Instant Family

Directed By Sean Anders

Starring – Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner

The Plot – When Pete (Wahlberg) and Ellie (Byrne) decide to start a family, they stumble into the world of foster care adoption. They hope to take in one small child but when they meet three siblings, including a rebellious 15 year old girl (Moner), they find themselves speeding from zero to three kids overnight. Now, Pete and Ellie must hilariously try to learn the ropes of instant parenthood in the hopes of becoming a family.

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual material, adult language and some drug references

POSITIVES

– Much of the humor works here, because it is grounded in reality, instead of the screenplay writing that is all but missing a laugh track to accompany its punchlines. The material is very much grounded in parental life experiences, often feeling like a collection of instances that feel like a right of passage for every parent who has ever taken care of children. This is because Anders himself adopted three children, so it’s a project that he feels very passionate about telling, and I found myself laughing frequently throughout the film, even when the consistency of the tone didn’t cater fully to a comedy genre film. More on that later.

– The chemistry bonds between these actors, making them feel authentic as this growing family. While Wahlberg and Byrne easily dominate the screen time as this remotely monotonous couple who are going through the motions, it is actually Moner who steals the screen, giving way to an adolescent who competently channels the ever-changing emotional range of teenage personality. Moner’s Lizzie is easily the glue that holds this family together, and when that glue is tested, it’s easy to see why the rest of the components fall apart. Moner has been in big films before, but this is easily a star-making turn that will earn her many future roles that she will undoubtedly captivate like she does in this film.

– There is very much this late 80’s John Hughes vibe that I get not only from the treading of dramatic content, but also in Michael Andrews presence on the film’s musical score, that channels vibes of a faithful homage. Lots of synth keyboards and gentle tones throughout, carving out a niche to movies like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” or “The Breakfast Club”, in which you can easily trace the similarities. When Andrews isn’t orchestrating the tempo of sound, we are given popular tracks like “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Starship, or “What Is Life” by George Harrison to hold us over until the next throwback immersion.

– Entertaining as a stand alone film, but educating in its material. “Instant Family” seems intent on squashing the many perceptions, both good and bad, about adoption that our current environment currently has. Along the way, the film takes ample time to guide us through the many steps necessary not only in signing up, but also in raising said foster kids once they are inside of the home. As you can imagine, a lot transpires, and these adults lives are turned upside down, but through it all they, as well as us the audience, are presented an often ignored perspective of the children themselves, narrating a psychological volume to everything that they endure at such a young and character building time in their lives.

– Perfect occasion for the entire family to get together. It’s rare to see a film these days where families of every age demographic can feel entertained for nearly two hours of a film, but “Instant Family” bridges the diverse gap, providing plenty of examples along the way for why it might be the perfect holiday movie this year. Some of the light-hearted humor and brief bodily humor will engage youthful audiences enough into believing this is the typical Mark Wahlberg comedy that is par for the course, but the teasing of this PG-13 rating, involving some testy but tasteful material, will cater to parents who are the only ones in on the kind of jokes that I mentioned earlier regarding parental instances.

– The maturity of heartfelt moments that will have you reaching for the tissues. Many times during the film, my cold heart was on the verge of tears through the material by Anders, that does eventually mature and finds itself at the center of some internally stirring moments. This for me gave the film a lot of depth, acting against a trailer that had it feeling limited to being just another Wahlberg parental comedy, which the film is anything but. One such scene involving the combing of hair between mother and daughter feels every bit as sentimental for how it’s intimately shot, as it does therapeutic for the backstory behind it. This is one of many examples of how interested Anders is as a screenwriter to breaking down walls and healing the emotional scarring of these children by giving them a thought-provoking platform to air their side of things.

– Editing is rarely as important as it is when played towards repetition. As to be expected, the film does have a couple of musical montage sequences, but I feel that they work here because they highlight the tedious and often times overbearing nature of parenting that is often glossed over when described. One such scene is focused outside of the bathroom with a one angle take, and shows the frequency of each character moving in and out of frame to destroy and then clean up, and this gives the film an intelligent side of creativity that other films would use-and-abuse without much meaning behind it. If Anders is a magician at just one thing, it’s in his ability to focus on a particular area, and exploit it for all it is worth, and these instances of delight visually narrate the drastic change of environment that these two adults now find themselves in.

NEGATIVES

– Two hours might be a bit too much for this particular story. While the maturity of the material does evolve and refresh the tribulations inside of this family’s daily routine, the boundaries of repetition are a bit stretched, especially during the second act that feels like it is rehashing much of the same material that we already went over in the first forty minutes of the film. Overall, it’s easy to see what could be spared on the editors floor, and I would be far more supportive of a 100 minute film that keeps with the consistency of pacing that started to slug just before the film’s emotional climax.

– Tonal inconsistencies. Most of the film feels like it is engaged in a tug-of-war battle between this “Cheaper By the Dozen” style of family comedy, while playing against some adult themes in material that are played out as comedy, but should be anything but. For instance, there’s a pervert janitor who sends the oldest daughter (15) penis pictures, there’s physical agony for the little boy, who is the butt of constant jokes about him getting hurt around the house, and an overdone joke about “The Blind Side” that probably isn’t the most racially sensitive, in terms of depiction. “Instant Family” feels like there’s a struggle within itself to properly nail down what kind of film it wants to be, and with more consistency developed, the movie could feel more comfortable in how it attacks these important subplots.

– A bit formulaic and predictable. This is especially evident during the third act, when a series of easily telegraphed events distance the family for the same third act distance that we’ve come to expect. It never goes anywhere that is daring or conflicted, instead neatly packaging up the film’s remaining moments with a bit too much clarity in the form of a perfect existence. This felt like the lone betrayal to the otherwise honest side of adoption that the film takes, and I could’ve used some level of spontaneity to pull itself out of familiarity.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Directed By Marielle Heller

Starring – Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells

The Plot – Lee Israel (McCarthy) who made her living in the 1970’s and 80’s profiling the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Estee Lauder and journalist Dorothy Kilgallen. When Lee is no longer able to get published because she has fallen out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception, abetted by her loyal friend Jack (Grant). An adaptation of the memoir Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the true story of best-selling celebrity biographer (and friend to cats).

Rated R for adult language including some sexual references, and brief drug use

POSITIVES

– Above all else, I interpreted this as a film about friendship, and its one between Lee and Jack that makes so much of the film delightful. These are nearly two strangers who meet and soon find out that they balance each other out. It’s refreshing because they aren’t romantic interests, but rather sharing of a deeper soul connection that each of them so desperately needed to fight the depths of loneliness and isolation. The banter between them is so exquisitely polished, forcing you to hang on to every word between them, and the impeccable chemistry cements this as one of, if not the best, duo of the 2018 film year.

– Bad deeds, good people. It’s a difficult task to indulge on characters who do such illegal and condemning activities, but the film’s outlining of Lee’s undesirable disposition showcases a side to crime that certainly any of us could easily fall into. The motivation from her is fighting back against a life that has beaten her down constantly, therefore when the opportunity arises not only to fight back, but fight back against the system, she more than earnestly accepts. Even with all of this however, the film is responsible enough not to support these decisions, informing us of the steep price to forgery that comes with playing the game. Unconditional love and understanding goes a long way.

– Strong humor without the gimmicks. Yes, this is a drama first and foremost, but that doesn’t mean that McCarthy doesn’t get to show off her comedic presence, which is among the most popular in the business currently. Why the humor works so much for me here, instead of films like “The Boss” or “Life of the Party” is because she isn’t amped up to eleven. Her delivery is very much subdued, relying instead upon brilliant script writing and caustic wit to sell her presence on the film. This is the McCarthy we should be getting more of, and with any luck the film will succeed, proving to her that money is only so important.

– A buzzworthy duo of performances. This is definitely the McCarthy and Grant show, as both accomplished actors bring with them not only a faithful visual transformation to their real life counterparts, but also stirring renditions that have them in award season contention. For Grant, it’s his soft demeanor and gleefully dim-witted delivery that make him the perfect compliment to McCarthy’s lead. For her, it’s Israel’s gruff personality, striped down makeup, and rocky interaction with humans (She loves her cat) that offers something of substantial difference for McCarthy as an actress. There’s an element of sadness in her character, in that her whole career as an author has been to represent someone else’s work, and this cements a level of empathy in Melissa’s and the film that is required to invest in both.

