Game Night

Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein

Starring – Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler

The Plot – Bateman and McAdams star as Max and Annie, whose weekly couples game night gets kicked up a notch when Max’s charismatic brother, Brooks (Chandler), arranges a murder mystery party, complete with fake thugs and faux federal agents. So when Brooks gets kidnapped, it’s all part of the game – right? But as the six uber-competitive gamers set out to solve the case and win, they begin to discover that neither this game – nor Brooks – are what they seem to be. Over the course of one chaotic night, the friends find themselves increasingly in over their heads as each twist leads to another unexpected turn. With no rules, no points, and no idea who all the players are, this could turn out to be the most fun they’ve ever had… or game over.

Rated R for adult language, sexual references and some violence

THE POSITIVES

– Blending two polar opposite genres together is something that often fails, but ‘Game Night’ conjures up this kind of hybrid playing field where the worlds of horror and comedy merge together soundly. Much of the reason for this is because the humor in this script never takes away, nor sours the mood of the very surreal consequences that these friends are dealing with.

– If a film is called ‘Game Night’ and it isn’t at least fun, you would have an instant fail, but thankfully that doesn’t happen. This film is tightly paced at 95 minutes, richly humorous without anything of the raunchy nature, and packs enough twists in narrative to always keep you guessing.

– Cliff Martinez, how do you do it? Not only does my favorite music composer score this film, but he once again tickles our audible sense with a collection of music that is every bit as transfixing as it is vital to carving out the ominous urgency in his influence of synth-pop game changers.

– There’s much argument for who steals the show here. McAdams and Bateman are of course a delight, harboring a kinetic kind of energy in chemistry that makes their connection evident. But then there’s excellent supporting work from Jesse Plemmons, Lamorne Morris, and probably my personal favorite: Billy Magnussen as the idiot friend whose stupidity is his greatest asset in charm.

– In addition to the well-rounded cast, their characters are each given plenty of scenes to chew up, making each of their voyages on this night of terror equally important to moving one step closer towards the big reveal. I personally will always support a film that caters more to the team aspect than just one or two great leads, and ‘Game Night’ is certainly of that caliber.

– Surprisingly enticing cinematography by Barry Peterson. With the exception of ’22 Jump Street’, Barry hasn’t gotten a chance to really shine in a winner, so it’s a pleasure to see how far his experience has come in gripping a visually enhancing companion piece to the hip script unfolding before us. The chase sequences both in and around the car are shot competently in keeping with the pulse of intensity, and a two minute chase sequence in the house that is manipulated to look like one continuous shot is one that I appreciated for the kind of choreography that you can bend in a setting so immense.

– This is definitely the most I have laughed over the last year of cinema, and that really surprised me because after not laughing at all during the trailer, it saves its best material for the paying customers.

– It goes against the grain in not falling into the trap of a third act conflict between these friends that almost every comedy today must do. Instead, by keeping them constantly on the same page, it enriches their friendship in standing together through arguably the worst or best night of all of their lives.

THE NEGATIVES

– There’s a scene about midway through where Bateman’s character is searching a police database laptop for the identity of a man they are searching for. There’s two things funny about this; 1. There’s a search bar labeled “Alias name”, and 2. He types in “The Bulgarian” and only one person comes up. I guess only one person in the entire world goes by a name as cryptic as “The Bulgarian”.

– The final two shots of the movie are easily the weakness of the entire film. The first involves continuing the story with a kind of sequel bait kind of way that doesn’t make sense with how things concluded, and certainly doesn’t fit in any kind of possible continuing conflict. The second scene is a credit sequence that shows how everything was accomplished by a certain character. Every film mystery needs an answer, yes, but in solving the mystery here and trying to answer so many questions, you only see the glaring plot holes that highlight just how truly impossible this whole thing was to script together by any one person.

8/10

Early Man

Directed by Nick Park

Starring – Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Eddie Redmayne

The Plot – Set at the dawn of time, when prehistoric creatures and woolly mammoths roamed the earth, Early Man tells the story of Dug (Redmayne), along with sidekick Hognob as they unite his tribe against a mighty enemy Lord Nooth (Hiddleston) and his Bronze Age City to save their home.

Rated PG for some rude humor and scenes of action

THE POSITIVES

– Steller animation yet again by Aardman Animations. The use of authentic backdrop properties in trees and rocks blends colorfully with that of the claymation characters and their stopmotion animation. In addition, the characters themselves illustrate the evolution between neanderthal and the next step smoothly, leaving enough evidence in physical features between the two sides (Big teeth, misshaped heads) to bridge the gap.

– Immersive vocal performances that engulf our A-list cast whole. I’ve always said that the best animated performances are the ones that make you forget who is vocalizing them, and the trio of leads here nail that in spades. The best for me is definitely Hiddleston’s indistinguishable gangly turn as the evil Lord Nooth.

– At 79 minutes, this is as harmless of a sit as you’re going to encounter this weekend. The pacing never drags or stalls through its narrative, keeping the attention of its audience without having to trim the fat of needless time filler.

– There is a kind of tragic element hanging over the heads of these characters that goes far beyond the conflict of this film. Despite the outcome of this soccer game, we all know the progression from the Stone Age, and that hint of inevitable doom is one that brought an unintentional dramatic layer to what I was watching.

– The observational humor is definitely the winner in the battle with the dialogue, penetrating with enough visual sight gags to throw us a bone of subversive for the adults in the audience, once in a while.

– I’m always one to lend kudos to a screenplay that introduces a prominent female character and doesn’t make her the love interest of anyone in the film. ‘Early Man’ follows this lead, giving little girls an inspiration not only to play sports, but also in carving out just how important she was to the conclusion of the picture.

THE NEGATIVES

– As to where the observational grants more hits than misses, the dialogue itself in the movie is slightly too authentic of its neanderthal foundation. With the exception of a few generous giggles, I found much of the material in the film to be very underwhelming for Aardman and the kind of tummy-ticklers we’re used to leaving the theater with. It’s unusual that this material won’t really cater to adults or kids with confidence.

– The whole film builds to this soccer match that is nothing more than a series of montage sequences in a race to the finish line. Believe me when I say that every shot in this game is to showcase when a team scores, and that’s a bummer because there’s never any inspiring instances when this game can break away from the cliches of previous sports films that have already outlined what we are going to see.

– I’m sure it’s ridiculous to complain about historical accuracy in a film where the pig is the smartest character, but I still wonder why things like toilet paper, speakers, and even a one hundred foot duck are all present in a film that takes place during the Stone Age.

– There is absolutely zero character exposition here. Each and every character runs together, and can’t be dissected any differently than labeling them “Main character” or “Female character”. If a film lacks characters that you feel empathetic towards, a plot about them losing their home won’t have much tug towards your heartstrings.

6/10

Peter Rabbit

Directed by Will Gluck

Starring – James Corden, Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne

The Plot – Peter Rabbit (Corden), the mischievous and adventurous hero who has captivated generations of readers, now takes on the starring role of his own irreverent, contemporary comedy with attitude. In the film, Peter’s feud with Mr. McGregor (Gleeson) escalates to greater heights than ever before as they rival for the affections of the warm-hearted animal lover who lives next door (Byrne).

