The Seagull

Directed by Michael Mayer

Starring – Elisabeth Moss, Saorise Ronan, Annette Bening

The Plot – An aging actress named Irina Arkadina (Bening) pays summer visits to her brother Pjotr Nikolayevich Sorin (Brian Dennehy) and her son Konstantin (Billy Howle) on a country estate. On one occasion, she brings Trigorin (Corey Stoll), a successful novelist, with her. Nina (Ronan), a free and innocent girl on a neighboring estate, falls in love with Boris Trigorin. As Trigorin lightly consumes and rejects Nina, as the actress all her life has consumed and rejected her son, who loves Nina. The victims are destroyed while the sophisticates continue on their way.

Rated PG-13 for some mature thematic elements, a scene of violence, drug use, and partial nudity

POSITIVES

– Feels very faithful to its stage presence. With the amount of scenes taking place in one desired setting, as well as the ever-changing characters that move in and out of frame, The Seagull easily feels like a play unfolding before our very eyes, blending the world of film and stage with the kind of ease that makes the transition seamless.

– Fresh, caustic wit. There’s a touch of polished humor to the awkwardness in 19th century lifestyles and philosophies that burns ever so delightfully from these characters, but particularly that of Bening and Moss. If it wasn’t for the dry deliveries of these leading ladies, I would’ve probably given up on this film much earlier than I rightfully should, but the sarcastic dark humor was the perfect compliment to keeping the attention span firm in hand.

– Outstanding wardrobe choices by Oscar winner Ann Roth. The dresses and gowns are a reflection of the post Victorian era, and the three layered suits adorned by the gentlemen of the cast feel casual without having to sacrifice eye-catching style in personality. It’s a constant reminder of the film’s dated setting that would otherwise slip through its fingers.

– This story continues to be a fortress of knowledge for the concepts of love and all of its brash circumstances. The Seagull is almost therapeutic in this regard, dissecting the many sensual feelings between these inter-weaving characters that is never requited from a single person in return. I find it interesting how Anton Chekhov, the play’s original author, was ahead of his time in this regards.

– Strong work all around from the entire cast, but this is Bening’s film for the taking. As one of the heads of this get-together, Bening’s Irina has a self-loving narcissism that is every bit as devilishly delightful as she is expressive. She’s someone who has no shame in making those around her feel miserable, and Bening obliges by eating up the scenery of every scene without being aware of her actions. She’s that character you just love to hate and hate to love, and end up rightfully somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.

– While the camera work and angles on display stay mostly grounded, there is one exception in the area of one-on-one confrontation. These occasions offer an ingenious use of point-of-view shooting that speak levels to those rare moments of intimacy between two characters who just can’t seem to get away from the overcrowded number of family and friends that surround them. This also takes us back to the stage setting that makes it feel like the characters are speaking directly to us.

NEGATIVES

– The stage version of this play often doesn’t run much longer than an hour, so the constant padding that adds very little to the script except fluff, over-exceeds the necessity in pushing this to the 93 minute finish time. For my money, I would be perfectly fine with keeping this film around the 80 minute mark, because sometimes the break in between the heart of this story keeps the ends few-and-far between.

– There’s a strange hybrid created between distinguished tone that the film harbors. The first half of the film is definitely a dark comedy, but the second half of the film elevates to drama, and my big problem with all of this is that the dramatic elements rarely have enough time in dedication to materialize, while the biggest positive of the film, the comedy, is gone all together. I would’ve preferred that Mayer built these varying directions simultaneously to feed the need of both sides of the audience.

– I felt that the film strongly lacked emotional connection with the audience. I blame a lot of this on the lack of complexity for the characatures of characters who rarely break apart from one another. Also problematic are the themes and movements of 19th century Russian literature not translating all that well to 2018. It’s obvious that this is a different time period all together, but the whole ‘Pretty white people with problems’ idea is something that audiences will find much difficulty investing empathy in.

– With a confusing and albeit incoherrent conclusion, the film’s ambiguous ending will feel like the latest in a series of missed opportunities from this adaptation. With the way the final scenes are edited, there’s an air of dishonesty to Cherkhov’s writing that always capitalized on sharp pencil consequences. Without the bravery or desire to send us home shocked, the film leaks air all the way to the anti-climatic conclusion.

6/10

Adrift

Directed by Baltasar Kormakur

Starring – Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, Grace Palmer

The Plot – Based on the inspiring true story of two free spirits whose chance encounter leads them first to love, and then to the adventure of a lifetime. As the two avid sailors set out on a journey across the ocean, Tami Oldham (Woodley) and Richard Sharp (Claflin) couldn’t anticipate they would be sailing directly into one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded history. In the aftermath of the storm, Tami awakens to find Richard badly injured and their boat in ruins. With no hope for rescue, Tami must find the strength and determination to save herself and the only man she has ever loved. Adrift is the unforgettable story about the resilience of the human spirit and the transcendent power of love.

Rated PG-13 for injury images, peril, adult language, brief drug use, partial nudity and thematic elements

POSITIVES

– Above all else on the production side, it’s great to see a film where the female of the relationship is the one making moves to secure their safety. What makes Woodley’s portrayal of Tami work more than anything is the resilience and determination in her spirit that keeps her drive going, all the while the vulnerability from being inexperienced in this particular situation speaks levels to the overbearing volume of being isolated.