– Colorfully illustrated New York in 1991. Most films would depict this as an excuse to get distractive with the gimmick of the setting, but Heller incorporates a subtle nuance to the big apple that never gets in the way of the unfolding events. It’s almost like you have to look closely to spot the time frame’s dated references, like IBM computers and classic automobiles to name a few, but they’re most certainly there. The cinematography as well, caters to a somberly yellowish faded design of coloring that gives the film that distinct feel of a particular era.

– Can you seriously remember the last time when two gay characters were a film’s two leading protagonists? Points for a film set in the past with such progressive ideals, that does so in a way that is neither insulting, nor incredibly over-the-top for revealing this fact. The orientation of these characters is important enough to the story, but feels secondary to outlining them as people first, and the sooner that we as a society blur the line of similarities to someone with a difference in orientation, the more likely we are to see more stories like them.

– Heller as a director does a superbly, fast-paced job that is responsible for nearly everything that I mentioned above. Aside from her film feeling incredibly engaging from the very start, the film doesn’t have a single scene in it that doesn’t harvest some level of importance to what is unfolding, and that speaks levels to a director who makes the most of her allowance of time. On the commentary side, it’s clear that Heller values Israel as a figure that time sort of forgot, but does so without diminishing the faults that make her an equally compelling antagonist as she is a protagonist. This is a director whose filmography is every bit as expansive in genre offerings as you can ask, and it’s got me curious to see what she will tackle next.

– A family affair with an extremely underrated musical score. Composed by Marielle’s brother Nate, there’s a strong reflection of this film being a character study, reflected by some heavily influenced jazz tunes that are incorporated into the serenity of this picture. It’s never overbearing, nor out of synth when compared to what transpires on screen, and that sense of light-hearted atmosphere in music ages well as the film takes us through some heavy threats that come the way of Lee’s newfound hobby.

NEGATIVES

– Lack of urgency with the third act weight of consequences. While the repercussions of Lee’s choices are inevitable, there’s an overall absence of anxiety missing from the film that would really elevate the tension of getting caught. It’s not a major problem, it just keeps us, and Lee for that matter, free from the kind of motivation required to quit. I could’ve used slightly more teasing within the script to warn Lee to back off. Without it, the final act of the movie feels slightly rushed, and really stands out at the only problem with the screenplay.

– No surprises beyond what is shown in the trailer. The trailer itself isn’t full of spoilers like other terribly constructed ones these days, but rather it paves and easy path to predicting what will transpire here. The sequence of real life events itself are limited, so there isn’t a lot of wiggle room for bombshell announcements or surprises, so it feels remotely pedestrian as a compelling drama. For my money, the film succeeds more as a comedy, and that’s a bit of a letdown because the performances feel very dramatic when the script doesn’t fully meet up with them.

My Grade: 8/10 or A-

The Grinch

Directed By Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier

Starring – Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Angela Lansbury

The Plot – Tells the story of a cynical grump who goes on a mission to steal Christmas, only to have his heart changed by a young girl’s generous holiday spirit. Funny, heartwarming, and visually stunning, it’s a universal story about the spirit of Christmas and the indomitable power of optimism. Cumberbatch lends his voice to the infamous Grinch, who lives a solitary life inside a cave on Mt. Crumpet with only his loyal dog, Max, for company. With a cave rigged with inventions and contraptions for his day-to-day needs, the Grinch only sees his neighbors in Whoville when he runs out of food. Each year at Christmas they disrupt his tranquil solitude with their increasingly bigger, brighter, and louder celebrations. When the Whos declare they are going to make Christmas three times bigger this year, the Grinch …

Rated PG for brief rude humor

POSITIVES

– Even throughout the many on-screen adaptations of The Grinch stealing Christmas, it’s the un-mistakeable message of Christmas that remains persistent, guiding a new generation through what really matters. As to where presents and material matters can be replaced, it is time with loved ones, involving friends, family, and loves, that truly make the holiday season what it is, and especially in 2018, at a time when we might forget such values, a film like “The Grinch” stands the test of time for this direction alone.

– Vibrancy in animation that harvests Illumination’s single best presentation to date. In channeling the articulation of Whoville, the production team use a fruitful combination of shape and color to really capture the pulse of this town that feels so far from our own, giving the set pieces a one of a kind design that prove a lot of time and energy went into them. The outlines of backdrops generate with a pop-up novel kind of stature, and the color pallet itself radiates off of the screen, treating us to several intoxicating visuals that you may need a pause button to properly take in.

– A Cumberbatch of range. In seeing the trailers, it certainly wasn’t a surprise that this was a one man stage show, but rather how much depth that Benedict Cumberbatch has as a vocal actor. Benedict uses these long stretches of delivery that have him sounding like a combination of Moe from “The Simpsons” and the snooty receptionist from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, and after a while you truly get lost in the versatility of his ever-changing tone. In casting him as The Grinch, it not only adds respectable accolades to the taking of the character, but it also gives Cumberbatch depth in the form of a filmography, that above all else proves that this serious actor can deliver on fun when the time calls for it. Beyond this, I also felt SNL’s Keenan Thompson did a great job vocalizing Bricklebaum, and there isn’t a more synthetic pairing of voice matching visual than Thompson’s dry baritone range with the illustration of a husky bearded Christmas junkie. It’s surefire laughs each time he pops up.

– An acceptable time for narration. Considering this film originates from a children’s book, it’s understandable that the producers would include a rhyming narration throughout, read exceptionally by multi-time Grammy winner, Pharrell Williams, but even more than that, it’s acceptable because of Williams positive demeanor being combined with lines that don’t often intrude on what we’re already seeing on camera. It’s true that there are some examples of arguments to be made for this point, but the narration mostly keeps its hands clean, instead serving more as a delve into the mind of a green madman, whose own history with Christmas greatly challenges the on-going narrative.

– While I have problems with the character of The Grinch himself, that I will get to later, one aspect of the film that gave me pleasure was in the kind of justifying that comes with getting an up-close-and-personal depiction of Christmas maniacs, in the town below. There’s certainly nothing wrong with people who enjoy Christmas religiously, but the film takes pleasure in pointing out how overzealous each and every one of these people truly are, and it’s in that passion where you can comprehend why someone would have such a distaste to this. Of course, this isn’t the complete reason for The Grinch’s disdain, but the endless cliches like non-stop Christmas music and commercialism from opportunists, welcome us in to his isolated side, and dare you every step to tell him he’s wrong.

– Kids versus adults. In my opinion, I think there are laughs for both sides of the age spectrum, but I feel like kids will get more from the mostly physical slapstick sight gags that dominated the film’s comic muscle. That’s not to say that nothing is smart about the comedy in the film, but rather the film’s dedication to the bright and bold cater more to those who can be considered attention challenged, and as far as holiday kids movies go, it’s as safe a bet as you can get.

– Modern updates to familiar classics. To go hand-in-hand with Danny Elfman’s ambitious musical score, the collection of songs from assorted artists are given a hip-hop refreshing to not only channel a different sound to familiar lyrics, but also give the title character himself a beat to play against his madness. I’m usually against this particular kind of thing (See hip hop music in the Jesus film “The Star”), but for whatever reason it worked here because of how timeless The Grinch narrative has always been. There’s no yearly designation for when this all takes place, therefore there is no limitation for where any artist can take it in future projects.

NEGATIVES

– Careless subplot. The Cindy story has always been an important part of this story, but why it doesn’t work here is a combination of thinly written characters and overall lack of originality that constantly keep it grounded. I couldn’t of cared less every time the film cut to these characters, and any momentum gained from pacing with its own problems is cut short each time the story shies away from the meat of this plot. On top of that, Cindy and her friends are kind of a bunch of criminals in training, blurring the line between good and bad in a way that wipes protagonists entirely from the picture.

– Stretched screenplay. This film should finally cement the idea that The Grinch story is best suited as a half hour idea, and if this film trimmed itself to a half hour television special, it might be able to compete with the Boris Karloff classic, that is every bit still the measuring stick for this property. To say that the build-up for the heist is stretched is the understatement of the year. This film takes what should be nothing more than a musical montage of training for the big day, and gives each of them five minutes of precious screen time to pad a thinly written 82 minute film. Yes, even with a film that doesn’t reach an hour-and-a-half, there are still these moments of bland that move as slow as syrup, and should be treated as an intro credits scene from Netflix that you can thankfully click skip through.

