Wonder Park

Directed By Dylan Brown

Starring – Brianna Denski, Jennifer Garner, Kenan Thompson

The Plot – June (Denski), an optimistic, imaginative girl, discovers an incredible amusement park called Wonderland hidden in the woods. The park is full of fantastical rides and talking, funny animals , only the park is in disarray. June soon discovers the park came from her imagination and she’s the only one who can fix it, so she bands together with the animals to save this magical place and bring back the wonder in Wonderland.

Rated PG for some mild thematic elements and action

POSITIVES

– Eye fetching detail in animation. While there were some flaws with the character detailing, which left things like mouth movements and reactionary impulses feeling a bit delayed, the set designs and coloring pallet instill a vibrant sense of imagination to the product that puts the wonder in “Wonder Park”. Particularly in the dynamic between the grey undertones of the deceased park, which give it a decayed look, and the rich tapestry of it when it lives and thrives, we get a visual rendering of the atmosphere that the film has trouble translating into personal feelings. Likewise, the immense set designs and creativity behind some of the rides made it feel experimental like a Sims game brought to the big screen, all the while leaving valued minutes to devote to the mechanics of such unorthodox inventions.

– A positive message earned. As to where most kids movies these days harvest a personal message that often feels tacked on or contradictive to what is transpiring in the movie, the film’s desire to inspire and celebrate creativity is something that burns translucently throughout, and gives the film such honorable intentions that should echo with every member of the family. The film crafts the ideals of dreams as this sort of physical presence in our lives that breathe with the kind of energy that we put into them, and if those ambitions are shelved, Wonder Park represents that on a grand scale. Visual metaphors combined with heart in message, gives this story something deeper to reach for than the conventional kids movie we have come to expect.

– Filmed in 2.39:1 scope aspect ratio. This is only the fifth time that Paramount has attempted this with an animated property, but I think it pays off not only in capturing the immensity of the park itself, but also the madness associated with the mood inside. These establishing shots do so much more for the movie than the meandered script ever does, and it’s proof that camera stylings deserve consideration even in an animated setting, if only for the way it hooks the audience in to its mayhem before it breaks their trust. Read on.

NEGATIVES

– One problem ties to everything. When I look back on all of the things wrong with “Wonder Park”, the one common motive is because of a barely 78 minute run time that condenses every possible theme and subplot that the film tries to harvest. On top of it, the pacing is horrendously erratic, feeling like the movie is constantly on fast forward through skewered lines of dialogue that are constantly rushed, as well as the antsy setting that changes every thirty seconds. After a while, this film gave me a headache to even concentrate on it, and it establishes firmly the argument against easy time sits for the sake of an antsy audience.

– The dropped ball of dramatic pulse. One subplot in the film revolves around grieving, and actually intrigued me as to what the film could do with such heavy levity that develops depth for a movie like this. But it never materializes because the film and our central protagonist put it in the back of their minds to never be mentioned or touched upon again, and it wastes what could’ve been this movie’s “A Monster Calls” moment, complete with character maturity and epiphany that really allowed you to relate to the anything-but-engaging June character. Even worse than this, the film neatly tucks away this angle in the closing minutes, proving that if it did have any balls, they were left behind on one of the rides because this movie, like others, feels that kids are too stupid to grasp with loss.

– Undercooked material. The worst kind of kids movies are the ones where there are no redeeming laughs or material to at least you entertained while you sit through the rest of the movie that doesn’t measure up, and this is the case with “Wonder Park”, a movie so devoid of emotional response that it made me wonder if I was sedated. The humor not only fails in this movie, but it fails so bad that even the kids weren’t buying it in my theater. Even the cute noises and loud sounds that animated movies go to when they refuse to write anything clever weren’t working, and it just sort of makes every scene a chore to sit through when it’s reaching for something that so evidently isn’t there in the slightest.

– Zero character exposition. This is a strange one for me, because I didn’t feel like a movie could omit even its lead character from any kind of build that properly fleshes out her personality and moral character. When you think of June, you must ask yourself what you learned about her in the movie. For me, it’s that she loves theme parks, she loves her mother, and that she’s mechanically inclined. That’s it. These are things that you would probably pick up on if you spent ten minutes with the character in real life, but after spending this much time, the juice simply doesn’t warrant the squeeze. Aside from June, the other characters are just personalities instead of people. The film has so little desire to include them in anything meaningful or rendering that it just kind of reserves them to being these voices that never materialize as living, being things, and completes the underwhelming layer of character development that the script doesn’t waste time on.

– Obvious copyright ducking. The movie never says Wonder Park once in the film. Instead, it says Wonder World repeatedly. So why call it Wonder Park in the first place? Perhaps it’s because Disney owns the rights to Wonder World, and that the mention of it would cease the production of this film faster than you can say frozen Walt. Or here’s an idea, just refer to it as Wonder Park in the lines of dialogue, because ya know, IT IS THE TITLE OF THE MOVIE. This kind of sloppy execution is something that you would expect from an unknown studio, but for Nickelodeon Pictures to bring forth this cowardice, only reminds you of the bigger, better studio that is producing more meaningful pictures than this in its sleep.

– Production troubles. The movie is a chaotic mess, which may have been inevitable given its troubled production history. Paramount reportedly fired the original director in January 2018, when he was accused of “inappropriate and unwanted contact” with women. (Through his lawyer, he denied the charge.) He was replaced by a trio of filmmakers, none of whom getting directing credit. Five months later, the actor who voiced one of the park mascots, a narcoleptic bear named Boomer, also was replaced after sexual-misconduct allegations. Somewhere between those two events, the movie’s title was changed. One could write this off as a string of bad luck that occasionally catches up to film crew’s, but I call it a sign from a higher power telling them when it’s time to pack it in.

– Floundered voice work. Outside of the animated complexity of John Oliver voicing a romance riddled porcupine, the entirety of this heralded well known cast is wasted by a string of poorly directed and energetically lacking deliveries that highlight this as a paycheck only job. I probably shouldn’t say this about kid actors, but the 14-year-old Denski’s monotonous inspiration of this animated property lulls it down to a sense of dreary hypnotism that is anything but a compliment. As a protagonist, she lacks the kind of excitement associated with a character of her particular skillset, and gives us nothing to look forward to since this is where the movie spends the entirety of its time. Jennifer Garner also underwhelms again, bringing nothing of dimension or difference to her usual familiarity. Her and Thompson are probably the only two you can easily make out in the cast, and it’s a testament to the lack of experimentalism that they bring to the role that could otherwise open some new doors for the longevity of their shelf lives as stars.

My Grade: 3/10 or F+

The Big Lebowski

Directed By Joel and Ethan Coen

Starring – Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore

The Plot – When Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (Bridges) is mistaken for a millionaire Lebowski (David Huddleston), two thugs urinate on his rug to coerce him into paying a debt he knows nothing about. While attempting to gain recompense for the ruined rug from his wealthy counterpart, he accepts a one-time job with high pay-off. He enlists the help of his bowling buddy, Walter (Goodman), a gun-toting Jewish-convert with anger issues. Deception leads to more trouble, and it soon seems that everyone from porn empire tycoons to nihilists want something from The Dude.

Rated R for pervasive strong language, drug content, sexuality and brief violence

POSITIVES

– Coen’s off brand style of humor. What is so redeeming about the material used in “The Big Lebowski” is it’s unapologetic nature in such a lazy, practical execution with its audiences. That may sound like a negative, but I feel that for the godfather of stoner comedy movies, this really is a script that lives and breathes by its own rules, refusing to ever cater to any outsider audiences for the convenience of cross brand promotion. This doesn’t mean that you have to be a stoner to understand the humor, but just that the material itself doesn’t feel counterfeit when compared to the personalities and tone of the film that surrounds it. Aside from this, the laughs themselves remain consistent because of the total level of incompetence by the characters in trying to solve something much bigger and intelligent than what they can ever fathom, and it’s a complete and total testament to films like “Barton Fink” and “Fargo”, where we indulge in this world that personality-wise feels planets away from our own, yet thrives in a location of familiarity (Los Angeles).

