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

Beauty and the Beast

One of Disney’s most infamously cherished classics gets the live action adaptation treatment, in ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Twenty-six years after Belle and Beast warmed our hearts with a romantic tale of song and dance, this re-imagining introduces us to Belle (Emma Watson), a young woman who is taken prisoner by a Beast (Dan Stevens) in his castle in exchange for the freedom of her father Maurice (Kevin Kline). Despite her fears, she befriends the castle’s enchanted staff and she learns to look beyond the Beast’s exterior to recognize the true heart and soul of the human Prince within. Meanwhile, a hunter named Gaston (Luke Evans) is on the loose to take Belle for himself and later intends to hunt down the Beast at any cost. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is directed by Bill Condon, and is rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images.

The unfortunate aspect with watching any movie is that you can only watch it once to be surprised or in awe at the very majestic aura of one’s material. That is the problem that I find with the 2017 version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. It’s not a terrible or even bad film. I found it to be aesthetically pleasing, as well as musically sound for the new variations on timeless classics. When I first heard that they were remaking possibly the most notorious Disney animation movie of all time, my heart did kind of skip a beat. This is ‘Beauty and the Beast’ after all, a movie that was nominated for best picture at that year’s Oscars. The first thing that I look for is how the film stands on its own two feet without relying too heavily on the details of the original offering, a problem that 2015’s ‘Cinderella’ went to the well on one time too many. This movie too is unfortunately cursed to accept the same fate, as there’s very little originality to this script that does at least offer a faithful homage to its predecessor. Sure, there’s an informative scene that relates to Belle’s absent Mother from the original story, but it’s a quick glance into a story that should’ve had more weight on the finished product. These differences are too few and far between, and that lack of fresh perspective unfortunately doesn’t vary much from the 90% of this film that mimics scene-for-scene of the original. The remake feels like it has a lot of respect for that 1991 original. Almost TOO much respect, and because of that, this is one remake that will offer a fruitful trip down nostalgia lane, but won’t provide a lot of sound logic for the concept of breaking the remake spell.

The remake is forty minutes longer than the original animation film. For that very investment in run time, we’re not left with a lot that can pace it along accordingly for the two hour mark. There are some new musical numbers and some longer additions to certain classic scenes that we know and love, but it’s easy to remove this and have it hold no weight against the cherished screenplay. What I did commend the film’s script for is the emphasis on catering not only to its youthful audience, but also to that of the adults who have grown up around these pictures. There’s been a lot of controversy about a certain character’s sexual orientation in the film, but never did I feel the story was threatened or overtaken by pointless exposition in him. Where it does acceptably tiptoe that wink-and-nod response to the mature audiences is in the nature that it spoofs itself on more than one occasion. One such mention is during the snowball fight between Belle and the beast in the courtyard, and beast nails Belle with the biggest snowball that you’ve ever seen, knocking her off of her feet. It’s one of those harmless moments that shows the screenwriters accordingly knew where to command the strings of variation in emotional response from the audience, reminding them of the light-hearted nature of this story in between this story of romantic tragedy.

As I mentioned earlier, the aesthetics and artistic merit for the movie are leagues ahead of everything else. The biggest argument for this release is seeing the vibrantly radiant colors splash against the luxurious backdrops in shooting locations, and on that aspect alone this film would be a 10/10. One thing that movie does better than its predecessor in this subject is immersing the audience in the very immensity of the castle, and that cold, isolated feeling of being cut off from the rest of the world around our two protagonists. It’s only in this live action aspect that you can truly soak in the symbolism of how cold and damp that this home is in relation to the beast’s dwindling chances at breaking the spell. The live object CGI achieves and disappoints on many fronts. I did enjoy the designs on the clock and candelabra for their attention to detail in how the facial features of these respective characters felt authentic with the structure of their clock and candlestick design. One such example of not doing this well is with the designs of Chip the tea cup, whom feels like his design was skimmed over quickly, painting a face onto his tea cup. It’s examples like these where the CGI concepts feel like they were trying for something daring, like in ‘The Jungle Book’, but it isn’t sewed up entirely to make it a complete passing grade. Finally, the musical visuals capture the childhood imagination on more than one occasion. It should be no surprise that ‘Be Our Guest’ was my favorite performance, but not so much for the intricately clever lyrics that the song entails, more on the side of entrancing presentation that explodes in your face like an eruption of confetti. I didn’t see this movie in 3D, but I can recommend checking it out in that offering if only for the over abundance of in-your-face objects that fly in your face, nearly captivating you enough to soak in the tastes and smells of this fairytale world.

The costume designs also nail a possible Oscar worthy nomination on grounds of perfectly capturing the transition from animation to live action. Belle’s elegant golden gown shimmers a dazzling glow, and the tuxedo gown for the beast transports us to a bohemian era that really focuses on this French setting. Far beyond the script that plays it safe, it’s clear that the wardrobe department too wanted fans of the film to know that they were determined in bringing such rich fashions to life, emulating upper class fantasy for audiences who invest in these scenes much further than a delightful soundtrack and romantic material.

The overall cast excites and stimulates this fresh chance to try to make their characters their own, with very few negatives along the way. Lets get it out of the way; Josh Gad’s Le Fou steals the show from this decorated cast, because he chooses to add on to the legacy of a character that was nothing more than throwaway in the original. Gad knows who this character is, therefore he chooses not to quiet or hide that fact. He plays Le Fou with memorable flamboyance and debonair that reaches into your gut to pull out laughter each and every time. As for the rest of the cast, none of them ever rise to the occasion to unseat their original casting shadows. Emma Watson proves that she was the only choice for one of Disney’s most cherished princesses. She can sing, act, and most importantly radiate a warm and caring smile that makes it easy to fall under her spell, leaving little doubt that the casting agent hit a home run with this big name steal. As for negatives, I didn’t like anything about the beast, let alone Dan Stevens turn as the heralded figure. The design in concept is terrible, considering the film pulls on more of the human side and less about the beast. He never once treads like a beast, instead walking like a human on hind legs that never cause him to stumble or stutter. There’s a great lack of emphasis on the impact that his movements make that the original capitalized on so much more accordingly, and Stevens range never convinced me once that he BECAME the Beast. Luke Evans as Gaston is the worst though. Evans just doesn’t radiate enough charisma and bravado to channel this macho pig. We are told how great Gaston is, but never given proof of this praise in the form of physical strength or cunning intellect, with the exception of a five second lift of Le Fou. He’s as typical as a jerk antagonist can be, and pales in comparison to an animated counterpart that out-acted and out-charmed him on every capacity.

‘Beauty and the Beast’ is strong enough as a throwaway remake, but does little to convince fans to leave its predecessor in the dust. The lack of character from this lively cast, as well as a screenplay that plays it far too safely in conventional creativity, hinder what breakthrough possibilities that this movie had. Even still, the pagentry is mesmerizing, and the collection of classic musical favorites, as well as a few new additions, give Condon’s presentation a big screen feel. I’d place this one leagues above the ‘Cinderella’ remake, but just below ‘The Jungle Book’ in terms of fresh perspectives. Either way, The enchantment is still there for fans who seek whimsical nostalgia, and Disney is happy to oblige by opening their hearts….and wallets

7/10

A United Kingdom

A proposal involving two people from completely opposite cultures has their love seeking A United Kingdom against the resistance. Based on extraordinary true events, the film takes place in 1947, with Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), the King of Botswana, meeting Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a London office worker. They were a perfect match, yet their proposed marriage was challenged not only by their families but by the British and South African governments. The latter had recently introduced the policy of apartheid and found the notion of a biracial couple ruling a neighboring country intolerable. South Africa threatened the British: either thwart the couple or be denied access to South African uranium and gold and face the risk of South Africa invading Botswana. A United Kingdom is co-directed by Amma Assante and Steven Hall, and is rated PG-13 for some adult language including racial epithets, and a scene involving sensuality.