– On the performance front, this is clearly a two person show between Woodley and Claflin that offers mixed results. I don’t have a problem with Claflin as an actor, but here he is kind of subdued to play second fiddle to Woodley, and because of such, his endless charm and charisma that he has exerted in films like The Hunger Games saga, and Me Before You is virtually non-existent. The chemistry between them still burns the end of the wick, and a lot of that is because of Woodley’s transformative and physical displays of strength that left me awestruck. It’s great to see her get these kind of roles, because she really dedicates herself to the most brutal kind of physicality that each role demands, and I commend her iron will not only to survive but to save the one thing in this world that makes sense to her.

– This film is shot beautifully by Robert Richardson, who really paints an immense, yet immerse picture of the sea that feels never-ending. It’s quite interesting because Robert shoots these tight-knit, but revolving pan shots inside of the boat, replicating the movements of the sea ferociously. Yet his depiction of the world outside of the dock depicts the sheer magnitude of the situation unfolding before this couple that are certainly on borrowed time.

– I feel like Adrift taught me more about the sea than any other sea-based film of the previous ten years. Instances of paranoia, mental stress creating mirages, and even means of survival are all highlighted with the kind of detail that other films can’t even mention. Because of such, this is so much more than an entertaining film, it’s a surreal film for those who spend so much time in the water.

– The screenplay uses a dual narrative between two respective timelines to paint a picture of this relationship, and while I’m usually against this sort of thing because it over-complicates for no reason what so ever, I feel like Kormakur paints enough information in both time periods to make its incorporation necessary to fit into a 95 minute film. Spending too much time in either period would drag, but to do it simultaneously, you constantly keep the energy of the script moving while bringing out the importance of each hinted backstory.

– During the age of Green-screen backdrops and computer generated effects, it was refreshing to see a film shot almost entirely at sea, proving the dedication associated with getting the look and feel proper. The crew shot 90% of the movie at sea, working 12 hours on water with little to no land in sight, and it’s those kind of production notes that show in the bigger picture of a film’s authenticity.

– There’s something almost poetic about a disaster movie mentally moving its audience without the necessities of big budget blockbuster to push its gimmick. To me, the storm always feels secondary to what is taking place on-board, and that’s a sure sign that Baltasar believed even more in the characters than he did their ensuing predicaments.

NEGATIVES

– Compromising first shot. The opening shot of the film will divide audiences into two groups. If you understand what this means right away like I did, then the film will feel very predictable every step of the way. There’s a big twist that happens at the beginning of the film’s third act that I actually saw coming from a mile away, and felt disappointed because the opening minute of the movie, as well as a few scenes of shoddy dialogue that further hint at this point, gave me the answer I wasn’t looking for.

– There’s never a pushing for urgency here, despite that the two characters mention how limited their rations for food are. The whole stranded aspect of this film feels more like a temporary hiccup instead of a life-threatening plunge, and because of such, the film’s dramatic tension sinks about midway through the movie. For my money, I could’ve used more danger in the way of streaky weather patterns, or even long-term frailty that lasted longer than a scene.

– Limited character exposition. It’s funny to think how little we really know about these two characters despite the fact that we spend nearly two hours with them on a boat. Woodley’s character for instance speaks of trouble at her home back in San Diego, but we never learn much of why. For Claflin’s character, we hear about his family in England, as well as time sailing in other countries, but that’s just table dressing that is never touched or devoured upon. It’s a testament to the performances that the chemistry of this relationship even works, because I feel like this is watching two strangers speaking on the importance of their love without understanding why.

7/10

Book Club

Directed by Bill Holderman

Starring – Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen

The Plot – Diane (Keaton) is recently widowed after 40 years of marriage. Vivian (Fonda) enjoys her men with no strings attached. Sharon (Bergen) is still working through a decades-old divorce. Carol’s (Mary Steenburgen) marriage is in a slump after 35 years. Four lifelong friends’ lives are turned upside down to hilarious ends when their book club tackles the infamous ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. From discovering new romance to rekindling old flames, they inspire each other to make their next chapter the best chapter.

Rated PG-13 for sexual related material throughout and adult language

POSITIVES

– While the material and thinly written script does them little favors, the chemistry and bond of the four leading ladies captures our attention and holds it for 99 minutes. For my money, Fonda and Bergen are the scene-stealers, emoting through the 70-plus dating scene with the kind of awkward hilarity that eases us into our seats. This is a film first-and-foremost about friendship, and that union between these four women smash through the brick walls put up so frequently in this screenplay that tries to cut their star power down.

– From a romance perspective, I think that this is a surprisingly good date movie for any age demographic. What helps is that each relationship represented in the film is a different degree of the relationship spectrum that can represent any of us. Even for a single guy like myself, there was tons of relatable content included that made me respect the fact that some relationships in this world (Like real life) just don’t work out.

– This film of course centers around the Fifty Shades of Grey books, and thankfully the film takes a responsible course of direction not only with how much time it devotes to it, but also with translating that to the majority of women who read it. Because of the ups and downs of these women, it feels like the film is trying to tell us that real life is anything but a fantasy novel, and that success in love takes great work. On top of it, the ladies laugh at the ridiculous lines of dialogue in the books, so bonus points there.

– On the clutches of recently disappointing Mother’s Day cinema that perhaps tried too hard, it’s great to see a film that succeeds at female empowerment, and does so because of its relaxing set-up. Like a basic book club of it’s own, this is full-proof cinema for the fine wine females in the audience who are looking to laugh, love, and drink for two hours. Because of this, ‘Book Club’ out-Meyers Nancy Meyers.