– Perhaps my biggest problem with this film is in the aspect that The Grinch simply isn’t a grinch. Does he do rude and careless things? Sure, but nothing he does ever feels condemning or personal to the people below. In fact, because of a subplot involving his tortured past, we can justify his actions to an extent, and that’s a major problem for someone described as “Rotten” in song lyrics. Even for a kids movie, this is as safe and inconsequential as it gets, and I wish there were more examples of the detestable side of The Grinch, to make his eventual third act transformation that much more of a distance.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

Nobody’s Fool

Directed By Tyler Perry

Starring – Tiffany Haddish, Tika Sumpter, Whoopi Goldberg

The Plot – A woman (Haddish) is released from prison and reunites with her sister (Sumpter). She soon discovers that her sister is in an online relationship with a man who may not be what he seems.

Rated R for sexual content and adult language throughout, and for drug material

POSITIVES

– The REAL leading lady. Leaps and bounds above the comedic timing of Haddish, or the progression of Sumpter as the central protagonist, it is Goldberg who steals the show, with about ten total minutes of screen time. Whoopi was not only responsible for 90% of my laughs with this film, but she also added a much needed boost of sophistication to the film, that otherwise felt juvenile. I definitely could’ve used more scenes with her, and I wish Perry would’ve taken more advantage of his seasoned veteran.

– Definitely the easiest Perry film to watch. This doesn’t mean that I liked the film, it just means that “Nobody’s Fool” is easily the most accessable Tyler Perry film to audiences fearful from the word of mouth reputation that he’s attained. The reason for this is because this movie caters to two different types of genre audiences: comedy and romance, and that evolution to the second one is something that gives the film many unexpected directions, in terms of versatility, paving the way for possibly Tyler’s most ambitious project to date.

– Lavish interior set designs. For a film produced for super cheap (19 million), “Nobody’s Fool” has a taste for the finer things, decorating character’s apartments with sheik, alluring color schemes that radiate the vibe of New York City faithfully. This is the aspect of Perry’s direction that finally feels up to par when compared to his Madea films, that often look like they take place in front of cardboard cutout props and dollar store decorations. It’s a constant reminder of the differences between Sumpter and Haddish’s respective characters, painting a visual representation before our very eyes that constantly tells us everything we need to know.

NEGATIVES

– There goes the mystery. To anyone who has seen the trailer, they will know that the mystery of suitor Charlie is what a lot of the pitch is built around, yet when I saw the film this couldn’t be further from the truth. Attention is given to the mystery for about the first half of the film, before the characters move on from a terribly disappointing cameo reveal that reveals how far this celebrity has fallen. It is such an afterthought with the progression of this film, and only feels like a 40 minute joke that doesn’t pay off for a single second.

– Flat comedy that rarely hits. You can tell that this film is putting all of its chips on an amped up version of Tiffany Haddish, but it comes across more as a drunk, annoying ten-year-old, instead of a grown woman who interacts with people. Perry has also brought along one of his most annoying nags as a director, as his comedy never knows when to cut itself short, often dragging on these scenes of improv for what feels like a decade at a time.

– Incompetent direction. Perry never feels like he has a grasp on this story and characters, often changing his mind back-and-forth on the decisions they make that would otherwise be concrete for real human beings. This is no more prominent than in the final thirty minutes of the film, where two dating characters break up and get back together three separate times, and we’re not talking casual break ups where they both remain friends, we are talking devastatingly hurtful words that would scar stronger people. This arc of the film, to put it lightly, is batshit crazy. It’s the Tyler Perry movie you’re used to, but didn’t think you were going to get because of Haddish’s shining star. Proof that Perry will never change regardless of the situation.

– Uninspired effects work and attention deficit continuity. Whether in the car with some attrocious green-screen visuals to represent what looks like New York in the 70’s, or Sumpter’s high rise apartment windows mirroring the exact same lighting scheme every night, this film feels pedestrian for even the smallest things. Above all that though, is the laughably bad continuity between scenes that prove no one on set was paying attention. One such scene involves Sumpter’s character showing up to work with her hair looking crazy from getting no sleep. She is sent home, and immediately in the next scene has hair that is beautifully natural and flowing. Did she feel inspired to do her hair for the car ride home? Does she prefer to look better at home than she does at work?

– This premise isn’t believable in the slightest. You’re telling me that this grown, beautiful, intelligent executive is exchanging texts with a man she’s never seen before, and the reason given is because he has poor wi-fi? Since when do you need wi-fi to send a picture on your phone? Does he have a Facebook page? At the very least, could he have mailed her a picture in the one year they’ve been speaking? Even for a 1990’s premise, I can’t buy this in the slightest. It’s the same kind of baby back bullshit that Perry has been selling his audiences for over a decade, and they’re just stupid enough to buy into it.

– Crammed into the middle of this already bloated screenplay, is a sex scene that is every bit as awkward and engaging as Tommy Wiseau’s in “The Room”. Not only does this scene go on for what feels like forever, not only are the faces made so ridiculously goofy that you won’t be able to fight back laughter, not only is the chemistry between the actors as natural as a brother and sister getting together, but it all ends with the line “You can go home now”. Keep in mind that this is the romance we as an audience are rooting for. There’s also some speculation as to why Perry shot more of the male anatomy than the female in this particular scene. Sure you can say that he’s catering to his female audience, but my intuition points to another theory of mine that I’ve had for years for a man who has made a career dressing in drag. Just be free, Tyler, please.

– Pointless, unlikeable characters. I mentioned earlier that this is a vehicle for Haddish’s talents, but what’s astounding is how little of weight her character has to the unveiling story. Haddish receives top billing, but it’s actually Sumpter who is the main protagonist of the movie, as everything revolves around her character’s love life. If you think Haddish has any place in this movie, think about how much the story would change if her character was wiped from the film. IT WOULDN’T. On the subject of Sumpter’s character, I’m going to be blunt: she’s a nasty, naive bitch who no person with morals would support or indulge with in the slightest. She complains about her love life, yet won’t give the time of day to the cute barista who she sees everyday who loves her and gives her free things, she says these terrible things about people behind their backs and then seeks forgiveness immediately, and she hurts those who help her constantly. I’m all for conflicted protagonists, but Sumpter’s character is someone who I would never embrace on or off screen, so I can’t in good conscience want her to succeed.

My grade: 3/10 or F

The Other Side of the Wind

Directed By Orson Welles

Starring – John Huston, Robert Random, Peter Bogdanovich

The Plot – A satire of Hollywood, the story focuses on the last days of a legendary film director named Jake Hannaford (Huston), who is struggling to forge his last great comeback as a major filmmaker. Hannaford is hard at work on his final masterpiece, “The Other Side of The Wind”.

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

POSITIVES

– Time machine effect. Certain films will transport you to a particular era because of articulate production value for intended purpose, but “The Other Side of the Wind” is a film that attains this by quite literally being a film from a different era of filmmaking. This is a movie that has sat on the shelf for over forty years because of bankruptcy, and is just now seeing the light of day, so the ability to watch something from a time when the things we take for granted were in their infancy, is something that gives the film a one-of-a-kind experience, and grants us one more day in the sun with a genius director who unfortunately left us far too early.

– Crime Noir influenced musical score by Michel Legrand. With plenty of rhythmic jazz instrumentals and an enhanced modern age buffering to clean up the sound, Legrand instills a vibrant sense of the golden age of Hollywood that feeds hand-in-hand with the plot and setting of the film. The easy listenings excel at transcending the screen psychologically in a way that a mockumentary like this requires, and establishes a classy outline to the audibility that envelopes the film synthetically, giving an element of cool to Welles final project.

– Although denied by Welles himself, there’s plenty of reasons to suggest that this film is a bit auto-biographical for the director. Considering this was a man who was very much a mystery wrapped inside of an enigma for admirers who studied him for decades, “The Other Side of the Wind” feels like the most revealing look into a man who was prickly and compromising in the same ways that the main protagonist of the story is. Beyond this, experiences of Welles are decorated throughout the film, engaging us in angles like a snobby critic, the intimacy between a director and his leading ladies, and the urgency of a studio-backed project that often feels like a soul-selling deal to the devil. This all feels a bit too precise to be just another project from Orson, and that thought will hit you almost immediately, should you decide to take this film on.

