenty to satisfy my thirst for foreign worlds that has sadly done very little experimenting before this.

Then there are those decisions by Scott that could’ve used a little more time to develop and mold for the eyes of his passionate viewers. The decision to amplify the tension by making these aliens quicker in this film is one that I do support. Even in zombie films, people often criticize this stance for taking away from the classic movements of the antagonists, but it’s easy to understand that taking away the ability to run away is what makes their actions even more unpredictable. My problem comes in the CGI designs of the aliens themselves. Aside from the fact that there are no practical effects in this movie, I found the computer designs of most of the alien creatures to be laughably bad. The Xenomorphs are fine because they show that of dark skin that makes it difficult to point out the flaws in their designs, but the small white creatures that appeared during the opening act of this movie are so bad that they reminded me of Alien: Resurrection, the stain of the Alien franchise. The shading and texture of their designs feel so foreign to the practical sets that surround them that it makes it very difficult to suspend disbelief for their impacts. By 2017, concept designs shouldn’t lack this much weight, and as a result the gimmick of this creature left me laughing every time it was on screen.

The story too has its problems, even going as far as the actual title of the movie. If this film was called Prometheus 2, or Prometheus with some subtitle after it, I would be fine with it. But to have the actual name ALIEN in the title and only have them in the two hour presentation for a total of twenty minutes (I’m being generous) is a huge mistake. Much of the reason people disliked Prometheus is because they couldn’t find the connection between the two stories. Now we have a movie that connects them, but does it in a way that reduces these creatures to supporting roles in their own film. The movie has an easily predictable plot twist towards the end of the movie that friends will attest to me predicting right away. How did I predict this? Well, a lack of care for what scenes were included leading up to the big reveal, as well as subtle but evident differences in appearance for two characters who are quite similar. It’s tough to explain without spoiling everything, but if you are paying attention even decently, you will easily pick out this flaw from the minute that Scott attempts to accomplish it. Overall, the story to me just fell flat in many long spurts, practically counting down the time when the next attack will happen. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m not crazy about this story getting philosophical, and the idea that these aliens can be reasoned with and even controlled is one that treads the hardest on suspending disbelief. I am reminded of Halloween 6 when they introduced the character of The Man In Black to basically be Michael Myers master. I am of the thought that monsters should always stay cryptic. The more we know about them, the less impactful their rage and dominance feels, and the alien creature is one that I feel doesn’t require that backstory to make it any more frightening.

As for the characters, there are two that stick to mind with being effective in this movie, Katherine Waterston as Daniels and Danny Mcbride as Tennessee. Mcbride especially is the standout here, putting aside his comedic charms for a tough-as-nails character with some intelligence to boot. Danny showcases that he is an actually gifted actor here, and I couldn’t get enough of his commanding presence on this ship, and being the lone voice of reasoning for the film. Yes, Danny Mcbride was the voice of reason, weird huh? As for Waterston, there’s certainly a steer in the direction of Ripley and Shaw for her structure, but Daniels serves as a particularly human lead protagonist here because immediately right away in the movie she suffers the most devastating loss of her life. So we get to see the actual metamorphosis of her character as the film progresses, leading into a captain who takes control for the very lives of not just her crew, but also her friends. Besides these two, the rest of the performances and development was very underutilized. You could blame it on fifteen different faces taking up screen time, but I blame it more on the cliche horror movie characters that they all made up. Characters in these movies typically make dumb decisions, but when you really think about how easily the events in Covenant could’ve been avoided, you start to laugh aloud for how very little has changed in this nearly forty year old franchise. At least in the earlier volumes, you had characters who were able to showcase these fleshed-out personalities for us to enjoy or hate. The people in Covenant constantly feel overlooked, and this is a rare flaw for a director in Scott, who has developed some meaty supporting casts.

THE VERDICT – Alien: Covenant is a welcome addition over the last four Aliens movies that have disappointed this critic for how convoluted their easy-to-satisfy plots have become. The film increases the violence and answers many of the questions that were left hanging from the previous film, but still suffers in terms of what definitive direction that this movie is trying to take. Hollow characters, pee-brain decision making, and some shoddy CGI work, still prove that this series has plenty to perfect before it tangles with the days of Alien or Aliens. Even with annoyances aside, Covenant has enough pulse to bite through the underbelly of horror conventionalism, and still prove that this series has teeth.

6/10

The Wall

Two American soldiers seek safety and shield behind an unsteady structure that has them fighting for their lives, in Doug Liman’s latest action thriller, The Wall. The movie is a deadly psychological thriller that centers around two soldiers, Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Matthews (John Cena), who are pinned down by an unforseen Iraqi sniper with extreme precision, with nothing but a crumbling wall between them. Their fight becomes as much a battle of will and wits as it is of lethally accurate marksmanship, thus proving that even the smallest of wars do indeed have grave consequences. The Wall, produced by Amazon Studios, is written by first-time screenwriter Dwain Worrell. It landed on the 2014 script Black List, and is rated R for adult language throughout and some war violence, including sequences of peril.

The Wall can be best described as being a strategic impulse thriller that plays to a familiar backdrop in the Iraq War, during the year of 2007. President Bush has since declared victory in the Middle East, yet the opposing sides are still spilling vital blood. Off in the uncertain distance of it all are two soldiers and an ambiguous sniper that wants them dead. There’s something greatly appreciating about what Liman does in scope here to craft this as one of the hardest hitting war films of the last decade. Despite there only being three people in the entirety of this film, it never diminishes the importance or the urgency of its story or winning the war, even when its dangerous game is being played on the smallest of stages. The film feels like a game of chess, with both sides jockeying for position on their opposition, and it’s in that procedural of sorts with army protocol where Worrell’s cunning script thinks the loudest in terms of keeping this interesting for 86 minutes. It does so and proves that the war genre doesn’t necessarily need to be played at the most epic of scopes to be compelling, and that it’s the millions of smaller battles that demand their stories to be told.

The action and sound editing really puppeteer the emotional response from its audience by offering crisp, sudden impact that plays tenderly to the eerie nature of the quiet surrounding our protagonists. t This feels like the kind of movie where these men make every single bullet count, so each time that you hear that long gasp of silence, you can’t help but fear for that whoosh in sound that tells us bullets are on the way. As far as the mystery within the film goes, I felt that the film is best reserved when we don’t know the exact location of our gifted sniper, playing more into the uncertainty that could strike at any and everywhere when he chooses to push the button. This angle of script perspective takes place more during the opening half hour than the rest of the script, but unfortunately gives away this reveal far too early in the movie to play more into keeping the audience guessing. What does work is the two sides being able to communicate on a CB radio that paints more of a vicious shadow for the man who could literally be anywhere. The choice in desert backdrop makes for a location that is every bit as forgiving as it is influential in playing to the advantages and disadvantages of hiding a plan from the oppositions. I thought it was cool to see a sandstorm literally take over certain scenes between characters with their own agendas. It kind of signals that Mother Nature and life in general continue on even in the most dire of situations.

As for script, the film surprisingly offers an array of social commentary on the perils of war and the prices that we pay for democracy. Worrell feels like a writer who chooses not to glorify war, but instead the value of human life and our purpose for others in power making decisions for that value. There were several times during the movie when the thought-provoking question of ‘Why You?’ is wonderfully positioned, and yet we as an audience can’t help but wonder the same thing. With only one chance at this thing called life, are such invasions literally important? Like most responsible movies, this one never steers one way or the other, but I do appreciate that it isn’t afraid to at least challenge the status quo. There’s also a terrific style of execution based on the very exposition within the movie that communicates to its audience what happened before we arrived, without ever needing the introductory montage that feels like it’s everywhere anymore. To begin this film already inside the cloud of danger is quite risky, but as the film goes on, we learn important reveals about Taylor-Johnson’s Isaac, as well as the key events of their mission that reveals why their once prosperous army has been winded down to a party of two. Some of our initial images from the get-go are that of several U.S army soldiers laying dead and spread out all over. This tells us two important things; this sniper is very good at his job, and those still alive are well-versed in that capability and must choose carefully what to do next. An aspect like war can play so beautifully into capturing the peaks of a story long before we’re being narrated through it, and Liman does a terrific job at setting the stage for a battle that will change everything.

This begins my problems for the movie however, as this feels like a movie that starts to show its weaknesses the longer it goes on. The film’s pacing rarely dragged for me, but in the final half hour I started to see how this film painted itself into a corner for how little it truly answered leading into the final few scenes. Because of such, some highly unbelievable aspects happen that took me out of my immersive dive into this dangerous world and continued to remind me just how much a movie this really is. On top of this, I also hated the dialogue within this movie, and this negative plays into the very hollow characters that we are presented with. The performances of Taylor-Johnson and Cena are solid enough, and they certainly give it everything that they have to make this characters appealing protagonists. But unfortunately, these two feel like stereotypical muscle-head soldier types without any of the heart or empathy that makes them compelling. There’s a point towards the end where Isaac is literally crying from all of the mental and physical anguish that his character has taken, and yet I never felt troubled for his character. Where the dialogue plays into this is every other word practically settling for the F Bomb for the hell of it, or an arrogant retort by Isaac as he talks back-and-forth to his enemy. Fear should be the more prominent emotion being portrayed here, and that clumsy decision to always keep our hero jabbing off does damage in illustrating the versatility within his character.