‘A United Kingdom’ and screenwriter Guy Hibbert take a usually domestic hotbed like racism and push it further by giving us a different telling of history. Led by two more than capable actors giving stirring performances, the film offers a dual telling of racism from the white AND black side of hatred, garnering so much more than the typical one-dimensional flick during this particular era. If this wasn’t enough, the very locations in this film between Britain and South Africa cement the idea that this disease in logic is more of a worldwide epidemic than a Southern American bible belt where this genre of films usually revolves around. This idea, as well as a script that shows a heartfelt side to romance, gives Amma Assante a leg up on recent bi-racial love stories like ‘Loving’ that only flirt with the idea of equally portraying both sides of the racial coin. Hibbert has a clear responsibility to both sides equally in this story, and he dedicates himself to the idea that love is always more important than hate, a credo that envelopes the movie from start to finish, with this bi-racial couple endearing their newfound power.

The first act will undoubtedly be the biggest test for the audience. I myself found the opening half hour to be jarringly abrasive from the remainder of the film, rushing through various plots and character exposition that is only made up later from two performances that constantly meet their mark. The editing is slightly jumpy during this act, breezing us through the finer parts of this relationship that is vital to the audience falling in love with them. Thankfully, the second act smoothly transitions, and one thing is certainly clear; all of this rushing of developments was done to focus not only on the rising of tension between South Africa and the Brits, but also that of this duo taking their love to a new environment. One of great polar opposite to where the two met and fell in love. As the story pushes along, I found myself impressed with how Hibbert and Assante could succeed at the very merits of what their relationship meant to the conflict of the African village and vice versa. Most unrelated subplots in films will usually not tie with one another, but you start to see the impacts that one has on the other, culminating in a gut-wrenching finale that will have you on the edge of your seats if you don’t know the real life story of Ruth and Seretse.

But how does the relationship stack up? If it’s not believable, then surely this story will deflate. Thankfully, that is never an issue, as the chemistry of Pike and Oyelowo not only feels believable, but is also given appropriate time to supplant their characters. What I love about the layering of this story is that this duo not only grows wonderfully as a couple, full of heart and compassion for one another that radiates beautifully, but also as individuals braving their own uphill climbs. Midway through the movie, a startling controversy separates the two, and the battle within their individual character becomes just as important as the strength between them when they are together. It’s kind of brilliant to attack the issue like this, especially considering that this is a romance of sorts that revolves around the concept of two against the world. But to get there, Hibbert forces us to understand that these are two brave people who came together to mold a union that was leaps and bounds ahead of its time, asking their respective sides to change along with them.

I mentioned the on-screen progression of Ruth an Seretse, but they would be nothing without the two experienced actors who harness that positive energy into two hearty performances. Rosamund Pike is thankfully starting to get the kind of roles that she deserves in Hollywood. As Ruth, Pike feels fragile, but caring, wanting the latter to outweigh the former in a place that she is unfamiliar with. That sense of feeling lost could overcome her character at any moment, but Pike pushes on, signaling a caring in her eyes with the numerous dispositions that she sees in the citizens of her new home. Oyelowo continues to be Mr. Dependable in A-list roles. David has always been someone whose childlike eyes do wonders into his extremely likeable personality, and Seretse is the perfect role for someone of that stature. He’s a lover, but as strong of a fighter as it gets, and you really start to take in the kind of isolation that he feels being on opposite sides from the one person who makes everything going on easier to take. Oyelowo gives an Oscar worthy speech midway through the movie that turned my skin into a bumpy sidewalk of goosebumps, full of chilling emotional response that cements this man as one of the finest dramatic faces working today. The chemistry between Pike and Oyelowo transcends even their roles as this couple, making it easier to immerse yourself into this delightful coupling that radiates positive energy frequently. The only performance that felt unnecessary to me was that of Tom Felton. His performance felt very out of place and slightly cartoonish as one of a few villain characters in this movie. Because of this overabundance, his character feels unnecessary, as well as flawed with how little he is really given to impact. His brief scenes felt more like a speedbump to the more meaty issues that didn’t concern him, and Felton’s character feels expendable in the overall scheme of things.

On the technical side of things, this is a beautifully captivating visual piece that really exceeds in the backdrop of these two strong actors putting on a show. The establishing shots of South Africa are breathtaking, and comprehend the idea of just how cut-off and isolated that they appear to be from the rest of the world around them that treats them like outsiders. The editing finds its place after the choppy first act that I mentioned earlier, and a strong musical accompaniment by composer Patrick Doyle plays its way into the immensity of this situation in story. There’s great building tension in the notes that Doyle commands, and the jazz soundtrack that radiates audibly during the first act sets the mood appropriately for the running joke early on that establishes their overnight romance.

‘A United Kingdom’ has some spotty pacing issues early that doesn’t capitalize on the patience of established storytelling, but fortunately the charming duo of Pike and Oyelowo, as well as a refreshing originality in content to race relation genre films, gives Assante the proper pieces to unite audiences of all races. It’s a perfect story for the perfect time, and feels like a constant reminder that in a world of bleak situations, love always trumps hate.

7/10

Table 19

A table of rejects revolt against the weddings that keep them distant at Table 19. Ex-maid of honor Eloise (Anna Kendrick) – having been relieved of her duties after being unceremoniously dumped by the best man via text, decides to hold her head up high and attend her oldest friend’s wedding anyway. She finds herself seated at the ‘random’ table in the back of the ballroom with a disparate group of strangers, most of whom should have known to just send regrets (but not before sending something nice off the registry). As everyone’s secrets are revealed, Eloise learns a thing or two from the denizens of Table 19. Friendships – and even a little romance, can happen under the most unlikely circumstances. Table 19 is written and directed by Jeffrey Blitz, and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual content, drug use, language and some brief nudity.

‘Table 19’ concerns itself with trying to be too many kinds of genres at once during a brief 82 minute offering that cuts itself short at nearly every subplot that the script tries to present itself. Upon seeing trailers of this picture, people will think that they are engaging themselves into a quirky wedding comedy, full of hijinks and awkward humor, and for the first half hour of this movie, we are presented that delicious dish of as promised. In general, this feels like an idea for an episode of an NBC sitcom that was scrapped for being deemed too flimsy of an idea. Then, when the studio tries to sell this as a motion picture, there comes a great responsibility to fill the other fifty minutes with a satisfying enough ending that sends audiences home happy. Look, I’m not trying to point the accusing finger here, but the screenwriter clearly either watched or has a fascination with ‘The Breakfast Club’ while writing this script, and it reflects during a second half of a movie that has one too many coincidences to pay homage to. With each diminishing breath we are pushed further and further away from the concepts and quirks that audiences fell in love with for a two minute trailer, instead of an 82 minute film with only thirty minutes of credible ideas.

As I mentioned before, the first act is delightful, mixing in a satisfying blend of awkward wedding commentary with an 80’s backdrop in soundtrack that is every bit as nostalgic as it is torturous on the ears. The idea of this terrible wedding band performing these songs are justified and appropriate if anyone has ever had to endure a group like them for multiple hours a sitting. There’s also an admirably sweet romantic subplot being setup between Anna Kendrick’s character and a stranger who she meets that very day. It is remotely predictable, but sometimes safe is the best way to play these kind of subplots to send the audience home with a satisfying taste in their mouths. I became slightly concerned however, as much of what I saw in the trailer happened during these initial thirty minutes, leaving me wondering what was to be setup and explored for the remainder of this movie that I was slowly falling in love with. There in lies the real truth with ‘Table 19’; it’s a soiled drama that tries to pass itself off for cutesy, harmless fun. A manipulation that I was struck with brutally during the second act that switches up everything that you’ve come to learn by this point.

