CHIPS

‘CHIPS’ is the latest 70’s television show to get the big screen treatment, in this remake starring Dax Shepard and Michael Pena. Jon Baker (Dax Shepard) and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Peña) have just joined the California Highway Patrol (CHP) in Los Angeles but for very different reasons. Baker is a beaten up pro motor-biker trying to put his life and marriage back together. Poncherello is a cocky undercover Federal agent investigating a multi-million dollar heist that may be an inside job—inside the CHP. The inexperienced rookie and hardened pro are teamed together, but clash more than click, so kick-starting a partnership is easier said than done. But with Baker’s bike skills combined with Ponch’s street savvy it might just work…if they don’t drive each other crazy along the way. ‘CHIPS’ is written and directed by Dax Shepard himself, and is rated R for crude sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, some violence and drug use.

‘CHIPS’ is an interesting concept in script and tone because I’m not quite so sure about who it is marketed towards. Fans of the 70’s television show won’t like it because it abandons the working formula that made the series a success for five years. Youthful fans who have never seen the show and just want to watch a good movie won’t like it because there’s nothing funny or entertaining about this juvenile film that can barely be called a remake. Over the last fifteen years, remakes of 70’s and 80’s TV shows have been hit or miss for their finished products. Most notably, films like ’21 Jump Street’ or ‘The Man From UNCLE’ have attained that rare stamp of approval from TV enthusiasts of the original, while films like ‘Starsky and Hutch’ and ‘Dark Shadows’ have done lasting damage. Unfortunately, ‘CHIPS’ will fall with the latter because this often distracted bro-comedy offers very little homage or memorable material to justify its presence among the remake ranks. This is Shepard’s second time behind the camera, and its clear that his admirable ambitions overshoots the actuality of his grip on the pulse of this particular franchise.

At 96 minutes, there’s very little in positive returns for that of a script that takes every ten minutes to halt what little momentum these characters or subplots build on. One example of such is the noticeable stance on homophobia, which holds no bearing or place in this particular story. Because of this, ‘CHIPS’ often feels like it was made ten years too late, when the poking fun of cultural explorers because eye-rolling. Often times, this movie feels like it was written by a minor who just peeped his first nudity magazine. The R-rating is used to show female breasts, or to let the cast drop the occasional F bomb, which has zero impact on their overall comedic timing or flawed delivery. Even more so, this movie has some of the most obvious foreshadowing in storytelling that I have seen most recently. It’s easy to spot these lines from the second they are presented because often it holds no meaning or accordance to the material being shuffled in dialogue. Some of these examples were Shepard’s character having bionic limbs from bike accidents, so he tells his captain on the first interview that rain is bad for him. So of course there will be a scene where rain prominently pops up. Another one involves Shepard saying he hates blending house smells because they make him vomit, so of course we are going to have a scene where this gets to him. Pena and Shepard have a conversation early on about girls who marry their fathers, then sure enough there’s a line of dialogue by the end of a movie where a female cop explains that she likes Shepard because he reminds her of her father. This isn’t even half of what I found, and it makes the material more than slightly telegraphed as I waited for the ending.

Then there’s the dialogue, a literal hodge-podge of awful line reading. At first I wondered if this was intentional to play up to the laughably bad forced readings of 70’s nostalgia, but then I realized what little in storyline progression that this movie actually had. This film has this vast offering of multiple scenes that will halt in order for Pena and Shepard to discuss their latest sexual conquests. Most of the time it’s things that the typical grown up would learn in high school, and it hangs what is going on around them in mid-air waiting patiently for when they finish up. I will get more to the characters later on, but Pena’s character in particular crippled me, as every other line of dialogue concluded with a “bro”. On top of that, most of these reads feel like they never should’ve made the finished product, as they rarely ever feel believable through the dense fog of ludicrous developments. Now I’m not foolish enough to expect great dialogue from the CHIPS remake, but it does help the entertainment value if I can immerse myself and believe that these two idiots are officers of the law to benefit the story.

As for the performances, there was nothing of any charismatic charm or finesse to justify the casting of Pena and Shepard beyond the latter’s triple layer mold of power on the project. What passes for character exposition in this movie is the most brief of offerings for us to indulge in. Pena’s character is a sex addict, that’s it. That is all that we have to hang our investment of this character on. Shepard’s is at least slightly more in-depth; he’s an ex-motocross performer whose wife is cheating on him. How could you not want to spend over an hour-and-a-half with these guys? Beyond this, the two have virtually no on-screen chemistry between them, often times feeling like two actors who just met and were asked outside to come in and put on a show on-stage for twenty people. Vincent D’Onofrio is decent, but the biggest aspect to his character is that we learn something about his moral stigma early on that the movie doesn’t catch up to for another eighty minutes, taking us through the most obvious of movie mysteries.

I do have one positive to this movie however, and it’s that Shepard at least has a distinct view for bike chase sequences that serve as the single lone aspect that outdoes the original. These scenes don’t come nearly enough in the overall finished product, but there are some exceptionally well depicted tracking shots that take us through the ritzy areas of Beverly Hills. These luxurious landscapes breeze by through each swerve and turn that our protagonists take us on, and it overall makes for a fast-paced action thrill ride that serves as the brief moment that this film takes our breath away. I also greatly enjoyed the POV style that put us face-to-face with our riders as they embrace the fast-and-dangerous lifestyle. Most of the time, POV won’t work because you miss what is most important that is going on around the actors and action, but the rendering here is justifiable because these officers are constantly imbedded in the chaos that surrounds them.

Whatever CHIPS intends to be, one thing is certain; this film lacks the energy and chemistry of a 70’s TV show by comparison (Laugh intended). A staggerly unfunny comedy that puppeteers the sensitivity of homophobia and important female leads. Something that would make sense in the 70’s, but not in a politically correct 2017 that has grown above that. Shepard has an artistic eye for motocross sequences and little else. Perhaps a future in the X-Games, instead of feature length films is just up his alley. Either way, CHIPS is coming to a yard sale near you.

3/10

The Last Word

Shirley MacLaine gets ‘The Last Word’ in Mark Pellington’s newest dramedy, also starring Amanda Seyfried and Anne Heche. MacLaine is Harriet Lauler, a once successful businesswoman in tight control of every aspect of her life. As she reflects upon her accomplishments, she’s suddenly inspired to engage a young local writer, Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried), to pen her life’s story. When the initial result doesn’t meet Harriet’s high expectations, Anne sets out to reshape the way she is remembered, with Anne dragged along as an unwilling and unflattering accomplice. As the journey unfolds, the two women develop a unique bond which alters not only Harriet’s legacy, but also Anne’s future. ‘The Last Word’ is rated R for adult language.

‘The Last Word’ is a decent enough plot to entice its audience into checking it out. There has always been a certain curiosity to the kind of legacies that we as humans with our time on this world will leave behind, and what kind of words and sentences will be used to trigger our memories. This, in addition to the film’s hearty message of living for today and not being afraid to fail, is one that I take with great meaning and intention. Unfortunately, it had to come at the hands of a movie that is the exact counter opposite of such a quota. Saying that this is one of the most artificially emotional films that comes to mind simply doesn’t do enough. This is one that should be avoided at all costs because it doesn’t take the time or the transformation in its central character to merit the kind of somber finale that this film intended. On top of that, it’s trying to channel one too many emotional responses. It wants to be awkwardly funny with characters you despise, yet it also wants you to take pity upon said character when the inevitable rears its ugly head. One of these directions is fine, but to take both contradicts the other and leads us down a path of dishonorable proportions.

The story of this narrative revolves around Harriet’s redemption, especially when she finds out that many people were either afraid or terribly disgusted with a lot of her actions in her early life. These people range from her co-workers at a prestigious law firm, to her daughter who has wanted nothing to do with her for the better part of her existence. Over the course of the next 103 minutes, the story of Harriet trying to right her wrongs is interrupted and cast aside for Anne’s disappointing life. Contrived when it is trying to attain profound, and it never materializes to anything for the character it should be. Because this movie takes so much time in establishing and solving Anne’s own personal flaws, there’s very little time left for Harriet to become this person that makes us bask in her triumph by the end of the film. Sure, Harriet is helping Anne along the way to achieving the kind of dreams that she wants as a writer, but she does it at such a disrespectful cost along the way, often pausing the progress to critique or humiliate her in front of total strangers. There is simply no transformation to Harriet by film’s end, so we are kind of left with the same shadow of a human being living up to every nasty and honest thing being spread about her. A winding journey that essentially has no conclusion, but here’s the movie that tells us how important she was in the eyes of someone who knew her for two weeks. Bravo.