THE VERDICT – The Wall stands strong through a weathered third act that nearly diminishes all of the strong foundation built in the first hour of the movie. Doug Liman’s choice for a smaller scope for his war thriller is just what is needed to instill a fresh outlook on the genre to keep it from sinking under familiar waters. He elevates the handicaps of his one stage setting by focusing on only two characters to make the urgency that much more valued. A minimalist survival plot that hinges on the concept of ambiguous murder and the prices were willing to pay to play.

6/10

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Critically Acclaimed filmmaker Guy Ritchie brings his dynamic style to the epic fantasy action adventure genre, in ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’. Starring Charlie Hunnam in the title role, the film is an iconoclastic take on the classic Excalibur myth, tracing Arthur’s journey from the streets to the throne. When the child Arthur’s father is murdered, Vortigern (Jude Law), Arthur’s uncle, seizes the crown. Robbed of his birthright and with no idea who he truly is, Arthur comes up the hard way in the back alleys of the Londininum, not knowing his royal lineage. But once he pulls the sword from the stone, his life is turned upside down and he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy…whether he likes it or not. He joins the rebellion and a shadowy young woman named Guinevere. He must learn to understand the magic weapon, deal with his demons, and unite the people to defeat the evil dictator, the same man who murdered his parents and stole his crown to become king. ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong adult language.

Guy Ritchie is a prominent enough name when it comes to reputation in film for capturing an original angle of a project that he feels passionate about. Most notably, his action thrillers like The Man From U.N.C.L.E and Sherlock Holmes are my blend of comic awkwardness combined with dire consequences to mesh into a thrilling good time. So when I heard that he was tagged to direct a new adaptation of the King Arthur folklore, it did get me at least slightly curious because his style of filmmaking is more upbeat and faster paced when compared to the Arthur movies of the past that I grew up with. What comes of it is perhaps the strongest argument for why opposites most certainly do not attract. The Legend of the Sword isn’t just a terribly underwritten movie, it’s one whose visual scope in presentation fights to ever stay focused, humiliating itself with jumbled narration that feels like a child on too much sugar. This blending of worlds just doesn’t work in solidifying that middle ages feel of authenticity, and because of it, Ritchie’s dive into the dark ages is a mind-numbing affair of laughably bad cliches that hinder his overall growth as a director on an epic stage.

The story is an origins tale, highlighting how Arthur came to be known as the man who pulled the sword from the stone, but the way it catches the audience up during the first act is one that repeatedly made me wince and felt troubling on the progression of the current storyline. Immediately, The Legend of the Sword feels like it suffers from a lot of the problems that Warcraft did, in that there’s a three hour presentation just screaming to get out here, but has to trim an hour in run time just to keep the butts in the seats. What that decision sacrifices is truly one of the worst first acts that I have seen in 2017. Everything from Arthur’s childhood, to the death of his father, to him being raised on the streets is glossed over like the fast-forward button on your DVD has been pushed to 3x speed. As the film went on, there was also a violent shove into contrasting pacing that often made it feel like two different films. The first and third acts skim through the material that could’ve used more emphasis, yet the second act slows things down by dulling us with the intellectual growth and training of what feels like a ten-year-old. So little pizazz or excitement happens during this scene, and it felt like the batteries on my remote ran out suddenly, after pushing fast-forward so many times during the first hour.

Flashback montages can serve a vital purpose in a film that dives into the past and present, but here it is presented in such a way that convolutes and confuses the audience into trying to figure out which scene is actually current day. For example, a scene will begin, Arthur will then talk about how he escaped authorities, then an immediate cut displaying that story will overtake our visual storytelling. This wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t happen so much that it becomes a drinking game by the end of the movie. It got to the point where I was hoping no character would ask any questions for fear we would be forced to be yanked back into the past instead of steering forward. Hell, sometimes a character will discuss a plan, and while the narration is being heard, we see the plan being executed visually, and then go back to the scene where the discussion took place. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? How does this pass the final cut? A story is usually told in a straight line, but King Arthur would rather scribble left-to-right and vice versa, testing the patience of audience members who don’t luck out in just having this happen during the beginning of the film.

For anyone who loves CGI effects, this movie will be right up your alley. It’s not all terrible, but I wondered frequently if that is because most of the movie’s color scheme is presented so dark, as to not show the graphing and shading of the animated animal counterparts. This movie flies off of the rails quickly in this movie, embracing a code of magic that stretches logic well beyond that of what we’ve come to know in this particular folklore. Because of this, The Legend of the Sword feels more like a fantasy dive into imaginative waters, similar to the same scale as say 300 or Gods of Egypt, the latter feeling more like what we’re given creatively. I did enjoy Ritchie’s camera work in communicating the very immensity and epic of this kind of story. The long-shot angles certainly play into capturing the kind of effect that this war has on the land. Where the CGI doesn’t flatter me is in the final battle scene when all rules in logic are set to burn. Besides the fact that there is CGI fire that doesn’t have smoke accompanying it, there is a forty foot tall snake in this movie that looks like it came straight out of a Windows 95 program. The very movements and synchronicity of this design had me fighting back laughter, and it’s a terrible final swallow of disappointment to go with the two hours that made this Ritchie influenced fast-paced camera style even more boring than that of the lessons we learned about Arthur in Elementary School.

What Ritchie’s scope didn’t nail was that of the fight sequences, which are terribly choreographed and even more terribly shot. This film falls under two of my least favorite annoyances with modern day action films, in that it shoots too close and cuts far too many times to ever register mentally what is being depicted. If that wasn’t enough, this tired old cliche of slowing the action down for two seconds after the registered hit happens is overused to the feeling of walking through a pool of syrup. This kind of effect was cool when it debuted in The Matrix. THAT WAS 1999. Find something new. I will give credit though because without the slow-down effect, I would’ve never been able to register what was happening because of poor sequencing that nearly left me cross-eyed.

The acting wasn’t terrible by a solid collection of veteran actors, but most of the leads did have me violently suspending disbelief to even think for a second that they were who they were supposed to be. Charlie Hunnam is someone who I mentioned during The Lost City of Z who has unbelievable potential if he is given the proper script in offering a compelling character. My problem with him as the title character is that Arthur here feels arrogant, immature, and even heartless when he relates to his peers. The only thing that really makes him Arthur is his wielding of the sword, but without it, he lacks the true essence in awe to become a revolutionary. I blame this more on poor character directing by Ritchie, and a script that hindered Hunnam’s growth behind every turn. Eric Bana is also relegated to a brief cameo as Arthur’s Father. From a physical stature, Bana doesn’t scream to me that he is king of the land, and even more so, his delivery never feels like he fully commits himself to relaying the true heartbreak that his character inevitably will face. The one positive that I did have was Jude Law as Vortigern, not necessarily for his dedication to character, but more for his hamming up at the script that he knew he was far better than. Law is having the time of his life as this character, and he feels magnetic anytime he shows up on screen sporting a shit-eating grin that finds it easy to soak up one of Hollywood’s most charismatic.

THE VERDICT – King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword is attention grabbing, but for all of the wrong reasons. It’s a fast-cutting, logic-bending dullard of a presentation by one of the truly most gifted directors of the past decade, who sacrifices the heart of the original story’s charms in favor of CGI overhauls of animals that leave this story feeling hollow and lacking any kind of considerable substance. It takes a real warrior to pull the sword from the stone that buried this movie under two hours of ridiculousness, but this is one task where I lack the true grit needed to make many positives out of this grand scale disaster. F for Forgettable.

3/10

The Dinner

The main course of an evening out divides a troubled family at the seams, in The Dinner. When Stan Lohman (Richard Gere), a popular congressman running for governor, invites his troubled younger brother Paul (Steve Coogan) and his wife Claire (Laura Linney) to join him and his wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) for dinner at one of the town’s most fashionable restaurants, the stage is set for a tense night. While Stan and Paul have been estranged since childhood, their 16-year- old sons are friends, and the two of them have committed a horrible crime that has shocked the country. While their sons’ identities have not yet been discovered and may never be, their parents must now decide what action to take. As the night proceeds, beliefs about the true natures of the four people at the table are upended, relationships shatter, and each person reveals just how far they are willing to go to protect those they love. The Dinner is written and directed by Oren Moverman, and is rated R for disturbing violent content, and adult language throughout.

