Alpha

Directed by Albert Hughes

Starring – Kodi Smit-McPhee, Natassia Malthe, Leonor, Varela

The Plot – An epic adventure set in the last Ice Age, the film tells a fascinating, visually stunning story that shines a light on the origins of man’s best friend. While on his first hunt with his tribe’s most elite group, a young man is injured and must learn to survive alone in the wilderness. Reluctantly taming a lone wolf abandoned by its pack, the pair learn to rely on each other and become unlikely allies, enduring countless dangers and overwhelming odds in order to find their way home before winter arrives.

Rated PG-13 for some intense peril

POSITIVES

– Exceptional cinematography continuously on display by Martin Gschlacht. While known mostly to foreign audiences, Martin’s paintbrush-like canvas here is gorgeous in immensity, and beautiful in his rubbing of colors in the sky that illuminate around the colorless drab of character wardrobes. This is a film that was made for the big screen, as much of the framing work takes advantage of the wide angle lens that articulately illustrates the immensity of a land to be alone in.

– Much of the material focuses on the comparison between man and animal, and does so without ever feeling corny or forceful. Instead, Hughes allows the audience to pick up on matters of family, growth, and survival that highlight the similarities in the next evolutional shift. These two grow together because they embrace the same challenges in their respective journey’s, and that chemistry and bond between them grows into an almost telepathic link that unites them.

– Considering he is front-and-center for 90% of this movie, Smit-Mcphee transformation is well balanced and patient with the many adversities that he faces along the way. In the beginning, his movements are very timid, causing great difficulty in his tactics to survive, but as the film goes on, you start to see his character’s intestinal hunger to survive reach limits that can only be tested under the guidance of isolation. This etches out a coming-of-age story unlike those that we’re used to, in that Keda only has his own instinct to survive.

– Hughes greatest measure as a director here is definitely the established environments that constantly shift with the seasons, while filming on location in East Coulee, Alberta. The animals, while plenty in numbers, feel very scattered out and meticulous, making the hunt for food feel very urgent. Without question though, it’s the winter scenes that really stuck out to me, channeling the worst in cold and snow that one can imagine, and immersing us with snow-cluttered camera angles that feel like we can almost reach out and touch it.

– Educational AND entertaining. This definitely felt like a throwback to the days of being in school and watching a history film about tribes and their strategy for survival, but what’s more accredited is that despite its knowledgeable depictions, it never loses focus in its appeal to capture the intrigue of the audience. The film juggles a balance of intensity and tension during scenes of peril that make for some serious moments of uncertainty for the well-being of our protagonist, testing him in ways that break everything except the human spirit.

– Thunderous musical score. What composers Joseph DeBeasi and Michael Stearns do for this film shouldn’t be understated. Through a use of 808 drums that repeat with increasing intensity, the musical score is anything but the Imagine Dragons putrid that we were promised in one of the most eye-rolling trailers of the season, giving us echoing vibes of isolation that haunt Keda throughout, and add life to scenes that would otherwise depreciate without energetic emphasis of the danger that is impending.

– Stays committed to its gimmick. A lesser production would have these human characters speaking in perfect English, but thankfully ‘Alpha’ keeps its characters mostly muted, occasionally reaching for the tribal language that we read in translation for one hundred percent of the movie. This element kept me firmly in the grasp of this A.D setting, and instead relied on body language to progress the relationship between human and dog. Beyond this, four bison were slaughtered for use on a skinning/hide-removal scene, and while I don’t overly support the slaughter of animals, bison are in fact overpopulated in the Alberta territory.

NEGATIVES

– Redundant to a fault. The hardest sell to audiences will definitely be the element of one man and his dog for most of 93 minutes, mainly because there’s only so much variety you can instill on routines that feel this repetitive. In my opinion, the biggest mistake is to get rid of Keda’s father and tribe subplot for easily an hour during the film, relying too much on Keda’s journey without capturing the vulnerability for the tribal leader and the kind of impact this has on his now decaying life. If you include the other side of the story, the former won’t feel as repetitive as it inevitably does.

– Again, we have another movie that doesn’t know when to end on its most impactful visual. This film has three different ending scenes when it fades to black, and each time chooses to prolong the lasting impression, which ultimately forces it to lose a noticeable amount of steam before the credits finally hit. This is becoming a growing trend in Hollywood, and makes me wish they would combine everything they want out of three scenes into one, so as to not feel as tacked-on as this cliche makes good movies feel.

– Teeth for show? The film fails to capture the sheer difficulties and spontaneity of dangerous wild animals thanks to its domestication of wolves that feels slightly laughable even by movie standards. I get that this is the first story of ‘Man’s best friend’, but there is such little struggle in the film with earning the trust of the wolf, that it might as well be a snorting pug with their lovable cross-eyes.

Bonus Points

Props to Sony for not figuring out a way to market their products in a movie that takes place in the Ice Age. I half expected a big SONY to be carved out in the ice, but I commend them for showing great restraint. We might be able to take you seriously sure enough, Sony.

7/10

Billionaire Boys Club

Directed by James Cox

Starring – Ansel Elgort, Taron Egerton, Kevin Spacey

The Plot – A modern day remake of the 1987 film by the same name, the film is about A group of wealthy boys in Los Angeles during the early 1980s, who establish a ‘get-rich-quick’ scam that turns deadly.

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

POSITIVES

– If there’s any reason to see this film, it’s for Spacey’s energetic delivery as the film’s most experienced con-man. While it definitely makes me shudder to say anything complimentary of Kevin, it goes without saying that this film is enhanced whenever he enters the room, and flounders whenever he disappears. As for the rest, Elgort is terribly miscast, Egerton is failing at his best Leonardo Dicaprio impression, and Emma Roberts is completely phoning in what little material the script has for her.

– Hip 80’s soundtrack. ‘Only You’ by Yazoo is one of my personal favorite new wave favorites, but when it is presented on the same collection with Talking Heads ‘This Must Be the Place’, as well as ‘Let’s Dance’ by David Bowie, you have one of the very best assorted soundtracks in 2018. I couldn’t wait to hear what popped up next, and it’s clear that music has a very pivotal place in Cox re-imagining of this world.

– No expense spared on production aspects. The fashion trends, cars, and neon landscapes do an excellent job of elevating the important details, both big and small, giving life to the pulse of Los Angeles terrifically. This at least allowed the time period of the story to thrive visually, while almost every other aspect of the movie never lived up.

– Informative, tightly-edited 80’s montage sequences that translate the very vibe of the times. If the feature film world falters for Cox eventually, he has a place in visual storytelling in the eye of documentaries, because these instances are magnetic.

NEGATIVES

– As an adaptation of the real life events, this barely scratches the surface. The film greatly lacks the attention that is needed in depicting the transformation of Joe’s character over time with the influence of corporate greed, and truly makes him a roarschach test when it comes to gauging his reactions to the inevitable downturn that his company takes. Beyond this, subplots and character habits feel like they come out of nowhere, making this feel like a film that is cut in half, with the deleted half catering to those important bits of information.

– Doesn’t bother with backstory or character development, breezing through the first act like an afterthought. Most importantly, the friendship between Joe and Dean never feels fleshed out enough, leaving a vital bond to the story on the cutting room floor. Because of such, the third act greatly lacks the kind of impact that it so desperately yearned for.