The performances aren’t half bad, even if their intended directions tiptoe the grounds of conventional storytelling. Shirley Maclaine still has the firepower of a scene-stealer, and commands that presence through many hearty laughs throughout the movie. Even if her character is moral garbage, Harriet is definitely someone who doesn’t balk at having a good time, and a lot of that resonates because of Maclaine’s own timely humor that rarely ever misses its mark. Amanda Seyfried is decent, even if she is playing her usual stick here. Surprisingly, the two actresses from respectably vast age groups share the kind of depth in chemistry that would normally take a couple of films to channel. There are very few scenes when their characters aren’t together, and those make for the roughest in terms of transitional arcs from one subplot to the next. I also greatly enjoyed the work of AnnJewel Lee Dixon as the troubled youth that Harriet and Anne take in to better the former’s caring stature. Even if this insensitive subplot is honorable, Dixon is a delight to watch as a child with a few choice words to describe the awkwardness of those around her. I’m a sucker for kids cursing aloud, so AnnJewel won my heart and stole many of scenes even when her character felt flimsy to the importance of the movie.

The only other thing of notoriety was that of the pacing, which feels smooth in transition during the opening half hour or so, but then insufferably slow during the last act of the movie that tacks on far too much. It’s odd that the film can feel two different kinds of sequence storytelling speeds, but ‘The Last Words’ accomplishes this rare feat by elevating its story as it goes to contrived levels. I would’ve preferred that the film stick with that first act more, as much of its script focused more on the issue at hand of the people that Harriet has wronged over her life. Anne’s story is OK, but it isn’t one that feels necessarily important to the urgency of Harriet’s disposition, and so much of this tier of the story should’ve been left on the cutting room floor in favor for Harriet receiving tough love in consequences for the things that she has done. A direction that goes virtually unexplored and feels miles away the deeper that we immerse ourselves in this emotionally unstable script.

The Last Words of this particular film don’t generate the kind of somber or important message that the film had intended. Maclaine still slices with sharp precision in three-dimensional characteristics, but unfortunately for her the movie that accompanies is an uneven emotional mess that never hinders its potential behind a road of clarity for its morally blind protagonist. Even more so, there’s nothing of memorable merit to the bland dealings of this script, leaving Pellington’s latest dead on arrival before it finds the proper footing in collective tone. The lack of credibility in emotional truth undermines its own success.

4/10

Wilson

A troubled, older man named ‘Wilson’ stands at the metaphorical fork in the road, when his life changes for the better. Woody Harrelson stars as Wilson, a lonely, neurotic and hilariously honest middle-aged misanthrope who reunites with his estranged wife (Laura Dern) and gets a shot at happiness when he learns he has a teenage daughter (Isabella Amara) he has never met. In his uniquely outrageous and slightly twisted way, he sets out to connect with her and make things right with the way certain disappointments happened in his life. All the while, settling down and garnering the kind of lifestyle that everyone should feel entitled to. ‘Wilson’ is directed by Craig Johnson, and is rated R for adult language throughout and some sexuality.

This movie deceives its audience with one of the most exaggerated trailers that I have seen in quite some time. ‘Wilson’ is a comedy that wants to badly to be a message-baring dramatic piece, alienating its former in a way that was not only damaging to the film, but also to audiences that will deal with 90 minutes of bland personalities and narration that will exert more pity out of you than feel good humor. I am not embellishing even in the slightest when I say that this movie made me so depressed that I now feel immense uncertainty with the next series of comedy offerings that I will take in. In metaphoric terms, ‘Wilson’ is a one legged dog that loses a fight to a pack of angrier, hungrier dogs, then gets run over, then limps its way to the sidewalk, where it gets chewed up by a lawn mower. Vicious example I know, but this movie fails over and over with offering the sweeter side to Daniel Clowes character, when he created and penned this story decades ago. It’s a set-up that dooms itself in repetition, as well as an incoherent screenplay that feels far too often that it is throwing any idea at a wall to see what sticks.

It’s certainly easy to see the overdone pitch here, over-and-over again. Each scene starts off with a fresh landscape different from the scene before it. Wilson comes along to interact with someone embracing their privacy, gets involved in a long-winded conversation with said person, and then says something outrageous to offend or alienate that person. That’s it. Clowes ‘Wilson’ novel is a series of one page animations that feel like your typical Sunday morning cartoon strip in the local paper. The problem is how does this equate to a three act structure that is rarely ever given time to breathe between extremities, as well as time to soak in the reactions before jarringly bad editing comes in to break up what little reactions it garners from its audience. Honestly, I did laugh a few times during ‘Wilson’, most of which were the quick-digs that were prominently featured in the trailer. What did pleasantly surprise me was to find out that this movie is rated R, so that juvenile humor can blossom to the fullest potential. Unfortunately, this film is a comedy for all of the first act, after which it dips into one of the truly most pathetic protagonist stories that can not improve its credibility when one thing after the other diminishes this character and his hopes with each passing second.

Wilson himself is the kind of guy to let life walk all over him without feeling the kind of fire or charisma to fight back. He’s utterly pathetic, rude to everyone he comes across, and selfishly puts his own wants and needs above everybody else no matter what toll it will take on them. Harrelson himself plays the character fine, emoting the most in this fragile character that deserved to be studied instead of poked at with a stick, but he just isn’t presented in the brightest of lights. That rendering smile and wink that Woody has perfectly crafted over a respectable career is there enough to think that something more memorable is behind every turn, but unfortunately it is a pipe dream that never materializes. In addition to him, the supporting characters in this film by actors like Laura Dern, Cheryl Hines, and especially Isabella Amara as Wilson’s depressed daughter Claire, are equally as unrelatable and benign as the title character. After each interaction with these characters, the film slips further and further into a reclusive state, offering the occasional shock-and-awe dialogue just to see if the audience is still awake. Thankfully, Judy Greer does turn in a brief shining light that impacts Wilson the most, despite a brief lasting power. She’s the kind of positive influence that makes me want to grab Wilson and tell him to pay attention to what’s good about his life, and forget about the past that is better left exactly there.

At a flimsy hour-and-a-half, you would think that pacing shouldn’t be a problem at all, but this movie drags its feet like an infant throwing a fit at the beach. Pacing in comedies certainly aren’t a problem if the comedic effect is in full swing, but considering I only laughed at maybe 10% of the jokes in ‘Wilson’, it’s safe to say that I checked my watch on more than one occasion. It feels like forever mostly because of choppy editing that builds addition to these sixty second scenes that never amount to anything other than throwaway. It’s a certainty that this screenplay is either written poorly, or was at the very least harshly editing to leave out some important aspects. One such scene is a courtroom deposition that we as an audience never see, but hear plenty about from three different scenes that mention the importance of it. This plays into the shock I discovered when I checked my clock late in the movie. When I realized that there was still a half hour left in this movie, I wondered how that could be. This character and tracking story respectively, had been through so much within the first two acts of this movie. Even more so when you consider that where this movie should’ve ended, it doesn’t. It drags on further for fifteen more minutes of cringe-worthy, dumbed-down choices that rip away that chance of a happy ending for this fragile presence. The movie’s ending is fine enough, but I feel like it would’ve been better if past dealings were left in the shadows of this maturing man who is moving forward.

‘Wilson’ better serves as a two minute trailer that tightly boxes in the best laughs of the movie, and teaches everything that you need to know about this particular character. Harrelson’s charm is seeking air from the suffocating cloth of material that is being forced against his nose, but occasionally breaks free to remind us that one of the most enjoyable personalities is still under the glasses and thinning hair line. I only wish I could’ve said the same for the bleak, moronic character written for him. Daniel Clowes best work would be better left alone as a book, rather than to turn it into a movie that feels choppy and lacks most of the storytelling dynamics of its material.

3/10

Power Rangers

Five teenagers turned heroes learn of the impending doom upon their town of Angel Grove, forcing the group to become the ‘Power Rangers’. Five teens with attitude are inexplicably brought together by coincidence or destiny to become the newest generation in a line of warriors known as the Power Rangers. The world rests in their hands as Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), a powerful witch and former Green Power Ranger, launches an assault seeking the Zeo Crystal with an army of stone golems called Putty Patrollers and a giant golden monster called Goldar. Based upon the popular American television series, ‘Power Rangers’ is directed by Dean Israelite, and is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, minor adult language, and for some crude humor.

There are times in my writing career when I take honor for being correct in my assumptions. Unfortunately for me, and fortunately for all of my doubters, ‘Power Rangers’ will not go down in history as being one of these times. When I first heard that they were producing a big budget silver-screen version of the popular 90’s kids show, I thought about how negatively some of these properties like ‘Jem and the Holograms’ or ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ have been treated along the way. Thankfully, Saban Productions knows the kind of property that they have on their hands, one that speaks to generations younger and older who adore this folklore. For my own personal grade, I view two important aspects to this movie; does it do damage to the original offerings? and does the film present enough of a fresh perspective to justify its re-imagining? Both of these answers play hand-in-hand with one another, but I can gladly say that this 2017 version should pleasantly please audiences of every timeline. Whether you were a 3-season fan like me, or you followed this evolving group of kids through every manifestation, there will be plenty of positives to instill that fun in you that you felt as a child, as well as have you anxiously awaiting the inevitable sequel that is hinted at in a mid-credits scene that is carefully orchestrated.