It’s evident to me the kind of movie that Oren Moverman was trying for in adapting the the popular novel from literature to the big screen. The concepts of our importance upon dining culture, as well as entrees that don’t completely satisfy the hunger of the company who dine on them, despite all of the time and attention to detail that went into their looks. It uses each of the seven dishes of the main course to convey a new chapter to where this story is headed, but everything flies off the rails so quickly that there’s rarely any structure to the film’s material. That bit that I explained about the design of food is the perfect edible metaphor to everything that The Dinner is and suffers from. This is very much a movie that wants to be an edge-of-the-seat thriller by the numbers, but is bogged down time-and-time again by terribly telegraphed flashback sequences that halt what should be the film’s central conflict from digesting smoothly. It’s almost impossible to screw a movie up this badly, especially considering the writer and director are the same person, limiting any kind of conflict in adapting two visions. This movie wasn’t just boring, but it allowed me the time to check up on all 13 Facebook notifications that were buzzing away at my phone while I decided to take this one in. It lacks excitement because far too many times it let me down with what could’ve been an enticing moral conundrum.

First of all is the visual presentation. Getting out of the way the single positive that I had for the movie is that of the luminous lighting and elegant backdrops that certainly depict a world of secrecy. It’s evident that the aura of this restaurant echoes that of the conversations that this family is about to take on; dark, ominous, and ever so quiet with all that they have hid away. That last compliment is also the first negative that I have for the film, as the sound mixing and editing is a little too good at its job. What I mean is that it never feels like we are there with these two couples inside of the restaurant because you don’t hear the chatter of other tables occupants despite it being a full house. I’m someone who watches film for realistic aspects of a movie, and a restaurant that quiet with that many people inside didn’t just add to my disbelief, it radiated it. The editing of the movie is also quite jarring and often times confusing to how much time has passed. Characters change positions a couple of times in the movie, contrasting the continuity of the previous shot that had them in one place and now has them in a complete other. The camera work continuously felt very shaky here, opting to slowly close-up and out frequently throughout the movie a shade quicker than the normal panning shot endures. Picture a Wayne’s World Extreme Close-Up for two hours. I’m sure you’ll just eat it up.

I commend the film’s writing for at least presenting the story boards in a novel kind of storytelling, complete with chapters and flashbacks that have us learning something new about our characters one piece at a time. The concept itself fails miserably however, as I found myself confused quite frequently at the pacing of each of these flashbacks. It’s funny because for the first two acts of the movie, these flashbacks are all over the place, often times overtaking the current day developments of this dinner scene that should serve as the foreground of the movie’s reveals. Then in the third act, they are no longer there, giving the movie a multi-writer feel for two completely opposite visions. I would’ve frankly been fine without any of the flashbacks, instead opting for this being a dialogue-driven movie that reveals what every character is hiding about the past. I’m not saying that flashbacks can’t work, but they have to be restrained so not to take over the foreground story that serves as the answer to the question. This rule isn’t even remotely followed, as there’s many examples that I can point to for proof, but I will choose one late in the second act that floored me for how it made the final cut. The movie stops to reveal a mental disease within one of our adult characters, and instead of cutting to the point, the movie gives us a figurative history lesson on this character that serves no point in the conflicts of these children, as well as a literal one in an actual history lesson about Gettysburg because this character is a history teacher. WOW!!!! The time invested into this sequence lasted for 18 minutes. At one point, there’s a flashback within a flashback, and it all confused me as to whether the adults left the restaurant and this was now modern day, or if we were still in the flashback. I couldn’t tell because it lasted so long. This was the very definition of padding to push this to two hours, and boy was it a challenge to not walk out.

The ending too was a huge slap in the face because our characters and accompanying film decide to take the easy route in tucking everything away as neat and tidy as possible, ignoring the obvious questions and conflicts that have just taken place in favor for reaching for that plot device with the conflict that their children face, which has since expired. The worst kind of movies are the ones that you walk out of mad. Not laughing at them, but genuinely mad. There’s a 95 minute decent movie somewhere in here that is dying to get out, but unfortunately it never capitalizes on the thriller aspect of its designated genre, instead opting out for a mental health study that frankly bored me to pieces. I’ve seen worse films in my life, but none with the kind of magic that was executed in this trailer for taking something so hollow on the inside and filling the audience with a sense of seductive sizzle for what was promised. As a writer Moverman left me underwhelmed, under-cooking every possible twist and turn for watered down execution.

I wish that were the worst part of it however, but then you have to understand the kind of characters that you spend two miserable hours with. The Dinner gave me that feeling of being a child and being punished for doing something bad by having to sit at the dinner table while my father and grandfather talked politics. There’s is something comically ironic to the politician of the group being easily the most honorable, and if that doesn’t open your eyes to the real winners here, nothing will. Steve Coogan delivers a terribly bland performance for a movie that basically revolves around him. I was tired of his ‘I’m smarter than you’ stick that got old fifteen minutes into the movie and made me question why I should put up with this for the long haul. As far as protagonists go, he is truly one of the most dreadful, and his lack of commitment to delivery is the kind of stuff that friends having a couple of drinks and laughs at a party are made of. As Claire and Katelyn, Linney and Hall are reduced to nothing more than table dressing for the main course of the dominant males in the movie, so their involvement in the film is nothing more than reactions for what develops. At least in Linney’s Claire there is a crossroads question for the audience in just how far they would go to protect their kids. Claire’s depths go to asinine levels, and any parent who justifies her reasoning will really make me wonder about your moral fiber. This table of everything that you hate about upper class self-pity will have you making reservations elsewhere, so just to not hear how difficult life really is.

THE VERDICT—-The Dinner overstuffs its audience with an overabundance of flashbacks and horribly written protagonists to favor it as one of the truly most mind-numbing experiences of film in 2017. There’s rarely anything on this menu that is remotely appealing, and as a directing chef Moverman the final dish of dessert with an ending that hammers home the fear that hits you early on that this is worst case scenario when it comes to the concept of book-to-film adaptations. Like most adolescent teens, I’m choosing to eat my dinner in the privacy of my bedroom, far away from any of this frustrating execution or bland personalities. (MIC DROP)

2/10

3 Generations

Elle Fanning makes a life-altering decision that has her identifying as a male gender, in 3 Generations. A Family of four living under one roof in New York must deal with a life-changing transformation by one that ultimately affects them all. Ray (Fanning) is a teenager who has come to the realization that he isn’t meant to be a girl and has decided to transition from female to male. His single mother, Maggie (Naomi Watts), must track down Ray’s biological father to get his legal consent to allow Ray’s transition. Dolly (Susan Sarandon), Ray’s lesbian grandmother, accompanied by girlfriend Frances (Linda Emond), is having a hard time accepting that she now has a grandson. They must each confront their own identities and learn to embrace change and their strength as a family in order to ultimately find acceptance and understanding within the other’s tender capabilities. 3 Generations is written and directed by Gaby Dellal, and is rated R for adult language.

3 Generations is a film that has certainly had its fair share of problems with finally seeing the light of cinematic day. Set to release in Summer of 2015 under the original title of About Ray, this film sat on the shelf after receiving mostly negative reviews from the Cannes Film Festival of that year. Nearly two years later, I have finally sat down to watch it, and I must say that I agree with a lot of the criticism. For a movie that could easily be as compelling and insightful with engaging the audience into the world of transgender lifestyle, Dellal often times jumbles her movie with tonal shifts and script directions that frankly feel slightly offensive to that of someone going through the same problems and looking for understanding in their particular desire to become the person that they were born to be. With a bit more focus, there’s clearly the capability of being the forefront piece for transgender relations, but 3 Generations focuses too much on issues that have little to no relevance with the vital foreground plot to the movie, feeling often times like two different kinds of movies colliding on the same track, with a few tragic fatalities.

The first act of the movie lays the groundwork for a tortured soul like Ray to identify with who he really is, but it doesn’t show us the examples of how this hinders his life, minus a brief scene of being jumped and robbed by a street mugger. This is ultimately the pause button that the movie never presses play on; we’re never treated to what’s going on inside of Ray’s head, and this is HIS movie. With that lack of ability of making a film like this cerebral, the majority of whom see things in their lives as one-dimensional will lack the kind of understanding that comes with such a responsible film. There are a few moving scenes along the way, particularly in that of this feminist manifesto that at least conjures up the feel-good nature of seeing them presented in such respectable and groundbreaking lights, the same way that 20th Century Women did earlier this year. Unfortunately, the focus in comparison between those two films never feels close, even by the kindest of judgements.