Rated PG for some rude humor and action

THE POSITIVES

– While the film isn’t the most faithful to its literary property, it’s completely harmless. Purists of the former will indulge in enough gentle heart imagination and innocence in the bond between humanity and animals, as well as moments of visual Easter egg throwbacks to the original illustration. The new fans of Peter Rabbit will enjoy the quick-witted, physical slapstick that offers plenty of laughs without settling for the low-hanging fruit of toilet humor.

– Speaking of laughs, the film is very clever with its material, choosing to break the fourth wall of kids movies on more than one occasion. Because of this meta stance, the script and these characters constantly feel like they’re one step ahead of our expectations, leaving us plenty to guess about what’s to come.

– Gleeson steals the show. If you didn’t believe that Domhnall Gleeson was a revelation before this film, his role as the antagonist of sorts will be your convincing note. Not only does Gleeson revel in chewing up the scenery of each and every scene as this sophisticated snob of sorts, but his endlessly amped-up physicality in each scene silences the disbelief of live property versus animated one with ease.

– The film’s quick pacing is complimented by some thrilling chase scenes that truly capture the imagination of the environment. These scenes are tightly edited and rapidly moving to keep their audience at energetic levels.

– A rorschach test of character framing. Interestingly enough, I found the children in the audience to be faithfully rooting for Peter and his band of colorful creatures, but I saw things from Gleeson’s point of view repeatedly, and I think that adult versus child comparison comes into play in a film with characters this respective of each demographic.

– In addition to a roller-coaster of laughs and debauchery, there’s a hearty romance developing between Gleeson and Byrne that is taking place in the background. The subtlety of their growing relationship takes its time firmly, and the chemistry between them is every bit as delightful as it is important to each respective person. After being chained down for ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ this weekend, it was nice to see how a real romance develops between two human beings.

– Lets all give Sony a round of applause for making a movie without pimping their products out. While this doesn’t seem like a big deal, I’ve seen films (Cough Cough, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’) that feels like a two hour commercial for the production team behind it. Less is more, and maybe they are starting to learn that.

THE NEGATIVES

– The musical soundtrack does the thing where it soils the integrity of the property by instilling a collection of top 40 favorites to boost downloads. Where it tries to improve itself is changing and adapting the lyrics of such songs like Len’s ‘Steal My Sunshine’ or Fort Minor’s ‘Remember the Name’ to narrate a character struggle. It’s just the minority when compared to the majority that isn’t this creative.

– Pointless narration by Margot Robbie’s bird character. The narration is only in the film four times, and every time we hear it, it’s to remind us of something we just learned in the previous scene.

– The rules of who can hear the animals talking gets slightly skewed in the final act, especially after a random little girl acknowledges that she can hear them easily. This creates some holes in logic for earlier sequences that would’ve been spoiled had the rules followed these twists.

7/10

I, Tonya

Directed by Craig Gillespie

Starring – Margot Robbie, Allison Janey, Sebastian Stan

THE PLOT – Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding (Robbie) rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband (Stan) intervenes, paving a road of faith to this moment that has taken her through a lifetime of mental abuse from her Mom (Janney), and physical abuse from her husband. When all is said and done, Tonya will be one of the most memorable names in the sport….for better or worse.

Rated R for pervasive adult language, violence, and some sexual content/nudity

THE POSITIVES

– The decision for a two hour runtime allows the WHOLE story to be told, feeding into the before, during and after of the famous incident that will label her for a lifetime.

– Even Hollywood writers can’t make up the absurd chain of events depicted in this film. Stories like this are movies before they ever see the light of day on the screen.

– Exceptional production qualities like stage lighting and versatility in camera angles and framing, keep this biopic from ever garnering a typical movie-of-the-week artistic vibe

– The transformative performances of Robbie and Janney that take no prisoners with their audience. Janney is the devil incarnate, channeling the worst parenting job since ‘Mommy Dearest’ with a fiery register behind rimmed glasses as big as her ego. Robbie originally felt too beautiful for this role, but she won me over in juggling the emotional roller-coaster that is Harding, who truly always feels alone in what she endures.

– Presents a refreshing angle to Harding that offers an empathetic take without framing her in innocence. This highlights the idea that she is a product of her environment, and never shook the ideals instilled upon her by her mother.

– Harding’s underdog story of sorts for competing against an entire organization and their precious traditions. Revealing looks at historical events like this one certainly provide insight into the pre-determined mindset of the judges who wanted Tonya to fail before her skates ever hit the ice. This makes it easier to stand behind her.

– The precise editing of the skating sequences, conjuring up an intensity in performance that I never paid attention to for the sport.

– Screenwriter Steven Rogers unshaken direction to leave the truth somewhere in the middle, between what actually happened on that fateful day. The interview style leaves just enough room for there to be skepticism provided by the questionable characters telling it.

THE NEGATIVES

– The facial C.G animation during the skating sequences is jarring. There are often scenes where a huge head feels like it is plastered on a small body, giving the authenticity a cartoonish vibe that is not needed in the otherwise perfect production value.

– Too often the narration cuts in, limiting the story from playing out in real time. Only half a point was taken off here because the problem fixes itself in the third act.

9/10

Father Figures

Owen Wilson and Ed Helms wonder who is their daddy, in Warner Bros holiday hilarity ‘Father Figures’. Fraternal twin brothers, Kyle and Peter Reynolds (Owen Wilson and Ed Helms) have learned that their father did not die when they were young as they had previously believed, and their eccentric mother, Helen Baxter (Glenn Close) had slept with many rich, famous and powerful men in the 1970’s, adding greater difficulty to this unfolding mystery. When they go on a long distance road trip to find out who their real father is, they find out more about their mother than they probably ever wanted to know, as well as encountering a mysterious hitchhiker (Kat Williams) and other misadventures that add a confrontation speedbump. ‘Father Figures’ is helmed by first time director Lawrence Sher, and is rated R for adult language and sexual references throughout.

‘Father Figures’ is certainly not a great film by any stretch of the imagination. After sitting on the production shelf for over two years, the film was finally blessed with a release date of Christmas week, competing against the best that the holiday season has to offer, instead of a Father’s Day release that could tie into the marketing of the movie. I was expecting pure sludge going into this film, and was remotely surprised at just how much heart burns deep beneath a typical Owen Wilson movie. One big hurdle that I see for the film is that it is entirely marketed wrong, catering in its trailer to the very bromance comedies that require gross-out humor in appealing to its audience. That is not what we get here at all in the majority, despite there being a few rare instances of seediness that the screenplay just can’t stay away from. This instead feels like a cute and quirky indie comedy with some credible cinematography to boot along the way. Because of this, it finds itself in an awkward situation in which it won’t be crude enough to appeal to the audience that it was marketed towards, and it won’t find the audience needed in making it reputable because of the trailer that did more harm than good. Baffling I know, but Sher’s film isn’t anywhere close to the kind of juvenile films that I have sat through across this year of below average comedies, giving way to a possible blessing in disguise by having your expectations so low going into it.

