The Secret Life of Pets 2

Directed By Brian Lynch

Starring – Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Harrison Ford

The Plot – Max (Oswalt) faces some major changes after his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) gets married and now has a child . On a family trip to the countryside, Max meets a farm dog named Rooster (Ford), and both attempt to overcome his fears. Meanwhile, Gidget (Jenny Slate) tries to rescue Max’s favorite toy from a cat-packed apartment, and Snowball (Hart) sets on a mission to free a white tiger named Hu from a circus.

Rated PG for some action and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Improvements on all things animation. Illumination Studios has always been a distant third in detailed animation, but thanks to the tightening of illustrations that fills this film, arguably the very best artistic film that the studio has ever produced, they can start to bridge the gap of their opposition. It isn’t just one thing but rather a barrage, as the believability behind stormy weather patterns is beautifully rendered, the expressions of animals during the most extreme occasions adds more to the comedic relief, and even the 3D effects give an immersive quality to everything flowing in frame that warrants paying a little extra to see this film. With time, this studio will hopefully continue this trend, and offer so much more than colorfully vibrant backgrounds against a city skyline that offers plenty of familiar geography to place this story accordingly.

– Talented cast. Oswalt is a more-than enthusiastic fill-in for Louie C.K, but it’s really the work of Slate and Hart who take center stage in incorporating intensity to their often familiar vocal tones. As Gidget, Slate is a force to be reckoned with, juggling an infatuation for Max all the while proving to the audience the extent of her cunning intellect. As to where the first film showed off Slate as a lover, this one cements her as a fighter, and her emoting of Gidget is my very favorite of this entire franchise. Hart should stick with animated properties for a while, because the combination of eccentric deliveries and polar opposite vocal capacity in comparison to that of his furry rendering, makes him perfect for voice range capabilities, and the focus and attention given to his character practically begs for a Snowball spin-off that feels just around the corner. New additions are those from Tiffany Haddish, Dana Carvey, and a wise, weathered dog leader voiced by none other than Han Solo himself, Harrison Ford. It rounds off arguably the brightest ensemble of comedic actors in quite some time, and prove that their talents serve a much bigger purpose than just physical humor in sight gags.

– Fluffy run time. This one clocks in at a measly 77 minutes, and with sharing time between three respective story arcs does so in a way that keeps the eagerness and intensity of the storytelling firmly in grip with regards to a youthful audience that sometimes slip away during slow periods of exposition. While this does create some problems for the fluidity of the transitions, which I will get to later, the confidence donated to each vital character receiving their own conflicts in the story gives the movie a three-movie-for-one quality within its pages that practically forces movement in the casual three act structure that can sometimes omit itself invisible in family genre cinema. There was never a time when I was bored or antsy watching this movie, and much credit goes to the producers of the film for knowing just how far to stretch each story before it becomes something in depth that it rightfully shouldn’t.

– Intelligence in gags. I said this about the first film, and it’s something that continues in this movie. The way the film takes real moments of familiarity from the pets in our own lives, and adds a layer of profound poignancy to each situation is something that not only reaches for audience participation, but also does so in a way that will have you intentionally remembering the occasions from this movie once you go home. This gives the film and its material a consistency in shelf life that many films in modern day don’t attain, and speaks volumes to the levels of attention that screenwriters Chris Renaud and Jonathan Del Val engage in to contrast with their audience’s. In that respect, the material itself feels very much fleshed out from real life, and performed in an exaggerated way that works because of its small amounts of truth that derive from these very humorously humbling moments of love from our best friends.

– Pre-credits rap video. I won’t give away much here, but Kevin Hart’s dream to be a rapper comes full circle in a spoof of a familiar rap track from the previous couple years that is given new context thanks to the world surrounding his character. Not since 2006’s “Waiting…” has a post-movie performance left such a lasting impression on me, and the work of creativity in rhymes combined with the sheer lunacy of the situation in mid-day form, makes this moment the one that stands out the most for me in terms of comic lasting power, and non-surprisingly gives the original track, which I hated tremendously, a new lease on life. If this song was heard on the radio even half as much as that original song, then I would be fine with it.

– Strong positive message. As is the case with every kids movie out today, this one has a takeaway message that bonds its respective subplots together for one cohesive beat, and it’s the importance of overcoming fear. Especially with younger audiences, this message will ring true from within them, because it’s at that age where battling adversities prepares them for the war that is adolescence, and it’s something that resonates on-screen in each of the fears that the main character’s have to overcome for the sake of their developments. If an on-screen message is presented strong enough, kids will take even more away from it, and thankfully the film never feels overly preachy or even condescending in the message it sends the next generation of adventure seekers home with.

NEGATIVES

– Incoherent structure. As I mentioned earlier, there are three different subplots competing for time, and while this does wonders in keeping the attention of younger audiences, it does nothing for experienced moviegoers who know how important seamless transitions really are to the progress of a particular narrative. The outline of each story feels episodic, mainly because of unshakeable predictability and adjacent plotting, which does the film no favors in establishing its story as a group effort like the first movie. Because of this triangle of direction, the script itself forgets certain early angles established early on (See Max’s protection of little boy) that would make great films on their own, but are relegated to split screen time with other stories not half as compelling. For my money, the Snowball story could easily be stretched out for his own spin-off, leaving the branches of the other two somewhat connected plots feeling cohesive because of the way one is the effect of the other’s cause.

– Lack of weight. The conflicts from this movie are practically non-existent, thanks in part to resolutions that often come too fast, and a shoe-horned antagonist character who feels completely wrong for this world. On the former, I could’ve used more time for fear or tribulation for the character’s embattled with their respective conflicts. This is where ten or fifteen minutes of additional screen time could’ve further fleshed out the urgency and vulnerability of these small pets in a big world setting, and given way to further audience participation who have shared the struggles that each character has gone through. As for the antagonist, it’s the loudest reminder that this is a cartoon kids movie, complete with bulging eyes, black ensemble, and a hatred for animals for no other reason than the script asked for it. Quick question, how many times have you seen a villain who owns an abusive zoo, where the protagonists have to rescue said animals from his clutches? If you’ve run out of fingers, so have I.

– Plot holes. When you consider that this is virtually a “Toy Story” ripoff, you must consider the rules established within the world that make absolutely no sense when you consider a sprinkle of logic. For one, many of these pets go missing for long periods of time that make me question why no human owner is freaking out about where they’ve gone. In addition to this, there are certain instances in the film where believability is stretched further than a “Fast and Furious” lesson on gravity. Some of my favorite examples are a dog outracing a train, two dogs riding a remote controlled toy car without it tipping over or losing speed, and a psychopathic old woman character who not only commits murder, but also sees no problem with owning a Siberian tiger. Considering much of this film is set-up with real world ideals and consequences, these instances soil the authenticity of the engagement, and disappointed me for how these films are still insulting the intelligence of their youthful audience.

– Additional complaints. While this will only be a problem for people who see advanced screenings of this film, the inclusion of a behind-the-scenes introduction that plays before the film is more than just a little spoiler-filled for the gags it gives away. Why would you include something like these before the film plays? It renders the power of your laughs weak because the audience has already seen it before the movie starts, and just feels redundant once it comes around in the movie itself. The trailers for this film were actually solid, in that they didn’t give much away other than spare instances of familiarity of the pets in our own lives, but this production video did absolutely no favors in those regards, and took away from material that by its own merits was effective at garnering a laugh or two on its original run through.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

Rocketman

Directed By Dexter Fletcher

Starring – Taron Egerton, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard

The Plot – A musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John’s (Egerton) breakthrough years.

Rated R for adult language throughout, some drug use and sexual content

POSITIVES

– British led cast. Everyone here is on their marks in providing depth to their respective character’s, as well as instilling a sense of value and weight within the story that makes them vital as supporting cast, but it’s clearly the tour-de-force performance by Egerton that everyone will be raving about minutes after they see it. This is not an impression of Elton John, this is Elton John. Taron gives his best performance to date, transforming the look and sound of his familiarity to compliment that of the imposing figure who he’s taking on, and there’s much eye-opening to be complimented about his work in the film. For one, he does all of his own singing, a feat that until the movie ended I had no idea about. While obviously not as strong or passionate as John behind the mic, Egerton has clearly done his homework, establishing the line of variety in genre offerings from John’s catalogue of music that changed with the scenery of pre and post disco influence. In addition to this, Egerton’s psychological delve is one that captures the energy, love, loneliness, and despair of the singer through some of his biggest triumphs and darkest disasters, and Taron’s timely grip on the pulse of the ever-changing dynamic of the character is one that feels earned brilliantly with the tides of the script.

– Breathtaking production value. This is where the film separates itself from other biopics of the genre, as the look and feel of “Rocketman” was made for the big screen. What allows it to spare itself from feelings of TV-movie-of-the-week budget is in the immense scale of choreographed-led musical numbers, practical precision in make-up designs, vibrant boisterousness of costume design, and a feast for fantasy that blurs the line of reality and imagination seamlessly. If every musical biopic had this level of focus and budget expressiveness, then we would be able to emit the fun from all of the raw energy contained inside, but Fletcher knows that John’s story certainly isn’t a cheap one to tell, and it leads to a barrage of lucid surrealism that benefits from the drug-fueled intensity of the cocaine age.

– R-rating. I still don’t comprehend how “Bohemian Rhapsody” could even imagine telling Freddie Mercury’s life story with the limitations set by its studio and the PG-13 tag it was given, but the decision here to travel the adult route with its material pays off in spades for the way it can properly articulate the meat of its material. From the carelessness of Elton’s diverse sex life, to the abuse of illegal drugs and narcotics, to the rapid-fire fury of the English dialogue, everything is covered in vivid detail, giving audiences a no-apologies depiction of a heralded figure for better or worse, and it gave me great appreciation for the screenplay to use Elton’s biggest negatives to craft an enveloping layer of indulgence for the audience, as well as a dramatic layering to the story, which feels far from topical. Nothing ever feels overdone or desperate to fill an R-rating quota, and it keeps the air of honesty to Elton’s engagements on display in the exact manner they took place.

– Wide range of story. As to where most musical biopics only cover a brief sampling of the artist’s fame, “Rocketman” has an appreciation for everything Elton John, as well as Reginald Dwight. Kicking off during his early days as a kid in dealing with two mentally abusive parents, the film eventually takes us through the entire first half of Elton’s immense 40 year career, before settling down during the days in rehab that eventually changed his life for the better. This seems like a lot to cover in nearly two hours of film, but what’s remarkably shocking is how the film gives ample time to each important chapter without alienating the fluidity of pacing that is nearly always smooth in transition. Beyond this, the storytelling tool in narration is one that I found to be very clever, not only for the way it is set-up in the opening scene of the movie, but also for the way it evolves in diminishing wardrobe with every beat of the story. It gives food for thought in the stripped down nature of John starting and ending his career as Reginald, and comforting us with a blanket of clarity as he finally feels comfortable being the man he was born to be.

– Meaning behind the soundtrack. The film has no shortage of Elton favorites to choose from, conjuring up around twenty-five favorites from the musician that take us through the roller-coaster momentum in his trysts with fame, but there’s something more elusive to the way that each song and sequence transition, proving that Elton always used life as a means, and music as a therapy to bind the two world’s. Films make many mistakes in this aspect, because they often depict a popular song being made in the most topically obvious and unintelligent demeanor, but the almost freestyle effort of song writing that John displays feels replicated from the previous scene in a way that naturally harvests from a tortured soul. It was in this area where I learned the most about John that I didn’t previously know before the film, and helps cement an audible reflection to what’s transpiring inside of Elton.