First of all is this fresh cast that a lot of this film rides on. The movie immediately introduces us to three valuable characters who are equally built among their respective angles and storylines. These are Jason, Kimberly, and Billy. Oddly enough, Billy was my least favorite character in the original ‘Power Rangers’, but here R.J Cyler combines nerdy intelligence with teenage awkwardness that places him in the spotlight of this adolescent who I just couldn’t get enough of. Likewise, Naomi Scott and Dacre Montgomery (Winner of the Zac Efron look-alike contest) too live up to their important characters as Kimberly and Jason respectively, and what I dig about both of them is that they feel like they come from two different worlds, and would otherwise never frequent one another, but this adventurous secret between them and everyone else, crafts a ‘Breakfast Club’ kind of arrangement that hits on that classic 80’s film setup on more than one coincidence. There are two other Power Rangers played by Becki G and Ludi Lin, as Trini and Zack, but sadly neither are given the valuable screen time or smooth transitions to their story that would otherwise build them equally with their other three protagonists. In fact, the film kind of forgets about the two of them until about midway through, when we are told vital information about one character’s sexual orientation, as well as the other one fearful to go home for their own personal dealings. These could’ve used more emphasis in a two hour run time, and regretfully character building is something that this film does feel jarring with all of its picking and choosing. Even still, I thought it was cool how they kept the names the same from all of the original rangers, and yet switching their heritage around with the color of their uniforms.

If there is one MAJOR flaw to the casting, it’s in Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa. I definitely admit that I got my prediction for the finished product of this movie wrong, but I was absolutely correct about this being an immense miscasting for the rangers biggest villain. Not that it’s completely Banks fault. She is given a very miniscule amount of on-screen time not only to build the backstory of her character, but also put her in any scene that doesn’t jumble the teenage drama kind of tone that the film surprisingly hit on wonderfully. Any time that Repulsa is on-screen, we return to the hokey kind of atmosphere that the original series dabbed in, and while this may satisfy some, I can humbly tell you that I never once believed that Banks fully immersed herself in this character. For the most part, it feels like she is playing dress-up and spouting off some cheesy lines that make it difficult to ever take serious. Banks is a decent actress, but this kind of action movie is anything but her forte, and the absence of a strong antagonist keeps this film as consistently predictable.

I mentioned the tone, and what works in its dramatic regards is that a lot of these teenagers in the movie are dealing with issues that mirror that of what our current youth entail. Sexual orientation, high school identity, and loneliness are just a few of the depictions that ‘Power Rangers’ hits on, and the portrayals consistently feel honest and not at all like a gimmick used for plot convenience. To watch this group of kids merge into a family is one that does a lot for the moral integrity of the film, and adds a dramatic layer of depth to your investment in those characters and their well-being. What’s smart about this is that this is an origin story, so the film feels it vitally important to build the men and women inside of the suit before it shows us the goods, a point that pays off soundly. At the end of the day, this is still a group of teenage superheroes who form a gigantic dinosaur, so there is some humor to boot, but the sprouts of it inserted throughout are used wisely and accordingly so as not to jumble the increasing tension within these inexperienced rangers and the impending doom that awaits them.

The action is given a nice big budget presentation in CGI destruction value. It’s kind of funny to watch this once little engine that could be transformed (Poor choice of words?) into a Michael Bay kind of depiction in crumbling buildings practically falling from the sky. The fight choreography pays homage faithfully to the kung-fu kind of brawling that engaged in the original series, even so much as turning the amps to eleven, with fast-paced movements that always feel tightly in-sync with one another. The camera work could definitely be stronger however, as there’s either often too much going on within each frame, or the direction of each shot is negatively compromised because of experimental camera work that reaches a little too much in aspirational pull. Some of what I mean for instance is when a character or machine will get knocked upside down, and the camera has to follow the flip all the way in the same vain that said object does. I certainly do not need this kind of accuracy to understand the pain associated with being knocked on your head, but if feeling the brutality was the intended purpose, then I most certainly did with some of the most visually sickening camera work of 2017.

The only other two things that bothered me was that of some viciously disgusting product placement, as well as an ending that could’ve lasted slightly longer in resolving Repulsa’s immense army. On the latter, this movie does touch on the familiar cliche that if you defeat the biggest one, the rest will fall. If you’ve seen ‘The Avengers’ you know what I’m talking about. On the former, there is a local donut business that gets the most repetitive two hour commercial that money could’ve bought them. Once or twice is OK, but to keep showing, and even having a character feast on a donut during the big climax, angered me to the days of Adam Sandler and all of his cheap usage to put some more change into his pocket. It feels as desperate here as ever before, and the intended purpose for this building could’ve been any other abandoned building or otherwise to get its point across.

‘Power Rangers’ was a brace for the worst kind of modern-day adaptation, but the marriage between 90’s cheesy kids shows and big budget productions is a gift-wrapped delight to fans who have been waiting for this kind of rangers movie for over two decades. With a better casting for the antagonist, as well as some modest step-taking when it comes to shooting action sequences, and Israelite could etch his name as a premiere filmmaker. Even still, the pacing never slows down for two solid hours of nostalgic insanity that will remind you of a simpler place and time.

6/10

Trainspotting 2

Twenty years after a heroin binge sent their lives in spirals, the gang of Edinburgh return to the silver screen, in ‘Trainspotting 2′. After betraying his friends and running off with (almost) all the money from a scam, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) is back in Edinburgh. It is his first time back since the events that split him, Spud (Ewen Bremmer) and Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) apart. He looks up Spud and Simon but their lives are hardly much better than when he last saw them. Spud, after getting his life together, has seen it all unravel, to the point that he is suicidal. Simon is running his father’s loss-making pub, in between bouts of blackmail. Meanwhile, the fourth person in their caper of 20 years’ ago, the psychotically intense Begbie (Robert Carlyle), is in jail. He has no intention of staying incarcerated and revenge is foremost on his mind. Mark quickly finds himself unraveling in the same circular direction that nearly ended his life two decades prior. ‘Trainspotting 2’ is directed by Danny Boyle, and is rated R for drug use, language throughout, strong sexual content, graphic nudity and some violence.

Danny Boyle became notorious after crafting the original ‘Trainspotting’ in 1996, a movie that unapologetically depicted the live fast lifestyles of drug use and the consequences that came with them. Over twenty years later, it’s interesting to see an artistic imitation of life, as just like the protagonist of Mark Renton, Boyle too returns to the spot of his youth to dabble once again in the waters that would inspire him to grow as one of boldest artistic expressionists of our time. ‘Trainspotting 2’ might not prosper to a complete success in the same vain that its predecessor did, but there’s much to indulge in the nostalgic slice of pie that Boyle conjures up for his audience. It was certainly interesting enough to catch up with these characters with so much time removed from one film to the other, and the continuing script by John Hodge gels perfectly to bridge the gap of rust, emulating a story that feels very in-sync with that of the first movie. A difficult thing to do once so much time has passed not only in real time, but also in screen time between character to character.

From Hodge and Boyle’s standpoint, this film packs several impactful messages surrounding the importance of friendship and how the memories that we make as youths shape us to be the people we grow up to be. In regards to this film, it’s clear that so much can happen after two decades, but we can’t change the moral integrity of the heart beating inside, and it’s in that thought process where so very little has changed over time for our four main characters. Where the first film centered around addictions and selfish indulgences, ‘Trainspotting 2’ focuses more on the beauty of life and living with eyes wide open for the very first time. Sure, there is drug use in this film as well, but these feel like characters who are thinking clearly for the first time, and it’s more than satisfying enough to see them prosper, despite the ghosts of Edinburgh past coming back to haunt them occasionally. The difference in age and lifestyles go far beyond that of what’s depicted in story, but also that in pacing of this film versus the 96 original. At nearly two hours, this film feels sauntering when compared to the upbeat pacing and flow of the first movie, channeling the aging process accordingly of the 40-something cast that now deal with maturity. I found this angle in storytelling to be beneficial, even if there is about twenty minutes or so of the movie that flounders in purpose, and would’ve wisely been better left on the cutting room floor.