– Considering there are four different arcs to follow throughout the film, Holderman does a surprisingly fine job at holding our interest while throwing a few curveballs for conflict along the way. The biggest problem in time-sharing films like this are equaling the playing field for each of the leads, and there was never a point when one direction stuck out as superior than the rest.

NEGATIVES

– This definitely feels the strain of being a two-writer project considering how uneven the screenplay is. For my money, the first half of the movie is definitely the strength, playing into almost a self-parody kind of angle within this world of romantic dreamers. But it’s in the second half of the film where all prior momentum is sacrificed for these predictable motions that keep it from ever elevating away from something vanilla. It puts away its humor muscle in favor of a romantic cliche film, and limits us from ever finding out what could’ve been had they pushed the envelope just a little bit further.

– I never expected to be talking about horrendous green-screen in a romantic comedy, but ‘Book Club’ has surprised even a critic who sees over 200 films a year. I get that this is a cheap production (10 million), but considering the rendering of the landscapes are hollow and lack such rendering, it sticks out like the sorest of thumbs that is very much distracting the progression of important love angles.

– There’s an unshakeable sense of sitcom humor that overwhelms us at every turn. That’s not to say that the humor doesn’t work occasionally, because I did laugh, but rather that it just all feels timed and telegraphed in the way that never comes across as natural. The only thing missing from the film was a laugh track telling you when to laugh.

– In addition to what I just said about the sense of humor, the film’s writers tend to reach for the juvenile, shoving unnecessary immaturity down our throats far too often. Craig T. Nelson speaks of his motorcycle with sexual overtones, the ladies themselves can’t finish a sentence without nearly muttering “That’s what she said”, and it all just reeks of desperation. These were the only times during the film when I was truly angry at what I was watching, because this cast is just too classy and above material that you would hear in an ‘American Pie’ sequel.

– The lighting puts certain scenes out of focus, and it’s baffling to me the lack of care in keeping these cuts in the finished product. On the big screen, this felt as obvious as a screaming baby, so maybe watching it on a television is the way to go with this one. Sadly, that thought process does little for the overall success of the picture.

5/10

Disobedience

Directed by Sebastian Lelio

Starring – Rachel McAdams, Rachel Weisz, Alessandro Nivola

The Plot – Based on the novel of the same name by Naomi Alderman, the film follows Ronit (Weisz), a woman returning to the community that shunned her decades earlier for an attraction to her childhood friend, Esti (McAdams). Once back, their passions reignite as they explore the boundaries of faith and sexuality that test everything else in their lives.

Rated R for some strong scenes of sexuality.

POSITIVES

– Subtle, patient storytelling by McAdams and Weisz that meticulously fills in the blanks of their reputation together. Most of this respect goes to Lelio in telling the story that doesn’t require a single flashback sequence or forced dialogue that doesn’t drift from anything other than a conversation between friends.

– Strong performances. Even though I didn’t feel the romantic chemistry between McAdams and Weisz as strongly as the film intended, the stripped down work of them trigger such authentic feelings of longing, torture and regret that have shaped their lives over the years. In this regard, the two women sink back into their union without a single day ever having an effect on it.

– Callous, grey cinematography by Danny Cohen that reflects not only the centuries old philosophy of the Jewish Orthodox, but also in the feeling of incomplete that is hard to ignore from the two leads. It feels like Cohen has brought along the same look and feels of his award-worthy work in ‘Les Miserables’, clouding the air like a poison that plagues this super conservative community.

– It’s nice to see an honest representation of the ages-old rules and lifestyles of the Jewish Faith. I fail to think of a film that has accurately shaped some of the marriage and sexual agreements between husband and wife that feel medieval or archaic when compared to today’s progressive standards. Quite often in the film, I felt like this movie took place in a different decade, but was quickly brought back down to Earth when technology or a dated automobile appeared.

– Lelio is a craftsman’s director at speaking out against causes that he fully believes in. As the director of this year’s ‘A Fantastic Woman’, Lelio goes two-for-two with films that capture the polarization of women deemed different by society, and omitting the prejudice that comes with those candid takes that could otherwise only be done by a woman. Sebastian is that great male hope of sensitivity.

– From the fabulous costume work to the musically enhanced Jewish hymns, this is a educationally subversive look of Jewish faith and traditionalism.

– Excellent camera work in angles and framing that shapeshift with the progression of the inter-changing relationships in the film. In the first half of the film, Ronit feels very much alone in her respective point-of-view, but as the film carries on we start to notice a lot more close distance in frame between her and Esti, as opposed to everyone else that just doesn’t factor in. This is visual poetry at its finest.

NEGATIVES

– I never felt the pull from Esti’s compromising situation to combat Ronit’s feelings of passion for her. What I mean is that it feels like Esti’s life is very much one of planned routine, so the struggle for which way to go ultimately underwhelms and feels obvious from the beginning. I wish the script would’ve done a better job of applying her stability and married happiness into frame to make the choice feel much more difficult.

– Sloppy first act that sometimes feels like scenes are missing. The death of Ronit’s father in particular feels lacking of definition, and I could’ve used more emphasis on the delivering impact of the moment.

– The third act developments give the film enough gas to sludge through, but it greatly takes away steam from the conflict at hand. While I overall didn’t care for the tacked-on sequencing of the film’s ending, that wasn’t the biggest problem. It almost feels like when the film’s conflict should be reaching its boiling high, we begin to simmer down into complacency, and that doubt from within suddenly creeps in that this is as good as it’s ever going to get.