– Surprisingly, a great amount of dependency upon comedy. Not only is the humor for the film necessary in keeping the audience invested into the dialogue heavy banter throughout two hours of the movie, it’s also finely tuned with a strong combination of sarcasm and reveal, to give us the elusive backlot commentary for most productions during the time. While nothing is truly laugh-out-loud in terms of material, the accuracy of its modest deliveries were something that remained consistent, creating an open door for people to hook themselves into these characters and situations.

– Razor sharp editing. Some of Welles best work in film has always been his ahead-of-its-time editing, and that is certainly on display here, through sequences that sometimes juggle two or three on-going narratives. There was over four hundred hours of film shot in total for this film, so the production team had quite the challenge in trimming this to just two hours, but I think old Orson would be proud if he managed to see the exceptional work involving visual psychological twitches, as well as the juggling of cinematography styles, to make a presentation that feels chaotically subversive. Editing like those depicted in the film are thought of as conventional in 2018, but that thought process is because of a visual pioneer who had the vision to try it first.

– Symbolism of life versus film. There’s a film within this film that is also called “The Other Side of the Wind”, and it’s in dissecting the real film’s two sides where you see Orson’s most obvious discoveries. The fictional film is not only shot more beautifully, involving a rich blend of color to compliment the stained-glass feel, but also feels less complicated because of the lack of dialogue used from within. I believe Orson was telling us that real life is anything but the movies, and that the desirable world we seek lies somewhere in the middle of the fantasy and reality that became his artistic expression. I did manage to find much more in the comparison, but I would start reaching spoiler territory, and I’d rather let you experience it for yourself.

– A duo of fully-committed performances. I’d like to see Huston receive an Oscar nomination, for the ink blot test of a character that Hannaford comes across as. There’s an essence of sadness that comes from his unlimited wisdom inside of the game for so long, and Huston’s grizzled face and unabashed nature in tearing down every relationship and honor he’s attained, lend to a trapped personal hell that the director can’t escape. Matching him nearly jab-for-jab, is Bogdanovich, as my favorite character, Brooks. Peter is himself a director in real life, so he knows what it takes to channel a character in a way that makes him essential to the film, and that’s what we have here. When Brooks is off camera, with the noticeable lack of delightful banter between he and Hannaford, as well as his collection of celebrity impressions, the movie stalls. His inclusion is that important, and the chemistry with Huston cements a friendship that hangs in the balance between student/teacher and best friends. It also doesn’t hurt that Bogdanovich is the single best Bill Hicks look-a-like that I’ve ever seen.

NEGATIVES

– This is a tough sell to any kind of audience, mainly because the disjointed nature of these scenes can sometimes come across as hollow and inconsistent. Especially in the first act, there’s a real lack of definition from what transpires, and the collection of scenes feel like just that: a collection of separated instances that don’t necessarily gel as one cohesive unit. If you can make it through this, the film does eventually pick up, but it’s clear that a lot of the heart and instinct that comes with the director of such a passion project is missing from the scene.

– While the film within the film is stylishly provocative and sensually sinister, it takes up far too much of the finished run time, for my taste. This serves as a major distraction to the continuity and progressive flow of the characters we become invested in, leaving them far too often to come across as nothing more than a test of patience that the audience frequently has to endure.

– Certain aspects of the film unfortunately don’t age well. Female abuse treated like a hiccup, free-flowing use of the derogatory term for the gay community, and the main protagonist’s desire for underage women only do damage to a movie that is at least a product of its time, and at most an offensive time stamp that reminds us how far we’ve come as a society. These three things are tied to necessary developments in the plot, but don’t erase the elements that make it difficult to embrace a character like Hannaford.

My grade: 7/10 or B-

Mid90s

Directed By Jonah Hill

Starring – Sunny Suljic, Katherine Waterston, Lucas Hedges

The Plot – The movie follows a teenager named Stevie (Suljic) growing up in Los Angeles. He’s struggling with his family, including his co-dependent single mom (Waterston) and his abusive older brother (Hedges), and at school, where his richer friends seem to overlook him. When Stevie befriends a crew of skateboarders, he learns some tough lessons about class, race, and privilege.

Rated R for pervasive language, sexual content, drug and alcohol use, some violent behavior/disturbing images – all involving minors

POSITIVES

– Jonah Hill’s impeccable sense of sight and sound within this designated time frame. Being a youth during such a progressive period in our history, grants Hill as the ideal candidate for such an expressive project, and the Oscar nominated actor’s first swing as a director connects hard with audiences who, like Jonah, bare witness to the expressive trends in fashion and music alike. Because of such “Mid90s” is very much enriched in a nostalgic gloss that intentionally feels dated for all of the right reasons.

– Style with substance. The decision to craft this film in 16 MM with a 4:3 ratio is one that moves the creativity of the film miles in terms of duplicating that authentic 90’s home video dazzle of filmmaking, giving it at times a documentary feel of realism that the entire picture is cloaked in. Imagination is big with me, and there’s nothing out currently that looks or even feels like Jonah’s subversive spin on skate culture, that goes hand-in-hand with this particular story and set of characters. Obviously we can’t return to the 90’s to film a movie, so cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt is more than happy to oblige bringing the 90’s to us.

– Another slam dunk score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch. I had no idea that these two Oscar winning composers were scoring “Mid90s”, and it only takes minutes for the film’s tones to channel those of the duo’s cold, callous repertoire that we’ve come to expect. The piano triggers loudest during Stevie’s deafening levels of isolation, and if anyone can articulate the angst associated with teenage perplexity, it’s the man who fronts Nine Inch Nails. Unfortunately, their cues don’t come often enough, as too much of the film’s accompanying music relies more on the soundtrack, which presented problems that I will get to later.

– What’s so effective and relatable about this film is that it transcends the group tag to give us feelings and situations that hit on everyone’s awkward adolescence. For me, it’s Stevie’s deteriorating relationship with his family, as well as the timidness and conformity that goes with wanting to fit in. This is perhaps the single greatest strength that Hill as a screenwriter instills, because his sequence of events feel every bit as natural as they do compromising to our main protagonist. In trying to be cool, we see how uncool it all really is, and its wisdom that comes with living through such experiences, that make you want to reach out and speak to Stevie personally.

– Breakthrough performances from a relatively unknown ensemble cast. This decision alone feeds into what we’re watching feeling like real life, giving the film a rich side of candidness that many films can’t hit on because of familiar faces. Even more impressive, the kids themselves are actual skateboarders. Suljic roars in his first starring role with a combination of innocence and ferocity that equally mold this outline of a teenager, who by the end of the film still feels in search of an identity that’s his. I felt great empathy for this character because every action comes at the desire to please someone else, a move that will inevitably move him no closer to self-happiness. The rest of the cast meets their marks equally as effective, even if the decision to cast Waterston and Hedges stands out like a sore thumb from the rest of the fresh-faced ensemble.

– Underrated editing that strikes a nerve psychologically. This aspect is great purely for its minimalist approach. There are times during the film when you blink and you could miss aspect of clever filmmaking, making you wonder if what you saw actually happened in real time. Without spoiling much, conversations between two characters clip on and off, jumbling up the continuity from shot-to-shot, and unnerving us in a way that we can’t explain or justify. This is especially the case during the beginning of a major sequence towards the end of the film that gave me a great jump scare for how visually and audibly arresting it comes across. It all serves as manipulation of the product that kept my attention firmly during these brief tweaks of creativity.

– Unapologetic dialogue that is anything but politically correct. This too feeds into the particular place and time that this film takes place in, depicting a world that feels far from our own in terms of offensive reactions that follow such R-rated banter. There is such a naturalism to it all that accompanies these exchanges that other films feel far too prepared to capture authentically, and while some of it is indeed racy, it’s refreshing to view a world where the youth feel tougher than adults, in that they don’t let throwaway words cloud their judgment of people.

NEGATIVES

– Minimal plot that lessens the dramatic pull. While I don’t have a problem with a film that has little to no story, its presence on this screenplay is one that hinders the impactful third act, reaching for weight on its characters and subplots that never feels fully rendered. Specifically, it’s in the lack of character exposition that feels forced during a brief five minute conversation that feels most obvious, and the forgettable, incomplete ending is a reminder of such inconsistencies that Hill could better steer as rider of this board.

