BlacKKKlansman

Directed by Spike Lee

Starring – John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace

The Plot – It’s the early 1970s, and Ron Stallworth (Washington) is the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. The young detective soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Driver), into the undercover investigation of a lifetime. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organization aims to sanitize its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream.

Rated R for adult language throughout, including racial epithets, and for disturbing/violent material and some sexual references

POSITIVES

– One of my favorite aspects of film is how it has this overwhelming power to push this string of emotions out of you, and ‘BlacKKKlansman’ is certainly no stranger to this. I can’t recall the last time when a film has made me this angry and disappointed in our nation from refusing to learn from our torturous past. Lee conducts this on-screen story that takes place in the 70’s, all the while offering the modern day comparisons of the incidents that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, and the resemblance between the K.K.K and the so-called “White freedom chasers” is uncanny. The final moments of the film are a stern warning to the kind of impacts inequality and racism continue to cast great urgency on our own society.

– As a director, Spike is still one of the master experimentalists, carving out a combination of crooked,, unorthodox personal still frames and slow character pans that both pay homage to the 70’s Blacksploitation films that have left an obvious impact on his style. Because of this, the immersion into this particular time frame feels rich in authentication, and layered to the tee in complex filmmaking.

– Much of the humor in the film works because of the absurdity of the situation that would otherwise make you want to scream. As a screenwriter, Lee knows when to pace these valued moments of positive release out, conserving them between scenes that blur the line of reality vividly with vicious surrealism. One such example is the big two hour payoff that this film continuously builds towards, and it makes for one stunning moment of reality that forces the world of one character to come crumbling down.

– Plenty to provide from a dominantly fresh-faced cast. The work of the two male leads in Washington and Driver definitely made the movie for me, both offering an equally poignant approach to infiltrating two different gangs that ironically are similar for an array of ways, as well as preserving this chemistry of brotherhood that we’re treated to, the deeper it goes. For Washington, his borderline arrogance due to his constant naive demeanor is one that builds and burns bridges within the police force, but it was Driver’s constantly raising stakes in this purely evil assembly of middle aged white men that brought this film the real conflict. Driver’s character, a Jewish descendent, deals with standing against his family traditions, transforming him into this Klansman that challenges him ideally and morally. Topher Grace is also surprisingly smooth as David Duke, bringing a different take on such a monstrous personality that otherwise gets you to comprehend how easy it is to fall for his sinister pitch.

– There’s always that one scene that stands out in a Spike Lee movie more than the others, and the trophy here definitely goes to the history lesson that visually depicts the birth of the Klan. Without spoiling much, there’s this side-by-side comparison shot that very much shows the impact of the Klan’s pride in consequence to that of the African-American’s well being. It’s riveting to say the least, and serves as a reminder that our history has treaded through some very shallow waters.

– Perhaps Lee’s greatest triumph is the film is that he marries the relationship between anger and intensity with the restraint that he’s usually known to hold in visual poetry of editing. Why it works so wonderfully here is that those gentle brushes continuously build until the bigger picture of displeasure is seen in its completion, and it’s never preachy like Lee has been known to be, because the very proof is in the pudding that he dishes out.

– Despite the many themes that the film covers, the tonal balance is well maintained throughout. As is the case with other racially uneasy movies this year like ‘Sorry To Bother You’ and ‘Blindspotting’, this one feels capable of transitioning through each of those valued tiers of material seamlessly. Perhaps you can blame that on the two hour run time that the film harbors, but I believe it is Lee’s constriction to this being a true story that doesn’t allow him to get too fantastical with it. This keeps the film and its respectable material very grounded, leaving our teeth firmly gripped into the message at hand.

– While ‘BlacKKKlansman’ isn’t my favorite Lee film, I can value it as arguably his most important to date. This feels like Lee at his most focused, and a lot of that can be contributed to a career that has spanned 21 feature length films all leading to the kind of media attention that this film and respected director has gathered. It proves that in the clutch Lee can deliver in the most provocative of ways, and that the line between satire and reality is blurring with each passing day of social injustice.

NEGATIVES

– While I more than admire the film’s stance against racism and objectifying how wrong it truly is, Lee’s morals still feel a bit outdated due to the way his antagonists AND protagonists bash the gay community with their version of the N-word repeatedly. This can be contributed to the 70’s setting, but when you’re speaking to a 2018 audience, it blurs the line of right and wrong viciously, conjuring an air of hypocritical stance that the characters become saddled with.

– The romantic subplot in the film felt so forced and underdeveloped in what the film required from it. Particularly late in the third act, the film relies on this angle to play a pivotal role in Stallworth’s urgency and vulnerability, and yet it simply isn’t anything close to that level, besides the increasing racial tension that the whole film is about. With the exception of one brief scene where Stallworth and Patrice (Played by the beautiful Laura Harrier) discuss 70’s Blacksploitation heroes, it goes relatively unheard of for the better part of 45 minutes, and it’s the one glaring flaw from this otherwise well-maintained film.

8/10

Crazy Rich Asians

Directed by Jon M. Chu

Starring – Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh

The Plot – The story follows Rachel Chu (Wu), an American-born Chinese economics professor, who travels to her boyfriend Nick’s (Golding) hometown of Singapore for his best friend’s wedding. Before long, his secret is out: Nick is from a family that is impossibly wealthy, he’s perhaps the most eligible bachelor in Asia, and every single woman in his ultra-rarefied social class is incredibly jealous of Rachel and wants to bring her down.

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and adult language

POSITIVES

– For a movie that centers around riches, the very production qualities of the movie more than express that rich vibe. ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ was shot on location in Singapore, so we are treated to the vibrant cultures imbedded in the fashions, as well as luxurious traditions in ceremonies that are second to none in terms of beauty. I swear that this movie had the most imaginative wedding ceremony in a film that I have ever seen, making it impossible to not exhale when you find yourself transfixed in its luring qualities.

– Exceptional camera work. There are some breathtaking eclipse shots involving entrancing architecture and exotic landscapes that paint a gorgeous backdrop of the high stakes being portrayed within this family, and we as an audience are treated to these circling establishing sequences that feel like they’re constantly opening their arms to us. What I appreciate even more, is that these angles take their time before we step inside, allowing us a video postcard look inside of foreign scenery.

– Faithful casting that as a whole delights. This is the first American produced film in 25 years with an exclusive Asian cast, so finding the right pieces in bringing these personalities to life was no small feat. Thankfully, they hit the nail head on here, as Wu and Golden dazzle as these two lovebirds with these very grounded ideals despite the riches they have inherited in this story. They have amazing chemistry together, and never shed one ounce of believability through this two hour feature.

– There’s a lot of flare and poise in the on-screen text that takes us through the many island locations in a storytelling-like delivery. These big, bold letterings are an homage to the golden age of Hollywood, when title screens and location cues were such an important part of the transformation within the story. Aside from the lettering, there is also a map graphic visually depicting the distance traveled by the two leads that relates how far they are from their safe zone of home.

– Immersion even in music. The film features many classic pop favorites performed by an Asian artist with Asian translation of the lyrics, and I commend this because it transports us as an audience to the very sights and sounds that you would hear under these circumstances. It’s a personal touch that is greatly appreciated and nearly perfect, if not for two English translated songs that slipped under the radar.