– Passage of time. I hate to bring this film up again, but my biggest problem with “Bohemian Rhapsody” is how it mutilated important dates and events in Freddie’s life for the shaping of the film, but “Rocketman” gives an alluring and poetic design behind the way it collides with the sands of time. No dates or text is featured throughout the film, and even more shocking, huge amounts of time will pass not only for us the audience, but also for John, which results in him feeling like Rip Van Winkle, in that he just woke up from a ten year nap. What’s so cinematically appropriate for this direction is it captures the fragility and sacrifices paid not only to immersing in the live fast lifestyle that booze, drugs, and depression can form, but also in the routine of being a rockstar, which is anything but appealing by this film’s standards. We the audience are merely left to establish a time frame from iconic Elton fashions, as well as the look and feel of the world that changes around him with nuanced subtlty. It proves that the when isn’t nearly as important as the who or the why, and allows us to get lost in the devil of the details instead.

– Backdrop special effects. This is all done on green-screen, but you would never know it because of the impeccable technology associated with visual time travel in the same vein as Marvel’s ability to de-age a particular actor. This gives us time to soak in the glitz and glamor of the Hollywood specter, as the world famous Troubadour bar becomes youthful again, complete with posters in the windows which are no longer present, and an architecture design that reminds people that the location grew just like Elton did once the two were married in rock and roll on that legendary night in August 1970. If this is the direction that production teams are taking us, then soon there won’t be any need for on-site shooting, and while there is an element of tragedy to that circumstance, the believability and texture shading of flawless computer generation will at least help trim production budgets accordingly, all the while articulating past ages in a way that feels far beyond a visual gimmick.

– Juggling of tones. I wasn’t surprised in how much comedy filled the script, but what did surprise me was the landing power of such witty banter all the while the sting of dramatic elements were being felt. These two co-exist simultaneously through Reginald’s loveless home life, to his questioned sexuality in his later years, to the single most romantic non-sexual friendship between Elton and lyricist Bernie Taupin, and what’s more important is that neither are compromised because of the other’s influence on the dynamic of a particular scene. This film took me on an emotional registry of laughter, fear, curiosity, and sadness for the evolution of the story, proving that it would rather appeal to a broader spectrum of audience tastes rather than cater to the limitations and cliches of one respective field.

– Fletcher steals the light. This is the very same director who finished “Bohemian Rhapsody” (There I go again) from the disastrous production that hindered it to finishing as just a decent final product, but with “Rocketman” it’s a fresh and complete start for the man at the wheel. What we learn from his stroke is that he values the human side of the heralded superstar, carving out a helping of audience investment that keeps us glued to the unfolding drama and tension within Elton’s life that is more urgent because of that focus. Likewise, the influential photography breathes a light of audience connection that features John singing to us the audience, instead of the grand scale that we have come to expect in cinematic musicals. It cements a feeling of professionalism and on-screen presence in rendered style that garners a developing visionary in Hollywood, thanks in whole to commanding the stories of two of music’s biggest icons.

NEGATIVES

– Technical inconsistencies. This brought forth two noticeable problems, with the first dealing with the uninspiring levels of cinematography established in interior office scenes. The coloring scheme and textures establish a level of generated lighting that does nothing to compliment the appeal of the scene. Likewise, a continued problem for Fletcher’s editing team remains prominent in this film, as the editing is far too choppy during scenes involving two character’s. It made for some highly distracting scenes during moments of heartfelt resonance, which deemed it necessary to show us the same line of dialogue in as many as three different angles for what I guess is towards the better of understanding the essence of the conversation? Either way, less anxiousness in illustrating these casual scenes.

My Grade: 9/10 or A-

A Dog’s Journey

Directed By Gail Mancuso

Starring – Dennis Quaid, Marg Helgenberger, Kathryn Prescott

The Plot – Bailey (voiced again by Josh Gad) is living the good life on the Michigan farm of his “boy,” Ethan (Quaid) and Ethan’s wife Hannah (Helgenberger). He even has a new playmate: Ethan and Hannah’s baby granddaughter, CJ. The problem is that CJ’s mom, Gloria (Gilpin), decides to take CJ away. As Bailey’s soul prepares to leave this life for a new one, he makes a promise to Ethan to find CJ and protect her at any cost. Thus begins Bailey’s adventure through multiple lives filled with love, friendship and devotion as he, CJ  (Prescott), and CJ’s best friend Trent (Henry Lau) experience joy and heartbreak, music and laughter, and few really good belly rubs.

Rated PG for thematic content, some peril and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Canine control. These movies more than others have a tight grasp on the often times tricky art known as animal acting, but the crisp editing and grounded stunt work from these furry creatures make each of their influences on the scene feel seamless. It helps that most of these sequences are given ample time between cuts, keeping the cut-and-paste option minimal, all the while allowing the dogs to muscle out the commands they are being given. Never once in the movie did I feel the air of cinema magic for brash difficulty in attainability, and this more than anything is the biggest testament to Mancuso as a leading hand, for the way she brings extraordinary precision out of grounded requests from her four-legged co-stars, closing the gap between human and animal actors with a commitment to craft that goes a long way.

– Speaking of human performances, the work of the collective cast here is a majority solid. Quaid is back with his second film in a week, but this time it’s to showcase the sweet and sensitive side of his demeanor that outweighs the hammy nature of his dialogue. Likewise, Kathryn Prescott also carves out confidence in maintaining roughly 60% of the movie. Mancuso keeps the story firmly in-tow with her character, and throughout a series of dramatic beats and life-altering events, Prescott proves her emotional registry being years above her cinematic inexperience. Also, as Bailey the dog, Josh Gad is once again every bit as infectious as he is connected to the audience he engages with. Gad rarely has trouble emitting the energy that each scene requires, and through a healthy amount of audible narration, we are given ample time with the continued presence over the story, who takes us through all of life’s unique quips and quirks.

– Further developing of human protagonists. This is arguably the biggest difference from the first film, as the sequel sticks closer to this dog’s interaction with just the one family, as opposed to the many it came across in reuniting with its original owner. This allows the script to enhance our investment into their story-time dynamics, as well as cutting out a lot of the unnecessary padding associated with pushing the reset button every time Bailey dies, giving us a natural flow of pacing for the plot that (Lets be honest) is the main thing we care about with these movies. In doing this, I found a strong interest with CJ’s well-being, as well as the tumultuous uneasiness that her family is left with after many instances of dramatic tension formed from misunderstanding. It proves that “A Dog’s Journey” values the human protagonists every bit as much as man’s best friend, and can succeed a lot easier with an audience when it sets them on equal footing.

– Mature themes for family audiences. I value a kids movie so much more when it treats the youths with the respect associated in guiding them through meaty material without truly testing the limits of a PG rating. Likewise, the material itself doesn’t suffer a hinderance in effectiveness because of such, taking us through themes of alcoholism, abandonment, reincarnation, and even cancer that constantly keeps them on their toes. To a certain degree, you could say that each of these are used in manipulative ways that damned the first movie from receiving a passing grade from this critic, but the unraveling of events feels natural here, and not necessarily catering to a meandering cause. It’s all about educating its youths in ordinary circumstances which some of them will someday be confronted with, and it elevates the dramatic tension of the film effectively because of its upping of stakes from the first movie.

– Detailed make-up and prosthetics. While only used for one scene and two character’s in the movie, the film’s use of natural aging enhancements feels naturally convincing and reflective of the time that has passed from when we last saw them. This was one of my biggest concerns with watching the trailers, as the film’s multi-decade progression was depicted without any of the scenes of these actors after their separation, but thankfully the surprise was saved for the film itself, and it does so with a modest amount of wrinkling cream, glasses, and wigs that go a long way where computer graphics aren’t necessary. These kind of effects normally do cost more in studio productions, but the integrity of realistic visual effects is something that I commend it greatly for, and I hope it’s a healthy direction that many more films will follow with it.

– Important life lessons. This is especially, but not limited to, youthful female audiences, as the protagonist of the film becomes embattled with some internal conflicts that ages her well ahead of her years in terms of wisdom. Because of such, the film boosts and a message of resiliency and self-belief to young girls everywhere, educating them on the importance associated with entertaining the right choices in male suitors where looks certainly aren’t everything. In a perfect world, films like these would serve as strong poignancy pieces for the future females of tomorrow, but in the overabundance of intriguing details in the movie, it’s easy to see that it could easily be lost or overlooked in translation. Even still, the script takes an approach especially to adopted little girls, who have to blaze their own path after those they depended on fell off of theirs.

NEGATIVES

– Stilted dialogue. Much of the line reads and dialogue associated with still reek of hokey, obviousness, that occasionally makes this feel like a Hallmark Channel movie, instead of the big screen presentation that we’re supposed to feel. One such example is in the continuity of speech by Gad throughout a time-passing montage, that doesn’t make sense when you consider he’s in the scene he’s supposed to be talking over a passage of ample time. This makes it clearly evident that the film values audience narration over storytelling believability, and I wish I could say it’s the only problem associated with Gad’s narration. As well, it’s every bit as re-affirming as it was in the first movie, explaining to us audibly what we’ve already seen visually. It’s like being told every detail twice, and this occasionally gets irritating with the pacing and progression of scenes that should be shorter than they rightfully are.

– Formulaic redundancy. When I saw the trailer for this film, it felt very much like the first movie narratively, and with the exception of cutting down on multitudes of owners that I mentioned earlier, the film’s general outline feels very much identical to the first movie. This is the biggest argument in terms of why audiences who saw the first movie should see the sequel, and especially if you are against seeing dogs being put to death in movies, you should definitely keep your distance from this one. While only happening three times in this film, as opposed to seven in the previous installment, the death sequences themselves are very hard to engage in, and manipulative for how they focus on the face of the animal each time it’s at its weakest hour.

– Obvious foreshadowing. There’s certainly no shortage of this one, as the barrage of unnecessarily-bitchy supporting characters and out-of-nowhere details in storytelling directions, further flesh out the predictability in a story this minimal on depth. Because our central trio of character’s are such good people, it makes the bad ones feel that much more cartoonish by comparison, and because of this we can easily sniff out that relationships and karma are certainly not going to be on the sides of these miserable people. On the subject of plot foreshadowing, the film introduces a scene of cancer-sniffing dogs midway through the film that comes out of nowhere, and is given such an inordinate amount of focus rendered upon, that we know its elements will come into play at some place during the film, and re-appear they do, as a character becomes plagued in a battle with cancer that definitely benefits the convenience of this earlier inclusion.

– Outdated soundtrack. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible that teenage characters are listening to fifteen year old music at a hip high school house party, but the majority of such big numbers surely flock more to what’s current and fresh at the moment. In this regard, the inclusion of The All American Rejects, Phillip Phillips, and Matt Nathanson feel about a decade too late in marketing to the soundtrack hounds that attend these movies. In addition to this, the musical score by composer Mark Isham feels completely uninspiring and piano-repetitive throughout the length of the film. If I could watch this film on mute, I really would, but the importance of details shouldn’t suffer because the musical choices associated with the film feel like they are from a middle aged woman’s IPOD on shuffle.

My Grade: 6/10 or C-

Poms

Directed By Zara Hayes

Starring – Diane Keaton, Pam Grier, Jacki Weaver

The Plot – A comedy about a group of women who form a cheer leading squad at their retirement community, proving that you’re never too old to ‘bring it!’

Rated PG-13 for some adult language/sexual references.

POSITIVES

– Enjoyable cast. Keaton’s usual May fare is exceptional this time around, investing in a character who actually has a bit of flare and attitude to the usual types she has unfortunately become saddled with. In addition to this, the role has an unordinary amount of physicality to it, proving that age is only a number, and that Keaton’s persistent filmography is all about the way she feels in the roles she consistently takes on. As good as Keaton is however, it’s actually Weaver who steals the show as her sexually active neighbor/best friend. Jacki has had a resurgence of late in Hollywood, but Sheryl is a role that feels like she has invested the most of herself into, combining dry sarcasm and a no-nonsense demeanor that keeps the people around her constantly on their toes. These two are a delight to watch interact on-screen, and it makes me wish that the film, especially in the second half, would’ve donated a bit more to watching their unfolding drama play out with the attention that it rightfully deserves.

