Cold Pursuit

Directed By Hans Petter Moland

Starring – Liam Neeson, Emmy Rossum, Laura Dern

The Plot – Quiet family man and hard-working snowplow driver Nels Coxman (Neeson) is the lifeblood of a glitzy resort town in the Rocky Mountains because he is the one who keeps the winter roads clear. He and his wife (Dern) live in a comfortable cabin away from the tourists. The town has just awarded him “Citizen of the Year.” But Nels has to leave his quiet mountain life when his son is murdered by a powerful drug lord. As a man who has nothing to lose he is stoked by a drive for vengeance. This unlikely hero uses his hunting skills and transforms from an ordinary man into a skilled killer as he sets out to dismantle the cartel. Nels’ actions ignite a turf war between a manically unpredictable gangster known as Viking and a rival gang boss. Justice is served in one final spectacular confrontation that will leave no one unscathed.

Rated R for strong violence, drug material, and some adult language including sexual references

POSITIVES

– The harsh elements of the setting. Not since 2017’s “Wind River” has a film established the ingrediants of an environment so fruitfully that easily transcends that of the screen that we the audience are watching it on. Thanks to the immersive shot selection, as well as the various imagery throughout the picture, I found myself feeling the sting of the frost-bitten cold, combined with the isolation and confinement of the overwhelming snow that surrounds our cast of characters. Visually, it outlines a hell-frozen-over kind of vibe to replicate the actions of what is going on in the story, and it frequently gave me chills the longer we are engaged in it.

– Fresh takes on performances all around. I know what you’re thinking: this is the typical Liam Neeson role, in which he saves the day after something horrible is done to a member of his family, but that’s merely a rough take and not the entire picture of his performance. What is so different about Nels as opposed to the other characters that Neeson has portrayed is his sense of vulnerability and the consequences catching up to him with thinking on the fly. Outside of maybe his role in “The Grey”, this feels like the most relatable character of his action movie filmography, balancing enough heart and menace to the role that never forgets this man’s pain through the many dirty deeds he unloads. Aside from Neeson, I also enjoyed the work of Emmy Rossum as an upstart police detective whose soul motivation is to save the town from rival drug gangs, as well as Tom Bateman as the film’s central antagonist, who may or may not be directly out of a superhero movie for his unorthodox movements and over-eccentric personality that constantly keeps things interesting.

– A surprising direction of tone. “Cold Pursuit’s” strongest quality is in its dark and twisted sense of humor, which gives the elements at play a very ironic sense of circumstance behind them. I certainly didn’t expect myself to laugh with a plot like this one, but the film is constantly tugging at the patience of audience in the most devilishly delicious manner, showing it’s not afraid to get silly with a premise as outlandish as this one. One such example involves an incredibly slow and noisy morgue lift that would otherwise be edited for time in a typical movie, but here is played in real time to translate the awkwardness of the situation in the air. Beyond this, the deaths themselves are given a lot of free-range creativity to play around with, satisfying the crave of carnage candy in anyone who values intense revenge in circles like these.

– The immense responsibility cast upon cinematographer Philip Ogaard. Philip himself has done a lot of Danish film projects, including the original film that this movie is based on, and you can see that country of influence translate superbly to the way the film looks and feels. The color pallets have a very absorbing quality to them, in that they soak up the color scheme inside of each and every room, but beyond that they do wonders in depicting the elegance associated with these wealthy families of Denver, giving scenes of chewable scenery for us the audience to sample these extraordinary set designs. There’s also respect to be given for how Denver is presented from the wide lens angle, presenting it as sort of an isolated snowpacalypse that has paused the everyday operations of such a city.

– Unorthodox focus in where it spends its time. It’s interesting that the screenplay spends a majority of its time getting to know our antagonists, but the benefits as a result of such are rewarding in more ways than one. For my money, this creative direction gives the film a more cerebral sense, in that we are seeing the cause and effects of each and every move by each respective side, as well as it taking its time in forcing the audience to understand each calculation along the way. Beyond even this however, it gives light to these horrible people being just that: PEOPLE, and not some hokey, cliche-ridden bad guy who we ourselves can’t relate to in the slightest. It’s a big chance that pays off handsomely in giving us a who for the why, and I wish more films would take this as a much-needed gift to better flesh out the motivations of characters inside of their stories.

– Creativity in visual text. Each time a character dies, and believe me when I say there are many times of it, the film cuts to a black backdrop white text visual that gives the name of the deceased, their nickname, and an icon symbol to match each. It gives each bout of revenge a compartmentalized and almost chapter-esque feel inside of the bigger picture, and only further plays into the personality that the screenplay instills. If a character is seconds away from facing what we realize is an inevitable death, the quick cut to black visually communicates and confirms what we already knew was coming, and no matter how many times this gimmick is used, I never lost my smile because of it.

– Impactful ending. A problem plaguing many films these days is the director not knowing where to end it to leave audiences with the biggest gut-punch right before the credits, and thankfully “Cold Pursuit” never has this problem. Aside from there being some twists with its resolution that I didn’t see coming, there is one last surprise in the final shot of the movie that made me laugh, wince, and only confirmed the awesome time I had with this movie through nearly two hours. It’s one last stinger that reminds audiences of the cold and unforgiving nature of such a place, and does so in a way that the previous scenes thrived at: ironic inevitability.

NEGATIVES

– Obvious plot device introduced midway through. There’s a character who pops up midway through the film who has very little ties to either side, and whose progression and conclusion only appear because the movie needed him to. I won’t give away anything, but without this person, the antagonist would never know the name of the person coming after him, nor would there ever be any form of war between the two sides, since Nels knows his enemy and not vice versa. This character only appears for about ten minutes during the film, and because of such we know that the intention was to draw these two sides together in the most obviously sloppy kind of manner.

– Important character disappearance. One strange directing decision along the way involves Laura Dern’s character vanishing from the screen and never re-appearing or further elaborating on the relationship between her and Neeson. The reason for this to me feels like too many cooks in the kitchen in terms of characters introduced to the on-going narrative, but the mother to the deceased boy is such a pivotal and redeeming quality to a conflict like this, and only further wastes the time and talents of arguably the most talented worker in the entire cast.

– Moland’s broken promise. I am one of few American critics to have seen “In Order of Disappearance”, and director Moland has gone on record as saying he would only remake his previous film if it were completely different from his original film, and that just isn’t the case here. With the exception of different actors, and one minimally unimportant subplot, the only difference is Nels last name, with it in the original being Dickman, and in this one being Coxman. Yes, that is indeed a dick joke. My point however, is that this film is sadly an almost shot-for-shot remake that will do little for people who have seen the original chapter, and only further convolutes the definition of the term “Remake”.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

Destroyer

Directed By Karyn Kusama

Starring – Nicole Kidman, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany

The Plot – Follows the moral and existential odyssey of LAPD detective Erin Bell (Kidman) who, as a young cop, was placed undercover with a gang in the California desert with tragic results. When the leader of that gang re-emerges many years later, she must work her way back through the remaining members and into her own history with them to finally reckon with the demons that destroyed her past.

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

POSITIVES

– Riveting performances all around. As expected, this is Kidman’s stage to shine, and she does so as Erin by channeling a combination of grief, anger, and confinement for this woman that stitch together two contrasting performances for the price of one. As far as physical transformations go, this is easily Kidman’s best work to date, as Kusama strips down every elegant and defining feature about the actress, in favor of this weathered and fragile look that tells the story of everything she’s been through long before the narrative does. Aside from Kidman, Toby Kebbell also commands attention as the film’s central antagonist. Kebbell’s variety in roles accepted have carved out quite an impressive resume for the Australian star, but it’s his work here that gives us glimpses of the terrifying presence that he should’ve had as Doctor Doom in 2014’s “Fantastic Four”. Kebbell’s cold stare practically burns a hole through the camera lens, and dares us to look for even a second to test the influence he has over us the audience, as well as the gang he is in control of.

– Unique method of storytelling. I compare this movie to a season of “True Detective”, in that the events of the past are every bit as important as what’s transpiring in the future, but it’s the full circle sense of sequencing is what really made this movie something special. Without spoiling anything, the first act introductions are brought back late in the movie, this time to add layers to the kind of images we saw that were easily glossed over when you didn’t know the entire picture. Overall, it gives the film an unnerving sense of time loss that reflects Erin’s greying eyes, and makes us the audience question if what we’re seeing is in fact reality.

– A woman’s touch. Kusama takes a human approach to a story so riddled in surreal violence, drugs, and characters that feel so foreign to the everyday person, and blends them together with living, beating woman whose priorities are never lost despite all of the madness. Erin as a character is very much a mother first, therefore she continuously takes time to look after her daughter even when the rest of her world is crumbling down around her. This not only gives the character strong integral value in terms of being a protagonist, but also speaks volumes to the good side of her who has otherwise been lost in the struggle of some truly awful decisions over the course of sixteen grueling years. Even when Erin doesn’t look familiar to us, Karyn never jumbles her conscience, and above all else crafts a character piece that sees unorthodox shades of grey in the usual white or black side of good versus evil.

– Julie Kirkwood’s gothic sense of cinematography in this nightmare world. L.A has never looked so seedy and haunting as it does in “Destroyer”. It’s a sense of environmental establishment that David Lynch would greatly appreciate, and makes the film’s setting feel every bit as remorseful as that of our leading lady. Kirkwood has been doing her thing for well over a decade now, but this is easily my favorite work from her to date, as the sunshine influenced visuals rubbing off on Erin’s emotionless pallet speak volumes to the familiarity in world that she can’t run away from, constantly glaring in her face with unabashed reminder of the things she’s lost.