– If this film doesn’t make you hungry from all of the tight, focused shots on Asian cuisine, then you don’t have a pulse. Not since 2014’s ‘Chef’ has a movie seduced me so effectively with a variety of dishes that truly triggers the care that this family puts into feeding their guests. In many ways, this aspect puts us in the shoes of Rachel, satisfying our pallets with champagne wishes and caviar dreams. It’s all that and dim sum.

– Romantic comedies are probably the hardest sell for me in terms of genres, but ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ earns its heart with a two hour journey that pushes you to see the growth in these characters. During the first act, this film is definitely a comedy, echoing the very awkwardness in first impressions that movies like ‘Meet the Parents’ and ‘Coming to America’ took the ball and ran with so effortlessly. But in the second half of the movie, something different happens. The film puts away its humorous material in favor of these bittersweet developments that test this couple far more than just the typical third act conflicts. We start to understand why there’s such a divide in the upper and lower class tiers, and this growing bump in the road brings the confrontation to such boiling levels in the form of a decision that will alter Nick’s future forever.

NEGATIVES

– Even though the film would be considered “White-Washing” if it took this method, I feel the conflict of Nick dating an American woman would’ve been far greater if he actually dated an American born character. Rachel is every bit as Asian as Nick’s family are, so the disdain doesn’t feel as grand as it would if he legitimately dated someone so different. Especially after you see the first scene of the movie, involving Nick’s family interacting with some borderline racist white folk.

– It’s a little strange to me that the film takes place in Singapore, surrounded by a 95% Asian ensemble, and yet every single one of them speaks perfect English. With the exception of the grandmother, no one even remotely uses their native tongue, and I find that hard to believe from an authenticity standpoint. This is the time when subtitles are appreciated and understood in a film, but the stretch of everyone accommodating American audiences in Asian territory is a bit far fetched.

– In my opinion, there are too many characters for the film that simply don’t offer enough to justify their existence. I get that this is adapted from a trilogy of books, but I would’ve liked to have seen the editing button achieve a greater presence in the film adaptation, as even midway through the movie we are still being introduced to new characters to the story who are never given proper time to develop. This aspect of the film is perhaps the greatest test for Rachel and Nick’s relationship, as there’s a brief period where it feels like the importance of their plot takes a backseat to another couple’s wedding.

7/10

Dog Days

Directed by Ken Marino

Starring – Nina Dobrev, Vanessa Hudgens, Finn Wolfhard

The Plot – Follows a group of interconnected people in Los Angeles who are brought together by their lovable canine counterparts.

Rated PG for rude and suggestive content, and for times of adult language

POSITIVES

– Knows its audience very well. This movie is what I like to call “Aww-proof”, in that it has plenty of cute visuals where the dogs are doing humorous things, to make viewers shriek in delight. Manipulative? Absolutely, but ‘Dog Days’ is a love letter to the Youtube generation, who take big chunks out of their day to watch dog and cat videos as an escape from the real world.

– Personably grounded ensemble cast. While Marino doesn’t do a strong enough job in establishing some of the finer points in personality, most noticeably in a doctor character who changes at the drop of a hat, this crew of energetic B-listers bring radiance to their portrayals. Hudgens charms with that classic Hollywood smile, Wolfhard has charisma well beyond his years, and Ron Cephas Jones was single-handedly my favorite part of the movie, for his chances in dramatic pulse that the film fought so hard to constantly diminish.

– Breezy pacing. For the most part, the film sails by in the winds of progression that never stumble nor stilt with the many on-going subplots. Despite a third act that I’ll get to later on, the movie’s first half flourishes by building the many different relationships that these characters have with their furry counterparts, and does so in a way that honors importance in animals without dumbing the movie down with unlikely stunts or situations that dog movie writers love to include.

– Raises awareness on its own terms. Never does the film feel meandering in the slightest with this aspect, instead bringing light subtly to the over-crowding of dog shelters by valueing their importance. What’s even more appreciative in this aspect, is that there’s no over-the-top antagonist landlord character to bring down the mood of the picture once it is revealed that the shelter is closing. That alone is something I greatly commend the movie for, as the spanning of a lot of characters already casts a great divide in the fight for screen time.

– Much of the interactions scattered throughout the film are rooted in realism that many dog owners can relate to. Examples range in the form of rude wake-up calls, to the barking reactions of loud noises around them, to an overall lack of eating etiquette that proves no food is safe. ‘Dog Days’ is very grounded in this respect, allowing the humans to narrate us through, while letting the dogs be the comic relief that the film depends on so persistently.

NEGATIVES

– Mind-bashing music. I can’t believe that in a movie about dogs that I have to bring up music, but it’s a painful headache constantly throughout. There’s a band named Fronk in the film, led by Adam Pally’s character, and they somehow take these AWFUL one hit wonder jams like ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ and ‘I’m Too Sexy’ and make them even worse with their funk renditions. I’ve heard less agonizing listens during a Kidz Bop CD, and what’s even more unfortunate is the film goes back to them no fewer than four times.

– Generic production qualities. Besides the fact that the film casts this imitation lighting that many films today like to use to throw off the authenticity of natural lighting, the movie also slices scenes prematurely with terrible edits, and brings back what I thought was a forgotten relic of Hollywood Cliches. In that regard, the final setting of the movie takes place on a painted backdrop that doubles as downtown Los Angeles, and it couldn’t be any more obvious if the wind in the studio shook its images to the point that they flowed like a flag.

– Constant predictability. When I say that there was nothing original or remotely surprising about this movie, I really underplay it. Once you’re introduced to each character and their respective dispositions, you begin to comprehend where they will be once the film ends. Because of this, I constantly felt like I was ten minutes ahead in the film, and was continuously waiting for them to catch up.

– Third act problems. This is where the film really starts to overstay its near two hour run time. Because of the structure in having so many leads splitting time, each of them is treated to a set-up, conflict, and resolution that rides the waves of redundancy. Once everything has been put away neatly, the film loses a lot of its momentum by not understanding where to end the film. There are no fewer than three different endings in the film. All of which would’ve been fine enough to roll the credits, but none of which actually do, and needless to say I didn’t stay for the credit blooper reel that only further prolonged the dragging.

– The only times I laughed in this film were with the reaction shots of the dogs, because the human material had me questioning what age group this movie is marketed towards. The adult directions used for some of the set-up, including themes of cheating significant others, as well as a barrage of sex jokes, combined with these very animated deliveries, made for an uneven strategy that very seldom paid off. The imagery of the four legged friends was very beneficial, but I never have a reason to watch ‘Dog Days’ again, because it does nothing to stand out from the rest of the pack.

5/10

Hot Summer Nights

Directed by Elijah Bynum

Starring – Timothee Chalamet, Maika Monroe, Alex Roe

The Plot – Daniel Middleton (Chalamet), a likable but socially awkward recent high-school graduate, is spending the summer before college visiting his aunt on Cape Cod. Neither a “townie” nor a wealthy “summer bird” dropping in for the season, Daniel struggles to find his place-until he meets Hunter Strawberry (Roe), the local bad-boy who peddles marijuana to well-off vacationers when he isn’t protecting his younger sister McKayla (Monroe) from overzealous male suitors. Sensing an opportunity, Daniel persuades Hunter to go into business, dealing weed up and down the Cape together as the summer heat intensifies. Newly confident, Daniel falls for McKayla, keeping their relationship secret until it becomes explosive. Set in the summer of 1991 against the backdrop of a looming hurricane

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

POSITIVES

– Concise editing that visibly narrates the free-flow of the film’s narration as told by an off-screen character. The establishing shots of Cape Cod offer a distinct tone of personality and escapism that many of the town folk adopt, and the endless energy with the introductory scenes really builds a pulse from within that gets you excited for what’s to come.

