Baby Driver

The assistance of a driver simply known as ‘Baby’ is the best case scenario for the criminal underworld, looking for the fastest route out. In “Baby Driver”, the newest from critically acclaimed writer/director Edgar Wright, A young and talented getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) relies on the personal beat of his preferred soundtrack, to be the best in the world of crime, as music heightens his focus and reflexes to extreme levels. A car accident as a child killed both his parents, and left him with permanent tinnitus, which he blocks out using music. He is preferred as a driver by Doc (Kevin Spacey), a mastermind organizer of bank robberies and other high-earning heists. During the biggest mission of Baby’s career, he finds himself and his loving girlfriend Debora (Lily James) in grave danger at the hands of some rough customers who want him dead when Baby decides to flee town. “Baby Driver” is rated R for adult language and violence throughout.

Edgar Wright, take a bow. After nearly twenty years of directing both feature length films and brilliant cinematic shorts, the master of satirical modern comedy dons his absolute best film to date, in the adrenaline powder-keg known as “Baby Driver”. As far as cinematic experiences go, this is easily the most fun thus far that I have had in a movie in 2017, and is only really matched or topped in my six year critic career by that of “Mad Max: Fury Road”. Wright is the kind of director who always seems to pull one over on his audiences, advertising and marketing a movie one way and then completely peeling it back to show you the never-ending multitude of layers that his stories boost for themselves. To define “Baby Driver” as just a satirical comedy on 70’s speed flicks, or smash-em, crash-em big budget carnage films of modern day, is doing this movie the greatest disservice that I could possibly muster up. It’s a play on a magnitude of genres, never settling for constant direction, and this gives the movie a kind of playground where all of these tonal shifts can meet and play as one, an aspect nearly impossible without suffering compromising damage to the film’s integrity. But it serves as a testament to Wright for not only being a name that makes us perk up when we hear he’s got a new film coming out, but also one that proves his versatility is only getting started.

Even after seeing trailer after trailer for this film, it still manages to have a strong ambiguity quality about its plot that makes it feel like nothing has been spoiled. In the first act of the movie, Wright kind of just introduces all of the essential chess pieces on the board and has them play up to their moral fiber safely, and for a second you feel like you are typically getting the story you were promised. In Baby, we meet a young man who feels stuck in a job that he knows is wrong, but he keeps doing it to pay off a debt to a crime lord boss who took a chance on him. This is probably the lone critique of the movie that you will hear from me, because unfortunately we never really hear much else about this expositional past between Elgort and Spacey’s characters that maximizes the importance of this crossroads that the title character is on. Thankfully, the second half of the movie did more than enough to make me forget about such miniscule negatives. It’s in the second act when you start to understand the evolution of this story and how little you truly know about where it’s headed. With some surprising brutality twists along the way, this one constantly kept my eyes glued to the screen, pacing itself out accordingly across 108 minutes that felt about half of that. The ending itself might sour some audiences, but I found it to be responsible with the dark and twisted alleys that the film’s third act took us down. In Edgar Wright’s world, it’s understood that there are consequences for every action, unlike other crime films that make the existence of cops feel like a joke.

What Wright does with a pen and a pad is impressive, but I would say takes a silver medal to that of his mesmerizing scope behind the camera. This movie doesn’t just play safely to the genre’s standards, it completely re-defines them in how each and every little shot maximizes the potential of each sequence even further. The editing here is textbook, garnering a quality about it that illustrates and combines the importance of quick-cut jabs to reflect the modern age, and a forceful close-up occasionally to reflect that of 70’s chase flicks like “Duel”. This gives the action sequences a monitor for us to tell that it’s fully beating and increasing in pumps with each passing dodge. On top of this, there are some impressive long take shots during character confrontations that proved Wright has a lot of faith in his star-studded cast. Because our view is with the camera’s, we often get to immerse ourselves in each ever-passing environment that has engulfed these unpredictable situations. A credit to this camera work is that we never once see one robbery in the movie, but we feel like we’re with these characters through every bullet fired. The sound mixing is also quite impressive for the kind of tricks that it plays on our own ears, making us feel Baby’s situation front-and-center. Music will occasionally drop out in volume if a shot is taking place outside of the car, and this is respectable because it would otherwise feel fake if we hear the same kind of volume outside that the characters do inside of the car. Edgar also pays attention to Baby’s peculiarity because we get several examples of the muddled “Hum-in-the-drum” that has left him somewhat impared, and it’s in that stance where we feel more personal with a protagonist than other films can get. We’re hearing what he hears, so when the music hits, it sounds so much sweeter.

On the subject of that music, “Baby Driver” boosts a collection of mostly classic ballads and toe-tapper funk grooves that is sure to have you fighting back the urge to mouth the words to some of your favorite jams. The cleverness comes out of how each song shapes not only the tone, but the editing of each and every scene. If there’s a drum beat that is constant in the song Baby is jamming out to, it becomes evident that we too will be treated with the riddling of bullets richocheting to the bass of such a powerful audio level. There’s also some clever Easter eggs along the way that add lyrics to the song that is being listened to at any given moment. For instance, during the scene where Baby walks to the diner for his first meeting with Debora, we see scattered lyrics all around the sidewalk, windows, and street signs that he passes by. This gives the movie some quality re-watches to see just what in the backdrop you may have missed upon initial watches.

But a film this impactful would be nothing without a charismatic cast that guides it through these often entertaining waters, and thankfully this collection of heralded A-listers know a valuable chance when they see one. For anyone who thought Ansel Elgort’s most memorable role would be Augustus Waters in 2014’s “The Fault In Our Stars”, you have no idea the oral crime you just committed. As Baby, Elgort unlocks a mystery wrapped inside of an enigma, and because there’s so much personality to his character, it’s the spunk and likeability of a leading man that he lends his talents to marvelously. Elgort proves he can hang with the big names by giving us a character who constantly evolves into being a product of his environment, and when the tough get going, Baby is no infant. Two other members who I want to praise are Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm for completely stealing the show. Not that either of them need help in their careers, but their roles in this movie are the shot of adrenaline that both need from being typecast into the safe roles that have plagued their careers. Foxx dominates the first half of the movie as a menacing robber who always has his finger on the pulse of everyone involved. Because of such, he’s kind of a leader who always likes to stir the pot, and I found him to be authentic in his push for greed. Hamm too is a worthy opposition, but not until later in the movie do we see his truest of colors. In fact, the movie tells us all we need to know about Hamm’s character when he’s not living up to that immense shadow, but treat this as a warning because you will never look at Don Draper the same way again.

THE VERDICT – “Baby Driver’s” tank never runs close to being empty, taking us on a fast-paced thrill-ride that will have you holding onto your seat, afraid to take that breath of release for fear you might miss a delightful peak on auditory capabilities. There’s enough firepower and unpredictability in the mastery of Edgar Wright’s closely-guided touch to keep it from ever stalling, and the personalities from some of Hollywood’s finest make this one impossible not to want to strap in. Even if you just seek a movie to shut your brain off, “Baby Driver” will take the challenge one step further by astonishing you at every feat of the technical specter. Mister Wright can do no wrong.

9/10

Beatriz at Dinner

The least unlikely of guests is pulling up a seat at the upper class table to shake things up, in “Beatriz at Dinner”. Beatriz (Salma Hayek), an immigrant from a poor town in Mexico, has drawn on her innate kindness to build a career as a health practitioner in Southern California among the cultural elite. Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) is a real estate developer whose cutthroat tactics have made him a self-made, self-satisfied billionaire. When these two polar opposites meet at a dinner party, their worlds collide in a battle of classification, and neither will ever be the same. As the night progresses, secrets get exposed, and the two’s differences soon are brought to the table, as money is the one true difference between them. “Beatriz at Dinner” is directed by Miguel Arteta, and is rated R for adult language and a scene of violence.