– A slowburn sizzle. This won’t be a movie for every one, and I understand that people need actions to sustain their interest in a film, but for me I was much more captivated in Erin confronting the demons from her past, and finding out why she holds herself responsible for the things she can’t change. This case as a whole feels like the lone purpose left in her life that she herself can make right, and it’s in that inspiration where we see evidence of the great detective that she could’ve been had her life gone drastically different. In addition to this, I’m a sucker for a duel narrative that eventually reaches a head-on collision where everything ties together between two respective timelines. The back-and-forth plodding is satisfying and exceptionally edited, and for my money neither one ever feels substantially more important than the other, giving them equal value in the pacing of this case.

– Double duty for great make-up. The make-up work for the film are subtle in design, but very much effective in the desired impacts that the script calls for. I say double duty because they accomplish brutality and aging equally remarkable, and make the immersion for a story that takes place over sixteen years feel that much more seamless because of it. Kidman’s decaying facials deserve academy recognition by themselves, but it’s in the consistency of the cuts and bruising between long takes of the film where I tip my hat the highest, because they blossomed, dried, and scarred very much in the way that they rightfully should. Make-up isn’t something that I usually commend a film for, but the nuanced prosthetics made for such impressive returns that I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t commend the production for them.

– To capitalize further on the human aspect of the film, Erin is anything but a superhuman presence, and Kidman as a whole takes a physical beatdown every step of the way. This helps make the aging process of the make-up feel that much more synthetic, because Erin is slower, weaker, and especially less resistant in the current day narrative, and it all plays into the urgency of these rare conflict scenes, as we realize we’re following an officer whose best days are clearly behind her. Fractured protagonists are a delicate thing to possess in a movie, and can become cliche if they are not handled properly. But the performance of Kidman combined with the focus of some devastating blows, adds grave weight to the concepts of time, constructing Erin in a race against the proverbial clock that is undefeated against us.

– One spell-binding scene. In a movie containing two high-speed chase sequences, two bank robberies, and an endless array of ammunition, the scene that stuck the most with me is a Mother/Daughter confrontation at a diner that feels like a long time coming. This speaks volumes once again to the humanity that Kusama instills to the project, but even more than that captures a slate being wiped clean by two women, one coming up in the world and one coming out, that transcends space and time in a way where everything else around them is paused to the importance that is front-and-center. While this scene didn’t bring me to tears, there’s enough dramatic pulse in the rock-swallowing delivery of Kidman, as well as the series of revelations that are brought to the table that allow each of them to see the other in remarkably different light than previously established. It’s almost a warning of sorts from the woman who has lived that lifestyle to the girl who is heading in that direction, marking a crossing of paths that hits closer to home than these cop dramas are typically capable of.

NEGATIVES

– Dumbed down transition sequences. I almost took away two points for this aspect because the rest of the film surrounding it is so smart and non-linear, but deep in the middle are these awful sequences of reminder that reward audiences who aren’t paying attention. When a character is shown in the present day narrative, the film will flash-back to them in the past narrative, cementing who they are and why they’re important to the scene. Of course, if you’re paying attention to the movie this whole time, you won’t need to be reminded so damn frequently of things that you already know, and after the fourth or fifth time I was yelling “ENOUGH!!!” at the screen. It slowed down the progress of the story so unnecessarily, and I wish the editors had slightly more respect for the audience’s investment into their film.

– Anti-climatic conflict. For the entirety of this two hour film, we are building to this present day engagement between two central characters in a way that makes you beg for it once you know all of the elements. The problem comes in the form of a scene that comes and goes with so little impact or dramatic pull that it doesn’t even attempt to reward us with something remotely satisfying. I’m fine with a quick fight, but when the film doesn’t even capitalize on the tension of sixteen years apart between them, I start to wonder why this conflict was ever so pivotal to the entirety of the film to begin with. Beyond this, the remaining five minutes contain questionable imagery and sluggish conclusive storytelling that it stood out as the obvious weakness of the movie for me.

My Grade: 8/10 or B+

Miss Bala

Directed By Catherine Hardwicke

Starring – Gina Rodriguez, Anthony Mackie, Ismael Cruz Cordova

The Plot – Gloria (Rodriguez) finds a power she never knew she had when she is drawn into a dangerous world of cross-border crime. Surviving will require all of her cunning, inventiveness, and strength.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence, sexual and drug content, thematic material, and adult language

POSITIVES

– Gina Rodriguez. While the line deliveries of this actress, and overall toughness leaves slightly more to be desired, the dramatic effect of her watery-eyed visuals speaks volumes to the pain inside of her soul. This is perhaps the only element of her transformation that feels believable, as Gloria very much feels like a woman so removed from her element that the look of shock and disdain that constantly fill her facial resonation tell the story of a woman who has already lost so much, yet persists in doing what she can to stay alive. Gina’s best quality, sadly, is when she is quiet, and thankfully the film capitalizes on enough of this to make us the audience feel fragility of her particular situation.

– Immersive musical score by Alex Heffes. This man clearly has his work cut out for him here, but rises to the occasion in scoring these kind of ammunition-riddled sequences with the kind of increase of intensity that elevates further with each repeated-yet-slightly-different stroke of the instrument. Much of Heffes work here reminds me of the great Johann Johansson, specifically in his masterful music design in “Sicario”. The two feel considerably similar because of the overall capture of dread and helplessness that harvest so strongly in the manufactured atmosphere, instilling much fear to the unveiling of worlds that each female protagonist must endure.

– Dual border setting that speaks volumes to the current day landscape. I loved the production decision to compare and contrast the two dramatically different worlds in America and Mexico, and where they each played a pivotal part in the progression of what transpires. This geographical gimmick is used in ways that, while lacking in originality, does cast a dark and conveying shadow to the immensity of dangerous activity that persist between the respective sides. As to where the original “Miss Bala” takes place solely in Mexico, this American remake capitalizes on the importance of polarization for Mexican born citizens who have since taken up citizenship with its northern neighbor, echoing a familiar vibe to the many in our current day landscape who seek a fresh start in a brand new place.

– Logic in arms. I appreciate a film that doesn’t make its lead a sharpshooter after picking up a gun only twice. To this degree, Gloria as a distributor of justice doesn’t ever feel godly or even effective enough to pull you away from the situation because of abnormal accuracy, and there’s much respect to be given about a movie that takes time to document not only the aim of its holder, but also in the lack of confidence she displays in holding the product itself. It all feels believable in a way that other big budget action films easily overlook in favor of a hip protagonist who knows how to stand in front of a film’s movie poster.

NEGATIVES

– Never slows down. While some will commend a movie for moving rapidly throughout, I can say that the clumsiness in storytelling that constantly rushes through these sequence of events, is anything but pleasurable. For one thing, many subplots never receive further explanation, leaving many character motivations, especially that of Gloria, feeling left out to dry in the bigger, more violent picture. The second act in particular is one that just depicts a series of situations with very little exposition or narration to further elaborate on just what we the audience are seeing in front of us. This gives the film an unintentionally deplorable quality, in that the audience feels very much like Gloria in what little we are being explained along the way.

– The definition of pointless cameo. Anthony Mackie deserved better than this, but I can certainly understand that easy paychecks aren’t easy to come by. Mackie is barely in this film for two scenes, in a sort of blink and you might miss him quality, and casts an unavoidable disappointment in the very little interaction between he and Rodriguez that could’ve done wonders in putting her status as an action hero, or her transformation over. Anthony’s charisma is something that is needed more in this film than anything he’s ever done, and the script’s decision to make him this secondary nothing character proves that literally anyone could’ve accepted the role.

– Constricted editing. Once again we are treated to a film with handheld camera designs and rambunctious editing that paints such ugly and uninspiring depictions of action that never allow us the opportunity to sink our teeth into. The editing always feels like it’s two seconds late, cutting just after a pivotal bullet or character move has taken place, making it difficult to follow the sequence of events. If this isn’t enough, the horrendous looking visual captures only did a further disservice in hooking me in to the drama of the occasion, and only speaks volumes to what is capable when you set a Mexican gang movie with a PG-13 designation. Because this is definitely the kind of film that 13 year old’s are itching to see.

– Lack of character exposition. If the film’s trailer, leading star’s gender, or even the title led you to believe that this was a woman’s movie, you might feel manipulated when you actually see the picture. In fact, there’s so little interaction with Gloria during the first act that everything you’ve learned about her can easily be said in a job application without a past jobs section. How is it that in a movie titled “Miss Bala” that we learn more about the gang leader (Conveniently a good looking model of a man) than we do the woman we are supposed to be following this whole time? It’s absolutely bonkers, and does nothing in furthering your investment into this character or her urgency, which is also vitally lacking.

– Riddled in generic production qualities. Predictably telegraphed? Check, Lack of entertaining element in compelling dialogue? Check, ignorance of political spectrum considering some greatly important issues in foreign treatment of women? Check. All of these things and more give “Miss Bala” an incomplete feeling that will always leave me wondering what would’ve developed if they only took some chances. Being forgettable is easily its greatest sin, as even minutes after leaving the theater I struggle even remembering what took place during the film’s anti-climatic final conflict. It’s a fine example of everything I mentioned here, as the scene plays out without so much as a single moment uncertainty, allowing the screenplay as the only thing to beat us in a foot race to the closing credits.

– Conflicting elements in production. While the cinematography for the film sometimes echoes that of its predecessor, in a sort of B-movie meets music video style artistic merit, the film’s tone and overall material lacks any kind of personality in identifying what kind of movie this rightfully should’ve been. There’s no fun or redeeming quality to a film like this, making the audience it speaks to that much more sparse because it never finds an identity of its own. The people steering this ship crashed into a wall of mediocrity that they couldn’t ever escape, and what’s even worse is that no one will be there to hear the sound it made.

