The Mountain Between Us

The meeting and befriending of two total strangers will require them to depend upon one another in the coldest of conditions, in ‘The Mountain Between Us’. Stranded after meeting and co-ushering a tragic plane crash, two strangers (Kate Winslet and Idris Elba) must forge a connection of trust between them to survive the extreme elements of a remote snow covered mountain in the coldest of conditions. When they realize help is not coming, they embark on a perilous journey across hundreds of miles of wilderness, pushing one another to endure and discovering strength they never knew possible. Along the way, they learn plenty about each other that prove appearances aren’t everything. ‘The Mountain Between Us’ is directed by Hany Abu-Assad, and is rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, peril, injury imagery, and brief strong adult language.

‘The Mountain Between Us’ has a lot of potential from its personality and charm as a result of the turns of its two extremely likeable leads, but treads on thin ice with a barrage of romantic genre cliches that ultimately sink it. Undeniably, there’s too much weight of predictability and unnecessary comedic tone here that takes away from the intrigue and suspense that counteracts what the film builds on itself for an isolated disaster movie during the first act, and it’s proof that these opposite directions clash with the most dire of consequences, leading to much of what the audience will wisely enough discover from just the brief character outlines. It was maybe thirty minutes into this film when I mapped everything out that was going to happen in this movie, complete with character backstories and forced innuendos in screenplay that really takes the breath from a movie this limited. Sure, there isn’t a lot that you can do with a movie primarily set in one place, but films like ‘127 Hours’ and ‘Cast Away’ serve as validated examples of keeping the focus equally on the characters, as well as the conditions in consequences of the landscape, the latter of which Abu-Assad’s drifts away from like the very snow coming off of the landscapes.

From the get-go, Winslet and Elba’s characters meet and feel like old college friends. This is a puzzling direction immediately because it lacks some of the awkwardness and the vulnerability that will come into play later with trusting someone you just met. If these two are working together as a team early on, it will limit the transformations and growth that each character supplants with one another as the film goes on, and their resources become more and more limited. What I did enjoy about the screenplay is that it all kind of centers around this one conversation that the two characters have about brain versus heart, and in that instance the roles that each one of them play in such a debate. Elba is definitely the brain, considering his character is a surgical doctor and he is the one who plainly speaks “The heart is just a muscle”. Winslet’s character takes offense to that statement, and it’s clear that her drive and perseverance provide her with so much of that muscle that it often provides the light to keep on going. The film is also tightly paced until the third act, in which the movie feels like it tacks on one too many endings to cater to the audience who might feel alienated from a brave approach in closing minutes. I found this to drag on immensely, and I wish that some of the risk taking that the screenplay took in the mountain’s final minutes would’ve carried over to the film’s closing because it screams out the desperation that feeds into the redundant machine of romantic movie cliches.

On the subject of some of those cliches, this film has absolutely no shortage of them, providing an unintended spark of comedy that some can’t help but roll their eyes at. Considering these are two good looking people in the heart of the winter season on the rockies, this script practically writes itself. This feels even too obvious to someone like Nicholas Sparks, whose films revel in the opportunity to make a teenager’s most romantic fantasies come true, and leave out the logic or awkward exchanges between two strangers who met only days before. My issue with this aspect isn’t so much the overflowing amount of their uses, but more so in just how dishonest and undercooked that it makes this story feel. As the film carries into the second half, I found myself occasionally forgetting that these two were stranded because it’s clear that the film’s focus of that aspect felt secondary to the importance of a man and woman in seclusion, miles away from anyone, and with only the power to keep each other warm. If you think that sounds bad, I’m literally vomiting in my mouth as I type this out.

At least the scope of Abu-Assad and company bring aplenty to the film’s breathtakingly gorgeous production that certainly set the stage for the cold and unforgiven conditions. The decision to film this movie on location reaches levels of importance not only in immersing yourself in the very environment that our protagonists are thrust into, but also in the believability in physical performances that feel authentic to the toll of their body’s beat-down. The wide angle lens plays a valuable role here in accomplishing some the immensity of this landscape and the kind of uphill climb that the two now face. But not to lay back and play it safe from afar, the film also is credited with some vibrant experimental shots that had me twisting and turning in my seat quite a few times from the kind of point-of-view that the visuals cast us into. One such example is a scene involving Elba near the peak of a mountain, when he loses his footing and is sliding down towards the edge. Elba stops himself, but the camera keeps on going over the cliff, and it gives off this feeling of unpredictability even when the curtain has already revealed the result.

The performances as well are equally praising, even if the material frequently lets Elba and Winslet down in nearly every instance from conventional stakes. There’s no question that these two are too good for this kind of film this late in their careers, but I indulged none the less in their impeccable chemistry that they enveloped each and every scene with. I mentioned earlier that these two give such physically gifted performances on top of their already resilient personalities, but it’s in the work of Elba and the kind of secrets that transpire late into the movie surrounding his past that prove how capable he is of holding a script in the palm of his hands. Winslet is no slouch either, it’s just that the emotional register of Idris when it feels like a camera has got him cornered, is an illuminating shine that only gets brighter for him with each passing role. Kate’s on-time delivery in sarcastic wit plays valuable into keeping the attention spans firmly locked in on the movie during some trying times in pacing, and it all just serves as a testament to one of the most dependable leading ladies even still in all of Hollywood.

THE VERDICT – ‘The Mountain Between Us’ will certainly have its fans of date night moviegoers looking for a few simple thrills in action sequences, as well as some soft tenderness to go with a love story that you can get behind. Unfortunately for this critic, my heart is worth so much more, bringing to mind the never-ending inclusion of romantic movie tropes that exposed the predictability in every direction. If the film ends ten minutes before the string of false finishes, then it would be enough for me to push this through with a passing grade. But this, in addition to the overly telegraphed peril, and there’s nothing that could’ve closed the mountain of distance between me and Abu-Assad’s film.

5/10

Battle of the Sexes

A man and woman at the top of their respective games, let their balls do the talking in ‘Battle of the Sexes’. In the wake of the sexual revolution and the rise of the women’s movement, the 1973 tennis match between women’s world champion Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and ex-men’s-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) was billed as the BATTLE OF THE SEXES and became one of the most watched televised sports events of all time, reaching 90 million viewers around the world. As the rivalry between King and Riggs kicked into high gear, off-court each was fighting more personal and complex battles. The fiercely private King was not only championing for equality, but also struggling to come to terms with her own sexuality, as her friendship with Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) developed. And Riggs, one of the first self-made media-age celebrities, wrestled with his gambling demons, at the expense of his family and wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue). Together, Billie and Bobby served up a cultural spectacle that resonated far beyond the tennis court, sparking discussions in bedrooms. ‘Battle of the Sexes’ is directed by the husband and wife duo of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and is rated PG-13 for some sexual content and partial nudity.

Sports can serve as a chess piece of sorts in the bigger battles that shape and advance our society. While these are just games of friendly competition, there’s no debate to the undercurrent of political conversation that is taking place beneath the stage of smiles and respectable handshakes. Most notably from history are games like the 1980 Hockey Winter Olympic games, which staged the ultimate underdog Americans defeating the Russians at the heart of the cold war, Jackie Robinson stepping onto the field for his first major league game, and of course Billie Jean King fighting for women’s equality in a sport that up until then had been dominated monetarily by males. We point to these chapters in history as the building blocks for the much greater picture in all of its hurdles, and that is what gives a film like ‘Battle of the Sexes’ its stroke of importance against the litter of sports biopics. Despite the mostly light-hearted atmosphere being displayed here, there’s very much a struggle for power, and King herself feels like the brunt of frustration for a generation of males not quite ready to give over their dominance just yet.