Stuck somewhere between road trip films like ‘Father’s Day’ and ‘Due Date’, ‘Father Figures’ meat and potatoes revels with this parental mystery that has come to light suddenly, and leaves Helms character in particular jaded by his newfound lack of identity. Because of this, the quest to find their mysterious father figure becomes the goal, but as the film progresses, it’s clear that this becomes more about Wilson and Helms respective characters in mending a relationship that has soured over time. It was in this perspective of the film where I found great positive return in what I was enjoying, but unfortunately it is all too good to last since this feels like the victim of surgical re-writes in plodded pacing, as well as those few instances that I mentioned earlier that feel desperate in extremities to give this forgettable script something to remember by. On the former, much of the film feels like scene-by-scene exposition instead of moving in sync as one cohesive movement. Because of this, the screenplay never picks up enough momentum to carry it to the next gag. On the latter, what comic hijinks that it does have never feels genuine to the rest of the screenplay around it that feels too mature at times to fall for this level of practicality.

As for the mystery itself, it’s really quite easy to figure out at about the halfway point because of that cursed trailer that gave away too much going into it. Based on this two minute video, we know that there are only four men in contention here to be the Father, so of course each of them will get their own set-up and progression, and then three of them will suddenly realize that they can’t be the father. It’s interesting to me how they always realize this after a couple hours of hanging out, and not the second that their respective year with Helen is brought to light. Anyway, the answer will become clear when we’ve rushed through three of these males within the first half of the movie, and that could only leave one possible answer. Because of this third act predictability, the film just kind of stands in place and confirms what we were beginning to fear about it; that too much time was invested in this aspect and not enough to their loving Mother. She practically disappears until the final few scenes of the film, and by then that missed opportunity in telling her story just feels like a tacked-on layer to force the audience into enduring its miniscule level of heart that has been stored away repeatedly until now. It constantly feels like Sher’s film is in a tug-of-war creatively with itself, and if it were brave enough to take the road less traveled, it could’ve returned the surprise sweet hit of the year, but ‘Father Figures’ feels doomed to the shelves of rental stores, only one month after it hit theaters.

What did surprise me was in the credible cinematography here by John Lindley that proved that someone was trying to go above and beyond in this project. When I called this an indie comedy earlier, I meant that in the visual spectrum sense, as Lindley channels us through some very artistic transitional scenes, as well as some moving sequences that prove an honorable and stylish presence behind the lens. What’s even more credible about them is that the transitions don’t feel like a gimmick by growing stale in repetition along the way. Every so often, Lindley switches up the design and gives those tightly-knitted film students something to hang on to in the way of substance for this film that can sometimes lack it in the long run. Beyond this, the song selections as well are tender and very welcoming of this classy mood that overcomes us. I’m not familiar with any of the tracks myself, but it was nice to have a modern comedy that didn’t need the newest top 40 rap track in accommodating its scenes audibly to give it a fresh and hip perspective.

The performances themselves can feel overall inconsequential, even though Helms offers a strong transformation from beginning to end that proves his character’s emotional growth along the way. When the film began, I truly hated his character. It mostly feels like Ben Stiller should’ve played this role, as it’s often too dry for Helms animated sense of personality that usually carries much of the comedic load. But as the film progressed, I saw the character shaking his endless bouts with depression that have plagued his life, and saw the opening up of a conservative character who learned to live for the moment. This is undoubtedly Helms best performance to date, and that’s a bit of a shame considering so few people will give this film the light of day. As for Owen Wilson, well it’s the same role that he has been playing throughout his career. Because these two are in 95% of the scenes in this film, Wilson is half of what we’re saddled with, so the usual dazed and confused routine becomes the norm. His character is a polar opposite of Helms, so the opposites attract scenario is full swing with this one, carving out a telegraphed plan that any moviegoer will see coming. Close is my favorite performance unquestionably, but her character doesn’t have enough of a presence on the finished script. Likewise are J.K Simmons, Christopher Walken, Terry Bradshaw, and Ving Rhames who also don’t stick around long enough to leave a lasting impression in their multi-dimensional personalities. I never felt that any of them were the right choice for this family, but one of them has to be picked, and I guess the ending is as good as it could’ve possibly been with this set-up.

THE VERDICT – ‘Father Figures’ has instances of maturity and dignity in its productional aspects that already gave me more positively than I was expecting from this film. Unfortunately, much like Helms and Wilson’s protagonists, the film too seeks the proper hands of guidance to cradle it competently, relenting on two polar opposite tastes of comic direction that collide and cut short one another. With better pacing and less attention to the tasteless gags, Sher’s film could’ve been just the kind of comedy occasion that families flock towards during the holiday movie weekend. As it stands, this father-finder runs out of gas halfway across the expedition.

5/10

Downsizing

The biggest ideas come in the form of the smallest packages, in Alexander Payne’s newest thought-provoking dramedy. ‘Downsizing’ imagines what might happen if, as a solution to over-population, humans could be shrunk to a height of 5 inches (13 cm), after Norwegian scientists discover how to do just that. A 200-year global transition from big to small is proposed, but there is one catch: the procedure cannot be reversed. People soon realize how much further money goes in a miniaturized world, and with the promise of a better life, everyman Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to abandon their stressed lives in Omaha in order to become small and move to a new downsized community—a choice that triggers life-changing adventures. To Paul’s horror and outrage, he finds out that Audrey backed out at the last second. After the couple understands that they do not have a future together, they divorce and Paul must now figure out how to start his life over in a completely different world. ‘Downsizing’ is written and directed by Alexander Payne, and is rated R for adult language including sexual references, some graphic nudity and drug use.

Alexander Payne as a director is one of my very favorites going today because no two films of his are similar. When you think about the hits that he has conjured up, like ‘Election’, ‘Sideways’, ‘Nebraska’, and ‘The Descendents’, you think about films that are all different, yet equally as insightful for the kind of deep-seeded message that they all entail. ‘Downsizing’ definitely continues that train of thought, but does it in a way that Payne’s thought-provoking stance might have gotten the best of him. The film certainly questions and debates much of the world’s problems involving over-population, inequality, and even materialism amongst a capitalist society, but those are just ideas, and deep beyond the table dressing, films require a main course for its audience to feast on, and this is the problem that the plagues the second half of this film from ever feeling like social commentary that is ahead of its time. Without a proper destination where the characters and plot can meet and divulge on these ideals, the film feels like a constant reminder instead of the poignant resolution that we all deserve.

As far as world building is concerned, you probably won’t find a film better than ‘Downsizing’ this year. For the entire first half of this picture, Payne as a writer not only prospers the film’s idea of the kind of benefits that being small will have on a personal level, but also in the negativity that it will harbor in wiping record number of citizens from a society that relies on them to do their parts. What I find so poignant about this position from Payne is that he doesn’t lean one way or the other on which side is wrong or right, and instead lets the audience soak in all of the details, and details he lays at the doorstep. I was greatly impressed at how much homework that Payne did in painting this vivid picture from many of the distant angles that require such an immense step in humanity’s progression. The film takes place over the span of many years, feeding into what goes into passing such a procedure, as well as the very precautions of such a procedure in itself that makes this anything but an easy pull of the switch. It was in this area of the film where I couldn’t wait to see where it was headed, and just when I thought I knew what was to come creatively with what Payne was depicting, I fell into such a slouch at how little the film works out for itself in the second half.

This is where the film completely falls apart in my mind. Instead of focusing on the negatives that Paul’s character didn’t see for himself before he made the decision, film introduces and builds around a direction to help everyone else. This is noble intentionally, but feels adjacent to everything that we have learned about the film to this point. In fact, the very mention of Downsizing is limited over the second half of this movie, feeling like you took a second and third act installment from any other movie about environmental distress and attached it to a film about self-prospering. Sure the idea that a person can change is always there, but Paul as a character feels so selfish and easily influenced that I can’t for a second think that he would care this deeply about other people who don’t involve him. To hammer this thought process home, he even tries to elude a Vietmese character that he meets because she has gotten to be too annoying to him. And of course because they are the main focus for male and female characters here, they will of course hook up and become romantic interests for the rest of the film, harboring no chemistry between them that makes this believable even in the slightest.