For ‘The Breakfast Club’ dramatic portion of this script, we are treated to these six strangers coming together and growing as a group of outcasts who everyone pre-determined as losers. They decide to leave the wedding together to do drugs, dissect how imperfect each of their lives are, and are faced with the inevitability of a day in which time will eventually run out on their union. Sound familiar? If this wasn’t enough, there is even a dance scene near the end of the movie that seems to stop time and space for them to lash back at the snobs who rejected them. I wouldn’t have a problem with any of this change of direction if it were properly built and given enough time to mature from the immaturity that we delightfully endured during the first act. At 82 minutes, there’s so little that you can do with a multitude of characters and situations, and so much of that is glossed over without ever going back to again, leaving sloppy situational drama that feels so out of place when combined with a setup that was anything but.

The finale continues this the bi-polar trend by treating us to a 90’s romantic comedy between two people who couldn’t be worse off for each other. I mentioned earlier about Kendrick being setup with this mysterious stranger. Well, you can forget about that because the film steps on what would’ve been the better direction for her character, in favor of an option that has been proven disastrous on more than one occasion. This is a major betrayal on her character because Kendrick works best during the first act when she is rebelling against a group of family and friends who feel like they are moving on without her. Beyond this, the final twenty minutes of the film go back-and-forth rushing so much character exposition into the final frames that it often feels like an hour has been squeezed in to accommodate the overabundance of subplots that the film introduced for itself. Most of the closing scenes do very little to make me think that these characters have grown, nor will their outcast tag be removed by the society that dubbed them one. It is seriously the most insulting of wrap-ups that treat the serious problems plaguing their respective situations like they are a cake walk, when the second act wanted us to understand them as happiness-threatening. That lack of directional decision making is what charred this invitation on more than one chance, refusing to ever settle for just another cute an quirky indie comedy.

If this wasn’t enough, the very setup is flawed with this being the table that nobody wants to show up. Midway through the movie, we are told that the Mother of the bride was hoping that nobody at table 19 would RSVP, therefore preventing her from spending $200 more per seat. How about you just don’t invite them in the first place? If you sent them an invitation, you can’t be mad at their acceptance. That’s just an inane idea that makes very little sense on the ideas of saving. But the plot needs them to be there, so we are supposed to forget this line in the screenplay that did more damage than good at setting the stage for this group to come together and enjoy one another’s company.

Besides Kendrick, there were really only two characters who I reasoned with and enjoyed for this movie. Nobody is terribly miscast, but characters like Craig Robertson, Lisa Kudrow, and Tony Revolori are given very little logic or reasoning for their appearance frame-to-frame. June Squibb continues to be a national treasure, taking the reigns as the new senior citizen known for her unabashed observations in a sometimes dumbed-down society. June feels like a Eugene Levy kind of character, where she feels wiser than the youthful faces that surround her table, and I couldn’t use enough of her startling dry releases. Stephen Merchant though, is leaps and bounds the single best aspect of this movie. Merchant doesn’t have a ton of screen time or dialogue, but where he excels is those quick cut edits where we soak in character reactions to something silly that just happened. Stephen is a master at this concept, and does it so well that you often forget that he is even there, sneaking his way into every scene-stealing moment that the script allows him. If nothing else, ‘Table 19’ provides us with a supporting cast that entices us to look past Kendrick’s short comings as truly one of the most misleading lead characters of an early 2017.

‘Table 19’ is one reservation that would be better suited to send an eraser as a newlywed gift, for its inability to choose a faithful direction to steer it clear of the many misfires that the movie takes us though. To watch this is to endure thirty minutes of awkward humor, thirty minutes of misplaced drama, and twenty minutes of romantic resurgence. Totaling 80 minutes that would be better suited at the open bar, instead of this inconsistent table that collapses under the power of one leg to stand on.

4/10

Fifty Shades Darker

Get ready to settle into something a little more comfortable, in the anticipated sequel Fifty Shades Darker. Following the events of Fifty Shades of Grey, Anastasia “Ana” Steele (Dakota Johnson) tries to move on from her relationship with Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). She begins a new job as personal assistant to Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), a powerful executive with a less-than flattering appeal to Ana himself. After some passed time, A wounded Christian meets Ana for dinner and convinces her to resume their romance under Ana’s conditions, free from any secrets, contracts or lies. As the couple begins their normal relationship, Christian’s past, as well as the new characters coming into frame in their new union, threaten to tear apart all that our two protagonists have built for each other. Fifty Shades Darker is directed by James Foley, and is rated R for for strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity, and adult language.

Fifty Shades Darker attempts once again to bottle the questionable chemistry of two leads whose moral accountability comes into question on more than one occasion. To know this film is terribly underwritten in terms of story depth and character exposition is a given, but to acknowledge all of that and know you had fun with it, is an even greater feat to admit. That’s the situation that I find myself with because there’s something about these films that are so empty and hollow in material offerings, yet you can’t help but remove your hands from your eyes every time you hear an awkward exchange or notice an unsexy form of intimacy between our characters. It is very much the fast food of the softcore porn industry; terribly bad for you, but tastes nourishing going down. This doesn’t mean that Fifty Shades Darker is off the hook completely for its underwhelming presentation, it just means that a competent director like James Foley knows where to carefully place the pieces to at least divert the attention of moviegoers like myself who are always seeking more from their movies.

The script feels very much like a barrage of one-off liner notes fused together to make a finished product that feels jarringly unfitting in terms of the rest of the events around it. E.L James seems to have a grave incompetence when it comes to long-term storytelling, the bulk of which feels evident here through the many story arks that are thrown at the creative wall, seeking some form of fusion to build the entertainment that is constantly evaporating with the chemistry in the room. More on that later. But some of the examples within this chapter of the Christian Grey narrative deal with a stalking ex-girlfriend, a harassing boss of Anastasia’s who gets a tad bit too close, and a late third act accident that places the life of one character in grave danger. Normally, events like these would be presented vital time in development to accurately depict the true severity of their situations. Not in this world however, as each event in this relationship is glossed over like a gnat on the skin of a lion, brushed off quickly like the unimportant speck that it is. When you consider how much really happened over the two hours of this film, very little of it feels memorable or even slightly hindering on the relationship of these two horrible characters who re-define what we view as people.

We have now spent four total hours with the characters of Steele and Grey, and with the exception of some flacid abuse backstory at the hands of the latter, I feel like I know very little about either one of them. What I do know is that Steele is arguably the worst female protagonist that any of these Y.A novels have conjured up. Whether you agree with my stance or not, you have to admit that certain unlikeable aspects about her character really make you question where our authors are heading with female protagonists in the 21st century. During a time when a women’s revolution is taking place in our own world, we have a woman in Steele who doesn’t fight for the things that she wants, is easily a pushover when it comes to her dominant male opposite, and seems to be able to swallow anything as long as her love interest is handsome and rich. This would all be enough to label her as the worst character that I have dealt with over the last two years, but she is given the silver when it comes to the Grey in this charisma-less world. Christian is the epitome of what should be an antagonist. He’s rich, so he feels like he can buy anything and anyone, he has no connection to the heart of his love interest beyond sexual relations, and feels very immature at family gatherings for someone pushing 27 years of age. The only reason why these two work well together is because both of them are so traumatically rotten on the inside that they couldn’t successfully be with anyone else. The chemistry between Johnson and Dornan has at least slightly improved in this film, but the lack of anything meaningful given the rightful amount of screen time, renders their stigmas frighteningly hollow. This much is evident by again an overabundance of sexual material to make up for ill-timed chemistry that constantly misses its mark.