From a narrative perspective, the film is so much more than just its title event, which is so miniscule in the grand scale of what is really going on in this movie. The script that is written by Simon Beaufoy takes us through these two prominent figures of their sport and chooses to focus and peel away at the human side to each of their respective lives, building up the backstory prominently to feed into the main course later on. In Billie Jean, we meet a woman on the verge of her sexual awakening, feeling love for the first time in the clutches of a woman and a union between them that by all means was looked upon in shame not only by the sport but also by its fans. On top of this, King’s real battle takes place off the court with the head of the tennis organization, Jack Kramer (Played by Bill Pullman), and his sexist stance on refusing to grant woman the kind of equality that they have fought so hard for with increasing ratings. On the parralel, Riggs is surprisingly not half of the antagonist that the film tries so desperately to shadow him as. Just as King’s life is taking a turn of revolution, Riggs is down and out with an addiction to gambling that has cost him nearly everything that he loves. The people in his life view him as a joke, and because of such, I felt great empathy towards this character and how this big name battle is every bit important to restoring his name as it is to building the legacy of King’s. Because the film builds these two characters equally, it means that much more when their tug-of-war comes to fruition later on, and the heartbreak of how only one of them can walk away as the winner, and that is riveting storytelling at its finest.

Another prominent perspective in this film is the impeccable artistic pageantry during the disco ages that doesn’t feel like it’s being used as an artificial gimmick. So much of the set designs and cinema scope with color palates in the film feel like they are patiently distributed and wait for the film to come to them instead of vice versa. Soundtrack is a big example of this, limiting the uses of top 40 favorites into the film, and instead opting for B-side bullets that never try hard to timestamp and hammer home the idea of this particular decade. The fashion trends rarely feel like anything that you can point to and laugh at, and it gives the entire production a kind of earnest respect that doesn’t feel necessary in exploiting it for its own cheap giggles or observations. The camera work stays fairly close for some conversation pieces, particularly with that of King when her usually tough exterior comes crumbling down at the hands of a woman who she falls smitten for instantaneously. The inclusion of neon colors splashing particularly in that of bar setting scenes feel like they play into Billie’s inside desire just burning to come out, feeding into the passion between them that the film unabashedly buys into. Even the television presentational value caters as well to this consistent grip for authenticity that the film carries on with, steadying the broadcasts with intentionally slow editing and pacing that was very much a staple of 70’s broadcasts. It all feeds into two hours of seamless visual merit that keeps the film firmly grounded in its roots, bringing to life the sunshine backdrops of the California coast that reflect the flower generation in all of its colorful displays for our own personal eye candy.

As for performances, there is no limits of familiar faces who pop up on screen to steal a scene or two in this film with no shortage of meaningful roles. Emma Stone refuses to rest on her Oscar win last March, breathing in King with precision in feminine heroism and dedication to appearance that immerses her fully into this role. Stone again has several moments of possible Oscar clips here as well, and her fiery finesse propels her to the front of the line to retain her trophy. Carell might give my single favorite performance from him to date as Riggs. Steve juggles two different Bobby’s to their respective importance with the script; one in front of the camera and one off of the camera, and they are anything but one and the same. Bobby is wise enough as a business man to know that every good match needs a villain that the people (in this case the women) can grit their teeth at, and his charismatic stroke of shovanism knows no bounds. It’s a difficult thing to balance these two opposite sides under the same helm, but Carell’s integral exuberance keeps them two equally compelling characters for the price of one. In addition to these two, there’s notable turns from veterans like Pullman, Elisabeth Shue, and the lady who constantly keeps the film’s tonal comedy in the palm of her hands; Sarah Silverman. This trio round out a collective ensemble that rival any other film this year, not just in big name quality, but in how much energetic material there is to go around for everyone to take a turn.

My problems are quite limited with this film and only come down to one or two sparingly random instances that did little damage. For one, the affair storyline with King and Marilyn really only focus on them and ignore almost entirely the perspective from King’s husband until it is absolutely necessary to include him. Doing this makes where it is going predictable for the viewers who don’t know everything about King, and I wish the film did a little more to leave him with a lasting impression upon us. My other problem is with the actual Battle of the Sexes, which takes place in the final twenty minutes of the film. It’s hard enough to build the dramatic effect in this game if you know what happened, but I feel like Dayton and Faris could’ve done a slightly better job at the unfolding atmosphere of male uneasiness that was present in the stadium. For the most part, the game breezes by, focusing too often on wide television angles, and less from a player perspective inside the physicality of it all. It just kind of makes the final scenes fizzle out like a boxing match that we were built up for from all of the pregame talking, but then disappointed once it actually happened.

THE VERDICT – Dayton and Faris serve up yet another crowd pleasing time capsule of 70’s euphoria that moves us with two endearing performances by Stone and Carell at the top of the bill. Like our own world that still requires lots of growing for our own narrow-minded, ‘Battle of the Sexes’ does give us some semblance of hope for how far we’ve come, and the kind of stage that only sports can provide in diving into that valuable social commentary. The ball stays inbounds for two hours of breezy emotional substance that invites us to laugh and love with these characters.

8/10

Home Again

The trials and tribulations of A newly established single Mother prove that it is A necessity to go ‘Home Again’. The film proves to be A generational affair, with Hallie Meyers-Shyer writing and directing, while her Mother and critically acclaimed author Nancy Meyes is at the helm of producing. It stars Reese Witherspoon as Alice Kinney in a modern day romantic comedy. Recently separated from her husband Austen, (Michael Sheen), Alice decides to start over by moving back to her hometown of Los Angeles with her two young daughters. During a night out on her 40th birthday, Alice meets three aspiring filmmakers who happen to be in need of a place to live. Alice agrees to let the guys stay in her guest house temporarily, but the arrangement ends up unfolding in unexpected ways. Alice’s unlikely new family and new romance comes to a crashing halt when her ex-husband shows up, suitcase in hand, expecting to make things right with the love of his life. ‘Home Again’ is rated PG-13 for some thematic and sexual material.

Being A film critic has taught me to examine and appreciate the many aspects of film that go into making A finished product. Even in movies that I despise, I can usually garner A taste for A particular area of production that stands out strongly against the rest. It’s no secret that I have never been much of A fan of Nancy Meyers as A writer or filmmaker, and her daughter, Hallie Meyers-Shyer, seems determined to keep the flame burning for lifeless cinema that sacrifices plot for bold and vibrant cinematography whose only strength is mimicking A Zoloft commercial. ‘Home Again’ is A paper ice cream cone. Sure, there are those flavors of ice cream that we love and that we stay away from when it comes to our favorite frozen treat, but the only kind of flavor response that I received from Hallie’s intro to the world of film is that from A tasteless bite that left me searching for anything to positively hang my taste buds on. This film obviously feels close to Hallie, in an art imitating life kind of way, with her (like Alice) having two famous parents and kind of articulating the circumstances that come with such an inheritance. In this instance, real life doesn’t make for that compelling of entertainment, and if home is truly where the heart is, this heart loses its beat almost immediately from the opening shot.

By the second act of this film, it’s pretty obvious where this all is headed; an endless array of untapped results and weightless consequences that do little to test the boundaries of compelling suspense. This screenplay is A strange one because to me it feels like Hallie almost forgets to translate real life drama into something for an audience first-and-foremost, and I found the entirety of this 92 minutes to be dry and lacking of anything manipulated for audience response. We just kind of watch these characters circle around themselves repeatedly in their rich and posh surroundings, appealing to A very minimal one percent who probably don’t go out to see movies anyway. The film throws all of its chips into this love triangle between Alice, Austen and Harry, but does little along the way to build up what each man means to Alice and her ever-changing life. Because the film gives us very little focus on Alice alone and by herself, we’re never given anything to hang the positives and negatives of each suitor on in terms of effect on her. I think Austen is supposed to be the antagonist but because the Hallie feels too timid to play it safe as A screenwriter, Alice is propelled to choose between two men who are essentially equal in underwritten exposition, instead choosing to focus on no shortage of musical montages to make up for how little this film actually progresses.

Everything that I just mentioned could probably be fixed with some chances that the film needed to take to exert some kind of drama in the ever-growing complacency that the film creates for itself. There are plenty of opportunities between the second and third acts that hint at something brewing beneath the surface of this trio of roommates that Alice houses, but their movements are for nothing and silenced without much purpose to the film alluding to them. When the film’s biggest dramatic pull and focus comes from one of the daughter’s upcoming school play, you know the kind of sleeper that you’re dealing with. The pacing of events within the plot isn’t half bad, but the decision to attack so many compelling possibilities at only face value is A mistake that makes this film feel like A forceful spoon-feeding around the one hour mark. It was at this point where ‘Home Again’ lost me for good, and I begged desperately for the kind of emotional clarity that the character of Alice simply never gets by an ending that is as forgettable as it is safe.