As for the second film that feels more prominently displayed here, we are treated to a Neil Simon kind of clashing of personalities film from the 1960’s. There is some solid Mother/Daughter kind of humor to the movies that made me chuckle a couple of times, and should make it a worthy sit for the females in the family this Mother’s Day, but it rarely finds the capability in crossover appeal. What my biggest problem with this contradiction in direction is just how off-beat and unbalanced that the film’s direction takes us into a final act that doesn’t seem focused on the right character. This becomes a bit more of a dysfunctional family movie, instead of what we have been steered along to at this point, and Ray’s issues suddenly feel miniscule in a movie that hasn’t completely forgotten about her, but has made it clear that she is now a subplot. When you start taking into account some of the problems with the direction and clashing attitudes, there’s an understanding for why this film remained untouched for nearly two years. A lack of concern for that often silenced voice in cinema that we could certainly use more insight into in 2017.

At least the cinematography and overall shooting scheme for the movie is one that I can commend for its rich and elegant tastes. For color scheme, there’s often a white gloss that fills the screen from shot-to-shot, giving the movie that blend of independent movie visuals that the sets it apart in terms of familiarity. The editing is quite experimental, giving way to some inter-cutting shots of Ray’s reactions while listening to a documentary that he is filming about his experiences. There’s even a POV style scene in which we as the audience see things from Ray’s point of view, as he clashes with insensitive people that choose to poke fun at his situation. It is slightly obvious and a little ham-fisted at times with the necessity to include a scene of bullying to entice the audience into pity, but there is genius in forcing us the audience to understand things on a visual level when the story just isn’t working out for itself, putting us at the heart of the situation and asking the internal question of what would we do.

Most of the performances stay pretty grounded, but the lead protagonist is played with a fireball of emotional response from that of rising actress Elle Fanning. In what is definitely her most challenging role to date, Fanning commands Ray with the blending of teenage rebellion and closed-out personality that really omits a cloud of loneliness for his particular situation. Elle is someone who has stolen the screen in films like The Neon Demon and 20th Century Women, but here her theft feels more accustomed because it is after all her movie to steal. I just wish that her character resolution was given more time to grow, and that we as an audience got that scene to bask in her happiness. Sarandon and Watts are decent as a budding Mother and Daughter who have clearly spent far too much time together. Susan is practically playing the same character that she did in last year’s The Meddler, but that doesn’t make her any less enjoyable. She continues to be a familiar face that you can’t help but smile at, and her relationship with Watts in the movie really casts that shadow of doubt as to who really is the parental figure here.

3 Generations is a sign that we are headed in the right direction with showcasing movies that speak to the modern day growth that we as a society need. Unfortunately, this isn’t the film that we will look back on twenty years from now that signaled the change of understanding. With the exception of a strong performance by Fanning and the embracing of feminist-first material, Gaby Dellal’s 3 Generations has a lot to learn about focus and what her own audience deems as important within the central plot. Like its title character, this movie wants to be something completely else, but lacks to find its identity the same way that Ray does.

5/10

The Circle

The job opportunity of a lifetime for an up-and-coming I.T brainiac comes at the hands of digital counter-surveillance, in The Circle. When Mae (Emma Watson) is hired to work for the world’s largest and most powerful tech and social media company, she sees it as an opportunity of a lifetime. As she rises through the ranks, she is encouraged by the company’s founder, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), to engage in a groundbreaking experiment that pushes the boundaries of privacy, ethics and ultimately her personal freedom. Her participation in the experiment, and every decision she makes begin to affect the lives and future of her friends, family and that of humanity. The Circle is written and directed by critically acclaimed writer James Ponsoldt, and is rated PG-13 for a sexual situation, brief strong language and some thematic elements including drug use.

I’ve never read one word of James Ponsoldt’s accompanying novel, which has quite the passionate following in our own world, but I think I can safely argue that it doesn’t have the same kind of problems that hinder its big screen counterpart of any kind of emotional attachment to. The Circle for me was one of the strangest movie experiences that I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting down to, mainly because I never invested any of my emotions to this script that is all over the place in terms of what kind of movie it really wants to be. As a director, Ponsoldt really feels strangely out of his element in terms of framing or character development that never allows a single soul from this A-list cast to stand out. It feels like a wasted opportunity at telling a story that relates to our very own dependency on evolving technology, instead opting for ideas and plots that make us as an audience feel smarter than the characters we are supposed to be embracing. It wants to be a modern day 1984, but it lacks the dread or the definitive stamp of approval or disapproval on what is good or bad from a character standpoint from that prized picture.

The story basically observes the idea of counter-surveillance and the human response to such a gift. The film tells us that secrets are a lie and that everything should be out in the open. I guess lying has nothing to do with putting on a show for millions to see, instead of being the person with a particular set of traits that you have evolved into. It was also strange to see a film that doesn’t exactly have clear-cut, line-in-the-sand protagonist and antagonist to mold into the story. Emma Watson’s Mae is someone who changes sides at the drop of a hat, rejecting the idea that her soul is not for sale because of the newer, bigger gadget. This very much seems to be a world without law enforcement or general law to begin with. If this weren’t the case, I find it difficult to believe that this enormous group of technological termites could go around adding cameras to private property, particularly famed landmarks. Then there’s the chatting aspect to the film’s surveillance mode. One of our main characters decides to broadcast their entire life to the people watching. Thankfully, none of these viewers are creeps to curse on a grand stage this immense, otherwise it might be too real to any chat room in our own real world. Thankfully again, PG-13 gladly takes care of this surreal aspect.

The ending left me spell-bound for all of the wrong reasons. Considering this movie does a lackluster job at building any kind of dramatic pulse or urgency for the movie, there is (SURPRISE) no conflict at the end to tie everything together. The screenplay just kind of fizzles out in whatever was the easiest possible way for our cast to get out of this disaster the fastest. Should I be happy? Should I be angry? I never really knew because there isn’t enough ambition in establishing the motivations of every character. Where it all ends is hilarious to a degree because it doesn’t feel like an actual ending, it feels like the camera ran out of film, a final middle finger to the audience expecting some form of memorable positive to justify the 105 minute wasted investment that they just made. I can’t think of many films that played everything as safe and conventional as this one did, lacking any kind of energy or excitement to get its terrifying ideas across to the audience with free-flowing commentary. I guess a film doesn’t have to be good if it has some of your favorite actors and actresses doing stuff for nearly two hours.

On the subject of said cast, they are all sadly wasted with very little productive exposition to highlight their characters from the emotionless shadows that they essentially are. Karen Gillian is in the film as Emma Watson’s best friend, and I still don’t know what nationality her character was supposed to be. Karen is of Scottish nationality, complete with accent, and that accent comes out on more than a few occasions. Towards the end of the film you find out that her character is from Scotland, which is fine, but then why was she delivering an English accent on and off? Only a film this jumbled could have you making fun of something one way, and then turn it around and realize you were trashing it from the wrong angle the entire time. Watson isn’t anything remarkable. Her performance is the definition of phoning it in, and there’s nothing compelling or intriguing about Mae as a character. To be honest, for a film that revolves around these intelligent female leads, Watson’s character comes off as naive in standing up for what she believes in. Tom Hanks and John Boyega are completely wasted, showing up whenever their minimal appearance clauses need to be met. Hanks production company Play-Tone even produced this movie, but Hanks clearly saw the writing on the wall. As what is supposed to be our antagonist, Hanks never exerts the fun or conniving nature that this kind of movie needs to make it stand out in a strange scientist kind of way. A missed chance to extend Hanks’s dependable personality to levels that have never been seen.

There is at least some fun to be had at some of the presentational aspects of the movie that constantly kept me giggling. The editing here is shocking in that I often wondered how this could possibly be the finished product. One scene that comes to mind is the intro to John Boyega’s character, in which he hands Watson a bottle of wine from the bushes. In the very next shot, they are each holding two wine glasses. How can something so evident be missed in post production and sequencing? Then there’s the painfully bad ADR that we hear without the character moving their lips. Most of this is obviously on Gillian’s character to fix her inconsistent accent, but my favorite examples were in that of the visual telephoning scenes between Watson and her parents (Played by Glenne Headly and the late Bill Paxton). Technology always has the unfortunate side effects to delay a visual response, but to this level, we are left through several scenes waiting for answers from the other side, in the slowest game of walkie-talkie that you’ve ever seen. Every time one of these scenes came on-screen, I shuttered knowing that I was locked in for at least the next five minutes for what should be a one minute scene.

The Circle is a bafflingly bad cautionary tale about the dangers of giving away too much of our liberties to fad corporations. It does so without the slightest evidence of thrills, conflict, or even remote entertainment to get us over the hump of two dull hours that beats us over the head with what we already know. James Ponsoldt’s stories would be better left in literary form instead of the ham-fisted, half-baked idea that we are presented with. Like the people of the world, this one should never be seen by the eyes of anyone on a digital screen.