There are films that often depict the differences and gentrification among our two societies; upper and lower class, but none have rarely ever left the resonating sting that Arteta’s film leaves us with only moments after the final shot. “Beatriz at Dinner” is very much a film about encounters, whether they be once in a lifetime, or that rare occasion that fate has marked your path with a particular person for the rest of time. We consider these engagements as nothing more than coincidence, but this movie tugs at the spiritual reckoning a bit more, provoking a thought from within if such a clash is indeed fate. As a character, Beatriz considers herself meant to heal the people she touches physically and mentally every day, but we slowly learn a little bit more about her past, which makes the shot-in-the-dark chance of seeing a prominent figure from that era all the more breathtaking, considering the population and the immensity of our growing planet. The question of fate feels engaging enough here for the audience, especially considering there’s so much more to this story that makes up where this vital 75 minutes of screen time takes us.

I was very taken aback by just how layered the team-up of Arteta and screenwriter Mike White focus in on this elegant dinner party that never runs low on awkward exchanges. Because of such, the tense atmospheric vibes in the air always ring the loudest, even so much as to override the prestigious occasion of what the characters are all here to celebrate. Despite me being leaps-and-bounds away from these people in classification, I found myself commending the film’s plotting for how its conversations and reactions felt so authentic with that of the upper class and what they deem important to the consequences of those suffering from their wealth. Whether White intended for this to be a comedy or not, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with how much I delighted in the snobbery that overtook these scenes repeatedly, and the reaction of Hayek’s Beatriz, who feels like the only human element between them all. So often was the ignorance of this brigade brought out in the way they ignored, and even talked over that of Beatriz every time she had a thought to bring to the table.

From a screenplay perspective, the film feels like a stage play to me, in that the conversations and story rarely ever move away from the group, choosing instead to document all of the interaction for its importance later on in the closing minutes. Everything that we hear from the pasts of these polar opposite characters, is shaping everything that you need to know about their respectively contrasting perspectives. This effect in sequencing does wonders for the performances, particularly in that of Lithgow and Hayek who radiate everything combative in a current-Trump Americana, but there is a kind of unfortunate compromise within this direction that comes with how everything flows through the three acts. The film has three different encounters that surround this dinner, and the routine of each becomes clearly transparent with each passing scene, operating on a wash, rinse, repeat cycle that couldn’t be more evident. Because Beatriz will sometimes get up and leave the group, it feels like the tension must start over before the next sequence, instead of flowing naturally for one huge ball of fire explosion at the end.

This of course brings me to the biggest negative within the film; the ending itself. Considering this is a film that barely reaches over an hour, the finale itself will definitely be the most memorable aspect to the movie, and unfortunately it finished with a bad taste in my mouth that is still digesting. Without spoiling it, the inevitable confrontation between Lithgow and Hayek becomes apparent, but the movie would rather throw a shock factor twist in the screenplay, instead of approaching this with the honesty and earnestness needed to hammer its importance home. Because of such, there are kind of two endings to this film. The first one, I was honestly fine with, despite its juxtaposition stance on tonal shifting that didn’t feel cohesive with the rest of the script. The second ending is dreadful on nearly every position, and won’t do anything for any of the audience expecting redemption. It just kind of fizzles out unfortunately and does very little for the previous 65 minutes that really held my attention firmly in its grasp.

Thankfully, the performances picked up my final grade of the movie, and conjured up some top-notch casting that didn’t disappoint. While the performances of Lithgow and Hayek dominate the movie, the entire group here involving names like Connie Britton and Chloe Sevingly each adding a meaty repertoire to their characters that certainly shape every upper class nightmare that we’ve ever imagined. Salma Hayek kills it here. Her Beatriz is a woman who has lived her life constantly around the greed and gluttony that has shaped her fire burning calmly underneath. When it spreads, we see a force beneath her smiling exterior, and it soon becomes apparent that she doesn’t care who she offends. John Lithgow is also a delight, despite being possibly the biggest asshole you will ever encounter. Lithgow plays this role soundly, despite the fact that I’ve never seen him as an antagonist in anything else. His timing and ignorance seemed to perk up at just the right times, and his snob never feels like a stereotype that is often depicted in these roles. Lithgow is the real deal, and fills in the shadow outlines accordingly for the antagonist that Beatriz deserves and relishes in pointing out the harm that his greed has caused.

THE VERDICT – “Beatriz at Dinner” has plenty to feast upon, but it’s mostly in the performances of its two leads, as well as an intoxicating atmosphere played out to an awkward sizzle that successfully cleanses our demanding palate. The ending feels like a missed opportunity of sorts, but the appropriately timed melodrama from Miguel Arteta is a provocative little independent movie that spreads awareness of the two ideals of the American dream, and how one feels slightly more important because of its over-indulgence on the color of green.

7/10

Paris Can Wait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

Transformers: The Last Knight

The key to saving the future is buried in the past of Camelot, in “Transformers: The Last Knight”. Michael Bay returns once again to helm the latest chapter of the Transformers franchise, this time conjuring up a story that proves only one world can survive. The film shatters the core myths of the Transformers franchise, and redefines what it means to be a hero. Humans and Transformers are at war, Optimus Prime is gone. The key to saving our future lies buried in the secrets of the past, in the hidden history of Transformers origins on Earth. Saving our world falls upon the shoulders of an unlikely alliance: Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg); Bumblebee; an English Lord (Sir Anthony Hopkins); and an Oxford Professor (Laura Haddock) who all must act fast before our time on Earth comes to an abrupt ending. “Transformers: The Last Knight” is rated PG-13 for for violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, adult language, and some sexual innuendo.

If this is in fact the fifth Transformers movie in this Bay-helmed series, then one would think that a majority of the problems that plagued the earlier movies should be solved by now, right? “The Last Knight” is without a doubt the very worst of this series that I have seen so far, and sets the bar to incredibly low depths for the inevitable sequels that are bound to follow. If I were to tell someone who hasn’t seen these movies everything that’s wrong with them, I would save them time and tell them to just watch this movie. It’s got everything; slow-motion action sequences that overstay their welcome, jarringly compromising tonal shifts that often make it difficult to decide what genre category this should fall under, wincingly vicious dialogue that falls completely flat around these one-dimensional characters, and a knack for over-complicating and convoluting every kind of plot and subplot that make up the script. I have yet to enjoy a Transformers live action movie, but this is the first that has made me legitimately angry leaving the film, and has me debating if I want to finally use my veto card for future installments.

These movies are certainly no easy feat in run time, this one clocking in at nearly two-and-a-half hours, a basic average for this series. So of course this script has to be massive. To do this, we get a story that splits time between modern day and medieval times, the latter of which plays great importance to where this story is headed creatively. I’m fine with introducing new layers to this series to keep it fresh, but essentially this film is derived from every earlier movie before it; a high stakes game of capture the flag. In each movie, the Decepticons always invade Earth to capture something, and in this one it’s no different with the introduction of Merlin’s staf. What I don’t like about the writers establishing that Transformers were around throughout history is a two-fold problem. First, we as a civilization haven’t been able to learn their technology faster? and two, how can anyone keep a secret as big as robots invading over the course of 1600 years? The characters in the original movie (Government officers included) certainly seemed surprised upon the first invasion. But the film tries to be cute by establishing a secret society that have kept the robots from the eyes and ears of its people. If that’s the case, why has this society waited until the fifth invasion of the series to finally do something about it. What we’re they doing? biding their time? If this isn’t enough, there’s a noticeably big gap between Transformers fight sequences, as well as human character abandonment that overall attains a level of sloppiness that not even “Revenge of the Fallen” could attain quite so consistently.