The production feels hollow and artificial in trying to capture the California sunny landscapes, but will only be deemed evident by someone like myself who studies A film’s visual specter first. One person might look at this film and be transfixed by its appeal visually in the rich and the famous lifestyles, but this overly-illuminated lighting used often in romantic comedies feel like they do more harm than good in their intention, and trespass the boundaries of what is visually tasteful. Because the lighting is so loud, it gives off that feeling of A television’s tint being turned all the way up, blending light colors of clothing and walls together in the least visually appealing of methods. The editing settles for the fade-to-black kind of style instead of sticking to what works in quick-cuts for scene-to-scene transitions. What this decision does is divide the anatomy of each scene, forcing them into these individual pieces instead of one cohesive movement that gel together to meet the same goal.

Even if they are all far better than the material that they are acting out, the collaborative cast of actors in the film are enjoyable enough to watch bounce figuratively and literally off of each other. Reese Witherspoon still holds the female audience firmly in her grasp, but the character of Alice feels like something that she is light years ahead of, for better or worse. You care for her character, but Witherspoon’s energy feels like she is doing A favor instead of pursuing A passion project, and she’s alright but nothing memorable for an Oscar winner. Jon Rudnitsky as George is far and away my favorite aspect of not only the cast, but the entire film. Rudnitsky plays George with patience, and that’s something that is gravely important in A film that feels desperate to play into the stereotype outlines of each and every character. He’s kind of established as the brains of this trio, but he’s also the very pulse of logic when it comes to attacking some laughably bad dialogue that he overcomes. If there is one thing that we should take away from this film, it’s that Jon has a future, and I would prefer that future happen immediately so that we can forget about the kind of paper flavor of depth that he was presented here.

THE VERDICT – I myself couldn’t wait to get home again from ‘Home Again’. Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s film breeds pretentious and upper class privilege, orchestrating such A wasteful opportunity of girls night cinema and an A-list leading lady. Overcoming the adversity of inanities or vanilla ramblings, this romantic comedy doesn’t have enough grip or pulse by the director to succeed in either genre, breeding an overabundance of artificiality with each passing moment. If this is A portrait to her parents, it’s clear that she remembers much, but learned so little.

3/10

Tulip Fever

It’s been three long years with three different release dates, but America finally experiences ‘Tulip Fever’. Set In 17th Century Amsterdam, an orphaned girl Sophia (Alicia Vikander) is forcibly married to a rich and powerful merchant named Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz). Their union is an unhappy “arrangement” that saves her from poverty, so needless to say the love simply isn’t there. After her husband commissions a portrait of his wife to cement their union, Sophia soon begins a passionate affair with the painter Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan), a struggling young artist commissioned for his biggest payday. Seeking to escape the merchant’s ever-reaching grasp, the lovers risk everything and enter the frenzied tulip bulb market, with the hope that the right bulb will make a fortune and buy their freedom for A life together of eternal happiness. ‘Tulip Fever’ is directed by Justin Chadwick, and is rated R for sexual content involving nudity, and adult language.

‘Tulip Fever’ has sat on the proverbial release date shelf for three years now, and at A time when I began to wonder if this film would ever see the light of day, I can now understand the entire picture now that it’s come into focus. Speaking of focus, this is A movie that has none, jumping between A dual narrative path between two stories that jumbles and over-extends the necessity of telling one competent plot that feeds the purpose of many characters. The plot that I described above is only approached at surface level. Hell, even the trailer focuses entirely on just the love triangle that plays out on-screen between Vikander, Dehaan, and Waltz, ignoring the majority of the actual film that is narrated by Holiday Granger, A supporting character whose story herself is thrust into the mainstay of this picture, and takes every opportunity to halt the progression of the movie’s attention span. Granger serves as the narrator of the film, which presents us with A difficult narrative to see things in the same way that she did; from the outside, but Chadwick’s film often feels too cozy with this direction, focusing too much on throwaway characters and events, and not enough on the dramatic pull of A love triangle that brought the butts into the seats with A trailer that focused solely on that aspect. Film trailers offering false advertising are certainly nothing new, but ‘Tulip Fever’ takes the concept to new heights, presenting us with A finished product that doesn’t feel anything like the movie that I was promised even so much in tone.

To its credit, ‘Tulip Fever’ has something for everyone. If you’re here for drama, you will soak your intrigue into soap-opera like atmospheres that build to something great only to leave you unsatisfied at the grasp of underwhelming direction. If you prefer comedy, well this one’s got that too, orchestrating the most complex plan of deceit that I have seen in A long time. Movies are all about suspending disbelief, but if you bought into this plan of Vikander’s for one moment, your intelligence clearly comes at a cheap price for these screenwriters. I sort of found myself laughing louder with each passing moment late in the second act for the sheer ridiculousness that unfolds the petals of complexity to something that could’ve been told with such ease in simplistic outlining. As I mentioned earlier, the film doesn’t even find this triangle to be the most fascinating aspect of its material, so it becomes this sort of hack-and-slash Frankenstein mold that feels like it has been through the editing room floor one too many times, leaving us with these stand alone scenes that never gel together as one cohesive bond.

A lot of this reasoning comes in the form of sloppy pacing that carves into the introductions early on of this stellar A-list ensemble cast. The first twenty minutes were definitely the most difficult to stay in-tuned to, and that’s asking A lot considering the first act of any movie is used to build your internal investment to these characters, but Vikander, Waltz and Granger come in and out of frame without even the slightest backstory or exposition to feel like you understand their mentalities for future actions. This never ceases to get any better as the film goes on, and I found myself having great difficulty in trying to side with anyone who remotely resembled A human being. When I was ignoring the aspects in plot that felt violently shoved into this dramatic threesome angle, I did come away with some cheap thrills of momentum leading into the finale, but once again the movie fumbles this blessing with such an anti-climax that you can actually hear the increasing drama slowly sinking out of. Maybe it’s the wide range of plot holes that they’re elating out from, but that’s another review in itself to get into those stretches.

The performances aren’t half bad, but the majority just kind of serve as A giant missed opportunity for one of the best put together casts that I have seen in A single picture this year. To that perspective, Dehaan is once again terribly miscast here, Granger never gets her moment to shine, and the appearances of Zach Galifanakis, Cara Delevigne, and Judi Dench are nothing more than afterthought cameos who occasionally pop up to remind you of their presence. With this much facial firepower, this film could’ve easily caught A lot of buzz amongst mainstream moviegoers looking to get into independent cinema, but their purpose (If they ever had one) feels violently shaped here to limit them from ever stealing the stage, and that is A Major missed opportunity. Vikander can do much with very little character direction, and that ideal rears itself aplenty here, as Vikander’s cold eyes emote A woman who is longing to be free with the kind of love that she knows she deserves. It’s unfortunate that we’ll never really know what makes Sophia tick internally, but any chance to see Vikander is A blessing to this critic, and Alicia does wonders even in her worst role to date. Waltz is disgustingly delightful, reading some truly wincing dialogue lines that only he could made entertaining by his unflinching commitment. The love sequences between Vikander and Waltz are portrayed with such A lack of passion intentionally, and would do wonders in comparison with Vikander and Dehaan if the latter didn’t lacked any kind of chemistry or passion between them to get the hearts pumping of the people watching in theater. Without that drive in comparison, the film gravely lacks A satisfying payoff worthy of its many big names.

If you do look at my score and wonder why I rate this movie higher than it sounds, it’s because the aesthetic touch is certainly there, radiating A soft touch of natural lighting and cinematography that do more than enough to articulately craft the setting of this period piece. There’s A kind of hazy feel to the exterior shots in the film, granting us the surroundings that can only be made authentic by Europe during the 17th century. The set pieces are very intricate, detailing the posh and lavish lifestyles of the rich when compared to the tight and closely depicted camera angles of the poor to represent their limitations. The editing as well is A major benefit to the ideal of obsession that Dehaan’s character portrays for Vikander’s, and I greatly enjoyed their movements accordingly to seeing the actress in many different settings during her self portrait scenes with Dehaan. It’s kind of cool to see things in the same vein that he sees them here, relaying that A painter must ingest what he is depicting to bring to life the very color of that character.