– Dedicated performances all around. Goodman is easily my favorite in the film, emoting Walter, a Vietnam war veteran, with a nervous tick that eventually explodes into a volcano of untimely expression that forces him to stick out like a sore thumb in any environment he comes into. Bridges Dude is the role that people have tied to him for a lifetime. Everything from the structure of the speech patterns to the lack of coordination associated with the wardrobe, which Bridges himself brought to the set, masters a level of 20th century Taoism, where no one or nothing ruins the vibe of his careless demeanor that he wears proudly. When these two interact with one another, it makes for my favorite exchanges of the movie, often with Walter alienating himself from The Dude because of him taking matters into his own hands and often over-complicating a situation that is otherwise easy to maintain. Throw in a mumbling Steve Buscemi as the third tier to their bowling league trio, and you have a collision of throw polar opposite characters that bounce off of one another with the chemistry of soldiers stuck in battle. Likewise, Julianne Moore, David Huddleston, and the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman also chew up enough scenery to make their supporting roles beg for more screen time, all the while generating appearances that add another level of prestige to the Coen’s never-ending list of A-list celebrities who adorn their films.

– What conflict, man? I find it hilarious that The Dude is being pursued by a trio of Nihilists, a kidnapper, and a powerful businessman, yet the movie feels about as much urgency as a leaf blowing in the wind. Instead, the film values and focuses on the engaging friendships and good times over the events themselves, and it helps to further develop the characters while remaining faithful to the outline of dark humor that persists within this world. If you do find yourself engaged by the mystery of the conflict itself, that’s fine, as the first half of this movie conjures up a subtle noir genre structure, complete with Sam Elliot’s raspy overheard narration, unreliable characters, and The Dude being the gumshoe of sorts to solve the crime. The conclusion itself is kind of revealed with such a lack of impact, but as is the case in most noir crime movies, the most simple answer is often the correct answer.

– Dream team production ensemble. One thing I learned in my re-watch of this movie is the alliance of master Cinematographer Roger Deakins and True Detective musical maestro T-Bone Burnett coming together to solidify a presentation that is every bit as enchanting as it is fantastical. Deakins today mostly dabbles with the bleak and grit photography that have helped him attain a serenity within the darkness of his pictures, but here he is giving visual nuance to something so conventional as a bowling alley, and making it pop visually for all of the reasons we’re not used to. Long gone are the smoky atmospheres and mundane designs associated with the weathered lanes. They are replaced with the sleek shine of never-ending lanes, 60’s deco decal with all of its free-range color schemes, and fantasy musical sequences that bring an air of pageantry to the sport that it isn’t used to. Where Burnett comes in is assorting a collection of musical artists and songs that speak volumes to The Dude’s ‘Anything but the Eagles’ mentality. The Coen’s wanted Kenny Rogers and Creedence Clearwater Revival on the soundtrack, but everything else was left up to T-Bone, and boy what a presence he maintains on some of the best scenes in the movie. The music in “The Big Lebowski” very much feels like a character in itself, not just because of how the human characters acknowledge its presence themselves, but because of how it maintains the consistency and variety of each tonal intention. It’s the building blocks for two of the more notorious artists in their respective categories, and stands as a reminder of the star-making power that the Coen’s had.

– Snappy dialogue and banter. Perhaps the Coen’s greatest strength is the ability to get lost in the magnitude of every scene and predicament, all the while remaining faithful to the personalities of characters, so that one never outshines the other. An example is in the scenes where Jeffrey, Walter, and Donnie talk through Jesus’s pedophilia, only to remind you every step of the way through the conversation of the quirks and ticks of each respective character. In this instance, it’s when Donny asks “What’s a pederast?”, and Walter says “Shut the fuck up, Donnie”. Even though we as an audience are being presented new information about an entirely new character, the dialogue still stops to remind us who is telling the story, and it’s a halt that doesn’t feel annoying or redundant, instead adding more complexity to our investment in the exposition.

– An emerging voice. I’ve seen many surprising things in re-watches of films over the years, but the underlying social commentary that now seems painfully obvious in “The Big Lebowski” might be the one that takes the cake. There’s no easy way to say this, but it’s about the examination of modern day masculinity, by way of deconstructing classic cinema. The Coen’s are masters of anti-climatic endings, usually requiring the audience to look deeper in an area of the film that would otherwise be easily glossed over of the collection of scenes that don’t gel together in the way we expect them to. Looking at the film’s aesthetic, it’s impressive that so many of its themes and characters evoke familiar traits of classic film in male dominated genres. Think of the cowboy, the war hero, the bowling, and of course the obvious question uttered in the film: “What makes a man?” What the movie is doing here is deconstructing American masculinity while the question what remains once the shroud has been pushed aside. After all, one scene depicts the Nihilists threatening to cut off Jeffrey’s johnson if they have to come back, and the sentence is repeated in a way that echoes into the ears of audiences intentionally. What’s ironic is many of the men we see in the film are already emasculated in a figurative sense. For instance, the millionaire Lebowski only keeps up an appearance of a self-made man when in reality he is living on a monthly expensive from his self-made deceased wife, Walter is emotionally in chains to his ex-wife’s religion and pets, and The Dude himself is used by Maude as only a donor to her desire to be with child. On the latter, the women in the movie feel empowered and constantly one step ahead of men, all the while expressing that things are the way they are largely because of their own choices and not some tie between sexes that bonds each cultural change. I won’t go much further, as I feel that people should seek this movie out once more with these goggles on to see what becomes evident to them in the evolution of each respective sex, and what the Coen’s are trying to convey with regards to answering its one important question.

– A snowball effect of plotting. It’s funny when you consider that this whole conflict begins because a group of strangers urinate on The Dude’s rug, forcing him to seek out compensation from the man he believes to be responsible for it, and each ensuing step builds the stakes considerably worse for everyone involved. What’s effective about this angle is how easy the elevation in chess movements is to comprehend from both sides, all the while the movie’s tone and talented actors expressing the lunacy of such (honestly) juvenile circumstances. This allows the conflict to build alongside with the consistency in pacing from the narrative itself, keeping matters strategic and not jumping the gun because of how many times this conflict could’ve easily been solved if the millionaire Lebowski just hired an even halfway capable accomplice. It’s simplicity in matters that are otherwise complicated, and only speaks levels to the issues in our own society that gain momentum the longer they shift downhill.

NEGATIVES

– Redundancy tests the pacing of the third act. Without question, the final twenty minutes are the biggest struggle to get through in this movie, mainly because at this point the scenes are repeating the same kind of speech patterns and scenarios that we have already been through, at one point or another in the movie. In addition to this, the film is still introducing throwaway characters at a point when it should be wrapping respective subplots up, further prolonging interaction for the sake of a screenplay that never feels like it knows where to confidently wrap things up. The mention of the Bowling playoffs leave us with two pivotal questions: How could they be considered with only two players, and who won?

– Errors with the particular time setting. Considering the film takes place in 1991, at the edge of Desert Storm, there are far too many instances where the Coen Brothers overlook pivotal contradictions in continuity that soil the sanctimony of a particular time frame. Mid 90’s automobiles, later year model soda pop cans, Elvis Costello’s “My Mood Swings” which came out in 1997, and my personal favorite: a calendar on Francis’ desk that reads 1997 in plain sight. Anachronisms like these stand out as the one roadblock in the way of me fully immersing myself in the world that the Coen’s created, and with a thicker layer of confidence in the production detail of the film, the movie’s visual pallet would excel over the need to keep pointing these vital inconsistencies out.