The story is bad, but man does it pale in comparison to the overall dialogue composition that someone approved as being screen-ready. There are several problems that I have with the lines in the movie, but to sum it up, most of them drown on for far too long, fluffing out the run time extensively by never cutting to the point. On top of this, the progression halts every few minutes so a character can express their hollow personalities, or present a line of comedic dialogue to ruin the urgency of such matters. Some of the scenes that drove me crazy were when so much of the Staf’s history was being explained, and Anthony Hopkins character would stop to bicker with a robot, or take the boringly long route in conveying the importance of this piece. This script greatly needed another edit, so much so that my mind wandered repeatedly to how I would’ve shortened the long-winded releases that kept taking creative liberties, and gotten the same point across without the nauseating history lesson that followed. The comedy falls so flat most of the time in this film that I wish they would just leave it be. Michael Bay movies do have personality, but during a time of grave devastation for the world, it almost feels inappropriate that the movie would rather focus on the unlimitted cast of characters and making sure the audience knows that each and every one of them can be cooky and full of spunk.

On the subject of such characters, the problem of overcrowding continues in these movies, with about 90% of the film’s characters being brand new and needing valuable screen time to get their characters across. Considering this film violently shifts back and forth between the many groups, there’s just not enough valuable resources to bestow upon them to make their presence warranted. The most trivial for me was that of Laura Haddock. It’s true, her character is a valuable one when you think about what gets developed late in the second act of this movie, but the film does her zero favors in terms of material, often times serving as the prime argument for why women feel so alienated with their lack of female development in Michael Bay movies. Thankfully, we don’t get any close-up body footage here, but the film’s way of introducing her doesn’t paint her in the most likeable of lights early on, and throw her in the box of lost toys with other female leads by giving her a clumsily thrown together romance with Mark Wahlberg. Besides this, the additions of Anthony Hopkins and Isabella Moner were a positive and a negative respectfully. Hopkins is at least having fun in this role, so there’s not too much that I can condemn him for, but I could honestly do without his rambling which became insufferable and redundant once I decoded the set-up for it every time. Moner was the one character who I clung to because she channels the often ignored double sides of kids and female characters that Transformers hasn’t really capitalized on. It’s a discredit to the 15-year-old actress that we don’t get a lot of wiggle room with her in run time, but she does make the most of every scene, instilling an equal offering of intelligence and attitude in Izzy that make you want to stay with her character more than anyone else in this movie.

If Michael Bay can still do one thing gorgeously, it’s in his ability to depict high-priced action sequences that spare no expense in the effects department. The camera work is slightly too shaky-camera for me, but it’s passable enough that you can decifer what is going on in the sometimes convoluted field of battle. “The Last Knight” smashes us through buildings, wields many funnel clouds of explosions, and takes our breath away with some adrenaline-fueled intensity through the streets. The chase sequences in these scenes are a sight to behold, and were those rare moments that got me back into the movie when I felt I couldn’t take anymore of the poor pacing. A friend of mine recently mentioned on his podcast (WELKINONE.COM) that nobody else could do action at the level of intensity that Bay does, and I think I finally have to concede to him and give him his credit. Where Bay stumbles at nearly every other level of the directing capacity, he brilliantly takes the medal when it comes to capturing such devastation at a grand level, a true pioneer who has shaped action well into the 21st century.

THE VERDICT – “The Last Knight” is just that, the last night that I ever waste nearly three hours on a Michael Bay helmed Transformers. It’s a movie that summarizes everything wrong with the last ten years of his filmmaking career; Overstuffed and convoluted plot, cheesy cringeworthy dialogue, abuse of slow motion sequences that echo that of the snails pacing that drags on, and an overabundance of characters who most of which never get the proper development that they deserve to make an impact. Sure, the action is still there, but it’s such a small positive considering there are more than a couple of long spans in the script when the Transformers don’t appear. Haters of the series won’t be swayed by this effort, and true hardcore fans of the series will finally be tested to see just how deep their love is. If there is indeed more that meets the eye, consider me blind. I frankly don’t get it.

3/10

Rough Night

Scarlett Johansson, Kate Mckinnon, Zoe Kravits, Ilana Glazer, and Jillian Bell are five best friends whose one “Rough Night” puts them on the wrong side of the law. Five best friends from college reunite 10 years later for a wild bachelorette weekend in Miami, involving drunken debauchery that is their one last thrill before Jess (Johansson) ties the knot. Their non-stop hard partying takes a hilariously dark turn when they accidentally kill a male stripper during his musical routine, forcing the friends to think fast in order to avoid serious jail time. Amidst the craziness of trying to cover it up, they’re ultimately brought closer together when it matters most, and at the very least should inspire some hilarious bridesmaid speeches in the long run. “Rough Night” is co-written and directed by Lucia Aniello in his first big screen offering, and is rated R for crude sexual content, adult language throughout, drug use and brief bloody images.

Raunch comedies are a dime a dozen these days. Typically you will take a comedy with a bunch of promising talents and combine it with sophomoric humor to test the boundaries of an R-rating. Now the ladies get their turn with “Rough Night”, a film that borders a little too closely to the 1997 Christian Slater film “Very Bad Things”, in that they are both movies that take place over the course of a bachelor party, and a stripper ends up dead. Beyond those identical plots, “Rough Night” paves its own path by taking a so-so script and elevating it even higher than it rightfully should be because of the performances and chemistry of its five leading ladies. The film doesn’t push the sadistic envelope quite as far as its male comparison did two decades ago, but its charms lie in its ability to never take itself too seriously, and focus from square one on the comedy first. This is the kind of film that is easy to just kind of turn your brain off and allow yourself to succumb to the entertaining nature of a R-rated, free from the watered down humor of kids cinema that can wear thin on the intelligence of its audience, and that is where I think this film will resonate best; in its female moviegoers who are seeking comparisons to their own wolfpack of friends for the many wild nights that they have shared. Because of that, this one is full proof for the ladies, and one that they will undoubtedly hand over their cash to see in droves.

What I appreciate about a film like “Rough Night” is that it doesn’t allow itself to be something that it isn’t. Comedies these days can sometimes think that two hours is the way to go, keeping in every bit of sequences that should’ve rightfully been put on the cutting room floor for DVD extras. The script here is written by Paul Downs, a guy who actually portrays the leading male in this movie. If you’re like me, you can smirk at the guts of a guy to not only cast himself as the boyfriend of Scarlett Johansson, but also to promote himself into more than forty minutes of this movie. There are things about Downs style of writing that I appreciate, and the things that are better left to a minimal. On the former, I certainly picked up on the delightful irony that the women portray the men in this film, with all of their drunken debauchery and careless antics, and the men played the women, in all of their subtle and cozy surroundings to embrace bottles of wine. It’s genius because it doesn’t necessarily have to be too overbearing to be obvious, and I think Downs should be commended for giving a voice to this feminist tribe. Where he could use some work however is in the scatterbrains plotting of subplots that can often overstay their welcome. Whenever the film isn’t focused on the females, there is a side story developing for Paul to track down his fiance because he is legitimately worried about her well-being and their relationship. This perspective slowed down the momentum each and every time I felt comfortable to kick back and enjoy myself, and will most likely be the brake pads for those who take this one in. Most of the material falls flat during this time and feels raunchy for the hell of it, without much creativity to push it further.

That is where we get to the comedy of the film, which surprisingly gave me several hearty chuckles, despite not being my go-to brand of humor. The film feels like it flows best when it is sticking to Downs method of mayhem that is unraveling before our very eyes, and less with scenes of long-winded improv that can sometimes drown on for far too long. For my money, the strongest material blossomed when the girls were each getting their respective characters across, and just indulged in a pizza and booze hangout with one another. Honestly, if you didn’t have a plot to go with this film, I would be fine, as these characters (Minus one who I will get to in a second) are just a riot to be around, and the camera serves as that lucky eavesdropping that has served as our invitation to this debauchery that proves the ladies can do it just as well. Because these are human characters, their sometimes stupid decisions can seem genuine, and there were many times when I couldn’t wait to see how a scene played out with what felt like me thinking several minutes ahead of where our girls hadn’t even thought about yet.