The visual effects are simple, but effective in depicting this bigger world feel when nothing has changed except the character in question. I say simple because all the production really has to do is film minutes of background with a small camera and display it against the green screen that our live action actors work in front of. If simplicity is what you’re going for with trying to save valuable production costs, then I feel the team here made a great decision, but I can’t help but feel an overwhelming layer of missed opportunities from their decision. Even the audio distortion from a smaller bodied person is included, even though it’s only needed for a couple of times during the first half hour. Besides this, I was slightly disappointed that they really didn’t do a lot of eye-catching effects in the big-versus-small worlds that Paul and company have come and gone from, and even the enormous vodka bottle from the trailers is noticeably missing from the finished product. To add more to the second half handicaps, the final hour is presented from Paul’s level, so needless to say there are no comparisons in artistic integrity that the film could’ve harvested for itself. It’s almost like Payne forgot that this was a film first-and-foremost that centered around this life-altering decision, and that he would instead rather proceed with a 130 minute commercial about environmental responsibility. Snooze.

Most of the central cast is wasted, including Damon whose Paul never inspires us in seeing his suddenly new selfless perspective. When Damon is allowed to be charismatic and let loose on the limited screenplay, he can be quite likeable in his innocence in being alone in a new world, but much of the film requires him to grow up quickly, and there’s just not enough versatility as a lead for his character to prosper on. If that wasn’t enough, there’s a scene that is very much in poor taste with what has recently broken about Damon, in which he makes a move on a sleeping female character. It’s all in bad timing, and does zero in presenting any kind of chemistry long term between them. Hong Chau is probably the most important character to where the film is headed in its later acts, but her character is so Vietmesed-up by the studio that it feels like an almost borderline racially insensitive direction from a writer who doesn’t know better. She’s loud, mispronouncing, and occasionally judging. None of which paint her in the best of lights. Probably the only actor who benefited from this was Christoph Waltz as Paul’s new party-hard neighbor Dushan. At first, I worried that Waltz would be an antagonist of sorts for Damon because (lets be honest) that’s what Waltz does. But as the film progresses, it’s clear that Waltz endures a level of much-needed heart to the film that proves that maybe humanity wasn’t lost in the surgery to go small.

THE VERDICT – ‘Downsizing’ is a big idea plagued by a small execution. With a credible voice like Payne at the helm, it’s a bit of a surprising disappointment that his film feels like a great idea that is speeding to a red light of conformity by the film’s anti-climatic ending. It wastes away a talented cast and thought-provoking introduction for a film about a newly-rich white male caring about the lower class. If that’s not believable, Damon’s bland performance won’t win you over as well, carrying with him a personality that is every bit as small as his newly shrunken size.

5/10

Pitch Perfect 3

Pitches of the world unite for one final tour that will send the Bella’s on their respective paths to adulthood for good. In ‘Pitch Perfect 3’, after the highs of winning the World Championships, the Bellas find themselves split apart and discovering there aren’t job prospects for making music with your mouth. But when they get the chance to reunite for an overseas USO tour, this group of awesome nerds will come together to make some music, and some questionable decisions that will make or break them, one last time. Along the way, they will meet an array of talented musicians from across the globe who will rival them once more to wonder if they can bring the thunder for the performance of a lifetime. ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ is directed by Trish Sie, and is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, adult language, and some action sequences.

I think it’s safe to say that this series has officially jumped the shark. In its third and (as of right now) final chapter in the series, the Pitch Perfect franchise has betrayed what it was known as before, in all of the musical muster and comedy hijinks that they could get themselves into, by adding an unnecessary and unfitting level of action thrills to this series that is anything but. This gives the film an overwhelming lack of confidence within itself to remain true to what (frankly) got it through two films. I am someone who has been half and half with this series up to this point. The first film was a lot of fun, shedding light to a side of college career paths that don’t often get the exposure. The second film added very little to the franchise because of how much it took from its original and better predecessor. Then comes ‘Pitch Perfect 3’, a film that is once again completely unnecessary and only has leverage to lose in what it offers to its faithful audience. As it turns out, that is very little. ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ falls flat on the series closing efforts, cementing a thought process that this series should’ve easily been left at one.

Right away, we are presented with a set-up in execution that makes about as much sense as the mind will allow. The USO has decided to not only bring this college acapella group that no one outside of the college knows about, but also in four other groups that are so well known that they must perform famous musician’s songs in getting over. Who knew that the USO were so cheap? I mean, it’s my thought process that can’t overlook the idea that if these groups are singing a Lenny Kravitz song, why not just bring over Lenny Kravitz to perform for our men and women who are defending our freedoms? Beyond this, the film has a subplot that is completely out of left field with Amy’s father (Played by John Lithgow) coming back into her life with some secrets of his own. It is in this angle where we not only learn that Amy’s family has been involved in some dark details, but that Amy herself is a well-trained martial artist who can flip and kick her way through any adversity. Where did this come from? This once sweet and soft side series now feels miles away from where it ends up in this jumbled plot that is all over the place thematically. I’m all for adding something additional to play off of the music that will always be there, but the additions here don’t work from any level of consistency in bridging the gap between films.

The humor usually misses more than hits, mainly from Amy’s low-brow humor that outlines a terribly nasty person inside who stops at nothing to cut down everyone around her, but I did notice one direction out of left field that could’ve saved this film overall and offered a refreshing take for the series had they exploited it more. That angle is in the satire of the series that even the most vital of protagonists are poking fun at, in this stage. This definitely isn’t a film that takes itself too seriously, despite the compromising shifts from action sequences that totally feel out of place on every possible level. There are on-going angles involving the unlimited number of Bella’s, the few of which never get any screen time. There’s also a reflection of their first act battles with other groups that always ends with them losing. These familiar roads for fans will have them fighting back laughs in the very predictable-without-being-stale roads that this trilogy has taken, and prove that these women are strong enough to take a joke even at the heart of its own structure. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t exploit this blessing from the gods enough, and the majority of its material surges on the same undercooked material that we have seen for going on five hours now in this series as a whole.

Thankfully, the music selections and performance numbers still offer an air of creativity that pushes them further than this being just another karaoke contest. Part of the reason that you watch these films is to see the unorthodox spin that the movie takes on current top 40 hits and even classic rock-n-roll favorites that offer something for everyone. In addition to the Bella’s singing, they also beatbox their way in some truly clever instances that never require instruments in getting their performances over. If this isn’t enough however, the groups that challenge the Bella’s bring everything from guitars to a fiddle in presenting the widest example of musical versatility that has ever hit this series. If I had one critique for the performances, it was in the underwhelming sound mixing that offered a wall of disbelief to their lip-synching. There are several scenes during the film in which we see the mouths of our ladies moving, but there’s no microphone in front of them. So how are we hearing them crystal clear over mountains of thunderous music that echoes around them? Negatives like this are so easy to fix that it’s baffling, but it reminds me time-and-time-again the kind of lack in focus and phoning it in that this series has become saddled with.