– Snappy comic dialogue. I’m not ashamed to say that I laughed a lot in this film, despite the fact that its outline is typical set-up for adult comic sitcoms. Hayes biggest strength as a director is in the polished timing that each of ladies exert on the conversations, allowing enough time to soak the punchline of the material in without taking away from the pacing and progression of the scene, and it conjured up an effectiveness that struck a funny bone within me around 70% of the time. Perhaps it’s the awkwardness of seeing senior citizens in these unconventional situations, or the fact that Hayes knows her audience very well. Either way, “Poms” infectious material is a pep rally of timely dialogue and classy sight gags that is easily one of the more feel good films of the spring movie season.

– Crisp editing. This accomplishment is two-fold. The first is its enhancement of the dual scene jokes that require a sharp slice between to truly sell them. An example of this is a character who is repeatedly told by her husband that she can join the cheerleading group over his dead body, and then cuts to his funeral. While morbid in its punchline, the editing does convey the point with blunt force that reaches for the laugh as quick as it can. The second thing the editing is used for is the dance routines themselves, which attain a level of professionalism to them, thanks to a barrage of quick-cut edits that help maintain the intensity of the number. When you especially consider how little edits were used early on in the group’s routines, and how inexperienced they looked, it’s remarkable that the closing number establishes a feeling of the group growing together as a unit, making what they accomplish that much more believable because of talented editing that is always one step ahead.

– Profound examples of senior treatment. This is perhaps the biggest reason to see this film, as the depictions by higher authority and youthful outsiders feels every bit as honest as it does absorbing. As someone who works in a senior citizens community, I can say that the transition into assisted living isn’t always the easiest. It leads to a loss of freedoms that they never choose to happen, but are relegated to thanks to the effects of aging. For where that plays in “Poms” is the interaction with high-schoolers, who are often too immature to understand that these are people who were once where they now stand. As well, the overprotective family member, who often oversteps his boundaries for better of the person in question. Hayes touches on this multiple times in the film, and I appreciate the focus given to such an often overlooked plague that hinders the spirit in senior citizens long before anything else sets in. These are people who wish to live their lives as similar as they did before they moved into this community, so the best we can do is support that yearning for routine.

– An easy sit. At 86 flimsy minutes, “Poms” is one of the easier watches that I have had in quite sometime, and this is in part due to the progression in scenes that rarely stalls or remains in place for too long. This is a movie that continuously shifts from one setting to the next, and I feel that movement helps vitally in keeping this film from being something that it doesn’t necessarily need to be, in the idea of unnecessary padding. Each act here is given ample time to prove its weight to the progression of the story, and it helps even more that Martha (Keaton) is a protagonist who we can get behind, especially for the secret conflict that she is keeping from her friends. We, like the pacing of the film, embraces her growing connection between them, allowing us to invest in the group’s dynamic thoroughly while maintaining the care-free attitude of the minutes that are passing off-screen.

– Gorgeous setting. Sunnyside Acres is a place that I want to live in, if only for the inordinate amount of suburban ranches that stretch as far as the eye can see. Keaton’s character even comes from a New York apartment, so her move is a definite upgrade. In addition to the gorgeous housing quarters, the benefits of multiple heated pools, sports courts and alley’s, and the ideal weather that always lives up to its name, definitely puts the audience in the frame of mind that this place is unlike anywhere else you’ve ever seen, and it better translates the immensity of the change in Martha’s life that now comes at her in every possible direction. It proves that the film definitely took some time in scouting the proper locations to keep this from feeling like a stage-style setting, and the absorbing quality of the film’s desirable setting is one that I seek permanent residency at.

NEGATIVES

– Clunky soundtrack. I hated the soundtrack for two reasons. The first is because the familiar beats of modern day pop music don’t mesh well with the age grouping of the cast and audience that accompany it. I understand that they need dance tracks to sell the dance sequences, but surely there are more timely appropriate measures to be taken with the music director who tied everything together. The second reason is because it feels too desperate and obvious to include any track that has been on the top 40 in recent years. From a personal level, I don’t enjoy one of these songs on the radio, and when I hear them in a film where their inclusion feels completely inappropriate, it culminates in an opportunistic feel that reeks of studio involvement.

– For the sake of it. There are measures taken with a trio of antagonist characters and two dramatic inducing situations that happen for no other reason than the movie calling for it. On the former, the film’s three antagonists have no serious motivation to go after these women, and it almost gets to cartoonish levels of evil by the time is over. What’s even more convincing is if you take these scenes out of the film, you trim about ten minutes from the run time and lose nothing of substantial value because of it. On the subject of the situational drama, these can easily be solved with even a shred of intelligence that so obviously did not go into them. As an example, one scene deals with the ladies creating a diversion to break out one of their crew free from their overbearing son. MINOR SPOILER – It ends with them throwing a rock through his car window, and they sneak around the back of the house to pull her through the window. Couldn’t they have just done this without throwing a rock? Won’t it be even more difficult to accomplish since they have to go back out front to the bus anyway? Then there’s the conflict of them needing a place to practice since a power hungry manager is cutting their time down. There are literally hundreds of places on this campus that they could practice. The film even realizes this midway through, as they start practicing in Martha’s garage.

– No exposition for supporting cast. It’s a bit frustrating that the film really only builds two women throughout the entirety of this film, and it leaves some credible actresses like Grier, Rhea Pearlman, and Phyllis Sommerville appearing without much emphasis behind their inclusion other than to fill a quota. For my money, the film could’ve omitted its antagonist desire in favor of further establishing these ladies for the importance they deserve. It would make your interest in the overall group that much tighter, and cement the screenwriters for having depth in writing beyond just the table dressing of the plot.

– Montage sequence overkill. Everywhere you look in this film, there’s a musical montage to shortcut the values and importance that exposition sets, and it gives the film a frequent feeling of fast-forward that does more harm than value for the believability of the routines. If I’m remembering correctly, I am currently counting eight different musical montages. This would be overkill for a 90’s underdog sports movie, and even worse for a film that doesn’t necessarily require these huge jumps in a time frame that isn’t that immense to begin with. It’s an overdone cliche that reaches ridiculous levels of incorporation by the end of the film, and triples the numbers of times that we actually see the group doing their thing without cut and paste.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

The Hustle

Directed By Chris Addison

Starring – Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp

The Plot – Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway star as a pair of con artists plying their trade in a stunning seaside town in the south of France. Josephine Chesterfield (Hathaway) is a glamorous, seductive Brit with a sprawling home in Beaumont-sur-Mer and a penchant for defrauding gullible wealthy men from all corners of the world. Into her well-ordered, meticulously moneyed world bursts Penny Rust (Wilson), an Aussie who is as free-form and fun-loving as Josephine is calculated and cunning. Where Penny amasses wads of cash by ripping off her marks in neighborhood bars, Josephine fills her safe with massive diamonds after ensnaring her prey in glitzy casinos. Despite their different methods, both are masters of the art of the fleece so they con the men that have wronged women. Wilson’s talent for physicality and Hathaway’s withering wit are a combustible combination as the pair of scammers pull out all the stops to swindle a naïve tech billionaire (Sharp).

Rated PG-13 for crude sexual content and adult language

POSITIVES

– Heart of Hathaway. If there is any single redeemable quality about this film, it’s the work of the Grade-A actress, who chews up an overabundance of scenery on her way to another delightful performance. While the character itself wasn’t someone I could admire and hang my hat on for obvious reasons, the untamed energy of Anne showing off no fewer than three different accents for three completely different personalities highlights her range every bit as it does her investment into the picture, and there’s something deeply commendable about an actress who is so obviously better than this film, yet doesn’t let it dampen the work level that we’ve come to expect from her. Each time Hathaway was on-screen, the humor didn’t feel desperate, and just sort of fit into place because of, like her character, her commitment to the role. I’ve viewed it as a sequel to the character she played in “Ocean’s Eight”. Makes it slightly more entertaining that way.

– Doesn’t overstay its welcome. Even if you have as many problems with the material as I did, there’s a saving grace in the concept of this 89 minute movie being a quickly moving script that constantly maintains the pacing of the story. I was flabbergasted when I checked my watch to reveal only twenty minutes left in the film, and the screenplay’s direction to constantly keep the geography, as well as the evolution of the scams, is something that allows very few grace periods in the film, or even unnecessary padding. If this film were two hours long, it would be so much worse than it actually is, but screenwriter Jac Schaeffer is responsible for much of the consistent movement that maintains the energy of the shenanigans at place, and if it all were for a better movie, it would make “The Hustle” one of the easier sits of 2019.

– Spicy foreign flavor. Another great Anne in this production is that of Anne Dudley, the film’s musical composer, who instills a great sense of geographical reminder every time her notes of accompaniment strike the perfect sizzle for our traveling scenery. For French opulence, it’s obviously the inclusion of Accordion’s or Bombard’s to replicate the feel of romance in the air. For American style casino’s, it’s the slick evocation of electric guitars beating a similar vibe to that of a James Bond movie, in all of its jagged curves that signal ulterior motives in the atmosphere. They both offer a stirringly satisfying juxtaposition of compositional bliss that compliments the many invasive qualities of the cerebral sequences perfectly. Music is rarely complimented in comedies, but here the credit deserves center stage among the film’s rare better qualities.

NEGATIVES

– As a remake. It can be expected that many people aren’t aware that this is in fact a female spin on the 1987 film “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, but what’s so viciously evident is how little this gender swap has on the weight and complexity of the film, that breathes new life into the treasured comedy. For most of the film, “The Hustle” is trying to pave its own way, outlining cons and character’s who don’t feel remotely familiar, and fleshing out a new direction to try to capitalize on the one track minds that males often possess. The problem though, is that the screenplay is never wise enough to offer proof for this pudding, with the exception of a few sleazy millionaires who are cartoonish levels of sex and greed. Aside from this, the motivation for Hathaway and Wilson’s duo never rises above just getting rich. There’s no shred of vengeance or anger behind Hathaway’s delivery that states that men find women too weak to be smarter than them. So despite it distancing itself from the material of the previous film, there’s not enough nuance in social commentary to make the heists not feel like they have the weight of a Saturday Night Live skit, and if anything it just further cements the appreciation for the original.

– Detestable personalities. I expected to lack indulgence for thieving character’s, but Hathaway and Wilson, as well as the supporting cast of one-off dopes, took my expectations to seething levels, if only for the film’s minimal view of the world outside of the upper one-percent. Wilson is her usual trashy self, complete with inappropriate vulgarity and unabashed horniness that wears thick early on. If you’ve seen one Rebel role, you’ve seen them all, and sadly after the shattering of typecast that was this year’s “Isn’t It Romantic”, the young actress has regressed in terms of acting depth. Hathaway essentially has no heart, and never really learns from her devious ways as the film concludes. She’s essentially a mean-spirited, conniving teacher who always must be one step ahead of her student, so that she isn’t forgotten. Aside from this colorful duo, the supporting cast of males are every bit as braindead as they are one-dimensional, making me wonder if the female switch-up has indeed learned anything from years of being presented as one consistent thing. As a male myself, there are very few films that offend me for my gender, and this is one of those rare exceptions, as instead of separating males into respective categories, the film groups us all together into one insensitive bracket, and it kept me from fully buying into the support of the duo’s thefts.