With Boyle being a magician behind the lens, we are once again treated to a visual fiesta of experimental lighting, editing, and overall camera work that integrates soundly into the picture. The scene-to-scene transitions are beautifully decorated here, characterizing the landscapes not only in Amsterdam to Edinburgh, but also in the coincidences in repetition that Mark realizes from his own past. On the latter, the touches and insertions of child actors being edited into what’s happening on-screen tugs at the heartstrings of anyone watching, highlighting the innocence in every one of us who once had a dream of greatness when we were younger. This film embraces nostalgia with open arms, so it’s beneficial to the creativity and relaying of internal feelings to the audience to include these youthful images, a feature that only someone like Boyle could master, with such similar touches in films like ‘127 Hours’ and ’28 Days Later’.

The character involvement was kind of hit or miss for me, treading a delicate line of material that could only go so far for so much cast. The redeeming friendship of Renton and Sick Boy, as well as Begbie’s escape from prison is a focal point of face value for the movie, but aspects like Spud’s new lease on life, as well as Diane’s one or two throwaway scenes felt very shoe-horned in for the storytelling that was taken place with the trio of main protagonists in the movie. Their performances all consistently reach their designated marks, particularly in that of McGregor who once again balances on a tight rope of personal wants that hinder his growth for the needs in his life, but there are times in this movie where it felt like I was watching two different films that were smashed together, both of which fighting desperately to get out. What I mean by that is it feels like Diane’s scenes in particular should be amounting to more, but they just never happen. I felt no one-on-one confrontation between her and Mark is a dropping of the ball for the ways some of the questions were left unanswered from the previous events, leaving a noticeable gap for the supporting cast of both movies.

My biggest gripe with ‘Trainspotting 2’ is that it feels like a commercial for the first movie, without ever selling its own chapter of merit for fans who seek the continuance. There is certainly nothing wrong with reflecting on events that happen in a previous movie, but this film goes to the well far too much, signaling a flimsy offering of original material that ‘Trainspotting 2’ has for itself. It feels like every time that this movie might be heading in search of its own identity, only to be told once again how great the first movie is. These reflections certainly coincide with that of the past playing such a prominent role in this movie, but after the third or fourth time, you can almost set your watch by when it will happen again, expressing a layer of predictability that these films should never have.

‘Trainspotting 2’ is a welcome and appreciative sequel that could do little better about having a twenty year lay-off that would normally doom a sequel with this kind of waiting power. Boyle and Hodge reflect artistically the kind of harsh realities that our pasts play on who we are shaping ourselves to be, and that disillusionment of age that forces us to earn our wisdom. Boyle’s return to Edinburgh is a good film that could be great if it had more faith in its current story, but the dabble into the past ironically enough is the undoing of a movie that centers around it.

7/10

Table 19

A table of rejects revolt against the weddings that keep them distant at Table 19. Ex-maid of honor Eloise (Anna Kendrick) – having been relieved of her duties after being unceremoniously dumped by the best man via text, decides to hold her head up high and attend her oldest friend’s wedding anyway. She finds herself seated at the ‘random’ table in the back of the ballroom with a disparate group of strangers, most of whom should have known to just send regrets (but not before sending something nice off the registry). As everyone’s secrets are revealed, Eloise learns a thing or two from the denizens of Table 19. Friendships – and even a little romance, can happen under the most unlikely circumstances. Table 19 is written and directed by Jeffrey Blitz, and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual content, drug use, language and some brief nudity.

‘Table 19’ concerns itself with trying to be too many kinds of genres at once during a brief 82 minute offering that cuts itself short at nearly every subplot that the script tries to present itself. Upon seeing trailers of this picture, people will think that they are engaging themselves into a quirky wedding comedy, full of hijinks and awkward humor, and for the first half hour of this movie, we are presented that delicious dish of as promised. In general, this feels like an idea for an episode of an NBC sitcom that was scrapped for being deemed too flimsy of an idea. Then, when the studio tries to sell this as a motion picture, there comes a great responsibility to fill the other fifty minutes with a satisfying enough ending that sends audiences home happy. Look, I’m not trying to point the accusing finger here, but the screenwriter clearly either watched or has a fascination with ‘The Breakfast Club’ while writing this script, and it reflects during a second half of a movie that has one too many coincidences to pay homage to. With each diminishing breath we are pushed further and further away from the concepts and quirks that audiences fell in love with for a two minute trailer, instead of an 82 minute film with only thirty minutes of credible ideas.

As I mentioned before, the first act is delightful, mixing in a satisfying blend of awkward wedding commentary with an 80’s backdrop in soundtrack that is every bit as nostalgic as it is torturous on the ears. The idea of this terrible wedding band performing these songs are justified and appropriate if anyone has ever had to endure a group like them for multiple hours a sitting. There’s also an admirably sweet romantic subplot being setup between Anna Kendrick’s character and a stranger who she meets that very day. It is remotely predictable, but sometimes safe is the best way to play these kind of subplots to send the audience home with a satisfying taste in their mouths. I became slightly concerned however, as much of what I saw in the trailer happened during these initial thirty minutes, leaving me wondering what was to be setup and explored for the remainder of this movie that I was slowly falling in love with. There in lies the real truth with ‘Table 19’; it’s a soiled drama that tries to pass itself off for cutesy, harmless fun. A manipulation that I was struck with brutally during the second act that switches up everything that you’ve come to learn by this point.

For ‘The Breakfast Club’ dramatic portion of this script, we are treated to these six strangers coming together and growing as a group of outcasts who everyone pre-determined as losers. They decide to leave the wedding together to do drugs, dissect how imperfect each of their lives are, and are faced with the inevitability of a day in which time will eventually run out on their union. Sound familiar? If this wasn’t enough, there is even a dance scene near the end of the movie that seems to stop time and space for them to lash back at the snobs who rejected them. I wouldn’t have a problem with any of this change of direction if it were properly built and given enough time to mature from the immaturity that we delightfully endured during the first act. At 82 minutes, there’s so little that you can do with a multitude of characters and situations, and so much of that is glossed over without ever going back to again, leaving sloppy situational drama that feels so out of place when combined with a setup that was anything but.

The finale continues this the bi-polar trend by treating us to a 90’s romantic comedy between two people who couldn’t be worse off for each other. I mentioned earlier about Kendrick being setup with this mysterious stranger. Well, you can forget about that because the film steps on what would’ve been the better direction for her character, in favor of an option that has been proven disastrous on more than one occasion. This is a major betrayal on her character because Kendrick works best during the first act when she is rebelling against a group of family and friends who feel like they are moving on without her. Beyond this, the final twenty minutes of the film go back-and-forth rushing so much character exposition into the final frames that it often feels like an hour has been squeezed in to accommodate the overabundance of subplots that the film introduced for itself. Most of the closing scenes do very little to make me think that these characters have grown, nor will their outcast tag be removed by the society that dubbed them one. It is seriously the most insulting of wrap-ups that treat the serious problems plaguing their respective situations like they are a cake walk, when the second act wanted us to understand them as happiness-threatening. That lack of directional decision making is what charred this invitation on more than one chance, refusing to ever settle for just another cute an quirky indie comedy.

If this wasn’t enough, the very setup is flawed with this being the table that nobody wants to show up. Midway through the movie, we are told that the Mother of the bride was hoping that nobody at table 19 would RSVP, therefore preventing her from spending $200 more per seat. How about you just don’t invite them in the first place? If you sent them an invitation, you can’t be mad at their acceptance. That’s just an inane idea that makes very little sense on the ideas of saving. But the plot needs them to be there, so we are supposed to forget this line in the screenplay that did more damage than good at setting the stage for this group to come together and enjoy one another’s company.

Besides Kendrick, there were really only two characters who I reasoned with and enjoyed for this movie. Nobody is terribly miscast, but characters like Craig Robertson, Lisa Kudrow, and Tony Revolori are given very little logic or reasoning for their appearance frame-to-frame. June Squibb continues to be a national treasure, taking the reigns as the new senior citizen known for her unabashed observations in a sometimes dumbed-down society. June feels like a Eugene Levy kind of character, where she feels wiser than the youthful faces that surround her table, and I couldn’t use enough of her startling dry releases. Stephen Merchant though, is leaps and bounds the single best aspect of this movie. Merchant doesn’t have a ton of screen time or dialogue, but where he excels is those quick cut edits where we soak in character reactions to something silly that just happened. Stephen is a master at this concept, and does it so well that you often forget that he is even there, sneaking his way into every scene-stealing moment that the script allows him. If nothing else, ‘Table 19’ provides us with a supporting cast that entices us to look past Kendrick’s short comings as truly one of the most misleading lead characters of an early 2017.

‘Table 19’ is one reservation that would be better suited to send an eraser as a newlywed gift, for its inability to choose a faithful direction to steer it clear of the many misfires that the movie takes us though. To watch this is to endure thirty minutes of awkward humor, thirty minutes of misplaced drama, and twenty minutes of romantic resurgence. Totaling 80 minutes that would be better suited at the open bar, instead of this inconsistent table that collapses under the power of one leg to stand on.