As for characters and performances, the main characters stand-out again, leaving very little wiggle room for the supporting cast that are table dressing for the main course. Kendrick is again fit as a fiddle for her leading role, but there’s an ambiance of this being a paycheck film for her that overrides the lack of energy within her performance. Not that the miniscule direction gives her much help along the way, but Kendrick’s often dependable stride feels like the biggest mourning in terms of the biggest changes here from film to film, and it’s a task in replacing that the film never truly fills. If I had to pick a favorite, I would say Brittany Snow’s Chloe is arguably the most improved player, juggling this air of inevitability with her group as well as a budding romance with a soldier that gives her reason again to shine in the light. As I mentioned before, Rebel Wilson’s Amy is truly awful and filled me with anger every time her shallow character filled the screen. She would be the worst character in a normal movie, but here Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins are happy to cast the expectations even lower. Why are these two even in this film? Their characters are there to make a documentary that no one is ever going to see, and in it they continuously mock and tear down the Bella’s self-esteem. They are like Waldorf and Stadler from The Muppets, but without any of the class or reasoning that comes with their inclusion. Every time the film cuts to them, you know what’s coming, so it just creates another speed bump on the progression through this brief 89 minute script that needs more anchor from its confident cast.

THE VERDICT – ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ is the sequel that no one asked for, and worse yet earned very little in surprises to justify its existence. This is one swan song that goes out on the lowest of low notes disappointingly, and the tonal switch in genre form compromises every noble ideal of learning to thrive by being yourself that the series has harvested to this point. If Sie’s blunder is a stage-show, it’s one that plays for far too long, with one too many encores that send the audience home exhausted instead of exhilarated.

4/10

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

The return to a land of chance and consequence gets an upgrade in the form of a popular video game. In ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’, When four high-school kids discover an old video game console with a game they’ve never heard of: Jumanji, they are immediately drawn into the game’s jungle setting, literally becoming the avatars they chose: gamer Spencer becomes a brawny adventurer (Dwayne Johnson); football jock Fridge loses (in his words) “the top two feet of his body” and becomes an Einstein (Kevin Hart); popular girl Bethany becomes a middle-aged male professor (Jack Black); and wallflower Martha becomes a badass warrior (Karen Gillan). What they discover is that you don’t just play Jumanji; you must survive it. To beat the game and return to the real world, they’ll have to go on the most dangerous adventure of their lives, discover what Alan Parrish left 20 years ago, and change the way they think about themselves–or they’ll be stuck in the game forever… ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ is directed by Jonathan Liebesman and Jake Kasdan, and is rated PG-13 for action, suggestive content, and some adult language.

Hell has officially frozen over. When you asked me what were the slimmest of possibilities for the 2017 movie year, the success for a Jumanji sequel over twenty years later would’ve been the last thing I predicted. Yet here I sit in complete shock that this action/adventure in the safari succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ carves out its own respective chapter in the series, relying very little on extended hand that the 1995 Robin Williams original reaches out. Nope, instead Kasdan honors the original with subtle Easter eggs along the way, keeping the link between the two films at a bit of a distance, allowing this sequel to reach even higher with the creativity that it displays in carving out a completely different beast all together. To even make this a Jumanji film is completely unnecessary, but it works because it reminds us of the adventure in imagination that the original supplied us with, while harvesting a heartfelt message that hints that we only have one life at this thing. No extra lives, and certainly no continues.

At its heart, this is very much a Breakfast Club kind of set-up, in that these are four teenagers (Well, three. I’m not so sure about the actor playing Fridge) who would’ve never been seen together before they encountered a game that will alter their respective futures into becoming this family of sorts. Have we seen this approach before? Absolutely, but why it works here is because the film is very enriched in the teenage fantasy kind of ideal, trading out who they are for the bigger, better deal behind the curtain of curiosity. Once they have immersed themselves in their adult counterparts, the film becomes a video game film that follows the authenticity to a tee, sure to satisfy even the most hardcore gamers. There are extra lives, strategies, and even satire that pokes fun at the sheer lunacy of some of these game ideals. For the most part, this direction is full-proof, as there was very little that I found false about its presentation. Some of the scenes involving Bobby Cannivale’s antagonist seem unnecessary considering this is a story that revolves around this group exclusively. If they are going to show scenes with him on his own, maybe broadcast it in the sky so the characters can approach his evil ways in the same vein they would as a player. Otherwise, these scenes are pointless. The only other thing with the game world that I had a problem with was the graphics being a bit too modern age for this being an Atari-like console. They should’ve just supplanted the game and console with a modern structure, hammering home the reasons why the game looks so surreal, but instead we are given 70’s technology with a 2017 presentation that makes absolutely no sense in the bigger picture.

Much of the pacing is solid, even during the noticeably weak second act that attempts to hold our attention through some lengthy dry-spells of action. It’s nothing that is truly sacrificing in the bigger picture of the film’s finished product, but I wish the middle of this film focused more on the same dramatic tug of the heartstrings that Williams gave us in the original for being locked in a foreign land against his will for so long. There’s certainly a comparison with a surprising cameo character who I won’t give away, but the script never capitalizes fully on making us feel his pain for how much they have given up in being locked inside for twenty years. For my money, the finale really packed a tightly constructed punch that continued to raise the stakes with four different areas of character focus, respectively and never letting the excitement omit itself from the air of tension. When I checked the run time, I was surprised that this is nearly a two hour movie at 114 minutes, but because you are spending it in a film that requires you keep track of the life count, as well as the character strengths and weaknesses, you too will find that the film doesn’t just ask to engage you in its plan, but it forces you to.

The visual effects and C.G animal renderings are surprisingly well done, keeping the enthralling fast-paced action always finely tuned whether it’s on land or air. Because of its unlimited setting as opposed to the first film, there’s endless possibilities in the way that the actors and choreographers can approach each sequence, and thankfully nothing feels watered down with predictability in the grand scheme, giving way to some rising urgency and uncertainty with the developing terror that lurks around the corner that constantly kept me guessing. The animal properties here feel respectively distinguished and very in-sync with the lighting and live action properties around them, in which they respond with great detection. Probably not since ‘The Jungle Book’ have I been this impressed with what studios are doing in bridging the gap between live action and animation, and it makes me wonder what they could’ve done with the original film had they only waited to perfect it.

As for the collective ensemble, there are positives and negatives to this story. First of all, I commend everyone for having to not really only play one character, but two when you consider they must portray their badass alter-ego’s as well as their teenage origins. Because of this stance, some stand out more than others with the dedication to their craft. Jack Black is leaps and bounds away the best of the main four, playing Bethany with a mental tug-of-war between the nerdy middle aged scientist she inherited, and the teenage beauty queen she left behind. Black feels like he leaves his Hollywood personality the most in terms of appreciation for his character, but he’s not the only success story here. Dwayne Johnson also supplants us with some versatility in character traits that makes this something completely different than the roles over the last few years that he’s phoned in. The charismatic charm is still there, but Johnson gives in to his comic side by mimicking a teenage nerd with the focus that wouldn’t change in one day in a game world. My critiques rest with Gillian and Hart’s performances, but not so much their characters. As a female heroine, Gillian’s Martha is as satisfying and empowering as it gets. It’s more in her acting muscle where I felt slightly let down by one-note emotional responses that kept her limited in anything that wasn’t action. Hart plays himself. In fact, it was his character where I felt having the most difficult time remembering who he was in the real world, mainly because none of his jock personality carries over to his new body. It’s almost like he lets the limited tomb shield who he is as a person, and while Hart’s comic genius was greatly appreciated in a few good laughs, I need something different at this point from a guy who I know can do so much.