– Lifeless comedy. “The Hustle” made me feel like I lacked the ability to laugh and have fun in a movie theater. It’s an easily written, terribly telegraphed combination of set-ups and punchlines that beat a joke dead into the ground upon the third or fourth time that it is brought up again. Even worse than that, the air of improv comedy is back yet again for Wilson, who uses valuable screen time to stretch a punchline so far that it slowly wiped away what shred of effectiveness that it had for the poor souls in my theater who laughed upon initial delivery, then gave a decreasingly smaller laugh each time she would carry on with it. This is mindless humor at its most immature, and if it wasn’t for the remarkable investment from Hathaway that I elaborated on earlier, I wouldn’t have laughed a single time throughout this movie, and that’s a major problem for a film deposited in the comedy genre.

– As a feminist piece. I’m not trying to make “The Hustle” into something it’s not, but you’d be ignorant to see a plot about two women ripping off rich male counterparts without a single ounce of feminism in the atmosphere to their deceitful games, but sadly the film goes back on this concept so brutally that it practically feels like the biggest con is the one that the script plays on the pride of itself. MINIMAL SPOILER – The film eventually becomes about a rivalry between Hathaway and Wilson to sleep with this male character (Sharp), making me wonder who in fact is the disappointed party in this scenario. Is it the male? Yeah, because him having two women fighting over him will surely teach him a lesson. With films like this depicting the bond of feminism, I feel that an inevitable revolution is coming, and it’s one where female moviegoers will lash out on a generation of filmmaking that values their moral stamina as a bump in the road to male euphoria. If I were a woman, I wouldn’t support a movie like this.

– Horrendous green-screen visuals. Why does a movie like “The Hustle” even require special effects? Is the budget so minimal on this production that it can’t even convince itself of its champagne wishes and caviar dreams? There’s a series of takes midway through the third act where Hathaway chases a plane on a runway, where she is the only aspect that is actually real. What’s even worse is how poorly digitalized this sequence felt, where the lighting of Hathaway and the property surrounding her don’t look even remotely like they took place in the same day or place. Rendering like this is usually evident in natural disaster movies, but for a movie that requires this just to depict an airplane lifting off of the ground, really makes me lack believability in the riches of the story both in and out of the movie itself.

– Glaring plot holes. This movie made me think far too often than I’m proud to rightfully admit, but when a scene plays out that lacks logic in even the minimalist sense, I can’t turn my brain off to the point of it becoming a vegetable. There are many examples that I found throughout the movie, where the chain of events simply didn’t add up to what eventually transpires, but none more than that of my favorite hole in the movie. It happens when Wilson and Sharp are alone on a date, and Wilson faking her blindness makes up the name of a Russian doctor who she requires a surgery from to see again. Sharp looks him up, and even manages to find his website and Facebook, the latter of which reveals that he’s actually staying in the same hotel as them at that moment. It turns out to be Hathaway who made the site and becomes the doctor for this point on. Ok, even if you can overlook the fact that Hathaway made a believable website in three minutes tops, how in the living hell could she have known the name that was discussed in an isolated scene between Wilson and Sharp? What were they thinking?

– Problems with the ending. So much to unload on here, but there’s a late twist that happens with about ten minutes left in this movie, that not only did I see coming from a mile away when you think for too long about this particular character, but also does nothing for sending audiences home satisfied. The main problem is that so much develops in the final ten minutes of the film, that not only jars the dynamic and importance of the two woman rivalry, but also makes the very last two scenes of the film feel tacked on after writing an ending that no one at the studio felt accomplished with. It shoves so much into those closing moments, and it almost feels like the collection of DVD special feature endings that were all edited together to the finished product, throwing as much at the screen to once again get us back to a happy ending. What an anti-climatic mess.

My Grade: 3/10 or F

Detective Pikachu

Directed By Rob Letterman

Starring – Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton

The Plot – The story begins when ace detective Harry Goodman (Paul Kitson) goes mysteriously missing, prompting his 21-year-old son Tim (Smith) to find out what happened. Aiding in the investigation is Harry’s former Pokémon partner, Detective Pikachu (Reynolds): a hilariously wise-cracking, adorable super-sleuth who is a puzzlement even to himself. Finding that they are uniquely equipped to communicate with one another, Tim and Pikachu join forces on a thrilling adventure to unravel the tangled mystery. Chasing clues together through the neon-lit streets of Ryme City, a sprawling, modern metropolis where humans and Pokémon live side by side in a hyper-realistic live-action world–they encounter a diverse cast of Pokémon characters and uncover a shocking plot that could destroy this peaceful co-existence and threaten the whole Pokémon universe.

Rated PG for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements.

POSITIVES

– Easily the most accessible of the Pokemon films. In straying a bit from its conventional roots, “Detective Pikachu” is able to accommodate to a bigger audience, all the while remaining faithful to its world building and rules that have garnered legions of faithful followers for many generations. If you want to see a typical Pokemon movie, there are thousands of those, but putting its familiar furry protagonist in a noir mystery that touches on some surprisingly dark territory in material, gives the franchise new life on screen and in direction, which will inevitably make it all the more adaptable for audiences like myself, who have never been struck by the Pokemon lore. This isn’t the first Pokemon film that I’ve ever seen, but it is the first one that had me leaving the theater with an unshakably positive feeling, all the while solidifying my iron-clad views towards the importance of family, that the film takes with it throughout.

– Sparkling special effects. Pay attention Sonic, this is how you seamlessly immerse an obviously computer generated property into a live action background, without alienating the texture of color that lacks believability. Every design here is perfectly rendered and exceptionally detailed, illustrating the very fur and facial movements of the Pokemon creatures with an air of consistency that you rarely see in live action computer-generated kids movies. Likewise, the artificial destruction of some pretty intense and heavy action set pieces rumble the screen in ways that make them inescapable from what is transpiring, cementing a beautifully vibrant transition from animated movies that never leave much to the imagination in terms of what it loses in the transfer. If more live action transformations looked like this, I would gladly welcome the string of video game movies that will inevitably leave me braindead from, among other things, phony post production effects work.

– Cohesively juggling tones. What really surprised me about the movie was how it managed to evolve into this drama during pivotal scenes of emotional wrangling. Aside from the opening fifteen minutes, which feel like they set the ground wonderfully for a revenge narrative, the beginning of the film’s final act constructs a conflict within Pikachu, as well as one with Tim that is anything but the typical third act distancing we’ve come to know. Instead, it’s more about the discovery of the role that Pikachu plays in this progressing mystery, establishing a series of twists that add a fine combination of intrigue for the character’s, as well as a somber atmosphere of tension that adapts to being much more than a lazy comedy. With this film having such a resting backbone on the values of family and friendship, and how those aspects tie together perfectly sometimes, it makes this a recommend for the whole family, remembering to instill the profoundly powerful gut-punch literally moments before they walk out of the theater.

– Ryan Reynolds. Simply put, there is nothing that this man can’t do. While Ryan’s familiar vocal tones never experiment with stretching or tweeking to make them sound different, it’s Ryan’s timely delivery and enthusiastic energy in dangerous situations that made him the focus for audiences well beyond being the title character. When Pikachu is at his most vulnerable, which is roughly 80% of the movie, Ryan delivers his best stuff, emoting a cowardice side of the familiar hero, which certainly casts him in newly hilarious light than I’ve ever seen. His influence is felt so much that in the rare occasion when Pikachu isn’t on-screen, that the movie immediately loses the air of momentum that it builds each time his unshakeable sarcasm and endless wit isn’t there to enhance the interaction of his live action counterparts, and it’s one of those performances that will make it difficult to shake free from his voice, every time you watch a Pokemon movie from this point forward.

– The setting. Ryme City is about as cool a place that I’ve seen in cinema since “Blade Runner”, and it’s clear in the details how the current pays a respectable homage to the previous. The neon lights adorned on sky-scraping signs reflect beautifully on the rain-soaked concrete, and the assortment of opportunity-seeking businesses gives a lived-in feeling to capitalism that ranges even in the locations that feel planets away from our own. It juggles this strange juxtaposition, where the technology feels decades ahead of our own, but the similarities in balance for power and current business time fashions gives it a searing reality not far from where we currently stand. Overall, it gives the location a timeless feeling, which in turn will allow it to age gracefully as the years pass by.

– Easter Egg reference. This is about as unexpected as you can get for a hidden Easter Egg, but I tip my hat for a lengthy amount of time, for the way this film managed to include a reference to my favorite Christmas movie of all time. Even more incredible is that this reference within a reference was created especially for that Christmas movie, so the use of its inclusion is obviously an homage to this movie, and plays incredibly for how it plays simultaneously with the crime noir narrative that is playing out before our very eyes in Ryme City. Despite that movie and this one feeling legions apart in terms of similarities, the way it is inserted is every bit as clever as it is commanding of the attention of moviegoers for the way it practically takes over the scene right from our actors in frame.

NEGATIVES

– Exposition heavy dialogue. Sometimes the spring of knowledge feels as forced as a screenplay can make evident, and it stood as the one aspect (Especially during the first act) that weighed this movie down heavily in my final grade. When a new Pokemon comes on-screen, the film almost stops in its tracks to tell us who they are and what power they possess, and while it doesn’t conjure up the cliche of showing a visual stat-sheet like some films do, the overabundance of long-winded delivery isn’t far off either. I can understand teaching audiences about the character’s and backstories accordingly, but when a scene with an amazing actor (Ken Watanabe) is only there to serve a purpose for Tim, you have to wonder if there were easier and more believable ways to introduce this knowledge without the smell of obviousness dimming the potential of said scene, and it happened more times than I would’ve liked.

– Painful human character’s. There’s no one in “Detective Pikachu” who I related to on a personal level, and that’s a shame considering much of this story’s hidden narrative deals with you indulging and empathizing with these people and their newfound tragedies, and it rendered much of the impact of devastation that much more ambiguous because I couldn’t allow myself to fully invest in their bland personalities. Speaking of which, Smith’s Tim is a sludgy sap of moping reality, and his interaction with Newton romantically felt as cold as arctic temperatures, and about as forced as a spontaneous colonic volcano. The screenplay isn’t interested in developing them individually, so it builds them together in-tow, and as far as lead character’s go, these two aren’t nearly charming or confident in their abilities to get across the magic in their bumbling personas.

– Comedy power. While Reynolds makes miracles out of mirages, the overall landing power of the comedy in this film left slightly more to be desired, especially considering we’ve seen Reynolds at his rudest, in the R-rated duo of the “Deadpool” franchise. For this being a PG movie, it’s clear that PG restrictions were taken, and even despite Reynolds hinting at more adult material from time to time, the film’s firepower remains mostly grounded for what we expect from kids movies that demean their intelligence with sounds and flatulence humor. Aside from this, the film commits the crime of showcasing its best material in the trailer, leaving very little of surprise or payoff in the way of what remains. So if you watched this trailer and weren’t sold on the material, the movie itself won’t provide much other relief in that department.

– Problems with the mystery aspect. There are many here, and unfortunately they are made the more evident the longer the film goes on. The answer is predictable, the interrogations in dialogue and sequencing are repetitive, the plot holes in some aspects are glaring, and there’s simply not enough of a struggle for Tim and Pikachu in solving this case. Most of the latter problem deals with a 95 minute run time, which could use another ten minutes to help stretch the dynamic associated with team thinktank’s to illustrate how thick this mystery really is. The quicker they figure everything out, the more painful it is for the power of the mystery itself, and more alluding to this being a kids-first movie that will do no favors for adults in preserving anything mysterious. For my money, they could’ve targeted somewhere in between these age groups to offer something cryptic to both sides, but unfortunately the youth will get more out of these twists that are visible from a mile away.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

Long Shot

Directed By Jonathan Levine

Starring – Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, June Diane Raphael

The Plot – Fred Flarsky (Rogen) is a gifted and free-spirited journalist with an affinity for trouble. Charlotte Field (Theron) is one of the most influential women in the world. Smart, sophisticated, and accomplished, she’s a powerhouse diplomat with a talent for mostly everything. The two have nothing in common, except that she was his babysitter and childhood crush. When Fred unexpectedly reconnects with Charlotte, he charms her with his self-deprecating humor and his memories of her youthful idealism. As she prepares to make a run for the Presidency, Charlotte impulsively hires Fred as her speechwriter, much to the dismay of her trusted advisors. A fish out of water on Charlotte’s elite team, Fred is unprepared for her glamourous lifestyle in the limelight. However, sparks fly as their unmistakable chemistry leads to a round-the-world romance and a series of unexpected and dangerous incidents.

