Brigsby Bear

The happiness of a child lies in the weekly broadcast of his favorite furry animal named ‘Brigsby Bear’. First time filmmaker Dave McCary brings to us his film starring one of the film’s writers, Kyle Mooney as James, a thirty-something man-child who is obsessed with his favorite television show, owning every cassette, and several pieces of memorabilia. After the show’s untimely cancellation, James’s life takes a turn for the extreme, forcing the number one fan to now finish the show himself, for better or worse. Along the way, James must learn to cope with the realities of a new world that he knows nothing about because he has never stepped foot outside of his protective weekly bubble. ‘Brigsby Bear’ is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, brief sexuality, drug material and teen partying, and teams up the acclaimed Saturday Night Live duo once more of Mooney and Beck Bennett.

Now that you’ve read my synopsis for ‘Brigsby Bear’, you should know that everything that you think you know about this movie is only an illusion. This is very much an independent dramedy that is more clever than what meets the eye. The plot and ensuing story surrounding it revolve around this surprising shock twist that takes place within the opening fifteen minutes of this film that completely blew my mind, changing the tone and material alike, and then proceeding on from there as A result of this big bang. This is a touch that is certainly nothing groundbreaking or original, but it does lend itself to the confidence that the duo of McCary and Mooney possess in their film to appeal to the audience that they have practically alienated themselves from, with anyone thinking this was going to be a goofball comedy similar to Mooney’s SNL stick. For Mooney, this is A Chance to breakout from a stereotype that has garnered him minimal time on that show, and to trade it in for a hearty performance that proves he is a force to be reckoned with when compared to the barrage of SNL greats that have and have not gone on to make a name for themselves when they no longer go live at 11:30 PM on Saturday night.

Once that plot twist that I mentioned happens early on during the first act, it feels very much like the film is playing into our nostalgia as an audience for the kinds of television show characters and worlds alike that we immersed ourselves in when we the young adolescent age, and pulled the wool from James eyes in the same manner that all of us ensued when we were forced to grow up. This is of course A story with A bit more devastation to it, and that mood layers itself with A screenplay that I never would’ve expected from the guys in The Lonely Island of all things. The film does stay a bit one note remedially, hinting at a bigger picture in reveal that those few possible subplots never pursue with much more persistence. There were a few aspects with the production of this television show that raised a few good questions in my mind, but it just felt like me making the direction into something that never became. This is a 92 minute brief engagement, so to say that this film sticks close to its three act structure, is putting it firmly. With that said, I can’t say that I was ever bored or disengaged from this film, and my fear of this man-child’s fragile psyche playing into this tight-rope of nerves between past and present that has brought him to this day, always kept me watching closely for the cause-and-effect that a sheltered life can leave on the mind of a dreamer with miles to travel creatively.

McCary’s film embraces the concepts of James past metaphorically through the eyes of the bear, so when the idea pops into his head to continue on with the show, it not only feels like A longing for his sheltered past, but also a halting of progress for his ability to move on, a concept that the film stands firmly at on the crossroads of repetition and influence. On the latter, this film becomes kind of this character study for James and how his interaction with other kids his age can feel can come across as mimicking. He’s only known this one thing for the entirety of his life, so it feels like the typical character from another world who is being taught our way of life for the first time, except here it warrants those concepts because we feel a great empathetic pull for James and the new experiences that he will never ever fully grasp for being late to the fold because of his limited past. That’s why the first half of the film was marginally better than the second half for me; its deranged nature comes across as the factor that gives it wings, and once that’s put away for good, the film’s moral framing hints that it’s OK for James to feel this reliant on Brigsby, A motion that I found difficult to cope with for the well being mentally of this nearly closed book.

The aesthetic touch is perhaps some of my favorite aspects of McCary’s film, as the television show within this movie feels like a callback to 80’s public access productions where the minimal money reaped the bigger monetary reward. Because so much of ‘Brigsby Bear’ feels cheap in design, it caters to the spandex generation of children who grew up knowing and loving shows with this kind of terribly under-utilized effects and dated synth-pop musical score to boost. The Lonely Island are known for this kind of thing, but while we as an audience might giggle from time-to-time, wondering what the appeal is to it, the film very much envelopes itself into every character that it comes into contact with, framing Brigsby as an irresistible hero just waiting to be believed in by all who take on his VHS challenge.

Kyle Mooney can rest assured that his performance as James will be the memorable role for him that turned the tide in his once one-dimensional career into A remarkable transformation as an acting darling. In James, we embrace a delivery from Mooney that is soft and gentle like a child, but rebellious and crass in the defiance of an expanding teen. With a lesser actor, this would come across as A condescending lead, playing more into a gimmick rather than an immersing, but Mooney’s shy and bashful delivery prove that he is the right man for the job, being not fully aware of the terrible things that have transpired in his early career. This makes him A character who is easy to get behind and embrace because we never like to see bad things happen to children, A thought that is ludicrous considering Mooney is 32 years old, but it’s A testament to how committed he embraced this cryptic adolescent. Handing in supporting turns are Clare Danes , Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, and Matt Walsh, A usual one line cameo artist who finally gets A major helping in this script. Everyone plays a pivotal role in James life, but it’s great to see so many memorable faces committing to something off-screen as different for A supposed comedy like this.

THE VERDICT – Make no mistakes about it, this bear isn’t soft or cuddly, it’s an earnestly eye-opening look at the dangers of addiction that never needs drugs or alcohol to roar with other cautionary tales. Mooney’s performance is right on cue, balancing the sentimental with the synthetic, and McCary takes a huge leap in the director’s race in only his first feature film. The lack of comedy might alienate some of its audience, but if you stay patient, this unusually poignant melancholic plot will steal your heart and your respect. Everything you want with nothing you are expecting. The less you know going in, the better.

7/10

Wind River

The man responsible for last year’s ‘Hell or High Water’ returns to the silver screen to pen and direct the much anticipated follow up ‘Wind River’. In it, US Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) discovers a body in the rugged wilderness of the Wind River Indian Reservation. The FBI, anxious to solve the case quickly, sends in rookie agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), but she is unprepared for the difficulties created by the oppressive weather and isolation of the Wyoming winter. When she employs Cory as a tracker, the two venture deep into a world ravaged by violence and the elements that will turn their cold, quiet town into an exposing bloodbath that will keep the locals on their toes. ‘Wind River’ is rated R for strong violence, a scene depicting rape, disturbing imagery, and adult language.

Westerns are very much alive deep in the heart of writer/director Taylor Sheridan, and it’s within those elements where ‘Wind River’ gains much of its environmental element in affecting this story. Taking place deep in the mountains of the Wyoming wilderness, this film hinges on the concept of predator and prey, and those kind of necessary evils that we need to keep other evils from getting in. This is very much a detective mystery drama underneath it all, but done so with the kind of twists that Christopher Nolan engaged in 1999’s ‘Insomnia’, in that it explores those often forgotten areas in the American landscape that abides by its own rules. Here, the cold, mountains, and even dangerous creatures living amongst these people play pivotal roles in the way everything is pursued and accomplished. Jeremy Renner’s character echoes towards the end of the film that “this isn’t a place where people live, it’s a place where they survive”, and that concept will tell you everything that you need to know about this chilling setting that often crossed into my comfortable theater surroundings and made me feel the very effects that these actors were feeling.

From the effectively gorgeous cinematography by Ben Richardson, in all of its long shots of the establishing isolated landscapes, to the small contributing factors like Olsen’s character sniffling every few lines of dialogue from her influence of a Southern hometown, it all blends in accordingly, and we feel like these factors present an additional obstacle in solving this already difficult task of matching a face to a heinous crime. There’s also much to be said about the re-occuring snow storms that come and go like the wind, swallowing away the evidence from the brutality that envelopes these once sacred lands. With the storm, comes this lone case of murder fresh out of nowhere, so in a sense the establishing narrative is reflecting that of the bone-chilling elements that are keeping people in doors, comforting for their own safeties alike from the double entendre that keeps them on their toes. This refreshing side of setting proved that there’s still many sides to the world that can still be effective in setting the mood precisely for the kind of themes that a script is trying to capture, and sometimes that very environment can feel like the central antagonist in the race against the clock.

As for narration, what I greatly enjoyed about this film is that we are coming into these families and situations with little to no knowledge about their pasts, but Sheridan’s patience and faith in his audience to fill in the blanks for themselves pays off dearly in subtly pulling the blanket of reveal back even further. Some stories will beat an audience over the head with exposition, but Sheridan’s point of artistic integrity hints that we may already know the answers to what is happening, it is just up to us (like the authorities in the film) to put these pieces together in seeing what shapes the character who we see before us. From a tonal perspective, the film feels like it picks up remarkably where HBO’s ‘True Detective’ left off, presenting a possible season three that feeds into the very adult world of people and places behind closed doors. The mystery of the film does offer some truly compelling twists and turns, but never does so in a way that abandons its plotting or pacing in making the answers feel like anything out of this world. That human element is what truly reigns supreme here, catering to the emotional pull of grievance and what it takes from every one of when we lose someone who cannot be replaced. I was very much on the edge of my seat throughout the entirety of this film, and the ending left me beyond satisfied when the predator finally does catch up to the prey and the hounds of justice sink in for a satisfyingly therapeutic conclusion that couldn’t have gone any better.