– As for the narration itself, it speaks vividly for the rumor mill of gossip within the town and how they perceive certain characters as legends of stories handed down. There’s plenty of interview style perspectives initially, that we compare and contrast for the similarities and differences that only we can piece together, since we are getting the entire spectrum of speculation. In this regard, its storytelling reminds me of ‘The Virgin Suicides, in that it speaks of a time and a place that feels light years behind us, and one that might be too late to confront this Summer that almost blew the town off of the proverbial map.

– Excellent soundtrack of summertime classic rock favorites. Are the tracks invasive from time to time in their deliveries? YES, but the catalog in full transcribes the exhilarating feeling to be a teenager and be alive again, with the world at your fingertips. Throw in some beautiful sky map transitional sequences to channel the spirit of Summer, and you have a one-two combo that easily immerses you back into the psychology of adolescence.

– Vibrant overall cinematography that channels the post-80’s style smoothly in presentation. In addition to the film feeling like one big love letter to VHS technology, where the hazy coloring filters and neon graphics marry in a union of outdated bliss, there’s an overall presence of fog that fills the air, speaking volumes to the drug trade that the boys are thoroughly embedded in. Because of this, the colors are able to pop out even more and seduce you in a way that very few time period films correctly capture anymore.

– The performances are mostly satisfying enough, particularly that of the male and female leads. This is Chalamet’s second coming of age film set during the summer, but one he differs with greatly because of the nuance in control he exudes over the boredom and awkwardness that comes with being a teenager on the brink of Summer. Monroe as well is vivacious and seductive, even if the mumbling, bumbling dialogue does her zero favors. The two don’t have the strongest of chemistry connections, but they make up for it personality radiance that captures completely two of the biggest rising stars in the Hollywood landscape.

NEGATIVES

– Because much of the meat in this story is derivative from other films that did it better, the weight of consequences are every bit as timely as they are predictable. Once you know the set-up in the dynamics of relationships and coincidence, you can easily navigate through where this story is headed. It’s disappointing that a film this similar to other coming-of-age narratives of the subgenre doesn’t project anything of originality to stretch its lasting power. In fact, I have already forgot so much of this movie, and I watched it less than an hour before writing this.

– So much of the supporting cast is greatly underutilized. I point to a subplot involving Hunter’s girlfriend (Played by Maia Mitchell), where this girl is virtually glossed over as nothing more than an afterthought to the weight of this story. For someone with the greatest tie to arguably the most important character of the movie, the film reduces her to nothing more than eye candy, leaving an air of regret for this actress who will undoubtedly be one of the biggest surprises of 2018. Beyond this, film veterans like Thomas Jane and William Fichtner are entirely wasted in terms of what they provide this movie. Fichtner is only in one scene in the film, and Jane’s presence is completely omitted from the very aspect of tension that goes noticeably missing when it’s required the most.

– In addition to what I just said, certain scenes feel like they’re missing from the third act developments. Particularly with Jane’s police character, he seems to have figured out that these two characters are selling drugs without us ever witnessing his air of discovery. Two other characters in Daniel’s Mother and Aunt go missing all together after their introductions. Also, another inevitable confrontation finally happens only two scenes after it seemed smoothed out and repressed. How did things get so bad so fast? Where is the missing pieces in between that relate to us what is coming?

– For my money, the second half of this film was nowhere near as entertaining as the first. Snail’s pacing comes as a result of too many musical montages, and the unearned dramatic pull from forced confrontations ,that I mentioned above, are never remotely satisfying because of the lack of build and time donated to them. The film just kind of ends on speculation instead of certainty, providing the most frustrating aspect to donating nearly two hours to this story and characters.

– Bynum as a director feels promising enough with his edginess in style, especially for a first time director, but in also writing the script he may have worn himself too thin. It pains me to label a movie all style and no substance, but ‘Hot Summer Nights’ is the definition of that phrase because it lacks the kind of sizzle from the steak to ever live up to such a promising title. A plot is the first step to your audience indulging or not in a movie, but beyond that surface level, nothing ever continues to build on the suspense, leaving a thirst for a direction that feels tone deaf from the get-go

5/10

Eighth Grade

Directed by Bo Burnham

Starring – Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson

The Plot – Thirteen-year-old Kayla (Fisher) endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school; the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year before she begins high school.

Rated R for adult language and some sexual material

POSITIVES

– ‘Eighth Grade’ feels like an authentic experience that goes far beyond being an entertaining piece of cinema. This movie immersed me right away to the very feelings of isolation and awkwardness that plague early adolescents, and lifted some of those repressed memories from my own developing childhood that were stored in the back of my psyche. Burnham never relents in his documentation for this important time, placing it ideally right in the final steps of middle school, before the change takes full course in high school, where you can re-create yourself. That idea of metamorphosis surrounds this film, and leaves our youthful protagonist drowning in this sea of change that feels laps ahead of her.

– My biggest respect to this first time Youtube star-turned-director, is what he manages to accomplish in terms of atmosphere, that constantly shapes differently throughout similar set-ups. Burnham doesn’t turn away from those down-time moments of boredom where a kid is shown playing with their face, or a random voice yells something to throw a teacher off. Instead Bo frames them to feed more sternly into that authenticity of environment that I mentioned earlier. What is so brilliant about this take is that it establishes a layer of relativity to Kayla’s own experiences with social anxiety, forcing us to see things in the same way that she does without sacrificing storytelling elements.

– The performances couldn’t be better, most notably from Fisher and Hamilton, who live and breathe these vital roles. Fisher’s timid posture speaks volumes to what she’s feeling inside, but it’s the way her facial expression reads and how they study and react to a room that truly captures this lamb being led to slaughter. Hamilton as well channels the sometimes intruding parent, who just seeks answers without trying to diminish the cool factor in how his daughter views him. When these two are together on-screen, it’s pure magic, especially that of a long-winded exchange in the closing moments that really tugs at your heart strings. Aside from these two, I also greatly credit the supporting cast around, as every child actor looks and feels synthetic to that of the role they are supposed to be playing. This is nothing like other movies who cast 18 year olds models to play 13, this is the real deal. As to where aspects like facial acne and bodily scars would be taken out of a typical sterilized Hollywood rendering, Burnham embraces the struggles of teenage growth, giving a feeling at times of a documentary instead of a picture with a script.

– Much of the musical score by Anna Meredith in the film also strikes a similar chord in mirroring the ever-changing atmosphere that Kayla partakes in. Sometimes it is loud and abrasive to commute Kayla’s dread, and other times it can be tender and smooth when she sees a certain boy she has a crush on. Even more beneficial and cerebral is how it only pops up when Kayla is full steam into a situation that has previously been playing out, serving the film as more of an extra emphasis factor instead of something that caters to the presentational benefit of the film. Enya’s “Sail Away” is the only familiar song played in the film, and even its gentle strokes balance Kayla’s escapism into the internet perfectly, in an almost hypntozing sense.

– As for the self-help Youtube element itself, Kayla disappears in this recorded personality that differs so far from who she is in her own real life. This gives the subplot an intentionally hypocritical, yet therapeutic feeling, in that all of this advice she dishes out is really more for her than it is her sparse social media following. She knows how fake her demeanor comes across on-screen, yet can’t escape this overwhelming demand from within to conform to what society wants her to be, creating this battle for struggle with the real Kayla lying somewhere in between. I love my flawed protagonists, and this one is the very definition of that angle.