On the subject of sexual material, the film gives us six different sex scenes over a 113 minute picture. Sex is an important aspect to a story and series of this nature, so how does it stack up with garnishing its signature crop? With the exception of the final sex scene, most of the exchanges feel awkward and unbelievable when it comes to the fluidity of the motions or placement of the bodies. Some of the awkwardness could be blamed on a terrible soundtrack that sadly overrode a Danny Elfman composed score that wasn’t half bad when you got to hear it. There’s no passion to these embraces, and a lot of that can be blamed on the fact that these two characters re-unite only fifteen minutes into the movie. That lack of time hinders any kind of release for the audience that had to go a long time for the reunion, and even more so when you consider that they have only been broken up for a week. The pacing of these sex scenes could’ve used more spreading out, as there are four in the first forty minutes of the movie, then not another one for nearly an hour. As I mentioned, I did commend them for the final sex scene because it does get interesting with the bondage aspect re-introduced, as well as it feeling like a celebration of sorts to the great news that is revealed for both characters in the closing minutes of the film.

The film also succeeds at luring in its audience once again to exceptional set designs and quality cinematography that at least accurately depicts the lavish lifestyles of a man with money to spend. The greyish tint (No pun intended) does wonders in representing the gloomy side of a Seattle landscape fruitfully, and the film’s polished look of sorts offers a clean backdrop to the very dirty ordeals that our characters are going through. I really dug the combination of establishing shots whether on land or sea, as well as the occasional personal shot that showcased a character looking and talking into the camera, offering the audience a momentary glance into the lives of Grey and Steele. The design in concepts feels like the one noteworthy praise that constantly carries the slack for a lackluster script that constantly remains in chains.

When you consider the word ‘darker’ in the title context, you think of a film that is twice as daring or prestigious in its finished product. Fifty Shades Darker once again underwhelms with cold embraces and hollow faces, and it does very little to change the minds of either side of audience whose first film experience was the final verdict in expectations for this series. It is smut, but it’s far from the worst sit that I have had in an early 2017 that has already given me six films worse. Overall, the only punishment dulled out in this film comes at the hands of the audience who have to sit through two hours of notable events that have no synthetic connection in one total sum. It’s a movie that takes itself too seriously, but you can’t help but laugh at. With one shade left, the Grey franchise has already fallen limp on two separate occasions.

4/10

The Space Between Us

Something completely out of this world is about to crash on Earth, altering The Space Between Us. In this interplanetary adventure, a space shuttle embarks on the first mission to colonize Mars, only to discover after takeoff that one of the astronauts is pregnant. Thus begins the extraordinary life of Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield), an inquisitive, highly intelligent boy who reaches the age of 16 having only met 14 people in his very unconventional upbringing. While searching for clues about his father, and the home planet he’s never known, Gardner begins an online friendship with a street smart girl in Colorado named Tulsa (Britt Robertson). When he finally gets a chance to go to Earth, he’s eager to experience all of the wonders he could only read about on Mars, from the most simple to the extraordinary. But once his explorations begin, scientists discover that Gardner’s organs can’t withstand Earth’s atmosphere. Eager to find his father, Gardner escapes the team of scientists and joins with Tulsa on a race against time to unravel the mysteries of how he came to be, and where he belongs in the universe. The film is directed by Peter Chelsom, and is rated PG-13 for brief sensuality and adult language.

The Space Between Us is at best a solid idea about the isolations of growing up on a planet without people or basic experiences for a teenager to live without. Its reliance upon the importance of technology and the kind of advances that it gives us for making a more intelligent and even enhanced human being are greatly depicted in the film, and don’t go without polarizing contrasts when compared to Earth counterparts. At worst though, this is a film that spontaneously combusts on a wannabe Nicholas Sparks teenage romance novel, in conjunction with cheesy dialogue and some of the biggest lapses in logic that I have ever seen in a Sci-Fi film, and that’s saying something. This is very much a project that chose to be something different for all of the wrong reasons. There’s a passable movie somewhere beneath all of the forced romantic subtext, and the Y.A audience that is was depending upon. Chelsom’s film settles for being just the latest spin in 21st century love being told at an adolescent disadvantage by frustrating characters and lack of any real depth for what makes their romance one for the galaxy.

For the first half hour of this movie, I was very much on board for the setup and themes that made this quite the little science-fiction gem that it could be with a little growth in character development and the unlocking of many mysteries that were set up early on. The very idea of this baby who was born and forced to live in a kind of prison of sorts for the entirety of his life is one that is certainly easy enough to get behind and invest in, but what added that extra layer of intrigue for me was the attempt at breaking down some health concerns between the environments of Mars versus Earth. This is where the movie feels at its strongest because it is showing us a variety of foreign lifestyles and technology that seem advanced even for 2017 standards. From transparent laptops to self-driving cars, The Space Between Us gives us that brief glimpse into a prosperous future where it feels necessary to dream again, complete with detailed set pieces that really make it simple to lose yourself in the rich tapestry of the Mars red-rocks in all of its imposing stature.

Once you’ve reached the half hour mark, you should understand that it’s at that point where you’ve reached the creative peak of this movie, because instantly the film goes back on everything that it has built for a flimsy love narrative that not only feels forced, but feels emotionally awkward for the lack of chemistry and character spark of our two central protagonists. I will get to the performances later, but the vast difference in real life age between Britt Robertson (27) and Asa Butterfield (19) made it very hard to invest and feel moved by their time spent together on-screen. If anything, the two feel like brother and sister kissing, albeit with Butterfield’s undeniably youthful exterior and Robertson’s adult personality that feels anything except the high school characters that she still finds herself being cast for. Her character comes off as a badass for some reason, but then is instantly turned into the same cliche female that you always see in romance flicks. Apparently Chelsom feels my pain about their concern for physical differences based on age because midway through he gives Robertson a baby doll dress to signify her high school side, further alienating her character from the Tom-boy tough chick who we were force-fed in her opening exposition scenes. If this isn’t enough, the film completely comes to a screeching halt during this time, with shoddy pacing, as well as making an antagonist of sorts out of Gary Oldman’s character. This idea is made even more inane when you see where all of the characters finish by the end of the movie, and highlights the second act of the movie as a sore thumb that sticks out ugly against two opposite acts that feel like they’re telling their own genre story.

The finale kicked the absurdity into high gear, and it was at this point that I felt an engulfing lack of care for the rules and themes that the movie had built for itself up to this point. Characters travel to space without so much as a space suit or any kind of breathing devices that would help them adapt to the increase of cabin pressure or lack of gravity that fills the air. There’s also the big reveal to the kind of mystery of sorts that the movie lightly inserted in the first act if you were paying attention. I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. The plot twist was easily predictable for me, and I’m usually average at predicting these kinds of things. My reason for easily reading between the lines is the forceful reactions from one particular character that radiate in overabundance when compared to everyone else, making it far too simple to read between the lines. It all closes itself up tightly for a finish that is every bit as convenient as it is frustrating at just how much could’ve easily been trimmed from the nearly two hour run time. The worst part of a movie for me is when it drags endlessly, and The Space Between Us rarely reaches orbit after it runs out of ideas midway through.