7/10

Overboard (2018)

Directed by Bob Fisher and Rob Greenburg

Starring – Anna Faris, Eva Longoria, Eugenio Derbez

The Plot – In a splashy new twist, Overboard focuses on Leonardo (Derbez), a selfish, spoiled, rich playboy from Mexico’s richest family and Kate (Faris), a working class single mom of three hired to clean Leonardo’s luxury yacht. After unjustly firing Kate and refusing to pay her, Leonardo falls overboard when partying too hard and wakes up on the Oregon coast with amnesia. Kate shows up at the hospital and, to get payback, convinces Leonardo he is her husband and puts him to work – for the first time in his life. At first miserable and inept, Leonardo slowly settles in. Eventually he earns the respect of his new “family” and co-workers. But, with Leonardo’s billionaire family hot on their trail and the possibility of his memory returning at any moment, will their new family last or will Leonardo finally put the clues together and leave them for good?

Rated PG-13 for suggestive material, partial nudity, and some adult language

POSITIVES

– While the comedy is dragged down by the undertow of witless humor, the film surprisingly has a strong sentimental muscle that sets the stage for a more dramatic instilled second half. The film has a slow-but-steady way of drawing this family together as one cohesive unit, paving the way for some scenes during the final act that will surely tug at your heartstrings.

– The performances are 50/50 at best, but at the heart of the top is Derbez’s mumbling and almost child-like innocence that serves as the perfect vehicle for the direction this remake is headed. As to where his chemistry with Faris is a bit lacking, Eugenio more than makes up for it by taking overwhelming control of the majority of this film, making it easier to ride through the sludge of some long dry periods of script.

– I found it interesting that while this is being billed as a remake, the events of the original film have taken place in this world. There’s a brief but noticeable mention of a similar event taken place thirty years prior, and I commend the film for addressing the elephant in the room that most movies won’t even touch.

– Despite the fact that the final ten minutes are almost exactly the same as the original movie, the rest of the film does in fact pave its own road without reliance on a property that has already proven itself. This incarnation of ‘Overboard’ might not reach the entertaining levels of that original movie, but it also spins a modern quality about it that makes it entirely more believable.

– Reversing the roles in this instance shows a satisfying side of single mom workload that is rarely capitalized on this film. Because of Faris’s age, as well as the iron woman schedule that she burns through daily, it’s much easier to empathize with her character over 87’s Kurt Russell because for the most part she has a tight cap on holding down the responsibilities better. With Mother’s Day coming next weekend, this is surprisingly a recommend for the moviegoers going to the theater for the holiday.

NEGATIVES

– This musical score from composer Lyle Workman is atrocious. I say that with the most kindness that I can muster because it is every bit as repetitive as it is horrifying on the ear buds the every ten minutes it pops up. I can only compare it to a group of ghost ghouls slowly trying to BOO!! everyone they come in to contact with. It’s completely out of context for this kind of film and served as a form of mental abuse every time a transition sequence was happening.

– As to where the film isn’t as offensive morally as the original movie, including a Mexican character in the scenario doesn’t exactly quiet a new fear. Considering Derbez is being held against his will to do work on a household that he doesn’t own, that blaring voice inside my head couldn’t help but scream at how wrong this looks on a race level as well.

– There is absolutely no reason for this film to be approaching the two hour runtime. Considering there is no shortage of one-off gags and supporting cast characters that add absolutely nothing to this film, it’s easy to see where the fat can be trimmed. One such instance involves Faris’s mother (Played by Swoosie Kurtz) occasionally popping up to tell us about an out-of-state gig in which she is performing on stage. I still don’t understand why this subplot needed including or what it even added to the film. Beyond this, there are four different endings for the film, including a credits scene that drags on for far too long.

– I mentioned earlier that the performances are 50/50 at best, and a lot of the negative circumstance to that statement unfortunately involves the other lead, played by Anna Faris. As a usual scene-stealer, Faris can command the attention with ease, so it leaves me baffled why this film fumbles away the use and talents of one of the very best female comedic talents working today. Her character goes long spans without making an impact on the story, and she constantly feels like she’s working carefully behind Derbez, so not to overshadow him.

– Is it worse to try and fail horribly or to not try at all? ‘Overboard’ answers this question for 110 minutes, underwhelming repeatedly. For the first half of the movie, the comic muscle is so easy to ignore because of the lack of confidence that the two leads have in delivering them. Yet the second half of the film elevates itself to a family drama, ignoring the laughs completely. I don’t have an answer yet, but considering I only laughed once at the entirety of this film, it made for one of the more dry comedy sits that I have had in a long time. A big bruise on a film that is comedy first.

5/10

I Feel Pretty

Directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein

Starring – Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Emily Ratajkowski

The Plot – a woman (Schumer) who struggles with feelings of deep insecurity and low self-esteem, that hold her back everyday, wakes from a brutal fall in an exercise class believing she is suddenly a supermodel. With this newfound confidence she is empowered to live her life fearlessly and flawlessly, but what will happen when she realizes her appearance never changed?

Rated PG-13 for sexual material involving brief nudity, and adult language

POSITIVES

– While the overall soundtrack feels a bit too topical for the particular scenes that they are deposited in, the film’s musical score from composer Michael Andrews surrounds us with a New Wave homage to 80’s John Hughes flicks. The soft listening tones are the first attempt at elevating this comedy into something more, and Andrews precision with the keys gives a gentle touch to a screenplay so vain.

– Whenever you get a comedy starring a comedian, you can bet that they will bring along their friends, and this film is no exception. Along the way, I spotted Nikki Glaser, Dave Attell, and plenty others that have played pivotal roles and blossoming friendships to Schumer’s rising stardom.