– This film is time-stamped to this particular generation, most notably in the measures that adults take in trying to relate to kids, with all of their “cool lingo” like slang and dabbing, but its intended humor succeeds despite the fact that Burnham was nowhere close to growing up in today’s scholastic landscape. His greatest ability as a screenwriter is his handle on the material, and how it constantly feels like he wrote this while shadowing an actual middle school. It’s second to none in terms of its genuineness, and highlights Burnham as a major force to be reckoned with in the Hollywood landscape.

– When you speak of important movies that should be shown to our youths, ‘Eighth Grade’ is certainly among the best and most important in this regards. Its message is easily transmitted without feeling spoon-fed or forced, and it’s one that isn’t afraid to show the decay of interaction because of dependency upon social media. Like our very kids growing up in 2018, there is advancement, yet great warning that comes with great technology, and as a screenwriter Burnham perfectly expedites this by comparing this delve with the ages-old wish of wanting to be popular, marrying the two in a frought ceremony that only further advances and enhances the inevitable confrontation that Kayla is faced with, and who better than one of Youtube’s own (Burnham) in capturing that pressure.

– While I could be wrong, ‘Eighth Grade’ feels like the first movie that takes a touchy subject such as the struggles of junior high, and orchestrates it in such a way that is entirely serious regardless of the sometimes humorous experiences. Because of this mature approach, it stands out from plots similar to this in approach, that market itself as the very same comedy that diminishes the importance of what it’s documenting. ‘Eighth Grade’ instead feels comfortable in what it is, and never backs down in putting the moment first.

– While I don’t fully understand why this film is rated-R, I support that stamping because it will require adults and kids to see it together.

NEGATIVES

– A24 always has problems ending their film, and unfortunately ‘Eighth Grade’ continues this direction. I won’t say the ending was entirely unsatisfying to me, but it feels every bit as unresolved as it does unaddressed. One could interpret this as adolescence more times than not as feeling unsatisfying, but there’s a subplot involving Kayla in a car that never gets addressed any further. It’s an important scene because it underlines the issues of truth to our youth, but its lack of weight or consequence feels irresponsible in its teaching. The rare blunder that I had for this otherwise outstanding film.

9/10

The Spy Who Dumped Me

Directed by Susanna Fogel

Starring – Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Sam Heughan

The Plot – Audrey (Kunis) and Morgan (McKinnon), two thirty-year-old best friends in Los Angeles, are thrust unexpectedly into an international conspiracy when Audrey’s ex-boyfriend shows up at their apartment with a team of deadly assassins on his trail. Surprising even themselves, the duo jump into action, on the run throughout Europe from assassins and a suspicious-but-charming British agent, as they hatch a plan to save the world.

Rated R for violence, adult language throughout, some crude sexual material and graphic nudity

POSITIVES

– Where this film would work and actually receive a passing grade from me, is the action. This is a solid action film that was spoon-forced to be a comedy, and it’s in those action elements where this movie greatly surprised me. Aside from exciting and well telegraphed sequences, the film is unforgivable in its never-ending violence, making the most of its coveted R-rating to satisfy the gore hound in all of us. It at least kept me awake through a movie that otherwise bored the hell out of me.

– In addition to the action, the sound design and overall mixing is riveting. When this film comes out, it greatly deserves the IMAX or XD options, because it rattles the auditorium with every pulse-setting crunch that the mayhem can muster. Most notably through a car chase sequence through downtown Prague, the volume of carnage flew high over the uninspired musical score, giving me many moments of wincing when the building blow finally landed.

– Female empowerment. The film does at least succeed in its message of manufacturing a product for the ladies that is full proof with those ladies nights out. With a cast that is female majority, as well as a valuable female antagonist character who kicks ass for all of the right reasons, ‘The Spy Who Dumped Me’ at least remains faithful to its strong gender values, even through a finale that almost soiled it all together.

– One of the things that this film does right halfway through the movie, is dump Kunis as the leading lady, and focus a majority of its time more on McKinnon, who while not working with her best material, does at least conjure up the most energy in delivery to this picture. Kate is given such ample time to aim and impress, and whether or not the comedy in the film works for you, you will at least be thankful that a script finally gave her a leading chance to run unopposed.

NEGATIVES

– What a mess of muddled storytelling. The film follows two on-going narratives, one for the modern day unraveling story, and one for the night Kunis and her male spy suitor met in a dive bar. The reason for this decision not only adds nothing of shock value or discovery for us the audience, but disjoints the hell out of the transition edits between them, requiring you to take a minute to remember that the latter story is unfortunately still continuing.

– If you can’t get the comedy right in an action comedy, you will have one boring film, and that’s what we’re left with here. The humor in this film isn’t just bad, it’s downright humiliating, throwing out a combination of god awful puns and animated delivery of dialogue that never feels authentic or earned. I managed to remember my two most offensive puns because they burned in my memory like a childhood trauma. The first involves Kunis character holding up a severed thumb with Mckinnon chiming in “Thumbs up”. The second, and one that gave me hard edge proof that God doesn’t exist, is a scene with Mckinnon dressed in an awful ensemble, and Kunis says to her “You look like a French curtain”, to which Mckinnon replies “Because I can hanggggg”.

– Too many twists. While you can easily predict where this story is headed, you find yourself weighed down heavily by the ridiculousness in ever-changing scenarios that don’t make sense the more you think about them. This is a 107 minute movie that shouldn’t be a minute over 90, especially when you consider that so much of the second and third acts revolve around the tables turning multiple times, diminishing the returns and shock value greatly, because the film goes to this well too many times.

– The ladies begin their foreign adventure after taking a flight from Los Angeles. The problem is that they do it spontaneously, so on the very hour that they are flying out, they not only manage to easily navigate their way through the busiest airport in the country, but also manage to find two tickets next to each other for a flight that is minutes away. Imagine the coincidence. I certainly can’t.

– My biggest problem with the casting of Kunis and Mckinnon isn’t so much that they lack any kind of chemistry between them, but rather how unconvincing they both feel in these particular roles. As characters, these are any typical woman disappointed by life and the curves that it continuously throws. Because the film is in a hurry during the first act, we are never offered a shade of depth or development between them that makes you empathize with their danger or at the very least Kunis’s on-screen break-up (That amazingly enough we never see). Kunis and Mckinnon never make the roles their own, and it leads you to believe that any two leading ladies in Hollywood could easily come in and do as good, if not a better, job than these two.

– Noticeably negative production aspects. The Green-screen backdrops during the driving sequences make the outline of the characters stick out like a third-dimension, and the A.D.R is some of the most glaring lack of fluidity that I have seen in 2018. On the latter, there’s a lot of over-the-shoulder shots, and when these happen the volume of the dialogue increases dramatically where it doesn’t feel synthetic with that of the actor they are conversing with. This is just sloppy post production all around, and proves just how much passion was put into a project that serves as nothing but a cheap manipulation for female audience members to spend their money to support girl power.

4/10

Blindspotting

Directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada

Starring – Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar

The Plot – Collin (Diggs) must make it through his final three days of probation for a chance at a new beginning. He and his troublemaking childhood best friend, Miles (Casal), work as movers and are forced to watch their old neighborhood become a trendy spot in the rapidly gentrifying Bay Area. When a life-altering event causes Collin to miss his mandatory curfew, the two men struggle to maintain their friendship as the changing social landscape exposes their differences. Lifelong friends Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal co-wrote and star in this timely and wildly entertaining story about friendship and the intersection of race and class set against the backdrop of Oakland.