Rated R for strong sexual content, adult language throughout and some drug use

POSITIVES

– Evolving chemistry between the two leads. What’s so believably fleshed out about the relationship of our protagonists is the way that it’s given ample time to mature throughout a two hour runtime. When they reunite at the beginning of the film, they feel like nothing more than friends, and at that moment lack the noticeable spark that bonds them together. But as the film progresses, and they each help balance what the other one lacks, the distance of inevitability between them draws thinner, and it helps attain this level of earned romance that I felt would be my biggest obstacle going into this film. At their peak, Theron and Rogen blend beautifully well together, and the film goes all the way in cementing that growing connection without ever reversing because of their obvious physical differences.

– Profound political commentary. Aside from the gags and obvious fingers being pointed at one political party only, the film harvests a fine combination of satire in the entertainment and real world that brought more than a few laughs of familiarity to my viewing. There’s a network hosted by braindead anchors that is obviously a stab at Fox News, with all of its unimportant equations that go into discussion. Beyond this, the great Andy Serkis acts his way in a wig and prosthetics that brings former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon to mind. Finally, the film has a very unabashed honesty in the way it depicts female candidates, in how they are relegated to answering demeaning questions and negotiating with power hungry white majorities to house their ambitions. It proves that “Long Shot” has much more to say beneath its plot of opposites attract, and within it offers a social reflection that proves poignant for this romantic comedy.

– Effectiveness of the humor. When this film is in its element and shining as a dual romantic narrative with bits of classy humor ingested into it, the landing power is that much more consistent. This gets away from the kinds of raunch comedies that Rogen is used to, but unfortunately not completely. I will get to that more later. But when the screenplay focuses more on its ironies involved in awkward situations, as well as romance dynamic between its two leads, the film garners a level of being a modern day “The American President”, which it so badly requires to transcend the typical Rogen typecast, and make this a recommendation for all audiences. The crossover value is certainly there, all the while never alienating its Rogen enthusiasts, and landing what I would consider an astonishing 70% of gags that it illustrates. The humor inside succeeds without being entirely political, and proves that it has a bigger scope that the predictable laughs associated with a White House comedy.

– Delightful cast. Theron couldn’t give a bad performance if she studied eight months to give it. As this Secretary of State character, she’s strong, caring, and most of all blinded to the political and physical politics associated with the relationships that surround her, and carves out a refreshing female lead that we just don’t see enough of in 2019. Rogen is his usual stick, but with an air of untypical intelligence to his character that really makes him pop in this kind of elegant environment. Aside from them, there’s appearances from Serkis, Bob Odenkirk (As the President, no less), Alexander Saarsgaard, and my personal favorite, O’Shea Jackson as Rogen’s best friend. Why doesn’t Jackson have his own starring movie yet? This kid combines enough conviction in comedic line reads, as well as an illuminating smile to pay homage to the stars of the tinsel age of Hollywood, and makes any film better that he pops up in.

– Positive messages. Aside from the obvious table dressing in the movie pointing to beauty being skin deep, Levine is all about inclusiveness, and because of such harvests two motivational messages for the price of one. The first is about self-image, in that our leading lady cares too much about what her peers think of her decisions. The film alludes to overcoming those biases by being true to yourself, and only live by the rules set by one person: you. The second message, and more surprisingly compelling to this critic, was the desire to bring both sides of the political spectrum, Republican and Democrat, together to work for the better of the nation. This direction I found refreshing, especially considering the beatdown that Republicans take in satire throughout the film, but it makes me forgive when the script itself realizes the vital importance that coming together casts, hinting especially at not judging someone who doesn’t share the same political beliefs as you. If you put every message together, “Understanding” seems to be the common theme, and it proves that the heart of Levine is in the right place when it comes to the world that he is calling upon.

– Against type performances. Another thing that I find appealing to the dynamic of Theron and Rogen is the fact that each of them are working in a genre that they’re not typically used to. For Theron, it’s the rare comedy casting that we haven’t yet gotten from her until now, bringing forth a new side to her one woman storm that prove she has a distinct timing for intelligent humor. For Rogen, it’s viewing him as the leading man in the romance genre, that would probably be the last direction that I would expect from the lovable goofball. Rogen himself will tell you that he isn’t the first guy he would cast as the dreamy male protagonist in any movie, but his personality gives way to strong male morals like supporting his woman, equal rights among gay relations, and an explosive opening confrontation against Nazi’s that prove he can take a hit. It’s refreshing in films when one actor will walk new ground, but here we get two for the price of one, and it’s a team-up combination that will open up many new avenues for this star-studded duo.

– Levine as a director. One thing that I respect Jonathan for deeply is the fresh spin on a contemporary setting that offers a serving of poignancy within the world that transcends the screen. In setting this film in the current day, Levine signals that much of the film’s ideals, both sociological and political, could in fact be ours if we stop focusing on the pety, and like his previous films like “50/50”, “Warm Bodies”, and “The Night Before”, he challenges the status quo that we cement within our own ideals, and turns them upside down by offering the truth in the dynamic of screen and real life. This is clearly a director who is every bit as ambitious with his world building as he is with his comedy, and like those movies that I previously mentioned, touches on a lot of different aspects creatively that somehow each fit in to the narrative that he ties together wonderfully, and the depth instilled upon “Long Shot” proves that it might be his single greatest film to date.

NEGATIVES

– Tonal tug of war. For my money, the film is a comedy first movie with elements of romance sprinkled in throughout, and this all vibes wonderfully together, until these unnecessary instances of gross-out humor spoil the elegance of its demeanor. In this regard, the film struggles to nail down what it wants to be between a rare romantic comedy without any of the cliches, or a typical Seth Rogen movie, and what we’re left with doesn’t really commit to either side of the equation because it too often contradicts itself one scene after grounding its feet, leaving this film struggling for a directional distinction to get away from the tonal inconsistencies that occasionally feel uneasy from scene to scene transition. If we cut anything away from this film, it should be the gross-out humor that just doesn’t fit with this setting or plot, but somehow keeps finding its way to soil the sanctity of everything inside.

– Hypocritical stances. One flub that the film commits is in its ability to go back on its word in the morals department it establishes for its two leads, and soils them in a way that breeds hypocrisy in the very next scene. For instance, Theron’s character constructs an eco-friendly bill that will ease carbon gases being introduced into the air, yet she drives around this abnormally massive airplane that does exactly that. Not to be left out, Rogen also comes to the parade of hypocrisy thanks to his disdain for major corporations that we hear about on more than one occasion. He says this, and then mentions how much he enjoys watching Marvel movies. Small nitpick? Sure, but it proves that the screenwriters don’t fully value their character’s in a way that makes them practice what they preach, and in doing so make themselves no better than the very same people they criticize.

– Hollow third act conflict. Yep, there has to be another late movie distancing, but this time it is setup in such a way that feels so ineffective when you really consider what’s at stake. Without spoiling much, I will say that the Steve Bannon type that I mentioned earlier blackmails Charlotte with a recording that damns Fred, and he uses it as leverage for her to accept his endorsement. The problem with this is the tape in question is condemning to Fred, and not necessarily Charlotte, so where does it hurt her if it is released to the public? In addition to this, wouldn’t he be held just as accountable if someone tracks the source for how a laptop was hacked into to attain private footage? But it happens because the movie needs a conflict between Theron and Rogen, leaving me scratching my head wondering if this is the best the writers could come up with, why even include a conflict at all?

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

UglyDolls

Directed By Kelly Asbury

Starring – Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monae

The Plot – In the adorably different town of Uglyville, weird is celebrated, strange is special and beauty is embraced as more than simply meets the eye. Here, the free-spirited Moxy (Clarkson) and her UglyDoll friends live every day in a whirlwind of bliss, letting their freak flags fly in a celebration of life and its endless possibilities. In this all-new story, the UglyDolls will go on a journey beyond the comfortable borders of Uglyville. There, they will confront what it means to be different, struggle with their desire to be loved, and ultimately discover that you don’t have to be perfect to be amazing because who you truly are is what matters most.

Rated PG for thematic elements and brief action

POSITIVES

– Meaningful casting. It’s always baffled me why musical kids movies rarely cast singers in these roles, but “Ugly Dolls” takes advantage of some of pop music’s biggest names, and puts them to work, performing no fewer than ten songs in this film. Transcending the film itself, this merging offers dream collaborations for music fans of every age, and while the music itself leaves more to be desired in terms of addictive beats and catchy hooks, it’s an 80 minute concert none the less, whose infectious energy and familiar accents of the cast bring forth all of the right gifts to musical cinema. Are they the best vocal performances? Outside of Jonas, absolutely not, but in a film with an overwhelming amount of musical influence, they are the way to go in this intended direction.

– Deeper meaning? As my readers know, I love watching a movie on a conventional level, and viewing it as something so much ulterior, and I certainly found a devious one with “UglyDolls”. The villain, Lou, (Jonas) teaches perfect dolls how to be perfect for their future children. It basically establishes him as this toy Hitler that is creating a master race of perfection to rid the world of peace and acceptance. Hitler also viewed blonde hair, blue-eyed boys as the future of the human race, and that is none other than Lou’s physical features, perhaps hiding something much more sinister behind his pearly-white smile. Naturally, a child won’t make this comparison, but it establishes a demented layer of fantasy to a film that needs anything to make it that much more entertaining, and for my money, this is the best I could come up with.

– Craziness in a finale. If you see this movie for any reason, watch the final twenty minutes, which includes a robot dog and baby, a legion of zombie followers, a nightmarish darkening sky, and the world’s biggest washing machine. In a sense, this movie is throwing everything at the screen to see what sticks during this pivotal third act, but to a certain degree it’s in this carefree execution where a sequence this convoluted can present the only scene in the movie that I am sure to remember three months from now. It reminded me somewhat of 90’s Disney finales, when all rules were off, and the setting itself became almost a character of sorts for what was revolving between protagonist and antagonist. If STX were willing to take more chances like this one, then maybe “UglyDolls” could be the anti-animated film that paves its own unpredictable path to infamy, but in the end it’s just a lone kickass finale that spiked my interest from non-existent to remote.

NEGATIVES

– Rips off two different franchises. Between the animation textures and musical similarities of “Trolls”, and the plot structure of “Toy Story”, “UglyDolls” finds no shred of originality to counteract the strokes of familiarity that are all over this picture. Because of this, the film reeks of a cash grab, where a studio once again tries to capitalize on the intake of a popular kids toy line, while throwing together a series of flimsy ideas that never add weight of meaning to the purpose of its inception. Aspects like these truly bother me about kids movies, because studios will often slip in these plagiarizing points of plot because they feel that younger audiences either won’t be aware that they’ve seen this movie before, or won’t care because of the vibrant colors or boisterous noises that come with it, and it gives “UglyDolls” an unmistakable feeling of incomplete that it never manages to shake.