– Tries to capitalize on the exuberance and seediness with greed that a film like ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ tapped into effortlessly. There are plenty of instances when this feels like the Redbox version of such mentioned feats, even so much as mirroring much of Wolf’s first act scenes and situations beat-for-beat, but continuously lacking the appeal in intimate details necessary to engage the audience in its schemes. Because of this, nothing in the film ever felt believable or gripping to me, and constantly gave me the overwhelming feeling that I was one-up on the intelligence factor over investors of the 80’s.

– Undercooked love interest in the film. Because every film in 2018 requires a love story, we get one here as well, and it lacks the chemistry and conviction between Elgort and Roberts for audiences to believe it. As opposed to the lack of time devoted to the friendship of Elgort and Egerton, the love subplot is given plenty of time to prosper, but simmers because of the lack of bond that never develops with time.

– Pointless voice-over narration. It is (Once again) pointless in its usage, and more importantly adds nothing to the storytelling that we as an audience can’t already interpret. You could literally close your eyes and just listen to the obvious narration, and you will have a clear vision for what is transpiring on-screen. As if you needed another reason to not watch this film.

– Abrupt, un-satisfying ending. It feels like the film is just getting going when it’s ready to say goodbye, and it makes the mistake where it tells but doesn’t show what happens to those guilty of everything that takes place in the film. The most fascinating angles of this story are those that take place off-screen, and it’s the final nail in the coffin for a story that was told so much better on a 45 minute Youtube documentary that I watched before it.

4/10

The Darkest Minds

Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson

Starring – Amandla Stenberg, Bradley Whitford, Mandy Moore

The Plot – When teens mysteriously develop powerful new abilities, they are declared a threat by the government and detained. Sixteen-year-old Ruby (Stenberg), one of the most powerful young people anyone has encountered, escapes her camp and joins a group of runaway teens seeking safe haven. Soon this newfound family realizes that, in a world in which the adults in power have betrayed them, running is not enough and they must wage a resistance, using their collective power to take back control of their future.

Rated PG-13 for violence including disturbing images, and thematic elements

POSITIVES

– Stenberg is leaps-and-bounds above the material she is given to work with. As a star in ‘The Hunger Games’, Amandla is no stranger to Young Adult adaptations, so in being a veteran she knows how to bring a combination of likeable personality and feminine strength in her role as Ruby. She isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, and I appreciate an actress who takes command and keeps the attention on her throughout. I can’t wait till the day Stenberg is old enough or successful enough to pass on scripts like this, but for now we can adore a rising star who adds a presence of range to the forefront.

– There is a real hearty third act scene, part in thanks to the two leads, that really reached hard for the heartstrings of the audience. This scene involving memory erasing was among my very favorite for the movie, and proved that it did earn the depth needed to send this film out on a positive note. Part of this relies on sacrifice for Ruby, in that she must give up everything she has come to know to fight the greater good. It finishes the first (And likely only) installment of this franchise on a somber epilogue that really makes you feel for her jaded disposition.

– As a first time director, Nelson is someone who definitely proves that she deserves another chance, next time with a property that doesn’t have so many restrictions. In her competent command, Jennifer not only utilizes Stenberg to a meaty performance, but also establishes the power of adolescents, who together have the capabilities to do anything they want. In this regards, art imitating life is something that our own real world so desperately needs right now, even if our own youths lack the ability to breathe fire from their mouths. Nelson makes this distant future feel somewhat relative by today’s standards, and that alone establishes her guided presence behind the lens.

NEGATIVES

– Law of diminishing returns. Ever since ‘The Hunger Games’ became a rousing success at the box office, Young Adult adaptations have been all the rage. Unfortunately, each of them have decreased in quality ever since, and ‘The Darkest Minds’ is a victim of this problem. Despite the fact that this film could easily qualify as a sequel for ‘The 5th Wave’, or television knock-off of ‘Divergent’ or an ‘X-Men’ side story of sorts, there’s nothing about this movie that stands out as remotely poignant in substance, nor terribly original in story outline. Love triangle? CHECK, Evil Grown-ups? CHECK, Slave camps? CHECK. Interchangeably fault.

– For those who didn’t comprehend or forgot about the many meanings of ranks of the teens in ‘Divergent’, this movie dumbs it down using colors to determine who is the most powerful. The orange and reds are the worst (Because ya know, danger), and the Green’s (Intelligence) represent the lowest on the totem pole. If this wasn’t enough, the film never allows you to forget each person’s rank for a single second, beating us over the head with colors in character’s eyes throughout the film to remind us of what is otherwise easily forgettable. They know it and now so do we.

– Once you understand the rules of Ruby’s powers and what she can do, there is absolutely no tension or suspense left in the many conflicts she comes across. This character is essentially God, so what is there that regular human beings can do to stop her? Even worse, it brings to light some of the inconsistencies that the film portrays. Ruby can read the minds of character’s pasts when she touches them, but why not during the scenes when she holds hands with a character or when she’s dancing with them? Ruby can move trains and bend titanium, so why can’t she unlock a van door? Ruby erases her parents memory of her, but how can she do this when she never touched her father? Does this include pictures, videos, and keepsakes?

– This is a post-apocalyptic movie of sorts, but the small scale always kept this from immersing me in this kind of environment. There’s one big budget set piece throughout the film, but otherwise most of the set designs and backdrops feel infantile when compared to their counterparts. In other YA adaptations, we see visual examples of deteriorating landscapes or something that commutes how far the cancer has spread, but with ‘The Darkest Minds’ there’s nothing to challenge the thought that this isn’t a society in any sort of immediate danger, instead carving out an ‘Us versus Them’ focus towards the evil government. Yawn.

– Choppy action sequences. When you are fortunate enough to get an action scene, the editing feels far too intrusive with far too many cuts to ever properly digest what is taking place. Two character suicides aren’t shown all together, but a chase sequence involving a falling tree is completely wiped away with an overzealous editor who instead prides angles over impact.

– Lack of overall resolution. It’s obvious that any movie these days fishes itself for a sequel, but I couldn’t escape this lack of satisfaction for a third act that is basically inconsequential, despite having no shortage of minutes donated to it. There are essentially two different endings in the movie, and the one that was more satisfying to me revolved around the love story that I referred to in my positives. For the conflict itself, it comes and goes like the wind, leaving about as much of an impact as a breezy cloudless day. If honesty serves ambition, a sequel will never see the light of day, leaving many unanswered questions for die-hard fans of the book, who deserve better.

– Too clean to a fault. Considering the novel is filled with lots of language and teenage personality to humor its audience, it feels like the movie isn’t being faithful in how it adapts the finer points of why people found these characters fascinating in the first place. There is a need for studios to market a film a certain way, but without the edginess in experimentation, that could’ve saved this film for better or worse, the movie doesn’t feel bold enough to live up to its own marketed age group, therefore it doesn’t feel rooted in the finer points that brought these characters to life in the books.

3/10

Christopher Robin

Directed by Marc Forster

Starring – Ewan Mcgregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael

The Plot – An adult Christopher Robin (Mcgregor), who is now focused on his new life, work, and family, suddenly meets his old friend Winnie the Pooh, who returns to his unforgotten childhood past to help him return to the Hundred Acre Wood and help find Pooh’s lost friends.