3/10

Sleight

As a street magician by day and a guardian by night, the gifts of a young man are exposed to those with ill intentions, in WWE Films, Sleight. A young street magician named Bo (Jacob Latimore) is left to care for his little sister Tina (Storm Reid) after their parents untimely passing, and turns to illegal activities and a life of crime against his better conscience to keep a roof over their heads. Everything is going great until the living fast lifestyle catches up to him with dire ultimatums, and he gets the wake-up call of a lifetime. When he gets in too deep, his sister is kidnapped and he is forced to use his magic and brilliantly cunning mind to save her. The film also stars Dule Hill and Sasheer Zameda. Sleight is written and directed by J.D Dillard, and is rated R for language throughout, drug content and some violence.

For all of its bells and whistles, the concepts of magic are very strange when you see their impact on the audience that knows none of it can be real. Like this performing art, Sleight too is a movie that is perfectly serviceable enough, but seems to lack any real weight or emphasis once you see the curtain rise in the final act of the movie. We know the big finish because we’ve seen this trick before, but how it gets us to that final point is what can make or break this picture. Lets be honest, WWE Films hasn’t won over very many critics for their straight-to-DVD library that includes some real stinkers. But Sleight might be the right kind of facelift that a company struggling to find its own original voice can learn from. There’s enough of a take here that feeds off of our modern day obsessions with superhero flicks, and how so many of them have fallen into formulaic territory, offering little intellectual or gratifying to play to the kid-friendly tones of comic book trajectory. J.D Dillard hears those cries, and the influence that follows his film doesn’t feel like an accident even in the slightest.

From a narrative standpoint, Sleight prides itself on a cross-pollination of superhero structure and urban backdrop that adds a fine layer of dramatic circumstance for our characters. We learn very early about the tragedies that have befallen the brother and sister in this movie, so immediately we are emphatic to their situations that beg for a way out of it all. What I love about this approach is that Bo’s background felt very similar to that of Peter Parker, in that tragedy has amplified the need to grow up quicker, magnifying the importance of great responsibility and great gifts along the way. On a surface level, this is usually enough, but I found myself very intrigued with adding an urban backdrop full of questionable characters with dangerous motives to play into their melting pot. In 2014, many people were applauding Dope for its originality on minority engagements, but I think a film like Sleight approaches it with more honesty and earnestness to never pull one over on its audience. A lot of kids do fall into these dark holes, and rarely ever find their way out of it, and Bo is such the character that he lives the lifestyle while offering a shred of motivation because of his little sister that keeps him hungry to keep pushing through.

This brings me to my biggest problem in the movie, which ties the other problems together like a family tree; the pacing. Sleight feels like it is always rushing through and undercooking these scenes to misfire on puppeteering the dramatic pulse. This is particularly evident during the first act, in which we are presented with the most brief of introductions to our characters and their pasts. This kind of minimal exposition is severe in terms of how this writer treats the past with a lack of importance as the present, a decision that I felt was a big mistake in depicting the bond between brother and sister in a situation that is less-than desirable. So much takes place during the opening half hour, yet the remaining 55 minutes of the movie grinds to a screeching halt because of how little movement that the creativity has to breathe for a remainder of the movie. The third act continuously feels like we are stuck in the same position, leading to a confrontation that wasn’t given enough slow-cook to even out the playing field. Because of this, it’s easy to spot the finish line early on in this movie, and I was quite disappointed with how little chances that it actually took with unpredictability. As for Bo’s gift itself, there is of course an answer for it, like most magic tricks, and even when you are shown the secret, you still feel like you’re missing the bus of logic that has departed minutes before your arrival. Even if this angle were somehow possible, it would raise great questions on how the trick is performed with proximity.

Credit to the production team for never going overboard on the aesthetics for the film, as they are almost entirely rich in texture and captivating in essence. The cinematography and color schemes do radiate that sunny kind of yellow tint vibe behind each and every place that our characters frequent, but I was even more pleased with the handheld style in camera work that never overstepped its boundaries in front of the story that was playing out before our eyes. This is a shining example of patience in a particular style of movements, and it never made the movie feel limited or pressured into artistic shots for the hell of it. The one problem that I did have with the visual specter of the movie was that of the transition sequences fading to black repeatedly, feeling like an overused gimmick that cut into the symmetry of the film’s progression. When this happens in movies, it always feels to me like a collection of scenes instead of one free-flowing story, and Sleight unfortunately falls victim to this spell, one too many times.

There are also a few supporting performances that stood out like a sore thumb in an otherwise hearty cast that give their everything to their respective roles. In particularly, the two henchmen of Dule Hill’s character are bumbling idiots who fumble each and every line of dialogue like the last slice of pizza. I promise you that this is NOT a trait of their characters, but rather that these two are incapable of making me take any threat seriously from their lack of subtle deliveries. Onto the good of the cast though. Lattimore is progressing smoothly as an adult actor who has made the transition smoothly from promising adolescent. As Bo, Jacob plays to the residing fire that is slowly burning within him, riveting everything and everyone around him. Zameda is also eye-opening, despite not being in the movie very much. Her character is kind of a Mother figure of sorts for Bo and Tina, and Sasheer’s presence feels immensely important in steering the young man in the right direction. I definitely could’ve used more interaction with her against Dule Hill. Speaking of which, Hill steals the show with a performance that erases any doubt of how versatile he can be. Dule is known for playing the quirky and nerdy in the earlier part of his career, but here is very much a dangerous and calculating business owner who doesn’t let anyone stand in his way. I was blown away at how effective Hill played this character, silencing the lack of believability that I thought would hinder the film. These trio of actors elevate flimsy material that doesn’t completely fill in the shadow outlines of their characters, making the most of vital opportunities that they would otherwise not get.

There’s enough going on with the prestige of the magic trick known as Sleight to ignore some of the grave problems that saw the movie’s creativity in half. Dillard’s film is not only a non-conventional spin on the low budget investments of a superhero subgenre flick, but its urban setting satisfies the craving in minorities to see a story that speaks to their situations in volumes. Sleight would be better suited to take its time around the edges of some of the initial engagements, but the clashing of two promising actors like Lattimore and Hill bending the typecasting of what they’ve been to this point is no illusion. There is indeed some magic spinning to this little film that could.

6/10

Colossal

The invasion of a giant creature from parts unknown centers around a down-on-her-luck-girl who bares a ‘Colossal’ effect on the rest of the world. Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is an out-of-work girl who, after getting kicked out of her apartment by her boyfriend Time (Dan Stevens), is forced to leave her life in New York and move back to her hometown. After re-connecting with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), the two examine Gloria’s past while the city around them literally crumbles. When news reports surface that a giant creature is destroying Seoul, South Korea, Gloria gradually comes to the realization that she is somehow connected to his far-off phenomenon. As events begin to spin out of control, Gloria must determine why her life is the motivation for this creature’s presence. Colossal is written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo, and is rated R for adult language.

Colossal is one of those films that is very difficult to translate into words. I know that I had a great time, and that Nacho Vigalondo is still one of the most effective directors in terms of relating to the heavy-handed themes that comes with the human spirit. More than anything, it feels like one of those movies where anything and everything is possible, most notably from the humans in the story who feel more self-destructive and imposing than that of their colossal counterparts. This is a world that feels distant from our own, but brings it all full circle with some honest reveals about self-reflection. It’s a story about empathy and the kinds of people that we surround ourselves with, on the road to returning to seek the kind of greatness that we were once destined to attain. But what makes it all so difficult in paraphrasing is that this beast (Pun intended) is something unlike anything that you have ever seen in terms of structure and attitude that don’t just rattle the audience, but rivets them to something much more than just a casual monster movie with loads of destruction. Vigalondo sir, you grabbed my attention early, and you held it in the palm of your hands through a truly challenging experience.

What I commend this movie most of all for is how many different tones and shifts within those tones that the movie breezes through effortlessly. The most difficult thing is grouping this kind of film into any kind of particular genre or sub, and that’s because it’s a film with a very surreal pulse that always kept me guessing. The comedy is rich, hitting me in the gut several times with well-timed awkward humor, compliments of observational material that always feels one step ahead of the audience just waiting to pull the curtain back. Beyond this is the drama, a nerve-shattering crescendo of dealing with the demons of alcoholism and abusive relationships that hinder our growth. It’s easy to see the problem, but it’s more cathartic to understand how it came to be. The thriller aspect was one that I never saw coming, but one that takes the second act of this movie to heart-pounding heights. This was where the film feels the biggest change in terms of tone, but it works because of how patient Nacho is with his characters and their actions, a true personal highlight of the film for me.