– Stretched screenplay. 80 minutes is the bare minimum of acceptable major motion picture run times, but when we dig deeper to the root of the material, we find that the progressing story could easily be told in a half hour special on Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network with some tweaks of edit to better pace the story. I mentioned earlier that there are at least ten songs in the film, each of which are around three minutes, so you have already wiped away thirty minutes in songs alone, leaving fifty minutes to establish character’s, build a conflict, and offer a resolution that satisfies your audience. Needless to say, it doesn’t happen, and it makes this film feel like one of the least ambitious and phoned-in movies from a big budget studio that we’ve seen in quite some time. It’s not just a bad movie, but one lacking a sprinkle of creativity to contend in an age where animated movies are doing ground-breaking things.

– Lack of finesse with the animation. I understand that STX Films is certainly no Pixar or Dreamworks with their animation budget, but the combination of computer generation and live action illustration on our title character’s conjures up a Frankenstein finished product that conveys its inability to compete, leaving us the audience limited in our ability to feel dazzled by the presentation. The backgrounds, particularly in the detail given to the Ugly town are three-dimensional, but the same dedication is never given to character movements or facial registration, which feel as lifeless and incoherent as any animated property in 2019. Mastering a visual feast is half the battle with animated films, and with counterproductive traits in animation styles that make up most of what is front-and-center at all times, STX cuts off their legs before the war of comparison has ever begun.

– Combination of cliches. As a screenwriter, Alison Peck combines enough lukewarm sentimentality and empty-handed motivations to make this the Hallmark Cards of movies, for how truly corny and unearned every inspiration felt in the execution. Themes like “Be yourself” or “Listen to your heart” are good in theory, but so obvious in a film genre that does this sort of thing almost weekly. The screenplay tries to jam in far too many, and eventually it just feels like a game of bingo, where you wait until your motivation meme is called, all the while practically slapping kids across the face with intentional clarity long before they are able to piece it together themselves. Good intentions are one thing, but when a movie uses too many of them, especially with an ending conflict that condemns one character for being true to who he was, makes it all feel like a shallow piece of propaganda that is preached, but rarely practiced in the film.

– Flat humor. It’s hard to even classify this film as a comedy, because not only did I not laugh once in the entirety of the film, but the script often goes too far between in even attempting to gain emotional expression from its youthful viewers. This will be the hardest sell to them, for how little it gets them involved in the process of the plot, as well as the complexity of personalities to grip onto. What little comic opportunity there is speaks to the weirdness of the creatures themselves, and really nothing outside of the box in that regard. I was honestly expecting juvenile laughs in the form of bodily humor, but what I got was somehow less than that, cementing one of the most difficult films that I’ve had to sit through in 2019, thanks to arid material so undercooked that it defies the laws of genre classification.

– Lack of character exposition. I mentioned earlier that this film has roughly fifty minutes to get its feet wet in distinguishing these character’s, and with the exception of a dog played by Pitbull, the rest of the UglyDolls are interchangeable if not for the color of their skin. Seriously, there is nothing between them in personalities or motivations that make them even remotely different, and thanks to the film’s lack of time devoted to bringing each of them along with their own respective conflicts, the line of division is that much more blurred because of such. In addition to this, the dialogue feels very clunky, in that it explains the bare basics of the world and conflict without digging deeper to soak in the atmosphere. This makes the character’s and UglyVille world feel like a prop to a hinted at bigger picture that never truly materializes, and scrambles for focus in a screenplay that constantly struggles with disjointment.

– The music. Not only does the musical accompanyment drop the ball on catchy jingles that parents will wear out their IPOD’S playing, but the music itself fails in progressing the story during the momentary instances where everything else stops. In a musical genre film, the music is often used as a tool to fill in the gaps of unseen backstory and inner character psychology, but the lyrics disappoint on a very topical kind of level, keeping the depth of their inclusion pointless, in that we as an audience have seen what they are further repeating. If I had to pick a favorite, it’s easily “Broken and Beautiful” by Kelly Clarkson, a power ballad about seeing the beauty in something deemed different. But by the time the film is finished, this theme is repeated endlessly in the sequences and situations, rendering the power of its message that much more ineffective because of how much it’s hammered home.

My Grade: 3/10 or F

Booksmart

Directed By Olivia Wilde

Starring – Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Billie Lourd

The Plot – On the eve of their high school graduation, two academic superstars and best friends (Feldstein and Dever) realize they should have worked less and played more. Determined not to fall short of their peers, the girls try to cram four years of fun into one night.

Rated R for strong sexual content and adult language throughout, drug use and drinking – all involving teens

POSITIVES

– A Wilde ride. No offense to the wonderfully gifted Olivia, but I feel like she should give up acting and focus more on directing, because her debut effort behind the lens is among the greatest that I’ve ever seen in that regard. Wilde’s combination of energy, anxiety, and especially chaos is something that speaks volumes to the teenage spirit, as well as the infectious indulgence that the audience easily immerses themselves in from start to finish, and commands the biggest laugh from the audience based on where she places the camera at the right particular time. The editing is also sharp as a tack, preserving an absorbing quality in consistency that keeps the pacing stimulating through 100 minutes that seriously felt like half of it. To say that I had a blast with this film is an understatement, as it may very well be my favorite comedy of the past four years for the way it takes an ages old structure like the final party of high school, and boils it down to a story about non-romantic love between two best friends, and it’s a film that rewards by taking the very chances that its subgenre predecessors simply never capitalized on.

– Character’s first mentality. Aside from the exceptional work of its two leading ladies, which I’ll get to in a second, the film crafts and remains committed to its wide range of supporting cast, some of which play bigger roles in their dynamics with Feldstein and Dever, but all of which enhance the landing power of average material elevated by boisterous nature of their complex personalities. Usually when a film drifts away from its important leads, it starts to take away from the consistency in pacing, but Feldstein and Dever are able to confidently progress off-screen, while the focus of the film thrives because of the time and attention dedicated to preserving the world around them. There isn’t a single weak link among the very eclectically vibrant talents used to bounce off of the film’s main character’s, and it made me welcome the transitioning of multi-tiered storytelling because there wasn’t a single aspect that I didn’t want to re-visit as the film went on.

– One for the ladies. Wilde is a director who not only knows how to mold females into typically male stereotyped roles, but she also knows how to document a bond so strong that it often feels like these two character’s run on the same wavelength. A lot of that is in part thanks to the impeccable chemistry between Feldstein and Dever, which many teenage girls will be emulating for years to come. In Feldstein, it’s her cartoonish expressions and the passion displayed in saying lines that would otherwise boil a lesser comedic talent. Dever likewise balances a nuance of nerves towards a sexual awakening, that makes her tender when clashing with the unabashed honesty of Feldstein’s prying words, leading to several long-winded laughs thanks to their precision with the material. In addition to them, Lourd trumps anything that she has done on “American Horror Story” to this point, fleshing out a re-appearing goth character for a new generation. There’s a point in the film when her appearances feel almost angelic in the way they steer the two ladies through each party of debauchery, and Billie’s dry demeanor in getting across some rather stern details makes you almost have to rewind to make sure you heard her correctly.

– Music incorporation. Like more comedies are doing these days, “Booksmart” uses its soundtrack of mostly modern rap recordings as a gimmick, but does so in a way that feels representing of the psychology of the character’s in a particular situation. For instance, when the ladies require a slow motion montage to look cool, the accompanying of free-flowing hip hop casts them in a light that bears sarcasm, considering these two don’t have a rebellious bone in the bodies. When there’s a deeply moving dramatic sequence, like one that takes place under water, the composer slows everything down, and rides the waves of heart-breaking atmosphere to bring forth a feeling that we identify with and sink our teeth into, for the way it plays on our investment and well-being of the character’s. The collective compilation, while filled with tunes that are anything but my style, do a superb job of emulating the kind of attitude that Wilde requires throughout a night of mayhem, and prove that music can be necessary in garnering a much more valuable presence than just background noise.

– Dreamy cinematography. I don’t get to compliment a raunchy comedy often for its lens presentation, but Wilde, as well as cinematographer Jason McCormack, capture our attention with some truly beautiful sequences and movements of the camera that make this the exception to the rule. For visual clarity, Wilde shoots all scenes with Feldstein and Dever together tightly, and scenes apart with a wide angle lens. This is to better convey the connection and closeness that the two ladies share. There’s also two impressively shot long take sequences, one in particular involving a back-and-forth shouting match between the two leads, that is not only impressive for how much they had to memorize, but also in the way that the bouncing camera work takes just long enough to study the words playing off of one another before making its round trip back to the next person forced to listen. It’s clear that Wilde was going for so much more than conventional compositions and mundane framing, and her debut in the director’s chair instills a sense of ambition to the comedy genre that hasn’t been seen in quite some time.

– Another favor to the material is the coveted R-rating, which actually serves a dutiful purpose here. For this film to be given anything less than this rating would do a huge disservice to the teenage speech patterns that we expect. This also allows women the rare chance at being as open in their discussion’s as the men frequently are granted, but it never feels like an obvious gimmick such as it did in last year’s “Blockers”. Here, the material never lowers itself below the impressive intelligence of the two ladies grade point average, and is instead inflicted with patience until the moment in the scene of mayhem practically begs for it. Likewise, the sexual material is a bit testing of younger audiences, but shot tastefully enough, with more left to the imagination of the audience where to fill in the blanks. Part of me still believes this has to do with Hollywood’s uneasiness of seeing a teenage girl dabble in her sexuality, but at the end of the day, it is a part of the daily teenage routine that would otherwise be a huge disservice in overlooking if this film was anything but R-rated.

– Positive message. I pay great respects to the movie for playing against character stereotypes, and instilling a sense of originality in the lesson learned by our protagonists to not judge or assume about anyone else, as well as ourselves. I don’t feel I’m spoiling anything because the basis of this theme was clearly evident in the trailer, and the screenplay by four different female writers does a remarkable job of planting its feet firmly in the meat of the meaning, and illustrating a school that feels very much as progressive as the world outside it has taken to everything from cultural traditions, to sexual orientation. If I could pick one high school to go to from a movie, the one depicted in “Booksmart” might be my pick, if only for the dimensions given to what feels like real people for a change, that often are distributed into convenient clique groups that are often reduced to a single identifying trait.

– Every scene has meaning. This is a film that rewards the dedication of its audience, turning scenes that otherwise feel like miniscule throwaway’s in a conventional narrative, and planting the seeds of storytelling early to watch them bloom later on. There’s two examples of this happening during the film, and what’s important is that each example is given an ample amount of time to allow audiences to forget about the small details, before they incorporate them back in at the most naturally opportune time. It’s the culmination of a third act, which combines enough dramatic pulse, meaningful stakes, and especially storytelling progression to end the film on a high note of creativity.

NEGATIVES

– Familiarity. I mentioned this earlier when I said that the popular tropes of the genre are clearly evident, especially in 2007’s “Superbad”, which the film borrows a bit too heavily from to be coincidental. Aside from the incredible coincidence that Feldstein is Jonah Hill’s real life sister, both films share that Hail Mary party at the end of the year, with each character pining over a love interest, and taking a long and troubling road before finally making it to the party. “Booksmart” never runs from the things it mimics so unabashedly, but in terms of breaking new ground from a narrative standpoint, the film’s biggest hurdle will be in trying to escape the notes of comparison from moviegoing audiences, who feel like they’ve seen it all before, so why is it necessary to see again?

– Plot conveniences. There are quite a few of them. In fact, one deep moment of thinking through scenarios and solutions would bring forth the idea that all of the madness that these two girls go through could be easily resolved if they used even half of the intellect they maintain in being at the top of their class rankings. There’s also certain tidbits dropped especially late in the movie that are there out of convenience for the very next scene being able to proceed. Bits of exposition like these drive me crazy for the laziness they battle against from within, and stand as the only noticeable flaw that I have from a collection of writers that otherwise knew how to progress a story seamlessly.

My Grade: 8/10 or B+

Avengers: Endgame

Directed By Joe and Anthony Russo

Starring – Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth

The Plot – After the devastating events of “Avengers: Infinity War”, the universe is in ruins. With the help of remaining allies, the Avengers assemble once more in order to undo Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) actions and restore order to the universe.