Rated PG for some live action

POSITIVES

– Considering the immense shoes that ‘Christopher Robin’ has to fill, the movie’s overall imagination and innocence come through in the clutch. This inescapable range of heart that tries to bridge the gap between the inevitability of adulthood surrounds this film, leading to many moments where Christopher’s past and present collide in a fight for clarity. In this regard, we too as an audience can lose ourselves in 97 minutes of light-hearted material, with the very same furry characters who were such a big part of our childhoods as well.

– The visual effects are charming in their subtlety. Much of the movements of the animals feel authentic without sticking out like a glaring attention-grabber, and the attention to detail with their shaggy designs grants a stuffed animal concept that really grounds the illustrations in realism. Likewise, the gloomy and often times dimmed lighting filters of the film also does wonders for the graphs in effects work that more times than not can relay feelings of counterfeit reflection, in how it bounces off of the live action setting around it.

– While the live action performances are just alright, it’s the voice acting of some of our favorite animated characters that truly steals the show. Jim Cummings is one of the most infamous voice actors in the world today, and his double duty as Pooh and Tigger radiates with personality when the film so desperately needed it most. As Pooh, you notice the vocal transformation over time, that begins as a somber whimper but eventually leads to thriving adventurer, and we start to feel meaning in his life once again, now that Christopher Robin has popped back up. Brad Garrett as Eeyore is also a dry delight. Garrett was born for this kind of delivery, channeling an unlikely humorous side of depression that the film relies on him for each time they need a sarcastic reaction.

– Much of the introduction in storyboards are done with a storybook animation that pays homage faithfully to these character’s origins. Each meaningful moment of Christopher’s life is given a page-by-page visual enhancement to introduce the moment that is about to play out, and with it comes dream-like animation on the pages being lifted, in the form of the books we used to read growing up. My only complaint is that the movie never does this again after the first few minutes. I really think it could’ve added to the presentational aspects of the film.

– Proper location majority. Because we’ve already seen the Hundred Acre forest in the original Pooh offerings, it’s nice to see this film wasn’t afraid in setting most of the film in the real world. What this does is allow us to not only examine and solidify if these animals talking are just a figment of Christopher’s imagination, but also how they interact with other grown-ups around them. It bridges the film on so much more than a metaphorical level, forcing the characters of this man’s youth to collide with the responsibilities that he harbors as an adult.

– The musical aspect of the film is hit AND miss for me, but not giving respect to Jon Brion and Geoff Zanelli’s glimmering tones would be a crime. So much of the numbers are filled with such wonder and soft encroaching among the story, solidifying that sometimes the most effective musical pieces are those that are patient and never overbearing. These two each have more than twenty years of scoring between them, and that wisdom of experience is on display repeatedly for a film that never settles for just one consistent tone.

NEGATIVES

– Lack of chances or originality. ‘Christopher Robin’ certainly isn’t breaking any new ground. Every single trace that the script takes us through feels like it was derived between ‘Return To Oz’ and especially ‘Hook’. But I can get over similarities in story. What I can’t get over is how safe Disney continues to be with the sequel/remake formula that is all the rage over the last five years. If you’re going to bring a respected property back to life, add something memorable to this new chapter. Otherwise, the lack of creativity becomes evident, and it loses the chance to rid itself of the immense shadow before it has even started. A fine example is last year’s ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’, an unaffiliated-with-Disney film that explored the psychological effects of Robin’s time in the war, and why he lacked the connection with his adopted daughter.

– I mentioned earlier that I have my likes and dislikes for the music department in this film, and my problems rely with the lack of musical numbers that we get. With the exception of a line of ‘Wonderful Thing About Tiggers’, there isn’t a single familiar track in the film, leaving much of the whimsical side of the Pooh environment stuffed in a box, like the very memories that Christopher goes through with such forgetfulness.

– Songs aren’t the only thing ‘Christopher Robin’ lacks, as an overall lack of humor adds only further weight to the second act pacing that occasionally stands still. ‘Paddington’ is a great example of a movie that balanced heart and humor alike, without ever feeling confrontational of one another, but ‘Christopher Robin’ greatly lacks the confidence in its delivery, instead settling for cramped slapstick humor during the closing moments that highlighted its desperation. I laughed once during the movie, and that’s saying nothing. The real problem is with the children in the audience who grew restless with material that looks beyond them instead of right in the eyes.

– This film lacks such conflict in plot that it must create its own, with about twenty minutes left in the movie. The emerging subplot with Robin’s work comes out of nowhere, and only points out the silliness when kids movies try to depict big-wig corporations. I’m supposed to believe that this company will go under if they don’t find a way to sell more luggage? I’m also supposed to believe that they’ve never thought about selling to lower class incomes, and THAT is the big break needed to turn it all around? Do poor people not have luggage when they go on vacation? Who cares, because they’re kids, and kids are stupid.

6/10

Hot Summer Nights

Directed by Elijah Bynum

Starring – Timothee Chalamet, Maika Monroe, Alex Roe

The Plot – Daniel Middleton (Chalamet), a likable but socially awkward recent high-school graduate, is spending the summer before college visiting his aunt on Cape Cod. Neither a “townie” nor a wealthy “summer bird” dropping in for the season, Daniel struggles to find his place-until he meets Hunter Strawberry (Roe), the local bad-boy who peddles marijuana to well-off vacationers when he isn’t protecting his younger sister McKayla (Monroe) from overzealous male suitors. Sensing an opportunity, Daniel persuades Hunter to go into business, dealing weed up and down the Cape together as the summer heat intensifies. Newly confident, Daniel falls for McKayla, keeping their relationship secret until it becomes explosive. Set in the summer of 1991 against the backdrop of a looming hurricane

Rated R for drug content and adult language throughout, sexual references, and some strong violence

POSITIVES

– Concise editing that visibly narrates the free-flow of the film’s narration as told by an off-screen character. The establishing shots of Cape Cod offer a distinct tone of personality and escapism that many of the town folk adopt, and the endless energy with the introductory scenes really builds a pulse from within that gets you excited for what’s to come.

– As for the narration itself, it speaks vividly for the rumor mill of gossip within the town and how they perceive certain characters as legends of stories handed down. There’s plenty of interview style perspectives initially, that we compare and contrast for the similarities and differences that only we can piece together, since we are getting the entire spectrum of speculation. In this regard, its storytelling reminds me of ‘The Virgin Suicides, in that it speaks of a time and a place that feels light years behind us, and one that might be too late to confront this Summer that almost blew the town off of the proverbial map.

– Excellent soundtrack of summertime classic rock favorites. Are the tracks invasive from time to time in their deliveries? YES, but the catalog in full transcribes the exhilarating feeling to be a teenager and be alive again, with the world at your fingertips. Throw in some beautiful sky map transitional sequences to channel the spirit of Summer, and you have a one-two combo that easily immerses you back into the psychology of adolescence.

– Vibrant overall cinematography that channels the post-80’s style smoothly in presentation. In addition to the film feeling like one big love letter to VHS technology, where the hazy coloring filters and neon graphics marry in a union of outdated bliss, there’s an overall presence of fog that fills the air, speaking volumes to the drug trade that the boys are thoroughly embedded in. Because of this, the colors are able to pop out even more and seduce you in a way that very few time period films correctly capture anymore.