On the subject of characters, most are delightful to embrace in their melting pot of differences that make up this clan, leaving only one girl who I couldn’t stand, and that came in the form of Jillian Bell as best friend Alice. Bell is usually one of my favorite parts of any film because her dry stick can sometimes be the wise-cracking sarcastic reality that a blown out scene can rightfully need, Unfortunately for her, Alice is a wreck of a human being, and serves as that one friend who the others complain about when they aren’t around. Don’t act like you don’t know one. If this isn’t enough, Downs writes her into a kind of “Bridesmaids” subplot where her character reeks of jealousy towards Mckinnon’s engaging Pippa. Speaking of which, Kate gives probably her best big screen performance to date, not only carrying much of the comedic backbone to the film, but also in a solid actors performance that showcases her holding an Australian accent for the entirety of the film. The accent can sometimes crack, but as far as accomplishments for her career goes, acting is the next step to take, as she has already proven she can steal laughs from anyone in the audience, during a movie that she is leap years ahead of. Mckinnon doesn’t feel like she is being used as just a reactionary character here like she was in “Ghostbusters” or “Masterminds”, and Pippa often feels like the breath of fresh air for this band of women who have sometimes spent far too much time together.

THE VERDICT – “Rough Night” thankfully is just a clever title, as this R-rated raunch-com offers the perfect 95 minute getaway for the ladies seeking laughs, thrills, and most importantly escape in their female-led comedies. For me, the film works best when its focus is solely on the ladies and less with a male subplot that should’ve been trimmed in favor of building momentum. The script is kind of all over the place in terms of structure, but what settles it down is the off-handed dialogue that constantly made me do a second take, as well as the undeniable chemistry of its female cast who are not afraid to take chances. Nothing of breakthrough for the genre, but a good time to waste the night away.

6/10

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

Lifted from the pages of the best-selling children’s graphic novel, a new superhero has come to town, and he doesn’t even require pants. “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” boasts a terrific A-list cast like comic heavyweights Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, and Nick Kroll. DreamWorks Animation brings audiences the long-awaited global movie event, That revolves around George and Harold, two child pranksters living in Piqua, Ohio, who hypnotize their over-controlling principal Benny Krupp into thinking he’s a ridiculously enthusiastic, yet incredibly dimwitted superhero named Captain Underpants, whom the duo have illustrated in their own personal free time. After donning the cape and tighty-whities, Krupp must deal with the arrival of the evil German scientist known as Professor Poopypants who is out to end world-wide laughter. “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” is directed by David Soren, and is rated PG for mild rude humor throughout.

Growing up, I remember reading the Captain Underpants novels as an early teenager, and I found their brand of toilet bowl humor, combined with practicality when it comes to animation style, to be a cut above the rest in bridging the gap from one age group to the next. The movie catches wind on a lot of the same sails creatively, bringing to life perhaps the craziest superhero that the graphic world has ever encountered. For a limited run time of 80 brief minutes, “The First Epic Movie” conjures up a thoughtful side to the superhero genre that the entirety of live action offerings just can’t capture. Comics first and foremost should be for kids, and a world of imagination that peels back the layers of fantasy and making them reality. David Soren’s film certainly captures that aspect in spades, providing a satirical commentary on childhood imagination that encourages its story to tell it from their point-of-view. In doing so, this movie finds a comfortable medium in tone that proves time-and-time-again that nothing is off limits when it comes to the bizarre and unorthodox, and it’s that unchained response that offers something for the whole family.

From an animation perspective, this is a gorgeous movie, offering throughout a breaking of the fourth wall that doesn’t limit the artistic integrity to just one kind of style. What I mean by this is that in addition to the breathtaking rendering here of the town and its inhabitants, there’s also cut away scenes that colorfully narrate what each boy is discussing for that sequence. I compare its style in illustration to that of the 2015 “The Peanuts Movie”. Where the alteration comes in is that these textures radiate more to the amateur drawer in all of us when we were kids, presenting a style that swims in a Crayola current of free-flowing streams. In addition to this, there’s also a lot of scenes in which the colors splash across and overtake the look and feel of each character to emote whenever they are happy, sad, or in grave danger. This gives the movie a kind of comic book authenticity that constantly reminded me that we are indeed in the land where superpowers make anything possible, speaking levels to the chain that bonds this delightful duo of protagonists in their unbreakable link to their favorite hero.

On the subject of that friendship, we get a real candid look at the importance that George and Harold play in the other’s lives, even going so far as to hold its value hand-in-hand with that of the madness developing around them. There is no getting around it, everything that happens in this movie is because of them and their imaginations that never stop, nor slow down, and always feel continuously in-sync with one another. What I commend the film for is not presenting some flimsy subplot that temporarily divides them because of a stupid argument or differing opinion. These two stay together for the entirety of the film, and it really spoke volumes to me that this might be the single best duo of any film in 2017. There is a negative side to that in terms of narration however, as Captain Underpants himself plays such a miniscule role overall in the finished product. Considering the title of this movie, there is a bit of a letdown with the exposition of Underpants, and what makes him tick. He certainly made me laugh, but his urgency in time and inevitability that his existence must end soon, certainly leaves more to be desired with the dramatic itch that went unscratched within the movie. This film stays purely comedic, and there’s really nothing wrong with that.

I’m usually not one for toilet humor because it reminds me constantly of the Adam Sandler B-movie plots that have sunk a once prominent actor, but in “The Epic First Movie”, those moral capacities make sense and never hinder or take away from the fluidly moving pace that rarely ever slowed down. Some jokes do last for a tad bit too long, speaking to the kind of Seth Mcfarlane humor that can sometimes overstay its welcome. It doesn’t do too much harm to the movie, and most of it feels like fluff for how quick of a movie that we are presented with. Overall, I did laugh quite a few times at this movie, and that’s mostly because of its impeccable timing when it came to the bizarre observations that it was saying out loud. I have great faith that this movie will win older audiences over as well because as dumb as it gets, it seems to build itself stronger for a third act that requires you to leave any maturity at the door. The film even pokes fun at this concept, signaling out the ones who balk at toilet humor, and check our age at the door. To this regard, “Captain Underpants” is an infectious little-engine-that-could of a film that constantly reaches for a pulse in its audience, depending on the very wonderment and mayhem of youth that never ends.

Credit to Hart and Middleditch for lending their electric personalities to the vocal work of George and Harold, leading a comedic cast of who’s who in the industry who give to this picture. Hart in particular has always been an off-the-wall personality, so the decision to voice an adventurous child is one that feels like a meant to be marriage. I don’t know much about Middleditch, but his commitment to playing the straight man of the duo and registering the biggest response from his dry demeanor is one that is very valuable to the material here. Together, the two of them make it difficult to focus on anyone else, and certainly give in to the temptation of being bad influences when they are together. Nick Kroll also deserves major praise for voicing the villain known as Professor Poopypants. Kroll is virtually indistinguishable here, delivering a German accent that increases the laughter for how serious his character is trying to pass for. I just spoke about “Wonder Woman” and how comic book movies in general lack intriguing villains. Then a guy named Poopypants comes along and puts them all to shame with a sinister plan to wipe away laughter, and despite how silly it is, it actually works behind a terrifying plan.

THE VERDICT – Animation movies have gotten off to a rocky start thus far in 2017, but “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” puts the horse ahead of the cart by embracing a thirst for silly sight gags, as well as endless pranks and hijinks that transform all of us to a simpler time. Besides a lack of the title character, as well as a brief stretching of the occasional one-liner, Soren’s epic catches wind early on with indulging animation that sets a colorful stage for our pranksters to highlight their craft. With Hart and Middleditch at the helm, there’s no constricting or wedgie in this charming brief(s).