As for the screenplay, the film approaches this story at a metaphorical and literal level, obstructing the boundaries of our wildest depictions. I personally enjoyed the film more on a metaphorical stance because there’s so much to this puzzle that easily translates to that of human consequence that is easy enough to read between the lines. Gloria’s destruction on South Korea feels similar to that of the roller-coaster that she puts her closest acquaintances through. It’s also obvious to see the kind of monster that she becomes (Literal and metaphorical) when she reaches for the bottle. This aspect to her character is delivered so honestly and unapologetically that its embraces sometimes left me very embarrassed, as well as sad for this woman who knows the terror she inflicts night-after-night, but still returns to the scene of the crime. Is that scene the bar or South Korea? It all only adds to my point. As the film goes on to the later acts, it does start to lean slightly heavier on the literal side of things, building to a finale that did lack the fire power of what was built. I don’t say this in terms of the monster itself, but the demons inside of Gloria are never really given that moment of clarity. During the third act, it no longer feels like her story (More on that later), and that direction never allows us the time to celebrate her growth. The very end is proof of all of this, and it sometimes left me feeling like the most important battle was never defeated.

Without strong performances from Hathaway and Sudeikis, this film would feel the crunch of its imposing stature, and thankfully our two leads are more-than up to the task of carrying the weight. Anne Hathaway is an Oscar winner, so there’s no surprise at the layers of depth that her embrace of Gloria steers through. But what is so gripping about this woman is you see her doing all of these irresponsible things, yet the heart of her innocence is what shields you from the rain. So much of her performance is a callback to the girl she used to be, so there is that kind of hope that she’ll get there with persistence, a feat that leaves Anne standing as tall as her gigantic counterpart. Jason Sudeikis, where have you been? I knew this guy could act after stealing the show in 2016’s Race, but his work as Oscar is on a completely different level than anything he’s ever done. Perhaps the most honest aspect of Oscar’s character is that he always keeps you guessing, fighting through his own past that has molded the enigma that you see before you. Sudeikis’s performance doesn’t feel like a transformation, but more of the same guy who we’ve been watching for years, who we feel like is opening up for the first time. There’s a lot of fire in that basement that has been begging to be let out, and Nacho is happy to add the coals. There were times he shocked me, scared me, and settled me, a trio of emotional response that I didn’t know this comedian from Saturday Night Live could command. From here on out, I’ll never view him the same again.

Colossal is a screaming reminder to the monsters in our own closets that sometimes come out during the most undesirable of circumstances. Sometimes the biggest re-actions are caused by the smallest actions, and the struggles of self-control that define us. Vigalondo weaves a rich tapestry of tonal tantalizing to construct a new kind of beast all together, bringing along Hathaway and Sudeikis who leave very little room for error with their spell-binding portrayals. When people say they only wish to have fun and not think during monster flicks, they aren’t referring to Colossal. This one requires the mind and the heart to stay on.

8/10

Free Fire

The meeting of the minds between two rival gangs takes them to a warehouse the ends in an all out ‘Free Fire’. Set in a colorful yet gritty 1970s Boston, Free Fire opens with Justine (Brie Larson), a mysterious American businesswoman, and her wise-cracking associate Ord (Armie Hammer) arranging a black-market weapons deal in a deserted warehouse between IRA arms buyer Chris (Cillian Murphy) and shifty South African gun runner Vernon (Sharlto Copley). What starts as a polite if uneasy exchange soon goes south when tensions escalate and shots are fired, quickly leading to a full-on Battle Royale where it’s every man (and woman) for themselves in a heart-stopping game of survival, with enough firepower to take down an army. Free Fire is written and directed by Ben Wheatley, and is rated R for strong violence, pervasive adult language, sexual references and drug use.

What Ben Wheatley does so efficiently is blending two distinct styles of shoot-em-up blends to compliment one another to make the ammunition-riddled Free Fire. From a filmmaking standpoint, Wheatley’s visual stylings and quick-cut edits reminded me so strongly of an early Guy Ritchie kind of offering. From a dialogue perspective, this film hits close to my heart in narrating the kind of personalities and speech patterns of an Elmore Leonard novel. These two effective combinations, in conjunction with the echoes of a John Denver soundtrack makes Free Fire live up to its name in the game of riveting surrealism. What I found so provocative about this plot was just how simplistic the approach to storytelling is. If you’ve seen the trailers, you know that the shootout itself is what stands out the most, and that’s because it makes up the heralded second and third acts of this film. Wheatley’s distinct voice of unapologetic response to gun violence is one that speaks volumes to our own current dependency on them, and that killer instinct to always keep pulling the trigger. In that response, you can’t help but laugh at the responses and directions that these hot conversations take. A room full of egos is always one second away from jumping off, and Ben proves to us that jump comes from the least likely of places.

The first act is the most in storyline narration that you are going to receive. While it’s true that these characters aren’t exactly chalk full of depth, it’s more than made up from in the concept of coincidence. To see these two rival gangs who essentially are supposed to be shadows to one another, is quite intriguing when the pasts of each person is brought to life, instilling a backlash of sorts against the opposition. I find it humorous that the reason this hour long shootout happens is because of something that happens entirely off-screen, and therefore it is in the confidence of these actors as storytellers to relay the information to the audience watching at home. Do they succeed? I think so. While this film leaves storytelling behind for the wounds of semi-automatic fire power, these actors each bring something vibrant and delightful about their quirky personalities that gets us over the hump. It all leads to a showdown in the closing minutes that provides some poetic justice and some middle fingers to the kind of movies that treat one room presences like there is nothing waiting outside of this particular room. The last shot gave me a smile of sorts for the coaster of thrills that Wheatley so brilliantly conducts.

The violence is impeccably gory in brutal detailing, richocheting the cause-and-effects that each and every character seem to never run out of. One thing that did make me kind of scratch my head was how many bullets that each character could endure, but I guess it only adds to the setting and sequencing that you can’t help but laugh at. Every character has no problem spouting off at the jaw, so it makes it humorous to see them taken down a step when the reality sets in. Some of the death scenes in this film will satisfy even the most deranged of gore-hounds, like myself. There is a contrasting irony to the basis that the most impactful deaths in the film do not involve the gun, but the human instinct, signaling that the person holding is every bit as cold and calculating as that of the chamber they unload. The third act does kind of pay homage in an indirect sort of way to Tarantino for how cartoonish some of the death scenes become. It does this without really sacrificing the authenticity or the severity of the movie’s creative, and I was often time reminded of 2015’s The Hateful Eight for this one dangerous setting in which these walls have witnessed so much.

The camera angles were a little too jumpy and inconsistent for my taste, often times speeding through too closely or too quickly to truly grasp the consequence of the bullet. This is most notable late in the second act when characters are clearly hit but there were many times when I couldn’t tell you where or by who. Because there are a lot of characters in this particular shootout, the film’s editing team have to walk a very tight line of registering each and every action along the way, and they don’t always succeed. This was a problem that I mentioned in films like Jason Bourne or Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, and it seems to be something that is slowly taking over these important action movies. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the lone major problem that this movie has, so it doesn’t cost it too much on my final score, but I would’ve preferred that the audience were given the capability to see all of the pieces on the chessboard interact at the same time, more often.

Props to Wheatley’s dedicated direction and this wide range of character actors for bringing to life some energetic personalities. There’s a respect to be found for a director who doesn’t deem it necessary for one person to stand out above the rest, and because of that we are treated to one of the most balanced ensemble casts in recent memory. Each person knows the kind of gritty traits that they have to get across, and there’s certainly no one who feels like they don’t belong here for the kind of lifestyles that they live. Some of my personal favorites were that of Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, and Sharlto Copley, whom all are given ample time to get across the manneurisms of their respective characters. Hammer continues to be Mr. Dependable, and I’m glad that he is getting the scripts that he so rightfully deserves. As Ord, Hammer balances equal parts cocky and cool, making for a side of the young actor we have yet to see. Murphy and Copley are the leaders of their respective clans, so it’s interesting to see the contrasts in their leadership. Copley repeatedly made me laugh for his flamboyance, as well as his interaction with Ex-girlfriend Justine. Murphy is more of the calculated bloke that we’ve come to expect, but never fails at giving us a three-dimensional character that blurs the lines of moral righteousness.

Overall, Free Fire more than lives up to its name by delivering on some thought-provoking social commentary with our own thirst for violence, as well as instilling another chapter in the ever-growing procedural of The Butterfly Effect. An energetic and committed cast is more than enough to get over the hump of some sequence backfires that don’t always reach their marks with shaky camera and overabundance in zoom options. Wheatley empties his creative clip on a bullet-riddled battle royale that never overstays its welcome. Loud, brash, and delightful.

7/10

Unforgettable

The dangerous actions of Katherine Heigl against her ex-husband and new girlfriend, make her ‘Unforgettable’. Tessa Connover (Katherine Heigl) is barely coping with the end of her marriage when her ex-husband, David (Geoff Stults), becomes happily engaged to Julia Banks (Rosario Dawson)—not only bringing Julia into the home they once shared but also into the life of their daughter, Lilly (Isabella Rice). Trying to settle into her new role as a wife and a stepmother, Julia believes she has finally met the man of her dreams, the man who can help her put her own troubled past behind her. But Tessa’s jealousy soon takes a pathological turn until she will stop at nothing to turn Julia’s dream into her ultimate nightmare. Unforgettable is directed by longtime producer, first time director, Denise Di Novi, and is rated PG-13 for scenes of violence and some adult language.