– I understand that bowling is only a secondary importance in a film like this, but something that has always bothered me was how Donnie is the only one we know of for how good he actually is at the sport. Walter rolls a ball, but we don’t see the end result. Jeffrey, our main character and leader of this group, mind you, never throws a single ball in the movie. Is this a big deal on the weight or importance of the script? Absolutely not, but if it’s character integrity we’re going for, bowling is the most distinguishable common interest between this group, and for us the audience never given the ability to embrace it, makes the mention of them being a great team in the league that much more unbelievable because of it. A scene or two with Jeffrey hitting a strike would do wonders in silencing my doubts of this guy being a clumsy, bone-headed stoner, who were told to believe is this reputable bowler. Not buying it.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

Captain Marvel

Directed By Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Starring – Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law

The Plot – The story follows Carol Danvers (Larson) as she becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races. Set in the 1990s, Captain Marvel is an all-new adventure from a previously unseen period in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language

POSITIVES

– Delightfully engaging cast of characters all around. For the title character, Larson is solid at conveying the dramatic pull of Carol’s loss of life on Earth, as well as the personable side of her demeanor that allows her to have fun through some truly trying times in the balance. My lone problem is in her ability to come across as intimidating to her opposition because of her inherited powers. Perhaps it’s in the way that her enemies view her, as a weakling woman, but to me I felt that anger and fire deep below in Larson’s performance was missing from her complex character, and I hope it’s something they can further flesh out in future movies with her. What Larson does thrive at however, is being a sponge that soaks up and adapts to the change in personalities she comes across. Most notably, it’s in her impeccable chemistry with Jackson’s Fury and Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg where we get the most indulging sense of banter between scenes and characters, making for thoughts of a buddy cop movie that floats to the surface. Jackson is definitely the show-stealer for me, as finally we get a film where Fury is brought to the forefront of the conflict and resolution, allowing us to see him in his prime, long before time and shadows forced him to step away from the action. Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos also shouldn’t be slept on, as his exceptional range as an actor gives him the power to connect to the audience despite being under layers of make-up and prosthetics for his character.

– Complete musical package. For the first time in a Marvel film, we are treated to a female’s perspective in musical score and accompaniment, as Pinar Toprak’s electronic atmosphere gives the film’s scenes of war and reveal a fine combination of pulse and energy necessary to hook the audience firmly into the sometimes abrupt movements of the camera. Likewise, the film’s soundtrack collection of 90’s favorites, although topical at times, does succeed in capturing the eclectic essence of 90’s top 40 radio for now future generations to immerse themselves in. One such song near the end of the film, I actually predicted would pop up, and while there are instances like this that sometimes feel obvious, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t lip-sync along once they made their presence felt to the dynamic of the story and title character.

– Computer generation effects at their finest. For my money, the transformation effects used on Fury and Coulson in the film, to make them look decades younger, is some of the most seamlessly effective enhancements that I have seen to date, and speaks volumes to the way Disney calculates where to spend their cash. This is of course a story that takes place in the 90’s, so obviously make-up isn’t going to cut it. Instead, the actors are shot and redistributed to the audience in a way that adds an inspiring layer of reality to the movements and authenticity of their shapes and size to the film, that would before feel obvious in its inclusion. There’s subtlety in artificial effects work, and Marvel just paved the way for an entire generation.

– Touching tributes. Being that this was the first film after the untimely death of Marvel founder Stan Lee, you knew that the familiar face would pop up a time or two, and thankfully the movie takes ample time to pay respects to the reason we’re all here in the first place. I won’t spoil much, but there’s an introduction to the movie that is every bit as clever as it is resounding, as well as a usual cameo appearance that may be my new personal favorite for Lee, considering the prop that he carries with him in the scene, and where it fits from a timeline perspective. I’m not sure if this scene was shot before Lee’s death or not, but the computer generation that I mentioned earlier gives me hope that Excelsior will live on forever.

– Overabundance of comedy. This would usually be a big negative for me, especially considering there are a few deliveries that didn’t land for my auditorium, but the film’s tonal decision to establish a healthy amount of humor for this character is one that I give great credit for. When the film was missing for me in waiting for this lead character to remember who she used to be, I was treated to clever quips in the form of a dangerous cat, Jackson’s impeccable straight man persistence, and of course 90’s nostalgia that constantly reminds us how far we’ve come with technology. The latter is also part of the genius of the particular place and time of the film’s setting, as they don’t have Tony Stark’s inventions or advanced technological measures to guide them through, therefore creativity is all of the rage, and it is incorporated in such a way that will poke and prod at anyone in the theater who is over the age of 25 and still remembers their America Online Password.

– Positive pacing. Perhaps the single biggest accomplishment in this two hour movie is how, despite its narrative flaws, it never manages to slug or stand in place for too long. Instead, the pacing of this script constantly keeps moving and keeps you glued to the unfolding characters who move in and out of frame in the fight for this unforeseen power. As far as Marvel movies go, pacing is often one of the biggest flaws that I have, often times padding a film’s run time to reach a certain time destination, but I feel like two hours was perfect with the knowledge dispersed inside, all the while allowing for just enough time to soak up these rare character engagements and 90’s setting all the same.

NEGATIVES

– Struggles under the weight of its responsibility. As a narrative, this is a link to the past, an origin story, a fitting chapter to the on-going Avengers story, and a potential entry way into the next phase of the Marvel universe, and I think all of that simultaneously struggles under that weight. This is a very scattered narrative in the form of a non-linear style of storytelling, and that direction presented some issues with exposition obvious dialogue, as well as audible character narration that was only used to solidify what the previous scene already showed us. Beyond this, the jump cuts are edited in a way that felt every bit as choppy as they did visually unappealing, and when sequences are this visually repulsive, you wish that they would just go with the conventional dream effects that, while overdone in cinema, at least don’t force you to stop every few minutes to wonder where they fit in.

– Speaking of visual presentation, the film never carves out a visual captivation for its film in the same way that Black Panther, Guardians of the Galaxy, or the Thor films made famous. It doesn’t have to be as beautiful looking or enchanted as those movies, but the coloring filters used in this film wasted some eye-catching landscapes in planetary details that would usually pop with their introductions, but instead came off as looking like they were clouded in a dense fog that rendered them colorless. I point particularly to the first act of the movie, when the establishing scenes waste away so much of the movie’s stylistic personality in ways that don’t even allow the colors of the costumes to make their presence felt, and it all made me think the finished product required one final post production edit to remind us of the vibrancy of the worlds that Carol is fighting for.

– Fumbled fight sequences. Too many cuts, too mundane of fight choreography, and especially far too close on the angle in depictions. It was not only very difficult to follow through with what was transpiring on screen between these scenes of physical conflict, but it suffers in the same way that D.C Films resolve their conflicts: By throwing everything at the screen in order to convince you of resolution. There are no shortage of explosion porn or crash devastation to make the audience flinch, but because we have an editor who is anxious in making their presence felt, it all just comes across as jumbled pieces from a puzzle that never fits together in the movement of the scene. My favorite fight scene of the film was a practice fight that happens in the first five minutes of the movie, and that’s a nothing fight between two characters. It’s all downhill from there.

– No struggle what so ever with her powers. Carol Danvers ability to adapt to any new knowledge or power that the movie gives her, is something that I think takes away greatly from the human side of Captain Marvel that is never truly fleshed out. In any superhero film, self-conflict is the strongest form of developing empathy, and there is none when there’s never truly a moment where this character fails. Even though Captain America or The Hulk now tangle with newfound capabilities, it’s their inner tortured souls in vulnerability that allow them to connect with the audience, and this movie doesn’t afford Danvers the same bend. Any miniscule level of adversity is really more of a hiccup or an accidental move incorporated by someone else around her, and it ultimately constructs what feels like an android developed in Tony Stark’s lab, as opposed to a human being coming to terms with the fear of a new gift that she knows nothing about. MINOR SPOILER – It doesn’t just stop with Carol however, as a little girl also manages to come up with a familiar costume, thanks to some Skrull technology that she herself has never used.

My Grade: 6/10 or C+

A Madea Family Funeral

Directed By Tyler Perry

Starring – Tyler Perry, Cassi Davis, Patrice Lovely

The Plot – A joyous family reunion becomes a hilarious nightmare as Madea (Perry) and the crew travel to backwoods Georgia, where they find themselves unexpectedly planning a funeral that might unveil unsavory family secrets.