– The performances are mostly satisfying enough, particularly that of the male and female leads. This is Chalamet’s second coming of age film set during the summer, but one he differs with greatly because of the nuance in control he exudes over the boredom and awkwardness that comes with being a teenager on the brink of Summer. Monroe as well is vivacious and seductive, even if the mumbling, bumbling dialogue does her zero favors. The two don’t have the strongest of chemistry connections, but they make up for it personality radiance that captures completely two of the biggest rising stars in the Hollywood landscape.

NEGATIVES

– Because much of the meat in this story is derivative from other films that did it better, the weight of consequences are every bit as timely as they are predictable. Once you know the set-up in the dynamics of relationships and coincidence, you can easily navigate through where this story is headed. It’s disappointing that a film this similar to other coming-of-age narratives of the subgenre doesn’t project anything of originality to stretch its lasting power. In fact, I have already forgot so much of this movie, and I watched it less than an hour before writing this.

– So much of the supporting cast is greatly underutilized. I point to a subplot involving Hunter’s girlfriend (Played by Maia Mitchell), where this girl is virtually glossed over as nothing more than an afterthought to the weight of this story. For someone with the greatest tie to arguably the most important character of the movie, the film reduces her to nothing more than eye candy, leaving an air of regret for this actress who will undoubtedly be one of the biggest surprises of 2018. Beyond this, film veterans like Thomas Jane and William Fichtner are entirely wasted in terms of what they provide this movie. Fichtner is only in one scene in the film, and Jane’s presence is completely omitted from the very aspect of tension that goes noticeably missing when it’s required the most.

– In addition to what I just said, certain scenes feel like they’re missing from the third act developments. Particularly with Jane’s police character, he seems to have figured out that these two characters are selling drugs without us ever witnessing his air of discovery. Two other characters in Daniel’s Mother and Aunt go missing all together after their introductions. Also, another inevitable confrontation finally happens only two scenes after it seemed smoothed out and repressed. How did things get so bad so fast? Where is the missing pieces in between that relate to us what is coming?

– For my money, the second half of this film was nowhere near as entertaining as the first. Snail’s pacing comes as a result of too many musical montages, and the unearned dramatic pull from forced confrontations ,that I mentioned above, are never remotely satisfying because of the lack of build and time donated to them. The film just kind of ends on speculation instead of certainty, providing the most frustrating aspect to donating nearly two hours to this story and characters.

– Bynum as a director feels promising enough with his edginess in style, especially for a first time director, but in also writing the script he may have worn himself too thin. It pains me to label a movie all style and no substance, but ‘Hot Summer Nights’ is the definition of that phrase because it lacks the kind of sizzle from the steak to ever live up to such a promising title. A plot is the first step to your audience indulging or not in a movie, but beyond that surface level, nothing ever continues to build on the suspense, leaving a thirst for a direction that feels tone deaf from the get-go

5/10

Eighth Grade

Directed by Bo Burnham

Starring – Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson

The Plot – Thirteen-year-old Kayla (Fisher) endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school; the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year before she begins high school.

Rated R for adult language and some sexual material

POSITIVES

– ‘Eighth Grade’ feels like an authentic experience that goes far beyond being an entertaining piece of cinema. This movie immersed me right away to the very feelings of isolation and awkwardness that plague early adolescents, and lifted some of those repressed memories from my own developing childhood that were stored in the back of my psyche. Burnham never relents in his documentation for this important time, placing it ideally right in the final steps of middle school, before the change takes full course in high school, where you can re-create yourself. That idea of metamorphosis surrounds this film, and leaves our youthful protagonist drowning in this sea of change that feels laps ahead of her.

– My biggest respect to this first time Youtube star-turned-director, is what he manages to accomplish in terms of atmosphere, that constantly shapes differently throughout similar set-ups. Burnham doesn’t turn away from those down-time moments of boredom where a kid is shown playing with their face, or a random voice yells something to throw a teacher off. Instead Bo frames them to feed more sternly into that authenticity of environment that I mentioned earlier. What is so brilliant about this take is that it establishes a layer of relativity to Kayla’s own experiences with social anxiety, forcing us to see things in the same way that she does without sacrificing storytelling elements.

– The performances couldn’t be better, most notably from Fisher and Hamilton, who live and breathe these vital roles. Fisher’s timid posture speaks volumes to what she’s feeling inside, but it’s the way her facial expression reads and how they study and react to a room that truly captures this lamb being led to slaughter. Hamilton as well channels the sometimes intruding parent, who just seeks answers without trying to diminish the cool factor in how his daughter views him. When these two are together on-screen, it’s pure magic, especially that of a long-winded exchange in the closing moments that really tugs at your heart strings. Aside from these two, I also greatly credit the supporting cast around, as every child actor looks and feels synthetic to that of the role they are supposed to be playing. This is nothing like other movies who cast 18 year olds models to play 13, this is the real deal. As to where aspects like facial acne and bodily scars would be taken out of a typical sterilized Hollywood rendering, Burnham embraces the struggles of teenage growth, giving a feeling at times of a documentary instead of a picture with a script.

– Much of the musical score by Anna Meredith in the film also strikes a similar chord in mirroring the ever-changing atmosphere that Kayla partakes in. Sometimes it is loud and abrasive to commute Kayla’s dread, and other times it can be tender and smooth when she sees a certain boy she has a crush on. Even more beneficial and cerebral is how it only pops up when Kayla is full steam into a situation that has previously been playing out, serving the film as more of an extra emphasis factor instead of something that caters to the presentational benefit of the film. Enya’s “Sail Away” is the only familiar song played in the film, and even its gentle strokes balance Kayla’s escapism into the internet perfectly, in an almost hypntozing sense.

– As for the self-help Youtube element itself, Kayla disappears in this recorded personality that differs so far from who she is in her own real life. This gives the subplot an intentionally hypocritical, yet therapeutic feeling, in that all of this advice she dishes out is really more for her than it is her sparse social media following. She knows how fake her demeanor comes across on-screen, yet can’t escape this overwhelming demand from within to conform to what society wants her to be, creating this battle for struggle with the real Kayla lying somewhere in between. I love my flawed protagonists, and this one is the very definition of that angle.

– This film is time-stamped to this particular generation, most notably in the measures that adults take in trying to relate to kids, with all of their “cool lingo” like slang and dabbing, but its intended humor succeeds despite the fact that Burnham was nowhere close to growing up in today’s scholastic landscape. His greatest ability as a screenwriter is his handle on the material, and how it constantly feels like he wrote this while shadowing an actual middle school. It’s second to none in terms of its genuineness, and highlights Burnham as a major force to be reckoned with in the Hollywood landscape.

– When you speak of important movies that should be shown to our youths, ‘Eighth Grade’ is certainly among the best and most important in this regards. Its message is easily transmitted without feeling spoon-fed or forced, and it’s one that isn’t afraid to show the decay of interaction because of dependency upon social media. Like our very kids growing up in 2018, there is advancement, yet great warning that comes with great technology, and as a screenwriter Burnham perfectly expedites this by comparing this delve with the ages-old wish of wanting to be popular, marrying the two in a frought ceremony that only further advances and enhances the inevitable confrontation that Kayla is faced with, and who better than one of Youtube’s own (Burnham) in capturing that pressure.

– While I could be wrong, ‘Eighth Grade’ feels like the first movie that takes a touchy subject such as the struggles of junior high, and orchestrates it in such a way that is entirely serious regardless of the sometimes humorous experiences. Because of this mature approach, it stands out from plots similar to this in approach, that market itself as the very same comedy that diminishes the importance of what it’s documenting. ‘Eighth Grade’ instead feels comfortable in what it is, and never backs down in putting the moment first.