7/10

Wonder Woman

DC Comics first and most powerful female superhero gets her own big screen treatment, in the origin story, “Wonder Woman”. Fresh off of her debut in 2016’s “Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice”, Gal Gadot returns as the title character in the epic action adventure from director Patty Jenkins. Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior while living on the island of Themyscira, a sheltered island paradise. One day, American military pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes on their shores and tells of a massive conflict raging in the outside world, Diana leaves her home, convinced she can stop the threat. Fighting alongside man in a war to end all wars, Diana will discover her full powers and her true destiny. “Wonder Woman” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content.

It’s interesting that perhaps D.C Films last chance at standing against the monster empire of Marvel at this point, comes in the form of a woman. Neither of the comic book giants have taken many chances at female led stories after the failures of films like “Elektra” and “Catwoman”, but “Wonder Woman” stakes its claim as the perfect superhero story at the perfect time, for all of its practically identical similarities of art imitating life. For the first time in the three films in the D.C Universe, one of its movies doesn’t feel like an advertisement for the upcoming movie that follows this one, choosing instead to focus its merit and time on the origin story of perhaps the most powerful female superhero of all time. Because of it, it’s clearly evident that the Justice League has now found a suitable leader, guiding their team of unstoppably gifted protagonists into the 21st century. With Jenkins precision in guiding along female stories, the force is strong with this one, and certainly gives back the kind of hope to its fans that they may have found something that Marvel just can’t touch; a desire to reach out to its female moviegoers in the audience, in hopes that they finally have a character who speaks not only to their superhero side, but also to what it means to be a woman in modern times.

On the count of that subject, the material in “Wonder Woman” offers a stark self-reflection in our own society for the ridiculous nature in which the male population more times than not views their female counterparts. It does so in an educational manner instead of a contradicting one, still reminiscing on the importance of men, but showing that females can offer an equally distinctive vision for a future of promiscuity. I laughed quite a few times during this picture, mostly at the material that compares and contrasts the two worlds of Themiscyra to our very own, and signals some odd peculiarities for what it means to be a woman in a male dominated day-and-age. As a screenwriter, Allan Heinberg gives us quite the abundance of thought-provoking conundrums to make us as an audience question the status-quo of things being the way they are, and the dominant backdrop of World War I playing a prominent role in teaching us that no matter how far we’ve come with equality, we still have miles to travel before reaching our destination.

I mentioned earlier how “Wonder Woman” carries such an empowering voice to the female audience well beyond being a superhero idol, but so much of what the script is really about channels the themes of growing up and becoming who you were born to be. It’s evident in Diana’s leaving of her home, as well as seeing the world and living with her eyes open for the first time that this is very much a woman on the cusp of her own spiritual awakening, and that’s a concept that I think will intrigue many ladies in the audience into an experience that they have yet to illicit in these kind of films. It’s funny that going into the film I figured that so much of the movie’s two-plus hours would be geared towards us learning about Diana and her vast culture compared to the 1940’s era that dates this movie. The surprise was that instead it was her learning more about us, and from a creative standpoint I think that is the right decision on an entertainment and a narrative angle, speaking to the idea of there being so much more for Diana outside of the only place she has ever really known. Strolling us along is a riveting musical score from composer Rupert Gregson-Williams that always sparks such powerful compositions of thrilling nature to the depictions of war that envelope the movie. The action scenes themselves leave nothing more to be desired, and are shot beautifully without an overabundance of cuts to over-complicate each angle.

As for problems with the movie, I did have two that reminded me no matter how far we’ve come with D.C, this is still the same company that took a movie like “Batman Vs Superman” and convoluted it to the point of a third act that jarringly complicated the rest of the movie. Here, we have the same problem, as the final twenty minutes of this movie tries so hard to break down what made the rest of the movie so revolutionary in terms of its material. There’s a subplot that I won’t spoil, but deals with a certain figure in Diana’s life whom she’s been told stories about, and the movie approaches this from a literal standpoint instead of a figurative one, and it’s the signal for all things flying off of the handle in the most negative of ways. The final battle contradicts everything that I mentioned about the crisp and vivid detail of how these war scenes were previously shot, instead opting for more of the explosions, crashes, and burns that took something pure and made it a grandstand of C.G portions. This movie also pulls the 1960’s alien movie trick where if you kill the master, the rest will turn back to good. I could go for this if ya know….it wasn’t the Nazi’s that we were talking about. As a whole, I would’ve been fine with this particular angle not being in the movie, and there’s definitely a part before the final twenty minutes that while it would’ve underwhelmed for its equality in fight, would’ve at least ended things calmly instead of going batshit insane. That leads to my other problem in the movie. We once again have a great lack of compelling antagonists to go against our prominent lead. This is becoming more and more of a problem with both comic book empires, and the fix is something as easy as possible for this movie. There is the basic minimum of exposition when it comes to the two antagonists that make up our story, and that’s a shame because the movie feels like it moves on without them, only bringing them back when it’s absolutely necessary.

The performances themselves merit a solid combo of Gadot and Pine that radiate our screen through every kind of human emotion that they pull from us. The chemistry between them is terrific, and takes very few scenes to understand the charisma that oozes between them every time they look at one another. This is of course a love story between them, but the film takes its time naturally in getting from Point A to Point B, offering a hilarious, albeit informative contrast between the problem solving and moral foundry that both of them were raised upon. This is definitely Gadot’s single best performance to date, and I hope that “Justice League” will take this as a hint to feature her more prominently, instead of shielding her behind two mammoths like Superman and Batman. As Diana, Gal emotes a childlike innocence in a smile that makes it easy to fall in love with her, but equally as devastating with a powerful presence that packs a gripping punch. Above Affleck or Cavill, I can understand clearly what humanity means to her, and her importance with being the face that the people can believe in. I can start to see this actress as Wonder Woman, now I just have to see how the character grows with her time in the real world. Pine has always been a dependable force on the big screen, but here he’s playing accordingly where the movie needs him. He never overtakes or diminishes Gadot’s time to shine, instead offering the perfect circumference of 20th century ignorance and boyish charm to melt the hearts of the ladies in attendance. Steve feels like the kind of character who knew a revolution was coming, and instead of standing in the way of fate, he rides alongside his newfound accomplice, and the two create a kind of box office magic that elevates comic book love stories to a whole other level.

THE VERDICT – “Wonder Woman” lassos a whip of engaging sincerity combined with honest commentary on the very adversities that females face, proving that Jenkins once again can weave a web precision in storytelling with her own sex that very few can follow. D.C’s latest might not be the home run that it needs to fully get back into the game, because of a lackluster third act, as well as underwritten villains, but it does swing for the fences in terms of a pro-feminist direction and overall fun that has rarely ever succeeded quite this WONDERfully. Gadot and Pine are a match for the ages, and their humanity brings depth to a world full of the extraordinary. Move over boys, Diana’s taking over.

8/10

Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Men Tell NO Tales

Johnny Depp returns to the big screen as the iconic, swashbuckling anti-hero Jack Sparrow in the all-new “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” The rip-roaring adventure finds down-on-his-luck Captain Jack feeling the winds of ill-fortune blowing strongly his way when deadly ghost sailors, led by the terrifying Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), escape from the Devil’s Triangle bent on killing every pirate at sea; notably Jack. Jack’s only hope of survival lies in the legendary Trident of Poseidon, but to find it he must forge an uneasy alliance with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a brilliant and beautiful astronomer, and Henry (Brenton Thwaites), a headstrong young sailor in the Royal Navy. At the helm of the Dying Gull, his pitifully small and shabby ship, Captain Jack seeks not only to reverse his recent spate of ill fortune, but to save his very life from the most formidable and malicious foe he has never faced. The movie is directed by the team of Espen Sandberg and Joachim Rønning, and is rated PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence, and some suggestive content.