Rated R for adult language throughout, some brutal violence, sexual references and drug use

POSITIVES

– Offers a refreshing and artistic side to the Oakland landscape. This is the second movie within two weeks that is set and shaped in this ever-changing city, and Estrada’s one-of-a-kind vision offers us plenty of examples of the diverse cultures that have shaped the city as a boiling melting pot. There are split screen sequences to contrast the differences between the way minorities and majorities view their homes, as well as some stylishly shot drive-by sequences that capture the vast diversity in cultures and colorful blends upon the houses.

– For material, ‘Blindspotting’ itself means to perceive something in one way without understanding it from the complex side that is opposite of ones opinion, so this film had a great responsibility in channeling the inner-city rage and paranoia for African Americans when they come in contact with those sworn to protect us. It’s that rare buddy comedy that has plenty to say about social issues, and the overall gentrification of Oakland, as well as other culturally diverse American cities that continue to lose the soul of their beating hearts.

– Much of the dialogue is also original and seamless for the way it starts and stops between friends. When it’s low key between Collin and Miles, it feels naturally consistent in terms of how the changing topics free-flow, but when the movie has something important to say, it does so in rhymes. At first I worried that this gimmick would wear itself out, but it soon became apparent to me that the rhymes become easier for Collin with the darker turn the film takes. By the last time he does it, you’ll understand that the reason he became so good at it goes far beyond casual practice, instead speaking volumes to the level of anger that he channels in this particular scene.

– On the topic of that gentrification, there are many unique perspectives on the two male leads in the film working as movers, and being forced with the task to trash someone’s memories to provide for someone’s future. Scenes like these impacted me in a way that I never before thought about, and the endless examples of family pictures and belongings left to dust and fade away, gave me an up-close-and-personal vantage point of just how quickly the American dream moves on.

– As far as performances go, I was not expecting the whirlwind of emotional registry that I got from Diggs and Casal. In being longtime best friends, the two male leads converse on being a product of a bad environment growing up, and it’s in that influence that has shaped them as adults effectively. Their chemistry feels natural in channeling the trust between them, all the while the distance that has plagued them since Collin got out of prison. Casal himself is a presence on screen that you wind up and watch deliver. Full of off-beat comic timing and persistent charm, you start to fall in love with him the same way Collin has, making it easy to see the building bricks to their foundation as friends. Diggs himself continues to capture the attention with dramatic depth that forces you to feel the indignities that build up within him. You start to wonder if it is indeed to late for his character to change, and a lot of that depends on Diggs impeccable balance between confidence and vulnerability that shape this modern day enigma before us.

– Sonic boom of an ending. It’s rare anymore that my favorite scene in a film is the movie’s closing moments, but ‘Blindspotting’ built through 90 minutes of vital information and experiences to unload on this climax of devastation that left me shaking even through the credits. Diggs in particular during these moments commands your attention, barking out a list of revelations with the ever-flowing tear in his eye that you almost want to wipe because of your empathy for the character. Estrada sends audiences home shortly after the most moving scene, helping to contain that bottled energy during the first moments when you’re able to speak about them.

– Proper balance of tones that never shift violently. Much of the movie swings like a pendulum, between the pleasantries of a casual buddy comedy, leading eventually into the dark and seedy drama needed to explore systematic racism and police brutality. Surprisingly, never does one area of the film so obviously exceed that of the other, as I felt both were equally important in the contrasting atmospheres between them. The paranoia and uncertainty of the closing act certainly wouldn’t be anything without the humor to compare it to that came before it, and vice versa, and ‘Blindspotting’ feels like two movies that are better together than they ever would be apart.

– It would be easy to compare this film to ‘Sorry To Bother You’ another film released recently that takes place in Oakland, and also deals with racism in its own unique perspective. But for everything right with that movie, ‘Blindspotting’ stands out even further for its own grounded approach. Because of this, I feel like more people will relate to the wisdom enveloped in this film as opposed to its predecessor, but they are both a constant reminder of the stories that we are hearing for the first time, and we’re thankful for such an opportunity.

NEGATIVES

– Much of the psychological spin inside of Collin’s head does feel a bit scatter-brained and schematic at times for how we embrace it to the unfolding narrative. After Collin spots a police injustice, we get a couple of nightmare sequences, but nothing ever that remains heavy in the way he interacts during the day. This feels like a misfire of direction, because we’re never shown examples of how this traumatic experience changes him until the film absolutely demands it to, and I could’ve used slightly more cohesive storytelling for those brief moments when Miles is alone in frame, without anyone to spot his differences.

– There’s kind of a feeling of selfishness as screenwriters that overcomes me in the regards to Diggs and Casal. They are the two biggest characters in the movie, but that idea shouldn’t spread like a cancer to the lack of depth and deposition for the supporting cast around them. There is one character besides the two leads who is given a lengthy diatribe, and it’s about one of the two leads in the first five minutes of the film. There are several subplots along the way involving Collin’s ex-girlfriend, the symbolism behind certain hairstyles, and the ramifications of the police officer that is just sort of glossed over without much emphasis. One could blame this on the 90 minute run time, but I think it’s an example of inexperience for first time screenwriters, and hopefully their next project will be more inclusive.

8/10

Teen Titans GO!!! To the Movies

Directed by Aaron Horvath and Peter Rida Michail

Starring – Scott Menville, Khary Payton, Tara Strong

The Plot – It seems to the Teens that all the major superheroes out there are starring in their own movies-everyone but the Teen Titans, that is. But de facto leader Robin is determined to remedy the situation, and be seen as a star instead of a sidekick. If only they could get the hottest Hollywood film director to notice them. With a few madcap ideas and a song in their heart, the Teen Titans head to Tinsel Town, certain to pull off their dream. But when the group is radically misdirected by a seriously super villain and his maniacal plan to take over the Earth, things really go awry. The team finds their friendship and their fighting spirit failing, putting the very fate of the Teen Titans themselves on the line.

Rated PG for action and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Instead of instilling an honorable message, ‘Teen Titans’ uses its limited time (82 Minutes) for satirical laughs of the daring kind, that come at the expense of everyone in the superhero genre. Using a spotlight to highlight the oversaturation of superhero movies that never stop, this film uses cutting edge timing to poke fun at the familiar elements that serve as a virtual checklist through every installment. Even better, it spans out these deliveries, allowing audiences much-needed breather in between to wait for the next one. In doing so, DC can finally indulge in a light-hearted atmosphere that superhero movies should be all about.

– The animation is vibrant in color graphing, and detailed in visual sight gags that you almost have to constantly rewind to fully grasp. Part of my favorite elements of the film involved spotting the names of some of the businesses that are expressed in humorous context in advertisement, as well as the overall feel of immersing yourself in a comic book feel kind of presentation. Between dust flying as a reflection of impact, as well as text being displayed visually in a way that pays homage to those comic book properties, this film carves its own path that is everything different from today’s DC properties, thus the reason for its valid success.

– It was great to see a film where Robin is front-and-center for once, and I’m hoping this will open the door for DC to take more chances with this often ridiculed character. Here, Robin articulates and solidifies his status as a leader to this group who they themselves feel like outcasts shunned by their peers, and perhaps that angle is why Robin takes the wheel and steers us into an adventure where he thrives because of endless heart and determination.