My Grade: 4/10 or D

Stan & Ollie

Directed By Jon S. Baird

Starring – John C. Reilly, Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson

The Plot – The true story of Hollywood’s greatest comedy double act, Laurel and Hardy, is brought to the big screen for the first time. Starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly as the inimitable movie icons, “Stan and Ollie” is the heart-warming story of what would become the pair’s triumphant farewell tour. With their golden era long behind them, the pair embark on a variety hall tour of Britain and Ireland. Despite the pressures of a hectic schedule, and with the support of their wives Lucille (Henderson) and Ida (Nina Arianda), a formidable double act in their own right, the pair’s love of performing, as well as for each other, endures as they secure their place in the hearts of their adoring public.

Rated PG for some adult language, and for smoking

POSITIVES

– Stage like presentation. The way that Baird frames this film is simply marvelous, combining the elements of the world that our title characters lived and breathed in, and incorporates them for us the audience to feel like we are embracing their show in the same way people did in the post Vaudeville era. The introduction text is complimented by a curtain in the background, feeding us exposition for the past between these two, and the backdrops and props are carved out in a way that echoes hollow interiors, making this all feel like a manipulated presentation for only our eyes.

– Candid reveals about the duo. Without question, my favorite aspect of this film is its approach to matters happening off-stage that equal or even surpass what their audiences perceived because of their stage show. As expected, the bond between them is tested and even strained because of decades on the road together, making their relationship feel like a marriage during confining times. In addition to this, there’s much focus on the significant others of the duo in how each of them unabashedly influence the decisions of their male suitors, providing a sort of fuel for the fire which led to the distance between them. The material nuances much more than the conventional entertainer biopic that we’ve become saddled with, and makes “Stan & Ollie” much more than a series of sight gags to tug at our funny bones.

– Speaking of humor, the dynamic in banter between Coogan and Reilly is fantastic in replicating the many routines that they made famous night after night. I am not a fan of Laurel and Hardy, nor am I a fan of slapstick humor on the whole, but the fine timing between these two simply couldn’t be ignored, and gave me a series of hearty laughs that solidified their impeccable chemistry. Even beyond the stage however, the banter between them in their daily lives felt like it’s serving a greater purpose in perfecting what they bring to their material. Some of my favorite parts of the film are just the small talk scenes between Coogan and Reilly that speaks volumes to two men being involved in the business for far too long.

– Transformative performances. It’s easy to brag about Reilly’s physical transformation here, as he dons a fat suit and multiple prosthetics to make this heralded figure come to life. However, it is Coogan for me who really stole the movie, in that it feels like the first time he has portrayed a character with heart and ambition simultaneously. Coogan channels the gentle side of Laurel that at times gives him the adolescent vibe, and when combined with Reilly’s gruff exterior, the two easily lose themselves in the mold of the characters, cementing my early favorite for perfect casting thus far in 2019. It’s awesome that both actors found their way out of the devastation that was “Holmes and Watson” and managed to get together once more without the confines of immature Will Ferrell comedy to hinder what they bring to the table.

– Choice of time period. Most biopics center around the time frame when an artist hits their prime and really makes it big, but “Stan and Ollie” takes place during those less-flattering years after the fame has worn off, and the two weathered veterans are forced to make some tough decisions moving forward. If you’re invested into the characters like I was, this will make for some truly compelling dramatic elements that come to fruition because of the introduction of some familiar immitators in duo stage shows that are making their mark at the exact same time. It all comes to a head during a post-show dinner gone wrong that vividly paints the picture for past discretions that have solidified their current stance towards one another.

– Manipulated long take sequences. This is especially prominent during the first act of the movie, in which we follow the two leads through a movie studio at the height of their stardom, and what this does is depict the change in the world of pop culture, which feels like it grows with or without the duo’s inclusion. While these of course aren’t one take scenes, the synching of masterful editing by Una Ni Dhonghaile, who did deserve Academy recognition, stitches it together in a way that completely holds your attention, and allows you to take in as much of this duo at their highest fame so that the images of their fall will feel that much more devastating because of it. Brilliant visual storytelling.

– A moving tribute. One unique take in the film involves the duo acting their way through a Robin Hood spoof film that Laurel wrote much of the material for, but sadly the duo never managed to make. The scenes themselves are funny, intelligent in material, and especially beautiful for the time period cinematography, and it crafts a ‘What if?’ element to the screenplay that even Laurel and Hardy themselves would appreciate for the revealing looking into what indeed could’ve been.

NEGATIVES

– Jagged flashback sequences. For my money, there’s not enough definition or subliminal differences in the flashback sequences to not confuse the audience when they appear. These scenes just incorporate themselves like the next scene of the on-going narrative, and forced me several times to stop and accurately define on my own what time period is front-and-center at that particular moment. Thankfully, there aren’t a lot of these instances in the film, as it stays mostly grounded in the current day narrative, but the few instances where it does overtake our story try to do it without text or aging differences from the actors, and it makes for sloppy transitions that feel like speed bumps to important exposition.

– Less than stellar musical choices. Rolfe Kent’s acompanyment here not only misses the mark in channeling the proper vibes in each scene, but it also wants so badly to spoon-feed emotional response down our throats in a way that removes any kind of artistic interpretation. The syrupy orchestral score often feels overwrought and extended, making for a score that feels bigger than where the reserved story takes us, and I wish the producers instead would’ve instead went for a more Vaudevilian-influenced approach in sound to properly replicate the tinge of the particular era.

– Errors….errors everywhere. This falls on the head of Baird, who should’ve used more focus in removing these items that completely ruined my investment into the proper era of film. The first is a modern Canadian flag with the maple leaf that wasn’t adopted until 1965. Likewise, a 50-star American flag that wasn’t adopted until 1960 is shown outside during the Savoy hotel introduction. Finally, a continuity error, in which Stan delivers some eggs to Hardy while he’s in bed. He lays them on the bed, and in the next scene, when Stan lays next to him, they have completely vanished without being moved. Small stuff? sure, but good production focus translates on-screen, and this one could’ve used attention for the things that are easy to reduce.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

Serenity

Directed By Steven Knight

Starring – Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane

The Plot – Baker Dill (McConaughey) is a fishing boat captain leading tours off a tranquil, tropical enclave called Plymouth Island. His quiet life is shattered, however, when his ex-wife Karen (Hathaway) tracks him down with a desperate plea for help. She begs Dill to save her and their young son from her new, violent husband (Jason Clarke) by taking him out to sea on a fishing excursion, only to throw him to the sharks and leave him for dead. Karen’s appearance thrusts Dill back into a life he’d tried to forget, and as he struggles between right and wrong, his world is plunged into a new reality that may not be all that it seems.

Rated R for adult language throughout, sexual content, and some bloody images

POSITIVES

– Exceptional framing work. While I have quite a few problems with the technical aspects of Knight’s style and circumstance, the man knows how to craft informative character framing in a way that helps you understand their characters more than this script ever could. Color coordination and particular objects are they key here, giving us exposition in the form of varying lifestyles that vividly paint the person in focus. These moments of self reflection were easily my favorite scenes of the film, and prove the sting of subtlety in ways that Knight never ties to other areas of his production.

– Gorgeous on-site filming locations. “Serenity” takes place on this gorgeous island that is full of dirty deeds and secrets that counter that of the breathtaking visuals that we are being treated to, courtesy of the island of Mauritius, which the movie spent six weeks shooting on. Very little green screen design is instilled into the picture, instead allowing cinematographer Jess Hall a bulk of the responsibility that he dazzles in consistency, thanks to a combination of wide lens movements out in the ocean and manipulated lighting that surprisingly remains consistent with the glow of the island sun. Like the setting itself, “Serenity” offers us lots of beauty, but it’s unfortunately never enough for the ugliness that is boiling just beneath the surface.

NEGATIVES

– That painful plot twist. Five minutes into this film, you can already comprehend that something deeper is at play with these characters and situations, and unfortunately it leads to a second act revelation that once again reminds us how influential the TV show “St Elsewhere” was in this newest generation of writers. This manipulative direction not only undercuts the meaning of everything and everyone up to this point, but it inevitably paints the movie in a corner that it will never find its way out of, in terms of satisfying its audience. We pretty much either cheer for the bad thing to happen, or we cheer for the bad thing to happen. Also, as with any plot twist, this one brings to light a series of questions that don’t add up to what the message is trying to convey. It’s a brain-dead movie that is trying to disguise itself as genius, when in reality its creative muscle gets caught in its zipper before it truly begins.

– Lack of narrative progression. Factor everything that takes place in “Serenity”, and you have a series of events that are every bit as stretched in pacing as they are selfish for even thinking this belonged anywhere near its 100 minute runtime. This film is the very definition of sluggish, as there are at least two instances in the film where everything moving forward comes screeching to a grinding halt, requiring the audience to be patient for the big blow that they’re being reminded of frequently, yet never rewarded in terms of satisfying payoff. It really is a train-wreck in slow motion, and if you’re fortunate enough to bring popcorn to the scene of the accident, you’ll be finished with the bucket before the script gets to the point.

– Insufferable characters. My problem with a lot of sex thrillers is that they often involve these characters that I truly can’t tie myself to, and that’s once again the case with “Serenity”. These are disgusting people who grow worse with each passing moment, making the challenge of spending time with them the film’s biggest obstacle. Hell, our main character mocks his best friend for being bad luck after his wife’s untimely passing. Your hero, ladies and gentlemen. I think I saw more sensitivity from McConaughey when he played a sadistic killer in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation”.