There are two scenes in “Dead Men Tell No Tales”, in which Captain Jack Sparrow is caught sleeping, a suitable metaphor for the latest installment that relies far too heavily on the fan service of the better, past movies in this saga. With five films produced over the last two decades, it’s clear that the Pirates franchise has overstayed its welcome, thriving on derived concepts and plots that were done accordingly in their originality, but now lack the kind of influential impact that these movies once used to conjure up the imagination of their audience. Some of these examples within this movie are; Sparrow being introduced in a silly manor by appearing on land, a new guy and girl supporting cast that bicker at each other until they fall in love, a ghostly antagonist who has been wronged by that of Sparrow, and an execution scene early on in the first act that our characters will inevitably escape from. All of the scenarios that I just mentioned have popped up somewhere in the first two films of this franchise, and it leads me to the conclusion that “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is perhaps the laziest of a sequel chapter that is supposed to stand on its own.

One of the biggest problems concerning this more-than two hour feature is that the film immensely lacks any kind of vulnerability or urgency to ever put us on the edge of our seats for one moment. If this chapter instilled one lesson to us, it’s that this is a world in which there are very few consequences or actual deaths in the series, and this concept is highlighted early on when we realize the ties that bind this film with that of the previous movies. One of the scenes that truly drove me crazy in this film was that of Salazar releasing some ghost sharks into the water to hunt the trio of protagonists in a canoe. It’s obvious that these sharks could tear them apart in seconds if they really wanted to, but they only tease them for absolutely no reason. During the sequence, a shark jumps out of the water, flies over the canoe, and extends his jaw like he is going to dine on Sparrow for a snack. Of course the shark doesn’t even make a move, and the slow motion scene was used more as a tease instead of an actual taste. There are so many scenes like this in the movie, and because of it, I never feared for the lives of our characters even for a minute. Without spoiling anything, there is one death in the movie, but I guarantee this character will return in a couple of films.

The pacing too also hits a lot of speed bumps, especially early on in the second act when the same deposition is repeated no fewer than four times by four different duos of characters. Seriously, every time a new development in the script is revealed, mostly about Smythe’s character, we must get a reaction shot from Sparrow’s crew, Barbosa’s crew, Salazar’s crew, and the British Empire at home. I understand that this is a concept from a character standpoint for each of them to be filled with all of the knowledge, but so much of this could be cut or combined in a summarized scene to please all parties concerned. If I knew this many scenes were repeated in the movie, I could’ve received my first bathroom break of 2017 during the actual movie, and my bladder would’ve obliged. The first act of the film comes out of the gate with some serious firepower, but we never reach that level of excitement again because the action sequences often stay neatly tucked away in the closet of conventionalism.

At least the action sequences themselves still dazzle in their epic depicting, illustrating the hundreds of year old Pirate era as colorfully faithful in palate. The war scenes do happen too few and far between during the movie, most notably in the second act when the film exchanges its firepower for flimsy subplots that rarely have any weight in the inevitable conclusion. But there is some gorgeous detail work in the establishing shots of the ships, as well as the fast-paced sword work that happens within, and the movie’s angles never felt compromising or overzealous in editing despite the volume of scope that it has to cover. The framing work here is exceptional, capturing the volume of production from the crew that goes into every ocean movement, all the while previewing for us the kind of adversities that await them in the distance. It proves that at its heart, the Pirates movies are still one of the very best action/adventure franchises going today, and can instill the excitement behind something as dull as cannonball fighting to the next level.

The comedy itself does overtake the action in terms of tonal shifts for the movie, and the tired use of slapstick humor can only take the already wining interest of the audience only so far. So much of the humor in the film flops, and the stuff that does land speaks more to the adults in the audience, with material that I’m not sure children should be hearing. Just some of the material engages in jokes about sexually-transmitted diseases, infidelity, and a joke about prostitution that we’re fortunate enough to hear from every ten minutes during the entirety of the film. Because of this, I’m starting to find it difficult to immerse myself within the epic scope in landscapes that the films entail because of crude humor that constantly goes over the line of taste. I compare it to that of the Geico Insurance pirates commercial, in all of its cringe-worthy dialogue.

As far as performances and character work goes, there is one pleasant addition to the series, in terms of Scodelario as Smythe, an intelligent female presence that holds the key to the trident of the sea. What I love about Smythe as a character is that she feels like the lone voice of reason for her extensive knowledge of the sea, but it’s made even more apparent how important she is once her family lineage reveals itself to our eyes and ears. Keira Knightley evolved into something great for little girls in the audience, but that took three movies. Smythe is someone whose benefit is approached right away, and it’s clear that her character offers a refreshing blend of feminist approach for a change. Depp is still solid as Sparrow, but it’s evident just how little of material that he has in this phoned-in script. At this point, Sparrow lacks the kind of cunning bravado that he combined with his evident humor in the first two movies, instead becoming a Three Stooges kind of character that stumbles at every turn. From the antagonist side, Javier Bardem’s Salazar is menacing in C.G appearance, but lacking in importance from dwindling screen time, sound editing and mixing that does him no favors in fluent speaking. Bardem’s Spanish accent is already difficult enough, but the decision to fill his mouth with cups of blood at a time is like trying to speak with marbles in his mouth, and made his speaking parts tone-deaf on my sensitive ears. As a villain, Bardem has the right personality, but there are leaps in the script when he goes hidden, a definite mistake for someone who has crafted some of the best villains of the past twenty years.

THE VERDICT – This is one tale that deserves to never be told. The fifth installment in the Pirates franchise is the perfect campfire story in terms of putting us to sleep for the night, but lacks the kind of excitement or unpredictability to ever stand with its first two immortal efforts. The action is still there, lending itself to the kind of Disney immersing that peaks the imagination particularly in its younger viewers. But the holes amount aplenty in this ship, springing from a reliance upon previous film material, as well as mostly forgettable performances and poor pacing that sink our sails.

4/10

The Lovers

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

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

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

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

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

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

6/10

Baywatch

The saviors of the water invade the big screen, in this comedic romp based on the 90’s television show of the same name. Baywatch revolves around Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), the gung-ho leader of the elite Baywatch lifeguard squad in Southern California, who clashes with new recruit Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a washed-up professional olympic swim athlete brought in as the new face of the organization. The P.R stunt gets shoved to the side however, when a dead body is recovered from the ocean, and the two bickering collegues must put aside their personal differences and work with their respective team to stop a criminal mastermind’s drug trafficking operation on their sacred land. Baywatch is directed by first time director Seth Gordon, and is rated R for adult language throughout, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity.

When spoofing a 90’s television show as ridiculous as Baywatch, there was really only one direction creatively that this film could take, but somehow the producers of this remake found a way to take a completely alienated approach that ultimately finishes as a missed opportunity for something that could’ve been an exercise in comedic ridiculousness. Baywatch at times lacks the real definition in its script to be a Baywatch movie, mainly because of its decision to reach for the spoofing of satirical nature so minimal in the film, instead opting to create a big budget action flick in blueprint for what the television show could’ve been if it were crafted in the 21st century. This was a major mistake, as Gordon’s movie never feels confident in finding a pleasing compromise in tone that blends together properly. Because of such, this remake often feels like it is at war with itself. Sure, it isn’t the disaster that Rotten Tomatoes is currently making it out to be. I certainly had enough fun to keep it from movies that I deem as a colossal waste of time. But this remake fails to reach the level of 21 Jump Street because it never feels faithful to the campy vibes of the original that practically begs to be roasted on an open flame.

The biggest laughs for me came during the very few times that this movie acknowledged how ridiculous these lifeguards saving the day sounded. During the first act especially, the film feels most like a comedy, blending the angles of slapstick and physical humor (Think Farelly Brothers) for all to adore. During this time, there was a slight feeling of the true conflict of the movie being pushed to the side. Most obvious is that our female antagonist doesn’t make a grounded appearance until nearly thirty minutes in. Even with that said, the first forty minutes of the movie is definitely its strength. Then the film decides to lose its identity for everything that it truly is, in favor for a 21st century action flick complete with big budgets and C.G.I designs that took itself a little too seriously. Most of the backdrops for the second act of the movie don’t even take place on or near that of the Baywatch landscape, and that obvious absence sparks a flame of abandonment for fans of the original work that will leave them aghast at where it all went wrong.