– Best cameo ever in a superhero movie. That’s all I’m going to say.

– Impeccable pacing that feels synthetic in the television structure that this show-turned-film has prospered with. Most of the filler in between comes from no shortage of musical numbers, and that’s fine because it doesn’t hinder or dampen the overwhelming feeling of delight that you get from taking it all in. No film this Summer made me laugh more than ‘Teen Titans’, and very few have flowed as smoothly in entertainment value, so it shouldn’t come as no surprise how easy of a sit this film is to waste time on a hot day, when you just want to feel the cool breeze of the theater air and an immersive cotton candy superhero film alike.

– As for the music that I previously mentioned, this is bar-none one of the best soundtracks that I have heard in recent memory. Beyond the music feeling energetic and full of feel-good passion, the lyrics being sung by the various members of this group leave your tummy tickled, with descriptive emphasis that exerts no shortage of personality or the T.M.I kind of too much information that leaves a character the butt of many jokes. So Often in kids movies, I find myself dreading a musical number, but I found myself waiting impatiently for the next one here, and it’s all because of what it does for the characters, as well as how it relishes the opportunity to get the youths moving in their seats.

– Much respect goes to the production team of this picture for bringing back the credited voice actors of the television show, all the while bringing in several A-list names to bounce off of them. Menville as Robin, and Tara Strong as Raven are definitely my favorites, proving that they haven’t missed a single step in the chemistry of their off-fire deliveries. But the chance to finally hear Nicolas Cage voice Clark Kent was one that was nearly 25 years in the making. For those who don’t know, Cage was supposed to play Superman in an early 90’s adaptation of the character, but it fell through. So to see Cage get the chance once again was something that proved cathartic and even affirming for how much command he had over the immense presence.

NEGATIVES

– One surprising aspect of the film that kind of disappointed me was how little there is for the youth of the audience to hang their hats on. Most of the meta-breaks will of course only benefit older audiences who grew up with these properties, but the other material feels like it has a great dependency on the color scheme of the film in luring the kids in and it’s just not enough. As it stands, no kid in my audience laughed, except during the fart gags that (Thankfully) are few and far between. Attaining two different audiences is incredibly difficult, but a film advertised like this should always get the kids first. Without them, you’ve already lost a majority of your audience.

– Despite the bending and breaking of the fourth wall that prospers repeatedly throughout, the enabling strings of redundancy begin to show at the beginning of the third act. All of the familiar tropes are there; the antagonist who gets one-up on the gang, the gang break-up, the moment of reflection for the protagonist, and of course the third act DC action sequence where they throw anything and everything at the screen. For a film that prides itself on being “The epiphany” for the genre, there’s far too much hypocrisy in where it settles to ever be as impactful as something like ‘The Lego Batman Movie’.

– Pointless short before the film. There’s a three minute short attached to ‘Teen Titans’ that serves no point to the forthcoming story, nor does it ever remotely hit its mark in intended direction. Considering Pixar are attaching these breathtakingly beautiful shorts at the beginning of their movies now, this forgettable, bland Batgirl short should’ve just been left on the cutting room floor. I originally thought this was part of the real movie, and was going to lead into the Titans watching this stupidity in a theater, but it didn’t. It was three awkward minutes of unattached material that starts this film off in a deficit before the actual movie even begins.

7/10

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

Directed by Ol Parker

Starring – Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Meryl Streep

The Plot – Discover Donna’s (Streep, James) young life, experiencing the fun she had with the three possible dads of Sophie (Seyfriend). Sophie is now pregnant. Like Donna, she’ll be a young mother, and she realizes that she’ll need to take risks like her mother did.

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material

POSITIVES

– The infectious atmosphere is as present as ever, without settling for some of the hokiness of musical acting that plagued the first movie. It’s rare to feel entirely different about two films as identically structured as the two in this series, but ‘Here We Go Again’ manages this feat, combining whimsical song and dance choreography, while playing each individual number to expositional context. Very little feels phony about the way it is delivered, and I appreciate that when immersing myself in the musical genre. It’s high energy without feeling hyperactive, conjuring up an air of musty charm that even males can partake in.

– Fans of the original cast will take great praise in knowing that all of them return here, although some with more screen time than others. The chemistry between Firth, Brosnan, and Skarsgaard is still the sweetest treat within the film, but the on-time comedic delivery of Baranski is as polished as ever. Beyond this, the new additions who represent younger versions of the characters are completely spot-on in appearance and demeanor, to make the transition as seamless as possible. I was convinced that Baranski’s younger self was a real life sibling who was separated from her at birth.

– As for musical selections, there are a few tracks that are derived from the original film, but repackaged in a way that breathes new life into their familiar chords. ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Mamma Mia’ are obviously the familiar ones, but here they are performed by someone entirely different, and cater more towards the inspirational peaks of the subplots they enhance. With performances, thankfully nothing is as dreadful as the off-chord work of Streep and Brosnan in the original, instead opting for versatile actors like James and Seyrfied, who remarkably do all of their own singing.

– Richly vibrant costume and set pieces. Familiar pieces of time and place are carefully inserted into the backdrops of each room that the dual stories take place in, hinting with the air of subtlety as to what track might be coming. ‘Waterloo’ for instance, breathes French renaissance in costume design and restaurant decor, transporting us back to the 19th century battle that the Abba song describes. Beyond this, the flashback narrative fashions reflect that of 70’s Swedish tastes, combing through a colorful blend of button-ups and chalets that give way to the relaxed paradise that is captured in location.

– In my opinion, this film has much more reach for the dramatic pull than the original movie did, comparing the lives of Mother and Daughter so fluently with similar movements in time. Despite the delightful atmosphere that nearly fills the entirety of the film, there is a strong sense of longing with the noticed absence of one important character, who most of the film revolves around. This makes ‘Here We Go Again’ more of a generational affair than anything, and the tasteful, feel-good PG-13 escapism makes this angle reach well beyond the screen, for Mothers and Daughters to enjoy alike.

– This film does do a solid job of tying up some loose ends from the first movie that left audiences hanging, regardless of how you felt about it. The delve into Donna’s past paints the vivid picture in details that the first film only spoke about, allowing itself to experience the careless, free-spirited adventure of the main character and her diversity of interaction between each of the three men who eventually played pivotal roles in her future (No jokes here). This gives the original film the kind of replay value that it would never have over the previous decade, and forces you to approach Donna’s character in a much different way than you would’ve originally.

NEGATIVES

– This film grinds to a screeching halt somewhere in the middle of the second act, and I believe I have figured out the reasons. The overall minimalist approach of developing plot between an overabundance (17) of songs, as well as the meandering material with an overall lack of conflict, leaves the material being approached at a topical level, instead of an immersive one that can properly develop with time being devoted to it. For my money, I would trim this down to 12 songs, and not transition between old and current story as much, because the 70-30 favoritism for the past makes the present feel not as valued. If you wanted a prequel film, just make this a prequel film for 109 minutes.

– Terrible green-screen effects work. For every scene that takes place outside by the water, I couldn’t stop staring at this glaring red flag that made itself present in the cheapest of renderings. If the outline around the character’s bodies doesn’t feel extremely evident, the off-coloring darkness of the sky when a storm is approaching will. We see dark clouds in the distance, but lots of sunshine when it reflects off of a character’s face, and it made for plenty of unintentional laughs when the narrative so badly required focus.