– While I don’t fully understand why this film is rated-R, I support that stamping because it will require adults and kids to see it together.

NEGATIVES

– A24 always has problems ending their film, and unfortunately ‘Eighth Grade’ continues this direction. I won’t say the ending was entirely unsatisfying to me, but it feels every bit as unresolved as it does unaddressed. One could interpret this as adolescence more times than not as feeling unsatisfying, but there’s a subplot involving Kayla in a car that never gets addressed any further. It’s an important scene because it underlines the issues of truth to our youth, but its lack of weight or consequence feels irresponsible in its teaching. The rare blunder that I had for this otherwise outstanding film.

9/10

Blindspotting

Directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada

Starring – Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar

The Plot – Collin (Diggs) must make it through his final three days of probation for a chance at a new beginning. He and his troublemaking childhood best friend, Miles (Casal), work as movers and are forced to watch their old neighborhood become a trendy spot in the rapidly gentrifying Bay Area. When a life-altering event causes Collin to miss his mandatory curfew, the two men struggle to maintain their friendship as the changing social landscape exposes their differences. Lifelong friends Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal co-wrote and star in this timely and wildly entertaining story about friendship and the intersection of race and class set against the backdrop of Oakland.

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

POSITIVES

– Offers a refreshing and artistic side to the Oakland landscape. This is the second movie within two weeks that is set and shaped in this ever-changing city, and Estrada’s one-of-a-kind vision offers us plenty of examples of the diverse cultures that have shaped the city as a boiling melting pot. There are split screen sequences to contrast the differences between the way minorities and majorities view their homes, as well as some stylishly shot drive-by sequences that capture the vast diversity in cultures and colorful blends upon the houses.

– For material, ‘Blindspotting’ itself means to perceive something in one way without understanding it from the complex side that is opposite of ones opinion, so this film had a great responsibility in channeling the inner-city rage and paranoia for African Americans when they come in contact with those sworn to protect us. It’s that rare buddy comedy that has plenty to say about social issues, and the overall gentrification of Oakland, as well as other culturally diverse American cities that continue to lose the soul of their beating hearts.

– Much of the dialogue is also original and seamless for the way it starts and stops between friends. When it’s low key between Collin and Miles, it feels naturally consistent in terms of how the changing topics free-flow, but when the movie has something important to say, it does so in rhymes. At first I worried that this gimmick would wear itself out, but it soon became apparent to me that the rhymes become easier for Collin with the darker turn the film takes. By the last time he does it, you’ll understand that the reason he became so good at it goes far beyond casual practice, instead speaking volumes to the level of anger that he channels in this particular scene.

– On the topic of that gentrification, there are many unique perspectives on the two male leads in the film working as movers, and being forced with the task to trash someone’s memories to provide for someone’s future. Scenes like these impacted me in a way that I never before thought about, and the endless examples of family pictures and belongings left to dust and fade away, gave me an up-close-and-personal vantage point of just how quickly the American dream moves on.

– As far as performances go, I was not expecting the whirlwind of emotional registry that I got from Diggs and Casal. In being longtime best friends, the two male leads converse on being a product of a bad environment growing up, and it’s in that influence that has shaped them as adults effectively. Their chemistry feels natural in channeling the trust between them, all the while the distance that has plagued them since Collin got out of prison. Casal himself is a presence on screen that you wind up and watch deliver. Full of off-beat comic timing and persistent charm, you start to fall in love with him the same way Collin has, making it easy to see the building bricks to their foundation as friends. Diggs himself continues to capture the attention with dramatic depth that forces you to feel the indignities that build up within him. You start to wonder if it is indeed to late for his character to change, and a lot of that depends on Diggs impeccable balance between confidence and vulnerability that shape this modern day enigma before us.

– Sonic boom of an ending. It’s rare anymore that my favorite scene in a film is the movie’s closing moments, but ‘Blindspotting’ built through 90 minutes of vital information and experiences to unload on this climax of devastation that left me shaking even through the credits. Diggs in particular during these moments commands your attention, barking out a list of revelations with the ever-flowing tear in his eye that you almost want to wipe because of your empathy for the character. Estrada sends audiences home shortly after the most moving scene, helping to contain that bottled energy during the first moments when you’re able to speak about them.

– Proper balance of tones that never shift violently. Much of the movie swings like a pendulum, between the pleasantries of a casual buddy comedy, leading eventually into the dark and seedy drama needed to explore systematic racism and police brutality. Surprisingly, never does one area of the film so obviously exceed that of the other, as I felt both were equally important in the contrasting atmospheres between them. The paranoia and uncertainty of the closing act certainly wouldn’t be anything without the humor to compare it to that came before it, and vice versa, and ‘Blindspotting’ feels like two movies that are better together than they ever would be apart.

– It would be easy to compare this film to ‘Sorry To Bother You’ another film released recently that takes place in Oakland, and also deals with racism in its own unique perspective. But for everything right with that movie, ‘Blindspotting’ stands out even further for its own grounded approach. Because of this, I feel like more people will relate to the wisdom enveloped in this film as opposed to its predecessor, but they are both a constant reminder of the stories that we are hearing for the first time, and we’re thankful for such an opportunity.

NEGATIVES

– Much of the psychological spin inside of Collin’s head does feel a bit scatter-brained and schematic at times for how we embrace it to the unfolding narrative. After Collin spots a police injustice, we get a couple of nightmare sequences, but nothing ever that remains heavy in the way he interacts during the day. This feels like a misfire of direction, because we’re never shown examples of how this traumatic experience changes him until the film absolutely demands it to, and I could’ve used slightly more cohesive storytelling for those brief moments when Miles is alone in frame, without anyone to spot his differences.

– There’s kind of a feeling of selfishness as screenwriters that overcomes me in the regards to Diggs and Casal. They are the two biggest characters in the movie, but that idea shouldn’t spread like a cancer to the lack of depth and deposition for the supporting cast around them. There is one character besides the two leads who is given a lengthy diatribe, and it’s about one of the two leads in the first five minutes of the film. There are several subplots along the way involving Collin’s ex-girlfriend, the symbolism behind certain hairstyles, and the ramifications of the police officer that is just sort of glossed over without much emphasis. One could blame this on the 90 minute run time, but I think it’s an example of inexperience for first time screenwriters, and hopefully their next project will be more inclusive.

8/10

The Equalizer 2

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Starring – Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Bill Pullman

The Plot – Robert McCall (Washington) serves an unflinching justice for the exploited and oppressed, but how far will he go when that is someone he loves?

Rated R for brutal violence throughout, adult language, and some drug content

POSITIVES

– If there is one aspect that this film does far superior than that of the original installment, it’s in the presence of its valuable R-rating that it uses so viciously. The fight sequences are quick with movements, but more importantly they never look away from the slice-and-dice damage that McCall delivers with such ferocity, giving us the kind of entertainment in violence that has felt watered down in the genre as of late.

– Improved character development. Not only does this film shed more light on Robert and his distant past, it also brings along the supporting cast in a way that their importance shines on the on-going narration. Melissa Leo’s character from the original movie, particularly is focused upon more, even if she suffers from the same minimal amount of time that the last movie gave her. The friendship between her and Washington on-screen certainly is evident, and gives the audience the perfect reason to get invested once that bond becomes tested. This gives the sequel a more personal approach than the original movie, that on a surface level was just McCall rescuing these tortured strangers.