Something that truly perplexes me not only with this movie, but any deemed slapstick comedy is why the writers think that two hours is needed to tell such a superficial story like this one. Baywatch clocks in at 114 minutes, a dedication in time that truly defines the concepts of fluff sequences. So much of what adorns the exposition between our duos of characters feels repetitive from scene-to-scene with the next time their respective subplots are featured on-screen, pointing to the obvious to which parts should’ve been saved for Blu Ray deleted scenes. The pacing wasn’t terrible for me until late in the second act, when you really start to feel the thin layering of what defines this as a Baywatch movie. For me, this film can easily be re-written with taking out the five or six scenes early on that take place on the beach, and make this into a Bad Boys sequel. At least in removing those scenes, you would have a smooth 95 minute run time that should’ve been the appropriate measure taken for Gordon’s often dry marathon of a film.

A minute ago, I touched on the decision to up the budget of this project, and a lot of it goes into some computer generated work that omits the feeling of a Sharknado sequel in shallow design. There were two major problems that stand out like sore thumbs here; fire and the sky itself. On the latter, I’m guessing the difficulties with naturally lighting a scene that is supposed to take place out in the deep water was the cause for concern, but I can’t comprehend how a golden glow around our characters was the finished product. I noticed this problem during one of the earlier trailers, but thought that they were still finishing up post-production, but to see it in the actual movie makes it difficult to ever ignore. As for the fire, give credit that this design at least brings the smoke. So many C.G.I uses anymore for fire forget that aspect, but Baywatch is at least capable in that department. The problem is that the fire is so thin in design and screen definition that our characters walk through it without ever the slightest of consequence. Picture Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Arcade Game for the 8-bit Nintendo console. There’s fire at the bottom of the screen, but we know it’s only there for effect, and it will never hurt anyone if they come into contact with it. If you’re going to go big, then go all the way. Don’t skimp out when it comes to computer effects that soil the integrity of a direction in tone by their compromising visuals.

The strong point in the movie for me was actually the performances. Yes, that sound terribly stupid in a Baywatch movie, but it is the truth. Before I get into those, it was a tasteful nod for every one of the main roles to be named after a character from the TV show, two of which actually pop up as cameos in the movie that sadly the opening credits spoil. Dwayne Johnson kind of phones it in with his usual stick, but that shouldn’t alienate his many followers. Dwayne is charming and certainly rises to the occasion of Buchannon, but his non-existent arrogance leaves slightly more to be desired with his original counterpart. What is a solid investment for starring roles is that of Efron as the troubled bad boy Matt Brody. Efron has proven he has solid comedic chops yes, but here he is actually required to do some solid acting for once, and Zac rises to the occasion. In Brody, there’s a deep taste of regret and retribution that boils inside, and his mental growth throughout the movie is the cause of my embrace for the character. He’s cocky, but you never want to give up on him for how alone in this thing he truly is, a testament to Efron once again stealing the show. I also gave major props to the film for sticking all the way through with a female villain, and giving her the valuable screen time to make her a noteworthy presence against two mammoth personalities like Johnson and Efron. The woman in question is of course Priyanka Chopra as drug lord Victoria Leeds. Chopra commands the attention of everyone she comes into contact with, transfixing the screen with the decision to talk, instead of yell. Even if everything else doesn’t please you, the thought of a well written female antagonist in 2017 should, as Priyanka’s work here deserves credit.

THE VERDICT – Because of a lack of satirical intent and a run time that exceeds necessity by twenty minutes or so, Baywatch sinks before it can ever swim, limiting the effects of a well-rounded and charismatic cast of fresh faces to embrace. The film paddles hard to validate its R-rating, but the current of conventionalism capped off any attempt at making this the latest nod to a forgotten era of television. I don’t say this often, but this one could’ve used more corny to appeal to the show’s fans that laughed even when they weren’t supposed to. For Gordon’s film, you’re not supposed to laugh, and you won’t much anyway.

4/10

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

The dreaded road trip for the Heffley family turns into ‘The Long Haul’ for Greg and his newest disastrous plot. Based on the record-breaking book series, the Heffley family organize a long-distance road trip to attend Meemaw’s 90th birthday party. But everything goes hilariously off course thanks to Greg’s (Jason Drucker) newest scheme to get to a popular video gaming convention for all of the sweetest prizes. This twisted, off-the-rails family cross-country adventure turns into an experience the Heffleys will never forget, experiencing one wacky shenanigan after another to keep the spirit of the family together forever. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is directed by noteworthy child director David Bowers, and is rated PG for some rude humor.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is cinematic birth control. What I mean by that is this is the kind of movie that adults who are becoming parents dread when they think about the kind of modern day fecal matter that is slopped up upon our children’s plates. As time has progressed, companies like Pixar have continued to test the intelligence of their youthful audiences, with colorful characters, as well as plots that challenge the mind and the heart to offer something special in memorable movies. Then there’s movies like this one that consider your precious children to be mindless idiots that only react to loud, animated noises or a barrage of physical comedy whose only punchline is that of gross-out gags, with each one vying to out-do the previous. To say that I hated this movie is an understatement. I simply gave no emotional response to the 86 minutes of bits that barely passed for a big screen script. Being that this is the fourth film in the Diary franchise, and that everyone in the movie has been re-cast, this is the kind of film akin to that of Beethoven’s 4th or Home Alone 4 that belong strictly on a video store shelf, free from the wallet pressures of adults who work hard for their money.

I myself only saw the first Diary movie in this franchise, and while I only felt that it was OK, it was leaps-and-bounds above the material that passes for plot in this movie. The Heffley’s long distance trip to Indiana somehow clocks in at 47 hours on the van’s GPS, and right away my mind pondered as to where in America takes 47 hours to get to Indiana? Beyond this, the main goal is of course to celebrate the 90th birthday of the boys grandmother, but this ambition is cast aside so much in this movie that I constantly kept forgetting where this ending was taking us. Along the way, there are subplots that deal with Greg being the subject of a vicious viral video that has made him famous for all of the wrong reasons. Compelling huh? On top of that, the film feels like a series of skits instead of one cohesive script that beats to the same drum. For instance, each scene that feels like it was written by a second grader has a setup, a conflict, and the shenanigans that follow. Because this routine became so predictable by the end of the first act, I found myself being able to constantly sniff out what was coming with each (So-called) payoff. If there is a villain or adversary in the movie, it’s with this rival family that is on the exact same road and hotel path that the Heffley’s are on. This leads to a final showdown that (I’m not kidding you) spoofed Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, complete with slashing music and shot-for-shot re-creations. If this movie didn’t have enough guts from having the words LONG HAUL in their title, the bravery to mock one of the master filmmakers of all time certainly blows my mind.

Don’t worry though, I’m sure the laughs are aplenty from a movie with no shortage of urine, vomit, poop, and fart jokes. At this point in the game, these directions feel desperate, and even in a kids movie we should be reaching a lot further. On the scale of disgust, the film certainly makes a threat to 2015’s horrible Vacation remake, testing your stomach’s limits for what is tasteful. A pet pig is introduced midway through the film. Why? so he can fart and cause a big accident. The family stops at a country fair. Why? So one of the boys can vomit all over the people riding the ride. In case you’re wondering what the urine joke is, they borrow that too from another movie, this time from 1994’s Dumb and Dumber, in which Harry keeps filling up bottles. I’d elaborate a lot more, but frankly I just don’t want to. In a nutshell, I never laughed a single time in this movie, and the single greatest emotional response that I felt was that of two once prominent stars (I know I’m stretching that term) who now have to settle for this muck.