– There is a HUGE deception in the marketing of this film, particularly with that of one vital character who is only in the movie for two scenes. I say deception because the film’s trailers play it off like this character never missed a beat in this second installment, and the posters have this person amongst the top bill, when they should clearly be reduced to the ‘AND’ role that ends every cast text introduction. If you’re seeing this film for this character, the opening five minutes should make you as angry as finding out your favorite relative passed away and no one cared to tell you.

– It’s great to see Cher, but between my disdain for her character’s personality, as well as how late in the film she comes into it, her role feels like the very definition of tacked-on, and frankly I don’t think she was needed. There are certainly enough characters to keep the interest in the material, but for some reason Cher (Who basically plays Cher) is called upon to add something more to this film. Considering Streep as the daughter looks to be somewhere between 55-60 in the movie, how old would that make Cher when she had her?

6/10

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

Directed by Genndy Tatakovsky

Starring – Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Mel Brooks

The Plot – Mavis (Gomez) surprises Dracula (Sandler) with a family voyage on a luxury Monster Cruise Ship so he can take a vacation from providing everyone else’s vacation at the hotel. The rest of Drac’s Pack cannot resist going along. But once they leave port, romance arises when Dracula meets the mysterious ship Captain, Ericka (Kathryn Hahn). Now it’s Mavis’ turn to play the overprotective parent, keeping her dad and Ericka apart. Little do they know that his “too good to be true” love interest is actually a descendant of Abraham Van Helsing, ancient nemesis to Dracula and all other monsters.

Rated PG for some action and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Sandler’s career has found a bit of a resurgence in vocalizing animated characters. After three straight films that have made me laugh more than the last ten of Sandler’s live action movies combined, I think Adam should stick with voicing Drac and other animated properties for the foreseeable future. Sandler works in this environment because his vocalizing has always catered to adolescent material, bringing with it a tone in reactionary humor that was made for animated film. On top of it, he gets to stick to formula and bring with him his growing number of friends, to make sure each of them always has a paying gig. Quite the samaritan.

– Tatakovsky’s style of animation that is unlike anything by comparison in the animated world of cinema. The eye-popping colorful stroke, combined with facial defining traits are something that clearly makes this franchise standout, and pushes the boundaries of its comedy even further by some effective sight gags that consistently keeps the humor in check.

– Speaking of sight gags, they easily carried the humor over the dialogue that rarely ever hit for me. For my money, I would’ve been fine with ‘Hotel Transylvania 3’ being a silent animated film that captured all of the cause and effects of monsters being aboard a cruise ship, and how their dispositions fed into that setting’s entertainment traditions. Particularly, my favorite scene of the entire film is an airline run by some familiar 80’s cinema monsters, that adopt their own brand of customer hospitality that will have you shrieking with laughter.

– Being a fan myself of the world’s biggest mysteries, I love that the setting of this film takes place in the Bermuda Triangle, on Friday the 13th. The date in particular is interesting, because that is of course the release date for this film, and kudos to the studio for breaking the fourth wall in those regards. The setting perhaps does or does not elaborate on the urban myth to why so many have disappeared in its clutches…..or should I say tentacles (Wink Wink)

– On the front of messages for the film, at least there are two out of three that youths can take away from positively. These are the importance of family, as well as never judging those who are different on just appearances alone. I think if these messages stick, those younger audience members will be alright. If the third and more consequential message sticks, in which we should pursue endlessly the objects of our affections, then I have great terror for the world in the coming decades.

NEGATIVES

– As par for the course of Sandler films, this one has no shortage of classic rock favorites, or even the best of modern day top 40 to accommodate its repetitive dance sequences. My problem with this is the music included feels so commercialized, adding very little value or importance to the scene based on creativity. It feels like a lazy excuse to sell downloads, and never really fits in this particular world, no matter how goofy Drac and friends are portrayed.

– It’s interesting to me that this film takes place over the course of a few days, and yet we never see any daytime scenes. One could say that’s obviously because Drac sleeps during the day, but there are also no scenes involving Drac going to sleep or resting of any kind. Because of how the film is edited and paced together, it feels like one continuous trip into a world where the sun never rises, and the characters, both monster and human, never sleep.

– By the third installment of this franchise, there are simply far too many characters at this point with nothing to do. It’s certainly an easy paycheck for those talented voice actors, but their inclusion adds so little to the film in a creative sense, and I would’ve liked to have seen some of them stay behind at the hotel to run things while a few go on-board. Wait a minute, who the hell is running the hotel while everyone is gone???

– The biggest negative to the story comes in the lack of attention donated to the unfolding narrative to the Drac and Ericka, before the pivotal third act. Considering this is a light, breezy 87 minute sit, there is no shortage to throwaway one-off gags that add nothing of weight or growth to what should be front-and-center in our focus. This film has A.D.D of the worst kind, leaving about fifteen minutes of actual development for the film’s central plot to feast on. Perhaps that’s why I’m left with this overwhelming sense of carelessness for where the film ends up.

– As for that finale, what develops between protagonist and antagonist is ridiculous even for a children’s cartoon. Not since the movie ‘Couples Retreat’ has a conflict been resolved in such juvenile and far-fetched way that has more holes in its plan than a piece of swiss cheese. What’s even worse is that even after sitting through ten minutes of ridiculousness that I couldn’t script if I was high on LSD, we come to discover that it all really doesn’t matter in the bigger picture. We end up some place where consequence and resolve doesn’t exist, instead opting to set up for a fourth movie that I hope returns this franchise to prominence.

5/10

Sorry To Bother You

Directed by Boots Riley

Starring – Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler

The Plot – In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, black telemarketer Cassius Green (Stanfield) discovers a magical key to professional success, which propels him into a macabre universe of “powercalling” that leads to material glory. But the upswing in Cassius’ career raises serious red flags with his girlfriend Detroit (Thompson), a performance artist and minimum-wage striver who’s secretly part of a Banksy-style activist collective. As his friends and co-workers organize in protest of corporate oppression, Cassius falls under the spell of his company’s cocaine-snorting CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), who offers him a salary beyond his wildest dreams.

Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use

POSITIVES

– Boots Riley is one of those film revolutionaries when it comes to the way he views the world. Considering this is the musical maestro’s first effort behind the director’s chair, it’s astonishing the way he blends colorful chaos and air-tight editing to feed into the absurdity of channeling a world so satirically unbalanced from our own, while leaving enough truth in the material to see the similarities. This is a music video director who transitions over to the big screen, and he does so without it ever feeling minimal like a music video, nor sacrificial for his volume of art that he unleashes.

– The material itself (Also written by Riley), ages like a fine wine, initially feeling like a full-on comedy that eventually morphs into horrific circumstance. While a film like ‘Get Out’ opened the perspective on interracial relationships, ‘Sorry To Bother You’ does so much more in exposing the delirium in the workforce that minorities wake up to every day. It’s every bit as smart as it is precise with its focus, feeling like the most elaborate episode of ‘Black Mirror’ that you will ever find.

– Beyond the confines of corporate consumerism, Riley also points a finger at slavery-like business models, corporate racism, dumbed down media programming, and even the blurring of lines between what really makes a celebrity. The thing is that the material is done in such an originally metaphorical sense that it will more than likely fly over the heads of a majority of its audience, but I found it to be very much intelligent and even brave for the way it takes the tense initiative and uses humor as its own kind of puppet to enhance the lunacy.