– There are two interesting subplots fighting for time in the film, and while one initially feels less important because of its jumbled time investment when compared to the other, they both collide during the pivotal third act to reveal a dual value to the direction that is much needed. One of these involves the more homely side to Robert that we haven’t gotten to see up to this point, carving out a side as a guardian that he never got the chance to feel because of his wife’s untimely death. Could the pacing of the storytelling been done more fluidly between scene transitions? ABSOLUTELY. But once you see the disheveled pieces formed together, you start to appreciate the depth that this script entails.

– Washington continues to bring it as a godfather of action, instilling enough confidence and even animation to the character this time around that gives him unforeseen personality. Even at the age of 63, Denzel’s believability as a purveyor or justice works because of the poise and delivery that he commands over our attention, and ‘The Equalizer 2’ proves that the combination of he and Fuqua is as hard-hitting of a tag team as there is in Hollywood today. They both understand the character immensely, and play off the swagger of this skilled soldier without it feeling arrogant or brash for the camera.

– Very little lag time in between the two hour thrill ride. Part of my surprise with this film came when I checked my watch and discovered that I only had twenty minutes left in the movie, and I contribute that fluidity in pacing to the juggling act between those dual narratives that I mentioned earlier. Because of such, this film doesn’t stop reaching for the attention of us the audience, dazzling us with precise fight choreography storytelling unveils that are never few and far between.

– Cinematographer Oliver Wood’s impeccable movements behind the lens. Besides beautiful framing of scenes involving multiple characters in conversation, Wood’s greatest detail involves the panning motions that he instills upon swerving chase sequences, as well as moments of self-reflection for McCall’s cerebral qualities when cracking mysteries. Wood is certainly no stranger to action photography, most notably with brilliant work in ‘Jack Reacher’ and ‘The Bourne Movies’ that have carved out a presence behind the camera that speaks volumes to the atmosphere without ever settling for the gimmick of shaking camera effects.

NEGATIVES

– Most of my commentary for Fuqua as a director has been flawless to this point, so it greatly surprises me that his hand in this film feels shaky at best. Many details in the film make it feel like a different director is sitting in the chair, most notably the reversible aging process of Washington’s McCall, who not sports a full head of hair, to make him look twenty years younger. Beyond that, the lack of detail in character’s clothes and hair being dry through a hurricane sequence feels lazy for someone of his credibility.

– The subtlety and nuance of this film gets thrown out the window during the third act, when this big budget, poorly C.G infused hurricane sequence takes over. Not only does this feel terribly cliched when compared to the rest of this series, but it also marks some of the dumbest moves by antagonists that I’ve ever seen. I guess I can overlook a certain character giving away his position in a tower by shooting non-stop, but I absolutely cannot look past the stupidity of a character blowing himself up with a grenade in a room of running fans and dripping salt. My laughter during this scene stood out like a fart in a library, and completely took me out of feeling any kind of urgency or danger for McCall’s stacking odds.

– Speaking of antagonists, the film tries to play the head of this group off as a mystery figure, despite the fact that those of us who have paid attention have figured it out a half hour prior. Blame it on poor casting for a man who has a devious face, or blame it again on poor character direction by Fuqua, but either way the shifty eyes of a particular character made this reveal insanely obvious and gravely impatient when waiting for the movie to eventually catch up.

– Endless time filler that goes nowhere. There’s a ten minute introduction scene that feels tacked on to anything else that happens in the rest of the movie, an aging-quickly subplot involving an old man and an art portrait that dulls us fast, and a career of Lyft driving by McCall that doubles as his bat signal basically. My point is that even with the dual narrative that worked for me, there is still far too much dead weight on this film that could easily be trimmed to fit 100 minutes. As I mentioned earlier, the pacing never suffers, but it feels like details to a story that add up to little or nothing, then return me back to our regularly scheduled program.

6/10

Leave No Trace

Directed by Debra Granik

Starring – Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie, Jeffrey Rifflard

The Plot – Will (Foster) and his teenage daughter, Tom (McKenzie), have lived off the grid for years in the forests of Portland, Oregon. When their idyllic life is shattered, both are put into social services. After clashing with their new surroundings, Will and Tom set off on a harrowing journey back to their wild homeland.

Rated PG for thematic material throughout

POSITIVES

– This is a beautifully shot film, documenting the Oregon countryside with such an evocative colorful palate of vivacious strokes. The natural lighting is a meaningful choice for authenticity, but it’s in the yellow sunlight bleeding through the green of the trees that gives the backgrounds that stained glass effect that only comes naturally when you’re shooting a majority of your film outside.

– As for the work of Foster and McKenzie, they are asked to be in 100% of the scenes, and that dependency really drives home the work of these two polished actors carrying the movie. These performances never include those long-winded diatribes that feed into Academy recognition, but rather they are praised for feel synthetic to the human approach. Most of their charm is that they don’t ever feel like characters, but rather real people, and both respective actors bounce off of each other with the father/daughter honesty that radiates the chemistry between them.

– What I love about the exposition is that it never feels forced or convenient to the unfolding knowledge that we are learning about Will, in particular. This requires audiences to hang on to literally every single conversation between the two characters, if they wish to learn more about them. Even then, the film leaves plenty to abstraction, choosing not to follow these bombshell droppings within the three act structure like we’re used to. Granik is wise enough to not have to force-feed the audience these vivid details, instead spreading out these details of truth that speak volumes to her trust in us to adapt.

– Poignancy in parenting. One great debate frequently revolved around in this film is the spotty definition of the terms “Provider” and “Providing”. Through the ventures that feature many ups and downs between these two characters, we as audience are left with plenty of instances for an enlightening conversation, with no side ever being clearly defined for being wrong. Will believes he is right because it’s worked this way for so long between them, and the Children’s Services believe they are right because they act within the best interests of the child. The best part is that no matter where your allegiance lies on this issue, Granik as a screenwriter throws many wrenches along the way that are sure to keep you updating your stance from one side to the next.

– Deep beneath this family drama that engulfs the entirety of this film, is a maturing coming-of-age narrative that develops terrifically during the third act. These developments certainly speak wonders to the fragility of adolescence, and just how tragically some kids are forced to grow up far too quickly. I took great empathy towards this aspect, because it is in those aspects that we can’t control that feel the most damning to those they sneak up on, and it all leads to a bittersweet finale that reflects the miles that these two have traveled.

– Like Granik’s earlier work in ‘Winter’s Bone’, I find it quite indulging how the environments in her films present themselves as an integral member of the cast, allowing her to play with volumes for such an immersive experience. What this does is allow us to soak up the atmospheres whole not only in sight, but in sound. There’s excellent capturing of forest sounds like birds and branches rubbing up against one another that you could almost close your eyes and imagine yourself right there with the protagonists.

– The comparisons with 2016’s ‘Captain Fantastic’ are inevitable, and while I think this is the weaker of the two films by comparison, ‘Leave No Trace’ is more appealing on a personal measurement of character study that the former just can’t get close enough to. Because this movie only has two central characters, we are able to focus more prominently on the dynamic that eventually shapes the emotions that each are feeling. This kind of story I feel works better with less characters for the danger and isolation that we feel for them, making their situation feel more bleak upon dissection.