Rated PG-13 for crude sexual content, adult language, and drug references throughout

POSITIVES

– Still par for the course is the exceptional make-up work that distinguishes the many characters that Perry and friends portray. While nothing of substance that will surely win an Oscar in the category, there is enough detailing in the form of greying hairs, saggy skin, and additional prosthetics that allows the actor inside to fully immerse themselves in the beat of the character, and carve out an air of respect to the film’s limited production to be able to impress in any area of the spectrum. It’s one of the only things in Madea movies that I’ve always tipped my hat to, and the vibrancy in variety that each character sports makes each of them noticeable without their prosthetic designs rubbing together in repetition.

– A scene of substance? I know, in a Tyler Perry film this is groundbreaking news, but there is a moment late in the film in which the Mother of this family, portrayed by Jen Harper, not only steals the film, but does so by conjuring this emotionally moving strip of dialogue that will inspire female audiences who see it. Harper proves that she may be the one actress who deserves better than being subjected to this slop, and through measured responses of anger, regret, and patience, her character diminishes the line of what should be overlooked in modern day relationships.

NEGATIVES

– Bloated run time. There is absolutely no reason for this film to be anywhere near two hours, but it is because once again scenes are stretched in a way that assists Perry in containing budgets without frequenting between sets. Without question, the Improv humor is the thing that truly makes these scenes unbearable, muttering off line after line of atrocious conversation and jumbled dialogue that add about as much to the perspective of the film as integrity does. How can a movie bore you ten minutes in? “A Madea Family Funeral” feels like being a kid again, when you were forced to sit there and endure your older family members talk for hours about the “Good old days”, and you sitting there thinking how great your life would be if you were put up for adoption.

– Two cars racing towards a collision. This film has serious tonal problems, and I say that because half of it is a sluggish comedy with Madea and her friends, and then there’s a polar opposite direction with a family drama that is ungluing at the seams. Both are highly contradictive towards the other, making the progression of this film and each respective subplot feel like a tug of war that is constantly fighting against its own self-momentum. What’s most surprising is as a vehicle for Madea’s supposed goodbye, she never feels like the main character or focus in her own movie, with each appearance feeling like a shoe-horned cameo in one of Perry’s B-grade dramatic offerings that never got half of the box office take that his leading lady accomplished.

– Technical problems. Most productions and filmmakers grow from past blunders with experience, but Perry as a helmer has proven that he doesn’t take notes for the horrendous bloopers that fill his screen. Choppy A.D.R that feels like a Kung Fu film dubbed for American audiences, actors corpsing in laughter throughout serious scenes, and blurry lighting schemes that are so bright and unedited that they felt like I was waking up from a long night of drinking. All of this pales in comparison however to the biggest offender of all: body doubles in the background that come nowhere close to replicating the actor in question. There’s a scene where David Otunga, a muscular black man, obviously wasn’t there for the day’s shots, so the film fills in his absence with a light skinned, thin as a beanpole actor, whose comparison gave me the one laugh that I had during the film. Filmmaking this bad is offensive, not just to me paying money to watch this movie, but to the loads of aspiring filmmakers who can’t catch a break despite someone in Hollywood doing the craft much worse.

– Perry’s direction. The only thing worse than Perry as this wretched title character is his work behind the lens in inspiring his actors to go above the material. I mentioned Harper earlier, and that was only a single scene. The rest of the cast is virtually wasted playing second fiddle to Perry’s four characters who take up a majority of screen time. Beyond this, when the supporting cast do get a chance to shine, their deliveries feel cold and unconvincing in a way that lacked complete motivation. It’s sad because if this is indeed the big break for some of these actors, I see their days ahead for casting being very dark and humbling because Perry has given them the depth of a late night Skinemax flick. Without boobs, a Skinemax film becomes pointless. Catch my drift?

– What funeral? What’s commendable at least with the funeral scenes in the film is that they are sometimes a clever take on the bloated nature of funeral services, but the problem is that it takes so long to even reach the pivotal setting of this movie, pushing audiences through a redundant endurance test with scenes that feel so far removed from where this film inevitably takes us. There are 28 minutes remaining in the film when we finally hit the mourning services, and it comes and goes with so little weight compared to the rest of the story moving around it. When you compare it to “Boo: A Madea Halloween”, that whole film revolves around that magical night where anything can and often does happen, but the funeral here is a footnote in a bigger picture in a film that goes nowhere, emphasizing what little they could actually do with such a constricting gimmick.

– Characters missing frequently. As I mentioned before, Perry dons make-up and multiple costume changes to become four different characters in the film, and after seeing some flawed continuity errors catch up to him, maybe it’s best that he release his grip on feeling so ambitious. There are many examples of this throughout, but the most glaring one is the very last scene of the movie, where Madea and friends are leaving, with a certain driver missing from the goodbyes all together. Did they leave Brian (Perry) with this struggling family. Did he run away from the madness that is dealing with these window lickers every single day? I’d say we will never find out, but we all know that another mindless Madea effort is coming. Otherwise, I’d have to rely on Adam Sandler or Kirk Cameron to make my life a living hell, and they’ve been traded to Netflix in recent years, where I don’t have to give a shit about either of them.

– An uncomfortable commentary. I won’t go over it much, but I can’t escape this uneasy feeling that Perry continues to flirt with, in that light skinned African Americans are evil. Every single one of the characters who fill this description in the movie are either cheaters, abusive, or completely out of their minds crazy, and I can’t begin to even entertain the idea why this is the case in every single Perry directed movie thus far. It’s not only made it to where each character’s motives are completely predictable when fleshed out, but also a bit of a cliche for how he can’t remove himself from this particular agenda.

– Why the humor fails. Aside from the material residing in the grounds of redundancy where every joke missed by audiences is replayed three or four times, there’s very little diagraming or set-up to Perry’s comedy that builds towards the big payoff. The accents as well do their parts to take audiences out of the attention span of the conversation, playing into audible kryptonite for much of the expectations in deliveries that never reach their desired destination. Patrice Lovely is by far the worst in this regards, because her screeching delivery and stroke victim face come off as feeling catered to three year old’s who just need a funny face and boisterous enactments to earn their praise.

– Visually, this film still withstands the presentational value of a Sears Air conditioner commercial, complete with cheap cinematography and stilted editing that is a chore to keep focus on. Establishing shots feel very conventional, refusing to leave the safety of exterior house depictions that was made famous only thirty years ago during the boom of network sitcoms. For all of the money that Perry has made, he deserves to flex some cash into crafting an exceptional Madea movie that stands out above the rest, but one unfortunate common theme in these films is that each one feels substantially more amateurish in its filmmaking, an aspect that continues with “Family Funeral”.

My Grade: 2/10 or F-

Fighting With My Family

Directed By Stephen Merchant

Starring – Florence Pugh, Dwayne Johnson, Lena Headey

The Plot – A heartwarming comedy based on the incredible true story of WWE Superstar Paige . Born into a tight-knit wrestling family, Paige (Pugh) and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) are ecstatic when they get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try out for World Wrestling Entertainment. But when only Paige earns a spot in the competitive training program, she must leave her family and face this new, cut-throat world alone. Paige’s journey pushes her to dig deep, fight for her family, and ultimately prove to the world that what makes her different is the very thing that can make her a star.

Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual material, adult language throughout, some violence and drug content

POSITIVES

– Captures the true essence of wrestling, both inside and out of the ring. It’s no surprise that a film like this is a commercial for the WWE brand, but in doing so the film has the right framing in the phenomenon of its product, as well as the passion involved with living this lifestyle that makes it anything but glamorous. At its core, the life of a professional wrestler is lonely, painful, and often times impossible because of the limited few who make it, and Paige’s story is the embodiment of all of these ingredients, fleshing out a narrative in which fans and non-fans of the sport can come together to embrace a true underdog on the silver screen, for only the first time since 2009’s “The Wrestler” brought gravity to a sport that is pre-determined.