What slight problems that I did have with the screenplay were nitpicks at best, but cater more to the usual cliches that you sometimes see in these Westerns. For one, there is a big shootout during the third act of the film, and despite the overload of bullets firing off into the air from these pistols, not one person in the film re-loads their chambers even once. This has always been something that I look for first in these ammunition riddled films, and unfortunately this movie is no different for falling by the wayside of believability. Also during this shootout, we get it played back to us in real time everything that happened with this woman’s murder. The problem is that from a narrative standpoint it is only explaining to us as an audience what happened. The authorities in the movie still haven’t pieced it all together. Yet after the gunfire goes off, the mystery antagonist is being questioned, and Renner’s character comments a line of dialogue that clues in that he knows everything that happened, despite them never figuring it out or being a part of the reveal rundown that caters exclusively to just the audience.

What does cover those light nitpicks is the performances from a trilogy of actors who really shared the respective load in communicating these human first kind of people. Jeremy Renner’s character is my lone favorite character of 2017. As Cory, we meet a man who is emotionally weathered by all that he has lost in his past, but the future ahead of possibly earning a way to right his wrongs is what keeps him moving through the cold. Cory doesn’t feel so much like a vigilante as he does a protector to the community that he loves, so there’s very much a lot of empathy to his resilience that makes him the force that everyone calls. Elizabeth Olsen’s character embraces a transformation from start to finish that proves to you that appearances aren’t everything. During her first few scenes, this tight-knit town kind of writes her off as just another FBI snob, but as the film progresses you start to embrace the very heart of this character who most certainly can take a hit and keep on coming. The chemistry between Olsen and Renner is certainly evident from ‘The Avengers’ movies, but it’s so much more than that here. Because of movie expectations, we are led to believe that these two will eventually hook up, but I’m glad that the film chose to ignore this instinct, instead painting them as two characters from different sides of the geological track who can help one another in complicated world of detective work. Besides these two, I also greatly enjoyed my reminder of the great actor that is Graham Greene. If you’ve seen films like ‘The Green Mile’ or ‘Maverick’, he will be familiar to you, but every so often this guy pops up to act out a character who knocks on the door of stealing the movie. This fact caters to Sheridan’s style of putting an elderly veteran in each movie to have him keep the youth on their toes. Here, Graham is a grizzly sheriff who doesn’t take kindly to outsiders stepping on his territory. At first you kind think he’s just a rude know-it-all, but he quickly morphs into the pulse of the movie that narrates the almost foreign environments that we’re embracing here. This trio couldn’t be better plucked, and they vibrate enjoyably rich off of one another.

THE VERDICT – ‘Wind River’ does tackle some rising water in the gruesome and sometimes suffocating tension that Sheridan provides in this character-driven whodunnit?. Renner and Olsen follow suit, assembling two enjoyable leads whose fire burning deep for the sacrifices of justice keep us warm from the deathly cold that envelopes us completely with this isolated setting. This one will stick with you, even if only for the revealing intentional cause during the film’s closing moments that remind us of those forgotten far too often. Whether you’re in the mood for an effective crime thriller or a western with a dramatic pulse, let the wind sweep you away with this one.

9/10

The Glass Castle

Author Jeannette Walls best selling memoir is brought to life in the big screen adaptation of ‘The Glass Castle’. A young girl who is the second of four children comes of age in a dysfunctional family of nonconformist nomads with a mother (Naomi Watts) who’s an eccentric artist and an alcoholic father (Woody Harrelson) who would stir the children’s imagination with hope as a distraction to their poverty and crumbling pieces from within. Years later, Jeannette recalls and confronts the past that has shaped the woman who is anything but similar to the ideals that she was raised upon. Now with a loving boyfriend and well paying job, Jeannette looks back with cynicism at a memorable childhood that alluded her. ‘The Glass Castle’ is directed and adapted by Destin Daniel Cretton, and is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving family dysfunction, and for some adult language and smoking.

Very few films feel like they have the kind of personal touch that ‘The Glass Castle’ has on that of its penning author. After all, she experienced these things first-hand, so every kind of experience that the movie takes us through feels dependent upon the cast of characters who soak in the exchange of awkwardness between them, and articulately present and define when that line of wrong has been crossed. As far as family films go, this was a starting, eye-opening experience for the kinds of effects that one person can have on a family, creating a chain reaction that lasts a lifetime. Cretton’s film feels like it speaks volumes to the idea that we only get one chance at this thing, so we better get it straight while we can. Throw in four children on top of it, and the consequences of one man with a load of personal demons inside of him feels even more effective and even valuable because he speaks and acts for all of them. I found this film to be good, but not great, and there’s a few reasons for that final reaction, but most of them deal with the kind of misguided approach that the screenplay takes to adapting the fragile source material.

Attitude is everything in a movie like this, so when a film that has all of these terrible things that these kids have to go through because of their radical parents and their unorthodox style of living, the choice to accommodate them with forced humor feels terribly irresponsible. The whole film isn’t like this of course, but from the very start of this movie I sensed a great danger for these kids and this family even if the family and the movie haven’t figured out that revelation yet. There’s a cheesy musical score by composer Joel P. West that offers these light supple tones that feel so out of place that they couldn’t be any more opposite of what transpires before our eyes. Like i said, this does improve with greater urgency as the film chugs along, but from this intro in the first act early on, too many people could be getting the wrong message about the importance that the right mood plays on this story that if done correctly could send goosebumps into moviegoers and hook them into these problems from the very get-go of this movie.

The story is presented with two running timelines, past and present, that dive into the kind of cause-and-effects that Jeannette’s current attitude towards her Father in particularly has played into. For me, the more well-rounded and complete aspect of the movie definitely deals with the past, as it is in that part of the story where we not only spend 6/8’s of the movie’s two hour runtime, but also where the long term setups in foreshadowing lie. It feels like we are watching this family who are a danger to themselves play out a worst case scenario every time on the screen, but the disposition of being a kid growing up with an alcoholic Father hit a few notes for me that were all too close to home. Because of the uneven nature of how the past and present are depicted in sequencing, the current timeline with Brie Larson can sometimes feel like the speedbump that chimes in anytime the story is beginning to get good. There is a solid layering of dramatic pull and tension in this film, and those aspects in trauma force these children to grow up a lot quicker than they probably had hoped. The past is thought of like a ghost ravaging in the winds of change here, and it supplants more proof that who we are destined to become relies heavily on the ideals and morals of the way we are raised, something that Walls as an author humbles us with time-and-time again throughout the film’s complex psychological resonance within our leading lady.

With the ending, I feel like too much in the material was contradictory towards the previous 90% of the movie that showed us how appalling that Harrelson’s character was as the Father. The film builds up this repertoire that we know will eventually lead to Jeannette’s emancipation from her struggling family, then spins an unexpected left turn in the film’s closing moments by telling us to cherish the man who for all purposes serves as the film’s antagonist. Because of this, there’s a real taste of Nicolas Sparks films that nauseated me to the point of even the most extremist of surrealistic circumstances. That clinging to family ideals that nods and winks and tries to unsubtly narrate to us that family, above everything else, comes first. Not a lot of damage is done on the overall finished grade, but it left me leaving the theater on kind of an unnatural note for a begging of sympathy that the movie simply didn’t earn. With more earnestness comes more rewards, and ‘The Glass Castle’ could use more tough love on the audience, especially if it is reaching for the tears. Aside from that main grievance, the film is also about twenty minutes too long, and could use some shaving around the early part of the third act, where the film transitions more to the current day format.

As for the performances, it is in this aspect where the film earns enough praise from this critic to give to warrant this a must-see for fans of the book. Brie Larson is probably only in the movie for a total of thirty minutes, but there’s so much anger and retribution that is screaming to get out in her now cool-and-collected exterior that hides the feelings of the story deep down inside. As an Oscar winner, Larson knows how to channel grief, and as Jeannette, we meet a woman who grows up long before her parents ever do. Woody Harrelson is spell-binding in this film, and feels like he gives a performance that is maybe just one grade under Oscar worthy as Rex, the alcoholic dictator of this family. Woody begins playing him with the light-hearted lug of a personality that we have come to love from Woody, but he knows when to turn it off at the switch of greying skies. Considering the character’s expositional backstory is almost ignored entirely in the movie, Harrelson adds layers at a time to a man who feels like he is too proud and stubborn to ever admit his wrongdoings. There’s a moment in the film when Harrelson is battling his alcoholism tied down to a bed, and for me it was as striking a scene as Leonardo Dicaprio in ‘The Basketball Diaries’ when he is fighting to stay off of drugs. Definitely Woody’s best work in a decade, and well worth the price of admission.

THE VERDICT – The glass is half full with this adaptation of a best-selling memoir, but it’s lumbering spilling hinders on the little things wrong with the structure and tone that could’ve made it an early contender for Oscar praise. Larson and Harrelson boost two emotionally layered performances that toe the line of past and present accordingly, and the film’s well-realized drama does impact quite a few scenes before it is too late. In the end, it was catharsis instead of comfort that I needed for the ending, and those ill-timed misfires in direction left this castle with a few cracks in its otherwise smooth surface.