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

POSITIVES

– The evolution of the superhero genre. What the Russo brothers have done here is astonishing. Over the course of eleven years and twenty-two different films, they have helped mature these movies into something that, despite the abnormal feats and character’s, feels very fleshed out and human in its communication to the audience who have remained faithful to them, and none of this more evident than in “Endgame”. This is very much a film that is visually and narratively adult in the way its masterful approaches transcends the genre, and above all else gives us a great technical MOVIE above everything else. It is cerebral, transfixing, profound, and most importantly consequential in helping to keep the weight in stakes higher than it’s ever felt. Considering some of us have quite literally grown up with these films, it’s therapeutic to see that evolution transpired on-screen, and it helps establish “Endgame” as the perfect emphasis on eleven years of continuity, that will most likely never be matched or topped again.

– Happy to be wrong. My biggest fear after “Infinity War” was a clean and convenient fix that would leave our team virtually un-phased from their conflict with Thanos, and thankfully this isn’t the case, as the stakes remain very much gripped with the direction of the Russo’s constant reminder of their powerful antagonist. I won’t spoil anything, but I was left very satisfied with the way Marvel allowed themselves closure on certain characters, all the while teasing the next phase with some fresh faces. It leaves a permanent mark, for better or worse, on this group of superheroes that will keep them from ever forgetting what was lost in the dreaded Infinity War, and keep us as an audience on the edge of anxiety, as unpredictability has finally come into focus in a world that feels as dangerous and unpredictable as our own. It proves that not everything can ever be the same again, and that the fragility of livelihood is something we should cherish each and every day in our lives.

– Fine balance of dramatic and humorous elements. The very amount of laughable moments from richly ironic dialogue, as well as timely physical humor, made for a nice release after the draining that was “Infinity War”, and established early on that this is a return to form for the airy atmospheres that we’ve come to know from Avengers movies. That’s not to say that there aren’t gut-punches in the film, as the entire first act resonates ever so loudly in all of its depressing imagery and newfound disposition’s that the group find themselves on for the first time. What’s vitally important is that neither direction oversteps its boundaries towards the other, and allows enough careful articulation in each to take audiences on a roller-coaster of emotional response like only a flashy, frenzied superhero film can offer. Very few films this year have mastered one or the other, but the testament to the Russo’s brilliance is how they manage to juggle each without it ever compromising the integrity of one or the other, in turn establishing a hybrid subgenre of action, drama, and comedy that perfectly capture the atmosphere of page-turning graphic novels in all of their intrigue.

– Crisp action sequences. This certainly isn’t a film that is overwhelmed with action set pieces, in fact, the near three hour runtime allows enough pacing in anticipation that when it finally does come full circle, we are treated to enough visual fireworks that explode at just the right moment with our patience. The fight choreography is sharp as a tack, with two sides emulating a physical chess match with each move serving value in the fight for control. The editing is precise, instilling enough speed between actors without an over-abundance of them testing our stomach’s. And the variety in camera angles serves well in the battle of telegraphing for the audience, which can sometimes struggle with an area that should be the easiest aspect. Likewise, the set pieces spare no expense, and leave a barrage of debris and smoke flying at the screen that would allow me to recommend audiences spending a little more for the 3D, which has to be completely out of this world.

– Is it worth three hours? This was the biggest concern heading into the film, and for a majority of the scenes I can say that an inflated runtime is definitely needed considering the wide range of character’s and subplots that all need resolved by film’s end. What impressed me was how this film paid ample respect to each respective film franchise, and gave them the kind of closure that you never expect to see in a world run by money and greed, which constantly ask for the next unnecessary installment. As for pacing, with the exception of the first act, which takes slightly more time than I would like in setting up where this chapter is headed, I remained firmly invested for a majority of this film, and only checked my watch once, when the final battle concluded, serving as a testament to the story’s impression on me. There was never a period where I was bored with the movie, and more importantly, the scope involved in the immensity of the script practically demands that this film be treated as anything other than a conventional episodic Marvel installment, granting necessity to the rarity of this lengthy investment.

– Hidden narrative. Marvel apparently does know how to craft a trailer, as the sudden appearance of this plot took shape about thirty minutes into the movie, and remained intact for the better part of the next two hours. It sort of becomes this heist movie, with the remaining Avengers going after something, but not exactly the what or who that you’re thinking of while reading this. What this does is create some unexpected dream conflicts that would usually be impossible, but here are given life in a way that establishes fun, urgency, and most importantly: a underlying layer of tragedy hidden just beneath the surface. When this direction started, I felt that it overlooked a few more important aspects from what “Infinity War” gave us, but as time progressed I found myself feeling less alienated, and more giving in to this refreshing turn that was unlike anything I’ve experienced in the M.C.U to this point, and gave layers to events in the past Avengers timeline that we thought was dead and buried until now.

– The great Alan Silvestri. Music is usually the underlying poke or prod to an audience’s emotional interpretation. It can be manipulative if done wrong, but the work Silvestri has done in this film, as well as the other Avengers films, shouldn’t be underscored when surfing for proper emotional atonement. In “Endgame” Alan takes us through a triumphant nightmare, full of longing and despair, and combining them with the bombastic orchestral accompaniment that echoes in consistency with that of the single biggest war sequence that you have ever seen in film. In a sense, Alan feels like the often overlooked Avenger, but this critic deems him a necessity for the way his absorbing tones feel like an audibly reflective mirror on sometimes cryptic character’s, and if you feel yourself with any kind of goosebumps throughout the film, you will more than likely thank the talented cast, but you should DEFINITELY thank a composer with an immense responsibility of scoring the single biggest movie in pop culture history.

– Speaking of performances, most of the cast hits again in channeling enough heart and endless charisma for their respective character’s, which makes their fantasy interactions with one another all the more of a blessing. There’s still problems, most notably in the work of Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, which continues to feel like the furthest thing from human that Marvel has ever channeled. But the positives are aplenty, as Downey, Evans, and surprisingly Jeremy Renner steal the show. For the first two, it’s the expected command of leadership and bravado that etch out the perfect two protagonist’s for this gifted army, and preserve the level of commitment that each of them have given in their seventh and sixth films respectively. For Downey’s Stark, it’s that fearful and traumatic nuance that gives the film layers that was only hinted at in “Iron Man 3”, and given legs to grow here with timely adversity. However, Renner stole the show for me, as this rogue assassin who is hellbent on avenging what he lost in the finger-snap heard around the world. Clint Barton has always been my favorite Avenger, and “Endgame” feels like the lost opportunity that we finally get to see what he can do front-and-center, and he never disappoints. Barton’s rage and unshaken focus are depicted in ways that we’ve never before seen, and it sheds the shield and allows him to don a side of dangerousness that we’ve never seen from Nick Fury’s secret weapon, leaving me all the more desperate for a Hawkeye movie that should’ve already happened.

– Peak special effects. This is as good as money can buy in 2019, as the combination of aging, de-aging, green-screen digitalization, and capture motion technology, transcend what we see and believe as real, and leaves us astonished at how seamlessly it all fits into the frame of live action realism. Marvel has once again taken actors who are aged in current day, and instilled youth into them to make us feel like they were recruited at the prime of their acting careers to shoot for a film that wouldn’t see the light of day for another thirty-five years. Likewise, the capture motion of Mark Ruffalo giving The Hulk a more distinguished feature for the actor who is living and breathing inside, is a reflection of just how far special effects have come, especially since Edward Norton’s delve inside looked anything but believable in the 2008 Hulk film. Ruffalo can move and interact without his depiction feeling distorted or enhanced, and the familiarity of Mark’s more obvious features is reflected in a way that makes his transformation feel like a legitimate actor under make-up and prosthetics kind of performance, which in turn helps better register when something hurts him. It envelopes a complex inspiration of artifical generation that puppeteers time in a way that we as humans simply shouldn’t be able to, and stands as the measuring stick for technical achievements, which will no doubt win the Oscar that it should’ve had with “Infinity War”.

NEGATIVES

– Problems with a gimmick. I wish I could elaborate more, but it would be a spoiler. Instead I will say that some of the laws and rules established within Ant-Man in particularly doesn’t make sense, and when we are given an explanation for it, the film just kind of winks and nods towards past films in pop culture that also had a similar problem with this aspect, without giving us an answer that ties it all together. That’s all I’m going to say. Literally anything would ruin this movie for you guys, and I’m not about that.

My Grade: 9/10 or A

Little

Directed By Tina Gordon

Starring – Regina Hall, Issa Rae, Marsai Martin

The Plot – A woman (Hall) is transformed into her younger self (Martin) at a point in her life when the pressures of adulthood become too much to bear.

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content

POSITIVES

– Gifted casting. It’s rare that a film in 2019 will have such domination in the form of leading ladies, and even more so that those ladies make the most in elevating such predictable material, but that is the case with the trio of Hall, Rae, and Martin, who each bring their vibrant personalities to the indulgence of the audience. The comparison between Hall and Martin feels seamless for a transformation movie, with each actress sharing identical traits in speech patterns and expressions that would otherwise go unnoticed by incapable directing. Hall is definitely the best part of this film, being as nasty as she wants to be as the boss from hell, and the rest of the movie surrounding her kind of stalls when she’s gone, but the chemistry between Rae and Martin is just enough to tie us over through many scenes of mayhem that the duo get into. It’s in the reactions of these two virtual silver screen newcomers that was a delight to watch, leading to many confrontations between them that is both audibly and visually satisfying when you think about people around them witnessing it all.

– Clean cut comedy. The effectiveness of the humor is greatly surprising, especially considering it’s mostly curse word free, and nothing in this trailer made me giggle even remotely. “Little” is a film that saves its best material for the presentation, juggling a fine compromise of physical and social awkwardness that we the audience can flesh out long before the supporting character’s do, because we constantly remain one step ahead in our wealth of knowledge, and it led to a 60% landing rate for me, that did harvest some solid laughs in the material. In this regard, Rae is definitely the M.V.P, as her bold facial reactions and lewd public demeanor carve out what I describe as a female Chris Tucker, and pack a resounding punch in the area this movie needs the most.

– A second chance. It was strange to me that a kid character who gets bullied when we start the movie is the one who transforms back to learn a lesson. In most cases, it’s the bully who has to redeem themselves, but Martin’s character is one who uses the knowledge that she attained as an adult to give herself another opportunity at a childhood that she had robbed from her, and it not only leads to the contrasts of similarities between the respective era’s that she was a child through, but it also sheds a light on brutal bullying that still persists now as it ever did. This gives way to a positive message that I appreciated for how it could inspire youthful audiences to use in their own lives, and sends audiences home on a feel-good note that was earned because of the depictions of middle school being so restrictive and mentally scarring.

– Unity. It’s refreshing and a rare benefit to see a film indulge in feats that deal with black women being successful and being comfortable in their own skin. Being a woman of color herself, Gordon revels in this positive and airy atmosphere that gives her character’s power, but above all else responsibility in careers and the dependency of the film, which sadly isn’t represented enough in modern day film. From this angle, “Little” manages to transcend the silver screen, with a bunch of progressive ideals for our own corporate world that help break down barriers and give attention to corporate and social commentary where it’s immensely needed.

NEGATIVES

– Forgotten subplots. This is a sloppy script that occasionally introduces elements that are given ample screen time to feel important, yet never are given a satisfying conclusion to tie it all together. The first is the hunky teacher, whose lone scene in the film is the one that audiences are treated to in the trailer. This scene with him lasts around ten minutes, and we never see him again. Likewise, a meaningful plot involving Hall’s love interest is touched upon but never elaborated on with a late act confrontation between them that I felt was needed to satisfy their on-again, off-again relationship. The big problem here is that some scenes are given too much time, while others struggle to get the light needed to further develop them, and it leads to two uneven halves that when compared bring an obvious weak period late in the film that couldn’t hold up to the consistency of the first thirty minutes of the movie.