4/10

Logan

The last remaining X-Men faces a resistance that sees him seeking the alliance of a little girl with a secret gift. In Logan, It’s 2029. Mutants are gone, or very nearly so. An isolated, despondent Logan (Hugh Jackman) is drinking his days away in a hideout on a remote stretch of the Mexican border, picking up petty cash as a driver for hire. His companions in exile are the outcast Caliban (Stephen Merchant) and an ailing Professor X (Patrick Stewart), whose singular mind is plagued by worsening seizures. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy abruptly end when a mysterious woman appears with an urgent request; that Logan shepherd an extraordinary young girl (Dafne Keen) to safety. Soon, the claws come out as Logan must face off against dark forces and a villain from his own past on a live-or-die mission, one that will set the time-worn warrior on a path toward fulfilling his destiny. Logan is directed by James Mangold, and is rated R for strong brutal violence and language throughout, and for brief nudity.

For seventeen years, fans of the Wolverine character have waited patiently for a spin-off worthy of arguably one of the greatest comic book heroes of all time. With ‘Logan’, that time has carefully been plucked, and during the most appropriate of times for its charismatic cast. Speculation has been that this will be the final time that Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart will don the roles of their respective characters, and if that is the case, they have done us proud with an R-rated gash-fest sure to satisfy the gore hound in all of us. ‘Logan’ quite often than not feels like the adult side of X-Men movies that has always been teased, but never fully committed to for fear of the risky R-rating that rarely proves possible for comic book movies. If one thing is clear, it’s that Mangold fruitfully resonates themes like weathering and vulnerability to show-off a side of Logan that has never been seen in eight previous films. Because of Mangold’s attention to style over adaptation, we get a presentation that very much feels like a nod to 70’s westerns and road trip flicks to bond and present a wild ride that responsibly depicts the very cause and effects that come with such power.

With zero restrictions on what this character can do, it feels like this film can prosper in ways that other films haven’t, most ideally in that of adult language and fight sequences that drag the audience kicking and screaming through every unsettling jab. The concept of claws feels like it is accurately being told for the first time, as Logan and his youthful passenger leap and attack through an army of endless antagonists who feel the barbaric wrath of their ill intentions. What works is that the new rating doesn’t feel like it’s being used at desperate lengths. The fight scenes are very carefully separated from one to the next, giving the movie an anti-superhero film of sorts. In fact, ‘Logan’ likens itself more to a dramatic western genre film that has decided to pluck a character from comics just to see how he would do in this environment and picture. He prospers wonderfully, and even in his ninth film, Wolverine feels like he is seeing the world through new eyes given to him by the ambitious Mangold who paints the true torture and isolation from what comes from being different. All of this time we’ve heard about it, but never witnessed it, and it presents a somber and melancholic side to these heroes we grew up admiring, and knowing that their best days are clearly behind them.

Aside from this mysterious little girl and her purpose, ‘Logan’ surprisingly packs a wide range of well-attentive subplots that constantly keeps the movie moving well past the two hour mark. For the first act of this film, it practically breezed by, and I found myself very immersed in this world where Logan exists as someone just trying to get by. He’s kind of pathetic, revealing a nightly ritual of abusive drinking, as well as bickering back-and-forth with the one relative in mutation who he has left, Charles Xavier. The relationship between them feels like father and son, and plays even more importantly in the backdrop of the developing relationship between Logan and the little girl. This embraces a hearty side to the script that is usually steered clear of in comic book films, but it works here being the last chance that Logan has to live a somewhat normal life. The only time that the film felt like it was living up to its paper origins was in the final showdown that enthusiastically reminds audiences of who this title character is, and gives him one more day of Summer as we catch one final glimpse into the prime of the toughest S.O.B that Marvel ever illustrated. ‘Logan’ lightly touches on the graphic novel ‘Old Man Logan’, but leaves the pages of its script to original territory, relying more on gripping performances rather than action sequences in which we’ve been there and done that.

On the subject of those performances, I can confidently say that this is some of Jackman’s best stuff. I’ve always thought that the best kind of story with superheroes are in the ones when age and deterioration have caught up to them. As Logan, Jackman endures a world where X-Men no longer exist, emoting a kind of harrowing reality to just how lonely he is in this new world. Even after nine movies though, Jackman continues to be the single greatest casting decision that Marvel has ever succeeded at. To find an actor who can appropriately channel his rage, as well as dramatic depth when it comes time to harness the goosebumps, is one of great difficulty. Logan feels like his own greatest detractor, denying a hint of hope, despite the fact that a little taste of it still burns strong in his veins. I don’t know if Marvel will cast another Wolverine, but I would be happy without this character ever seeing the light of day in the film world, the effects of Jackman portraying a character so well that he will never escape it, long after he shuffles off. Patrick Stewart was also hilariously delightful, once again portraying Xavier. The deterioration of Charles and a mind once powerful, reminded me that there comes a time for all of us when the easiest task becomes the longest climb, and Stewart emotes that difficulty with much disdain, as well as a taste of that wise-ass humor that lives to tug at the sanity of Logan. These two have felt like father and son from the start, so it’s not even slightly a suspense of disbelief when Mangold illustrates this metaphor vibrantly in a world where the other is the only person who understands what they’re going through. Leaps and bounds however, I was greatly impressed with the work of Dafne Keen as (No reason to hide it) X-23 herself. Dafne kicks ass and does it with the most paralyzing of stares to weaken not only her antagonists, but that of the audience that she peers into on more than one occasion. For a majority of the film, Keen is kept quiet, and that felt like the appropriate call to channel the isolation and fragility of such a character who has never experienced a normal life, let alone a mutant one thanks to her history. Kid actors is a difficult thing to cast, but Dafne Keen’s chilling range will permanently keep her atop the list of youthful actors who you will see frequently for years to come.

As for problems, there were two small critiques that occasionally soured my otherwise amazing experience. The first is with the pacing of the second act feeling slightly off from the rest of the picture. It’s during this time when some of the setups to the final confrontation either drag on too long, or reach an overabundance in offering. For my money, some of these could’ve been condensed into one single confrontation, instead of a series of setups that feel somewhat repetitive by the third one. My second and much more important problem came with the predictability of some of the subplots that I referred to earlier. I won’t spoil anything, but a friend of mine can faithfully vouch for the fact that I successfully predicted the outcomes of more than a few of these conflicts, and I blame this on a flimsy setup that was easily transparent. If this wasn’t enough, the trailers once again spoil some visuals spoilers in the movie that would’ve been nice to be surprised on. One such scene involves a burial that is all over the trailers like it’s no big deal. My thought process soon will be to stop watching trailers, as the best in surprises for cinema are being ruined one-by-one by thoughtless teasers that do more harm than good to the creativity of a script as strong as this one.

‘Logan’ aggressively charges its way through a somber, yet sterile offering of brutal engagements. With some deliciously violent exchanges, as well as some emotionally gripping material that constantly tugs at the heart, Mangold’s goodbye to the beholder of claws is one that Wolverine fans will be gushing over for its pulled back approach to re-defining the superhero genre. Proving that even after nearly two decades, the claws are as sharp as ever to inject into the audiences looking for an articulate conclusion to Jackman and Stewart, who satisfy in spades.

8/10

Get Out

An uncomfortable meeting between two different racial classes, urges the minority in the house to Get Out. College student Rose (Allison Williams) is in love with Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), and at the point in their relationship when they should meet each other’s parents. Chris is apprehensive, as Rose, who is white, has apparently not told her parents Missy and Dean (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) that Chris is black. Once there, Chris is unable to relax and is uncomfortable around Rose’s parents, which causes him to refuse an offer of hypnosis from Missy. Over the course of an uncomfortably awkward weekend, Chris learns that the upscale suburban area has a sinister history of young black men disappearing. Get Out is written and directed by Jordan Peele, and is rated R for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references.

Considering Peele is pulling double duty for his directing debut, there’s much to be dissected and mostly praised about the kind of feat that Get Out presents us, during a month that is usually anything but gratifying. If one thing is clear, it’s that Jordan is definitely a student of the horror game, mimicking the most notorious of horror movie cliches in the most satisfying and beneficial manor. Nothing that he displays ever feels overused or exhausting, instead he grants us a visual 99 minute word find of these familiar troupes that push an original script like this even further. What a movie like Get Out does so astoundingly is that it takes a real life natural fear in the minds of minorities and brings it to life to display those very fears to the white audience who might otherwise see this as a comedy. From Peele’s standpoint, he’s offering material that is equal parts thought-provoking for the very race relations that so many interracial couples deal with, but also terrifying in reveals when slapped with a kind of Twilight Zone feel to the way the events of this weekend away play out. This is something that Peele hits a home run with, and I for one would love to see more attempts at horror by a man who clearly understands suspense in all of its articulate uses.