THE VERDICT – ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ isn’t demeaning or damning of the original film that many look back on with nostalgic glee. It never settles to be anything of equal value, instead motivating itself to be better because of its talented cast and endless thrills that bring the fun back to the expedition subgenre that Indiana Jones left behind decades ago. Kasdan’s chapter swings through the trees with a pulse-setting roar, bringing to life the peak of the video game age with enough nuance for the aspects in gaming that 90’s multiplayer’s were known for. Plug in and plant yourself in front of the screen, it’s just the kind of distraction to remind us how fun movies can be again.

7/10

Paddington 2

Written and directed by Paul King

Starring – Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw

The Plot – Paddington (Whishaw) is happily settled with the Brown family in Windsor Gardens, where he has become a popular member of the community, spreading joy and marmalade wherever he goes. While searching for the perfect present for his beloved Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, Paddington spots a unique pop-up book in Mr. Gruber’s antique shop, and embarks upon a series of odd jobs to buy it. But when the book is stolen, it’s up to Paddington and the Browns to unmask the thief.

Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor

THE POSITIVES

– Infinite imagination in visual effects, including some awe-inspiring transitional stylings that echo the vibe of colorless page-turning animation in a pop-up book kind of feel.

– Hugh Grant’s energetically over-the-top charge as the antagonist for the film. Omits that feeling of fun from Grant’s usually distinguished reservoir

– A screenplay with an innocent adventure that is equal (If not better) than the original film.

– Despite the additions of many new cast members, the Brown family feel like they are just as necessary as ever in the ever-unfolding mystery of this bear’s quest to get back home

– Seems comfortable in finding an entertaining medium between adults and child audiences that doesn’t alienate either’s experience.

– No fart or bodily humor. This should be a given, but in a kid’s film, it is unassuming.

– The vibrancy of colorful backdrops, especially in that of the Brown’s home that never settles for one choice of color consistency

– Paul King’s strict approach in not relying on any material or familiarities of the first film, crafting an original chapter that stands on its own

THE NEGATIVES

– The humor is noticeably absent. There were moments where I grinned, but nothing that gave me the long-term laughter needed in keeping the atmosphere delightful

– While the overall animation is exceptional, the shading of Paddington’s design still feels hollow to the light and shadows that he comes into contact with. His face gives off a level of being too light to be authentic.

8/10

Ferdinand

Blue Sky Studios delivers a Christmas gift to families in the form of a lovable bull, named ‘Ferdinand’. Based on Robert Lawson’s children’s book ‘The Story of Ferdinand’, the film revolves around Ferdinand (John Cena), a Spanish Fighting Bull who prefers smelling the intoxicating scents of flowers and practicing non-violence rather than chasing red cloths held by matadors in arenas. Because of this, Ferdinand lacks the kind of inspiration that comes with being proud in a career of choice. But when disaster comes to him, he is taken to a fighting stadium, and Ferdinand needs to decide if he is a fighting bull or a flower smelling, generous bull, in order to earn his freedom. Along the way, Ferdinand meets and befriends some colorful characters who inspire him to become all who he was destined to be. ‘Ferdinand’ is directed by Carlos Saldanha, and is rated PG for rude humor, action, and some thematic elements.

During a year when animated film is kind of having an off year, the door to the hearts of its youthful audience is certainly open for a bull of this magnitude to come charging through. Even still, ‘Coco’ warmed the souls of many a few weeks ago with its unwinding spin of Mexican tradition that enlightened many of its viewers. In the same vein, ‘Ferdinand’ tries to do the same, but with only about half of the success. Blue Sky Studios is definitely getting better overall in their big screen productions, as ‘Ferdinand’ is arguably their best film yet. It proves that this company can turn a profit long-term if they tighten up the rendering of their artistic probe and drive it home with enough heartfelt sentiment to boot. Currently however, there’s still a lack of importance in story direction that limits the adventure aspect of this movie terribly. For family holiday cinema, it’s pretty much a sure thing, but for addition replay value, I worry that something like this will get lost in the fold amongst forgettable animated features that will inevitably only be remembered for its overabundance of zany characters that far too often rub together and offer nothing of variety to feast on.

This is a film that is based off of a very tight children’s book, so in adapting it for a 97 minute feature, the screenwriters definitely had their work cut out for them. Immediately, we are treated to an impactful and dramatic introduction to Ferdinand and his surrounding friends in the way of the sport of bull-fighting. What the script does so well here and eventually midway through the film, is that it takes a very responsible and educative form of storytelling with animal cruelty and the kind of consequences from a sport this violent being nothing more than a form of human entertainment. I like this because it really tugs at your heartstrings and feeds into Ferdinand’s approach at not wanting to fight for the rest of his life. In addition to this, there’s a solid dual-message being played out that preaches you to be who you want to be in a world that is trying to command you in the wrong direction, as well as appearances not being everything. Unfortunately, there’s plenty of low fruit to be hanging here, as the film’s second act opens itself up to the personality of too many characters that offer very little to the value of this script. On this direction, the film kind of becomes more about the characters and less about the journey of Ferdinand himself, who is limited with many pause buttons along the way to keep him from reaching his destiny. One question that I had between Ferdinand’s two settings in the film is how human characters in each knew his name despite him not having a name tag and there not being any correspondence between them. I guess it’s one of life’s many mysteries.

As for some of these characters, they are basically amped up versions of the personalities that their live action counterparts conjure up. Kate McKinnon as Ferdinand’s calming goat is so irritating that I found myself cringing any time she is on-screen. David Tennant’s Angus is basically an Irish stereotype, working in enough puns and digs at Irish culture that distinguish just how one note he is. There’s also no shortage of comedic cast. As the rule for any animated film these days, there is also a trio of supporting characters who serve as the minions of sorts to Ferdinand, except this time the film is generous enough in giving us two different versions of this angle, with a trio of hedgehogs and horses harvesting the comedic energy for the film. Frankly, the only things I found funny about this film is when Cena is the central focus and being allowed to improvise against the observational humor that is being targeted with Ferdinand’s size in focus. Cena himself offers a strong delve into his debut starring role, and there’s much about his animated personality that crafts the title character into the lovable lug that we become saddled with. John himself sounds like he’s having so much fun under this title character, and that charismatic exuberance rubbed off on me throughout the film, making me wish for more of Ferdinand and less of the animals that he meets along the way.

Without question the biggest improvement for Blue Sky Studios is in their animated stylings in presenting us with arguably their most expansive rendering of backdrops to date. The hills filled with flowers stretch as far as the imagination allows them, and the Mexican town-side supplies an array of shops and horticulture that any mental traveler can indulge in despite possibly having never been there. My personal favorite perk of the animation here is definitely in the facial depictions that hammer home the emotional response in versatility that each scene is going for. Is it on the level of Pixar? Absolutely not, but for a studio whose usual animated characters feel like lifeless puppets, the inspiration in ‘Ferdinand’ feels much appreciated for the sleeping giant that may finally be coming awake. So much about Ferdinand’s desire and energy for what inspires him rests in the baby blue eyes that burn a hole into the reflection of the eyes off-screen that stare into them, and even the fluidity of fur movements on the animals is starting to look up. ‘Ferdinand’ could be the first step in getting Blue Sky to where it needs to be to compete, matching the layers of shadow and pixelation accordingly with the vibrancy of color that adorn their pictures.