As for the performances, there sadly isn’t a lot of noteworthy praise in this notable cast. Gary Oldman is probably the one positive in terms of taking a character who is every bit the typical mold for scientist entrepreneurs and making something more out of him. As I mentioned earlier, his character does go through some morale leaps and bounds that feel jarringly forced on the very flimsy suspense that this movie entailed, but Gary is enough of a pro to go to hell and back, and yet still produce a character who is enjoyable to watch for his commitment to craft, as well as his hands-on approach of this boy’s life since watching him grow. Butterfield does exubberate slightly more enthusiasm for this role as opposed to his past monotonously tone-deaf characters, but it’s still not enough to justify leading man status. As Gardner, we see a teenager who has his eyes opened for the first time at a world he was denied. That fact alone should make this boy fascinating, but Butterfield spends too much time on his one-track mind, meddling through the motions of a relationship that he feels far too at home with, despite a severe lack of female intimacy for the first sixteen years of his life. Robertson is once again playing the same character as she has in films like Tommorrowland, A Dog’s Purpose, and Mr Church. Hollywood has seemed to typecast her as this unorthodox female teenager who can give and take with her male counterparts, but then silences her into the typical female love interest that feels like a checklist of endless cliches. Robertson has talent, but she has to start venturing out of her comfort zone.

There’s an undiscovered lifeform of potential deep within the subtext of The Space Between Us, but its reliance upon a romantic direction that offers little fresh in the way of Young Adult novels, rips the oxygen fast out of this one. It’s a slow paced, unintelligent Sparks immitator that hangs in the balance of two protagonists who have as much romantic chemistry as two people who met for the first time on FarmersOnly.Com. As it stands, Chelsom’s infatuation with Indie favorites prove to us that this story feels expired before it hits the ground, time-stamping it with the others in a post-Twilight garbage can.

3/10

La La Land

Critically acclaimed musical director Damien Chazelle brings his newest musical masterpiece to the big screen in “La La Land”. In this modern take on the Hollywood musical set in the city of angels, we meet Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a dedicated jazz musician, struggling to make ends meet while pursuing their dreams in a city known for destroying hopes and breaking hearts. With modern day Los Angeles as the backdrop, this musical about everyday life explores what is more important: a once-in-a-lifetime love or the spotlight. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) are drawn together by their common desire to do what they love. But as success mounts they are faced with decisions that begin to fray the fragile fabric of their love affair, and the dreams they worked so hard to maintain in each other threaten to rip them apart. “La La Land” is rated PG-13 for minor adult language.

Damien Chazelle has always had a finer appreciation for music within his films, and his latest is certainly no exception. After modern masterpieces like Whiplash, my favorite film of 2014, as well as Grand Piano, Chazelle crafts stories that revolve around music and never vice versa. So naturally when the chance to orchestrate a modern musical comes to fruition, he is the perfect choice. Musicals haven’t faired so well on the silver screen over the last twenty years, so to release one during Oscar season is certainly a risk that Damien fully believed in. That confidence and vision is clearly evident from the opening scene because La La Land is a visual spectacle of infectious energy that never slows the pulse or excitement from within its audience. Chazelle articulates not only his most ambitious, but also his signature on the very tinsel of the Hollywood spectrum. Make no mistakes about it by the gorgeous backgrounds depicted in the trailers, this is NOT a calling card to the city of angels. Chazelle depicts this place as a city of tortured and broken dreams that step on whoever to preserve that mystique. An aspect that the movie pokes fun at on more than one occasion.

Shot in gorgeous Panovision and technicolor, the very colorful themes popped so vibrantly throughout the concerto of vibrant set pieces and immense landscapes that played as much of a character as our two lovebirds did in the movie. What garners so much re-watching out of something so articulately crafted is that there’s an obvious color symbolism being used here, with blue for Emma Stone’s character, as well as green to represent Ryan Gosling’s. If I were to add my opinion to the already full pot on this debate, I would say the blue represents the emptiness that plagues Stone and her journey to Los Angeles. There’s clearly something missing within her, and that disappointment rings true in fairytale endings not being what they seem. More on that later. With Gosling, the green can mean many things, but I think it’s his jealousy particularly in that of the hipster music scene that has virtually erased the Jazz history from LA. Throughout the movie, Gosling wishes to open his own Jazz club, but finds that the desire for that genre is slim pickens in the city, a theme that radiates throughout his character arc for the entirety of the movie. In addition to this, the technicolor is a callback to past musicals of the 50’s and 60’s that nearly adds a three-dimensional aspect to the beauty. To say this is one of the most beautifully shot movies of the year, would be an understatement. Chazelle’s best work comes in walking the camera where the characters go, and even through some pretty difficult transitional dance sequences, the camera always seems to catch the pulse of that particular musical number.

Speaking of music, my review would be a waste if I didn’t mention the grandeur of Broadway meeting the dream-like atmosphere of Hollywood for a toe-tapping marriage. Every musical number here is totally original, and even Stone and Gosling lend their vocal work to such an offering. What is surprising is how on-key both of them deliver in their emotional release through every song. Holding a note and acting in-sync is a very difficult thing to manage, but both of them omit it effortlessly through the more than twenty musical sequences throughout the movie. Some of my personal favorites were “Someone in the Crowd”, a dress-up whimsical between Stone and friends as she gets ready to meet Mr Right. The personal surefire Oscar pick for me however, is Stone’s “Here’s to the Ones Who Dream”, a majestically haunting storytelling of the fools who fall for the charm of a city famous for crushing dreams. Both of these you can listen to below. The music is welcome to overstay its presence, but Chazelle instead knows how important his characters are to the storytelling, so both methods of exposition are given ample time to never make you yearn the absence of the other.

For two solid hours of a musical/comedy, I was very impressed by how much dramatic depth lied underneath the atmosphere. These are two equal protagonists whose stories are diversely as important to the overall themes of the movie, and Chazelle never falters as a storyteller. This is very much the anatomy of a real relationship in all of its highs and lows. This of course offers a very realistic approach to something so silly and musically accompanied in delivery, and that’s something that most musicals commonly struggle with. The only minor critique I had about the story is that there’s a plot element introduced about thirty minutes into the movie involving Emma Stone’s disposition to not go all the way with Gosling, and it’s kind of introduced and then disposed of within a ten minute arc. Not something that the movie necessarily needed as a dilemma, and I think taking it out wouldn’t have hurt anything creatively. What I do commend the film for is in the ending that feels right at home with the very themes of this desired location. I can see this being a conversation piece among couples who see the movie, but I thought it played life very real and pure from an engaging point of view.

Stone and Gosling also radiate pure chemistry off of their timeless delivery and modern approaches to a forgotten era of cinema. This is a coming out party in particularly to that of Stone, offering a fresh take on her every-girl persona that is so easy to fall in love with. There’s a great pain to Stone’s Mia, and that empathy registering in all of our stomachs for her character feels prominent through everything she goes through. As I’m sure, everyone who knows me knows I’m a pure Emma-enthusiast, so it should come as no surprise how delightful she was in this movie. What might shock you however, is that I don’t consider Stone a very versatile actress in terms of delivery. That was however until La La Land. This is very much her shining moment to join Hollywood’s elite, an echoing effect that transcribes art imitating life. Gosling is a noble gentlemen straight out of the 60’s, and leading men like Bogart and Gable would clap aloud for Ryan’s gentle touch. His character goes through a transformation of sorts midway through, but it never changes what we indulged about his performance in the first place; endless heart and charisma that prove he’s more than a handsome face. The success of this couple is easy to get behind because we understand through life’s muddy waters how important this brief moment of happiness can be for the other person involved. They very much serve as the inspiration to the other one, and while this isn’t an original take for film, it is one that works every time with two actors as engulfed in chemistry as they are. This is Stone and Gosling’s third movie together, and it’s clear that they are both at their peak when they stand across from the other. Chazelle paints them a beautiful canvas, then lets the actors remind the audience why we’re here in the first place; for a look into two crazy kids who bleed emotion for each other.

If everything I have mentioned above hasn’t encouraged you to see Damien Chazelle’s modern masterpiece, then take with you one final critical praise. La La Land sways to the serenade of an Oscar worthy musical score, while treading along to the beat of life’s many switching lanes. It’s an ambitiously infectious shooting star that transforms Hollywood to a much simpler time of filmmaking. Chazelle’s wizardry doesn’t require a wand, he does just fine with a camera.