– A couple of noteworthy performances. Schumer actually gets a chance to develop some dramatic muscle here. Her empathetic range rises leaps and bounds above a script that is trying everything in its power to get you to hate her, but Amy proves that she can make you love just as much as she can make you laugh. In addition to Schumer, Williams steals the show as a bimbo-type executive that totally re-shaped the boundaries of Williams greatness. This is an Oscar nominated actress, so to see her commit to a character so opposite of her own personality, is only a shining example of her at her best. The vocal tones that she omitted for this role were so different from anything that I ever heard from her that I thought the film inserted some terribly awful A.D.R for her mouth to mimic.

– My favorite part of the film is definitely the romance between Schumer and Rory Scovel’s characters, and a lot of that centers around it feeling like the balancing act to so much superficiality that surrounds them. If only this magic had more time to materialize, then the importance to its meaning wouldn’t feel so forced during the third act.

NEGATIVES

– We all see the comparisons between this and 2001’s ‘Shallow Hal’, but the script outline feels almost like an unflattering form of plagiarizing. Scenes and progression mirror that of the predecessor, and while Hal isn’t a film that I would recommend to anyone for moral fiber, I can say that its heart beats twice as strong as Kohn’s diluted effort for the commentary it holds on the real world.

– The comedy misfires far too often. Considering most of the humor in the film deals with embarrassing Schumer’s character, I found myself feeling dirty or callous for even attempting the laugh towards it. Sometimes the right timing is accomplished, but often you forget that this film is a comedy first, and I blame that on the passing time between laughs that will have you checking your watch.

– Speaking of time, the endurance test of pacing in this film starts to show its hand by early on in the third act, when predictability feels evident. There are no fewer than three times during the final twenty minutes when this film could easily end, but the persistence in building to a memorable, self-conscious ending takes center stage above all else in making these 105 minutes feel like half of that.

– As a screenwriter, Kohn also feels inspired in elevating her comedy into a drama or romantic comedy level, similar to what Judd Apatow has perfected with films like ‘Trainwreck’ or ‘This is 40’. Where this fails is in the resistance in letting go of the bumbling humor escapades that do it no favors in harvesting inspiring moments to pull from. ‘I Feel Pretty’ could’ve easily been the female renaissance film of 2018, speaking levels to the kind of insecurities that all women face, but instead it only goes skin deep in its dive, sticking to the shallow waters of social standing in pursuing its merit.

– Much of the camera angles made me moan to the point that they lacked originality in their depiction. As I mentioned before, you get the sense that this is trying so desperately to be a rom-com, and the camera movements around our two love interests feel contrived and redundant from every 90’s film of the genre that you have ever seen. I found myself actually predicting how the camera was going to shift during certain scenes, creating what may be the best underground drinking game that will soon take over the world.

– That ending reeks. Even Schumer has been quoted in tabloids for how much the ending simply does not fit into this film, and I have to agree with the leading lady. For one, a cosmetics company whose whole campaign is dividing women, feels very contradictory to the film’s message that is hammered home with the subtlety of a sledgehammer driving through a brick wall. As well, the ideal that women need cosmetics in finding the inner beauty from within, gives me a feeling of nausea so deep within that I wanted to condemn this film from being seen by any of my female readers.

4/10

The Leisure Seeker

Directed by Paolo Virzi

Starring – Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland, Christian McKay

The Plot – A runaway couple go on an unforgettable journey in the faithful old RV they call The Leisure Seeker, traveling from Boston to The Ernest Hemingway Home in Key West. They recapture their passion for life and their love for each other on a road trip that provides revelation and surprise right up to the very end.

Rated R for some sexual material

THE POSITIVES

– Like any enduring road trip, you at least get to see some beautiful scenery, and ‘The Leisure Seeker’ certainly continues this feat. Through a vast change in agriculture, we see plenty of on-screen representation from the east coast, all the way down to the southside of the Orange State, providing plenty of detail to showcase with Virzi’s competent hands behind the camera.

– The magic of Mirren and Sutherland radiate tenfold throughout their journey across the open road. Through each’s unapologetically honest depiction of the married life, we embrace two people who have spent too much time together, but would certainly be lost without the command of the other.

– I myself am someone who has dealt with the crippling side of dementia with my own family, and the depiction in Virzi’s film certainly provides the emphasis needed in understanding the dire of the situation. This disease not only shapes the person plagued by it, but also the entirety of everyone around them, and that is perhaps the one side to this film that I greatly respected.

THE NEGATIVES

– There’s often not enough of a stance on humor versus drama that clearly navigates us through this tone deaf screenplay.

– The film feels like it is around twenty minutes too long, leading to many tedious and often repetitive scenario’s that could’ve easily been left on the cutting room floor.

– Throughout the film, there’s a hinting of an almost bigger picture that will inevitably be waiting for us at the end of the road, but it never materializes into anything that feels satisfying for taking the journey. More on that ending in just a second.

– I certainly get the point of the political subplot instilled from the Summer of 2016, at the heart of Trump versus Clinton, but far too often it feels irrelevant with finding an identity of its own in this kind of picture. Is it telling us that this couple isn’t made for this newfound world?? Is it there to poke fun at the uninformed people who foolishly voted for one side or another?? I feel like we never find out, and it ends up being nothing more than a scene or two for the audience to roll their eyes at.