The last thing that I wanted to talk about was the film’s musical accompaniment because it definitely deserves its own section. As for musical score, composer John Powell whips up an immersive journey through the hills of this foreign land that captures the essence beautifully. With so much influence from Spanish culture blending its way throughout Ferdinand’s adventure, the musical notes that Powell triggers offer a solid compromise of fiery energy and downtrodden dramatic pulse when the film requires it. There is simply no problem that I have with it. The film’s music soundtrack however? That’s another story. It’s true that there is only three songs that play throughout the film, but the decision for them all to be Pitbull songs is still something that makes me scratch my head. I myself am not a Pitbull fan, but that’s not the problem that I have. In trying to capture the Spanish sound of choice, a Puerto-Rican probably wouldn’t be my first choice. That’s not to be prejudice for one distinct direction or the other, but it’s clear with three out of three choices that they felt Pitbull would be the articulate measure in reflecting the vibe of the bull-fighting culture, and it couldn’t be any more wrong on that degree. Instead, his inclusion feels like once again an animated film’s cheap ploy at advertising some Top 40 favorites to sell Itunes downloads, and it’s what soils the sentiment in ways that a film like ‘Coco’ never fell for.

THE VERDICT – ‘Ferdinand’ is not all bull, for better or worse, but the visionary spark of some noteworthy animation, as well as some mature exploration for where its story takes us, supplants this as a worthy hour-and-a-half investment for families everywhere, this holiday. Cena grabs the bull by the horns, commanding Ferdinand with enough peppy touch and immense personality that make him ideal for protagonist following. Ultimately, the film’s lack of focus is its almost complete downfall, choosing to build the characters and not the story, but the honorable dual message cements this as a gently subversive sermon for kids and adults alike.

6/10

Wonder Wheel

The wheel of dramatic tension keeps spinning rapidly for four different people caught in a tail spin on Coney Island in the 1950’s. ‘Wonder Wheel’ tells the story of four characters whose lives intertwine amid the hustle and bustle of the Coney Island amusement park in the 1950s: Ginny (Kate Winslet), an emotionally volatile former actress now working as a waitress in a clam house; Humpty (Jim Belushi), Ginny’s rough-hewn carousel operator husband with his own mob connections; Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a handsome young lifeguard who dreams of becoming a silver screen playwright; and Caroline (Juno Temple), Humpty’s long-estranged daughter, who is now hiding out from gangsters at her father’s apartment. The four cross-stories intercept and provide a wild and unpredictable Summer under the hot sun of the amusement park. ‘Wonder Wheel’ is written and directed by Woody Allen, and is rated PG-13 for thematic content including some sexuality, adult language and smoking.

I have never been the patriarch for the Woody Allen fan club. Many historian film lovers eat up every single one of the unlimited supply of filmography that cements his name amongst the Hollywood elite for the past five decades. However for me, Woody’s movies have always felt like a hilarious joke that only I wasn’t understanding the punchline to. A kind of pretentious entrepreneur behind the lens who was making only the kind of films that he wanted to, and never needed to change that aspect. ‘Wonder Wheel’ definitely isn’t going to remove that opinion anytime soon. This is a film that not only abides by the all style and no substance policy, but it practically re-defines it in ways that undercut any opportunity to instill some kind of dramatic pulse to what is unraveling. Allen feels content in letting a reputable A-list cast and remarkably beautiful setting fade with the sun that articulately adorns the amusement park day after day. I could try to argue that this is only because the aging Allen is no longer in the prime of his career, but any remote film buff will debate that he’s been saddled with this degree of laziness for years, and it’s something that hinders his positives as a director for just how mind-numbingly dull of a screenwriter that he truly is.

If Allen were in charge of a New York tourism video, he would’ve not only oversold his property, but he would also receive praise for his focus on some remote details that only an inhabitant would put together in his experience there. Allen again places much of his attention and emphasis on the environment itself that can quite often feel like the boiling pot of emotional response that turns the gears of these characters and their daily routines. Because of this, there should be no surprise when I say that my favorite detail of this film is in the vibrancy in color of the park that surrounds our cast of characters, as well as the way Woody instills that subtle nuance of a Broadway stage play in airing out the dirty laundry of the picture. There are several long takes during the film that offer some long-winded spins of dialogue to impress in our actors what they lack in emotional deposition, and the swerving in and around to keep the focus on only those who talk, distinctly gives off that stage vibe that plays out in real time.

The film’s color scheme also radiates its way into every scene, crafting an almost cartoon-like vibe of surrealism that highlights an outline of amazement. Allen is clearly in love with the 50’s post-war vibes of the big apple, and in the masterful Vittorio Storaro, whom Allen worked with last year in ‘Cafe Society’, he has found the perfect puppeteer in bringing the visions from his childhood to the silver screen. Storaro’s use of light in defense of the emotional versatility that is transpiring in every scene off of the faces of our characters, feels like it reaches for a bigger purpose in symbolism, but the preference is used to simply remind the audience of the very claustrophobic confinements that our protagonists find themselves in with their ever-growing problems. If I was basing this film on look alone, it would no doubt be one of my ten favorite films of 2017, but the designs of creativity aren’t enough to keep it from being weighed down by what underwhelms at nearly every turn.

Anyone watching the trailer can put together the idea that this film surrounds a love triangle that perplexes the movements of our characters, but what is unseen is just how undercooked and dull Allen keeps the temperature of this sizzle. Besides the fact that I couldn’t find myself relating to a single character because these are all remarkably terrible people, the film harvests zero care, concern, or urgency to what is being hinted at for the bigger picture. There are so many chances that ‘Wonder Wheel’ has in conjuring up some truly compelling suspense for what awaits in the future, but these people seem to be satisfied in their uninspiring lives and frankly unhealthy relationships that I couldn’t be bothered to feel pity or remorse for them for a single second. If this wasn’t enough, Allen kind of writes himself into a corner with the conflict of the film that offers two daggers for whatever path he chooses to take. One way is far too predictable to not see coming from ten miles away, and the second option (and the one the film takes) offers no resolution or impact to the building blocks of adversity that were stacking against the trio involved. The end conveyed the thought that this film should continue for a half hour more, even if that very idea felt most harmful to the man writing this very review.

As for performances, there was only one that was truly bad, but not a single one of the central three ever provide themselves a chance to standout. Winslet’s Ginny is definitely the best in my opinion for her unstable past that plays a prominent role in her decaying future. My problem with Winslet’s character is that she’s very detestable and only adds further emphasis to the long-debated idea that Allen doesn’t appreciate, nor does he know how to write a woman with power. Juno Temple is probably my favorite character in the film, but Temple’s deer-in-the-headlights routine robs us of the same kind of chance to fall in love with Caroline in the same manner that Timberlake does. Speaking of Timberlake, he definitely takes home the award for being the person who stands out for all of the wrong reasons. Timberlake’s New York accent is so inconsistent that it becomes kind of a challenge to map out which scenes were filmed on which days, and his usually endless charm disappears in the fog of convoluted dialogue that does him no favors in terms of personality. Timberlake doesn’t have chemistry with Winslet or Temple, so the convincing of trying to make me feel some kind of spark between them goes unfulfilled for 96 agonizing minutes.