THE VERDICT – ‘Tulip Fever’ is A constant reminder that sometimes the worst things aren’t worth waiting for. Director Justin Chadwick’s forgettable anti-drama set during the 17th century is one that lives up to aesthetic production challenges, but fails miserably at crafting a cohesive three-act structure that keeps its eyes on the prize. This one is the very definition of the term ‘Disjointed’, limping itself between two stories so opposite in approach that they often limit the potential of the other. To be considered A fever, the subject would need A pulse, and the lifeless motions of the film’s finale hint that this shell of A film was better left in the closet of obscurity than to see the light of day at A cost like this.

4/10

The Only Living Boy in New York

A boy becomes a man in Marc Webb’s newest dramedy, ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’. Thomas Webb (Callum Turner), the son of a publisher and his artistic wife, has just graduated from college and is trying to find his place in the world. Moving from his parents’ Upper West Side apartment to the Lower East Side, he befriends his neighbor W.F. (Jeff Bridges), a shambling alcoholic writer who dispenses worldly wisdom alongside healthy shots of whiskey. Thomas’ world begins to shift when he discovers that his long-married father (Pierce Brosnan) is having an affair with a seductive younger woman (Kate Beckinsale). Determined to break up the relationship, Thomas ends up sleeping with his father’s mistress, launching a chain of events that will change everything he thinks he knows about himself and his family alike. ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ is rated R for adult language and some drug use.

Ever since the dawn of Woody Allen and his library of films, the world has ushered out more than A few of his disciples whom you can clearly taste the Allen influence in their respective pictures. Marc Webb is one of those mentioned, and the taste of pretentious filmmaking reeks in his latest movie ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’. That’s not to say that this is A terrible film, it’s just terribly bland. Once you have watched the trailer for this film, you can take pleasure in knowing that you have witnessed the entire first hour of this rushed 83 minute production. To say that we’ve seen this kind of film before is quite the understatement, so what makes it noteworthy in the slightest? The New York Backdrop (Cough Cough Allen)? The soft and unsubtle lighting textures that make every shot feel like a painting (Allen)? or maybe it’s the snobby cast of characters who complain about A life that most would wish for (You know what? You get the picture). I felt like I have already seen this film up until A last second swerve that is far too late in hitting us hard with the big life lesson. Was I shocked? more so noticed, as it’s the first point in the film that I began investing myself in, but it doesn’t fix what’s been broken through this vapid script of insincerity.

This film early on takes a popular cliche by instilling some narration by Jeff Bridges character in the movie, but it feels completely unnecessary with the creative direction of the film, albeit except for one stance in logic; exposition. Because this film is so brief in its runtime, it doesn’t have time to bring along these characters and their respective backstories, so Bridges is tasked with filling in the blanks to outline the proper traits in these characters that do sometimes run together because of their limited expressions. Then the film decides to just drop it forty minutes in. There is no longer anymore narration by Bridges, and suddenly it feels like we’re on our own, and my honest fear of sloppy exposition seems to have been affirmed by the film’s lack of attention in keeping up with its own rules. If there’s one positive that I had, it was in the relationship between Bridges and Turner’s characters, serving as the film’s blackboard for emotional pulse. The film feels the most light hearted during these scenes, mainly because it isn’t trying to take itself too seriously, and just enjoying those quiet moments in life when clarity is necessary.

As I mentioned before, the pacing does feel incredibly rushed, and this limits the potential in clearing these hurdles in continuity and progression that far outruns our waning interest. From the romantic triangle perspective, too much happens far too quickly during the early scenes of the second act, and it often felt like the film was hinting at where it was going long before we had the possibility to accurately depict it. I’m not saying this movie is the most unpredictable offering in the world, but showing your cards far too early will shatter the boundaries of immersion that anyone will have in this project, leaving it void of any suspense. There is never enough tension being built with Brosnan’s character that he will either find out about Turner and Beckinsale, or that he himself will be caught having this seedy affair. Those elements could’ve done wonders in establishing the proper attitude for this film, which often feels unattended by the proper creative direction. I could swear that this film was A comedy, but I’m still completely unsure.

The performances aren’t too bad considering what little this extremely talented cast is given to work with. I do believe that this is my first engagement of Turner’s work, and I have to say that he wins the award for best James Franco impersonation. As Thomas, Turner can sometimes come across an sniveling and callow, making for the wrong guy to want to spend an entire feature with. His character lacks anything that makes him come across as engaging, and I would’ve much rather spent time with the adults in the movie who properly keep the flow of these conversations going. To that degree, Bridges is definitely the best here. Besides being the pulse in narration for the movie, Jeff can make A line of dialogue delightful by simply emoting that rugged sarcasm that has earned him universal praise. Pierce Brosnan isn’t too bad, but lacks enough proper screen time, and Kate Beckinsale is virtually playing every character that she has for the past three years. It’s got less to do with her talents, and more to do with the writers she is working with who time-and-time again write her unflatteringly against type.

With the choices for cinematography and artistic expression, the film does yield some exceptionally elegant lighting, giving way to the Allen environment that Webb articulately demonstrates. Some of the wide angle interior shots in this film are so gorgeous that they belong on a rich person’s wall, so they can show off their rich people to everyone else. See the problem here? New York is also very prevalent in the film, but there’s never enough gorgeous establishing shots to ever make it too A character who is present and talks back against all of the bad that is being said about it by these people. Anytime you have A setting as big as this, you MUST embrace it to relay the kind of heartbeat in culture that many of us have only heard about and never seen. Everything else is quite conventional, and that’s kind of A disappointment because Webb’s sleek style usually plays A prominent role in his visual breath-stealers like ‘500 Days of Summer’ and ‘Gifted’. There’s not enough on the experimental side to ever make this one his own, and it serves as A reminder all around of A project that is entirely forgettable.

THE VERDICT – ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ is A bit of A boring one. There’s A word used often in the film that is “Serviceable”, and that concept would be giving this one far too much credit. Webb’s latest lacks the kind of patience in precision storytelling or insightful characters to ever make this must-see entertainment from someone we’ve come to know as A modern day master. The visual specter tingles in patches, but the art isn’t enough to save itself from A screenplay lacking any kind of hardened drama or edge. This boy isn’t living, he’s mumbling through A life that has already moved on from his constant moaning.

5/10

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

Paris Can Wait

Eleanor Coppola writes and directs her first film in “Paris Can Wait”, adding to a prestigious legacy of filmmakers in her decorated family. The movie stars Diane Lane as a Hollywood producer’s wife who unexpectedly takes a trip through France, which reawakens her sense of self and her joie de vivre. Anne Lockwood (Lane) is at a crossroads in her life. Long married to a successfully driven but inattentive movie producer, Michael (Alec Baldwin), she finds herself taking a car trip from Cannes to Paris with a business associate of her husband, Jacques (Arnaud Viard). What should be a seven-hour drive turns into a journey of discovery involving mouthwatering meals, spectacular wines, and picturesque sights that has them both on the edge of seduction to the city’s powers. Their playful flirting must soon be confronted, and where better than the city of lovers? “Paris Can Wait” is rated PG for thematic elements, smoking, and some adult language.

If you lack the funds or the motivation to see Paris in your life, “Paris Can Wait” might be just the film for you. Filled with enough French cuisine, wine, and landscapes to feed a small army, Eleanor Coppola undoubtedly holds a place this surreal closely to her heart, radiating a scheme in filmmaking aesthetics that sells everything put forth. Going into this movie, I knew very little about the set-up or the characters. It’s rare that I get a chance to completely ignore all of the trailers and just take in the movie for what is presented. I only wish that it were under slightly better circumstances. I can’t fault a filmmaker for their debut feature, especially when their last name is Coppola, but there’s many examples of growth being needed for the kind of patience in investment that this kind of movie takes on its audience. It’s an often times beautiful piece, not only in its presentation of seven course meals, but also in Eleanor’s vision behind the lens. But the compliments stop there, as this is (quite frankly) one of the driest scripts that has been given the big screen treatment in 2017.