– Likewise to Granik’s admirable patience within her current masterpiece, the musical score from Dickon Hinchliffe also has great restrain in its presence throughout. The musical inclusion is certainly there, most notably when a scene requires self-reflection, but it does so in a way that never intrudes or soils the somber deliveries or required focus that remains faithful to your investment in the characters. Hinchliffe instead serves as more of an underlying current of steady keys that never needs to push the volume to eleven to maximize a scene.

NEGATIVES

– It pains me to say that even though this film succeeds on its own merits, it’s a difficult recommendation because of plodding pacing that eventually catches up. Much of this fault is due to redundancy in the material that shortcuts any kind of tension that this film so desperately requires, but the overall lack of a central antagonist certainly shouldn’t be understated. Without that continuous presence hot on the heels of this duo, the film gives up on an early included subplot that just kind of dissolves without resolve.

– While I mentioned earlier that this film can contribute more of its time to two characters, as opposed to a big cast, the film kind of squanders the psychological presence of the movie by never delving into Will’s head in the way we need for context. I was never lost or confused by the brief details delivered in the film, but I wouldn’t have been opposed to some flashback sequences involving the Mother in this family, no matter how forced or cliche that may sound. To me, I couldn’t escape this feeling of a bombshell delivery coming throughout the movie, but it never comes, and we are left to put together Will’s pieces without ever having a look at the box for the bigger picture.

8/10

Sorry To Bother You

Directed by Boots Riley

Starring – Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler

The Plot – In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, black telemarketer Cassius Green (Stanfield) discovers a magical key to professional success, which propels him into a macabre universe of “powercalling” that leads to material glory. But the upswing in Cassius’ career raises serious red flags with his girlfriend Detroit (Thompson), a performance artist and minimum-wage striver who’s secretly part of a Banksy-style activist collective. As his friends and co-workers organize in protest of corporate oppression, Cassius falls under the spell of his company’s cocaine-snorting CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), who offers him a salary beyond his wildest dreams.

Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use

POSITIVES

– Boots Riley is one of those film revolutionaries when it comes to the way he views the world. Considering this is the musical maestro’s first effort behind the director’s chair, it’s astonishing the way he blends colorful chaos and air-tight editing to feed into the absurdity of channeling a world so satirically unbalanced from our own, while leaving enough truth in the material to see the similarities. This is a music video director who transitions over to the big screen, and he does so without it ever feeling minimal like a music video, nor sacrificial for his volume of art that he unleashes.

– The material itself (Also written by Riley), ages like a fine wine, initially feeling like a full-on comedy that eventually morphs into horrific circumstance. While a film like ‘Get Out’ opened the perspective on interracial relationships, ‘Sorry To Bother You’ does so much more in exposing the delirium in the workforce that minorities wake up to every day. It’s every bit as smart as it is precise with its focus, feeling like the most elaborate episode of ‘Black Mirror’ that you will ever find.

– Beyond the confines of corporate consumerism, Riley also points a finger at slavery-like business models, corporate racism, dumbed down media programming, and even the blurring of lines between what really makes a celebrity. The thing is that the material is done in such an originally metaphorical sense that it will more than likely fly over the heads of a majority of its audience, but I found it to be very much intelligent and even brave for the way it takes the tense initiative and uses humor as its own kind of puppet to enhance the lunacy.

– As far as performances are concerned Stanfield might be my absolute favorite one so far this year. In emoting Cassius, Stanfield’s transformation and his vibe change so frequently throughout the film to mirror his corporate influence, and he never misses a single note. Everything is finely timed out and crisply directed for him, and Lakeith himself has plenty to add in animated facial reactions that tell the story of how the heart is feeling inside. This leaves you plenty of empathy to donate to the character, all the while he isn’t making some of the best decisions that we as an audience agree with.

– Not since ‘Requiem For a Dream’ has an environment surrounding our story felt so reactionary and ever-changing on the same path that our protagonist takes. As the film finishes up its pivotal second act, we barely start to recognize any of our characters, and it overall feels like the world could burn down around them at any time. The most impactful storytelling takes one person’s angle and enriches the volume to feel suffocating, and there were many times in Riley’s film where I felt like the progression of this future will do more harm than good to these people striving for the American dream.

– One interesting tidbit to the transition sequences involving Cassius talking on the phone to his customers, is that it is actually a practical effect. Boots hired many strong men to lift the desks at the beginning of every sequence, giving Lakeith that frazzled and shook feeling that could only reach for the kind of authenticity that comes with practicality.

– Never anywhere on this planet will you find someone who can even remotely label this film as predictable. The trailer itself is done in such a clever way that only showcases much of the first act shenanigans, leaving plenty along the way that transforms this story in the most weird and elegant of ways, creatively. This is a very quickly paced 100 minutes that look like two completely different films from start to finish.

– My favorite scene of the film is a transition montage sequence that I really don’t want to give too much about it away. What I will say is that it represents the rags-to-riches story that Cassius embarks on, duplicating the change in material things that spring up in his own life, done in the most elaborate and beautifully eye-hatching method of visual storytelling.

– My hat is off to any film that figures out yet another way for Danny Glover to utter the line “I’m too old for this shit”. Cliche? YES, Overdone? YES, Funny? Even still. It’s every bit as expected by now as Tom Hanks urinating in a movie, and it’s definitely my favorite of obvious Easter eggs in the movie.

NEGATIVES

– I hate even mentioning a negative in this film, because it’s so close to perfection for me, but the love triangle between three central characters was definitely the sloppy weakness of the film. Because of its lack of resolve and inconsequential weight within this story, it feels almost pointless to even introduce this subplot into the script. It is mentioned once during the third act, but then never elaborated on, leaving a noticeable flaw with some of the way these characters shake out in the end of the film.

9/10

Boundaries

Directed by Shana Feste

Starring – Vera Farmiga, Christopher Plummer, Lewis Macdougall

The Plot – Single mom Laura (Farmiga), along with her awkward 14 year-old son Henry (MacDougall) is forced to drive Jack (Plummer), her estranged, care-free pot dealing father across country after he’s kicked out of yet another nursing home. The road trip veers off course when Jack decides to make a couple ‘stops’ and Henry asks to see his ne’er-do-well dad Leonard (Bobby Cannavale), completely upending Laura’s attempt to hold her family together and ultimately forcing her to finally see her father for the man he really is.

Rated R for drug material, adult language, some sexual references and nude sketches

POSITIVES

– Farmiga and Plummer are consistently effective enough to outrun some of the underwhelming material, and because of such, carve out a Father/Daughter dynamic that works. For Plummer, it’s a chance to play out of type for once, living through Jack as a kind of Rip Torn meets Alec Baldwin stoner that proves wholeheartedly that the man can do comedy. For Farmiga’s Laura, we see a character’s fragility exposed because of the past that continues to haunt her in more ways than one. Vera rises to the occasion, with tears that fall on command, even if we don’t feel her pain emotionally ourselves, because of repeated misfires with direction.

– What road trip movie wouldn’t succeed if they didn’t have montages detailing some of the beautiful countryside? Thankfully, ‘Boundaries’ is more than capable of this feat. What’s refreshing for once is the geographical locations, scouting landscapes up and down the California coast, as opposed to endless deserts that other road trip movies seem saddled with. The beaches are a warm compliment to the ecological coloring of the urban countryside, providing enough versatility to feed into the passing of the time.