– Strange observations. Why does the woman’s clothes change sizes in one transformation but not the other? In a school that takes initiative with inclusion during a school play, why is there what’s labeled a “Friend Zone”, where the so-called loser kids eat lunch away from the rest of the cool elite? Why are there not one, but two instances of school bullying and violence depicted in this movie during a big event with a lot of eyes and focus on the stage, and no teacher within shouting distance? Why did the rich client (Played by SNL’s Mikey Day) show up for a pitch meeting three days later instead of the 48 hours that was originally established? Why does Regina Hall’s character have so many kids clothes in her closet, despite not having kids herself? Since the whole plot revolves around a little girl magician who turns Regina Hall younger, does it mean all of her transformations work? What about the white guy during the third act who she wanted to turn into a marshmallow out of frustration?

– Plot halting. There’s a period of about 40 minutes in this movie, where the central plot is put in park for some scenes of question that don’t exactly fit or add anything to the dynamic of the progression. A musical number, as well as the aforementioned hot teacher scene, leave very little lasting impact, and even worse stalls the fluidity of the pacing, which was solid until that point. In fact, when you really think about it, this movie should be over in twenty minutes, especially considering how easy it would be to track down this little girl magician, but because of the plot device we better spread it out for 104 minutes. This is perhaps the biggest fault with Gordon’s directing, as the tabs kept with the central conflict receives minimalist’s attention, and it forces creativity to bring Rae’s character back to the forefront.

– Television production quality. Everything here, from the lack of risks or personality taken with the cinematography, to the routine scale of angles and editing that leaves the presentation lacking inspiration, is presented in a way that screams inexperience, and while Gordon isn’t fully to blame for these decisions, the inexperience of a writer-turned-director recently does limit its capabilities. Likewise, the lack of depth associated with production design also rears its ugly head, during a few scenes when the weight of the stakes in the balance doesn’t feel quite as even as the situation calls for. In fact, the overall presentation of “Little” gave it an obvious comparison to recent films like “Isn’t It Romantic”, “Girls Night”, and “Night School”, but what makes this worse is that it comes on the tail end of those already mundane films and never finds a conscience to branch out above the pack. It’s an uninspiring product that refuses to take chances to dazzle audiences.

– Uncomfortable sexualizing. This is really the biggest bother for me in the movie, as Martin (A 13 year-old) is decked out constantly in tight, body-showing wardrobe, as well as given not one, but two scenes where she flirts with older co-stars, as well as dancing provocatively, and while the film called for it based on the dynamics of the plot, it doesn’t mean that I can accept any kind of glorifying of it. In this regard, it’s almost like they never fully commit to Martin’s youthful transformation, and still long for her to represent the elder side of Hall, which is a misstep for the comedy of the scene. If the posh Hall is reduced to wearing these cheap, ugly youthful threads, then it will better flesh out the desperation of her situation that leaves her feeling so far from the woman she’s fought endlessly to become.

– Far too predictable. This is not breaking news to anyone, but the film is heavily influenced by 1986’s “Big”, in that not only is its title a play on that previous film, but it also lifts identical plot points directly from that film as inspiration. The problem is that its inability to distance itself from the former and overall better film muddles the material down to predictably bland levels that left me being able to sniff out every resolution in plenty of time before it appeared. I can understand that the wiggle room is claustrophobic with a premise this specific, but there’s almost no point in making a film that isn’t labeled as a remake unless you’re going to experiment in ways that allows distance, and while “Little” has sprouts of flavorful delight, the overall whole had me experiencing flashbacks of Tom Hanks in his comical prime.

My Grade: 4/10 or D

Hellboy

Directed By Neil Marshall

Starring – David Harbour, Ian McShane, Milla Jovovich

The Plot – Hellboy is back, and he’s on fire. From the pages of Mike Mignola’s seminal work, this action packed story sees the legendary half-demon superhero (Harbour) called to the English countryside to battle a trio of rampaging giants. There he discovers The Blood Queen, Nimue (Jovovich), a resurrected ancient sorceress thirsting to avenge a past betrayal. Suddenly caught in a clash between the supernatural and the human, Hellboy is now hell-bent on stopping Nimue without triggering the end of the world.

Rated R for strong bloody violence and gore throughout, and adult language

POSITIVES

– Charming ensemble. While he will never be no shadow-filler for Ron Pearlman, I can say that I found a lot of redeeming qualities about Harbour’s delve into Anung Un Rama that kept this film interesting at times when the story failed endlessly. David’s timely deliveries for comedy, as well as his registry as a tortured soul aching for belonging, is everything different that Ron Pearlman’s brute demeanor didn’t convey. Instead, Harbour instills a sense of vulnerability to the character that we often don’t see, bringing him closer to humanity as he tangles with this immensely powerful adversary. Speaking of which, Jovovich is serviceable enough as well, even when the dialogue she delivers does her no favors in terms of intimidation along the way. Milla is giving her all to play an antagonist for the first time, and there’s a lethal dose of seductive sting that she offers to the role that makes her dangerous for all of the things that comic book movies are afraid to attempt, especially with PG-13 renderings. It was also great to see Sasha Lane getting a big stage presence, as I’ve felt for years that this girl is an eventual Oscar winner in the making.

– Make-up and prosthetics work. It’s amazing that a film with such dominance towards computer generation has a secret weapon thriving underneath it all, in the form of practical character designs that channel everything we love about Hellboy, while establishing that this is a fresh start for the character. The amputated horns are still there, but the facial structure supports more of a slouching outline for Harbour’s take, giving way to an aging process that didn’t feel possible before in the previous two films. In addition, the cheek prosthetics stretching out Harbour’s familiar facial traits is something that allows the actor to transform properly with very little reminder of who is underneath because of the complete picture of it all. It proves that while a lot is lost in translation in the decade-and-a-half since the previous film, the work of some highly skilled cosmetic magicians behind the scenes still pump as the heartbeat of this franchise.

– Coveted R-rating. This is a film that knows its audience. It’s the very same people who grew up with the 2004 film, and are now full-fledged adults, who have since been craving an edgier sequel to compliment the character. It comes in the form of mature material in language and brutal violence that cater to the rock-and-roll lifestyle of the character. The violence and blood splatter satisfied the deep-seeded horror nut inside of me, and the inclusion of some personal favorite curse words improved the bumbling dialogue in a way that made it feel human instead of manufactured. R-ratings in third installments don’t typically work, but I feel that the spike here better elevates the impact of the action, all the while fleshing out the growth of the character that mirrors that of his faithful audience.

NEGATIVES

– Lifeless computer generation. To say the effects work in this film are bad would be a compliment. No, this is the kind of lifeless digitalization that was present in the 90’s, during a period when that could be forgiven for our complete inexperience with it. This is a film made in 2019, whose backdrops and violence feel about as real as claiming I.T.T Tech for a major college degree. Scenes that are supposed to show Hellboy as a badass are nothing more than a humorous exercise in ridiculousness, and for the majority take much away from the impact of what should be these scenes of visceral devastation. I could forgive a film’s effects for playing into the mayhem transpiring with the film’s other technical deficiencies, but nothing on screen is a pleasure to look at, and I’m simply not going to allow weak post production a pass when it comes to creating a one-of-a-kind feel that is anything out of this world for comic book movie adaptations.

– What narrative? As a story outline, “Hellboy” might be the sloppiest screenplay that I have endured in quite sometime. When the movie isn’t stacking another log on the pile to see what burns with effectiveness, the beatdown of rapid fire sequencing makes it very difficult to accurately interpret what is taking place right in front of us. There is no slow down period to soak everything in. It’s a near two hour long-winded delivery of breath that feels seconds away from fading to black at any moment because of exposition overhaul. I myself am not a fan of the original two Hellboy films by Guillermo Del Toro, but I can say in those movies that there is at least a straight and narrow line of storytelling that keeps us firmly in-tuned with what is transpiring. In this movie, I felt like a child was making up their own version of story time, where no two ideas rub together to feed into a lone cohesive unit.

– Far too long. Marshall’s chapter of Hellboy clocks in at 110 minutes, and while that might not seem like a huge investment for comic book audiences who have endured nearly three hour epics, the combination of forced flashback’s and simply too many big set fight sequences, make the sit an uphill endurance test. For the former, I mentioned this problem in my review of “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”, but here it feels much more padded and unnecessary, especially when the use of audible narration is already telling us everything that transpires visually before us. It’s a strange breed because I feel the film could easily be trimmed, but I think this would only further compromise the cyclonic storytelling, whose speed has us seeing only streaks. I guess you’re simply damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

– Mundane heavy metal score. Composer Benjamin Wallfisch (Real name) has honorable intentions here, but the lack of royalty in track selection dooms his opportunity to make “Hellboy” the rock-and-roll opera that we deserve. With the exception of a couple key inserts, like “Kickstart My Heart” by Motley Crue, the majority is a DVD stock composition that is used when a studio doesn’t want to pay for commercial rights to sample the proper song. There’s even traces of what Wallfisch wanted in each scene, whether it be in the form of familiar metal guitar riffs that borders plagiarizing because of what I previously mentioned. It gives the film an easily identifying trait of cheap production value that doom the art of some eye-catching visuals, and teaches us to pay extra when the scene calls for it.

– Distracted editing. There’s no big surprise here: too many cuts and too little consistency in visual storytelling. In any single sequence of action, you can expect three different angles to watch the same scene, giving me this inescapable feeling of dementia that made me question reality. There’s also this annoying trait, where a scene cuts far too early, and the dialogue from scene one bleeds into the dialogue from scene two. I get artistic expression, but this feels like an unnecessary transition effect that cuts into the focus of the previous scene. Likewise, the editing during scenes of explanation or exposition take a page out of Guy Ritchie’s “King Arthur”, where frames are inserted that don’t add anything to what we’re hearing. For instance, one heartfelt scene between Hellboy and an old acquaintance comes and goes with many visuals of the details in the kitchen that houses them. Filmmaking attention deficit at its finest, and it hinders even the smallest shred of momentum that the audience gains for investing into this story at any particular moment.

– Tonal clashing. If this was a film that was firmly committed to being a cult comedy, then I could forgive it for ridiculous levels of material and production that do it no favors in gaining an audience, but there are deeply dramatic scenes in the film that revolve around love and loss that speak to a totally genre of film, and in turn make the dominant direction in this film feel even more jumbled because of it. The humor in the material is far too juvenile far too often to render the transition needed for some deep-seeded moments of heart that the film calls on late in the movie. In turn, these scenes of dramatic pulse take away everything that everyone was enjoying about the character up to that point, and it all feels like a balance of power behind the scenes from a studio that didn’t know what they truly wanted from this legendary figure. As to where the previous two films were dominant action movies with an occasional speck of dark, twisted humor thrown in for good measure, this installment feels 70% comedy and 30% the occasional speck of drama, and it never worked at finding a comfortable balance for all to enjoy.

– Continuity flaws. This more than conveys the hack-and-slash finished product that we were left with. Consistency in scenes is a constant problem for this film, especially one involving Hellboy and a cocky agent late in the first act that made me do a double take for its documentation. Hellboy and the agent are talking on top of a building, then the scene cuts to the agent taking the elevator to the ground floor to meet another agent, and Hellboy is now there with this secondary character. It’s possible that Hellboy jumped off of the building, but why? What purpose would this even serve? I wish I could say that a scene like this is rare, but it happens frequently throughout, making me wonder just how long the first draft of this film was before the editor removed the threads that binds the continuity together.

My Grade: 3/10 or F+