6/10

Detroit

One of America’s darkest and most troubling nights is recalled in this part-fact, part-theory depiction of the racist fueled events that terrorized one of the biggest cities in the country. In ‘Detroit’, critically acclaimed director Kathryn Bigelow returns to her spot behind the camera, helming a drama recalling the true story of one of the most terrifying moments during the civil unrest that rocked Detroit in the summer of 1967. Amidst the chaos of the Detroit Rebellion, with the city under curfew and as the Michigan National Guard patrolled the streets, three young African American men were murdered at the Algiers Motel. 50 years after the events of July 25th, 1967, the question remains: what happened at the motel? and who is to blame? ‘Detroit’ stars John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, and Will Poulter, and is rated R for strong violence and pervasive adult language.

Kathryn Bigelow has always been a master of circumstance within a particular environment for her films, crafting her war films like ‘The Hurt Locker’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, where the talented director has set a precedent for the way settings and atmospheres are to be established for the importance of their stories. For all of its merits on this subject, ‘Detroit’ might be the movie that elevates her already impressive resume to the kind of levels in diversity that prove she can tell a heart-racing story on any continent, during any time in history. ‘Detroit’ is the kind of film where you leave angry, but certainly not because you didn’t enjoy the film. Your displeasure is contributed mostly to the idea that even fifty years later, the war for equality for minorities is still being fought, reminding you just how little has actually progressed when you think about how these same kind of stories are in the news even today. Bigelow transports us back to a time-and-place within this city when racial tensions were already boiling over, but the pride of the patrons within this city wouldn’t let their injustices go unnoticed. It’s a big bang theory that evolves into suffocating tensions by way of the smallest acts being enough to reach a breaking point, and what is unknown about the facts, might be the scariest aspect to the event.

From a narrative perspective, the film’s 138 minute runtime are divided into three different ways; before, during, and after the tragic events at the Algiers Motel. This is a refreshing take because most historical biopics will usually only cover two out of the three, leaving some unanswered questions or motives for the audience to speculate on. Bigelow feels much more responsible in this method because she finds all three angles to be equally as important when contributing to the heart of this story. Yes, at nearly two-and-a-half hours, it is a notable investment on the audience, but it is this length of time that is needed to articulately depict a bad situation gone worse over the course of three nights. With that said, there are some small scenes that could’ve used an edit, but I was never taken out of the story completely, just curious to move on to the next confrontation for position between these two sides. As for those sides, the film is also responsible enough to not lash out or overly support either side to the point where the film becomes propaganda. The police force of Detroit are represented in a way that shows (like any other job) there are good and bad eggs that contribute to the cause, and that judging them as a whole (like minorities) is simply not the right kind of message.

What surprised me about the performances is that nobody stands out on a pedestal more than anyone else. That’s not to say that this movie doesn’t have a worthy cast, quite the opposite. It means that this feels like an ensemble piece instead, with the city of Detroit being the lone character in the film that is the one constant. Each human character like John Boyega, Will Poulter, and Anthony Mackie to name a few, come in and out of the story in the same manner that stage actors do, and that concept does result to sort of coming across as a stage play that is taking place at this troubled motel. Poulter is probably my favorite performance of the film if I am singling out anyone, and that makes me sick to my stomach to even compliment him for the malicious job he does here. As we know, every good story needs a worthy villain to increase your interest in the film, and Will is definitely the brains and the execution of these dirty police officers who often act with their emotions before they think with their minds. Boyega too is solid enough, but I was slightly disappointed with how little of a presence that he has during the second act. I thought this would be the film for him to carry, but his character just kind of blends into the fold of this bigger ensemble that each carries their own respective load.

Another aspect that shouldn’t be ignored is the beautifully layered cinematography by Barry Ackroyd that single handedly makes the immersive experience that much easier in taking in 1967 Detroit. The film’s overall look has a glossy documentarian kind of style to it, making us feel like we are watching historical footage that we shouldn’t be watching. The inclusion of stock footage shots in between each establishing or transitional scene makes the accuracy that much more appealing, and one that proves this production has definitely done its homework. As for Bigelow, she also commands such a presence behind the camera that includes us personally on each and every character perspective that the film takes us through. The shots are so close and invasive that there were those brief moments of tension within me that made me feel uncomfortable to even be in the same room as these disgusting acts that are happening. That aspect alone is a very difficult one to channel, especially to adult moviegoers, but it’s Bigelow’s ambition for setting and set pieces that spring forth the believability in every movie she helms.

THE VERDICT – ‘Detroit’ is without question the most important film that you will see in 2017. It’s a somberly poignant reminder of the kind of grizzly details from our past that will continue to haunt us until we as a society change for the better. This makes three films in a row that Bigelow has taken a true story and ran with it through artistically decadent and provocatively rich waters that grip onto the pulse of the American subconscious. By putting us right in the heart of the action, Kathryn forces us to take everything in without looking away, an eye-opening concept necessary for the forgetful. This was nearly two-and-a-half hours that shook in ways that horror films don’t do anymore.

9/10

The Dark Tower

Stephen King’s most epic saga of novels comes to life in the big screen adaptation, ‘The Dark Tower’. Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is an ambitious 11-year-old adventure seeker who discovers clues about another dimension called Mid-World. Upon following the mystery, he is spirited away to Mid-World where he encounters a Gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), who is on a quest to reach the “Dark Tower” that resides in End-World and reach the nexus point between time and space that he hopes will save all existence from extinction. But with various monsters and a vicious sorcerer named Walter o’Dim, A.K.A the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) hot on their trail, the unlikely duo find that their quest may be a difficult and deadly one to complete, saving the world from a man worse than the devil himself. ‘The Dark Tower’ is directed and co-written by Nikolaj Arcel, and is rated PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action.

It’s difficult to gage where the big screen adaptation of the super popular novels was supposed to appeal to. For the people who have read what is critically acclaimed as his “Magnum opus” of books, this is as cheap of a knock-off as you could possibly get. A brash disappointment to the kind of fantasy dreamscapes and supernatural aspects that make it an irresistible piece of immersive literature. For those who have not read the novel, there won’t be much to grab onto either, as the film kind of requires that its audience must know the bare minimum of rules and logics within this world. Otherwise, the new fans will be clinging to any kind of explanation for something they don’t understand, making their first intake to this story one that is heavily flawed in storytelling concepts. ‘The Dark Tower’ feels cheap in every possible way because it cuts itself too short time-and-time again, choosing instead to follow the cheap and limited boundaries of a PG-13 young adult constriction rather than the R-rated Science fiction thriller that it should’ve been. As far as book-to-film adaptations go, it might be the most disappointing of all time, and feed into the theory further by some of the novels fans who claim that this series is impossible to adapt faithfully.

After doing some studying, I found out that this film is actually supposed to be a sequel of sorts to the novels itself, and not a take from the first novel, one of my personal favorites in the series. So already we as an audience are taken on a trek of betrayal by the film’s producers who have been promoting this like the next big series for quite sometime. Even this direction is heavily flawed in logic because the film takes characters like Jake Chambers and makes them a pivotal point in this story, while stripping them of anything that makes them remotely identifiable. In fact, this film is introduced by playing into Chambers story rather than Roland’s, and I found this to be a dramatically huge mistake that blazes a trail of displeasure much further than how terribly underwritten these characters really are. The narration feels like we should already know everything about these worlds and characters, and chooses to educate the new fans any further on what questions they might have. One that I myself as a fan of the novels brought up was the explanation for why The Dark Tower is essentially pointless in this film. The idea is that the destruction of this tower will cause hell to be unleashed upon our world, but that makes no sense when you consider that McConaughey’s Man in Black is already doing that, piling up body after body in his wake of devastation. In fact, the more you think about it, the bigger the flaw is that an antagonist who can click his fingers and kill people would need any further help in getting the job done.

This constantly feels like a movie that is being played in fast-forward, moving along with pacing that never stops once to take anything of the culture in to further the fantasy elements to the plot. Such an example of this is in nearly every single scene that involves Roland or Jake, as they are constantly preparing to travel somewhere other than where that scene is. If you wanted a terribly shitty cliff notes version of The Dark Tower folklore, then this will be right up your alley because it feels like the three different writers within this film have the attention span of an 8 year old child, choosing instead to speed their way to a final act and conclusion that set this thing at right under 95 minutes, the basic average of studio offerings. Imagine that you’re told by a studio to adapt the epic thousands of pages of material that you have written into 200, and try to make that compelling. That’s what the film is asking of us as an audience right here. If there was one benefit, there are some satisfying Easter eggs thrown into the film from time to time that range anywhere from other King novels like ‘1408’, ‘IT’, or ‘The Shining’. It was in this aspect and this one alone where this feels anything like its literary companions because The Dark Tower serves as the universe of sorts to the entire Stephen King Universe. So it feels like a tragic misstep when you consider how these eggs don’t even begin to scratch the surface of a much bigger picture.

The action is quite limited, but appealing when on-screen to some average CGI designs that are at least responsible enough to keep most of the shading problems of its creatures in the dark. The computer generated backdrops do work wonders for what little few chances that we do get to see the midworld, as well as the tower in this film, but it’s just a big shame that they are such a miniscule presence in a film that would rather base a majority of its visual compass in New York, a place with no shortage of big screen settings in film. The final inevitable showdown between The Man in Black and Roland feels so distanced between them, opting instead for the magic of both characters to their arsenal. What this lacks is that personal taste of vengeance for both of them that really sets it all off and leaves the audience on the edge of their seats, leaving an ending that was every bit the reminder of the previous acts that told me to never trust Hollywood again with timeless artistic expression.