For a romance, the sprinkling of a comedy in between the sometimes awkward tones of this movie is a welcome one. “Paris Can Wait” tells a story of two near-strangers stuck on a car ride together, but it takes great suspension of disbelief to even get to the start of this road trip fiasco. As a logical thinker, I can’t believe for a second that a man, even a workaholic, would let his beautiful wife get in the car with a good looking man on a cross-country journey, let alone soak up the obvious flirting that this male is bestowing upon her early on. As the film progresses, there was this feeling in the air of awkwardness between them, as Jacques comes across as someone meant to be a fantasy to the daydreaming woman watching beyond the screen, but doesn’t come across as the most progressive gentleman of the 21st century. Most of the interaction between them is Jacques delaying Anne time-after-time on what should be a one day trip, to entice her with French cultures. Being that Anne is married and that her husband hasn’t done anything completely unforgettable to her, it’s difficult to approach a protagonist from this kind of ground. Jacques often comes across as sneaky to me, conjuring up a plan miles ahead of the road to get one step closer to this married woman. So as a story, it’s not the most morally charming of romantic pieces.

Then there’s the biggest problem that glares its ugly head about midway through this 90 minute movie; there’s a great lack of conflict in the entirety of the film that grinds the progression of this journey to a screeching halt. The set-up is certainly there for a story like this to get juicy and offer the female moviegoer a kind of will-they, won’t-they kind of scenario similar to those in romance novels that peak the interest of them. The second act of this film is so dry that I often forgot why these two leads aren’t together in the first place. Then, like some remembering by the writer of what is set-up early on, the climax (If you can call it that) happens in the closing minutes of the movie, but by then this once steamy dish cools off to unsatisfying portions, and the film just kind of closes out without justifying the means of the mileage that it took to get to this point. What shocks me is that there are some subplots with Anne and Jacques about their pasts that are introduced far too late in the movie to make a difference, but prove that Coppola could’ve been onto something had she just paced her revelations out accordingly and put the character before the dish. These could’ve been the perfect sugar-coating steps to lead us to that passionate embrace, but the disjointed nature of its structure often times feels out of place and far too late to sting us with the tragedy of sorts that Coppola tries to hit us with. The ending was very malnourished, and was unpredictable for all of the wrong reasons both to the happiness of our characters and to the satisfaction in sending the audience home with a digesting of good feelings.

Where I will give kudos to Eleanor is in her scintillating sequencing of delicious dishes that had my mouth watering at every turn. A film like 2015’s “Chef” taught us that food in visual presentation can play a beautiful role accordingly to crafting the value of food and film that feels like a marriage too scrumptious not to happen. Coppola too gives in to that demand that every moviegoer should go home hungry, and because most of these foreign dishes are rare commodities for our domestic tastes, it makes it that much easier to fall under the spell of their sizzling steam. For depiction, Eleanor casts the camera slightly above that of the table and dish, so as to market a kind of Point-of-view angle to what we are seeing and taking in, putting us in the moment to live out our deepest fantasies. Food does kind of overstay its welcome from a script that is completely limp, but I do commend this movie greatly for giving me the kind of enticing visual specter that immersed me freely into this romance of edible seduction.

As for the performances, the chemistry between Lane and Viard works in such a way that radiates love, as well as friendship to the circumference of their earliest encounters. Viard breaks out early on, depicting a romantic in Jacques that constantly showcases a man who wears his heart on his sleeve. In Jacques, Viard has free reign as Anne’s (And our) tour guide of sorts, and seeing Paris through the eyes of a dreamer like this is intoxicating at the very least for his spontaneous movements. But just when you think Viard is steering the car, it is Lane who proves why she is versatile when it comes to any kind of tone. Early on, Lane’s Anne works out her comedic timing, echoing the kind of straight woman routine to Viard’s mad man romantic that perfectly captures a tense woman who doesn’t know if she should believe Jacques pure intentional speeches. But as the film wore on, there’s a dramatic side to Anne’s past that has clearly been bottled up under a woman who has said yes to far too many things she has disagreed with. We get a sense of sorts that life and her family have just kind of passed Anne by, so when she starts to partake excitedly in these adventures, it kind of serves as the therapy that this woman needs for some haunting past experiences that have shaped the woman we see before us.

THE VERDICT – A lot kind of ‘waits’ with Eleanor Coppola’s debut film at the tender age of 81. Most notably the conflict, plot, and resolutions all are put on hold for a visual fiesta of tasty portions that the audience are forced to swallow scene-after-scene. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the succulent snacks that adorned the screen. They are shot at such attention-grabbing angles that you often forget about the bland mess that is playing out opposite of it before your very eyes. If “Paris Can Wait” was a seven course meal, I only lasted through three before I was bloated full of this airless cinematic excursion. It’s like taking a bite of something terribly undercooked and hoping it will get better, only to find that it gets colder with each passing bite.

4/10

Lady Macbeth

Rural England 1865 is the place and time for this sizzling spin on the classic tale of “Lady Macbeth”. Catherine (Florence Pugh), a young woman locked in a loveless arranged marriage to Alexander (Paul Hilton), begins a passionate affair with one of the servants on the estate named Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis). Alexander and his father, Boris (Christopher Fairbank) attempt to put an end to the lovers infidelity, but the couple are willing to go to great lengths in order to keep their relationship alive. The situation becomes increasingly complicated, and Catherine is forced to make a difficult decision to save her reputation and her privileged life. “Lady Macbeth” is directed by first time helming, William Oldroyd, and is rated R for sexual situations involving nudity, violent material involving gore, adult language, scenes of drug use, and frightening scenes of intensity.

Movies centering around the kind of coming into power storylines are often depicted in such a way that feels inspiring or at the very least beneficial to the audience at home in propelling a character who they can get behind regardless of their morals. Cue “Lady Macbeth”, an hour-and-a-half of greed and seduction for what could essentially be considered the dawn of the modern age woman, and her rise to power that comes at such a cost. For such a brief film that flies by like a jet engine, this movie filled me with a vast array of emotions that left me reeling for hours after I saw the film. The movie’s screenplay is loosely based on the book “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” by Nikolai Leskov, and while the movie hangs tight with the general outline of its literary counterpart, there’s so much about it that screenwriter Alice Birch updates to infuse its often times dull page-turner into a millennial twist that leaves its audience on the edge of its seat through each and every transpiring event that polarizes our central protagonist.

The very style of this picture goes a long way not only in defining human response and atmosphere, but also in the very isolated depiction that this film focuses on for treatment of the female specimen during such a long and forgotten age. The shot selection is gorgeous, focusing on shot framing that singles out Catherine and makes us focus solely on the pain surrounding her dreary routine. She stands front and center at every scene that plays out before her, and often times is our voice of digestion for the life that tends to move on without her consent. It’s true that this movie is focused almost entirely on one character, and kind of leaves everyone else to steer their own course, but I think it’s important to frame Catherine while these unspeakable acts are happening around her, so as to inform and incite the curiosity of the viewer who takes it all in. The film has a refreshing way of not commending the concepts of infidelity, nor singling out Catherine for the decisions that she makes, and I find that impartial direction to be one of great taste for Oldroyd, who feels like he has accomplished so much in only his first time behind the lens. I was flabbergasted to discover that a man directed this movie, as there’s such an overwhelming feeling of female revolutionary that encapsulates the picture, a sign that we’re headed in the right direction for both sides of the polished human gender coin.

As I mentioned earlier, the film flies by, and constantly keeps us moving through ambitious mountain that Catherine must climb to seize the life that she wants. If I have one weakness for the movie, it’s in the first act when everything feels like it zooms through far too quickly, neglecting to soak in the undesired marriage of Catherine and Alexander to its truly barbaric potential. The affair happens quite early on in the movie, and keeps happening, reaching four times of sexual intimacy at only a half hour into the movie to relate how rushed this opening feels, limiting anything to reach its true developmental purpose. Thankfully, it does slow down in the next act, when we truly start to see this woman blossoming into the wolf of sorts who she was destined to become. The final thirty minutes throw a couple of wrenches into the mix, and reminded me that no matter where I thought this film was headed, my guessing was often premature for the pulse-setting finale that left me tingling in speechless release. Because of such, “Lady Macbeth” surely isn’t going to show up on anyone’s feel good films of the year list, but it is one that speaks volumes to the lesson of people not being allowed to love who they love, a stance that even more than two hundred years later still troubles our own society.