– I mentioned earlier that the soundtrack, while offering a wide variety of genre favorites for the decade, felt forced for all of the wrong reasons. What I mean by this is there’s no context or syntax to their disposals, feeling very much unnatural and spoon-fed for the recognizability of the tracks that will inevitably warm a soft spot in the guts of audience members. A film about a particular decade certainly requires the use of some songs to represent its era, but the sloppiness associated with their deposits made for some truly distracting scenes that illustrated the intruding line of production that sometimes overshot the synthetics of the 90’s feel.

– Loose ends that come and go without resolution. There’s a Hispanic character in the group who has a conflict with Stevie early on that eventually comes to blows between them. My problem with this is the many things set up with this character that goes absolutely nowhere in comparison to the final direction. There’s also a confrontation between the two most influential characters in this skateboarding group that seriously is never mentioned again after its introduction happens with only twenty minutes left in the movie. It’s a little late at that point to be introducing new subplots to the story, and the lack of conclusion between their conflict feels like something more was left on the cutting room floor, that wasn’t important enough to reach the finished product.

My grade: 7/10 or B

Never Goin Back

Directed By Augustine Frizzell

Starring – Maia Mitchell, Camila Morrone, Kyle Mooney

The Plot – Jessie (Morrone) and Angela (Mitchell), high school dropout BFFs, are taking a week off to chill at the beach. Too bad their house got robbed, rent’s due, they’re about to get fired, and they’re broke. Now they’ve gotta avoid eviction, stay out of jail and get to the beach, no matter what.

Rated R for crude sexual content and adult language throughout, drug use and brief nudity – all involving teens.

POSITIVES

– A harvested value of friendship that bonds the female leads and the audience alike. It’s rare to see this kind of female chemistry being exuberated on film, and not since “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion”, has a duo felt so in-sync to the point of them often feeling like the same person. Much of what you feel for this film will rely on your investment upon these characters alone, and my satisfaction with the work of Mitchell and Morrone, that feels like they’ve been friends for years, puts it right up there with Michael Cera and Jonah Hill from “Superbad”, in terms of sharp comedic timing and tag team banter that never withered under the dependability of them in the film. On a superficial level, the girls are remarkably beautiful, and I mention this because the lack of makeup on them throughout the film gives their characters that stripped down edge that values them for so much more than just a pretty face.

– Frizzell’s respect for the characters. It would certainly be easy to mock and ridicule Jessie and Angela for their limited social standings in life that come off as less than desirable initially, but in pulling the camera back through 82 minutes of exposition, Augustine highlights the drive in ambition and intelligence that keeps pushing them forward, proving that they are anything but dumb stereotypes. Women will love this angle because it shows the unapologetic rawness of two leading ladies, combined with the emphasis and intrigue to value the story that is theirs and many like them who are watching at home.

– Weight within the Fort Worth environment. This film reminded me a lot of last year’s “The Florida Project”, in that the humidity and steaming decay of western mini malls and temporary business fronts overcrowd the area, giving way to a mentality that opportunity is present, it’s just limited in terms of prospering and potential growth. The landscapes here are staged with an appearance of advantageous commercialism, and additionally the bleak surroundings of a claustrophobic apartment that sees our ladies sharing a bed to get by. It’s not quite the slums, but it’s not entirely far off either, and Frizzell’s dependency on the setting here instills even more empathy for the characters that you would otherwise overlook in a conventional setting.

– I am not an easy laugher by any means, and “Never Goin Back” had me chuckling to the point that I required pauses in between readings of dialogue. What’s charming to me is that this isn’t simply actresses reading lines, it’s also R-rated bodily humor that never relents, facial documentation that allows you to accurately read what the character is thinking or going through at that moment, and especially the work of some zany supporting characters around our two leads that attribute to what feels like their normalcy. It’s a world inside of a world that is colorfully articulated, and it leads to one of the best comedies of the 2018 Summer season.

– Intelligent use of easy listening favorites. Without question, my favorite aspect of the film is in the occasional inserts of sax-heavy tracks that audibly narrate the disgust or the desire of a character need in the frame at that particular moment. It feels like irresistible delves into the psyche of two stoners, whose minds are always on the hamster wheel, and allows us that rare opportunity to pull away from them and laugh at their torturous disposition. I definitely won’t give away anything here, but any movie that can add layers to Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You” is brilliant in my book, and the scene that it accompanies could be a gift-wrapped present to IHOP if they were wise enough to take advantage of it.

– As easy of a sit as you’re going to get. As I Mentioned earlier, the film barely clocks in at 82 minutes of recorded film, and the progression of the free-flowing narrative combined with the untimely mayhem of what transpires along the way, moves the pacing miles ahead of what is asked of it, allowing “Never Goin Back” the power to keep the audience firmly in its entertaining grasp without convoluting or alienating audiences along the way.

– 90’s weightless cinema at its finest. This film feels like a more-than worthy representative of what I call “Hang around comedy”, a frequently visited subgenre at the turn of the 21st century that gave us classics like “Clerks” or “Empire Records” among others, and fed into the notion of so much happening to a limited amount of characters in a day or two of story time. In this aspect, what feels like the end of the world for Jessie and Angela is really just another day for those around them, and I respected Frizzell for this status of script that gives the film a positively throwaway sense of viewing by audience. These are the kind of films intended when people say to shut your mind off and just enjoy, and for a movie with such a limited range of impact, it certainly left a lasting memory on me hours after I watched it.

NEGATIVES

– The subplot involving Jessie’s brother (Played by Joel Allen), is entertaining enough in its element, but to me required a bit more satire and commentary in fully fleshing out a character who is twice as lazy and degraded as our two leads. There isn’t a positive male influence anywhere in this film, and that’s OK, I don’t mind that, but the overabundance of time devoted to him despite a subplot that goes literally nowhere is something that I felt unnecessarily weighed down his character arc, and never allowed him the opportunity to grow as anything other than the loser we first meet in minute eleven of the film.

– It made me a bit uncomfortable that two characters who are mentioned as being 16 or 17, are oogled upon in the most Michael Bay method of visual storytelling that you could possibly imagine. Considering this is all helmed by a woman, it’s a bit of a disappointment that her one glaring flaw is in the way that she, like many male directors before her, objectify women in the most awkward and unnecessary manner that Hollywood can offer. Are these two beautiful women? Yes, but they’re beautiful because of their undying spirits despite life’s brutal hammering, and it constantly felt I learned that when the movie didn’t.

– Late reveals during the final scenes of the third act involving a restaurant owner, felt a bit too convenient for me on two separate occasions. The first, a reveal about his occupation proves just how small the worlds inside of a movie can be, but the second reveal caters to a character mention earlier that should have been nothing more than a disposable drop of dialogue. Instead, drawing this out to be a major factor in the film’s conclusion hints that Frizzell is a student of coincidence, giving the ending a contradicting feeling of surrealism that tucks it away neatly.

My Grade: 7/10 or a B-

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween

Directed By Ari Sandel

Starring – Jack Black, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Madison Iseman

The Plot – In the small town of Wardenclyffe on Halloween Night, two boys named Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sam (Caleel Harris) find a manuscript in an abandoned house that was previously owned by R. L. Stine (Black) called “Haunted Halloween.” When they open it, they release Slappy (Also Black) who plans to create the Halloween Apocalypse with the help of his Halloween monster allies. Now, Sonny and Sam, alongside Sonny’s sister, Sarah (Iseman) and Stine himself, must work to thwart Slappy’s plot before all is lost.

Rated PG for scary creature action and images, some thematic elements, rude humor and adult language

POSITIVES

– Once again, Jack Black’s polished routine that is perfect for the young adult center stage. In playing two respective roles in this film for the price of one, Black commands the attention of the audience with two personalities that shine for completely different reasons. As Stine, Black is able to poke fun at exposing the fourth wall of cliches that often ridicule Stine’s real life writing, and as Slappy it’s Black’s vocal capabilities that bring to life my personal favorite character once again in these movies. Black’s sinister laugh as Slappy is one of the few unsettling moments in the film, and serves as a constant reminder of how truly lost this franchise would be without its shining star.