Ever since Fatal Attraction, Hollywood has gathered the idea that female audiences will rush to the film to see the newest of obsessive lover angles, a subgenre that I have created myself for the overabundance of offerings that this setup has unleashed. Over the last few years, films like No Good Deed, The Perfect Man, Obsessed, When the Bough Breaks, and The Boy Next Door are just a few of the suffocating masses that this critic has had to endure, but Unforgettable may take the crashing depths to new lows. For a title as polarizing as this one, this movie better be good for setting itself up for the butt of jokes with clever critics everywhere. But Di Novi’s first directing effort shows the young lady has a lot to learn not only with plausible scenarios, but also in tone-deaf attitude for her film that occasionally takes itself far too seriously. The one positive that I can say for every movie on the list that I named a second ago is that they are all incredibly self-aware for the stories that they are trying to tell. This kind of genre is cheap trash at its finest, and should be treated as such. There’s nothing remotely memorable about this chapter in the obsessive lover genre, and that is perhaps its biggest misconception.

For starters, we are treated to the latest in foreshadowing intros that gives away more than desired for anyone looking forward to 95 minutes of intriguing developments. For anyone who knows me, you know I detest foreshadowing scenes in the modern age of film because very few know how to do it without spoiling important details. For Unforgettable, we are treated to two co-plots in the film. The first is the obvious with the Mother versus the stepmother, and the second is the past of Rosario Dawson’s character coming back to haunt her. Julia was the victim of an abusive boyfriend, and that intro gives away important aspects to the finale of the movie ninety minutes before it rightfully should. This isn’t the only misfire in direction however, as we learn midway through the movie an aspect to these characters that doesn’t quite add up to the setup in this story. MINOR SPOILER – Tessa cheated on David and that is the reason why he left her. The problem with that is it makes sense and doesn’t put Tessa as the disadvantaged. She screwed herself over by cheating on her husband, so why care so much to get him back? Is it a possible scenario? Yes, but I think this story would work better if David plotted the action against her, or even that Julia was the woman that David cheated on Tessa with. Can you imagine the personal nature of that story?

Then there’s the huge plot holes that shows you the attention to detail that the film has for itself. There is an important phone hacking that happens early on in the movie that comes back to wrongfully accuse a character, and this has to be the dumbest police department that I have ever had the pleasure of viewing on-screen. Apparently this department finds it incapable of checking the I.P address of where the texts were coming from, or even checking the phone itself of the accused to see if her data matches that of what was typed. 21st century, movie, follow me here. If you are like me and love to notice continuity errors, you will also notice that during the ending a character gets hit from behind across the head with a fire poker. What’s funny about this is that he has a huge cut on his forehead when we see him turn around. That’s some fire poker, I tell you. I also love a search engine in a movie, where you can type in a name at common as Michael Vargas in Los Angeles, and only come up with one answer. Thankfully, it was the right person that this character was looking for, or the conversation of persuading him to come and have sex with the typer would be extremely awkward.

The pacing is at least harmless, even if it could afford to shave ten minutes or so with how much about the story we are spoiled to from the get-go. This is a movie that does float by accordingly, but the first hour does still surprise me for how very little this movie indulges in itself to be the kind of film that women can gossip about for hours after. The stuff that we came to see doesn’t happen until the final half hour, and before that we are treated to every obvious setup that this film has borrowed from other, better films to relay just how deranged this character is. What I could’ve used was a slower degenerating process on the character of Heigl’s. There’s never really any kind of slow transformation to pinpoint exactly when the worst of it got the best of her, so this story stays competently one-dimensional at all times.

There’s very little to rave about on the performances or characters outside of the work of Dawson herself. There was a definite taste in my mouth while watching this that this is an actress who knows she is too good for the kind of story, but the possibility to star in her own movie was one that was too good to pass up. I almost wish she did. Julia is at least the strongest written character in the movie, battling through a troubled past that has her mind every bit as fragile as her female antagonist. That is the single aspect about the movie that worked for me, and could’ve used a little more teasing to play up if what Julia is seeing is really going on inside of her head. Katherine Heigl isn’t an actress who I have a problem with, but outside of her haunting eyes, there’s very little weight or intimidation to her performance here. It all reeks of an actress playing against type for the first time, and it sent me back to the days of Malicious, in which Molly Ringwald played the same character that Heigl now saunters through. The biggest waste however, is in that of Geoff Stults as David. A character so void of intellectual ability that he finds himself constantly ignoring all that Tessa does wrong. If he’s this infatuated with her still, then why not get back together with her? It’s clear that he has enough nice things to say. My biggest problem with this character is ultimately it’s not how divorced parents act in the majority. Thankfully Stults is really just table dressing for the main course. I believe you could get any male actor to come in here and sleep through half of the job that he does. An early contender for Biggest Braindead Character of 2017.

In general, Unforgettable supplies its critics with enough ammunition for the jokes aimed at its unwise title. The problem with this film isn’t that I wish to forget it, but that I never saw it in the first place. Denise Di Novi’s debut effort is wrong on nearly every end of the spectrum, but most of all because it forgets to turn trash into treasure by embracing the campy vibes to live up to said title, a concept that shouldn’t be difficult for the same country that made Adam Sandler rich. There’s too much conventionalism to never play into the true asinine of this particular plot, lacking effective storytelling to get the blood pumping.

3/10

The Lost City of Z

The search for a rumored nation of people brings a cryptic explorer to the forefront of the raging jungle. Based on author David Grann’s nonfiction bestseller, ‘The Lost City of Z’ tells the incredible true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who journeys into the Amazon at the dawn of the 20th century and discovers evidence of a previously unknown, advanced civilization that may have once inhabited the region. Despite being ridiculed by the scientific establishment who regard indigenous populations as “savages,” the determined Fawcett, supported by his devoted wife (Sienna Miller), son (Tom Holland) and aide-de-camp (Robert Pattinson), returns time and again to his beloved jungle in an attempt to prove his case, culminating in his mysterious disappearance in 1925. An epically scaled tale of courage and passion, told in writer/director James Gray’s classic filmmaking style. The Lost City of Z is written and directed by James Gray, and is rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some nudity.

The Lost City of Z found a way into my heart that very few two hour plus films do anymore. This structure in storytelling and various depth in plots is the kind of justifiable leap that you take when it comes to an investment as big as this one (135 Minutes), and it paid off in presenting to me a film that touches so unapologetically on so many life themes about becoming the person we were destined to become. Sound cliche and a bit tacky, I’m sure, but James Gray’s masterful touch at bringing to life a story with such a massive following like this one, speaks volumes considering our current day release takes place more than one hundred years after the initial setting of this picture. At its core, The Lost City of Z is structured like a horror movie. Don’t believe me? A crew of men take a dangerous cross-world journey of uncertainty to clash with the boundaries of stepping on a land that is run by cannibals. But even so, Gray’s story dabbles in these bloody waters while still capturing an essence that very few nail on such a collective grasp of the details as this one does.

My mind raced at the very brutal consequences of time, and just how important of a hand that it played in Percy’s explorations. One thing that I loved so dearly about this movie was its jumbled sense of time misdirection, which is obviously that of intentional directing by Gray. My lone problem coming out of this film was that the jungle sequences sometimes blend together because there’s no sense of time translation in text, nor in physical features like different clothes or longer beards. Then it hit me; James uses this to establish the pay-as-you-play kind of rules to following your dreams and immersing yourself in imaginative waters. This theory of mine was made even more apparent when he includes text in every time jump in story while Percy and his crew are out of the amazon. To play further into my ideal of this, I believe Gray is showing us how easy it was for Percy to get lost in his own expedition, forgetting the humbling evidence until he gets home. We are treated to gut-wrenching visuals that depict his children and wife getting older, while our central protagonist (At least immediately) still looks the same. It’s touches like this that kept me glued to the on-going events that always seem to stand in the way of this passionate man that was once an order to explore, but has now become his life’s mission.

After you get past the first twenty minutes, the film constantly keeps moving, crediting that of storytelling that paces itself out accordingly in epic style fashion. The film’s responsible direction to show the audience how dangerous and taxing that a trip like this was in 1915 is one that I commend dearly, and this decision radiates effortlessly throughout the film. Physically in brutality, some characters are killed in the waters by creatures that they cannot see. Mentally, the exceeding limits of sanity and bodily torture are pushed through an endurance test of iron man proportions. It all sets up to a finale that has as much sentimentality in heart as it does fear in our confidence with Percy and how much age has finally caught up to him. I fear that some people will feel underwhelmed by the final shots of the movie, but I drank it in for the rewards it instilled into our lead protagonist. It is definitely the peaceful catch-22 that Percy needed, but from an audience standpoint, I can see some complaining about the juice not being worth the squeeze. I disagree because it’s never about what we see, it’s about what HE does, and in that regards, this feels like the peak of the mountain.