– Surreal casting. Props in this department not only go to the director Stephen Merchant for doing his homework on the essential characters in this story, but also to casting director Shaheen Baig for calling on some pretty big names to render the synthetics of their real life counterparts. When I say that Nick Frost, Lena Headey, Jack Lowden, and of course Florence Pugh emulate the look and feel of this family perfectly, I mean it in a sense that they immersed themselves in each role, leaving fans who are familiar with the Knight family feeling eerily satisfied with just how deep the film goes to master everything from personalities to movements in the ring. It gives the film a transcendent quality on the screen that was previously seen in the documentary of the same name, but made even more impressive considering this is Hollywood elite who are donning the roles.

– Constant professionalism in performance work. Speaking of this talented cast, the energy they dedicate to the film pays off immensely for the believability, as well as the underlying longing of each sibling that is pulled from them brilliantly by Pugh and Lowden respectively. In Pugh’s Paige, the actress channels enough heart in bravery for being in a foreign land, and blends it superbly with the little girl fan inside her who is screaming in agony for not capitalizing in the way she thought she inevitably would. There’s enough humility to her performance to make this anything but a predictably conventional protagonist, adding layers to pre-conceived notions of wrestlers that give poignancy to unfamiliar audiences with the craft itself. Vince Vaughn is also a scene-stealer here, bringing a stern hand of authority to the humor we’ve come to expect from him, and harvesting it into this character whose intentions are honorable, but is also someone who has no problem breaking a person down mentally to reach their limit. For my money however, it’s Lowden who steals the show, riding Zack’s highs and lows that forces the character through an identity crisis of sorts, in that he swallows through the inevitability of his dream never fully coming true. Lowden’s wave of emotional instability brings a lot of intensity to scenes that would otherwise fall flat, and he’s an actor who I’ve only seen three times, but with each role confirms the lock he has on resiliency that makes him a thrill to watch.

– Juggling tones. The atmosphere in this film masters two exponentially different attitudes for the price of one, in comedy and drama, and accomplishes each of them tremendously without ever combining them as a cliche hybrid that we’ve come to expect. For the first half of the movie, this is very much a comedy, full of snappy dialogue and vibrant personality to bring forth more than a few hearty burst of laughter, but once it all settles down, the impact of dramatic tension lends itself to some very gripping scenes involving envy, isolation, and of course polarization, to give the screenplay depth. What’s important is that neither of these directions ever step on or compromise the other, giving the film plenty of time for you to indulge and feast on this circus under one roof, before the actions of the animals bite you in retaliation, and it proves that “Fighting With My Family” has enough heart and humor to flesh out a surprisingly moving narrative that is too infectious to ignore.

– Anything but a paint-by-numbers biopic. Beyond this feeling like a greatest hits collection of Paige’s most important moments, the film instills enough curveballs in the progression of the protagonist to make her conflict feel anything but temporary. In addition to this, the decision to make this film a sort of dual narrative of sorts, with Zack’s story feeling every bit as important as Paige’s, pays off tremendously for the shelf life of the respective plots, and reminds us of the importance of not only the film’s central protagonist, but that of the people who make her who she is. Imagine if “Bohemian Rhapsody” actually took the time to get to know the members of Queen, instead of just its flamboyant frontman. It would give the screenplay enough variety to keep it far from the outlines of conformity that unfortunately too many biopics become saddled with today, and this gleaming benefit keeps us firmly invested into even the more well known angles of Paige’s story, giving nuance to the kind of emotions and bitter pill’s the 20 year old was forced to taste.

– Rapid fire pacing. If this film has done just one thing better than the other twenty films that I have seen this year, it’s in the fluid pacing of 102 vitally important minutes that never waste an opportunity in adding something to the story. Considering this is a film revolving around something as redundant as wrestling, the film surprisingly masters a lot of complexity not only with its filmmaking, but also in the knowledge of the sport itself, with how it’s very much teaching the audience at the same time it is teaching the students of the game. There was never a point during the film where I was even remotely bored, despite knowing a majority of the results in Paige’s struggle. It caps off a command by Merchant that shows his passion for the sport and filmmaking alike, and it makes for as easy of a sit as you’re going to get for something that never feels the weight of its minutes.

– Production value between worlds. Merchant’s biggest gain as a director in this film deals with his capabilities in comparing and contrasting the worlds of big league and independent wrestling that articulately channel the desperation of the two ambitious students. When we’re in the independent world, the angles are claustrophobic, dimly lit, and full of cheap effect smoke to give the complete picture a very small stage essence. Yet when the WWE appears, we get these beautifully vibrant sets, with no shortage of professional lighting to tie it all together. The greatest strength a film can have in dealing with two worlds is to compare them side-by-side, and in doing so it visually channels the uphill climb, all the while selling the spectacle that many have fallen in love with.

NEGATIVES

– Incorrect sequencing of timeline events. There were a few nagging instances I caught where the film mishandled the years of important events not only in wrestling, but also in pop culture. There are small things from the movie mentioning “The Hunger Games” movie, which came out in 2012, despite the fact that Paige’s story takes place in 2010. There are also big things that only wrestling fans like myself would notice, like a pivotal John Cena title win shown that didn’t take place until 2013. These are the kind of constant time frame errors that I often look for in movies with a particular time designation, and as it turns out this one missed a lot in the mentions that it tries to so cleverly slip by its audience. If you’re going to do something right, check for continuity, otherwise remove any mention of events you’re too lazy to look up.

– Time is a construct. Days, weeks, months, years. I mention these because the film has no need to inform the audience on how much time has passed. Why is that important? Because it helps illustrate not only how long Paige has been apart from her family, but also how long she has fought in winning over her peers during her time in NXT. Speaking of which, the NXT area of the film is so trimmed down and confined that it doesn’t capture Paige’s pivotal Women’s Title win, nor does it articulate how and why she endears herself with the fans. It leaves a noticeable gap late in the movie that makes her jump to WWE feels spontaneous instead of earned, and this is the area more than any that could use more clarity, as well as more time to better convey the passing of time, to which the movie has none of.

– Sloppy final sequence. This will only appeal to wrestling audiences like myself, who are bothered by the little things. In this regard, it’s during Paige’s title match against A.J Lee, where not only are the wardrobe choices by both wrestlers terribly wrong in every imaginable way of fashion, not only is Lee’s bodyguard Tamina missing from the scene, not only is the choreography of the match completely off from the real life match itself, but also the editing is done in a way where Paige wasn’t already extremely popular with audiences before she defeated Lee. This gives the sequence a manipulative presence, orchestrating itself to convenience of a plot device that it strictly didn’t need, and gives a phony feeling to the production during this area of the film that was otherwise remarkable up to this point. Even WWE Films apparently doesn’t watch their product. Can’t say I blame them.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

The Princess Bride

Directed By Rob Reiner

Starring – Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright

The Plot – A kindly grandfather (Peter Falk) sits down with his ill grandson (Fred Savage) and reads him a story. The story is one that has been passed down from father to son for generations. As the grandfather reads the story, the action comes alive. The story is a classic tale of love and adventure as the beautiful Buttercup (Wright), engaged to the odious Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), is kidnapped and held against her will in order to start a war, It is up to Westley (Elwes), her childhood beau, now returned as the Dread Pirate Roberts, to save her. On the way he meets a thief and his hired helpers, an accomplished swordsman and a huge, super strong giant, both of whom become Westley’s companions in his quest.

Rated PG for adult situations and language.

POSITIVES

– Practicality all around. A refreshing aspect in watching a film that is 32 years old is the collection of set designs and special effects that speak levels about a now forgotten age of creativity. Most of the set visuals in the film authenticate that stage presence, in that everything sticks out especially, giving each prop sufficient weight in the movement and influence of each scene. Likewise, all creature special effects are done with animatronics, and while this decision looks obvious by today’s standards, there’s no substitute for time devoted to craft. It gives focus to distinct features of each creature that would easily be glossed over with computer animation, as well as gives the actor something lively to interact with during scenes of tension.