– In keeping with tradition of this mostly female-led production team, the cinematography from Sara Mishara offers a subtle glow that radiates that independent cinema vibe throughout. This is arguably Sara’s biggest mainstream project to date, and she doesn’t drop the ball in channeling some of the cold and callous psychological stance between this often strained relationship. On top of this, much of her camera work speaks volumes to manipulating the angles in the way that the characters see things. This puts us in the car alongside our talented cast, when we engage this beautiful scenery that surrounds us in frame and focus.

– I had many problems with the overall tone that I will get to later, but one half of this element worked for me, and that was the humor. For my money, this film should’ve remained committed to being a comedy, because there’s often something sarcastic and wittingly dry to the way Feste writes character deliveries that just feels honest. The best kind of humor is always the kind that audiences can channel and relate to, and I found these parts in the film the most enjoyable because of the way I related to their authenticity.

– While I failed to see the link in what they were representing creatively, the film does at least serve as an olive branch for animal lovers of all tribes. Farmiga’s character throughout the movie adopts these random dogs and cats that she finds abandoned, at least relaying to us the compassionate side of her character that makes her incredibly engaging as a protagonist. If you’re like me and can’t watch a film without stopping to moan at how cute a particular animal is, then Boundaries will give you plenty to oogle at.

NEGATIVES

– The road trip subgenre is a bit played out, especially in 2018 with a film called ‘Kodachrome’ that did it much better, but ‘Boundaries’ offers nothing in the way of surprises or originality that breaks itself from the pack. Almost immediately, the film writes itself into these familiar corners that inevitably remind you of a better film, and leaving itself little wiggle room in laminating anything memorable for audiences for more than five minutes after they leave the theater.

– I mentioned earlier that the film juggles tonal consistency, often feeling like two directions being compromising opponents in a vicious tug-of-war. As to where the comedy almost entirely works for the film, the movie’s sagging dramatic elements fail miserably, because of how juvenile the humor sometimes leaves a scene. There’s little exposition in terms of that scarred relationship that is never elaborated on, and much of the melodrama invades our scope with very little planning or patience to leave emotional resonance.

– One direction that I found strange was the third act developments that feel like they are keeping the cameras on to reach a certain run time. This is the part of the film where I felt that so much could be trimmed for time, particularly that of a subplot involving Farmiga’s on-screen sister (Played by Kristen Schaal) that adds very little but a distraction to the one-on-one directive that the film needed closure on. Because of this, the film just kind of ends in the way I knew it would, never capitalizing on an emotional center to drive the narrative home.

– In addition to the unnecessary plots involved with the sister character, the road trip itself provides far too many speed bumps in the way of these simmering issues, that keep the resolve slipping further out of our grasp. One stop is fine, but ‘Boundaries’ script instills four different character stops on this long and winding road, with only one of which adding anything to the exercising of demons that the film’s plot wants you to believe so desperately. After a while, this misdirection starts to feel uncomfortable, and begins to hint that maybe some people simply can’t be changed, and we should respect that.

– Coming off of the ground-shaking performance of his time in ‘A Monster Calls’, it feels like a tragic disappointment for Macdougall to not have more to do in this film. Unresolved is a word that I would use to accurately define his character, and the only thing more antagonizing than the film’s lack of exposition for his conflicts, is that of how plain they supplant this teenage force. I don’t go to bat often for child actors, but when you have someone like Lewis Macdougall, you unleash him and let him react to these changing circumstances around him. Failing to do so, may be my biggest regret for the film.

5/10

The Catcher Was A Spy

Directed by Ben Lewin

Starring – Paul Rudd, Connie Nielsen, Mark Strong

The Plot – In the midst of World War II, major league catcher Moe Berg (Rudd) is drafted to join a new team: the Office of Strategic Services (the precursor to the CIA). No ordinary ballplayer, the erudite, Jewish Ivy League graduate speaks nine languages and is a regular guest on a popular TV quiz show. Despite his celebrity, Berg is an enigma – a closeted gay man with a knack for keeping secrets. The novice spy is quickly trained and sent into the field to stop German scientist Werner Heisenberg before he can build an atomic bomb for the Nazis.

Rated R for some sexuality, violence, and adult language

POSITIVES

– There’s a surprise behind every corner with the casting. Even if you’ve seen the poster for this film, that lists the names of the film’s top three or four stars, there’s enough cameo drop-ins to establish this as possibly the best ensemble cast of randomly assorted actors that I have seen in 2018.

– Most importantly, this is a chance for Rudd to diverse himself and shine in a genre that he isn’t exactly known for, and even though the direction does him little favors in terms of character development, Rudd supplants enough range to silence the doubters. In particular, Rudd’s surprising success vocalizing a wide range of accents are authentic enough to pay respects to the real life Berg, who went through endless training to attain his transformation.

– Strong camera work all around. The war scenes feel claustrophobic, following our leads with dedicated conviction, and the character exchanges off the field of battle revolve circularly around them to reflect the passing and race against the clock.

– As a biopic, it’s certainly true that The Catcher Was A Spy is a deeply flawed movie, but as a character roarschach test during the World War II era, it specializes on leaving mystery to the man to even make the audience question his directions. What this does in terms of benefit is firmly establish the uncertainty that filled the air during such a trivial time in our world’s history, feeding into the very mystery surrounding the job of being a spy.

NEGATIVES

– Television movie-of-the-week production values. This film is cut short around nearly every corner; poor interior lighting, choppy editing that feel like they cut scenes in half, and most obviously these tight shots of battlefield backdrops that relate how cost-cutting this whole thing truly is. Perhaps the budget was spent on the deep ensemble cast for the movie, because on camera it’s simply not there.

– The screenplay feels like a bunch of scattered puzzle pieces that never form a bigger picture when put together. What’s even further troubling is that there is no weight that carries over to the next scene to keep you interested. Everything feels like it continuously starts over the train of momentum, and it flies off of its tracks and derails each and every time.

– Perhaps my biggest trouble with the film is the overwhelming amount of time dedicated to the uncertainty of Moe’s love life, instead of elevating this as the spy thriller of sorts that the film’s excitement level so desperately needs. Not that this angle is reached with a level of success. This film very much drops the ball on understanding gay relationships during such a time period, but burden of repetition from a surface level only, doesn’t do enough to withstand any waning interest in the film.

– Cringing dialogue. I could mention a few different line reads during this film, but only one truly awful line is so bad to sum up everything that the script harvests. Moe is asked by a captain “Are you a Jew?”, to which Moe replies “Ehhhhh Jew-ish”. I slapped my head three times after hearing this, and you should too.

– Much of the film’s miniscule run time of 89 minutes does favors for the often-times sluggish pacing, but it works dramatically against learning anything beyond the Wikipedia summary about Moe the person. Far often, he lacks the kind of personal reflection from being saddled in a foreign land that you don’t ever get the chance to feel empathy for his disposition of having to give up the game he loves.

– From a baseball aesthetic and fact checker, the film gets everything wrong about the lone professional baseball scene in the movie. From the lack of names mentioned during commentary, to the incorrect caps and jersey’s used for the particular time period, this film stumbles on even the smallest of details, plaguing it again to its cheap production that distances itself from that big screen feel.

4/10