The two who I am referring to are of course Tom Everitt-Scott and Alicia Silverstone as the very parents of the Harelly clan. Silverstone is at least committing to this role, even if her character feels to cynical to ever be a progressive parent. Her character is wound slightly too tight, and it feels like she is trying to live up to an adjective like ‘Square’ that the director told her to aim for. Her singing of Wannabe by The Spice Girls that was seen in the trailer is so damaging to my ears that I began writing her a scathing e-mail to ease the pain. Scott feels asleep at the wheel for a lot of his performance, and often only pops up whenever it feels like he is required to earn a paycheck. For a man who stole many of movies like Dead Man on Campus and That Thing You Do, Tom feels like a shell of himself, going through the motions of workaholic Father who is forced to spend 47 unflattering hours with his family. We too suffer Tom. As for the lead role of Greg, Jason Drucker doesn’t have the personality or charisma to make this an appealing lead protagonist. For much of the movie, Drucker is relegated to complaining or reacting to the comic relief around him, and the lack of emphasis on the actual diary of the movie leaves him squandering for life support to live up to those who donned the role better. Greg embraces the embarrassment of being a child, but never the energy of what goes into being the pulse of this mind-numbingly bland family.

Perhaps the single worst aspect of The Long Haul is how its producers care so little about fluid continuity or the aspects that just don’t add up. Besides the 47 hour trip that I mentioned earlier, there’s also plenty of other mistakes or poorly efficient measures of filmmaking that shows the kind of care that went into this project. I’m certainly not asking the world out of a movie like this, but when I see two characters sitting in their respective seats in one shot, then immediately in the next one that shows them together they are in different seats, I wonder. This movie also re-uses actors and actresses like they think the audience is simply too stupid to piece this all together. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if a black man in the movie who carried a Southern accent during an earlier scene didn’t pop up as a completely different character during the final act. This is as sloppy as it gets with production decisions, but it pales in comparison to that of truly awful voice editing that adorned a particular character. The actor who plays the oldest brother in this film must’ve mis-read a lot of his lines because his lips rarely add up to what is being heard from his character. The volume levels are also slightly higher in his deliveries as opposed to his counterparts, pointing to post-production nightmares that aren’t tightly fixed enough for cinephiles like me to notice.

THE VERDICT – The Long Haul runs out of gas early and finds itself running on fumes for the entirety of this humorless, lifeless picture. If the film captures just one thing perfectly, it’s the torture that envelopes being stuck in a vehicle with people who annoy you to death, with you thinking about the better things that you could easily be doing at that particular moment. There isn’t a single moment original from its gross-out material to the way it savagely borrows from greatly more impactful films, and this is one diary entry that should be scratched-out, ripped-up, and left in the same trash confines where it found its humor.

2/10

Snatched

Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn are a Daughter and Mother on vacation, running from the clutches of being ‘Snatched’. When her boyfriend dumps her, Emily (Schumer), a spontaneous woman in her 30s, persuades her ultra-cautious Mother Linda (Hawn) to accompany her on a vacation to Ecuador. Polar opposites, Emily and Linda realize that working through their differences as mother and daughter involves getting thousands of miles away from it all. At Emily’s insistence, the pair seek out adventure on the island, mostly involving that of a good looking guy that Emily meets at the bar, but suddenly find themselves kidnapped. When these two very different women are trapped on this wild journey, their bond as mother and daughter is tested and strengthened while they attempt to navigate the jungle and escape their dangerous captors. Snatched is directed by Jonathan Levine, and is rated R for crude sexual content, brief nudity, and language throughout.

Trailers played everywhere for half a year promoting this movie, and after finally sitting through a screening of it, I can safely say that Snatched is one of those films that is easily diagraphed from seeing a trailer that gives away a bit too much, while also giving away its biggest laughs. There were very few surprises or contrasts from its two minute promotional tour, and that left me feeling like I had watched this movie long before I actually watched this movie. As a critic, one of the most difficult things to grasp for me has always been how people could laugh at a particular line that they already know the punchline to from seeing the trailer. Snatched has some competent enough throwaway scenes, but as a whole it will leave you feeling disappointed for the juxtaposition in attitude that this film searches to be. On the surface, this can easily be labeled as a female raunch comedy, but as the film goes on I found it to be ridiculous for how serious that it was trying to take itself, despite not fully committing to such directions. Late in the second act, the movie tries to pay homage to kidnapping subgenre films, but too much illogical and frankly paper-thin setup, keep you from ever feeling even a slight chill from the urgency in danger that alludes these two protagonists.

The set-ups to said danger feel hollow, with our leading ladies easily escaping the clutches of their captors time-after-time to really highlight just how mind-numbingly awful that their opposition really is. Some scenes paint themselves into such a corner that there’s nothing else to do except have a character go to sleep and wake up in a different place, freeing them from danger. Then there’s the conveniences of of objects that just happen to be in the room to help them escape. It definitely feels unlikely that these antagonists wouldn’t take the time to case the room out to remove any possibilities before placing their victims inside, and I can’t imagine how this passed through the minds of writers and directors, let alone an idiot writer who is seeing this for the first time. From the structure of how everything feels with the plot of this movie, it forgets to have fun with itself during the final act of the movie, instead opting for a confrontation that feels slightly rushed, if not meaningfully undercooked.

At least there are some delightful supporting cameos even if the leads feel underwritten behind every turn. Joan Cusack shows up as a former FBI agent turned mute to keep her secrets secure. It was very refreshing to see Cusack in this particular role as she’s usually relegated to the tight-ass conservative of every film. Without ever uttering a word, Joan brings enough flare in reactions to make her the one you must watch whenever her character pops up. Christopher Meloni was my personal favorite of the movie, and his character resolution gave me the single biggest laugh of the movie. As for the leads, Amy Schumer’s character was the hardest pill to swallow for how detestable she is as a person. This is a character that does the charisma of Schumer absolutely no favors, bringing along the luggage of someone who hates to spend time with her Mother, never listens to other people talking around her, and makes stupid decisions that she later seeks forgiveness for. It should be a testament that Amy is given almost nothing as a character and spins it enough to still harvest some decent one-liners. It was great to see Goldie Hawn back, but I felt that the writing did very little to make her stand out as a welcome back party for the veteran actress. This was really a chance to play into the irresistible chemistry of Hawn and Schumer, but instead the movie would rather take away the family element between them and split them up at nearly every chance.

The humor did bring me a couple of solid laughs, particularly in that of catchy dialogue sporadically, but as a whole the timing of each zinger kind of spins by without the emphasis on the punchline for audiences to follow along. There were times when the retort to each set-up sometimes felt rushed or overlooked, and that unfortunately did more to step on important scenes for future jokes that the film returns to. One of the strangest subplots in the film is that of the increasing hunger of Schumer’s Emily that leads to a climax of pure ridiculousness. I won’t spoil much, but the writers felt it was important to stop the movie for ten minutes to focus on a scene that involves a tapeworm and the illogical ways that they feed. This is stupid in composition and totally does nothing for the progression of the script that was finally building some momentum just before this. I can give credit to Schumer to know what works for her female fans that will follow her through a firestorm, but nobody can tell me that this scene did anything but crave the desperation of the gross-out humor that is all the craze in every modern day comedy. Snatched went to this well far too often for me, and it just doesn’t mesh well for Schumer’s dialogue driven comedy.

THE VERDICT – Snatched is so out of touch with reality that it supplants a moral lesson that drinking with a good looking man in a foreign country could lead to danger, the reality of which its audience is already leap years ahead of in logical thinking. Jonathan Levine’s film holds us ransom for laughs, diminishing the endless possibilities of Schumer and Hawn who could make for a dream team clashing of past and present comedic heavyweights, but instead flail in the same way a fish does when they are taken out of their element. Laughs will happen, but the inconsistency in flow of their firepower leaves a lot of boredom on the table to fill in the gaps from one to the next. If you love your Mother this Mother’s Day, give her something that shows how valuable she is to you, not an hour-and-a-half of missing personalities.

5/10