10/10

 

Passengers

Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are strangers who are stranded in space, as “Passengers” for a greater cause. The Starship Avalon, on its 120-year voyage to a distant colony planet known as “Homestead II” and transporting 5,259 people, has a malfunction in one of its sleep chambers, awaking its inhabitant, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt). Preston later opens Aurora Lane’s pod after he looks at her videos and files, leaving them both stranded on the spaceship, still 90 years from their destination. Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) is a journalist from New York City who is interested in cosmic travel. Jim Preston is a mechanical engineer from Denver who wants to leave Earth and bought the ticket for the journey. The two soon discover that the malfunction is not the only problem afflicting the huge spaceship, and as they try to find a way out, they soon find themselves falling in love and racing against the inevitability of what they have been chosen for. “Passengers” is directed by Morten Tyldum, and is rated PG-13 for sexuality, brief nudity and action/peril.

Mortel Tyldum takes one of the most notoriously unused scripts on the Hollywood black list to offer a very refreshing and stylistic approach into another futuristic vision of our inevitable fates. One thing that I always love is when a movie with a setting in an uncertain future gives us depictions of everything from socialism to our technological advances, and it’s in those ideas where Passengers thrives well beyond a script with more holes in it than a piece of Swiss cheese. The basic setups for everything does take time with this many buttons and gadgets to feature for this audience, but everything feels even more enhanced with gorgeous cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, as well as sexy backdrops and set designs that always meet their appealing marks. If I was grading this movie purely on style over substance, then Passengers would be one of the very best presentations that I have seen this year. Unfortunately, the material doesn’t match in substance what the artistic integrity pursued in style, and as a result we have one of the most flawed creations in a love story design that we have seen most recently.

During an era and age where Nicolas Sparks offers some truly wooden and artificial substances in material, Passengers manages to take it one step further with this truly insensitive flub that is always in search for a proper attitude in tone. As some of you may have read, the twist to this movie is revealed about a half hour into the movie, and this head-scratching technique steps on so many opportunities to ever elevate this movie beyond Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence doing things. I don’t do spoilers, but I feel like this surprise and manipulation of the audience could’ve garnered more emotional response if it was presented midway through the movie when we’ve invested so much of our time and hope in this man and woman as one. To give us it early on in the first half means that we can telegraph everything predictably every step of the way. Consider it like someone telling you about Bruce Willis’s secret in The Sixth Sense before you even watched it, so now everything feels like a waste of time before the inevitable happens. In addition to this, take out your love for the two main actors and see if this movie’s premise sounds like a horror/suspense thriller to you. To make this a love story, goes opposite of everything that is being presented to a logical thinker like me, and it really makes the emotive responses from the characters less relatable during each scene of backlash once this secret becomes known to everyone concerned.

There were also so many different directions that the script signals towards that it simply never takes. This is a screenplay that had plenty of wiggle room to grant us a third act that was pleasing to everybody despite the jaw-dropping portrayal in tone that this movie set, but it instead chooses to take the predictable road every chance it gets. The final half hour of this movie is so frustrating to a science lover like me who understands not only the inconsistencies in their usage of gravity, but also in their adversity that is easy to solve for anyone not involved in the movie. To say I came up with a solution to most of the problems with the ship during the final act is an understatement that further establishes I was smarter than the cast involved. This flimsy layer of dramatic garbage instead dooms this movie to be Titanic in Space, and nothing ever feels as remotely satisfying as that over-exceeding counterpart. If I did have one positive for the screenplay, it was during the opening half hour when Chris Pratt presented a peeling layer of sanity to the isolation that one faces when they are doomed to be alone for ninety years. This arc of the story is simple enough and certainly offered me the most bang for my buck in entertainment before everything gets complicated and shallow during the midway point. To know it only goes downhill from here is made even worse by the fact that you know the answer to the question long before our characters do, a decision in screenplay that should never be warranted regardless of the terms.

There’s nothing compelling in terms of drama for Pratt and Lawrence in their performances, but their chemistry on-screen is enough to make this nearly two hour experience feel beneficial. Pratt in particular offers glimpses into a side of his acting that we have yet to see, channeling a possible genre change someday for the higher waters of dramatic flow. His character feels human in a world that has advanced around him, and Pratt’s every-man routine never wears thin when there’s so much for him to react to with comedic generosity. Jennifer Lawrence simply feels too good for something of this magnitude, but it’s clear that she had a lot of fun with her sexy co-star. If nothing else, people love watching beautiful people interact off of one another, and that much is evident here with the charm from two of Hollywood’s most prominent actors currently. It’s easy to fall in love with Lawrence’s Aurora because she’s the unattainable girl for all of us guys, made even more attractive when you realize how personable she is. While matters creatively around Pratt and Lawrence crumble or diminish their growth, you can’t deny these two keep you from ever being bored, and their magnetic force in delivery will keep you constantly intrigued through some difficult times in structure.

Passengers soars just high enough with an enhancing visual spectrum to ever keep it from crashing, but there’s certainly enough turbulence among its first act decisions creatively, as well as eye-rolling convenience in the finale, for it to ever reach its true potential. Tyldum relies a little too much on his fresh faces to get him over the hump of a script that is terribly flawed, as well as morally irresponsible, and the those two factors are shrugged off so much that it’s hard to take anything at face value. There’s no gravity in space, and even less in Morten’s picture, which takes every chance to test its audience.

5/10

Rules Don’t Apply

One young lady’s trip up the ladder of Hollywood’s elite becomes complicated by the game of love between competing suitors. In “Rules Don’t Apply”, the newest film written, directed and starring Warren Beatty, we meet An aspiring young actress in Marla (Lily Collins) and her ambitious young driver (Alden Ehrenreich) struggling hopefully with the absurd eccentricities of the wildly unpredictable billionaire Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty) for whom they work. It’s Hollywood, 1958. Small town beauty queen, songwriter, and devout Baptist virgin Marla Mabrey (Collins), under contract to the infamous Howard Hughes (Beatty), arrives in Los Angeles. At the airport, she meets her driver Frank Forbes (Ehrenreich), who is engaged to be married to his 7th grade sweetheart and is a deeply religious Methodist. Their instant attraction not only puts their religious convictions to the test, but also defies Hughes’ #1 rule: no employee is allowed to have any relationship whatsoever with a contract actress. Hughes’ behavior intersects with Marla and Frank in very separate and unexpected ways, and as they are drawn deeper into his bizarre world, their values are challenged and their lives are changed. “Rules Don’t Apply” is rated PG-13 for sexual material including brief strong language, thematic elements.

“Rules Don’t Apply” is the perfect title for a movie like this. It simply doesn’t follow any rules in filmmaking that deal with structure, direction, conceptual tone, pacing, or even editing. To say that this movie is an incoherent mess is going light on it for the very opinions of pretentious film critics. I’m going to give it to you straight; this is possibly the biggest disappointment of the year for me, as I had previously invested a lot into the comeback of Beatty, as well as the A-list cast that accompany him. This movie about the mysterious Hughes had so much promise and capability to tell a story that very few actually know, but instead it’s a mostly fictional, flimsy piece of film that kept me bored through a majority of it. Beatty’s original directing effort in “Dick Tracy” might not be something that many people enjoyed, but I loved it for its crisp art direction and comic book flow that was certainly ahead of its time. So I was interested to see what the charismatic star had for us twenty-six years later. Boy do I wish I could take that wish back.