– Cold, callous performances from an A-list cast. There’s plenty of familiarity in the expanding cast that the film has to offer, but there’s nothing in the way of meaningful depth or subtle nuance to deem any of their deliveries the proper guidance that this movie needs to steer the ship. McConaughey at least is giving his all in trying to make salad out of shit, but the stilted dialogue and the overall way his character is presented reminds us of the B-movie stinkers that he was subjected to before he won an Oscar. Hathaway is someone out of a 30’s crime noir novel, complete with cigarette in hand and sex being her only weapon against the more powerful men. Her character alone sets women’s rights back another thirty years. Finally, Lane, Jason Clarke, and Djimon Hinsou are all wasted, preserving only a couple of scenes between them that echo the sound of a paycheck film that they have since tried to forget about.

– Rough editing transitions. The consistency of cuts in between the scenes of exposition, particularly in that of that during the first act, feel jagged and dissolving of any kind of momentum that the film has in winning its audience over. The result is a hack and slash feel in post production that gives pivotal confrontations a cliff notes feel of authenticity. I’m willing to bet that there is a two hour plus director’s cut sitting on a producer’s shelf, that may help answer some of the contrivances in story time reveals that practically grow because character interaction is treated like a poison in this film, and if you can’t invest into a movie early on, it makes for a painful sit that disallows you to feel even an inkling of interest into what evolves.

– Strange camera movements. One such choice for character introduction shots involves a sped-up revolving shot that slows down once an important character’s face is revealed. This trope is most commonly used in comedies, usually involving a gorgeous male or female character who is the object of affection for a protagonist, so you can imagine how it comes across in a film that juggles serious themes like sex, murder, and female abuse. Instead of coming across like a visionary stimulation, the sequences feel like a road-block of distraction that only served as one more instance of interruption that delayed me once more from reaching the finish line of this cinematic lobotomy.

– Horrendous dialogue. Once again, when discussing a sex thriller that felt dated even in the 90’s, you should expect dialogue exchanges between characters that will leave you gagging, but this film took it completely over the top. To be honest, I could quote the entire film, but my favorite line uttered by a post-sexed McConaughey goes “I’m a hooker who can’t afford hooks”. Huh? What? How can this film be written by the same man who penned the genius that was 2013’s “Locke”? A film so enriched with psychological bruising from family’s past that I was able to accurately paint a picture with just Tom Hardy talking in a car for 82 minutes. As for the dialogue in this film, it will test your patience in ways, while squeezing out an unintentional laugh or two during a scene that wanted so desperately to be moving and engaging.

– Then I suddenly became uncomfortable. I was OK when the sexual material stayed on McConaughey’s trysts with Lane or Hathaway, but an emerging bond between father and son characters is presented in such a way that harvested a rock of uneasiness deep in the pit of my stomach. McConaughey speaks telepathically by rubbing circles of spilled water. Doesn’t hit it for ya? How about a two minute underwater sequence where a naked McConaughey (Complete with Ken-doll crotch mound) floats while staring into the eyes of his adolescent son. If this is where the future of sex thrillers is headed, count me out. I left my Victor Silva shoes of pedophilia in ashes in the center of my fireplace. No thanks.

My Grade: 2/10 or F-

Glass

Directed By M Night Shyamalan

Starring – Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, James Mcavoy

The Plot – Following the conclusion of “Split”, “Glass” finds David Dunn (Willis) pursuing Crumb’s (Mcavoy) superhuman figure of The Beast in a series of escalating encounters, while the shadowy presence of Price (Jackson) emerges as an orchestrator who holds secrets critical to both men.

Rated PG-13 for violence including some bloody images, thematic elements, and adult language

POSITIVES

– One more chance with these characters. I still stand by that James Mcavoy should’ve been nominated for an Oscar for his work in “Split”, and here that momentum only continues. Mcavoy easily carries the movie, ushering us through 23 different personalities that all casually make an appearance in this installment, giving James a phenomenal range with improv characteristics. Likewise, Samuel L. Jackson as the title character is also impressive, combining a wide range of intelligence and anger that really make you feel for this man who has only ever known pain in his life. When Mcavoy and Jackson interact, it’s easily the best parts of the film for me, but unfortunately this is again a case of Bruce Willis phoning his performance in. It doesn’t help that the film has so little for him to do, but Willis’ calm demeanor doesn’t win him any awards in the category of most charismatic.

– A wide variety of shot compositions. While there is one problem in this area that I will get to later, the overall choices of angles and creativity associated with the film’s movement left me satisfied, and proved that above all else, Shyamalan still knows how to shoot a movie. What’s interesting is that “Unbreakable”, “Split”, and “Glass” are all part of the same series, yet none of them look visually anything alike. This allows each of these films to stand out on their own, so as to never repeat or derive the style about its respective films that harvested that air of originality that made each of them thrive visually.

– Creative use of flashback storytelling. There are no shortage of flashbacks throughout the film, in fact, I think “Glass” may have topped last year’s “Fantastic Beasts” sequel in how many times it recalls the past. Why it worked more here for me is not only the surprising instances of what it reveals, but also in triggering pivotal moments in these characters lives that peel the layer of the psychological onion one layer further. The transitions are never sloppy or rushed, and most importantly they keep the pacing of each scene they accompany firmly in their grip, never allowing them to drag or stall for too long.

– Shyamalan’s love for comic books once again shines through. “Glass” takes ample time not only in explaining the history surrounding some of the more important comic book novels of the past, but also incorporates them to this particular narrative, and it pulls out this poignancy that crafts an honorable message to the film’s social commentary. My take is that the film is reminding us that greatness exists in all of us, and this world will constantly try to diminish or devalue its existence, but it’s us who must stand up and give them irrefutable proof of the gifts we’ve always known were inside of us. If you take anything from this film, take this inspiring message that Shyamalan preaches, reminding us that all of us should be considered super.

NEGATIVES

– One terribly bad shot choice. This film has no shortage of close-up POV angle shots, particularly in that of the film’s fight sequences, that render them with a complete lack of believability. For one, we as an audience can’t register what is happening in each of them because we only see the face of one man, not what is transpiring beneath this face, therefore we can’t detect when a pivotal blow has been landed. For two, this screams PG-13 limitations, as well as an overall lack in chemistry between Willis and Mcavoy that tried so hard to frame the violence in ways that wouldn’t expose their limited capabilities. It could be forgiven if it happened a few times, but this gimmick is exploited so much that I couldn’t help but wince each time it popped up, and I can’t begin to imagine why Shyamalan felt that this was the way to go for capturing the impactful devastation.

– Plot holes/inconsistencies. I could write a book on this section alone, but I won’t bore you with the endless details that even the movie couldn’t answer for itself. Characters making irrational decisions, rules of Mcavoy’s character being changed from the previous film, continuity errors from scene to scene transitions, and issues with the capture of these men that had me scratching my head. Because of these frequent road blocks in creativity, the film feels like it can’t go ten minutes without the same question of logic popping up into my brain, and even in an era where we don’t question how Captain America can’t suffer any difficulties in the unfreezing process, or a selfless billionaire donning an iron suit to constantly risk his life, “Glass” feels like the biggest fabrication of truth in the comic genre that I’ve ever seen.

– Far too much humor. I expected that some of the line deliveries that Mcavoy gave were going to come across as comical. You can’t play an 8 year old or a woman without the audience snickering a time or two, but the overwhelming amount of comedy, not only with Mcavoy’s character, that constantly filled the screenplay, frequently pulled me out of the film’s immersion, giving the audience far too many moments of breath in between what should be these tense and epic showdowns. A joke about rap artist Drake is repeated on three different accounts, leaving Shyamalan as a screenwriter feeling like your hip grandpa who just discovered Youtube last week.

– Disjointed storytelling. “Glass” feels like three different stories being told simultaneously that never mesh together to form one cohesive unit. My biggest problem comes in the form of pivotal characters disappearing for long stretches of time, smashing any kind of momentum that the film requires in giving audiences each perspective side. Mcavoy feels like the one constant, but the lack of revenge conflict between Mr Glass and Dunn never actually happens, leaving the very same dynamic that blew the roof off of the theater in “Unbreakable” feeling underwhelming. It makes for a finished script that is often pulling us in different directions without us fully understanding why.

– Shows its hand far too often. If you seek a movie that gives away pivotal twists and turns constantly throughout the movie, then this might be the film for you. The first rule of competent screenwriting is that mentioning something once is forgettable, but to mention it twice or more means its important, and the film’s idea of repeating its own rules within this superhero world it establishes left me with a few telegraphed instances within the film, where I knew something was coming. That’s not to say that “Glass” is entirely predictable, it’s just entirely far too obvious and lacks any kind of nuance to slip one by you.

– That convoluted ending. When there was one twist, I loved it. That added layers to a previous film that wasn’t originally established. When there were three twists, I felt it was beginning to get out of hand. When there were six twists, I felt that the film got way ahead of itself, and it all became this overstuffed vacuum bag that blew minutes prior, yet still kept pumping. This is Shyamalan at his most Shaymalan, and what I mean by that is he has what he feels is a genius idea and keeps poking at it until we the audience scream “ENOUGH”. The final twenty minutes of this film could easily be considered the ending, and each scene that follows could easily be the ending in any film. But Shyamalan leaves the camera on for far too long, and the closing moments take this film to an ending that I’m confident will be unsatisfying to anyone who watches it, ending a once promising trilogy on a note of obvious disappointment that reminds you why the name Shyamalan scares you in the first place.