As for the performances, there was definitely one shining example among the other miscast choices, and that was Idris Elba as The Gunslinger himself. Whether people want to admit it or not because of their color preferences, Elba embodies everything about being a magician behind the gun; heart, strength, and most importantly precision. With a gun, Roland simply cannot be stopped, and some of the trickery that the film focuses on with his hands make up for the lack of personality or backstory that they dispel upon him or any of the other two main leads in the film. As Jake, Taylor isn’t terrible, but there simply isn’t enough charisma in his deliveries to give this character the attention and the majority of runtime in the script that he so desperately craves. Again, possibly call it bad directing, but I lacked the empathy that I felt for Jake in the novels, especially considering his Father isn’t anywhere to be found in this story. It pains me to say this, but McConaughey was terrible as The Man in Black. Matthew underperforms every line of dialogue and sinister delivery to never make him feel like anything supernatural or unstoppable in his register. Even more apparent was just the lack of commitment that his line reads deliver, making me question several times if this really was the best read that the director decided to go with. To that theory, funny enough, there is a line where he talks about death always winning in the trailer, and it’s given with much more energy and emphasis than the scene used in the actual film. I can never understand why these kind of decisions are made in post production, but they do no favors for the legitimacy of a man who is deemed “Worse than the devil”.

THE VERDICT – Bad Stephen King adaptations are certainly nothing new to this critic, but ‘The Dark Tower’ feels like the first slap in the face of fans who have waited decades to see this epic play out on the big screen. The unlimited levels of potential are traded in for a rushed script that only borrows key aspects to the story without context, bland performances besides Elba, and a plot hole so big that you could fit an entire tower inside of it. When given the option to see this one, take the bullet and read instead.

4/10

Chuck

The real life story for the inspiration of Rocky Balboa comes to life in this eye-opening sports biopic from director Philippe Falardeau. ‘Chuck’ tells the story of the pride of Bayonne, New Jersey, a man who went fifteen rounds in the ring with the heavyweight boxing champion, Muhammad Ali, who may or may not have knocked the champ off of his feet. But before all that, Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber) was a liquor salesman and father with a modest prizefighting career whose life changed overnight when, in 1975, he was chosen to take on The Greatest in a highly publicized title match. It’s the beginning of a wild ride through the exhilarating highs and humbling lows of sudden fame-but what happens when your fifteen minutes in the spotlight are up? Driven by a committed performance from Liev Schreiber, Chuck is a refreshingly human tale of resilience and redemption. ‘Chuck’ is rated R for adult language throughout, drug use, sexuality/nudity and some bloody images.

‘Chuck’ was never going to be a better film than the 1976 Oscar winner for Best Picture counterpart that it so vibrantly echoes around, but what it does is peel back the glitz and glamour of a Hollywood movie by telling you about the real gritty ugliness that lies within the true story. ‘Chuck’ is thankfully another enlightening dose of reality from the same director who penned 2014’s ‘The Good Lie’, humbling his audience with what feels like one of the more honest depictions not only in the sport of boxing during the dark ages of exposure, but also the troubles associated with temporary celebrity that influence ones irrational decisions. It’s a dramedy that can sometimes feel slightly off with its creative tone, but being that Wepner was never one to shy away from kicking himself, the film feels obliged to run the course carefully. I enjoyed this film enough, despite it only briefly capturing the psyche of one of the 70’s most prominent personalities inside and outside of the ring. This is more of an outside perspective in the way that we as an audience are supposed to see Chuck, and because of that we are only offered temporary glances at trying to get close to this troubled character as an endearing protagonist.

The story takes us on a kind of cause-and-effect train when it comes to what inspired arguably the greatest sports film of all time, and does so in a way that still leaves plenty of room for the one-named title character in this film to tell his side. Chuck, like any of us, is seduced by what little fame he commands. As a local rundown fighter, he’s kind of seen as a joke within his community, so when stardom finally knocks on his door, he is more than happy to answer, and that choice comes with some steep consequences for the hard hitter as to how he handles it. The film has a constant responsibility in observing and contrasting the beat down that Wepner takes in the ring versus the one he takes outside of it, and the one constant is that this character knows how to take a punch and keep on moving forward. It’s certainly easy to pick out which points were lifted from Wepner’s life to compliment the Rocky franchise, but in this example it feels more emphatic than the homage of ‘Rocky’ because this after all is real life, a breaking of the fourth wall by watching a character on-screen who lived through all of these things 42 years ago. The tone to me could’ve used more of a dramatic pull, instead of the dark comedy that sometimes outlines the film’s events. I feel like everyone watching except Wepner is in on the joke, and that aspect feels like a heavily missed opportunity on understanding the epiphany within this character that happens a bit too late in his life.

On that ground, the pacing for me was the film’s biggest weakness, often rushing through the more important peaks of Chuck’s life without feeling much weight for the situation. At 97 minutes, this is a brief film for a biopic, so the movie’s first act speeds by without a single moment of patience to let it all sink in. There is a major change that occurs midway through the film for Chuck, but in the movie’s inappropriate tone combined with rushed plotting, it feels more like a temporary speed bump instead of something much greater, and it becomes slightly difficult to take this story seriously with the kind of attention that it needs when being compared to other true story films. There’s also some sloppy time transitional scenes that jump time without any kind of warning or leading up-to for it to make sense. One scene rushes three years forward after a scene in which a possible new love interest (Played by Schreiber’s real life wife, Naomi Watts) is introduced, looking like it might go somewhere. It doesn’t, and its importance is left without much reasoning. If there’s anything positive that we can say about this aspect, it’s that the film is a rather simple sit, and doesn’t drag or grind to a screeching halt before we hit the credits. The kind of stories that are interesting should be remarked as the ones that you want to see more of, and ‘Chuck’ for me could’ve easily used another half hour to let these events flow with the kind of fluidity that relates their vital importance.

I did however manage to find myself another noteworthy cinematographer, as Nicolas Bolduc’s style for the picture moved me miles into immersing myself within this particular era. The movie’s design caters more to a film that looks and feels like it was shot during the 70’s, instead of a movie that is just spoofing the decade. This accomplishment is tough, especially considering we are more than four decades removed from the setting of the film, but Bolduc’s attention to detail moved me immensely with the insertion of classic footage for the establishing shots, as well as a grainy layer to the coloring palate that makes ‘Chuck’ feel like you’re watching something shot for laser disc. The intro starts the movie off right, communicating to the audience the kind of setting that Bayone, New Jersey plays to in this kind of film, echoing the hippie generation in all of its drugs and devilish pleasures in one visually faded interpretation.

On the subject of performances, I thought that Schreiber put in the necessary time and effort to transform himself into an athlete that looks anything but what Liev does in his physical appearance. He becomes Chuck with a noticeable weight increase, as well as a prosthetic wig that nails down his commitment for the role. This was a dream role of sorts for Liev, and that shows in the morally flawed Wepner, a character he emotes with such shovanism and imagination that often both get him in trouble. Elizabeth Moss was also a breath of fresh air, playing Chuck’s emotionally fragile wife Phylis. Moss channels so much fire and emotional hilarity in her range that it can sometimes feel like she is too good for this kind of role, but it speaks depths that the film cares enough to make her a pivotal member of this plot even if it forgets about her halfway through. My lone problem with the casting was whoever was the agent who cast two polar opposites for Sylvester Stallone and Muhammad Ali that couldn’t be further from their real life appearances. I get that these larger-than-life people are difficult to cast, but I would’ve been fine with only hearing their voices while their backs are turned to the cameras. Their faces aren’t even close to the original thing, and it’s an aspect that broke my concentration every time they popped up on screen.

THE VERDICT – ‘Chuck’ is a stiff jab to the chin, but lacks the kind of tonal focus or steady hand patience in script to ever command knockout power. Because of the committed, durable performances of Schreiber and Moss, as well as a faithful brush of artistic stroke integrity that makes up the gorgeously decadent cinematography in the film, Falardeau can rest assured knowing that he has given the Bayone Bleeder one more round in the public eye. This one doesn’t quite go the distance, but it stands its ground with the other heavyweight contenders in an overcrowded genre that is only getting bigger. A constant reminder that somebody is always watching your story playing out under the eyes of the public lights.

7/10

A Ghost Story

Ghosts have always gotten a bit of an unfair rep, but in ‘A Ghost Story’ writer and director David Lowery looks to change all of that. The movie is a singular exploration of legacy, loss, and the essential human longing for meaning and connection. Recently deceased, a white-sheeted ghost named M (Casey Affleck) returns to his suburban home to console his bereft wife named C (Rooney Mara), only to find that in his spectral state he has become unstuck in time, forced to watch passively as the life he knew and the woman he loves slowly slip away. Increasingly unmoored, the ghost embarks on a cosmic journey through memory and history, confronting life’s ineffable questions and the enormity of existence. An unforgettable meditation on love and grief, A GHOST STORY emerges ecstatic and surreal, a wholly unique experience that lingers long after the credits roll. ‘A Ghost Story’ is rated R for brief adult language and a disturbing image.