This is a dual narrative story that never really focuses on one soul protagonist. One could argue that Ehrenreich, Beatty or Collins is the leading role for this movie, but no answer ever feels distinguishingly satisfying against all other arguments. So immediately we don’t know who’s story this is going to be. There’s a romantic difficulty storyline with Collins and Ehrenreich that would be refreshing by itself when played against the backdrop of 1950’s Hollywood, with all of its taboos and seductions. But I then remembered that this story’s trailer was deeply involved with that of Hughes, in that it followed his everyday wacky situational trysts among the Hollywood elite. What doesn’t work about the Hughes tier of this movie is that after two hours of film I still don’t feel like I know anything about the character. There are certainly some liberties taken with his involvement in Collins fictional character, but I found myself actually checking the Wikipedia for Howard Hughes post movie to see how much was true, and that is what disappointed me. This movie had a great promise to tell Howard’s story, but it cuts him short around every great reveal. For a movie that is deeply imbedded in Hughes, it certainly doesn’t do him any favors in giving us a visionary that the world has come to know him by. This is very much the bumbling, decay side of Howard. This wouldn’t be a problem for Beatty who has great dramatic range, but as a director he stinks at developing a proper tone in attitude for the movie, so the things that should be the saddest are presented in a highlight of light-hearted humor that never feels funny. I felt greatly for the character of Hughes, and wish he was in a stronger movie to relate the kind of empathy that his suffering entailed.

Then there’s the editing that I have never seen anything like. Throughout the film, but in particularly the first act, there’s choppy editing that seems to offer a dual problem of either cutting scenes too short or having them run for far too long. This gave me a feeling that the editor was sometimes on a sugar high in some scenes, but in a coma for others. This aspect never allows the movie to run smoothly from judgmental hands, and every time I found myself invested for even a minute, my faith was cut short time and time again. I can’t believe this got passed for a final product because this is first step movements in the editing superlative. To see some of these scenes end mid sentence without ever cutting back, felt like someone was playing a prank on the audience, and the real scene would be presented later on to feel appropriate to a plot gimmick. But it never does. Some scenes could easily be cut because their new establishing shot between the characters is only used for one sentence, and then cuts us to somewhere else. It’s breathtaking in that it does so much harm to the development of these characters, and this laughably bad factor is the only way I could ever recommend something so lacking.

I would be a joke of a critic if I didn’t mention the pacing, which also gave me a first in my 839 reviews that I have done so far. When you tell somebody that a movie was boring, they typically take that as a film’s pacing was too slow, and they would be correct. That rule however is about to change, as this movie bored me to death because of its fast-pacing, which never slowed down. I’m truly perplexed by how a movie could run so quickly, yet be the most boring thing that you could possibly imagine. There’s a lot that Beatty as a screenwriter hurls at the audience, and with this quick-cut editing that never takes time to let anything soak in, we’re never given the chance to digest the current before absorbing another devastating blow. I seriously lost my belief in this film about halfway through, and couldn’t believe that I still had another hour with these characters because it felt like I had already spent life with every one of them. By the end of this movie, should you choose to see it, you will feel like you just sat through the entire Labor Day marathon of “Band of Brothers”, except ya know, that was great and beneficial to your investment.

As for positives, the movie is at least capably acted by an A-list cast that rivals any other movie ensemble this year. Beatty certainly grasps enough influence among the elite to present some against-type turns for some promising young actors, as well as some familiar veterans. Lily Collins stole my heart during a rendition of her original musical number “Rules Don’t Apply”. What works about her as an actress in this role is that Collins has that 50’s starlet look in her physical appearance, and feels believable playing against the blonde bimbo stereotype that Hollywood feels overrun by. Her sweetness and radiance make her a fitting hit, but what about her love interest. In Ehrenreich, we have already seem him dazzle during the golden age of cinema in “Hail, Caeser”, but here his length in screen time and lines are practically tripled, granting us a longer breath of fresh air for the future. He oozes a kind of Matt Damon charm in his delivery, and certainly captures a range of emotions in the ever-changing diagram of his character. The magic between he and Collins is there, but unfortunately it’s always cutting away to Beatty’s dream role. In that, Beatty does prove he still has it, omitting the unraveling psyche of Hughes later years. With a better direction by himself (Imagine the laughter of that), this could’ve been Oscar brilliance. What is missing though, is there’s never any heart to what makes Hughes tingle as a genius. We’re never given brilliance in execution, and this sadly feels more like another impersonation in movies, as opposed to the actor becoming that person.

This is also a very beautiful picture, as lots of the Hollywood backdrop is well represented through Beatty’s visionary approach. If the guy knows one thing between this and “Dick Tracy”, it’s that he knows how to visually present a film, and I was overwhelmed in “Tree of Life” cinematographer Caleb Deschanel’s artistic touch that always keeps the imagery flowing beautifully. His lively touches for the California backdrop during the big boom era is evident, and Caleb at least increases our imagination positively for this story even if the other presentations don’t always reach that similar height.

Beatty makes films by his own rules, but that isn’t always the best case scenario. “Rules Don’t Apply” is a wasted opportunity at a comeback story not only for Warren, but for Hughes as well. It’s an overburdened and overly-ambitious biopic that cuts corners on nearly every ideal aspect, disappointing the audience in presenting something refreshing for the Hollywood biz-flick that has been told one too many times.

3/10

Allied

The extreme pressures of war threaten the sanctity of marriage between a man and a women who are otherwise “Allied”. Director Robert Zimeckis returns to the silver screen bringing his film set In 1942 North Africa, with Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) meeting French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) on a secret mission behind enemy lines. The couple reunites in London and eventually get married, and have a child together. Their relationship is strong and normal but becomes threatened by the brink of war, as Vatan is presented with the possibility that Beausejour is a sleeper spy working for the Germans to deceive him and his country. Vatan is then placed under considerable pressure to kill Beausejour himself or to be executed for failing to obey orders. Convinced of her innocence, he sets out on a very dangerous mission to clear her name and rid the resistance. “Allied” is rated R for violence, some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use.

Robert Zemeckis is a director who always shoots with the most noble of intentions for his period pieces. He understands the look and feel of every time piece, and it’s in that dedication where “Allied” fires on nearly every cylinder of human emotional response. In his newest film, we get an example of a dual atmosphere being played out, with two different styles in tone being considered for the plot of this narrative. With the first act of the movie, this is as genuine of a love story as you have ever seen. The chemistry between Pitt and Cotillard is what makes this work so genuinely, omitting a breath of fresh air to the days past when stars like Gable and Kelly graced the silver screen. The first act is the longest because there is great importance in what goes into their relationship for the crumbling down that inevitably comes later on. For us to understand what went into this romantic affair, we then get the benefit of feeling fully invested when things go South, and this is expert storytelling.

One scene in particular during this first act is a love scene that plays out inside of a car, while a sandstorm is happening around them. This might seem corny or out of place in the hands of a more than capable director like Robert, but its deposition is played out so beautifully and artistic for how every love scene should be shot. There is no music playing opposite of what is transpiring. Instead we only hear the heightening of the storm translating the heightening of passion that is being played out inside of the car, and it makes for a scene worthy of goosebumps. The revolving camera aspect is also quite a visual achievement during such a scene, and I would be curious to watch a DVD extra on how a scene like this was achieved in post-production.

The second act turns things into the movie that we were advertised in the trailer, with a psychological thriller of paranoia being played out. The time piece of World War II is already one of great concern for the characters in our film, but to put that as the backdrop for what unfolds before our very eyes with the concept that our own protagonist could be getting fooled in the same manor that he has done as a spy so many times is breathtaking. There’s this cloud of atmospheric tension being played out that Zemeckis decides to shoot with no musical accompany. This is a positive and a negative during many sequences throughout this film. The positive comes in the captivating tension that mesmerizes our very eyes and ears to the life that has been sucked out of this household. The negatives come later on when the movie doesn’t heighten the panic from these characters fast-paced decisions by offering a riveting musical background. There was also some plot conveniences during this section of the movie that only prolonged the dilemma facing Pitt in nailing down these rumors.