– The magic of the lens. Many of the establishing shots here are GORGEOUS and full of wide angle immensity that would make you think much of it was shot on location, but in reality pay homage to the immersion of studio filmmaking that suspends disbelief. In particular, it’s the shots on the water, with a sprinkle of moonlight used to illuminate the ships in focus that peaked my interest and outlined a layer of focus to the importance of this storybook tale that is established in each capture. None of these scenes lack believability in scale, but are made that much more impressive when you consider they were done inside of a backlot studio, instilling distance in a stage with only water and a single light to inspire believability.

– One legendary line. While everyone has a favorite line of dialogue for the movie, my personal favorite has always been Inigo’s threatening menace behind “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father. Prepare to die”, and as I’ve recently learned there’s quite a story behind it. Patankin, who played Inigo, had just recently lost his father to cancer in real life, and used the dramatic pull of the loss to channel the vengeance in delivering the line. What I love about this line is that it repeats throughout the film and manages to feel more focused the closer Inigo gets to his enemy, all the while standing out in a way tonally that feels other-worldly to the rest of the romantic comedy taking place around it.

– Stellar cast performances all around. Elwes is every little girl’s prince charming, exuberating a combination of confidence in swordplay and cool demeanor that make him irresistible as a protagonist. Patankin also commands the attention, riding this story arc of redemption that is equally as intriguing as the central plot rescuing of Robin Wright’s Buttercup. Patankin’s transformation throughout teaches us a lot about his tortured past, all the while never diminishing the intensity of Patankin’s roguish appeal. Aside from the two leading men, there are charming appearances from Billy Crystal, Andre The Giant, Peter Falk, Fred Savage, and of course Wallace Shawn, who gives my single favorite laugh of the film when laughing gets the best of him. Overall, it cements an ensemble effort that fires on every cylinder, giving ample time for each of the big names to shine with each character introduction.

– Management of dual narrative. Considering there are two stories running simultaneously throughout the film, it’s the incredible pacing and structure of each that astounded me in ways that other dual narratives today don’t equally balance out. While a majority of the film is set in the fantasy world itself, the three instances of Savage and Falk’s family characters are placed in a way that gives outline to the three act structure, and really pauses our interest in the fantasy when progression is at its peak. We, like Savage’s grandson character, can’t wait to jump right back into it, and in this regard the film transcends screen, in that we too are held at the mercy of Falk’s luring storytelling, giving us the audience a presence in this fairytale that feels like it’s being told to us exclusively.

– Stunning sword choreography. There’s much to give praise to here, but it all comes at the respect of Peter Diamond and Bob Anderson, who between them had been in the Olympics, Indiana Jones films, and eventually Lord of the Rings films. What’s so impressive is that not only is the swordplay fast between oppositions, but the foot work of the actors engaged manages to evade a barrage of branches, bricks, and rocks that we’re just waiting to see have an influence in this conflict. It never comes, and it’s a testament to the handling that was taken in preserving hand-to-hand authenticity, made even more impressive considering Elwes broke his toe on a four wheeler only hours before the scene was shot. Diamond and Anderson work magic on these big name actors, and because of such juggle enough testosterone and urgency to constantly raise the stakes.

– Constant 80’s nostalgia. One of my favorite aspects in watching a classic movie is the hints of dated pasts that could only reside in a particular decade, and there’s plenty to admire and even pause the film over here. I love the extra props like the all red and white Cheetos bag, as well as Fred Savage playing the Commodore 64 computer game “Hardball”. Each of these items add important perspective into Savage’s close-minded personality at the beginning of the film, coming off as a generation X slacker of sorts, who will eventually become more captivated into material that he condemned before it started. It’s a perk that is totally irrelevant to the film, but something that I like to mention because its objects and focuses have almost become time-stamped in the same way that the medieval age has in the story that Grandfather and Grandson are moving through.

– Meticulous in the humor. While juggling the content of romance, action, and family elements alike, this movie features plenty of hearty laughs in the form of modestly gentle and subordinate deliveries that never step on the straight story evolving around it. Similar to the structure of Mel Brooks (Who is in fact in the film) or Monty Python, the material doesn’t halt the progression of the narrative, an aspect that many modern comedy films could take a lesson from, in that improv humor is used as fluff for a two hour run time designation. Instead, “The Princess Bride” still values these moments of release, but does so in a way that never holds the story hostage, nor does it over-indulge in allowance, proving to us how comedy can work hand-in-hand with fantasy if the two can work as partners instead of adversaries over the screen.

NEGATIVES

– Horrendous sound mixing. One of the things that became obvious with this watch was the sloppy sound manipulation that the film tries to pass off onto the audience as synthetic. Several scenes throughout the film feature overheard dialogue that is said without any of the lips of characters moving, but none more prominent than that of Elwes back-riding scene of Andre The Giant. In just this scene alone, there are a few instances where the mixing takes advantage of a majority of Elwes head being shielded during long winded dialogue, but it flounders because the mouth is still as obvious as any close angle shot, and serves as one of two major problems that I had with the production of this picture.

– The other one. It’s not often that the production is the biggest hurdle for a film that I watch, but once again post-editing brings to light some disastrous decisions as to what’s left in the film. Several instances of production crew’s shadows being in a shot, boom microphones moving in and out of the tops of shots, and a landing pad during the first fight scene which is as obvious as a fart in church. I get that it’s the 80’s, so there’s some room for forgiveness in this respect, but if you’re going to ever deem a film as “A Timeless Classic”, then the production has to stand up to the forth-coming decades that it stands tall through, and sadly amateur mistakes like these keep the film from ever reaching its potential as one of the best films of the decade.

My Grade: 8/10 or A-

Isn’t It Romantic

Directed By Todd Strauss-Schulson

Starring – Rebel Wilson, Liam Hemsworth, Priyanka Chopra

The Plot – New York City architect Natalie (Wilson) works hard to get noticed at her job but is more likely to be asked to deliver coffee and bagels than to design the city’s next skyscraper. And if things weren’t bad enough, Natalie, a lifelong cynic when it comes to love, has an encounter with a mugger that renders her unconscious, waking to discover that her life has suddenly become her worst nightmare: a romantic comedy, and she is the leading lady.

Rated PG-13 for adult language, some sexual material, and a brief drug reference

POSITIVES

– Plenty of contrast between worlds. With a movie like this depicting the tropes and cliches of the romantic comedy genre, I expected its satirical sense to be satisfied in a script only perspective, but what I got was a visual presentation that had the second act of the movie feeling like an entirely different film. The cinematography is arguably the biggest impact, trading in a horrendous persistent handheld design in favor of a crisp, clean still-frame that captures a wider picture depiction. In addition to this, the color coordination feels more refined, and the use of some finely textured computer generation makes the New York skyline light-up like the fourth of July. Strauss-Schulson is clearly a man who has done his homework, and he brings forth a two-for-one punch of creativity that clearly constructs a line of fantasy to the world within a world.

– Pays homage to some of the greats. Keep your eyes peeled for screenshots, posters, and even borrowed lines of dialogue from some of the most reputable of the romantic comedy genre. In the respect alone, it’s clear that the film is spoofing the top of the line stuff, and not the B-movie bargain bin that pick the scraps of its predecessors for all of the wrong reasons. This is top of the line, feel good rendering that tackles why those films were so infectious in the first place, and with it brings along a personality of its own that is every bit as indulgent as its competition.

– Harvests a strong personal message. One thing I wasn’t expecting in a Rebel Wilson movie was an emerging message of confidence during the third act that casts a bit of a temporary misdirection from this story than we were expecting. In this regard, and especially with this film being released on the Valentine’s Day holiday, the movie actually caters more to single audiences than it does couples, bringing along those parties of one that romantic films tend to forget about around this time of the year. Being in this party myself, I commend a film like this for selling itself to a much bigger audience, and I believe it’s in those spare audiences where the film will see its strongest benefit in terms of returns.

– Expansive romantic comedy soundtrack that thrives on familiarity. Everything from Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” to Chris Deburg’s “Lady In Red” is inserted at the most opportune times, and bring with them a series of high-end dance numbers that really spice up the scope of the picture while playing into what’s transpiring creatively. What’s important is that no track ever feels out of plays or foreign to what it’s following, and in the spirit of great toe-tappers this is a complete offering that covers the entire spectrum of the rom-com craze that it audibly narrates.