How entertaining can a movie about the observation of human grief after a death really be? David Lowery answers that question in the most poignantly splendid of directions for his newest project. Ghosts in film have always been portrayed in the scary sense, most notably with jump scare horror flicks that have run into the territory of repetition on more than a few occasions. ‘A Ghost Story’ is a breath of fresh air in that depiction because it fills in the gaps with the urban legends and hypothesis that we have passed down from each and every generation, showing us the vast array of emotional release that comes from such a life altering event and the toll that it takes mentally and physically to move on. From Lowery’s point of view as a writer, death is anger, death is strange, death is lonely, and most importantly, death is eternal. It’s a never-ending cycle that halts the lives of those involved, and all of that is captured so chillingly disturbing in this melodrama that doesn’t need to be constricted by a particular genre in challenging the audience’s perception of ghosts up to this point. If you’re seeing this film to be scared, you’re in for a major disappointment. I myself came for a good movie and got something so much better. ‘A Ghost Story’ isn’t just must-see, it’s must-appreciate for the many things that establishes Lowery as a showman in so many aspects for crafting the most technically sound film that I have seen in 2017.

The film is shot from an original style, running on 4:3, which is incredibly rare in motion pictures these days, but feels welcoming in this particular film. This, as well as many other softly subtle touches really generated an impactful cinematography and presence from Lowery that goes a long way in producing something that is every bit as original creatively as it is ambitiously mundane in design. That may sound like an insult, but David hits on a certain aura and atmosphere with this film that very few other movies about the afterlife capitalize upon. The camera angles add a certain degree of an experimental side, refusing to settle for a consistent style that eventually grows conventional. Some of my favorites were the soft side-to-side shots that would capture everything along the way to meeting its intended destination for that shot. I also love that there is so little of camera panning in and out of our characters in each sequence. In this decision, it feels like we too are a spirit living on in this world and watching these people play out before our very eyes without a one of them knowing of our presence. It all adds up to this home movie style of memories that play before our very eyes under a gloomy cloud of mourning that eats up the air in every scene.

One aspect that might alienate some people watching this film are the long takes that sometimes feel like they run on a bit too long to contribute to the entertainment factor of each scene. To this I greatly disagree. The scenes do intentionally drag on sometimes, but if you missed the intention in them to soak up as much about the sights and sounds that come with emotional grieving, then you will fail when it comes to intepreting the important perspectives that Lowery so vividly channels in this film. I am from the David Lynch school of fandom, so long takes do little to drive me out of a movie. But I understand that this single aspect most notably during the first act of the film might be the thing that takes people out of it, and to that I would emphatically ask that you stick through it because this film will catch up to you and steal your heart by teaching you what a nerve shattering tool that the inevitability of progression will take you upon. Those long takes force us to pay attention when it matters the most, and I honestly don’t know of any other way to embrace that feeling to the lingering degree that Lowery beautifully depicts with these investments.

On the subject of story, this one isn’t just about the hooded character that is alluded to in the film’s title, but also about the living that are on their own grain (like the ghost) of being left behind. There’s a scene later on in the film where a bunch of drunk partygoers discuss some of life’s greatest philosophical questions, and it’s at that moment where the film’s narrative really sneaks up on you. This is a movie that hints on how little we really matter in the grand scheme of things, and how a hundred years from now your greatest accomplishments will fly like dust in the wind for the next person parking in your spot. Without spoiling anything, the film explores three different arcs within this house, but my personal favorite was between Mara and Affleck’s ghost that hinges on the dramatic pull of finally letting go. Honestly, I could’ve done with just this perspective angle in the story, but the additional characters as the film goes on does kind of freshen up the poignancy of perspective, as well as the ever-changing backdrop that hit hard in the nostalgia buff like me who still visits the abandoned places from his childhood. The ending was left a little ambiguous, and is probably the only slight negative that I have for the movie, but I am down for future watches that help me connect to what Lowery was teaching in the closing moments of this film. There’s too much lightning in the bottle before it for me to fault it too much, but I would’ve preferred more emphasis on the closure of the film.

The thing that is cool about the performances is that it’s mostly expression, instead of the long-winded diatribes of speech that contribute to noteworthy turns. There are long times in between scenes without any dialogue in the film, instead choosing to add more to the overbearing layer of grief that has filled the air in the house. However, Rooney Mara gives one of her best performances to date by channeling the fragility that this devastating turn has left her in. So much of that long take decision that I mentioned earlier deals with her character, where we see the tears slowly start to fall without it actually look like she is crumbling underneath it all. Something as simple as eating a pie becomes a chore when your mind is turned off under the suffocating circumstances of losing the single greatest entity in your life. Casey Affleck is also remarkable, despite being under a sheet for a majority of the movie. Listen, I don’t know if Affleck is actually the actor underneath the sheet, but I am going to credit him as it’s his character in the plot. It’s not a typically easy thing to emote underneath a bedsheet, but Affleck startles us, raising the hair on our arms by a slow-moving turn that really brings to the surface the tragedy of it all. Death is only the beginning with this ghost. His misery begins after it all, and those reactions for a faceless presence are given just enough emphasis to make us feel what he is feeling.

THE VERDICT – David Lowery moves the chess pieces articulately on one of the most astoundingly forlorn films that I have seen in quite some time. ‘A Ghost Story’ appropriately manages such heavy-handed themes through an inventive, artful and unnerving stroke of the canvas, exploring the volume of intensity with love and loss. Mara and Affleck are hypnotic, channeling a spiritual connection that really makes you connect with their dire situation. This is one movie that must be seen, and like any ghost, will haunt you for the rest of your life spiritually.

10/10

Dunkirk

When 400,000 men couldn’t get home, home came for them off of the shores of ‘Dunkirk’. The film that is written and directed by critically acclaimed filmmaker, Christopher Nolan, depicts the dramatic and true story of the Dunkirk evacuations from a war torn beach and harbor in France May 26- June 04, 1940, following the seemingly doomed plight of allied soldiers in World War II. As the immense enemy German soldier forces close in following the evacuation of Operation Dynamo, it seems the troops have nowhere to go, but help is at hand and a fierce battle ensues, forging the ultimate battle of sacrifice among them. ‘Dunkirk’ is rated PG-13 for intense war experience involving brutal violence, and some adult language.

Is there any doubt left that Christopher Nolan is one of the elite masterful filmmakers of our generation? Throughout his storied career, the man has made some of the most articulately crafted gems of the past two decades, but ‘Dunkirk’ might very well grow with time to be his magnum opus. From a scope perspective, this is the kind of film that was made for the IMAX screen with enhanced sound system to craft an out-of-this-world experience that is second to none. I myself have never served in war, but I can imagine that Nolan hits the mark with the kind of triumphant precision that pays homage to those men during this particular war who paid the ultimate sacrifice in standing up for what they believed in. So none of this of course comes as any surprise that ‘Dunkirk’ riveted me in ways that very few war films before it have with such unapologetic circumstance. It’s a technical marvel that is easily immersive through tight camera work that follows our soldiers through the most compact of situations, a trait that sometimes brought out the worst in this critic’s claustrophobia. That’s not to demean his breathtaking sequences, but to say that Christopher knows what it takes in capturing the essence of this week of war that will leave every man involved in it changed forever.

Time has always played such a pivotal role in past Nolan films, and once again the director bends the very notion of minutes and seconds to play to the unpredictability factor of this story. The film is presented through three different time periods, each involving different characters involved in their particular angle from this immense devastation that is crumbling everything around them. This is a huge risk for Nolan because it has the chance in backfiring against clouding the usually narrow timeline of events that take place in war genre flicks, but he pulls it off brilliantly because it is involving the viewer watching at home to always think six moves ahead to see how each respective plot will eventually overlap the others. It’s an original take for chronological sequencing similar to that of his earlier film ‘Memento’, and it’s measures like this that prove that Nolan is playing on a psychological ball field that many haven’t even sniffed the grass to. My only lone problem with this aspect and the entire film as a whole was the ‘one week away’ perspective that lacked any kind of nighttime scenes to relate the passing of time that eventually meets up with another perspective. It just didn’t feel like a week had passed for me, and I felt that additional scenes could’ve helped not only in believability, but also in beefing up the runtime which is surprisingly thin at 102 minutes.

The presentation here is almost as scene stealing as the violent outbursts that are happening within its walls. It is incredible what Nolan is able to pull off with IMAX cameras, in that way that he twists and bends each angle to offer us a perspective of what that character is experiencing without settling for the POV angles that have grown stale in 2017. The sound is crisp and should earn no less than an Oscar for its achievements in mixing and editing that carefully commentate everything even when it becomes too much to keep your eyes open at the horrors. An impressive aspect to this is that Nolan doesn’t need blood or gore to get across the barbaric sacrifices of war, he instead plays to the volume of water, as well as the burdens of captivity that slowly reaches for the vulnerability in each and every character involved. My favorite aspect of the technical however, was that of a gorgeous cinematography coloring by Hoyte Van Hoytema. Hoyt captivated in collaboration with Nolan in 2014’s ‘Interstellar’, and his usual pale greys and aqua blue shadings are exerted again in ‘Dunkirk’, but this time with more symbolic meaning. Most Nolan films have similar palates in cinematography, but here is feels warranted because of the inevitable cloud of dread that has overcome not only the abandoned landscape, but also the soldiers who feel that their time is numbered. The altering on this grand of a stage by Hoyt visually feels what we can feel so heavily in the water, on the land, and even in the air; the scent of death that follows this army everywhere.