– As far as performances are concerned Stanfield might be my absolute favorite one so far this year. In emoting Cassius, Stanfield’s transformation and his vibe change so frequently throughout the film to mirror his corporate influence, and he never misses a single note. Everything is finely timed out and crisply directed for him, and Lakeith himself has plenty to add in animated facial reactions that tell the story of how the heart is feeling inside. This leaves you plenty of empathy to donate to the character, all the while he isn’t making some of the best decisions that we as an audience agree with.

– Not since ‘Requiem For a Dream’ has an environment surrounding our story felt so reactionary and ever-changing on the same path that our protagonist takes. As the film finishes up its pivotal second act, we barely start to recognize any of our characters, and it overall feels like the world could burn down around them at any time. The most impactful storytelling takes one person’s angle and enriches the volume to feel suffocating, and there were many times in Riley’s film where I felt like the progression of this future will do more harm than good to these people striving for the American dream.

– One interesting tidbit to the transition sequences involving Cassius talking on the phone to his customers, is that it is actually a practical effect. Boots hired many strong men to lift the desks at the beginning of every sequence, giving Lakeith that frazzled and shook feeling that could only reach for the kind of authenticity that comes with practicality.

– Never anywhere on this planet will you find someone who can even remotely label this film as predictable. The trailer itself is done in such a clever way that only showcases much of the first act shenanigans, leaving plenty along the way that transforms this story in the most weird and elegant of ways, creatively. This is a very quickly paced 100 minutes that look like two completely different films from start to finish.

– My favorite scene of the film is a transition montage sequence that I really don’t want to give too much about it away. What I will say is that it represents the rags-to-riches story that Cassius embarks on, duplicating the change in material things that spring up in his own life, done in the most elaborate and beautifully eye-hatching method of visual storytelling.

– My hat is off to any film that figures out yet another way for Danny Glover to utter the line “I’m too old for this shit”. Cliche? YES, Overdone? YES, Funny? Even still. It’s every bit as expected by now as Tom Hanks urinating in a movie, and it’s definitely my favorite of obvious Easter eggs in the movie.

NEGATIVES

– I hate even mentioning a negative in this film, because it’s so close to perfection for me, but the love triangle between three central characters was definitely the sloppy weakness of the film. Because of its lack of resolve and inconsequential weight within this story, it feels almost pointless to even introduce this subplot into the script. It is mentioned once during the third act, but then never elaborated on, leaving a noticeable flaw with some of the way these characters shake out in the end of the film.

9/10

Boundaries

Directed by Shana Feste

Starring – Vera Farmiga, Christopher Plummer, Lewis Macdougall

The Plot – Single mom Laura (Farmiga), along with her awkward 14 year-old son Henry (MacDougall) is forced to drive Jack (Plummer), her estranged, care-free pot dealing father across country after he’s kicked out of yet another nursing home. The road trip veers off course when Jack decides to make a couple ‘stops’ and Henry asks to see his ne’er-do-well dad Leonard (Bobby Cannavale), completely upending Laura’s attempt to hold her family together and ultimately forcing her to finally see her father for the man he really is.

Rated R for drug material, adult language, some sexual references and nude sketches

POSITIVES

– Farmiga and Plummer are consistently effective enough to outrun some of the underwhelming material, and because of such, carve out a Father/Daughter dynamic that works. For Plummer, it’s a chance to play out of type for once, living through Jack as a kind of Rip Torn meets Alec Baldwin stoner that proves wholeheartedly that the man can do comedy. For Farmiga’s Laura, we see a character’s fragility exposed because of the past that continues to haunt her in more ways than one. Vera rises to the occasion, with tears that fall on command, even if we don’t feel her pain emotionally ourselves, because of repeated misfires with direction.

– What road trip movie wouldn’t succeed if they didn’t have montages detailing some of the beautiful countryside? Thankfully, ‘Boundaries’ is more than capable of this feat. What’s refreshing for once is the geographical locations, scouting landscapes up and down the California coast, as opposed to endless deserts that other road trip movies seem saddled with. The beaches are a warm compliment to the ecological coloring of the urban countryside, providing enough versatility to feed into the passing of the time.

– In keeping with tradition of this mostly female-led production team, the cinematography from Sara Mishara offers a subtle glow that radiates that independent cinema vibe throughout. This is arguably Sara’s biggest mainstream project to date, and she doesn’t drop the ball in channeling some of the cold and callous psychological stance between this often strained relationship. On top of this, much of her camera work speaks volumes to manipulating the angles in the way that the characters see things. This puts us in the car alongside our talented cast, when we engage this beautiful scenery that surrounds us in frame and focus.

– I had many problems with the overall tone that I will get to later, but one half of this element worked for me, and that was the humor. For my money, this film should’ve remained committed to being a comedy, because there’s often something sarcastic and wittingly dry to the way Feste writes character deliveries that just feels honest. The best kind of humor is always the kind that audiences can channel and relate to, and I found these parts in the film the most enjoyable because of the way I related to their authenticity.

– While I failed to see the link in what they were representing creatively, the film does at least serve as an olive branch for animal lovers of all tribes. Farmiga’s character throughout the movie adopts these random dogs and cats that she finds abandoned, at least relaying to us the compassionate side of her character that makes her incredibly engaging as a protagonist. If you’re like me and can’t watch a film without stopping to moan at how cute a particular animal is, then Boundaries will give you plenty to oogle at.

NEGATIVES

– The road trip subgenre is a bit played out, especially in 2018 with a film called ‘Kodachrome’ that did it much better, but ‘Boundaries’ offers nothing in the way of surprises or originality that breaks itself from the pack. Almost immediately, the film writes itself into these familiar corners that inevitably remind you of a better film, and leaving itself little wiggle room in laminating anything memorable for audiences for more than five minutes after they leave the theater.

– I mentioned earlier that the film juggles tonal consistency, often feeling like two directions being compromising opponents in a vicious tug-of-war. As to where the comedy almost entirely works for the film, the movie’s sagging dramatic elements fail miserably, because of how juvenile the humor sometimes leaves a scene. There’s little exposition in terms of that scarred relationship that is never elaborated on, and much of the melodrama invades our scope with very little planning or patience to leave emotional resonance.

– One direction that I found strange was the third act developments that feel like they are keeping the cameras on to reach a certain run time. This is the part of the film where I felt that so much could be trimmed for time, particularly that of a subplot involving Farmiga’s on-screen sister (Played by Kristen Schaal) that adds very little but a distraction to the one-on-one directive that the film needed closure on. Because of this, the film just kind of ends in the way I knew it would, never capitalizing on an emotional center to drive the narrative home.

– In addition to the unnecessary plots involved with the sister character, the road trip itself provides far too many speed bumps in the way of these simmering issues, that keep the resolve slipping further out of our grasp. One stop is fine, but ‘Boundaries’ script instills four different character stops on this long and winding road, with only one of which adding anything to the exercising of demons that the film’s plot wants you to believe so desperately. After a while, this misdirection starts to feel uncomfortable, and begins to hint that maybe some people simply can’t be changed, and we should respect that.

– Coming off of the ground-shaking performance of his time in ‘A Monster Calls’, it feels like a tragic disappointment for Macdougall to not have more to do in this film. Unresolved is a word that I would use to accurately define his character, and the only thing more antagonizing than the film’s lack of exposition for his conflicts, is that of how plain they supplant this teenage force. I don’t go to bat often for child actors, but when you have someone like Lewis Macdougall, you unleash him and let him react to these changing circumstances around him. Failing to do so, may be my biggest regret for the film.

5/10