– Far too predictable in its entirety, except for the unnecessary twist midway through that leaves a lasting impression for all of the wrong reasons. The heartfelt sentiment is soured in favor of a late act development that feels like a betrayal on everything we’ve learned up to that point.

– Much of the child subplot is forgotten during the second half of the film. Where I feel this was important in inclusion is because it offered a satisfying contrast to the repetition of Mirren and Sutherland’s story that I mentioned earlier for getting repetitive. It felt great to learn more about these lead characters from the people who knew them best, but their time is sparse, and that’s a major shame.

– Some endings work well on paper but don’t translate as strongly to screen, and that is the case here. While the film is faithful to the novel of the same name, that doesn’t mean that it’s the right move in terms of leaving people with the impression that they witnessed a satisfying conclusion. Not only did this ending alienate me in terms of any small positives that I had left for the film, but it also soiled the integrity of the characters who clearly didn’t think of anyone but themselves in these concluding moments.

3/10

Midnight Sun

Directed By Scott Speer

Starring – Bella Thorne, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Rob Riggle

The Plot – Based on the Japanese film, ‘Midnight Sun’ centers on Katie (Thorne), a 17-year-old sheltered since childhood and confined to her house during the day by a rare disease that makes even the smallest amount of sunlight deadly. Fate intervenes when she meets Charlie (Schwarzenegger) and they embark on a summer romance.

Rated PG-13 for some teen partying and sensuality

THE POSITIVES

– Rob Riggle is surprisingly the emotional pulse of this film, putting aside the jokester gig for one night to play a compassionate father whose only gift left in life is someone so fragile. I would love to see Rob do more dramatic work, as I feel his comedic schtick has worn itself thin. ‘Midnight Sun’ gives hope to my request.

– The film does take the time necessary to see life through Katie’s eyes living it for the firs time. It is the lone time that I felt invested in her character, and does wonders for tugging at the heartstrings of the true tragedy of the situation for a life wasted behind closed doors.

– Much of the film’s ending did anger me because of the mindless character choices being made to manipulate audience into feeling something, but I have to give credit to a movie that decides to go all the way in committing itself even if it alienates some of its audience.

THE NEGATIVES

– Continuity errors like Bella Thorne’s hair going from dark red to strawberry blonde in one scene to the next, as well as her best friend in the film (Played by Quinn Shephard) who uses two different cell phones during the course of the film. Considering the movie takes place over what feels like a month, I’m going to say the latter isn’t because she’s clumsy with her possessions.

– In regards to one consequential scene, never at any place or time in the world does the sun come up at 4:50 AM.

– There is absolutely zero chemistry between the two leads. Much of this can be blamed on clunky dialogue that is so obviously written by adults who don’t interact with teenagers. However, the stone cold monotonous deliveries by Thorne and Schwarzenegger also feed into this glaring aspect. When the daughter of the film has more chemistry with her father than she does the object of her affection, problems tend to arise.

– The film doesn’t exactly present the most accurate portrayal of XP. Victims can in fact go outside for limited amounts of time with covering clothing. In the educating department, ‘Midnight Sun’ never takes the time to elaborate on the condition beyond its manipulation of the one thing about the disease that everybody knows, and even that is stretched thin.

– Obvious foreshadowing. The first act of this film might as well be labeled in the script SPOILERS SPOILERS because there’s so much transparency in what the writers want you to know about details that will eventually pop up later. This wouldn’t be a problem if it were slid in carefully, but so much of the rules of these characters and their respective positions come out of nowhere, sticking out like a sore thumb in a mind-field of tacked on exposition.

– If there’s one thing that Speer as a director doesn’t have a handle on, it’s bringing out the required reactions in each scene. For instance, there are several scenes during the film that present these quick cuts of Riggle’s character reacting to the changes in Katie’s life, and it omits a kind of gloomy and almost jealous lover vibe that made me wince from the unnecessary pressure.

– As for the pacing, the film feels like it stretches the material even at a measly 85 minutes. Much of this is attributed to scenes that never last longer than two minutes, and often never feel like one cohesive unit that continues to build momentum. The most basic of outlines feels persistent here, limiting the chances it takes in keeping us entertained.

3/10

Every Day

Directed by Michael Sucsy

Starring – Angourie Rice, Justice Smith, Maria Bello

The Plot – Based on David Levithan’s acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Every Day tells the story of Rhiannon (Rice), a 16-year old girl who falls in love with a mysterious soul named “A” who inhabits a different body every day. Feeling an unmatched connection, Rhiannon and A work each day to find each other, not knowing what or who the next day will bring. The more the two fall in love, the more the realities of loving someone who is a different person every 24 hours takes a toll, leaving Rhiannon and “A” to face the hardest decision either has ever had to make

Rated PG-13 for thematic content, adult language, teen drinking, and suggestive material

THE POSITIVES

– No matter how ridiculous in concept, I do enjoy a film that takes an idea in plot and can at least have fun with it. There are several attempts at humor when it comes to this spirit inhabiting these bodies that occasionally gave me a light chuckle to the unfolding absurdity.

– Angourie Rice proves that she might be one of those few child stars who makes the transition seamlessly to adult actor. Here, Rice is the dominant focus for the film, and through that majority of time spent with her we are treated to an emotional register for how complicated adolescence can truly be. Everyone else in the film was disposable, but she gave me levels of substance that I greatly appreciated.

– Soft lens kind of cinematography that articulately channels indie romance flicks beautifully. This graduates the source material from a young adult origin to a mature adaptation before our very eyes.