My Grade: 4/10 or D-

Inception

Directed By Christopher Nolan

Starring – Leonardo Dicaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page

The Plot – Dom Cobb (Dicaprio) is a skilled thief, the absolute best in the dangerous art of extraction, stealing valuable secrets from deep within the subconscious during the dream state, when the mind is at its most vulnerable. Cobb’s rare ability has made him a coveted player in this treacherous new world of corporate espionage, but it has also made him an international fugitive and cost him everything he has ever loved. Now Cobb is being offered a chance at redemption. One last job could give him his life back but only if he can accomplish the impossible – inception. Instead of the perfect heist, Cobb and his team of specialists have to pull off the reverse: their task is not to steal an idea but to plant one. If they succeed, it could be the perfect crime. But no amount of careful planning or expertise can prepare the team for the dangerous enemy that seems to predict their every move. An enemy that only Cobb could have seen coming.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout

POSITIVES

– One of a kind direction. Before “Inception”, Christopher Nolan already carved his name out as one of the best directors of the current era, but after the distinct imprint that he left on this picture, he became one of the greatest minds of all time, challenging the audience in ways that films often don’t anymore. This is very much a passion project for Nolan, whose pictures envelope the very best in all areas of the technical spectrum, and are only surpassed by a script that is the epitome of a game of mental chess. This film is the very definition of expedition, treating us to an idea that geographically feels galaxies away, yet in reality is something that we ourselves can reach out and touch, and it’s because of this quality that the science fiction in a film feels possible for once, because it is grounded in such reality.

– Art imitating life. Nolan based the roles of the Inception team similar to roles that are used in craft filmmaking, with Cobb being the director, Arthur being the producer, Ariadne being the production designer, Eames being the actor, Saito being the studio, and Fischer being the audience. What this does is mold a team-based exercise for the movie out of something that Nolan knows best, giving what I interpreted as an immersion into the mind of a literary and visual genius. In addition to this, the initials of each character spell out a bigger message to the audience at home. D(om), R(obert), E(ames), A(rthur), M(al), S(aito), P(eter), A(riadne), Y(usef) = Dreams Pay.

– Best of both worlds. There is this prejudice in Hollywood that big budget Summer blockbusters can’t be intelligent and poignant, but “Inception” was really the film that changed this dimming perspective. Combining a monstrous budget of 160 million dollars with a script so expansive in material that it took ten whole years to write, made for the rare breed of Summer releases that challenge the audience in ways that disaster films and monster movies simply never could, and man did it pay off. Every time I watch this movie, I learn something entirely new about it, and it’s in those clever nuances that have since become known as Easter eggs where the film has tremendous value as a two-and-a-half hour film that you actually yearn to watch again and again. As far as heist films go, it is easily the most challenging and most evocative that I have ever seen.

– Sight and sound. There are no shortage of achievements when discussing this film, but the exceptional perfection that is the rumbling texture of the film’s sound mixing, as well as the practical-dominated work of visual effects serve as the strongest duo, for far greater reason than it taking the Oscar in both respective categories. The movie’s audio thrives as this building ball of momentum, constantly mimicking that of the intensity in dream conflicts that builds to a satisfying blow-off without ever decreasing the urgency in the atmosphere. Everything introduced into the dream is always enveloped by this emphasis that engages you with its presence, and it’s even more incredible when you consider that most of the jaw-dropping visuals we’re seeing are done with limited- to-no computer generation. It’s a technical marvel that sheds light on the tremendous confidence that Nolan had in his crew in depicting this world that looks very similar, but feels eerily foreign to our own laws of gravity.

– Tremendous world building. While I do have a problem with some of the inconsistencies of the rules established that I will get to later, you can’t deny that this idea within these dream worlds were treated as so much more than just table dressing to the film’s essential plot. The film takes valuable screen time in explaining the rules, ideas, and consequences within this state of sleep that give it this rich sense of originality when compared to anything else in film history. Likewise, the set designs and backdrops feel vastly different in channeling the deeper levels of tranquility that the team invades, so as not to feel redundantly confusing to the audience keeping score at home. Also, the fine tuning of superb editing allows for great visual definition when it comes to each ever-changing layer of the dream, and kept things from ever feeling convoluted in a film where it easily could’ve been. This is editing that is visually telling us as many as four different stories at once, and never lost its location for the story along the way.

– Hans Zimmer’s best musical score to date. Zimmer has always been one of my personal favorite composers, but the work done here is exceptionally breathtaking in the way it takes command of these impactful sequences. Hans not only treats us to a fine variety of eclectic compositions, but his dedicated influence through a majority of this picture prove that he is working overtime when actors need a break from the frame. The music very rarely ever leaves the picture completely, and Hans even manages to save the best for last, as “Time”, a somberly building track that plays during the film’s emotional finale, may just be my single favorite piece of music not only by Zimmer, but by any composer in any film ever.

– Collective ensemble. I’ve read a lot of disdain for the performances in the film feeling wooden, but to me this couldn’t be further from the truth, as Dicaprio’s Cobb channels a lot of anger and grief in the valuable things lost that I felt his addiction to the past to induce shivers each time he comes at a crossroads to let them go. In addition to this, the banter and engagement of these top notch actors constantly keep things fresh because of their differences in dynamic, especially that of Levitt and Hardy, who feel like they have a complicated past between them that have left them uneasy towards one another. My favorite scenes really are just the ones when these characters interact with one another, proving that if personalities and presence are strong enough, you can’t get enough of their influence on the picture.

– Absorbing cinematography. The shot composition and color illustration in the film serve so much more purpose here than to outline a beautifully intricate film, it also establishes versatility in complexion that mimics each room it invades. Pay close attention to the background lighting or color pallet in each scene, and you’ll get an undeniable sense of how something so distant plays such an unavoidable presence in the foreground. What made it a done deal for me is that the color correction never feels overwhelmingly artificial, instead endearing subtly in a sponge-like quality to harvest the artistic merit in each scene. For a film made in 2010, it could easily stand tall with the 4K definition of a 2019 film.

– That controversial ending. (Light SPOILERS) Like most artistically poignant films, this one has plenty of room for interpretation, during the film’s pivotal closing moments. Many people have their own take whether Cobb is indeed awake or not when he is reunited with his children. My personal take is that there is a wobble on the spinner right before the screen fades to black, therefore instilling the idea that this is the real world. I say this because in the dream world there never was one instance of this even slightly wobbling even a little bit, therefore he must be in the real world. Either way, I applaud Nolan for giving food for thought to the idea that there is no wrong answer, and that either ending could alter the feeling of the film and its characters conclusively. It proves that endings don’t always need clarity to hit you the hardest emotionally, and if done right they can leave plenty of room for incorporated fan feelings, because after all, that is why movies are made in the first place.

NEGATIVES

– Inconsistencies with the rules. Some of the glaring problems upon my recent watch involved a few things that crossed my mind as being false, based on the established rules. The first is with the Limbo stage of the dream itself. If Limbo is indeed thought of as the point of no return, why is it so easy for Ariadne, Cobb, and Fischer to escape it by simply killing themselves in the dream? What about Cobb’s incarceration? How was he found guilty when he wasn’t even in the hotel that his wife jumped from? Doesn’t the hotel have cameras showing who went in and out of each room? Wouldn’t they have record of her checking into two different hotel rooms? It seems pretty clear cut to me. Finally are the audience conveniences that make absolutely zero sense in the context of the movie, but are there to forcefully teach the audience about the dream world. Why is Cobb even set up for a water kick when any kind of kick would work in waking him up? Why does it have to be water, and why not a mattress? How come the fall itself into the bathtub doesn’t wake Cobb? I’ll tell you why: So the movie can show water invading a dream. Once again, it only makes sense in the context of speaking to the audience. What about Cobb failing three different times during Saito’s test, and yet he still hires him anyway? What about Cobb’s kids being in America while he lives in other countries? Why not send the kids with Grandpa (Michael Caine) over to where Leo is, so they can be together? I could go into these things for years, but these were the ones that really bothered me.

My Grade: 9/10 or A-

The Upside

Directed By Neil Burger

Starring – Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman

The Plot – Inspired by a true story, the film is a heartfelt comedy about a recently paroled ex-convict (Hart) who strikes up an unusual and unlikely friendship with a paralyzed billionaire (Cranston).

Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and drug use

POSITIVES

– Hart and Cranston are a constant riot. Aside from the impeccable chemistry that provides endless banter between them, the stage proves that there’s enough room to their performances for this to be eye-opening for both. In Hart, we are still saddled with the same comedian that we’ve come to expect in every film, but his temperament feels much more reserved and timely when he instills a laugh to the picture. He also proves that he has some fine dramatic chops, as Burger takes his character through this redemption arc with a family who are at odds with him, and Kevin obliges by providing enough heart to help develop his moral transformation. Cranston’s physical limitations are consistently authentic through two hours of film, and his personality renders that of a man who has lost everything while struggling for a reason to hang on. Being a rich protagonist is a difficult thing to translate in terms of likeability, but Bryan’s timeless smile and dry reactions to Hart’s shenanigans makes the money a backdrop instead of a defining character trait.

– The less you know about the original film, titled “The Intouchables”, the better. I think “The Upside” will charm audiences of a new generation, who aren’t suffering from inevitable comparisons to the original movie. For one, I feel enough time has passed to give this a modern rendering, as well there’s much to be appreciated about a feel good story that doesn’t sugarcoat the material to manipulate them in one way or another. This film is very much a ball of nerves, that like life, will have you riding the highs and lows of a bonding friendship in which these two men desperately need each other for completely different reasons.

– Tons of personality in the overall photography of the picture. What’s commendable about Burger behind the lens is his ability to switch things up and never allow his presentation to feel conventional or stale, and because of such it adds a lot of energy to offset the weight of the dramatic material. Some examples we are treated to involve unnerving close-up angles to represent the awkwardness of something said or done, as well as following self-still frames to represent the lunacy of two characters getting high together. What’s even more important is that these special takes are reserved for the right time, and do wonders in articulating the atmospheric mood that the material sometimes clashes over.