– The laughs. This isn’t going to be one of the funniest films of the year for me, but the material itself did bring forth some hearty laughter in reactions and physical humor that consistently reach their aim for the most part. For my money, it’s more in the backdrop Easter Eggs where the real treasures lie, illustrating clever coincidences in business names, product advertisements, and energetic extras that more than steal the focus away from time to time. If you’re a student of the game when it comes to this particular genre, then you will feel one step ahead of the game at all times with these visual strokes of satire, picking up the slack in laughs where the PG-13 confines of material occasionally falter.

– Respect to the director. While I have only seen 2015’s “The Final Girls” from Strauss-Schulson’s filmography, a movie that I dearly loved, I can say that he has once again earned a fan out of me for keeping the control on a project that would be easy to float away from. I relate something like this to the Scary Movie franchise, in that it sometimes gets ahead of itself while not knowing when to quit with a joke or story direction. This movie stays firmly grounded in the gimmick, all the while composing an intriguing enough narrative that did maintain my interest. Todd also understands that while this is a spoof, it’s best not to insult the audiences of those movies, so the gags themselves are light-hearted and even factually based when compared to something of the previous film I mentioned, which goes out of its way to thrash and trash every little thing about them. Todd watched 65 romantic comedies in preparation for the film, and wrote down every narrative similarity about them, proving that he was a dedicated student of the game who went the distance to capture the surroundings accordingly.

– There’s something oddly satisfying about the only romantic movie coming out during Valentines Day weekend is a spoof. Considering the last few years have dealt with the dreaded Fifty Shades movies around this time, it gives a finer appreciation for a film like “Isn’t It Romantic”, that doesn’t require extremities or taboo to sell its picture. These are the kind of movies that I love seeing around this time of year, and even if it doesn’t fully satisfy on every angle of the filmmaking, Hollywood’s return to form for romantic comedies in February is a welcome return to form that documents Hollywood’s ever-changing face, thanks to its unorthodox leading lady.

NEGATIVES

– Performances drop the ball on an otherwise talented cast. I don’t mind Rebel Wilson, but her charms aren’t best utilized in this film. She still maintains the comic touch that has bolstered her career, but it’s in the romantic aspect where she falls flat in garnering the audience interest to feel inspired for her character. Her and Adam Devine still have impeccable chemistry from their Pitch Perfect days, but there isn’t enough tease or tantalizing in the flow of their relationship to feel their yearning. Hemsworth is once again flat in his charisma, continuing to stand in the shadows of a much more talented brother whose versatility helps him survive the storm. Aside from this, the best performance in the film is easily the gay best friend of Wilson’s character, portrayed by Brandon Scott Jones, who steals each scene because of his over-eccentric personality that is impossible not to laugh at. That’s really it in terms of compelling performances.

– Sloppy pacing. At 83 measly minutes, I knew the pacing associated with proper subplot development would be a challenge, and as it turns out I was right in that assumption. The characters are thinly written, relationships are rushed to their inevitable conclusions, and the entire second act would almost hold no weight with the narrative if it weren’t for one scene that establishes the rules within this world. While a quick watch is nice, this is a film that could easily use another twenty minutes to tie these issues together, and even for a spoof “Isn’t It Romantic” feels far too breezy to be groundbreaking.

– Falls into its own set traps. I get that this is a spoof and that there are only so many directions this film can take, but the conventionalism associated with the resolves, in addition to committing many of the same tropes that the film mocks, plagues this film into the kind of familiar predictable territory that forces it to border hypocritical circumstances. In my opinion, some further elaborating on the differences of the real world could’ve been used to do things that the fantasy world cannot, and what we’re left with is a third act that finally ties these two contrasting tones together to one cohesive film for once, and while that sounds appealing, it’s for all of the wrong reasons.

My Grade: 7/10 or C+

Happy Death Day 2U

Directed By Christopher Landon

Starring – Jessica Rothe, Ruby Modine, Israel Broussard

The Plot – This time, our hero Tree Gelbman (Rothe) discovers that dying over and over was surprisingly easier than the dangers that lie ahead.

Rated PG-13 for violence, adult language, sexual material and thematic elements

POSITIVES

– A risky formula. Considering this sequel is convoluting everything about the first movie that was simplistically solid about the narrative, it’s surprising that it works in the best kind of way. The film adds many layers creatively not only in the redundancy of repetition, but also in further enhancing the personalities of supporting characters, who we only got a few instances with during the first movie. It takes something on a small scale and maximizes its potential on a scientific spectrum not only to try to answer how any of this is possible to begin with, but to also show off the increase in budget after a successful first campaign, and it adds a fresh taste to a series based on repetition.

– Speaking of repetition, if you think this is just repeating the same scenes of the first movie, think again. Because this is a parallel dimension of sorts, the writers are able to play with the character relationships and fateful possibilities that the first film wasn’t privy to. As you might imagine, this makes things increasingly difficult for Tree, not only in going through a mostly fresh take all over again, but also in the weight of consequences it finally establishes from her dying so much, giving each passing day urgency in the way a normal life typically would. This is something that bothered me with the first film, because there’s no suspense in the narrative if Tree can simply reset each and every day, and thankfully its much better sequel has addressed this issue to leave audiences more firmly invested.

– Juggling tone. While this film still has elements of horror in its material, the movie’s dependency on humor, particularly in that of the physical variety made this feel like a completely different film all together, and invested me much further than its predecessor. Most of the intended humor works as constructed, but the tonal evolution doesn’t stop there. It gives way to some third act dramatic pulls similar to those of the things Ashton Kutcher was fighting against in “The Butterfly Effect”, creating an air of unavoidable tragedy to Tree’s life that establishes even more empathy for the already sarcastically sizzling lead protagonist.

– How good is Jessica?. As to where Rothe was easily the best part of the first movie, the further development and attention paid to the supporting ensemble makes her earn it this time, and boy does she ever. Rothe’s energetic impulses and free-range facial canvas of response makes her the perfect leading lady for her particular situation, combining enough fear, aggravation, and trauma to the role to play off each new discovery that is for better or worse helpful. However, it’s in the script’s tugging her to unfamiliar dramatic ground where we see a star in the making. For much of the second half of the movie, Rothe’s character feels fully fleshed out in a matured way where we embrace a psychological connection for the first time, and it only cements that this series would be nothing without a charismatic lead who adapts when everything visually and creatively is changing around her.

– Instrumental throwback. Sadly, modern horror films rarely do musical montages, but the clever way that Paramore’s “Hard Times”, arguably my favorite pop song of the last three years, is used with the material not only adds a reflective take to what’s transpiring before us, but also gives a fun moment of toe-tapping release between the mounting details of scientific formulas. This sequence edits all of the death scenes together crisply, while garnering enough responsibility in documenting the dangers to stay on the safe side of influencing viewers in the wrong ways. This is as Roadrunner and coyote as you can get for something as serious as death, and I devilishly enjoyed every single moment of it and hearing Hayley Williams angelic crescendo in one tasty presentation.

– Synthetic production values. “Happy Death Day” happened two whole years ago, so in duplicating the appearances not only of characters, but also in set pieces and familiar pop-ups can be a difficult task, but it’s one that may be Landon’s single strongest feature as a director. There isn’t a single flaw in the work of believability that would make this movie feel like anything other than a faithful continuation of Tree’s everyday college routine, and it allows the audience the ability to quite literally watch these movies back-to-back as one cohesive film because it bonds to its predecessor so tightly. As to where aspects of other sequels bring to the foreground an air of obviousness to them, Landon has paid his tuition in whole to soak up one more semester at this college setting, and the result is seamless continuity.

– Bear McCreery’s nostalgic influence. The musical score to this film feels every bit as evocative as it does obvious towards a particular film mentioned during the first act, and while this point sounds condemning in terms of originality, it’s in that obvious audible atmosphere where we find the clarity we seek for why this sounds like anything but conventional horror familiarity. There’s plenty of wonderment and majestry during the science fiction scenes, all the while leaving extra room for dessert in terms of mellow, moving compositions that force you to swallow harder while gently tugging at your heartstrings. McCreery’s growing reputation among a variety of genre offerings have etched his name in stone among the best composers going today, but his work in “Happy Death Day 2U” summarizes the complete spectrum in depth that prove genre is only a word.