THE VERDICT – ‘Wonder Wheel’ never gets its feet off the ground, choosing instead to parlay its audience through a mismanaging drama that lacks anything compelling in airing itself out. Without a single reputable performance to recommend, or a single instance of proof that Allen paid attention to the gorgeous scenery, AS WELL as the people who fill it, his latest romantic swooning spins off of the tracks early on, and never finds the inspiration to pick itself back up. The film settles for being an endless rotation of a self-loathing derivative that swallows your cylinders of pride one quarter at a time, and has you screaming in agony to get off.

4/10

I Love You Daddy

One teenager has her buckling father wrapped around her finger with the repeated phrase ‘I Love You Daddy’. Glen Topher (C.K.), who panics when his spoiled 17-year-old daughter China (Chloë Grace Moretz) starts spending time with 68-year-old Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich), a legendary film director with a reputation for dating underage girls. Caught in a writing dry spell, he distracts himself by courting glamorous movie star Grace Cullen (Rose Byrne), who is interested in playing the already-cast lead role in the upcoming TV series he hasn’t yet begun writing. Glen’s teetering world is further upended by his interactions with Goodwin, who is both the increasing focus of China’s attentions and the revered idol who devastates Glen by appearing to dismiss him outright as a creative person. Glen’s brash TV actor buddy Ralph (Charlie Day) makes matters worse through rude observations that inflame Glen’s deepest insecurities about his daughter. The real problem, however, is that Glen isn’t sure exactly what is going on between China and Goodwin-and what he should be doing about it. ‘I Love You Daddy’ is written and directed by Louis C.K, and is rated R for crude sexual content, adult language throughout and brief drug use.

Some films fall victim of the wrong place, wrong time scenario. This happens when a movie couldn’t be released at a worse time for the very material that it harvests from within its daring script With much reluctance, I bring you ‘I Love You Daddy’, a film so marred in controversy that it had its big screen release pulled from theaters the week before, only to find a limited audience online from cult movie fans who shell out as much as $1000 on Ebay to finally allow C.K’s film to see the light of day. Is it worth it? I personally don’t think so. After admitting to sexually abusing females, as well as the recent uncovering of abuse cases that have swallowed Hollywood whole, a film like ‘I Love You Daddy’ seems too perfect of a synopsis to be released in such a delicate time for many in front of, and behind the lens. It’s a wannabe poignant approach to pedophilia and the rules that come with such a damning title, challenging us as a society to look at the glass half-full for such a taboo subject that frankly doesn’t offer a lot of room for debate. In my eyes, you either are or you aren’t, and because of such logic in establishing, ‘I Love You Daddy’ loses its lease on responsibility only minutes into the production.

There’s a constant feeling of uneasiness in the air of this picture that goes much further than the colorless scheme of cinematography that I will get to later. The script for instance, holds an obvious center to the kinds of films that Woody Allen has been making for years. coincidentally, C.K even adorns Allen’s famed black-rimmed glasses as the protagonist of the film. For a film that had no sexuality or nudity of any kind, it had me remotely astonished at just how effective that it felt in getting under my skin. In material, the first half of the film did move along quite wonderfully with a somewhat satirical blend of depiction for the very poison that seems to be clouding Hollywood on this touchy subject. It was in this direction where I felt that the film was able to offer something of substantial returns in daring to explore what very few have only able to talk about up to this time. Then the second half of the film comes into focus, and suddenly you’re made aware of a film that is not smart enough to capitalize on its challenging stance, but one that reverses the examination light and tries to convince us that we are wrong. Some of the arguments being made in the film is that women, even those at minor age, are responsible enough to know what they are getting into. This is not only a terribly shallow point to argue, but one that will inevitably come with such consequences that will force audiences to disengage with its new found direction. Could this be more to the satirical approach that I mentioned earlier? I don’t think so, considering the transformation that our lead protagonist embarks on is one of great understanding and leniency for the kind of transpiring details that creeped him out only scenes earlier. Because of this jumbled approach, we get two films for the price of one that doesn’t feel daring enough in exploiting the extremes of either with commitment or exploration that breakout films so desperately require.

The artistic merits of the film keep this one above water, offering a reflective glance of the golden age of cinema. I mentioned earlier that the film is in black and white, and I think this speaks levels to the colorless level of morality that the film associates itself with. Everything in this world is either black or white, and no grey, as a way to feed into the dominant sides that each character associates with. On top of this, C.K’s decision to film everything in 35mm film, gives the movie the rich authenticity of the kind of films that Louis himself grew up entranced in, as a child growing up. The feeling throughout plays like you’re watching something along the lines of ‘I Love Lucy’ with a modern spin of material that is currently plaguing the world. I wish more films would take this stance with an artistic tweaking, and at the very least, ‘I Love You Daddy’ earns the unorthodox approach visually by contributing it to the unapologetic stance that the movie garners for itself.

But in proving that style never flourishes over substance, the over-indulgence of runtime at nearly two hours that undoubtedly requires an edit button that the film never receives. C.K as a screenwriter isn’t terribly underdeveloped here when compared to some other hollow scripts that I have sat through this year, but it’s clear that his screenplay has an essence of pretentiousness to it that makes him feel like he is in love with the environments and dialogues that he engages in. Far too often do scenes duplicate and offer a dragging detour for where the characters and their situations were playing out. Much of the finished product feels like it could’ve used some removal, particularly towards the end of the first act that takes far too long to set up our on-going conflicts. There was never a point in the film where I was bored, but I never felt invested in the shapeless characters that aren’t set up with any kind of depth to make them stand out with pulse.

Despite this, the film did have some meaty performances that are able to escape the shackles of character outlines that do them little favors. Charlie Day for instance, is someone who doesn’t fit in to the mold of this story in atmosphere, but one who I greatly appreciated for adding any kind of emotional firepower to this sagging satire. Day is typically playing himself here, but his proficient comedic timing is something that makes him destined for the taking of every scene that he easily steals. Edie Falco also isn’t bad as C.K’s jaded assistant. Through her, it’s clear that we get the best representation of Glen as a person more so than C.K ever could in soaking up precious screen time, and Falco’s fiery deposition’s gave the movie stamina through lengthy expositions that are telegraphed from miles away. C.K’s lazy performance continues his comfortable stance on where his prolific career has taken him to this point. This feels ideal for how he inspires his other co-stars like Moretz and Malovich who don’t feel the slightest bit of energy to exude here. Sadly enough,  I did feel more uncomfortable with C.K’s character rather than Malovich’s intended pervert, and as far as protagonists go, you would find yourself better suited to follow literally anyone than the man with such a diluted moral compass.

THE VERDICT – ‘I Love You Daddy’ is the equivalent to the drunk uncle who comes over during the Holidays and says the wrong thing at the wrong time. Even when it’s in satirical mode, C.K’s tone-deaf awkward situational lacks the pushing of the envelope in form that it needs in matching a visual compass that is out of this era. Highs and lows aside, it feels like an interpretive litmus test to the kinds of perverted animal instincts that the film world has deemed acceptable for far too long. If this film offends you, it’s probably a good thing.

5/10