– Charmed by the material in the script. While some scenes did challenge me morally for laughing at them, I do enjoy a film that takes place in the modern P.C era and doesn’t abide by any particular book on what’s acceptable. Instead, it lets the audience interpret things for themselves, and because of such I was treated to an early 2019 favorite in terms of comedic firepower. As well, I’m glad that it was the dialogue that I was laughing at, and not physical or bodily humor like Hart’s other films are known for. The dialogue is rich with a combination of sarcasm and character personality that allows it to thrive from each perspective, and we simply can’t get enough interaction between Hart and Cranston because of it.

– Informative look at the quadriplegic lifestyle. In taking care of people like Cranston’s character in this movie, I can say that the depictions and treatment given warms my heart with a level of honesty and fact that I wasn’t expecting from this movie. Everything from the way we look at paraplegic’s when we speak to them directly, to the sensitivity needed in feeding them, feels enriched because of the knowledge it passes down, allowing it to succeed as so much more than a piece of entertainment.

NEGATIVES

– Production issues. There is no shortage of color correction used, especially during the first act of the film that made for that inauthentic feel that we all get from Lifetime Television movies. One such instance involves sun shining through the windows, when in reality we see that it is a cloudy day outside, and there’s no possible way that this volume of light could possibly be bleeding through the windows. Likewise, the overall cinematography feels a bit too experimental for something that could’ve thrived with more nuance and less painting of the picture for us.

– Jarring musical score. The tones and music incorporated into the film reeked of 90’s romantic comedy, in that its intrusive nature tried to audibly narrate what the audience should be feeling because of its lack of confidence in the clashing of tones in material. There is no precedent for consistency here, and it makes some of these scenes swell up with a lack of subtlety that constantly pulled me out of the dramatic depth in every scene. It simply tries to accomplish too much, in that it can’t decide if it wants to be heartfelt and emotional or bumbling and funny. Each are fine by themselves, but when stitched together as a cohesive unit lack the kind of solid direction needed in mastering these meaningful moments.

– Needs another edit. “The Upside” is two hours even, and the ambition of that run time just doesn’t match the fluidity of the script that begins to feel its weight around the halfway point. For my money, twenty minutes could easily be removed from this script, as there are scenes involving Hart and Kidman’s characters that could easily be trimmed or cut all together because they add nothing to the developing progress or character dynamics established early on. There’s also an early third act introduction involving a romantic subplot that comes and goes only to force a conventional third act distancing that doesn’t feel believable because of everything that has already transpired. This drags the pacing down violently, and especially so with an ending that feels like it happens ten minutes too late, and builds something climatic that is instead neatly tucked away in predictably bland territory.

– Great imbalance in tone. Films that incorporate both comedy and drama to a movie can work. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t have a subgenre titled “Dramedies”. But the occasional slapstick scene, like Hart being overwhelmed by a technologically advanced shower, don’t blend well with those deeper moments where the integrity of the film needs to resonate with the heartbeat of its audience. For much of the first half, the film feels juggled between these two opposite directions, giving it a feel of multiple cooks in the kitchen to the movie’s development, all before settling down in the final act as a sombering drama completely. Much of the film constantly feels like a juxtaposition of itself, and with more control could’ve balanced these directions seamlessly into feeling like one cohesive unit.

– Racially insensitive? Similar to last year’s “Green Book”, we have another story of trade-offs, where a black and white character give each other something that they were lacking before, but unlike that movie the exchange in “The Upside” feels cringing the minority audiences who will see it. Cranston instills class in Hart’s character in the form of opera music, while Hart gives Cranston weed and Aretha Franklin music. You can kind of see where the representations are a little one sided here, and for a business that claims it is becoming more progressive with each passing film, it certainly drops the ball in leveling the playing field with this exceptionally offensive take.

EXTRAS

– One unique take. Considering this film revolves around an ex-con who is looking to redeem himself to the people who judge him for his past, I guess it’s appropriate that Hart is cast in this role, considering the current controversy of the Oscars with Hart once recruited to host. If we learn anything from this film and particularly Hart in general, it’s that people can change, and shouldn’t just be defined by something from their past that was more than enough time ago to believe they may have changed for the better. It’s a reminder to our own world that people make mistakes, and we can either allow ourselves to become saddled with those mistakes and keep them from redeeming themselves, or we give them the chance to make everything right.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

On the Basis of Sex

Directed By Mimi Leder

Starring – Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux

The Plot – The film tells an inspiring and spirited true story that follows young lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Jones) as she teams with her husband Marty (Hammer) to bring a groundbreaking case before the U.S. Court of Appeals and overturn a century of gender discrimination.

Rated PG-13 for some adult language and suggestive content

POSITIVES

– An emerging love story. Without a doubt, the movie’s single greatest strength is depicting the progressively blossoming relationship between Ruth and Marty, that is written by Ginsburg’s nephew Daniel, and is acted out wonderfully from the impeccable chemistry between Jones and Hammer. Their relationship is one that doesn’t demean or classify them in any particular role, as Ruth is very much the breadwinner while Marty holds down the fort at home, and there is no shortage of wit to balance the situation. One such gag involves Ruth trying to cook for her family, with the kind of success that makes them grateful for napkins. It’s a constant reminder of this relationship playing against type, giving us a fresh perspective on two people who practice what they preach in progressive ideals.

– Vibrancy amongst 70’s wardrobe. The work here from costume designer Isis Mussenden is clever enough to never distract, but radiates wonderfully the passage of time with a combination of three-piece suits and thigh high dresses to give the styles a familiar reflection without feeling like a tongue-and-cheek rendering of the era. In addition to this, the consistency in detail holds up throughout, keeping anything from feeling out of place, thanks to Mussenden’s synthetic encompassing of the sleek trends that were prominent in such a revolutionary decade, and even reflective of some of the outfits that Ruth herself wore during some of her more important court cases.

– The collective work from a gifted ensemble cast. This is definitely Jones’ show, as she echoes the very look and personality of R.B.G seamlessly, bringing forth a beacon for change who is anything but flawless as a character. Jones’ instills her as this very human first presence, and it’s in that candid perspective where we feel closest to Ruth, illustrating a combination of intelligence and determination that makes her an easy protagonist to root for. Hammer is also delivering solid work, as his dry wit and caustic delivery make for some much-needed moments of release for us the audience that he provides repeatedly. Then there’s the against-type roles from well known faces like Stephen Root, Sam Waterston, and my personal favorite for the movie: Jack Reynor, as this smooth-faced lawyer who stands in the way of Ruth’s inevitable greatness. This is definitely a film that thrusts responsibility on all of its pivotal pieces, and proves that while this is Jones’ film for the taking, every great figure triumphs because of the influence of those surrounding her.

– An honest courtroom film. The film provides many instances where it focuses on the pressures involved with the many circumstances involved with preparing a case. Beyond just the endless amount of studying with the facts itself, we are also treated to Ruth preparing her personality for the court by talking in front of a mirror, the prejudices inside of a courtroom itself, and a mock trial run hosted by those closest to Ruth, that eludes her to the environment that she will be getting herself into. Other courtroom films often overlook this aspect of its career elective, but Leder sees immense value in harvesting Ruth’s fears and anxieties when fighting arguably the single biggest case to date in women’s rights, and it’s a decision that not only allows us the audience to immerse ourselves into the psychology of Ginsburg, but also highlights the difficulties of preparing a case.

– Obviously important for the rough terrain that females still face today. As a vehicle for Ginsburg, the film gives her the respect that she deserves by the mentioning of her pivotal role in the many cases that have shaped our country remarkably, but it’s really the comparison between the material in the movie and our own modern day landscape, which hints how far women have come but still have much further to go for equality, where the film earns its strongest value. A film like this serves as the first step in really understanding the magnitude of courts that are being played out every day in our own country, and I think it will inspire not only females, but people of all genders to get involved and let their voices be heard, a right that Ginsburg still elects to take charge of to this day.

– My favorite scene of the film. Is it a good or bad thing that my favorite scene of the movie involved a sequence during the opening credits that shows Ruth walking a sea of men towards the Harvard auditorium? Either way, it’s dissected wonderfully when you consider that Ruth’s baby blue dress contrasts that amazingly of the mundane single color suits of the entirety of people who surround her. This feeds into Ruth being a one of a kind, but also in the arrival of change to the game that she’s destined to bring, and I thought for symbolism there is no bigger or more important shot in this film.

NEGATIVES

– One problem with Felicity. While I give Felicity a solid 90% on her overall performance of Ginsburg, there was one glaring problem that pops up throughout the film: her accent. It’s hard enough for a woman of English heritage to perfectly channel the New York accent with conviction, but Jones’ work here is so completely spotty that it definitely deserved more takes. Sometimes her English accent comes out, sometimes she is a midwestern American, and rarely we get the Yonkers accent that we came to expect. When the latter does happen, the transformation of Jones as Ginsburg finally feels complete, but it’s only during a few rare instance instead of a continued consistency that great performances require.

– Conventional filmmaking all around. I have no problem personally with Mimi Leder, but I think a story as revolutionary as Ginsburg’s deserved an equally engaging presentation to mirror that of the trail-blazer. My biggest problem is that there simply isn’t enough of a gut punch in the material to ever lay heavy on the dramatic weight of the court case. Never did I feel like this case had an ounce of the importance that the dialogue so frequently repeated, nor did I ever feel like it strayed from the rules of courtroom subgenre films that define predictability. Perhaps Leder was the wrong director for this film, and because of such it will stand in the shadow of last year’s documentary “RBG”, which eclipses this one in nearly every presentational aspect.