From a directing standpoint, there’s plenty to praise about the way he shoots the most important of exchanges here, leaving a scene running a bit longer to soak in the true awkwardness of these two groups of people who couldn’t be any different in social standing. It is important for the audience to read and define every kind of facial feature being played out in front of them, and it’s in those underlying emotions that tells us everything that we need and know about the multitude of characters throughout this picture. One scene in particular that really impressed me was the opening scene that relays that Get Out is anything but typical. Leaving the camera running on the same scene without any cuts for what feels like close to five minutes, Peele captivates the audiences, silencing any doubters who thought that this film was going to be your typical in twisted humor. I also greatly enjoyed the cinematography of the hypnotism scenes that display wonderfully a sinking mentally and physically for our main protagonist. The visuals for Peele to showcase this as a kind of twilight of stars radiating around Chris falling deeper and deeper is not only transfixing for how beautifully rendering the backdrop is, but also very traumatic for we feel the familiarity of our leading man fading further and further with each breath. Peele tackles it all beautifully, giving horror a highlight of artistic direction that has been sadly missing from the scene over the past decade.

However, it was the writing of Jordan that I felt was the strong point of his work, tackling the most important in how white people view minorities. I was very thankful that Peele doesn’t settle for desperation here, instead choosing to let the awkwardness rattle and even clench his audience into balls of anxiety as each scene revealing more and more about the true intentions of this family. There’s plenty to commend for dialogue that slowly builds that elevated tension with underlying subtext in power move vocal exchanges, most notably between Chris and Rose’s brother Jeremy (Played by Caleb Landry Jones) in a test of physical strength. Chris’s will is definitely being tested here, and it’s clear that this is foreshadowing for the next twenty-four hours of hell that they plan to put this poor guy through. Another strong suit that I commend Peele for is how little he needs or uses the typical overabundance of violence and gore to push his horror film further. It’s clear early on that the social commentary is the true chilling tool being used in this movie, but I found myself perplexed by how little we have actually seen 80 minutes into the movie, and yet how it didn’t sacrifice how truly terrifying this situational horror played out. Peele’s dry stance on gore tells us that what is most frightening is always what is true, and the seclusion among a family of racists is something that is easily understandable in a 2017 world where these problems very much exist.

I did have two problems with the film, but nothing truly dramatic to take away more than a point on my final grade. The first, deals with Chris’s attempted escape towards the end of the movie. I won’t give away much, but there’s an action in movement that happens with him that is truly impossible based on the disposition of his character only seconds prior, and it felt like a bit of a convenient bone thrown to the audience for patiently waiting. My second problem will definitely place me in the minority of this opinion, but I’m going to say it; Chris’s best friend Rod (Played by LilRel Howery) is totally unnecessary to this movie. Not only does Rod come off as a desperate shoe-horned in comedic subplot, but he also doesn’t serve as any kind of importance to the power-packed finale that does just fine. On the former, his comedy is fine, but I felt like it took away and hindered the suspense that was being slowly triggered bit-by-bit from a true student of the game. Many people will definitely disagree with me, as I have heard he was already many people’s favorite aspect to the movie, but let me ask you a question. Can you honestly disagree with me that the movie would be fine if his character was completely wiped from it? There in lies how truly frail his character really is, and just how his material overall feels like more of a speedbump to where the film needs to go creatively.

Whether you like or dislike scary movies, one thing is for certain; all races of life should GET OUT and see Peele’s initial slice of horror homage that pushes him amongst the ranks of 2017’s most versatile triple threats. Get Out is a smoothly-paced, artistically-crafted, and even thought-provoking attack on the social stigmas that many of us are afraid to dig into in our current day and age. It’s daring in its approaches to racial subtext, as well as refreshingly upscale for anything that Blumhouse Entertainment usually wraps its claws into.

8/10

Fist Fight

Two teachers find themselves at odds at the end of a super long day, waiting for a Fist Fight. Ice Cube and Charlie Day star as high school teachers prepared to solve their differences the hard way. On the last day of the year, mild-mannered high school English teacher Andy Campbell (Day) is trying his best to keep it together amidst senior pranks, a dysfunctional administration and budget cuts that put jobs on the line. But things go from bad to worse when he accidentally crosses his much tougher and deeply feared colleague, Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), who challenges Campbell to an old-fashioned throw-down after school. News of the fight spreads like wildfire and ends up becoming the very thing this school, and Campbell, needed. Fist Fight is directed by first time director Richie Keen, and is rated R for adult language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug material.

Fist Fight appears to take place in an alternate dimension where adults nor students endure the consequences of animalistic actions. For a by-the-numbers R-rated comedy where brainless activity is all the fuss, Keen’s film has brief underlying moments of 21st century public school depiction, offering a reflective stare into our own fundamentals with such. In this post-apocalyptic setting of sorts, the students are treated soft, and the teachers are walked all over like spineless jellyfish. Considering that this is a movie that takes place entirely on Senior Prank Day, it’s easy to comprehend that some limits would be tested within the very student body of this fictional school, but the script for Fist Fight nearly translates this to a Young Adult novel where the youth have taken over. A Twilight Zone backdrop if you will, of vandalism, student-teacher sexual relations, and drug trading that is treated like just another daily activity. This is perhaps my biggest problem with Fist Fight; its astounding nature to look the other way in a consequence-less society that tries to establish any kind of rules or structure to its script. Cube’s character is fired for taking a weapon to a student’s desk, yet he’s allowed to stay at the school until the end of the day? There’s security everywhere, but the teachers and students have weapons inside every bag or pocket? This stuff is easy to dispatch when you mention “It’s just another silly comedy”, but without believability this is one story that never goes above the dumbed down capacity that it entails, cutting itself short as a breakout hit behind every corner.

The comedy certainly isn’t a problem. There were several times in the movie where the straight man approach of Charlie Day’s character blending with the hard knocks of Ice Cube’s made for a truly endearing combination of these two different kinds of comedy style that fit like a glove. The wise decision here is to make this an R-rated picture because a lot of its material would feel watered down with the very setting of a world where rules don’t exist. The R rating doesn’t feel like a gimmick here, simply to use and abuse the power of curse words to give it an adult feel. Instead, they are sparsely saved to bring out the strongest reaction (Mostly by Day) to a line of humor that sometimes requires the audience to do a double take, questioning if they really just heard that. Some of my favorite scenes were in the interactions of Day with Tracy Morgan, the latter being the kind of corner man to the former’s cowardice with picking a fight with the toughest man in school. Their bond feels like a genuine friendship between two colleagues who go through year after year of torture from a student body that shows them no respect in mental or physical altercations. For laughs alone, people are going to get everything they came for, with the strongest point in the script for this material definitely being in the opening half hour.

Besides a strong comedic backbone, the film was unfortunately weighed down heavily in the second and third acts with predictable material that offered nothing fresh or original to this take. After the first act, with all of the subplots and character traits to the film revealed, it was quite easy to detect where these character arcs and scenarios were headed, keeping my intrigue to a minimum at how slow the 85 minute sit was treading by. The entirety of the movie is building up to this confrontation that takes us all the way to the final fifteen minutes of the movie. I wasn’t entirely disappointed with the fight, because the action
and fight choreography felt real to the situations of two every-men duking it out, but the problem is more about the lasting result. Without spoiling anything, I can say that this script does play it far too safely with how neatly tucked away the closing moments of the fight were. It’s not quite the Martha moment of Batman Vs Superman, but it’s not too far off either. Multiply that with a crowd of violence-hungry youths, and you leave us with a fight that not only doesn’t go the distance, but also doesn’t translate any better to the lack of moral fabric that this movie has lacked for its entirety on its characters.

One thing I was grateful for, was to see Charlie Day getting a starring role for once. Day continues to be not only one of the best reactionary actors, but also one of the most genuinely funny actors going today. What works so brilliantly with his casting in this film is physically he is clearly against a stacked deck here when compared to his physically superior antagonist, but there’s great delight in seeing the intellect of Charlie at work, even if it doesn’t always work to the best of his advantage. He was probably the only character in the film that felt like a human being, and a lot of that comes from the film not trying to make him into a cartoonish outline of that character that happens in spades from the teenagers and adults around him. I also greatly enjoyed Jillian Bell handing in another noteworthy performance as a supporting cast. Bell was great in 22 Jump Street, and she continues that momentum with another helping of her dry stick that always thinks one step ahead of the ears of the listeners. Jillian fills in the gaps when Day can’t always carry the load, and the duo make sweet gut-busting deliveries that at least kept my funny-bone oiled when my mind went numb.