Musical composer Hans Zimmer again crafts a must-own collection of ominous tones and building tension numbers that faithfully narrates hand-in-hand with the terrifying visuals. Being my favorite composer going today, I could speak for hours about Zimmer’s masterful touch on the films he musically enhances, but for now we’ll stick to ‘Dunkirk’. It feels like Zimmer is the most valuable player in this ensemble production because his tones barely ever leave the screen, more so because the film surprisingly doesn’t have a lot of long-winded dialogue to it. The music is constantly blaring and increasing with each passing second, and boy does it payoff in leaving the audience on the edge of their seats. Some of his tones here are as simple as repeating the same few notes, but adding a slight orchestral accompany with each passing verse to really trigger the impact that it has with what is being depicted. At an age when most composers start falling into obscurity, Zimmer continues to be the most familiar name associated with musical score because he wraps himself up in these unfolding stories, setting the stage for inevitable confrontation and a spring of goosebumps that repeatedly spring to life on the arms of those leveled by their enhancing pitches.

There is a great lack of character building within the film, but I confess that this aspect didn’t bother me in the slightest because I took it with great reasoning. There is no one person bigger than war, so when someone dies, the next person comes along to continue it. Sure there are some notable exceptions in actors like Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Fionn Whitehead, and Kenneth Branagh being featured so repeatedly, but when you really think about it, you learn very little about each character’s backstories, and it’s in that fact where I give Nolan great respect as a screenwriter because he is essentially building a great film without so much as a single shadow of character between them. The performances are solid from this ensemble cast, but I’d have to say that my favorite of the three different stories involved that of Rylance commanding a small boat on his way to Dunkirk to help with his kids in any way he can. There’s great sense of pride in his character, and sometimes the biggest changes come from the smallest of places, and even though his group isn’t actually involved within the war until the third act, their stark contrasts to that of a soldier they pick up (Played by Cillian Murphy) reminds us why war, no matter how paralyzing, does serve a purpose.

THE VERDICT – Nolan once again blows away our minds and our ears with the most impactful war film of the last twenty five years, undertaking this important memory in history with terrifying immediacy. ‘Dunkirk’ is a technical masterpiece that rivets us in all of its atmospheric horror on land, sea, and air, mimicking the moniker that never quits or surrenders. The movie never feels weighed down by the immense responsibility, nor the narrative gimmick that it adopts, establishing itself at the forefront of the 2017 Summer blockbuster season with an homage that honors the forgotten on a scope that feels like the next most terrifying thing to being there.

9/10

War For the Planet of the Apes

The third and final chapter of this apocalyptic trilogy lays it all on the line between humans and apes, in the “War For the Planet of the Apes”. Two years after the events of the previous film, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson) who will stop at nothing to wipe out their kind in devastating fashion. After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his breed. As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and the Colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both their species and the future of the dying planet Earth. “War For the Planet of the Apes” is written and directed by Matt Reeves, and is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, thematic elements, and some disturbing images.

It’s rare, especially in this day and age, that a trilogy of films will not only be entirely excellent in their individual efforts, but also as a whole when you step back and look at the complete picture. The trilogy of apes movies changed all of that for me, and let me believe again that a series can be done with such precision if it is under the proper guidance, and Reeves very much directs his magnum opus while offering a film that is every bit as provocative as it is endearing. To take a film like 1968’s “Planet of the Apes” and give it an entire prequel universe surrounding how this takeover came to be, was quite the risk, especially with its passionate fanbase, but these films became the single greatest trilogy of the 21st century by the contrast and decay of this world through each chapter. This story did become bigger ironically as the world got smaller, and to me, this series allows us to take a step back and examine the actions in our own world that could very much lead to our demise, much in the same way that George Romero did during the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s with his trilogy of zombie horror films. If a film can entertain you AND teach you, its material with flourish as so much more than a movie. ‘War’ takes this challenge and runs with it for over two hours.

This is very much a comparison piece between two entities; the humans and the apes, and the opposite roads that each tribe has taken in this lengthy fifteen year battle. One cool aspect when I step back and take it all in, is that I find it astonishing that the apes become more-and-more prevalent in their screen time with each movie, signaling not only their succession in taking over, but also the intended changing of the guard that is subtly taking place before our very eyes. In ‘Rise’, we view apes as kind of the antagonists of sorts because their story isn’t given as much time as the humans in that particular film. Then when you compare it to the exposition in ‘War’, it’s clear that they (like us) just want a place to call their home, and protect their families. In that regards, it makes them an easy shift into protagonists, especially when stood alongside that of the human counterparts that hunt them. In this world, humans have clearly become animalistic in their rage, and Reeves starts to focus on what clearly defines a human as a human, Almost as a reverse in the evolutionary chart that has defined these two sides for so long.

If there’s one theme that defines this film for me, it is in the quote that if we do not learn anything from history, we are doomed to repeat it. This theme, as well as history in general is echoed throughout the movie, and it’s clear that no matter how much our side has lost, we never lose the urge for dominance. This trait alone could solve the war with Caesar and the apes, but as in our own global domination, this colonel too seeks death and devastation anywhere he can find it. There’s nothing beautiful or glamorizing about war in this film, responsibly it is very much a painful retribution with each side suffering immense torture. In that respects, Reeves articulates a tone for the movie that echoes in the air that aura of defeat, yet a springing of hope somewhere off in the distance that signals this world, as well as the individual rights that these apes believe they are entitled to, are worth fighting for. The story constantly kept my eyes glued, even if there is a scene or two when they try to force a bit too much comedy to forcefully remind the audience that they are having a good time. It didn’t sour it completely for me, but these scenes do stick out like a sore thumb when squeezed into these gut-wrenching scenes.

And on that subject, the presentation and overall scope to Reeves world takes its biggest step forward here, signaling a student of the game who has clearly done his homework. ‘War’ for my money felt like it pays homage to the epic studio pictures of the middle 20th century, complete with a roaring musical score by Michael Giacchino, as well as nostalgic camera angles behind the camera that drive the story and its larger-than-life characters. On the former, the music plays to these vibrantly echoing drum beats similar to that of its 68 original. I would have to think back to “The Hateful Eight” when music played this much of an important role in the movie’s tone and capture of imagination with these blending of two worlds that feels anything but natural. The cinematography is breathtaking, and made even more so with these beautiful panning shots of the cold and immense world that these two sides fight for in the balance. I also loved the zoom-in style of close-ups that sprung up early on for a couple of key character introductions. This was done in the past to signify an important character to the movie, and the first meeting between Caesar and the Colonel gave me chills because even if I knew nothing about the latter, the focus on the intensity of the former kept me glued to see who was going to make a move first.

As for performances, I am happy to report that the master of stop motion, Andy Serkis, is back and has never been better. As Caesar, Serkis has clearly put his stamp on the character in personality, but here we find some of Andy’s best work as an actor first. Detailed, careful C.G.I makes his job easier in the visuals department, but the heart of Andy’s dedication goes to displaying some chilling visual acting with his facial movements and clearly defined expressions give his performance spirit even when we know most of the body around him is artificial. Props also goes to one of my favorite actors, Woody Harrelson, as the arrogant colonel with the goal to wipe out apes. In the colonel, we meet a menacing figure who speaks volumes to that of the dictators like Hitler or Stalin, and it’s made even more terrifying when you consider that this similar character rules on our own soil. His backstory is one you can understand and appreciate, but you see the true darkness in his character taking over, lessening the humanity inside of him that he claims to fight for.

THE VERDICT – Matt Reeves closes out a very successful trilogy of films with the series best to date. “War For the Planet of the Apes” is the latest in post-apocalyptic action dramas, but this one is done right with several thought-provoking themes about man being his own gravest enemy, as well as the very best in C.G.I effects going today that bring this fantasy world to life, illuminating the logic that makes these apes move with volume. Reeves and we as an audience finally get to bask in absorbing what his series has built for three movies, and the payoff couldn’t be better. On their own, these are three enticing chapters, but together these apes prequels tap into alluring social commentary while making us take one step back in evolution.

9/10

The Big Sick

The cultural differences of two smitten lovers gets pushed from-and-center during a trying time known as “The Big Sick”. Based on the real-life courtship between Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, the movie tells the story of Pakistan-born aspiring comedian Kumail (Nanjiani), who connects with grad student Emily (Zoe Kazan) after one of his routine standup sets. However, what they thought would be just a one-night stand blossoms into the real thing after the two find it difficult to be apart from one another, which complicates the life that is expected of Kumail by his traditional Muslim parents. When Emily is beset with a mysterious illness, it forces Kumail to navigate the medical crisis with her parents, Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) whom he’s never met, while dealing with the emotional tug-of-war between his family and his heart. “The Big Sick” is directed by Michael Showalter, and is rated R for adult language, including some vulgar sexual references.