– Surprisingly quite a few laughs. Everything in a film is obviously scripted, but for my money it was those subtle digs at pop culture properties like Stephen King’s IT, or the Universal Monsters that really registered with me, and made this film remarkably easier to sit through. What I love about these deliveries are that they come so subtly that you almost miss them if you’re not glued to the screen, and this aspect will give “Haunted Halloween” great second watch possibilities for people who seek to dig slightly deeper in the charms of this screenplay.

– Constantly keeps moving. At 83 breezy minutes, this film is anything but an obstacle to get through, but its screenplay is one that remains persistent at pushing this story forward without dulling the audience. This does create some obvious problems with character arcs that I will get to later, but Sandel’s direction reigns at rarely giving us a moment of breather, and something usually compromising did wonders for the pacing of this film’s movements.

– Look no further for a film that competently bridges the gap of horror between child and adult. It’s obvious what this film offers for the youthful moviegoer: delicate scares that never infringe on the confidence of parents, as well as wacky slapstick humor that they will eat up like Halloween candy, but it’s in its crossover appeal with adults that is perhaps its single greatest achievement. “Haunted Halloween” never feels immature, nor does it feel too tacky on the side of rich holiday atmosphere, instead it pays homage to that demographic that grew up with these stories, and dares them to indulge themselves one more time to pass on to their own kin, making this a generational affair of sentimental importance.

– Dominic Lewis’s audible gifts to the film that craft a layer of feasting fantasy. I love a musical composer who isn’t afraid to explore emphasis in his eerie tones, and Lewis does this without ever crossing into the kind of ominous territory that would have rendered the atmosphere counterfeit. This is very much a composer who embraces the hokey side of Halloween, and his collection of haunted house favorites can easily serve as the soundtrack to any kind of October get-together that you plan.

NEGATIVES

– Un-rendered C.G effects. Initially, I had zero problems with the designs of the computer generated characters of the film. In appearance, they look every bit as believable as they do intimidating, so it was a bit of a letdown to see their movements with live action characters feel weightless during interaction. This is an example of the little things coming back to bite a production squarely in the ass, as these effects feel so foreign to the immersion that we as an audience require in registering the physical conflicts that unfold.

– Dangerously self-infatuated. It’s always been strange to me that Stine is a character in his own stories on film, but the real problem with this angle became evident in this film. “Haunted Halloween” does that thing where the writer already knows what happens, so therefore he knows what’s to come, and has no problems relating this to the audience. This renders the screenplay predictably telegraphed from a mile away, leaving any kind of surprises on the cutting room floor. The film went to this gimmick too many times for my taste, and left the Stine character as the compromising negative to oppose Black’s brilliance with playing the character.

– Bland underwritten characters. Part of my surprise in enjoying the first Goosebumps movie was the delightful personalities and relatable backstories of many characters, but “Haunted Halloween” is a noticeable regression in this department, sacrificing necessary character subplots to fill in the blanks. It doesn’t help that this young and inexperienced cast is poorly directed by Sandel in emitting what we as an audience can sink our teeth into in terms of charisma. They’re Disney Channel movie characters to a tee, and never once was I able to invest myself in their trials and tribulations.

– Disappointingly for a sequel, this one falls flat on a lot of measurements. For one, the first film is barely mentioned, but worse than this it feels like leap years away from where this story and its antagonist begins. Slappy is locked away in a chest. How he got there I have no idea. This makes no sense with how the first film began. In addition to this, his character motivation of wanting a family to feel whole is completely compromising to his personality during the first film. Then there’s his supernatural powers of telekinesis that come completely out of left field. I wouldn’t have a problem with this inclusion if it made less sense as the film goes on. For example, Slappy moves many objects and characters with his mind in the beginning, but when the conflict comes this gift is never used again. If he had, this film would be and should be fifteen minutes long, with him squashing the protagonists without problem.

– Can we please stop putting Ken Jeong in movies now? I get it, “The Hangover” was funny, and full of toilet humor from its show-stealing Asian centerpiece, but his schtick in 2018 feels about as fresh as a Foghat concert. Even for kids level of humor, Jeong’s scenes feel like a sharp knife to the spine each time the film cuts to him. His character isn’t exactly pointless, just written without a sense of direction, and Jeong’s brand of humor feels like the concrete slab tied to the feet of a character with no essential importance to the film’s creativity.

5/10

Venom

Directed by Ruben Fleischer

Starring – Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed

The Plot – When Eddie Brock (Hardy) acquires the powers of a symbiote, he will have to release his alter-ego “Venom” to save his life.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for adult language

POSITIVES

– One of the few things that this film does right, is Eddie’s juxtaposition for power within himself against this new entity that has overtaken him. My problem with Venom’s depiction in “Spider-Man 3” is that other than Topher Grace’s initial descent into mayhem, there is no balance for power between the two sides, leaving much of the psychosis of the character unsubstantial. Thankfully, “Venom” not only aims for this intriguing angle, but masters it because of Hardy’s physical performance and witty banter with his darker side (Also voiced by Hardy) that is leaps above anyone else in the movie.

– My initial fear going into this film was that we would get two minutes of actual Venom, and the rest would be Tom Hardy moving around, but thankfully I was wrong on this prediction. For fans of the infamous comic character, there’s plenty of destruction and devastation from the symbiote that makes the effort for the film feel warranted, even when the rest of it isn’t as up to par. If you’re looking for a film that presents the character in live action form, then “Venom” might be the bite you’re looking for.

– Whether the audience wants it there or not, the banter between Hardy and Venom offers a surprisingly delightful layer of cheese that will test even the strongest of lock-jaws who want so badly to hate this film. I can say that I myself did get more than a few laughs with this film, harvesting perhaps the most enjoyment that I got from a movie that was otherwise aimlessly conventional by most accounts. If this was JUST a film about a man with voices in his head, then the interaction between the two mentioned above would almost certainly carve out a welcome mat invitation to Hardy for a future comedy, as the man has just the right balance of timing and delivery to make him appealing to anything today that passes for a comic actor.

NEGATIVES

– Offensive dialogue. “Venom” finds this median somewhere between testy mature material involved with a PG-13 rating, yet stilted by the effects of bumbling dialogue that is downright amateur for this level. Much of the conversations never feel synthetic, nor do they withstand the tonal consistency within the film that so much of this comic character is riding on. Simply put, there’s too much humor involved here, and it feels every bit as forced as it does redundantly underwhelming.

– Speaking of PG-13, it does the Venom character, as well as the boundaries of realism zero favors in this particular example. There are no fewer than fifty fatalities in the body count department of this film, but the problem is that not one drop of blood spills, nor is one instant of brutality captured without a quick-cut that renders it emotionless. If you can’t make the movie that the character rightfully deserves, then why even try? “Venom” is a watered down parasite that is constantly in search of an identity to thrive under.

– Part of the problem for me with intrigue and captivation into this movie is that it constantly feels like another film is taking place while this one is front-and-center, and we’re constantly reminded of it. It’s been reported that this movie has been a victim of the hack-and-slash experimentation on the cutting room floor, wiping away more than forty minutes from its presentation that could easily be the answers in exposition that we need. Instead, we are subject to things happening like a little girl coming into contact with the symbiote, and the mention of Eddie climbing a huge tree that never comes into play once during the film, leaving the audience scratching their heads for these moments mentioned that had me debating my memory.

– Easy way out on Venom. This one is difficult to explain without spoilers, so I will just say that there is a twist 80% of the way into this film that levels the playing field between good and evil respectively, and in doing so it feels like a betrayal to the definition of the entity. If you don’t want to craft Venom with a villainous edge, then don’t make the movie. Instead, we get a buddy comedy cut-out that for my money is every bit as offensive as Topher Grace spouting off cheesy one-liners, more than ten years ago.

– Wasted performances from a talented cast. Hardy’s physicality and conversations within himself give him just enough to be passable as Eddie Brock, but his underdeveloped backstory and misdirected vulnerability never fully capture the essence of investment needed from us the audience. Likewise, Riz Ahmed’s antagonist is every mid 90’s superhero villain, before anyone knew how to make one of these movies. He whispers when he speaks, he does his evil deeds behind the walls of an evil corporation, and he gets erect at the thought of world domination. He’s a walking, talking cliche that might be Hardy’s biggest argument for more screen time. Michelle Williams? Don’t get me started. Behind one of the worst wigs I’ve ever seen, as well as being reduced to nothing more than the hero’s eye candy, this Oscar nominated actress feels like she has more than served her community service time, between this and early 2018 sludge “I Feel Pretty”.