– That one embarrassing trailer line. I have to say I’m a little disappointed that more people aren’t calling this movie on its bullshit for the line in the trailer that states that the word freedom is never stated once in the constitution. Let me clue you in to the First Amendment, which declares that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.” Already I have read that the movie’s screenwriter has tried to fix this by stating that it’s an out of context line in the trailer, but let me ease your concerns by telling you that nothing in the film fixes a line of dialogue so lazy that it can’t google a simple question. For irony sake, let me mention that I am typing this while laying on my bed, and even I found the word in the constitution in five seconds.

– Forgotten puzzle pieces. There are a few instances where things are mentioned, and then quickly swept under the rug of continuity, never to be mentioned again. One such example involves Marty’s cancer, which is not only never mentioned again, it never creates anything to be followed upon for the rest of the film. It doesn’t keep him from doing his job or helping out around the house, literally nothing. Another is the incredible case involving Ruth’s son James, who after an introduction scene while helping to prepare dinner is never mentioned or seen again. This presents a mystery disappearance to a character that has only been topped by Paul in 1981’s “Friday the 13th Part 2”. If you’ve seen or heard from James, please leave a comment below, and I will forward it on to Justice Ginsburg.

My Grade: 6/10 or C+

A Dog’s Way Home

Directed By Charles Martin Smith

Starring – Bryce Dallas Howard, Ashley Judd, Alexandra Shipp

The Plot – Separated from her owner, a dog sets off on an 400-mile journey to get back to the safety and security of the place she calls home. Along the way, she meets a series of new friends and manages to bring a little bit of comfort and joy to their lives.

Rated PG for thematic elements, some peril and adult language

POSITIVES

– For a light-hearted family atmospheric film, this one conquers some dark and challenging material. This is the area of the film that I wish had more time devoted to it, as prejudice against the Pitbull breed, canine abuse on the whole, and even human death are all touched upon in these surprisingly revealing ways, giving the film a bit of much-appreciated social commentary. These are the rare instances where the movie feels like it has something to talk about in addition to the cute and cuddly material that it saddles itself with a bit too comfortably, and with more of a push for the PG-13 rating, could’ve separated more widely from the rest of the pact of subgenre films that are easily forgettable because of their similarities.

– The best actor in the film. It feels strange to talk about this, but the kind of physical performance that Smith emits from his canine protagonist is something that gained an air of astonishment from me. In addition to being thrown in the way of constant danger and conflict, the dog limps his way through a third act that really hammers home the length of this impossible journey with a one legged approach of consistency that you’d have to be a cold-heart not to appreciate.

– Smooth and fluent pacing throughout. One accolade that I give the film is the lack of boredom that these kind of films often radiate with, but this exception works because of the decision to keep it limited to 91 meaningful minutes that never lets the story get away from focus. Because this journey is so expansive and ever-changing in its environmental challenges, it frees itself of repetition or redundancy that would test the patience of its younger audiences, making this as easy of a January watch as you’re going to find.

– Nuance to the passage of time. I can’t believe that I am going to give “A Dog’s Way Home” respect for depth in storytelling, but the use of background pictures to fill in the gaps of character separation is something the film does exceptionally well. One such scene near the end of the film has one character in his bedroom, and long before we see anything or anyone else, we focus on this picture that articulates not only how much time has passed, but where certain characters end up. I love a screenplay that doesn’t need to stop to explain these kind of things, especially when you consider that this is the dog’s story first, and everything else, quite literally and figuratively, are backdrops for the main course.

– Fine combination of engaging cinematography and gorgeous backdrops make for eye candy. Even though this film’s dedication to C.G properties often hinder the immersion of each situation in scene, the breathtaking vantage points of some of South California’s most beautiful landscapes made for a rich and ambitious presentation visually that kept the integrity of the big budget feel preserved. Especially when you consider this as a journey film, you would be doing a huge disservice if you didn’t depict the immensity of these jaw-dropping visuals to counteract the ferocity of the wild, and I give great credit to Smith for knowing constantly where to point the camera to get the most out of every shot.

NEGATIVES

– Uninspired C.G animal properties. Simply put, in 2019, artificial animal renderings should not be so obvious to where the outline nor the texture of the animal matches the lighting of the environment that it’s put in. Even worse than that, these laughably bad mountain lions and cougars move so sluggishly in their attacks that the camera has to adjust to how fake everything comes across with interaction. This brings forth camera movements that are the worst I’ve seen since 2016’s “Jason Bourne”, echoing as close to a visual seizure as you’re going to find on camera.

– Minimal plot. I should receive an Academy Award for what I typed in the plot section above, as so much of this film instead feels like a series of events, instead of one cohesive narrative that bends and twists to the three act structure. Not only is this movie completely predictable, but it’s predictable in a way that feels content with walking the same path and pissing on the same trees as the films that came before it. Some people think a movie with a title that tells you everything you need to know about a film is a positive, but it also establishes early on just how empty the sum of its jumbled parts really are.

– Speaking of title. To say I hate the confusing title of this film is an understatement. Why is it confusing? “A Dog’s Purpose”, “A Dog’s Life”, “A Dog’s Tale”, “A Dog Year” Catching my drift? All of these movies have boring, unimaginative titles, and yet none of them are related in the slightest. I get that this film was a book before 2017’s “A Dog’s Purpose”, but couldn’t you have changed the title because of such similarities? So the next time a friend asks if you’ve seen the sequel to any of these films, called “A Dog’s Way Home”, you can remind them that studios have the imagination to include a line like “Snow do your business”, an actual line of dialogue from this tar pit of terrible.

– Familiarity rears its ugly head. When you really think about it, this movie isn’t anything like those other films I just mentioned, it’s instead a dead ringer for a “Homeward Bound” remake. Think about it: dog meets and falls in love with his adolescent owner, is left with a family member during a trying time, escapes said house, and begins a long distance trip to get home. Sniff what I’m conveying to you? Unfortunately this film has about a fifth of the charm of “Homeward Bound”, and not even that in the regards of narration. Oh the shame of this narration…..

– The shame. The narration is so annoying and pointlessly used in this film that I even still fail to understand why its inclusion was depended upon so frequently. Bryce Dallas Howard voices the inner thoughts of this dog, and when she isn’t piercing our eardrums with this screechy, human repellent voice, she’s intruding constantly on our perception of what’s transpiring. For instance, if this dog finds something to eat, we hear her say “I was so hungry”. Or if the dog is cuddling with her owner, we hear “I love you so much”. Really important stuff movie. I could’ve never interpreted that for myself, thank you. This film would’ve been a lot better if it didn’t go the voice route, and just let the heartfelt story play out for itself. So many of these tender scenes would’ve been much more effective if Howard didn’t articulate what Ray Charles could see about a particular scene, and it serves as the single worst aspect of this film.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

Replicas

Starring – Keanu Reeves, Alice Eve, Emily Alyn Lind

The Plot – A daring synthetic biologist (Reeves) suffers through a brutal car accident that kills his family. In response, he will stop at nothing to bring them back, even if it means pitting himself against a government-controlled laboratory, a police task force and the physical laws of science.

Rated PG-13 for thematic material, violence, disturbing images, some nudity and sexual references

POSITIVES

– Cohesive musical score that channels the vibes of science fiction authenticity. While much of the audible deliveries in dialogue lacked anything of depth or convincing nature for my ears, the experimental touches of tones performed here by composers Mark Kilian and Jose Ojeda echo the paths of uncertainty brewing beneath the surface, and were a treat to my otherwise tortured eardrums. As expected, there are plenty of techno samples incorporated into the general outline, but it’s more so in the majority of practical piano that brings with it an air of class and sophistication to the picture, preserving the high stakes feel that our characters are playing with.

– Unintentionally humorous. Whether the film meant to instill such a ridiculous amount of cheese and silliness to the film, the result more times than not brings us the audience some delightful refrains in the area of hearty laughter. One thing that I can say about “Replicas” is that I was never bored during its 97 minute presentation, and a lot of that has to do with shaky line reads and braindead scientific accuracy that constantly demeaned this film from taking itself too seriously. This might sound like a glaring negative, but I would rather have a terribly funny movie than a terribly boring one, and the former is what helped push me through many of the problems that I will mention coming up.

– Intelligence in shooting schedule. Outside sequences in films often cost much more money to shoot and finalize, and this film’s capability to keep their screenplay indoors is certainly something that helped slim production costs. More than 90% of this movie takes place inside, and it’s probably a good thing because so much of the cinematography outside, especially during daytime scenes, radiate with an overall feeling of artificial lighting design that constantly break the fourth wall of realism. It’s not only believable why these instances would take place inside, but never hinders the creativity associated with the progression of the picture, and it’s awesome that they took something that would be considered a negative and blossomed it into a positive.

NEGATIVES

– How important is a good director? Well, they are responsible for garnering the best in emotional range and gut-punching relatability to us the audience, and neither are anywhere close to where they should be for this film. The movie just kind of glosses over the concepts of grief and its importance to investing so deeply in its characters, riding along with the kind of wooden performances that are easy to sniff out for even occasional moviegoers. When you take a film like “John Wick” and come to understand the importance of his dog, and what losing him meant to John, you back the character through anything, and that was anything but the case in “Replicas”. In a sense, it almost makes Reeves character here feel detestable, in that his selfishness and lack of emotions expressed during the film’s most impactful scene goes unfulfilled, and it made for characters who I just didn’t care for at all.

– Horrendously phony C.G effects. The movie “I, Robot” came out in 2004, and I mention that because not only did this film rip-off the android designs from that movie, but also did it with half of the captivation and weight that a film fourteen years prior did better. Aside from the live action actors totally getting the height capture wrong when staring at their android counterparts, the movements of fingers and limbs is so hollow that you can almost see the computerized dimensions moving stiffly without perfecting. Thankfully, these properties aren’t in the movie much, but the end result makes me think that was more intentional than anything.