Fist Fight gets knocked out late in movie by an unavoidable cloud of predictable material and anarchist setting that hinders any grasp of believability. For mindless fun, this one will give you a rentals chance of an entertaining evening inside, even if the showdown of Day and Cube doesn’t live up to its imposing marketing. Keen’s debut leaves more to be desired, and doesn’t quite have the stand-up game to last ten rounds with smarter, meaningful, and all around better comedies.

5/10

The Lego Batman Movie

The streets of Gotham and its famed superhero get an updated and pixelated look courtesy of Warner Brothers Animation. In The Lego Batman Movie, In the irreverent spirit of fun that made “The LEGO Movie” a worldwide phenomenon, the self-described leading man of that ensemble, LEGO Batman, stars in his own big-screen adventure. After feeling the effects of loneliness in his jaded daily routine, Bruce Wayne (Will Arnett) adopts Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) to fill the void of a cold and fierce existence. But there are big changes brewing in Gotham, and if he wants to save the city from The Joker’s (Zach Galifanakis) hostile takeover, Batman may have to drop the lone vigilante thing, try to work with others and maybe, just maybe, learn to lighten up. The Lego Batman Movie is directed by Chris McKay, and is rated PG for rude humor and some action.

Warner Animation Group hits another ambitiously imaginative home run, this time with The Dark Knight himself at the forefront of the big screen treatment. The Lego Batman Movie, for all of its far-stretching material and vast array of characters both in and out of the Gotham Universe, is first and foremost the definitive Batman movie for every generation of this 70-plus year character. When you consider all of the many flavors and styles of Batman, there’s so much to get immersed into, and never once does this movie letdown fans of any decade by providing fan service that Bob Kane would gladly give a standing ovation too. And why shouldn’t he? He is after all the prime executive producer on this set. By its own comedic merits, this movie would be fine flying on its own two wings, but the impressive and detailed approaches not only to set pieces and overall color scheme, but also to diving deeper into the soul and personality of Bruce Wayne as a character is what gives this movie that seal of must-watch approval for fans longtime and new to share in one collective embrace. Batman hasn’t been fairing so well on the silver screen lately, but Chris McKay appeases the desire to please once again by giving us not only the story that we want, but the one that we deserve.

Through the many Easter eggs and surprises behind every corner of this movie, is a surprisingly light-hearted centerpiece that attempts to dissect the psyche of this army of one, and how pivotal the lack of relationships has played dearly to his life when the lights and cameras die down. What I commend is this movie’s desire to give kids something more than just the ability to laugh, it gives them something memorably somber on teaching the importance of family and how nobody can do anything alone. It feels like for the first time we are being given very valuably precious minutes dedicated to Bruce himself, and through the exterior of a community soldier who became the ultimate dream in orphan fantasies, we find a conflicted egomaniac who gets caught up in himself clearly far too often. It felt very surreal to finally watch a character embrace what so many people and media outlets are saying about him, and see the negative effects that resonate because of such praise. As the film goes on, it becomes less about the villains and more about the fight inside from that orphaned boy, screaming out to be heard and loved again. This heart weighs heavily on the presentation, and proves that teaching our youths is every bit as valuable even in a comedy.

On the subject of that humor, the Lego franchise once again goes above and beyond in ejecting several gut-busting laughs to my experience with it. From the very unorthodox intro that bares Wayne commentating over the studio screenshots, I knew I was in for a feel-good time that rarely ever let me down. The first act is paced so incredibly well, and it’s clear that this is the peak for comedic material for the entirety of the film because the introduction of Wayne and his nemesis alike set the tone for the kind of attitude that this movie is non-chalantly winking to its audience. There’s so much to mention in terms of praise, but some of my favorite moments were the rundown of this massive army of villains, the well-crafted usage of fourth wall breaking in poking fun at the very cliches of superhero films alike, and most importantly a rap by Batman that will require many rewinds to fully embrace every joke planted within its lyrics. The only time when the film lagged for me was during the second act when the transition from comedy to family film felt slightly jarring in the telegraphing. During this time, what few jokes there are felt repetitive and even long-winded in their setups, so a lot of them fall flat before the big climax finale, which produced so many surprises in character reveals that no one could ever see coming. The likeness price alone has me perplexed at how much this movie may or may not have had to spend in producing a big-budget feature for a children’s presentation.

Even though the comedy is intelligent and cerebral, the very designs and imaginative concepts for the movie reign supreme. I saw this movie in 2D, but I never felt like my showing lacked any of the definitive artistic qualities that you have to pay extra for. Gotham is beautifully crafted, embracing that kind of comic book animation with stop-motion practicality that creates a marriage of colorful candy. The hardest part of staying immersed within this story was that my mind constantly wandered to the many backdrops and details that constantly kept raising the bar on creativity. The Joker carnival alone blows anything out of the water that Zach Snyder has conjured up for this caped crusader, and the amazement that I was watching live action played out with tweaks and touches of CG appeal really has me thirsty for more offerings from this prosperous studio. The very movements and shadow work feels so in-sync with one another, and it’s those kind of little things that make something so simple so appealing when you see these decorative figurines coming to life before our very eyes. The best kind of animation is the ones that you can lose yourself in and forget that it isn’t live action, and The Lego Batman Movie took this feat to new heights in some truly breathtaking cinematography.

The casting for the movie works, even if I wasn’t fully pleased with all of the acting work in their vocal range. Will Arnett was born to voice Batman. The beautiful thing with animation is that you can forget the visual appearances for 100 minutes, and believe that he is this character because of this raspy delivery that throws back to Christopher Nolan’s days at the helm of this character. Arnett is a comedic actor, so his timing never flakes or misfires, despite the rollercoaster of dialogue pacing that they take his character on. Michael Cera was also very memorable, despite the movie being anything but a favor to Robin fans everywhere. The chemistry between Cera and Arnett is a callback to their days on Arrested Development, and this reunion packed many awkward tension-breaking scenarios for the duo that I just couldn’t get enough of. My lone disappointment for vocal work was that of Galifanakis as the Joker. It’s not that Joker isn’t written or designed well, but I feel like Zack never made the character his own, lacking a stamp like the work of Mark Hamill, who is arguably the best Joker of all time. Galifanakis isn’t disguised in the least, and feels like he phones home a lot of his performance. My laughs for the Joker character was mostly in his visual reactions, and less about his material, and it’s easy to see why he kind of gets lost in the fray of evolving backdrops and pop culture villains checklists that pick up the slack around him.

Warner Animation Group dips itself once again in imaginative waters for The Lego Batman Movie that serves as the perfect trivia to Batman fans thirsty for the fun to be put back into their favorite superhero. With a visual palate that bends and breaks the surrealism of animation, as well an irresistable arrogance from Arnett protecting Gotham, this one is that rare occasion where a family member from every age group will gladly embrace this awe-inspiring feature that refuses to ever slow, building a foundation for a saga of films to come one block at a time.

8/10

The Comedian

The last of a dying breed of classic comedians struggles with life decisions as the world changes around him, in The Comedian. An aging comic icon, Jackie (Robert De Niro) has seen better days in his once prosperous career. Despite his efforts to reinvent himself and his comic genius, the audience only wants to know him as the former television character he once played.? Already a strain on his younger brother (Danny DeVito) and his wife (Patti LuPone), Jackie is forced to serve out a sentence doing community service for accosting an audience member. While there, he meets Harmony (Leslie Mann), the daughter of a sleazy Florida real estate mogul (Harvey Keitel), and the two find inspiration in one another resulting in surprising consequences. The Comedian is directed by Taylor Hackford, and is rated R for crude sexual references and adult language throughout.

For about the first half hour of The Comedian, my expectations were growing pretty high for this to be The Wrestler for the stand up comedian community. A story that not only pulls the curtain back on a cryptic industry, but also to depict the haunting decay of funny people once the money and fame go away. The first act of this film was a glimpse into everything that this film should’ve done, but sadly fell apart over the course of two hours that (like most comic public figures) overstays its welcome, losing its charm and appeal along the way. After seeing the trailer above, you might garner that this looks like a Woody Allen independent comedy, with some long transitional shots of the New York skyline, as well as a top notch cast that feel slightly out of place for this particular mood in story. As the movie carried on however, I felt a great sense of betrayal, as this is very much a raunchy R-rated comedy with an indie vibe in cinematography that equally off-sets the other. A throwaway dramedy that is anything but self-aware, and one that still makes me question the thinking process from its star who dubbed this as a “Passion project”.