Much of that has to do with the performance of Florence Pugh, who is an early favorite for this critic in the Best Actress category. This woman is a force to be reckoned with, and anyone in the way of Catherine will be run over by this steaming bull who fears no man or force of God. Pugh’s portrayal at times feels like we took a woman in 2017 and placed her in the 1800’s to answer the age old question of what these two opposing eras would feel like, to our chagrin it’s everything that you could want in a leading lady who balks at the rules. It takes no time for Catherine to understand the undesirable situation that she has been forced into, so immediately she takes matters into her own hands and spits back what life has presented her with. Florence stays quite stone-faced throughout the movie, but this character direction speaks volumes to her lack of empathy and her cold disdain, which she unleashes with no remorse. I would go further with the cast, but there’s no point. It’s not that the supporting cast are particularly terrible, it’s just that Florence Pugh acts in and constructs the stage for her to shine on. A one woman tour de force who slips under your skin to conjure up more than just one translation.

THE VERDICT – Through bold and dark twists that hold the hands of the audience and press it right up to feel the power, “Lady Macbeth” is an unnerving and often times insinuating intensive from William Oldroyd, who depicts the consequences of privilege and power with such heart-shattering volume to leave all who embrace it devastated within its wake. Pugh herself commands Catherine with the kind of impeccable precision for that silent fire burning within, and it’s when she reaches her boiling point that we know a star has been born. This movie could use about fifteen more minutes to digest some of the rapid fire first act movements, but its unclenching second half of the picture has enough shock-and-awe to make us (like Catherine) forget about meaningless measures in the past.

9/10

My Cousin Rachel

The 1951 novel of the same name gets its second big screen treatment, this time more than sixty years after the previous. “My Cousin Rachel” tells the story of a young Englishman named Phillip (Sam Claflin) who plots revenge against his mysterious, beautiful cousin Rachel (Rachel Weisz), believing that she murdered his guardian. But his feelings become complicated as he finds himself falling under the beguiling spell of her charms, and toes a devastating line of temptation as he seeks the clarity beneath it all. The two engage in a mental game for the land, riches, and romance involved in this particularly ugly situation that has developed between them and their neighboring friends of the family. “My Cousin Rachel” is written and directed by South African film director Roger Michell, and is rated PG-13 for some sexuality and brief strong adult language.

I myself have never read the literary original that this screenplay is based upon, but with reading reviews of others experiences with the novel has taught me that this is an accurate adaptation. With that said, this is a movie that relies heavily upon a mystery surrounding our central characters that has to do with whether Rachel is or is not the evil temptress that she has been made out to be. The film pushes this narrative because it is the key that unlocks all of the mystery surrounding the untimely death of Phillip’s guardian. The problem with this shaky concept is that this shouldn’t be a mystery at all to the audience who have faithfully paid attention, because most of the proof is in the pudding. Once you figure out the answer to this proverbial question, “My Cousin Rachel” tends to lose a lot of its charms midway through the movie, when you realize that this screenplay is focused on so little else to keep itself moving. Even still, once the answer is made frustratingly apparent during the final scenes, the screenplay did manage to tack on some closing surprises that changed my opinion from the once evident direction that it felt like we were once headed, finishing strong enough to earn itself rightfully back into rental territory.

From a scope perspective, this is a very gorgeous production, taking place during the late 19th century in Europe. We are treated to some very surreal establishing shots with endless displays of green landscapes and mountains that tend to accurately depict the kind of backdrops that envelope this picture. The main setting takes place in this enormous mansion that takes on the compliments of atmospheric natural lighting to make it feel more authentic. The night shots use candles to illuminate the property, and this speaks volumes to the kind of darkness and mystery that plagues this bickering family. The camera work too was simply stunning, choosing to focus more on some long take back-and-forth perspectives, instead of using choppy editing that can sometimes come across as too polished of a feature for this place in time. Because we embrace most long-winded dialogue gasps in their entirety, it can accredit so much more to the kind of heavy performances that Weisz and Claflin offer throughout.

On the subject of those roles, Claflin and Weisz create vibrant, albeit treacherous music together, commanding the presence of the screen each time their intentions contrast those of the opposition. Claflin’s Phillip is very much a boy who becomes a man during this picture. His abilities to have seen the world have almost made him brash and slightly arrogant when it comes to returning to his homeland, but he is quickly humbled upon meeting his mysterious cousin. As a whole, Sam does a strong job portraying this character, but Phillip is written in such a way that doesn’t translate well with today’s modern males, and because of such, if you’re like me you will find Phillip to obnoxious and even a little cringe-worthy midway through the movie. As a protagonist, he folds like a cheap suit, and it’s easy to see who commands this mental chess game. That winner of course would be Weisz, who dons Rachel as this strong force despite her ever really having to get her hands dirty. So much of what makes you boil for Rachel is the way Weisz’s long and cold stares appear frequently throughout the movie, and you really get a sense that this is a character who knows how to get what she wants without much effort. Their blossoming romance is something that we as an audience know is bad news, but you won’t believe where these two prized actors take them right before the credits roll.

As a script, I commend “My Cousin Rachel” for evolving with each passing act that changes up the kind of dance that our two characters orchestrate. The first act is probably my personal favorite because it is during this time when they are strangers to one another, and feeling out the other one to understand their ulterior motives. I mentioned earlier that this turns into a mental chess game of sorts, and that’s an entirely accurate representation because there’s a power struggle early on when each character tries to one-up the other, and it leads to some pretty uncomfortable and awkward exchanges that simulate anger, sorrow, and vulnerability so uncanny. The second act switches it up once we start to see the vast change in Phillip’s demeanor towards Rachel, and suddenly we as an audience feel like we are on the wrong side of the moral coin, far from where we once stood in this fight. When you step back to soak it all in, you really have to appreciate the slow unraveling of this metaphorical poison that took over the room. The final act sets up a beautiful confrontation that does pay off….sort of. If you’re someone like me who appreciates the true irony of any situation, you’ll adore it. But if you’re someone who expects physicality in results, “My Cousin Rachel” might not leave you on the best of circumstances. Either way, the script lagged very little for me, and feels appropriate to close it out around the 100 minute mark.

THE VERDICT – “My Cousin Rachel” often tries to float a mystery that simply isn’t there. Even the most mind-wandering of film detectives will fish out the answers to this story long before our central protagonist has, and that’s perhaps the biggest hill to climb for Michell’s slice of sizzle and seduction. It’s a solid representation of its source material, mainly due to the dedicated performances of Claflin and an entrancing Weisz, who both dominate the screen time in getting across two polar opposite characters with the common bond of grief. It’s a stern reminder that where there is smoke, there is often fire, and this is one flame too hot to ignore.

6/10

The Lovers

The impending divorce of a bickering couple could be just what they need to once again be considered ‘The Lovers’. Written and directed by Azazel Jacobs, The Lovers is a refreshing, funny look at love, fidelity, and family, starring Debra Winger and Tracy Letts as a long-married and completely dispassionate husband and wife. Both are in the midst of serious affairs and are increasingly committed to their new adulterous partners. But on the brink of officially calling it quits, a spark between them suddenly and unexpectedly reignites, leading them into an impulsive romance that forces them to navigate the hilarious complications of “cheating” on their once respective lovers. A mixture of humor and powerful emotion, the story is a uniquely honest take on a modern open marriage. The Lovers is rated R for adult sexuality and language.

There’s plenty to be appreciated about Azazel Jacobs and the kind of emotional roller-coaster that his film “The Lovers” takes us on. Considering this is yet again another case where the trailer doesn’t depict anywhere near the kind of pacing or tone that the movie omits, there was enough from what does land in his deconstruction of a marriage to warrant a recommend from this critic. Do not be fooled, this isn’t anywhere close to being a cutesy romantic comedy, and instead speaks to the children-turned-grown-ups who themselves are a product of divorce. To say that there were many times during this film where I felt uneasy and slightly uncomfortable, is an understatement. Jacobs as a director opts for more of the organic sights and sounds surrounding a crippling marriage, instead of trying to create another Hollywood-influenced version of that. It’s commendable for authenticity, but that doesn’t mean it makes the most entertaining of sits, being that this film has more than a few weaknesses that will leave it on the shelf as a one-and-done viewing for the rest of my life.