– Awful effects work. In the trailers, this aspect stood out like a sore thumb, but when expanded over 91 minutes of screen time, it’s more like a boner in sweat pants. How could computer animation be this bad in 2018? Uninspired facial distorts that feel like Hardy’s character stood in front of a projector, motorcycle chase sequences with Apple 95 cut-and-paste facial renderings, and a clunky design for the symbiote that feels so weightless in movements and vibrations that you could almost see mouse pad used to move it. You may like or hate “Venom” all the same, but you in no way can give a pass to effects that are one step above The Lawnmower Man in terms of artistic layers.

– But wait, there’s a mid-credits scene. Despite the fact that a film this jaded has the balls to market a sequel, we are treated to the idea of who the villain would be for that alarm clock fantasy, and while I love the actor who is playing this character, it is again an homage to the mid 90’s, when big name A-list actors would portray comic characters even if they were terrible for that role. My biggest problem though, is how the big reveal is delivered, with the character revealing their name in a way that hasn’t felt as desperate since Joker wrote his own name in a tattoo in “Suicide Squad”. Without this name drop, this scene would be completely useless, and only highlights once again how poorly developed the characters and their respective backstories were for this movie.

3/10

Night School

Directed by Malcolm D. Lee

Starring – Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Taran Killiam

The Plot – A group of troublemakers are forced to attend night school in hope that they’ll pass the GED exam to finish high school. One of these is Teddy (Hart), who requires a GED to attain a high paying job. Standing in his way is a brash teacher (Haddish) who will teach him much more than reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, adult language, some drug references and violence

POSITIVES

– An unsung hero? In the battle of Hart versus Haddish, it’s surprisingly Keith David, who plays Hart’s ashamed father in the movie, who comes out on top. David plays easily my favorite character of the film, and he only needed three scenes to showcase why he is a national treasure. David’s brand of humor doesn’t feel desperate or insincere, relying more on earnest, blunt deliveries to get his point across time and time again, and man does it ever work.

– One surprise. Thankfully, the film doesn’t force Hart and Haddish’s characters together, like it feels like the film tries to do repeatedly in the first two acts of the film. In going this route, it allows each of them ample time to showcase their signature styles without one feeling like a prophet for the other. While the material is extremely underwritten, this decision was one that I commend the film greatly for, in keeping the relationship between student and teacher purely platonic.

– Once in a while, a film will come along that sells a fictional brand of food or product to the audience, and it gets me yearning for more, and that’s clearly Christ Chicken in ‘Night School’. Sadly, we only get one look inside of the restaurant itself, but it leaves the door open for brilliance in satirical products that I wish were real. I won’t spoil the names used here for drinks or dishes, but I will say that it’s easy to think how every ounce of creativity was invested in this arc (See what I did there?)

NEGATIVES

– Way too long. 106 minutes might not seem that bad on the surface, but Lee’s film drags to mental subconscious as a result of two things. The first is this film having two third acts. To anyone who knows the basics about scripts, the third act is always the conflict, and with this film there are two such instances for the trials that Hart’s character must endure. In addition to this, the improv level of a Kevin Hart film is once again the angle that terribly weighs the humor level of this film down. Scenes are prolonged and film spent to witness Hart and Haddish bounce off of each other in the most juvenile of offerings, and about thirty minutes into the film you’ve already captured everything that either of them have to offer.

– Amateur A.D.R. Not only is the voice renderings in this film bad, but they serve as a crash course for future sound mixers of what not to do in a major motion picture. Nothing about these dubbings feel remotely believable in their abnormal spikes in volume, nor do they match up visually with the mouth movements that supposedly mirror deliveries. Because this film is PG-13, there is also multiple occasions when a curse word is jarringly removed from the scene, in favor of an adolescent replacement that only proves how watered down this film truly is.

– The most morally shallow movie of 2018. In providing Hart’s character with something as serious as Attention Deficit Disorder, the film has the possibility of covering some pretty deep psychological stingers for people who suffer from the limiting disease, but unfortunately this film would rather remove anything meaningful for more slapstick skids that are every bit offensive as they are unnecessary. So since Hart’s character has A.D.D, what is the way that Haddish gets through to him? Why, by beating the shit out of him repeatedly, that’s how. Teachers are taking notes as we speak.

– Much of the reason the comedy doesn’t work for me is how desperate it feels in trying to cover every end of the tasteless humor spectrum, and striking out every single time. There are some brief laughs, but it’s mostly from Hart and Haddish’s usual schtick that we’ve already seen a hundred times, that never progresses or elevates itself. Then there’s the desire to paint some scenes with some truly gross-out humor that feels beneath even a Kevin Hart movie. For a film revolving around school, this one flunks early and often, conjuring up a grade of incomplete for the lack of effort that went into it.

– What is with the editing? I take back saying that I never laughed in this film, because the editing capabilities in this film are of the B-movie grade variety. How did this happen to a film that is going to be seen by so many eyes? The editing in the film ends scenes prematurely, as well as repeats cuts to make sure the audience is paying attention. There is one scene where Romany Malco repeats the same line three different times in the same scene. This wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t quite literally the same take played three different times for three different reactions. If lazy had an award, this one would close out the show. Truly jaw-dropping for all the wrong reasons.

– No evidence of effort. Besides the fact that Kevin once again plays his character in high school, stretching the boundaries of believability into submission, there are many more instances of why the production feels so uninspired and problematic. One scene has Hart’s character literally blowing up his workplace in the fakest, most hollow, C.G explosion of all time, yet Kevin doesn’t have a single scratch on him. There’s also the product that this film tries to sell, in which it shows one student failing the test no fewer than six times, yet still is able to graduate with their class when they finally do pass. I guess when you fail night school, you don’t have to take the class over again, just the test.

– Easily the most forgettable of Hart’s movie career. This film isn’t just bad for all of the reasons listed above, but there isn’t a single instance in the script that I can point to where I would ever match and compare it to one of his better films. This proves just how little works with ‘Night School’, in that no single scene is ever reputable enough to con someone into watching it. Even as I wrote this review, I had great difficulty remembering the aspects of the film that I liked and hated.

3/10

Smallfoot

Directed by Karey Kirkpatrick and Jason Reisig

Starring – Channing Tatum, James Corden, Zendaya

The Plot – A yeti named Migo (Tatum) is convinced that a human known only as “Small Foot” is real and has to prove to his tribe that it does exist with the help of Meechee (Zendaya) and the S.E.S – Smallfoot Evidentiary Society.

Rated PG for some action, rude humor, and thematic elements

POSITIVES

– Infectious vocal work from this talented ensemble cast. Tatum is wonderous as Migo, the perfect childhood protagonist to immerse yourself in. Through a barrage of musical numbers and jolting vocal reactions, his range is as wide and set for the animated stage as ever. Also brilliant is the work of Zendaya and Common as two voices who couldn’t be more perfectly articulated for the visual traits and designs of their character. Common in particular hones his craft with respectable authority, carving out a leader who is every bit intimidating as he is assertive, and Zendaya’s Meechee is the voice of reason for the two sides within this village who seek factual evidence.

– Much of the comedic humor was on and off for me, in that the dialogue material felt very juvenile, while the sight gags reigned supreme at pulling out a laugh or two from me. The editing is crisp in working side-by-side with this shock style of animation, allowing Migo to take bodily harm for our delight in a way that is entertaining above brutally violent.

– The message within. Animation films cannot simply come and go without harboring a greater sense of purpose, and ‘Smallfoot’s’ heart and self-clarity message to challenge the status quo burns through the chilly mountainside that we feel with each passing breath. This allows the film to succeed as a family film, but above all else one that teaches our youths to seek answers for themselves, and never rely on someone else’s narrative to light the way.

– Breaks the fourth wall of animated films by attacking the language barrier between human and species. To be honest, this angle could’ve been explored remotely more in depth, but I commend a movie greatly for pursuing some of the aspects of kids movies that have always bothered me, with the perfectly spoken English by animals at the top of the list. In depiction, it’s refreshing to see two different sides who don’t understand each other, and have to communicate that message of unity with translated body language to bridge the gap.