“The Big Sick” is not a Judd Apatow written or directed movie, but it is produced by the critically acclaimed mastermind of movies like “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and “Trainwreck”, and while he holds the minimalist of responsibilities on this production, his stamp is clearly evident in Michael Showalter’s picture. This is the latest in a growing trend of film trailers these days that market a movie one way, only for it to be a totally different animal when you sit down and actually watch it. To say that “The Big Sick” is a comedy, might be completely irresponsible. This is very much a dramedy with a sprinkling of romance thrown in for good measure, and what could be considered a bit of a Frankenstein concoction does have its overall moments of light-hearted warmth and tender compassion that makes this one a worthy date night choice for him and her. Apatow has done this a lot in his career, substituting consistency in comedy for an appreciated level of heart, but Showalter doesn’t seem capable enough of balancing the same elements cohesively, instead opting for one tone at a time in each act. The film for me was decent, But even still, the run time of just over two hours proves to be a comedy’s undoing, and this definitely feels like one of those films where the problems become more evident the longer it rolls on.

Without a doubt, the film’s strongest point for me was during the first act, when we meet and establish the growing chemistry between our two leads that sets up future events. This feels most faithful to the kind of film that we were supposed to get from the trailers, and it definitely serves as a comedy during these peaks, with precision in comedic timing, as well as (thankfully) a minimal offering of improv dialogue. This is clearly a movie in which we know where it’s headed because of the title, as well as it being a real life love story, so I appreciated it so much more when the real life couple who penned this script slowed down and took their time developing the elements that made their union intriguing. The contrast between their traditions and families, with Kumail being from Pakistan, clearly plays an inconvenient entanglement to what he feels he deserves out of life, and the movie is never afraid to back away from our two protagonists to observe and depict what an Indian family considers valuable. Informative, while still being poignantly clever, “The Big Sick” felt like it could only get better from here. Then it happened.

For how much fun and expression that resides within the first half of the film, the second half takes a sharp left turn that has it submerged in too serious of waters to keep up its wit and charm factor. When you look at a film like “Trainwreck”, there is a point where it becomes strictly a romantic movie, but it never completely abandons what brought its butts into the seats in the first place; comedy, and sadly “The Big Sick’s” dry closing moments elated the air slowly out of the inflated tires that kept this film chugging along. Most notably, the stark change in Kumail’s character to one of growing mature decision maker feels like a cop-out on how we got there in the first place, especially considering he has all but moved on from Emily before he gets the call that she is in the hospital. The ending itself feels like it should go on for fifteen more minutes, but the run time tells us otherwise. This leads me to believe that some of the best and most fascinating points to this couple’s story is omitted from the film to instead give us a kind of “While You Were Sleeping” direction with her parents. If this wasn’t enough, the stand-up scenes, while important to Kumail’s backstory, offer very little weight in the overall grand picture with the film’s sudden change in direction. To say there is an overabundance of stand-up scenes is putting it lightly. A couple of scenes are fine, but there’s so much out of this direction of the script that could’ve been left on the cutting room floor, and it feels like the film drags the most during these lesser-sporadic drop-in’s. I’m also not sure if it’s a point that real life is dramatically funnier, but like all Apatow movies in a stand-up club, the comedy inside isn’t funny at all. When the comedians in the film miss their mark, how can we expect the regular every day person to meet it?

One aspect that doesn’t disappoint however, is the unabashed chemistry between Kumail and Zoe Kazan, as well as the all-around performances that kept this movie from the waters that were slowly sinking it. Kazan in particular is starting to get more female leads in her resume, and it’s totally deserving. As Emily, we see a down-to-Earth young adult who lives fast, but knows when to turn on the sweetness to her character. We fall in love with her the same way Kumail does, and her presence on the film is definitely noticeable during her absence. It’s crazy to think that Nanjiani has now done over twenty feature length films in his young career, but this is clearly his best performance because he lived through these events that shaped him. It’s rare that we get the real life figure playing his character in the movie, but Kumail proves that there was no choice better, with a dry stick and stone-faced reactions that will bring a hearty chuckle to your responses each time he’s on. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter are also a delight, and speak volumes to the actuality of a married couple that have been together for far too long. Hunter is a firecracker, exuding a tough presence outside, while crumbling inside at the world that is coming down around her. Romano kind of plays to the “Good cop” here, opening up to Kumail a lot warmer than his female counterpart. Together, the two feel authentic based on their speech patterns and arguments about something so little that turns into a mountain.

THE VERDICT – “The Big Sick” wasn’t quite the cinematic explosion for me that critics were raving about, but there is enough laughs and romantic delight from Nanjiani and Kazan during the first half to recommend it during a quiet evening in. Had the second half not fallen so flat in personality and trimmed about fifteen minutes off of its final runtime, then Showalter’s film about appreciating the pleasantries that we have when they’re available to us might have been the perfect project to combat those shallow romantic genre offerings that lay it on too thick. Even still, this true story has enough turns to keep its gears constantly grinding through the thick of stand-up distractions.

6/10

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Marvel’s cinematic web-slinger returns to the studio he belongs, in “Spider-Man: Homecoming”. A young Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) begins to navigate his newfound identity as the web-slinging super hero Spider-Man. Thrilled by his experience with the Avengers, Peter returns home, where he lives with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), under the watchful eye of his new mentor, The “Iron Man” Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr). Peter tries to fall back into his normal daily routine, distracted by thoughts of proving himself to be more than just your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but when the Vulture (Michael Keaton) emerges as a new villain, everything that Peter holds most important will be threatened, pitting Peter as the only option to stop the flying fanatic and save the city. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is directed by Jon Watts, and is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some adult language and brief suggestive comments.

After five movies spanning twelve years, Sony has sold the rights back to the original owner, Marvel Studios, and it suddenly feels like Spidey is right back where he belongs, proving that the title is more than just a clever name. For a million different opinions, the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb directed predecessors have their fans and enemies alike, but it’s in Watts newest re-telling of this classic childhood favorite that I feel will nearly unanimously break through the ceiling for superhero movie fans alike. This film is everything that both Spider-Man and Peter Parker should be, basically a teenage genre romantic comedy that takes place with a superhero backdrop. On the grounds of establishing these two themes equally, there are five screenwriters that craft something that even during the age of overabundance from superhero flicks, still offers us something fresh and imaginative in ways that no other film has done before it. It’s a re-vamping origin story that doesn’t necessarily need to tell us about the things that we already know from two different story arcs that have already beaten the concepts of tragedy over the head a bit too much. A Spider-Man for generations young and old that finally gives the movie that they have been waiting decades to see.

The story’s establishing theme centers around the growth of Parker, and in that we get several different variations on the concepts of what it means to be a teenager in 2017. Sure there’s the awkwardness of dating, or the difficulties of trying to fit in at school, but what I commended the movie for were the original tweeks that only Marvel could supplant in a teenage depiction. Most notably, Peter (like most teens) is finding out how much his body is changing in that he is growing with this highly-technological suit made brand new for him by Tony Stark. Throughout the movie, we as an audience get to finally grasp and understand the gadgets and gizmos that make up this glossed-over property in past films. Because Parker is learning, it means he too must grow with the suit, and along with his body, the two properties transform into the person he was destined to be. I also love the subtle ideals of the abandoning father who is never around, in this case Stark to the younger Parker. There’s definitely a sheen, crisp feeling of parental guidance shining over them, and I frankly couldn’t get enough of how their relationship was blurring the lines radiantly of just what is missing from Peter’s daily routine. My favorite part definitely deals with teenage dating, and I won’t ruin anything for you, but a certain meet-the-parents scene was my personal favorite in this entire movie. It will give you goosebumps for how it takes an already awkward situation and adds a layer of suffocation unlike anything you have ever seen in a meet-the-parents kind of plot.

As far as where this fits in to the bigger picture, this film felt kind of small scale when compared to the worldwide wars fought by The Avengers, and that’s ok. The movie prides itself on Spidey living up to the moniker “Friendly neighborhood Spider-Man”, and because of such, we get a lot of things played out on the ground, a new concept for this character. In fact, I felt that it was the things that I’ve always thought about that gave this movie longevity well into the second hour. Concepts like how the webbing works, how fast does it take Spider-Man to change, and even who cleans up after devastation like the events in The Avengers movies happens. This film captures all of that, and each of it plays an intricate part into its story. For an antagonist, I appreciate that the Vulture isn’t formed because of some freak accident gone wrong. He’s the everyday working class who lashes out after he’s lost the will to feed his family. I’ve always said the best villains are the ones who are the most understandable to grasp, and Toombs Vulture feels like one of Marvel’s very best. More on him later. The only negative that I had in story was that the film does feel slightly catering to fan service a bit too much. There are more than a few instances of this with characters who virtually go nowhere in this movie, and after a while it felt too pandering. I know that I will be in the minority in that opinion, but if we can call “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2” out for it, so too can “Spider-Man: Homecoming”.

The action is riveting, pulsing through one scene after another of beautifully decorated properties that play a vital role in each stunning sequence. Despite this film playing more to the smaller on-the-ground type of scale, the movie has some very epic set pieces in grand vision, and its fast movements really conjure up the idea of just how powerful Spidey can be when he has to be. These sequences bring out the best in his character because you understand that unlike most superheroes who can only do one or two things well, Parker’s Spidey is quick, intelligent, powerful, and reactive, traits that shape and mold a boy-turning-man who thrives as a protector. As for special effects, everything is mostly solid here and done to believable depths, minus a ferry scene that breaks a boat in half and puts it back together just as easily. I’m not looking for logic in a superhero movie, but the properties of cracks and how they form isn’t something that takes a holiday in imagination. Considering it is one sequence in a variety of ground-shaking offerings that would make Michael Bay cream in his pants, I can’t be mad at this lone discrepancy, as it was just a speed bump on the road to the entertaining core of this movie.