For the overall comedy, I did find myself laughing a few times, mostly more at the real life drama that was unfolding at a snail’s pace with the backstory of Jackie and the reputations that he has built with friends, family, and work colleagues alike. Cycling through classy helpings like gay jokes and race jokes, the humor feels like it hasn’t aged with maturity with the audience at home watching it. The material feels very much like an HBO comedy sitcom, just seconds away from omitting a laugh-track after every delivery. The negative of this is in fact De’Niro who doesn’t feel believable in this role, even if his performance dictates that he has watched one too many classic comedians. The On-stage material rarely tells a story that most comedians shine at, and nothing ever feels timed out or choreographed long-term setups to ever elicit that this was at one time the most popular man at his craft. What’s even worse is that the stand-up routines never feel edited to keep the momentum factor up, giving off a Director’s Cut kind of feel to the convoluted script that soils what few opportunities that the film does maintain at shining for itself. To anyone who loved De’Niro’s jarringly off-setting performance in 2016’s Dirty Grandpa, enjoy two more hours of such a character with twice the desperation.

The story in script itself is quite the strange one because there’s rarely any indication when one act ends to begin the next. I did enjoy the curtain pulling of the number of comedian cliches that feel far too close in irony to ever be false. Certainly the disruptions of audience members, as well as the Youtube generation always keeping their phones on, works wonderfully in capturing the very innovation of the business, albeit with its very positives and negatives for how the game has changed. I was fine with a movie called The Comedian having a dramatic pulse when he is off-stage, but it doesn’t work here for an array of reasons. The first is the material going to the Raunchy side of comedy one too many times to ever take itself seriously when it needs to be. The second is the array of distracting celebrity cameos from Billy Crystal to Hannibal Buress that always limits the progression of dramatic exposition to a screeching halt any time we get slightly closer to Jackie’s unbreakable wall of shutting people out. The final reason deals more in the character’s decisions that has them taking some fairly unpredictable and risky stances for the main cast. This wasn’t a movie where I could side or even at times understand the very dispositions from De’Niro and Mann’s characters, and without strong leads, the film’s script implodes on a lack of drama to really make the comedy pop more in audience investment.

It’s amazing that with this many A-list cast, there’s so little to take away from performances. De’Niro is decent at portraying an asshole, but that doesn’t make his character any more intriguing or inviting to two hours spent with him. As Jackie, Robert hints that there may be something more to the past of this character that keeps him guarded at all times, but the lack of spiritual growth within his register casts great concern at where this character will go once the camera is off. If celebrities being snobs is the message, I read it loud and clear. Thanks Robert. Leslie Mann has always been the perfect supporting cast, but as a lead she leaves slightly more to be desired. The relationship between her and De’Niro is startling to say the least. Not because it doesn’t gel with their near thirty year age difference, but because there’s very little chemistry between them when it takes more than an hour for them to lock lips. Their union always feels like a fling to fulfill some lifetime fantasy (ala sex with Santa in Bad Santa), so it’s kind of like preparing for the worst for the both of them. Two inconsiderate people just aching to grow up, but it never happens. The lack of character transformation is clearly evident in a finale that feels as thrown together as it gets for movies that don’t know when to fade to black.

At the very least, The Comedian should provide an overwhelming layer of comedic substance to send the audience home on a positive mood. Sadly, the serious lack of positive characterization, as well as scenes that carry on for far too long, alienates audiences who are thirsty for some kind of gaining momentum along the way. Hackford’s portrait of post-fame celebrity drops the mic on several occasions. Unfortunately for us, his lead character picks it up every single time.

4/10

Gold

One down-on-his-luck struggling businessman exchanges his rags for riches after the startling discovery that brings attention to his newfound wealth. Gold is the epic tale of one man’s pursuit of the American dream, to discover gold. Starring Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey as Kenny Wells, a modern day prospector desperate for a lucky break, he teams up with a similarly eager geologist and sets off on an amazing journey to find gold in the uncharted jungle of Indonesia. Getting the gold was hard, but keeping it would be even harder, sparking an adventure through the most powerful boardrooms of Wall Street. The film is inspired by a true story, and also stars Bryce Dallas Howard, Toby Kebbell and Edgar Ramirez. It is directed by Stephen Gaghan, and is rated R for adult language throughout and some sexuality/nudity.

Ever since The Wolf of Wall Street graced the theaters with real life riches-to-rags drama, there have been many films that have tried to replicate its pulse. Gold is the latest of those imitations. Upon watching the trailer, I found myself noticing a distinct direction in tone to that of Scorsese’s masterpiece, casting itself an immense shadow that could doom it before it even gets off of the ground. In short, Gold is a success….barely. This is a movie that does have plenty of narrative distractions, but does succeed because of a couple of aspects that does keep it from ever being fool’s gold. This is loosely based on a true story, but upon some studying I can accurately say that the movie does take more-than plenty of liberties with the characters itself, muddling any kind of authenticity for the audience to soak in and endure. Because this is a biopic that chooses to entertain instead of faithfully depict its story, there should’ve been plenty of responsible directions for this story that could’ve prospered more on an entertaining value, and eased much of the cluttered mess that continuously handicapped this story from ever distinguishing its own shine.

The screenplay by Patrick Massett and John Zinman crumbles on its ambitious feats to be too many things at once in tone. There are times during the movie when I thought for sure I was watching a dark comedy, then it turned into a harrowing drama, then it turned into nearly a heist movie of epic portions. The worst of which is during the first act when the glaring problem stares you right in the face; this is a very poorly paced production. If you can make it past the opening half hour of Gold, then your wait will be rewarded in some strong conflict that at least opens the door to greener pastures. It almost feels like Massett and Zinman placed everything of entertaining value in the 2nd and 3rd acts, and instead ignored the opening that was so important to introducing the audience to so much about gold that they don’t know. There’s also a narration of sorts with McConaughey being interviewed by the FBI that keeps cutting into our story. This is fine and dandy, but the initial scene of this interview doesn’t happen until an hour into the movie. What did I miss? It would’ve probably been wise to kick the movie off with this interview to convey to the audience that muddy waters are coming for our passionate protagonist. Instead, this comes out of nowhere and feels so jarringly force-fed into the continuous plot, popping up every twenty-five minutes or so.

The third act of this movie is the one that I was promised in the trailers, and really served as the strong-suit of the film’s conflict. Over the course of these two hours, there’s two different conflicts that harm the prosperity of McConaughey’s band of thirsty miners, and frankly the first one isn’t as intriguing as the second. I would’ve focused more on this second plot twist because it not only levels McConaughey, but also leaves a longer lasting impression on how he will pick himself back up after the news of it. Under this act, we finally learn the significance of the FBI’s investigation, and at least it offers a half hour of how great this film really could’ve been.

What Gaghan can do wonderfully is produce a valuable vision for the movie, mainly in editing in a virtual slide-show to relate to the audience the very kind of moral compromising that comes from the powers of that illuminously beautiful color once you find it. We see our characters lifestyles and backdrops go through such a lavishly decadent change, and the montage scenes really serve a higher value here to relay how fast everything changes for them. At the very least, Gaghan knows where to frame the camera beneficially to harness the energy of this little gem with so much power. The cinematography faithfully depicts that of the 1980’s without relying on it too heavily to become its own gimmick in the movie. The cars and fashion styles maintain subtly, while the luxurious landscapes like New York City and Las Vegas represent the advancement in monetary stance that this crew has embarked upon. Gaghan invests the most bang for a very little buck in budget (27 Million) that made for this at least a visually enticing product when the script floundered.

McConaughey once again commits himself to a role that completely steals the show. Behind a thinning offering of hair and bulging teeth that slightly alter his physical features, Matthew, like Dicaprio’s Belfort before him, presents a protagonist who you can get behind, despite the slimy exterior that reminds you to stay away from guys like this. Edgar Ramirez is also fitting as Matthew’s right hand man in the gold mining business. The chemistry between them is what really sold the movie for me, offering a uniquely vast contrast from duo friendships before them in dramatic biopics. From the very beginning, it’s clear that Ramirez’s character is equally as important to McConaughey’s in the triumph of this company, so that equal footing is what allows the movie to succeed through that plot twist that I mentioned earlier that really shakes things up for the audience investment in both. Bryce Dallas Howard plays McConaughey’s love interest in the film, but sadly she isn’t given enough memorable screen time to boost her currently fledging Hollywood filmography. Howard exits the movie a little more than halfway through the film, and her absence is missed for much of the latter second act that could use a woman’s presence.

Gold’s value decreases the longer it goes in less-beneficial directions in search of entertainment. To keep this story trimmed tightly without the constraints of formulaic setup could’ve produced an early favorite for best film of 2017. As it stands, a worthwhile performance from McConaughey and a beautifully constructed visual direction by Gaghan that proves he has grown fruitfully since the days of 2002’s Abandon, keeps this one shining. This is one story that tops out far too late in the script, compromising it of the creative value that it once bolstered.

6/10