– I am so thankful that the final ten minutes of the film addressed many of the problems that I had with where this romance is going. For instance, what if Rhiannon gets pregnant someday? What if people see her with a new man or woman every day? What if a body is taken over by A that is suicidal? The film not only explores these ideas, but does so in a way that feels responsible to the ending.

– Any chance where I get to hear that 80’s reminiscent sounds of The The’s ‘This is the Day’ is a pleasure-filled delight. This song not only slyly winks at the film’s unfolding events, but also serves as a meaningful way for Rhiannon to distinguish who is A.

THE NEGATIVES

– The film’s beginning almost feels like we’ve stumbled upon a film that has begun with another film already in progress. I say this because much of the initial first few scenes proceed with very little exposition for those of us in the audience who haven’t read the novel. It threw me off because I always expect the introductions to either explain the character’s curse, or at least indulge us in getting to know its main characters, but neither of those happen in this forced beginning.

– This script has several one-off scenes that add nothing of substance to the remainder. Things like Rhiannon’s Mom randomly coming to her room to have a talk, and then deciding against it, could easily be left on the cutting room floor. They are scenes that are never further elaborated on, and feel more like unnecessary padding to push this 90 minute agenda.

– It’s my opinion that this film is following the wrong person. Rice’s performance is solid, yes, but the whole idea of the film is about A, so why does he/she constantly feel like a shadow in his own movie?

– I can appreciate a film that speaks to the spiritual side of love and not the physical side of it, but that theme is slightly difficult to believe when 95% of the bodies that A inhabits are cute teenagers of the Banana Republic catalogue type. Even when it turns out to be a woman, there’s very little physical interaction in the same way that Rhiannon feels when she gets a strapping young lad.

– Does it freak anyone else out that Rhiannon is having sexual relations with people’s bodies without their consent? Quite a tough sell indeed.

5/10

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Directed by Paul McGuigan

Starring – Jamie Bell, Annette Bening, Julie Walters

The Plot – Based on Peter Turner’s memoir, the film follows the playful but passionate relationship between Turner (Bell) and the eccentric Academy Award winning actress Gloria Grahame (Bening) in 1978 Liverpool. What starts as a vibrant affair between a legendary femme fatale and her young lover quickly grows into a deeper relationship, with Turner being the person Gloria turns to for comfort. Their passion and lust for life is tested to the limits by events beyond their control.

Rated R for adult language, some sexual content and brief nudity

THE POSITIVES

– Subliminal truth in advertising. Intentionally fake backdrops and landscapes are used signify not only that particular starlet era of film, but also that the two leads are the only real thing in the other person’s eyes. Beyond this, the film’s actual setting too plays a prominent role. Liverpool, England has always felt like a town that is frozen in time, depicted here with vintage wartime posters and outdated housing detail that feels aged even for the 80’s. This makes the perfect setting in film for two people trying to clear the hurdle of their dramatic age gap. They too have frozen the scope of time.

– Contrasting interpretations. Interestingly enough, the couple visually transcends their difference in age when alone, feeling like two kids who have their whole lives ahead of them, yet when they are out and about with other people, that blurred vision caters to reality and we see them how everyone else does.

– It’s no surprise that Bening steals the show, but as Grahame she sets back the hands of time, juggling the personality of this tender woman with seeds of pep to grow around her otherwise garden of despair. Through a life of heartache in and out of the business, Bening channels an inhabited child of sorts as this free spirit who lives by her own rules.

– The parallels between love and film seem striking. Both hang their prominence respectively on the importance of age, but it only takes one desirable gig to feel inspired again.

– At times, the camera moves between Turner and Gloria like a dreamy tiptoe through the rise and fall of two kindred spirits. This is a visual representation for love’s first steps, feeling like an infinite honeymoon period that never relents.

– Exceptional slow pan long take shots that made for some of my absolute favorite scenes in the film. In leaving the camera running, McGuigan trusts his dual leads in visually encompassing the kind of pain and heartache that comes with love on the rocks, never feeling shy with getting front and center with such anguish.

THE NEGATIVES

– Rough and jagged transition scenes between two timelines that rarely gets distinguished with confidence.

– While the chemistry of Bell and Bening is certainly there, the film misses out on the chance to sizzle the seduction. At times, it can feel like a rushed and undercooked slab of meat that doesn’t satisfy our palate.

– It’s somewhat appropriate that a film that reminds us of the many actresses that constantly overshadowed Gloria also shelves her as the supporting role to Bell’s narrative command. This is a major mistake because we often only see the problems and don’t get to indulge in falling in love with her the same way Turner does.

– Inconsistent pacing especially during the second half of the film. The plodding alone made me wish that twenty minutes was trimmed from this 101 minute film, but in doing so we would lose what little exposition we fought so hard to gain with these two. This ultimately leaves the script with the feeling of being written into a corner.

6/10

Fifty Shades Freed

Directed by James Foley

Starring – Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Arielle Kebbel

The Plot – Believing they have left behind shadowy figures from their past, newlyweds Christian (Dornan) and Ana (Johnson) fully embrace an inextricable connection and shared life of luxury. But just as she steps into her role as Mrs. Grey and he relaxes into an unfamiliar stability, new threats could jeopardize their happy ending before it even begins.

Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, and adult language

THE POSITIVES

– This film at least knows that its material is thin, and because of such takes a step back from the two hour flicks of the previous two installments and makes this an appreciated 96 minutes.

– The series continues to be a beautifully shot one, coveting within it a barrage of landscape porn and elegant lighting design in overall cinematography by John Schwartzman. This at least immerses us into this world of rich tastes that visually seduce you in the same way they do Anastasia.