And on that front, I commend Homecoming for being bold among its many tonal shifts when it needs to be. There’s something impressive about a film that can make you laugh with consistently juggling the corny and embarrassing, yet still grab you attention in urgency when it needs to. This film pulled this trigger on more than one occasion, creating a kind of mold for two different movies in one with each of them merging together so smoothly. The comedy in this film gave me more than a few hearty laughs, and it’s clear that it never needs to take itself too seriously to get its biggest strength across; personality. If this inevitable franchise has one thing that sets itself apart from the rest, it’s that its spunk feels like it does wonders for the characters, as well as the scenarios that pits each and every one of them together. For Homecoming, it’s definitely the representation of being a teenager and how that by itself would be enough to drive someone crazy, then you add on the fact that you’re the neighborhood hero who is responsible for many. We realize the immensity of it, but I don’t think Peter quite does, and it’s in his ignorance that makes his emotional growth a delight to embrace because this really is all the weirdest and coolest thing that could ever happen to a kid, at the same time.

Props as well to a grade-A cast that nearly feels perfect. Tom Holland displays a great Spidey, but more importantly he accurately captures the complexity of the Parker character that I don’t think Maguire or Garfield garnered in their portrayals; earnestness. True, Parker is cocky when he needs to be, but when the suit is off, we get the impression that he is vulnerable for once, like a shield that de-activates. Michael Keaton definitely stole the show for me, showing off the single greatest Marvel movie villain since Loki. Keaton could read the phone book in this role and I would be on the edge of my seat. Toombs is very much a human antagonist and that is his single biggest positive. For Keaton, he approaches the role with cool calm, but engaging in menacing grips (like a vulture) when he is challenged. Marisa Tomei was also a breath of fresh air even if her scenes were limited. Lots of people balked at the idea of Aunt May being this young, but I always felt it made sense. She’s AUNT May, not Grandma May, so an Aunt naturally should be closer in age to a teenage boy. Tomei is loving and compassionate, but never loses the edge of being a cool parent, possibly commuting a woman who had to grow up too fast to help her family. My only problem with the casting was in Tony Revoli as Flash Thompson. I get that this is the progressive day-and-age with characters, and the need to switch things up should always be welcomed, but Revoli (Someone I enjoy greatly in other films) isn’t someone I would consider the cool kid in school, and his material doesn’t do him any favors in this area either. His character at times feels like it’s trying too hard to live up to some stereotype, and it feeds into more of the fan service idea that I proposed earlier. I frankly could do without him in this film, as his character adds zero weight to the film’s pulse.

THE VERDICT – The streets are safe again now that Parker has returned home to Marvel, where he rightfully belonged all along. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a breezy breath of fresh air that keeps on flowing with breathtaking action, as well as a two-for-one story that brings out the best in superhero and teenage dramas accordingly. It’s a seamless charmer that caters more to the smaller moments in crime-fighting, and that miniscule scale takes things back to the beginning where this all started, long before these movies tookover a worldwide stage. Watts world is brash, funny, and honest, three traits that have been missing from this franchise for a long time.

9/10

The Beguiled

After the untimely invasion of a soldier, a group of young women find themselves as “The Beguiled”. Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, the film is a modern day remake of the 1971 original starring Clint Eastwood, and unfolds during the Civil War, at a Southern girls’ boarding school, led by Martha Farmsworth (Nicole Kidman), a strict, by-the-book kind of a teacher who doesn’t shake easily. Its sheltered young women take in an injured enemy soldier (Colin Farrell). As they provide refuge and tend to his wounds, the house is taken over with sexual tension and dangerous rivalries, and taboos are broken in an unexpected turn of events, forcing the girls to band together against the unpredictable outsider who has pitted them against one another. “The Beguiled” is rated R for some sexuality involving sensuality.

The 1971 version of “The Beguiled” doesn’t quite have a soft spot in my heart of classic cinema, but when I found out the gifted Sofia Coppola was going to helm the remake more than 46 years later, in all of her feminine prowess, I knew that there was a shot to make this story something special, and for the most part my premonition hit the nail. The remake has a lot of strong qualities about the production value itself that were most notably missing from the cult-like original, and that quality in cinematography lends itself to maximizing the potential of this story and plot that are (If I’m being honest) a tad bit one-dimensional. Remakes come and go every week anymore, but this new edition of the classic telling justifies itself with some real gritty performances and beautiful artistic merit that pushes it through a vanity makeover of sorts. There’s a crisp uneasiness about the atmosphere in the movie that really controls and contorts our story, and Coppola being a master of suspense with exceptional startles in films like “The Virgin Suicides” and “Lost In Translation” floating to the top of an impressive resume, feels like the right woman for the job in documenting the changes of female traits when approached with someone or something from the outside.

One interesting aspect is how these two sides approach each other from the get-go. The ladies first-and-foremost view Farrell’s character as a Yankee soldier first and nothing more. It is in this aspect of his character that they find such startling and fear in, leading most of them to keep a guard up long before it was cautionary in who we allow into our homes. This fear is quickly subdued for a kind of curiosity among them once the Yankee shield has been lifted and they see him for what he truly is; a man. Because of this, “The Beguiled” often feels like a social experiment in pitting seven different ladies of all ages in a room and watching what happens when they are introduced to someone that half of them would immediately consider a social suitor. And that is where Coppola single-handedly earns most of her intrigue from the audience who watch and wait for the passion between them to impact.

As a writer, Coppola impresses me here, putting all of these contrasting elements into a pot and watching them boil for an inevitable confrontation that you have to see to believe. What’s interesting about most films is that people seek the answer to the mystery because that is what they pay to see, but I was quite opposite with “The Beguiled”, as I found the build-up in the documentation of these relationships to be the story’s true heart, leading to a finale that somewhat underwhelmed me. It does stick closely to the source material in this regard, but there’s a complexity in Coppola’s masterful touch on these people and properties that tells many stories in one single shot. One example is midway through the movie when Colin Farrell’s character is listening to the ladies sing him a nighttime song, and for a second we see many of the ladies faces and emotional responses to that of Farrell in that one shot. Some seek more information about him to peak their curiosity, some don’t trust him and look at him as an enemy, and some see him as a gently misunderstood man just trying to get back on his feet. Coppola can juggle these many tiers without them collapsing all down, and it adds depth to a story that shouldn’t be this complex.

The weakness for me was definitely in the third act after everything changes for the ladies and their guest after one traumatic night. It’s not that it isn’t done with excitement or passion for the story, it just kind of confirms what anyone who saw the trailer or the original movie already knew about where it was heading. Because of that, the last shot of the movie does feel like it wastes away some of the firepower of this altering event at the beginning of the third act, and the movie just kind of slowly fizzles out from there, whether you call it poor planning or too lengthy of a final scene that slightly drags. I also would’ve preferred more emphasis on the world that is melting around this all-girls school, most notably with the Civil War that has divided the nation. Where I think this could matter with this story is more with Farrell’s character and the kind of urgency that he finds himself in. We can only assume why he chooses to remain absent from war, but the psychological dimension of his character never makes itself present, and I think this is a mistake of sorts when growing his backstory.

I did mention earlier that the biggest difference between these movies is definitely the stylistic choices in scope that definitely favor the remake. The natural lighting was a valuable choice for the interior night shots, most notably with the candle-lights in the background that illuminate the pure creepiness of these Victorian mansions. There is an overall hazy look to the film, and I believe that this has more to do with the metaphorical smoke clearing of our soldier protagonist, as well as the physical with the war continuing to march on and away from our story’s setting. The wardrobe and costume designs are decadent in their depictions, and really speak wonders to the kinds of fashion trends and covering up of women that were present during such controlling times.

This is also incredibly well acted by a top-list cast that keeps on giving to the range of their respective characters. Colin Farrell has been on a resurgence during the later part of his career, and that continues here with one of his most wide range of personalities that he has portrayed to date. We are reminded that Farrell is a man at the end of the day, and like many men before and after him, he will make mistakes, and boy do those mistakes paint his character into a cage. Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst were also commendable. Kidman’s character is definitely the leader of the house and because of such, the assertiveness and eerie calm within her comes out on more than one occasion. My favorite performance of the film once again goes to Elle Fanning as Carol, the firecracker of sorts among the group. Fanning is so deceiving and conniving when it comes to her intentions, and she manages to flick on these dual personalities at the drop of tones changing within the movie. She is as dangerous as they come, but too much of the focus remains on Farrell for him being guilty by association within this war that he never supports, so Carol slithers by with a vibrant display of lust and cold resonating within her eyes.

THE VERDICT – As far as remakes go, “The Beguiled” is harmless with souring any nostalgic factor that very few had for the 1971 original. Sofia Coppola entices us with entrancing visuals and a set design that accurately depicts the cultures of the particular time. Her story could use some more light emphasis around the backstory of its important characters, and the third act kind of writes itself into a corner after the fireworks go off, but the bang of seclusion, seduction, and simmer make this slow burn thriller too dynamic to ever look away. A gothic gripping of girl power that cooks into the atmosphere.

7/10