– No antagonist? Well sort of. ‘Smallfoot’ doesn’t have a character with an evil vendetta, instead using its conflict for the clouded state of judgement that acts as a slow-burn poison through the ignorant, particularly that of Common’s Stonekeeper character. What’s refreshing about this is it only proves that kids movies can branch out and clear the hurdles of conventionalism that render their movies predictable by familiar, overdone movements. The enemy is in what they irresponsibly choose to believe, keeping them on the opposite side of progressive ideals that literally limits their culture.

– Surprising musical genre influence. In watching the few trailers for this film, I never got the sense that song was a major part of the film’s surroundings, but almost right away we’re treated to character spotlights that do a great deed to the unfolding narrative. The songs aren’t anything amazing or of noteworthy praise, but they proceed the plot in much quicker ways than the film’s exposition ever does, giving us the kind of wisdom in lyrics that song writers can only dream of.

– Poignantly progressive third act that perfectly sets the stage for the many battles that future generations will inevitably face. Now more than ever, our relationship with the media, police, and even with our politics feels challenged, and Kirkpatrick’s focused direction unapologetically invites audiences in offering many great conversation starters after the film, that will enhance its lasting power. One image in particular during a stand-off between two sides is literally pulled from our own rising tensions, and offers a subtle reminder at what we demean ourselves from when information becomes taxing.

NEGATIVES

– Uninspired animation. While the backdrops worked in what little focus we dedicated to them, the film unfortunately never excels at radiating the beauty of its chilling atmosphere. Even worse, the variety of character appearances and overall designs feel outdated, reminding us of films like ‘Monsters Inc’ or ‘Hotel Transylvania’ that never challenge the tracing eye of a skilled animator. When Pixar is doing great things with water and even body hair movements, there’s simply no excuse for artistic limitations.

– Too many characters, not enough variety. The seeds of repetition are sowed even early on in the film, when different characters begin repeating similar lines to what we’ve already learned in a previous scene. The problem with casting such a recognizable and accomplished cast is that you must give them reasons for their existence, and while the majority of performances exceed in emotional deliveries what the script tries so desperately to diminish, the importance of their inclusion never feels warranted. For my money, I could’ve used a more intimate tribe within this Yeti community, allowing the material to last a little longer.

– Ending twist makes no sense. MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD. There’s a scene involving a character creating a ploy for his friends to get him away from trailing authorities, and this character pulls this massive suit out of nowhere to fool them. Where did he get the suit? Where did he keep the suit? How does the masks movements move so real when it’s a suit? How does he operate the suit, considering it’s easily eight times his size? Who cares though, because it’s a kids movie, right?

7/10

Assassination Nation

Directed by Sam Levinson

Starring – Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse

The Plot – High school senior Lily (Young) and her group of friends live in a haze of texts, posts, selfies and chats just like the rest of the world. So, when an anonymous hacker starts posting details from the private lives of everyone in their small town, the result is absolute madness leaving Lily and her friends questioning whether they’ll live through the night.

Rated R for disturbing bloody violence, strong sexual material including menace, pervasive language, and for drug and alcohol use, all involving teens

POSITIVES

– Stylish introduction sequence that sets the precedent. The film opens with this stylish sequence that reminded me of exploitation movies of the 70’s, complete with audible narration and visual likenesses to tell you what’s behind its creative content. In this regard, it pretty much runs through every reason why this film is rated R, giving you a taste of the material before the storytelling has truly begun. This not only showed me that this film had a sense of humor, ala Quentin Tarrantino vibes, but also that it values style every bit as much as substance, welcoming us into a world where law and order has been reduced to civilian measures.

– Authentic dialogue. As a screenwriter, Levinson channels rich honesty in the way he mimics the speech patterns and conversations of today’s youth, bringing forth a level of realism that proves that the man has done his homework. But it isn’t just in the way that this group of free-spirited women communicate personally with each other, it’s also in the articulation and abbreviation of texting that really hammers this positive home. The amount of times that these characters reach for their phones is a constant reminder of how attached at the hips they are to social media, luring them with the cheese that will eventually trap them whole.

– As for the film’s camera work, there’s a documentary vibe that elicits itself from the experimentation in angles and movements that sets itself apart from the rest of the pack. Levinson cashes in quick edits for manipulated long takes, and this decision pays off immensely with some of my favorite scenes that keeps the grip on tension firmly. One such scene involves a house break-in by a masked group of guys, and we the audience are taken through each room of the house from the outside, pasting together the stream of madness that is spreading like a cancer inside. It is definitely one of my favorite sequences of the year, and magnificent for how it’s cut together to feel like it’s playing out in real time.

– Fresh-faced cast. While the film does have some big name long-time actors like Jennifer Morrison, Joel McHale, and even Pennywise himself, Bill Skarsgard, the decision to hire actresses who are majorly inexperienced is one that pays off greatly for immersing yourself in them as characters. What’s equally more endearing is that each of them steal the show in their own ways, carving out four star-studded breakthrough performances that will undoubtedly bring them to the spectrum of bigger pictures. More than anyone, it’s Young’s nightmarish transformation of Lily that keeps your attention, experiencing a growing reaction to the town that puts her at the forefront of the growing panic.

– Going into this film, I felt that this was going to solely rest as a study of harrowing feminism across a post-Trump elected environment, and while it thrives as that, it doesn’t just rest on those laurels. This is also very much a warning to the kind of stock and security that we put into technology, opening our eyes to how truly vulnerable every one of us are when we think this four inch device shields what’s boiling underneath. We are treated to the fragility of hormone-drive males and how respond to female nudity, and how often women are condemned for doing what they want with their own bodies. All of this echoes these small seeds of truth that we can pull from our own society, allowing the fears that are homegrown within the film to grow with the light of audience eyes firmly focused upon them.

– Reflective storytelling. While I already mentioned the transformation of Lily and what it does to the significance of her character, it also shouldn’t be understated what this does to the movie itself that so faithfully follows her. About halfway through the film, this turns into the scariest Purge horror movie that you’ve ever seen, bringing with it more seeds of honesty than that series could ever attain with satire. The unnerving movements and actions of the townspeople are very effective, and the movie’s thirst for blood is fully realized in the way the angles play with your imagination.

– Without question, my single favorite aspect of the film was the mesmerizing lighting scheme that radiated throughout much of the first act. These unorthodox coloring measures are every bit euphoric as they are absorbing, often embracing the mood of the room and characters respectively with its neon tints. As the film progresses, we are given subtle reminders of this scheme, but never as obvious or as influential as it was during those pivotal first twenty minutes, and I believe this is because there’s something to be said about shaking this almost angelic and dreary perception that the townsfolk have on these girls, in seeing them how THEY want them to be.

NEGATIVES

– Not a major problem, but calling the town Salem was a bit over the top for me. If you know anything about the Salem Witch Trials, you know what I’m referring to, and this not only gives off an unsubtle hint at what’s to inevitably come within our story and main protagonists, but also takes away from the audience relating itself even further to the material. For my money, I wish they would’ve not even mentioned the town name. Mentally, this would be food-for-thought in that it could happen anywhere, and doesn’t limit its message of urgency to one specific place.

– Second act spills. Without a doubt, the second act is the weakness of the film for me, often feeling like its narration is trailing off on character shaping and residential panic to properly bring along its progression. Because of the latter, it greatly feels like the response from the town jumps two steps with little or no warning, exceeding believability a bit with such drastic jumps, and I would prefer Levinson focus slightly more on what’s going on outside of these temporarily protected walls that our group of ladies secure themselves in.

– Principal subplot? One such instance of the sloppy grip that Levinson occasionally stumbles at with his materialistic agenda, is the subplot involving a principal’s secret being revealed. This goes virtually nowhere after the news breaks, and what’s even worse is the lack of involvement from this actor/character as the film goes on, reminds us just how much fat the film could’ve trimmed for itself, in ridding itself of these distracting subplots that take us absolutely nowhere. Another such example is the FBI supposedly tracking Lily’s online movements, but then never actually appearing in the film. Surely something this big would have government workers all over the place, but all we ever get is a goofy sheriff twice removed from a Dukes of Hazzard movie.

7/10