The final act continues one of these two stories, but I will not spoil it for you the reader. Instead I will tell you that I left the theater satisfied for the journey that this story took me on. Simply put, THIS is how you write a genre-defining movie. With unpredictable circumstances being played out around our characters, who are a cause-and-effect of such moral injustices. Zemeckis shows us what it meant to inhabit the lifestyle of being a spy, and the very consequences that come with being too close to the lifestyle. The movie describes in depth what it was to live among a war during the age, and that frightening reality that comes with the possibility that you maybe don’t fully know the person who you love the most in this world. A concept that always kept me fully intrigued, and never lost any momentum through two hours of brilliant writing.

The big-budgeted set pieces and landscape sequences that played out in the movie were very telling of the lifestyle in Morocco during the post-depression era. The wardrobe and cars stretch on for miles through a very immense cast that felt like we were constantly being introduced to a new character. With a budget of 85 million dollars, it’s clear that no artistic direction was spared to capture the essence of Casablanca style for the film. There is some CGI in the movie that I felt was very unnecessary, and played against the tempo of the surreal action that hits us in droves. In particular, there were two scenes of CGI blood that took me out of the sequence and felt like I was watching a SyFy movie of the week. The blood wasn’t necessary to showcase any thought or ideal for the scene, so I didn’t understand why even opting for something so fake. Perhaps their wardrobe and set pieces cut into the CGI violence budget. Either way, I could’ve done without it.

Pitt and Cotillard have been the subject of much controversy with rumors of the duo having an off-screen affair during shooting, and after seeing the intense sequences between them I can understand the concern. The chemistry between them is easy to marvel and get lost in the very passion that omits from their characters spending too much time with one another. Almost an art imitating life kind of feel to the movie. As for their individual performances however, I couldn’t have asked for more gritty realism in depiction for a spy superlative. Brad Pitt gives another Nazi-smashing performance, but for the first time his character feels human. Perhaps the emphasis on the real loneliness of playing make believe as a spy resonated with my interest in his character. His accents have definitely gotten a lot sharper, and Brad gives us a reminder of why he’s one of the most versatile actors working in big budget today. Cotillard is leaps and bounds among the elite in modern actresses. Her performance unfolded articulately when playing against the unfolding narrative that reveals very little about her character. She’s very much a stranger to us halfway through the movie, and our concerns are raised much like Pitt’s when we approach the fear that we really do not know her. Marion channels innocence as well as great intelligence with her character. Either of which are bound to deceive you in one way or another.

“Allied” is an engaging showcase for Pitt and Cotillard, but its shining elegance shines through in its veteran director who captivates us with a heartfelt nod to old-fashioned ideals. Zemeckis builds the tension to a somber climax for this rare Thanksgiving date movie that offers something for both sides of the movie-going couple. A very noteworthy wartime drama.

7/10

Loving

Love endures an endless battle through prejudice in color, in Jeff Nichols newest somber drama “Loving”. Based on the real life 1967 U.S Supreme Court case which validated interracial marriage, the movie tells the story of the courtship and marriage of Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga), a black woman, and Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton), a white man. They are arrested and sentenced to prison on prejudice in Virginia in 1958, because their interracial marriage violates the state’s anti-miscegenation laws. Exiled to Washington, D.C., they sue the state of Virginia in a series of proceedings leading to the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Loving v. Virginia, which holds that laws prohibiting interracial marriage are unconstitutional. Nichols wrote and directed the film, and “Loving” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements.

Jeff Nichols second feature film of 2016 heads in a completely opposite direction of anything that he has ever done as a critically acclaimed director. For all of its merits on fighting the fight of equality and the right that every person has a right to love who they want, “Loving” is very much a romantics story that pits the single greatest emotion in the world front and center of this world-altering story. For the obvious reasons, there’s very little in this film that will actually surprise you. Anyone who pays attention to current events in 2016 knows pretty well that interracial relations are no longer a problem legally, despite them still being the subject of prejudice in some parts of the country. So to go into this movie knowing how it will turn out, is sure to take away a lot of the suspense and shock factor in Nichols picture. Where this movie does hit its stride is in its two main characters who’s bond through some very dividing times in their union keep treading through the world that tells them they can’t, and they object with civil grace and class every single time. This is a story that bases its importance on fighting for the things you love, and that circumference is enough to inspire anybody watching it in a world that has come a long way, but still has so far to go.

Nichols is quickly earning himself the prestige of being one of my favorite directors working today. With achievements in “Midnight Special”, as well as “Mud”, this director knows that a story hinges on its characters, and that is a prime matter in this script. The one thing in common with all of his movies is that they serve as slow-burners, and “Loving” certainly isn’t anything different. I found myself having trouble with being kept intrigued in the real meat of the story because there’s only so often that Nichols brings up the couple’s irregular treatment. We hear about more than we see, and this makes for a couple of dry spells midway through the movie that will test some patience. What he does succeed at doing however, is presenting a different perspective in a racial tension film by putting the white person front-and-center at the backlash. It’s quite unsettling to see how differently Richard and Mildred are taking their disposition, with the former playing off every tirade like he’s being troubled even fighting it. This isn’t to say that Richard doesn’t care, but it’s understandable that from his angle he only wants to do what everyone on this Earth is entitled to; loving their wife. So it feels out of the ordinary for him to be treated like a criminal when he did nothing to justify such a labeling. Mildred is more or less the mouthpiece for this couple, and the course of action falls into her hands, so it’s in her who the movie dominantly follows, offering a counter-productive feminist position to equally match of the racial divide.

The visual presentation and color scheme in the movie is beautiful, radiating the most out of a countryside setting that translates well to its setting in era. The landscapes are familiar for this kind of genre film, but I think the Virginia rural visions plays a character of sorts itself with the emphasis on the importance to what it is opposing in this particular court case. What Nichols relates so beautifully is just how big of a change the two backdrops of Virginia and DC have, further hammering home the idea of just how much has been taken from this couple for living their lifestyle of choice. The illumination of the interior scenes give off a grainy shade of yellow, conjuring up feelings within of the love story of the Lovings being their own fairytale behind these walls, free from the rest of the world that polarizes them. Richard’s vision of building his wife a home early on in the film comes true, and it’s more beautiful than can imagine when that home is filled with the kind of love and sacrifice that it takes to make something this visually enticing.

Two hours feels appropriate enough for this kind of story, but sometimes the movie does take time to get to where it’s trying to go. The third act in particular was a weak point for me, mainly because the decision to omit from showing any of the courtroom footage I felt was a mistake. There was also some missed opportunities with the birts of the three children, two of which show up out of nowhere at the beginning of the second act. What saved this for me from falling into a safe and conventional human rights story like last year’s “Carol” is that this story never takes its audience for granted. The story alone isn’t enough to simply satisfy, there’s also the importance of playing up the tension in defying the law and pledging their case. The love of the Lovings simply isn’t enough to carry this for a full film, so Nichols knows the importance in supplying subplots that do the job in holding the audience in the palms of the story. In that respect, “Loving” warrants the importance of spending our theater money in something that changed our world for the better.

“Loving” shows us that there was a darker time when loving who you wanted could offend everyone else. An ideal that we haven’t completely evaporated from our moral stigmas. Jeff Nichols echoes beautiful touches of factual storytelling, and the chemistry burns strong from Edgarton and Negga who never fail to bring us the goosebumps in standing by their love. Compassionate and well timed. There simply may not be a more important film this year.

7/10