First of all is the story. It’s refreshing and sometimes even surreal to see how Jacobs sets up his two protagonists on the roads that have led them in opposite directions. As the film begins, this practically feels like a silent picture, circa to the days of Charlie Chaplin, and a lot of that is because of the tension in the room between them that could easily be cut with a knife. There’s little musical accompaniment during this span, and I certainly preferred that as it allowed us to soak up all of the awkward exchanges that happen between them on a daily basis. We find out little about their history as the film goes on, just brief note-drops that help the audience on their own paint a picture that Azazel doesn’t feel is necessary with holding the hands of his viewers. I appreciated this approach, and it leaves the reasoning ambiguous and relatable for the concepts that couples break up for a variety of reasons. I found it funny how similar that their roads to infidelity were from scene-to-scene, but it did feel like a grinding halt each and every time I was ready to move on to the next scene. This is once again signaling the compromise of authenticity for entertainment that a brave director like Jacobs has no problem reaching for, and I think it paid off more times than not in terms of entertaining returns.

This movie also garners the ability to always keep us guessing, despite a trailer that hints at the first of three directions that the third act takes us on. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I say that our married couple do begin to have feelings for each other again, but it’s certainly not as easy as rolling the credits from there. In fact, I appreciated the durability and tenacity that this film had for pulling the wool over my eyes. Each and every time that I felt I had it pegged, I was surprised yet again, a rare feat considering in 2017 it feels like we have seen everything that the silver screen has to offer. As for the ending itself, I found its original take valuable, even if it feels like fan service at some points. During the third act, it’s clear that any attempts at a comedy are now flushed out the window, in favor of a dramatic pulse that overtakes us to goosebumps. The pacing of these scenes that do run slightly longer than necessary did have me reaching for my watch, but it all picks up by the finale that proved that love takes on so many angles in direction.

As for characters and performances, Letts and Winger toe the difficult task of emoting so much without much narration. This lack of clear direction is sometimes the flaw for the movie, but thankfully the undeniable chemistry between our two leads navigates us through some pretty murky waters midway through the film. There’s never a moment that I despise either of them, despite the fact that they are committing a hurtful deed against the other, but it’s in watching them grow together, as well as apart that makes their reunion that much more of a touching sentiment, because we feel that we have been with them all along. Beyond that, the rest of the material for the actors in the film is a bit limited, wasting very little effort to fully developing their characters. The affairs in question are portrayed by Melora Walters and Aiden Gillen, the latter of whom I am a big fan of. Sadly, the film doesn’t feel the need to make them deeper characters, and that’s unfortunate because I believe that doing so would’ve made the decision that much harder in the end not only for the married couple, but also the audience who could view the supporting characters as something more than “The other lover”. Far and away though, the weak spot of the acting is that of Tyler Ross as the couple’s only child. Listen, I don’t have anything against this guy, but his response is constantly poorly timed and overly-emotional for all of the wrong reasons. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing every time he got angry or stood up to his parents. Considering they are the cheaters here, it’s a testament to how bad Ross is every time I said in my head “Shut up kid, you’re too young to understand anything”.

THE VERDICT – The Lovers pertains two delightfully absorbing performance by that of Letts and Winger, as well as an awkwardly honest portrayal of the tank of love when it’s running near empty. Contrary to another misleading trailer, this is NOT the perfect date movie. This is a sour cautionary tale that elaborates on the concepts of what’s fun is fun and what’s done is done. Jacobs film does sometimes lack the consistency in pacing to keep his audience together as a whole, but as the film proves; you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, and The Lovers satisfied just enough in illustrating yet another layer to the idea of a happy ending.

6/10

Everything, Everything

The well-being of a terminally ill teenage girl could rest in the clutches of a newfound love with her next door neighbor, in ‘Everything, Everything’. Based on the Young Adult novel of the same name, the film centers around A 17 year old girl named Madeline Whittier (Amandla Stenberg), who has a rare disease that causes her to have to stay indoors 24/7 with her filtered air, free from the joys of adolescence . Her whole life is basically books, her mom Pauline (Anika Noni Rose), and her nurse Carla(Ana de la Reguera). One day, a moving truck pulls in next door. There she sees and meets Olly (Nick Robinson). Olly Bright is Maddy’s new neighbor. They get to know each other through emails. The more they get to know each other, the more they fall in love. Olly starts to make Maddy realize that she isn’t really living until she faces her fears and steps outside of the box. This starts the adventures of Maddy’s new life, stretching the stability of her fragile situation. Everything, Everything is directed by first time director Stella Meghie, and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief sensuality.

When a Young Adult novel is translated from page to screen, there’s usually a big sacrifice involved in the screenplay to chop and edit the lengthy exposition that favored the unlimited amount of time in pages. Everything, Everything doesn’t necessarily suffer from these kind of problems, but there is a certain feeling of description and pulse from the pages that I took away from this movie. Considering we get a Young Adult romance movie every year now since The Fault In Our Stars stole our hearts in the Summer of 2014, the imitators often feel exactly that; imitation. But Everything, Everything has a heart that beats efficiently well because of the chemistry that is harvested by its two youthful leads, as well as a script that amazes within the first two acts for its simplistic touch in transpiring screenplay. There is the case for usual laughably executed cliches that reside fondly in these kind of movies, but they all echo to that place in teenage romance that burn on the plateaus of awkwardness and embarrassment that we’ve all been through at one time or another during our first loves.

What I commend Stella Meghie for in sense of direction, especially considering this is her debut film, is that she captures the purity within this interracial relationship, and never uses it as a gimmick or a balancing act in the adversity between the two. Their love is very organic and radiant because of an element of innocence that resides within Maddie’s personality in particular. As the film continues on, you begin to see the transformation within her in terms of her living for the first time because of this slice of the outside that has so fondly tightened his grip around her daily routine. Never for a minute does this movie require to bait racial divides as a subplot within its rich exterior, and I can’t say enough great things about what that does for the maturity of the film, as well as the progression of where our still narrow-minded world paints this kind of picture, nearly twenty years into the 21st century. This should be a story first and foremost about the kind of physical obstacles that divide them, and thankfully the film has enough of these to really throw a few kinks into the emotional investments of each-and-every one of the audience watching the screen.

I mentioned before that the script stays quite simplistic, and it accomplishes this by focusing purely on the growing friendship-turned-relationship between Maddie and Olly. The introduction to the film does tell us what we need to know about Maddie’s condition, but the visuals of a secluded house that feels light years away from the outside world does more than enough to tell us about the fragile situation that this girl entails every single day. I found myself finding the first hour of the movie corny but cute, never for a second alienating its teenage audience who will shell out the bucks to see it. The chemistry between this duo intrigued me enough to where I felt that their relationship was the only thing that I needed to be entertained for an hour-and-a-half, even if it lacked complexity or depth with couples like Hazel and Augustus from The Fault In Our Stars. The second act ups the stakes slightly, as the duo take an exotic trip that really stretches the immunity of Maddie’s condition. We’re so glued and invested in their growing bond that we forget that at any moment this whole thing could crumble down around them, and surprisingly, the disease is the least of the problems for them moving forward.

To say that I didn’t fully understand the direction or the pacing of the final act is an understatement. For an hour, the film didn’t need obvious suspenseful tropes to be used to springboard the intrigue for this very film, and then in the last half hour, the whole story kind of gets flipped on its head with a plot twist that does stretch the boundaries of believability quite a bit. Even in the novel sense, this alteration in direction and tone for the movie does feel desperate with needing a dramatic pulse to close out the film. I mentioned the pacing a minute ago, and it feels like so much is crowded into this final half hour that you could’ve easily stretched this film to two hours, creating a fluent flow of sequencing that would at least give respect in time to these serious hurdles that often feels slighted over. It didn’t completely ruin the movie for me, but the flaws of cramming too much in and shattering the conveniences of conventionalism within this young romance, gave off the impression that two contrasting films were being pushed together to craft a Frankenstein monster that only has one leg to stand on.