The technical tapestry provided some truly elegant aspects to the overall cinematography for Gray’s right hand man, Darius Khondji. As the director of photography here, Darius pops his colorful touch at just the right moments. From the grainy sun-eclipsing shading that vibrantly commute Percy’s enjoyable home life, to the blending of greens that overtake the screen with each trip for this mystical land, this film radiates the conflicting backdrops in land that constantly serve as a reminder just how far these men are away from home. I also greatly enjoyed the makeup work of the 12-person crew that brought the aging process to life in a faithful way for once in Hollywood cinema. It’s rare that I will commend a movie for this aspect because most of the time the aging process is presented in laughably bad context, showcasing an all grey wig, or skin so wrinkled that it looks like our characters have sat in the sun for too long. If you can’t do it right, just cast older actors to play the roles. Thankfully, this film’s production team accomplish so much by doing so little, and it’s in those light touches that we pick up on without being bashed over the head with its gimmick. For Charlie Hunnam, we are treated to a lighter shade of blonde than the one he adorns for the earlier acts of the movie, as well as some light aging around the eyes that tell of the stress that this character has endured. What’s even more impressive is that this crew does it without turning the movie into a laugh riot, something that goes a long way in my final grade.

Not to be outdone by the technical of the story however, the main trio of actors bring so much humanity and personality to their respective roles, each of them giving arguably their best performances to date. I had my doubts about how deep of an actor that Hunnam could be, but as Percy we get the dreamers protagonist who does so without feeling cocky or crass. Hunnam reminds me a lot of a young Brad Pitt for how he is able to emote empathy from the audience who see this man who practically has everything. This is a tough guy with loads of heart to boot, and Hunnam’s urgency brought goosebumps to me on more than one occasion in his fight against time. Sienna Miller also dazzles as Percy’s wife Nina. Miller herself always feels like a chameleon because she transforms her identity over and over again. I was awestruck at how I didn’t recognize her until an hour into the film, when she had been acting in front of me up until that time. Her identity became evident on a random expression that I otherwise might’ve went the whole movie uncertain at this new actress who is holding up her own against the boys. Robert Pattinson though, is the true surprise for me. As Henry, Pattinson commands a redemption tale through the eyes of a struggling alcoholic who now sees purpose for his life. He does it all in his best John Lennon appearance, and it is intriguing how easily this man loses himself in this role, despite a third act that is less than kind to the creativity of his character. Robert has earned a fan out of me because of his subtle delivery that constantly feels like the cloud of clarity for these characters. A cloud that rightfully earns him the status as Percy’s right hand man, a man who is always quick to cast a hilarious truth.

The Lost City of Z is easily the grandest surprise that I have had the pleasure of taking in this year. James Gray adds to an already astonishing list of visual accomplishments by succeeding at his most ambitious project to date; a nearly two-and-a-half-hour epic that pays homage to Herzog and Lean. Hunnam and Pattinson were made for the big stage, committing to a journey of ambiguity that like the water that surrounds them, always keeps rushing. When you walk out of a movie this long begging for more, it’s a sign of a modern classic, and Gray is happy to construct the kind of movies that make you think as well as gasp.

10/10

The Promise

The Turkish dream for an Armenian refuge envelopes him into ‘The Promise’ that will shape his life for better or worse. Empires fall, love survives, hope stands still. In 1915, at the beginning of World War I, Michael (Oscar Isaac), a brilliant medical student, meets Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), their shared Armenian heritage sparks an attraction that explodes into a romantic rivalry between Michael and Ana’s boyfriend Chris (Christian Bale), a famous American photojournalist dedicated to exposing political truths that shake in controversy. As the Ottoman Empire crumbles into war-torn chaos, their conflicting passions must be deferred while the two men join forces to get their people to safety and survive themselves to get back to their cherished woman. The Promise is written and directed by Terry George, and is rated PG-13 for thematic material including war attrocities, violence and disturbing images, and some sexuality.

At 129 minutes of run time, Terry George’s World War I epic walks a tight rope of entertaining nature between two areas; love and war. After watching the trailer of this movie, you might be steered in an incorrect momentum with the film’s direction, but I was legitimately shocked at how opposite the finished product gears itself towards. For a movie that hints at the love triangle between that of Isaac, Le Bon, and Bale, there’s very little exposition or payoff to that particular emphasis of the story, opting more for the conflicts and suffering that the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire brought these characters. I don’t have any problems what so ever with a film that is surrounded by bloodshed, but there’s so much setup during the first act of this triangle that honestly goes very far or resolves itself accordingly for dramatic syntax. What I did enjoy was that for once these are two equals in male moral stigma, making the female protagonist’s choice, as well as the audience’s that much more enthralling. This gives more pull to the idea of you not wanting to see either one of them broken-hearted. Props to for George, who remains faithful throughout the film in keeping this an Armenian told story of bravery. Through a lesser director, this would easily become Bale’s movie, but Terry keeps the focus right where it needs to be, offering a fresh take of this angle of World War I that has rarely been told on-screen.

The pacing is what will honestly be the biggest negative for audiences, because this is one movie that goes back-and-forth between which conflict deserves the majority of the run time. It feels like an 80-20% ratio in terms of war dominating love here, and because of that we never get the kind of focus on the characters that dilutes their one-note angles. I was right there for the first act of the movie, because there is a strong coming-of-age story here with Michael’s branching away from home on his own. There is a kind of hinted at poetic justice for the idea of this terrible tragedy that has befuddled all of these people, yet life still moves forward for Michael on a road of love-and-loss that pushes him to age that much faster. The second act is where things really kind of halted for my experience. During this time, the setup feels slightly repetitive and even rushed through some notable events that could’ve used more psychological sting on our protagonist. The attitude of the film stays on one level of somber throughout the film. That is expected for war, but not something that gravitates audiences to the story closer. A fine example is in Saving Private Ryan, when despite the war, these young men are still stopping to tell a joke or bust each others chops. That kind of depth in personality felt non-existent here, and due to its lack, this story will drag in more ways that one for you as you push through the second hour of the film.

Props to the production team is evident in nearly every aspect of the visual spectrum of this movie, as HD cameras combine modern medicines in filming to really grasp that epic feel. When reading about this style choice for this film, I worried that it would take away too much of the taste in time, when everything felt weathered and bleak. Thankfully, George is the kind of filmmaker who knows when to pull back, and because so we are treated to some gorgeously infinite landscape shots in the Turkish deserts, as well as a some water sequences that put us right in the middle of this chilling compromise in weather shifts. With an HD camera, the splashing of water can feel authentic, replicating a movement in volume that you can’t help but adore at. There are some shaky transitions in chase scenes, but thankfully the editing covers up a majority of the problem, leaving very little to point out when they happen. For me, it was really the angles leaving slightly more to be desired in the characters that we’re following. Close is always better for suspense, and I have no clue as to why everything was pointed so far out.

I mentioned earlier that the characters could’ve been stronger in the film, but thankfully that didn’t hinder the performances, as this trio of actors never phoned in one aspect to their performances. Bale is one of the best character actors in the world, no doubt. I was slightly worried in the beginning that his wooden release would stick around, but as the film went on I distinctly heard the urgency and vulnerability in his voice that relayed the dire consequences of this situation. Le Bon definitely gives her best performance to date as Ana. In her, we get a woman who loves children, and at times feels like one herself. This aspect gives her performance a compassionate aspect to the movie that we rarely get. It certainly makes it easier to justify why these two men are willing to travel the ends of the Earth for her heart. Oscar Isaac has been one of my favorite actors for a while now, and The Promise is another example of his movie to steal. The transformation for Michael from a once ambitious medical student to a veteran of war who suffers some great losses along the way, played beautifully into Isaac’s hand of emotional distribution, an aspect that never runs low on tears or goosebump-appearing moments. Isaac himself isn’t even remotely Armenian, so the credit to make his accent that much more authentic rests solely on the shoulders of one of the truly most versatile actors of the past decade.

The Promise is a long-winded and often times convoluted screenplay that rarely gives us the answers in dramatic climaxes that we seek to satisfy in such an investment. What does work about George’s ambitious project is that of his leading cast, as well as the camera work in landscapes that easily immerse our imaginations back to a hundred years ago. This is very much a movie of two opposite directions that are never equally distributed, nor never crossing paths to offer a moment of peaking example. Giving us a story that unfortunately doesn’t live up to the grandeur of visual offerings.

5/10