– Has a show-and-don’t-tell mentality when it comes to its science. If you can somehow ignore that transferring memories is done in a basement, and done so flawlessly, the lack of explanation that goes into the surgical transfer itself will bother you in hanging on to what is transpiring. Instead, the film shows us a bunch of “Iron Man” touchscreen visuals, which translate to nothing more than lazy screenwriting so that no one calls it on its bullshit. Speaking of that sentiment, why doesn’t the film cover the issue of internal bacterial flora? In real life, these clones would die of constipation or some other stupid disease in no time, just from breathing in our air and not being used to its level of pollution. To be fair, the movie does showcase something going on in Alice Eve’s body while she’s out running, but we never get any explanation if this is what I’m talking about, or just vicious diarrhea from Reeves challenging breakfast offerings.

– In addition to what I just mentioned, the movie also has enough plot holes to drive a Range Rover through it. For one, this research team is specializing in memory transferring, so how are they top notch experts in cloning? If this guy is able to move a whole laboratory to his basement without error, why can’t he just work from home? There’s a scene where Reeves steals car batteries the night before to gain enough power for the transfer, and the cops come to his house the next morning asking if his car is ok, to which he replies “No, they didn’t get me”. How would he know when the thieves did it the night before, and he’s just now waking up? Wouldn’t they ask him to at least check his car before answering? Doesn’t this make him at least remotely suspect? Who cares, because it’s a movie, and you’re supposed to be stupid when watching a movie. Hating it means you’re an old grump.

– Obvious foreshadowing. The many times during the movie when something is unsubtly squeezed into a conversation, removes any kind of suspense or nuance to the developments of the picture. This as you might expect renders much of the screenplay predictable, giving us ample time to sniff out where and when it will pop up in the scenario to remind us why it was mentioned. The biggest instance of this is a crayon drawing by Reeves daughter on their kitchen table that the camera shows us for no reason than to hint that it will pop up somewhere down the road later, and of course it does. Reeves character is so stupid and unbelievable as a scientist that he somehow logs onto his kids Facebooks to clear up their disappearances, gets rid of all of the pictures and clothes in his house, yet somehow doesn’t see this abnormally big drawing of a dinosaur in crayon on a place he frequents often in the film. UGH!!!

– Uneven pacing. While the film was never boring to me, the polarly opposite first and second act did a complete disservice in settling down and enjoying the narrative. The first act speeds through any character introductions, and feels like it starts where a movie’s tenth minute usually is at, yet the second act slugs along in such a way that hinders the progression of some solid suspense up to that point. If the film could ever settle itself down and gain some consistency for itself, these acts would flow seamlessly, but as it stands the script lacks confidence in translating how much entertainment value it pulls from the material.

– It’s been a while since I’ve been this angry at a movie’s ending, but “Replicas” final five minutes renders everything that came before it completely pointless. SPOILERS – The antagonist group that moves in the shadows are never stopped or dealt with, the world evolves in a way with these replicas that is every bit as ridiculous as it is unexplained, and the negatives that hindered Reeves’ family replicants are never addressed again. I guess they just diminish in the same way my expectations for this movie did. It ends as abruptly as you can possibly imagine, leaving ten minutes of credits to inflate the movie’s run time to feel like a big screen run time.

My Grade – 3/10 or F

If Beale Street Could Talk

Directed By Barry Jenkins

Starring – Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Regina King

The Plot – Set in early 1970s Harlem, the film is a timeless and moving love story of both a couple’s unbreakable bond and the African-American family’s empowering embrace, as told through the eyes of 19-year-old Tish Rivers (Layne). A daughter and wife-to-be, Tish vividly recalls the passion, respect and trust that have connected her and her artist fiancé Alonzo Hunt, who goes by the nickname Fonny (James). Friends since childhood, the devoted couple dream of a future together but their plans are derailed when Fonny is arrested for a crime he did not commit.

Rated R for adult language and some sexual material

 

POSITIVES

– Jenkins’ impeccable influence in black cinema. What I find so refreshing and commanding about Barry’s touches as a storyteller is in the ability to finely illustrate characters of color in a way that renders them every bit as human as they are relatable. A lesser director neglects to stray far from the confines of subliminal stereotyping, but the people in Barry’s films are enriched with a level of respect and class that sadly black cinema just doesn’t capitalize on enough, and this in turn allows you to comprehend not only the nuance of every character’s personality, but the mentality of what makes each of them vibrantly tick.

– In addition to what I just mentioned the film offers mind-blowing and exceptionally eye-opening commentary on black experiences inside and out of the judicial system. What’s impressive is that it often does this in deep-focus conversation instead of showing us front-and-center, preparing us for what’s to inevitably come thanks to this informative foreshadowing. I was also painted with these strokes of helplessness, paranoia, and especially longing, that made the material blossom with self-indulgence. This is a film tnat takes place in the 70’s, but the contrasts and poignancy to the kind of injustices still going on in our own world in 2019 highlight an unnerving feeling that I simply couldn’t escape, nor did I feel that the audience ever should. It’s moving material to say the least, and offers an underlying pressure boiling beneath this nourishing love story.

– Competency in juggling dual-narratives. The storytelling in “Beale Street” is somewhat a linear structure, in that it is being told in a straight line, however there are actually two different time periods, before and after Fonny’s arrest, that the film simultaneously captures. What’s important is that there is plenty of time distance between both arcs, giving them narrative importance in keeping up the consistency of the pacing. One or two scenes do feel briefly repetitive, but there’s nothing inside that I would ever cut or trim, as I feel like just under two hours was the proper time allowance for this film to thrive on.

– Above and beyond artistic merit. This is a BEAUTIFUL film, complimented by an expansive set of shot composition photography and dreamy cinematography by frequent Jenkins collaborator James Laxton that offer enough experimentation and capture to constantly dazzle. During scenes of intimacy or reflection between our romantic leads, we are treated to POV slow-motion style depictions, with some of the strongest framing that I have ever seen. It gives the intimacy between them a feeling like nothing else exists in their world, as well as a vantage point in the scenery surrounding them that perfectly articulates the different worlds that their respective character’s come from. If you see this film for anything, see it for the images that solidify the team of Jenkins and Laxton as one of the best 1-2 visual combos since Villenueve and Deakins.

– The pulse of the neighborhood itself. This is really what I refer to when I mention that a setting is a respective character in a movie, as the very look and feel of this rapidly changing neighborhood really preserves the heartbeat of the many ideals and adversities locked inside. Throughout the film, we are treated to haunting visuals and unrelated stories from neighborhood citizens that conjure up a complete feeling of what it means to be settled here, and it’s in these feelings where the spirit of a proud but terrifying world reflects with each of them. Jenkins takes his time in capturing the polished colors and abandoned buildings of a once prestigious landscape, and really makes them pop against the ambitions of these two people who are now making a world for themselves.

– Immersive sound design. One thing that bothers me in films is when a scene takes place in what would otherwise be a noisy surrounding, and we only hear the conversation between the characters in our story. That couldn’t be further from what’s going on in “Beale Street”, as this place that is described early on as a noisy one perseveres with its own rhythmic shifts in traffic and population to constantly remind you of its presence. I would frequently close my eyes and let the narration of the characters tell me the story, and each time my imagination came to fruition because of these echoes in the atmosphere that only go away when a movie wants to be completely dishonest with itself and the world it creates. I give this film all of the respect in the world for bringing along the complete picture, and not just the things that are obvious.

– Nicholas Britell’s emotionally picturesque musical score. Britell is given vital free range here to play with feelings and nerves present in the film, and does so with such attention to character atmosphere that really takes us the viewer on a roller-coaster of free range emotion, through the ups and downs of this shaken family. There are many excellent musical takes from the film, but the one that has been on repeat coming through my speakers since I saw the film is “Agape”, a three minute tender sentiment that captures so much of the hope and fireworks associated with falling in love for the first time. I have attached it next to the trailer, up top. The relationship between jazz and classical music thrive in complexity from the different styles of technique pumped into each, and that’s never more prominent than its inclusion into the airy worlds that Jenkins manufactures.

– All of the performances are also well-timed and essential to the importance of scenes, but for my money it’s Layne and King who steal the show. Layne’s got the kind of eyes that weaken you in the knees, and continuously transfer her feeling of emotional registry long before she ever says a word. As for King, it’s a return to form for an entirely underrated actress, who here serves as the glue that bonds this family from falling apart. King gives us no shortage of long-winded dialogue deliveries, and the fire that captures the love she has for those important to her is admirable and conveying in the importance of a Mother’s touch on any family. I hope they both receive Oscar nominations, as the film would lose a lot of its luster without the perfect casting of each.

– My favorite scene. Amazingly enough, the scene that stuck with me the most throughout the film doesn’t have a single character, nor a line of dialogue spoken. It takes place with one of Fonny’s incomplete wood carvings, and the camera continuously revolves around it, illuminated by warm, golden lighting, and to me represented Fonny, in that it and Fonny both have the potential to be something whole and complete. It’s one of these genius moments that cement Jenkins as a genius, but also the importance of hope, which feels like it’s slipping the longer the film goes on. Take time to appreciate scenes like these, because often directors are trying to convey something to us that is anything but beautifully decorated table dressing.

NEGATIVES

– There’s very little to complain about in this film, but small things distracted me from an otherwise perfect presentation. The first is in two big name cameos that lessen the impact of fresh-faced atmosphere from the picture. My problem is that these two are not only obvious, but a bit cartoonish because of the roles they portray, and it just didn’t sit well when everyone else is portrayed and grounded in such realism. The other problem I had is in the film’s attitude lacking the kind of urgency that was so prominent in the novel. While I was firmly invested in Fonny’s on-going trial, the lack of a scene depicting how much prison is changing him could’ve done so much in capturing the essence of time.

My Grade – 9/10 or A-