THE NEGATIVES

– Not a single credible performance amongst the bunch. Even Dornan, who proved his worth in 2016’s ‘Anthropoid’, feels in a rush to elude himself from the Grey persona for the future of his promising career. Everything feels very phoned in at this point, never straying far or improvising away from the plot points of a mundane screenplay.

– Because the personalities are so thin with these characters, none of them ever interest me to the point of feeling remote emotion for them. This is why by the third film in the series there is no shortage of infused dramatic subplots to offer something of a spark to keep the audience firmly in grip.

– Speaking of those subplots, the long term writing here is terribly choreographed and minimally discussed in the bigger picture of lagging sex scenes and Ana’s blossoming stupidity.

– There is nothing subtle about the obvious foreshadowing for where this chapter is taking us. I didn’t predict everything revealed in the painfully tacked on final ten minutes, but I knew what direction we were heading because their introductions feel so shoehorned in during a scene where it shouldn’t be deposited.

– Atrocious dialogue. Even for this series, ‘Freed’ still has the capability to make us cringe so hard that you will debate faking a bathroom break just to free yourself from the auditorium.

– The sex scenes have absolutely no sizzle or sensuality to them because of the void in chemistry between the two leads. Credit can be given that this film at least trims the length of each sex scene dramatically, but it’s all for nothing because there is still such an overabundance of them. Even porn collections know how to pace themselves better than this fan fiction dribble.

– Three movies and nearly six hours of screen exposition and I feel like I know very little about Christian Grey, except that he is the world’s biggest douchebag. I was told that the third book reveals much about Grey, but nothing revealed in this film is actually about him when you think about it. Instead, we are treated to more of what female audiences should be vetoing in a ‘Time’s Up’ society.

– Considering the first two films built to the wedding of these two, it’s used as such an afterthought here, speeding through a montage of scenes during the opening three minutes that give so little back to the faithful fans who have been waiting for these moments of indulgences.

– Even the music is offensive. While this soundtrack is an assortment of credible pop artists, their instilled numbers to the unappealing sex scenes conjures up an aura of childish atmosphere that are lyrically so awkward in trying to be sexy. What’s worse is that Danny Elfman scores it with his most invasive approach to date, channeling through the best of his C-side material with such ear-shattering volume, as well as an overall lack of environmental subtlety that spoil what’s coming long before it happens.

2/10

Phantom Thread

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring – Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville

THE PLOT – Set in the glamour of 1950s post-war London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Manville) are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants, and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love.

Rated R for adult language

THE POSITIVES

– Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood with another truly mesmerizing musical score for his friend, Anderson. Greenwood always feels like he has his hands on the pulse of the films he accompanies, but it sounds like his piano-dominant numbers breathe life and narration into the picture, following along our group of characters through their rocky tribulations that heighten our experience. He’s simply needed more here than ever before.

– The trio of performances by Lewis, Krieps, and Manville that all bring their best game to the forefront. If this is Lewis’s rumored final film, then he goes out on top, breathing life into the workaholic Woodcock that depicts a man burdened by his passion. Together with Krieps, the film’s couple feels like the most honest depiction of love on the screen that we have seen in a long time, channeling a kind of childish bickering between them that gives the audience plenty of innocent giggles. Krieps herself has such rendering facial expressions that she could play her part without ever vocalizing a single word.

– Anderson is impeccable as a triple threat, commanding the camera, screenplay, and helming the luxurious cinematography for the first time. On the latter, Paul uses soft, dreamy backdrops to accentuate the vibrancy that the fashions that adorn. This makes the work of Woodcock pop that much more to the naked eye, and blossoms what I feel is Anderson’s best feature of the irreplaceable work that he takes on.

– Costume designer Mark Bridges and his elegant styles that immerse the film with such first class tastes. Bridges uses layers to sell his gifts to the audience, and if there’s any film that appreciates his artistic vision, it’s one that values and depicts what goes into the perfect dress.

– The screenplay hints that every beautiful gift that is bestowed upon someone can in turn be a curse that renders them lost in their work. This gives our protagonist a kind of man-becomes-monster kind of feel, in that it’s great to see him work, but we know it’s a cancer of sorts to his own well-being.

– I greatly appreciated that this film never took the low hanging fruit that was quietly hinted at especially during the second act. There are enough twists and turns that keep this sometimes redundant screenplay infused with the spark needed to get through the dry spots, and it gave the film enough momentum to carry over into hour two.

– There’s a kind of awkwardness in the idiosyncrasies that surround Woodcock’s lifestyle and routines that value this as anything BUT a casual 20th century love tale. Once we delve deeper, we come to understand the reasons behind this abstract man that stands before us.

– One of the messages that I took away from the film was when you’re in love with someone, you must tailor yourselves to each other. There’s further argument that opposites may attract, but those opposites must learn how to merge together to create something beautiful for all to adore. Sounds like one of Woodcock’s creations, eh?

– Because of so many seamless tonal shifts, there’s more uncertainty as to where this film is headed. There are times of laughter, sadness, and even horror that spring to life, and all of it feels like the necessary ingredients needed for the mental game of chess in the finale that will leave you frozen in your seat.

THE NEGATIVES

– It’s a small problem, but I almost wish that the film would’ve explored the secrets that Woodcock stitches in every creation a bit more. I just feel like to bring it up and use it very little for the remainder of the film makes it either a lost opportunity or a pointless conversation piece.

9/10