As for the performances, nobody does a terrible job, but in the case of our two leads, it constantly felt that they were better whenever they were together. Separately, there’s just not enough material for any of them to take control of the screen. Most notably, Stenberg’s Maddie is the most versatile and commanding of the entire cast, and not just because she is in 95% of the scenes, but more so that this young phenom warms our hearts with a smile that could and often does light up a room. Together, Robinson and Stenberg show us what it means to be young and experience the single greatest emotion that elevates the both of them from their empty lives. I wish some more emphasis was used on Olly’s subplot with his abusive Father. I feel like this would’ve given Robinson the opportunity to equal his female counterpart, but as far as male protagonists go, Olly just isn’t given the screen time to make him truly memorable.

THE VERDICT – Everything, Everything has enough soul to go with its overwhelming heart, to make this truly one of the most splendid surprises of the Spring season. Between the dynamic duo of Steinberg and Robinson, as well as the majority of the script that depicts a feel good romance without stooping to levels of Nicholas Sparks, Meghie’s first sit in the directing chair is a rousing success that has the powerful push to steer beyond the sometimes eye-rolling dialogue and shoddy third act. Target audiences will swoon under a weeper that warmed the center of even this cold-hearted critic.

7/10

Song To Song

Two youthful couples face the positives and negatives of romance on the road, in Terrence Malick’s newest visual entrancement, ‘Song to Song’. In this modern love story set against the backdrop of the Austin, Texas music scene, two entangled couples; struggling songwriters Faye (Rooney Mara) and BV (Ryan Gosling), and music mogul producer Cook (Michael Fassbender) and the waitress whom he ensnares (Natalie Portman), chase success through a rock ‘n’ roll landscape of seduction and betrayal that will rock the foundations of each relationship and business bond. ‘Song to Song’ is written and directed by Terrence Malick, and is rated R for some sexuality, nudity, drug use and adult language.

FILM FREAK JOKE: How does Terrence Malick know when to end a movie? When he runs out of film.

‘Song to Song’, the latest from critically acclaimed and panned director Terrence Malick showcases everything that both crowds have come to love and hate, and will certainly offer nothing of groundbreaking alteration for each respective opinion. It’s a look at the music scene of Austin, Texas, with the same splashes of pretentious filmmaking that Malick has perfected into crafting one of the most unorthodox methods of camera work currently going. For me, Song to Song was a two hour endurance test that felt like I was climbing the steepest mountain, when others who joined me on the journey were falling along the way. At any given time, people will walk out of a movie. But when over half of the audience of eleven people get fed up with the lack of direction or narrative from where the story is heading, there’s a great problem on your hands. Add to the fact that I saw this movie at an art house theater and it only adds insult to injury when you consider the kinds of things that these particular audiences are used to sitting through. I myself came so close to making this only the second film that I have ever walked out of, not because it is the worst thing that I have ever seen, but because it often feels like you are watching a high-school kid aiming and shooting at the most random of occasions. It lacks any kind of structure for conceptual storytelling, and I don’t mean that as a rare breed kind of compliment. Song to Song is the worst film that I have seen in a three month old 2017 that has set the bar low so early on in the year. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

First of all is the story itself and lack of narration on-screen that stunted any kind of momentum or interest for the audience to engage in. As a storyteller, Malick would rather abide by the law of ‘tell but don’t show’, so a lot of the film’s sequences feel like jumbled pieces that don’t fit well together, signaling a trimming from a possibly much larger director’s cut that fills in the blanks from scenes that quickly become incoherent. The film’s four main cast members serve as narrators throughout the movie, but their lack of delivery with emphasis in the important subplots often feels like a blink and you will miss it kind of deal, as there were many points in this film where things switched up between romantic partners without very little warning or building. On top of this, Malick lacks any kind of dual or long-distance storytelling to pace out these four characters better. There are noticeable chunks in this movie where Gosling and Mara will disappear for twenty-five minutes, or Fassbender and Portman will vanish for thirty minutes. It hinders the boundaries of entertainment when we could use this period of breath between two protagonists to see what is going on with the other two, but this film is incapable of clicking and comparing the trials and tribulations of two couples equally to ever contrast the differences and similarities. As for long term, there is so much back-and-forth in this movie from where our characters begin and end. Everything feels like short instances instead of long breaths in the creative, so most of the material is throwaway for the plot that is such a small part of what this movie really centers on.

The visual presentation for the movie featured positives and negatives that both serve as glaring examples for their dependency on Malick’s signature style. The backdrops of Austin are gorgeous. This movie could’ve passed as being a video for A-list celebrities on vacation, but unfortunately that is one of the many missed opportunities. Malick certainly has a love and passion for this geography. There’s music, luxurious real estate, and sex….lots of sex for Terrence to oogle at. I’ve always been a way at how this director can frame a shot, opting to invade the space of his central characters to put us in the thick of their engagements. That never fades even in this movie. Terrence can point and shoot as well as anyone, but where there’s style, there better certainly be substance, and as I mentioned before, this film deprived me immensely of such a concept. Where the visuals negate to a fault is in the picture editing, which is among the most jarringly disastrous since Suicide Squad, and that’s saying a lot. Malick cuts far too often for even the most simple of exchanges, instead choosing to convolute something that is completely unnecessary for. There are many times in this film where questions will be asked by the current narrator of the scene, only to move on without any answer or reminder ever again. Imagine if someone told you a story like this; Mary is ten years old. Mary’s favorite food is……her favorite movie is……. One of the biggest problems that I think my audience had with this film was how jumpy everything felt. It keeps it from ever building any scene-to-scene momentum, and feels D.O.A early on in the picture.

Kudos to the trailer editor for this movie for somehow managing to take two hours of this dreary, dreadful film and crafting it into a story that anyone would be a sucker for. I certainly fell hook, line, and sinker for a trailer to a movie that I never got. I mean, the love story and the music is there, but this film’s visual style is constantly moving in slow motion, lacking any real energy to relate it to what feels so special about these people or this town. Lines of dialogue continuously take the long route each and every time to get to their destinations, most notably in Mara’s character, who is constantly brooding like she is in a Calvin Klein perfume commercial. After a while, the act gets stale, and the story could use any kind of stimulation to remind us of the importance of losing real, honest love. The screenplay continues to stomp over every detail that could’ve used appropriate time to soak up each detail, but instead slugs its way through pacing that practically doesn’t exist at all. The film feels like it lacks the three act structure from that of a typical screenplay, and instead exerts one continuous two hour act that drowns on like a funeral proceeding. The irony of which could be the foot in the grave that this director now has for the audience through this.

There’s not much to the performances, mostly because this well-stacked A-list cast is given so little to work with. It feels like Malick just turned the camera on for the four of them to say and do anything that they please, further adding to the celebrity vacation idea that I firmly planted in the previous paragraphs. The movie was shot over a five year period, so it’s funny to see hairstyles and even personal appearances vary as the movie goes on. It works well for the weathering of time, but does very little for visual continuity. Natalie Portman’s character is really the only character with any kind of gripping exposition, but she’s never given any kind of value in screen time to act her way through it. Fassbender is wasted. One of the very best actors in the world, and his character slouches in a dense fog of sexual addiction and alcohol that sideline him for a majority of the film. He’s nowhere near the important aspect that the trailer made him out to be. As for the two main characters, Gosling and Mara rarely insight a sense of magic that makes their union believable. There is certainly chemistry, but more believable as friends and not lovers, with the way they charmingly play around with each other. One cool aspect that the sound department does to relay the importance of the movie’s title, is that there is constantly some form of music playing around them when they are together. The idea of falling in love with someone and music always playing definitely came to mind here, and even if Malick can’t direct performances out of them, he at least sets the stage for a poetically beautiful confrontation that always kept my toes tapping where my heart wasn’t.

Whether hype or heart, Malick continues to polarize his reputation, conjuring up the very worst film to date that the once prosperous director has attached his name to. Song to Song is a disjointed, disheartening, and often times incoherent rambling of the director’s personal take on modern love. With some of the worst editing sequencing to hit the silver-screen, as well as hollow pacing that served as a dull exercise in patience, Terrence’s newest flub can’t find a screenplay to equally match its gorgeous cinematography. It’s a movie that feels like more of the same for a writer who has written himself into a corner of bland pretentiousness, hitting all of the wrong notes with musical monotony.

2/10