NEGATIVES

– Undercooked horror element. It’s a bit disappointing that the horror factor of the film is given the least amount of attention, and it shows when you consider the little growth it takes on in this pivotal second chapter. Because everything else is different in the film, so too is the masked killer, and even when I thought the first movie’s killer was completely predictable, it’s got nothing on the asinine obviousness of this film. For one, I don’t believe for a second that this person would go overboard because of what transpires, nor do I buy them as menacing in the slightest. Aside from this, horror is such a limited partner in this film that it almost feels tacked-on every time the film remembers to go there.

– First act miscues. The introduction to the film goes in a completely different direction with a new character, but unfortunately its exploration lasts all of ten minutes, and is resolved in such an easy manner that makes its inclusion feel almost pointless with where the narrative takes us. I can understand the script not wanting to hit on the same beats as the first movie, but surely there were much easier ways to make the connection between what is happening with Tree and another character’s science project to tie it all together. I felt that this character was going to be a bigger part of this film, but he’s only used when Tree’s character needs him, summarizing a first act introduction that speaks very little to the rest of the film it is conjoined to.

– Nonsensical ending. MAJOR SPOILERS. Tree is forced by the end of the movie to basically live in a world between being with the guy she loves or her mom, but what’s hilarious is that she can have both if she just used some of the intellect that supposedly allowed her to remember a dry erase board full of formula. If she just talks to this guy and tells him her feelings, this whole thing could be avoided, and she could live in a world where she has it all. Instead, the film creates a choice that is completely unwarranted, trying to paint a lesson where it just doesn’t apply. What’s even funnier is that Tree and her beau do indeed fall for each other right before she returns to her normal world, proving that a conversation could’ve saved her mother.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

Cold Pursuit

Directed By Hans Petter Moland

Starring – Liam Neeson, Emmy Rossum, Laura Dern

The Plot – Quiet family man and hard-working snowplow driver Nels Coxman (Neeson) is the lifeblood of a glitzy resort town in the Rocky Mountains because he is the one who keeps the winter roads clear. He and his wife (Dern) live in a comfortable cabin away from the tourists. The town has just awarded him “Citizen of the Year.” But Nels has to leave his quiet mountain life when his son is murdered by a powerful drug lord. As a man who has nothing to lose he is stoked by a drive for vengeance. This unlikely hero uses his hunting skills and transforms from an ordinary man into a skilled killer as he sets out to dismantle the cartel. Nels’ actions ignite a turf war between a manically unpredictable gangster known as Viking and a rival gang boss. Justice is served in one final spectacular confrontation that will leave no one unscathed.

Rated R for strong violence, drug material, and some adult language including sexual references

POSITIVES

– The harsh elements of the setting. Not since 2017’s “Wind River” has a film established the ingrediants of an environment so fruitfully that easily transcends that of the screen that we the audience are watching it on. Thanks to the immersive shot selection, as well as the various imagery throughout the picture, I found myself feeling the sting of the frost-bitten cold, combined with the isolation and confinement of the overwhelming snow that surrounds our cast of characters. Visually, it outlines a hell-frozen-over kind of vibe to replicate the actions of what is going on in the story, and it frequently gave me chills the longer we are engaged in it.

– Fresh takes on performances all around. I know what you’re thinking: this is the typical Liam Neeson role, in which he saves the day after something horrible is done to a member of his family, but that’s merely a rough take and not the entire picture of his performance. What is so different about Nels as opposed to the other characters that Neeson has portrayed is his sense of vulnerability and the consequences catching up to him with thinking on the fly. Outside of maybe his role in “The Grey”, this feels like the most relatable character of his action movie filmography, balancing enough heart and menace to the role that never forgets this man’s pain through the many dirty deeds he unloads. Aside from Neeson, I also enjoyed the work of Emmy Rossum as an upstart police detective whose soul motivation is to save the town from rival drug gangs, as well as Tom Bateman as the film’s central antagonist, who may or may not be directly out of a superhero movie for his unorthodox movements and over-eccentric personality that constantly keeps things interesting.

– A surprising direction of tone. “Cold Pursuit’s” strongest quality is in its dark and twisted sense of humor, which gives the elements at play a very ironic sense of circumstance behind them. I certainly didn’t expect myself to laugh with a plot like this one, but the film is constantly tugging at the patience of audience in the most devilishly delicious manner, showing it’s not afraid to get silly with a premise as outlandish as this one. One such example involves an incredibly slow and noisy morgue lift that would otherwise be edited for time in a typical movie, but here is played in real time to translate the awkwardness of the situation in the air. Beyond this, the deaths themselves are given a lot of free-range creativity to play around with, satisfying the crave of carnage candy in anyone who values intense revenge in circles like these.

– The immense responsibility cast upon cinematographer Philip Ogaard. Philip himself has done a lot of Danish film projects, including the original film that this movie is based on, and you can see that country of influence translate superbly to the way the film looks and feels. The color pallets have a very absorbing quality to them, in that they soak up the color scheme inside of each and every room, but beyond that they do wonders in depicting the elegance associated with these wealthy families of Denver, giving scenes of chewable scenery for us the audience to sample these extraordinary set designs. There’s also respect to be given for how Denver is presented from the wide lens angle, presenting it as sort of an isolated snowpacalypse that has paused the everyday operations of such a city.

– Unorthodox focus in where it spends its time. It’s interesting that the screenplay spends a majority of its time getting to know our antagonists, but the benefits as a result of such are rewarding in more ways than one. For my money, this creative direction gives the film a more cerebral sense, in that we are seeing the cause and effects of each and every move by each respective side, as well as it taking its time in forcing the audience to understand each calculation along the way. Beyond even this however, it gives light to these horrible people being just that: PEOPLE, and not some hokey, cliche-ridden bad guy who we ourselves can’t relate to in the slightest. It’s a big chance that pays off handsomely in giving us a who for the why, and I wish more films would take this as a much-needed gift to better flesh out the motivations of characters inside of their stories.

– Creativity in visual text. Each time a character dies, and believe me when I say there are many times of it, the film cuts to a black backdrop white text visual that gives the name of the deceased, their nickname, and an icon symbol to match each. It gives each bout of revenge a compartmentalized and almost chapter-esque feel inside of the bigger picture, and only further plays into the personality that the screenplay instills. If a character is seconds away from facing what we realize is an inevitable death, the quick cut to black visually communicates and confirms what we already knew was coming, and no matter how many times this gimmick is used, I never lost my smile because of it.

– Impactful ending. A problem plaguing many films these days is the director not knowing where to end it to leave audiences with the biggest gut-punch right before the credits, and thankfully “Cold Pursuit” never has this problem. Aside from there being some twists with its resolution that I didn’t see coming, there is one last surprise in the final shot of the movie that made me laugh, wince, and only confirmed the awesome time I had with this movie through nearly two hours. It’s one last stinger that reminds audiences of the cold and unforgiving nature of such a place, and does so in a way that the previous scenes thrived at: ironic inevitability.

NEGATIVES

– Obvious plot device introduced midway through. There’s a character who pops up midway through the film who has very little ties to either side, and whose progression and conclusion only appear because the movie needed him to. I won’t give away anything, but without this person, the antagonist would never know the name of the person coming after him, nor would there ever be any form of war between the two sides, since Nels knows his enemy and not vice versa. This character only appears for about ten minutes during the film, and because of such we know that the intention was to draw these two sides together in the most obviously sloppy kind of manner.

– Important character disappearance. One strange directing decision along the way involves Laura Dern’s character vanishing from the screen and never re-appearing or further elaborating on the relationship between her and Neeson. The reason for this to me feels like too many cooks in the kitchen in terms of characters introduced to the on-going narrative, but the mother to the deceased boy is such a pivotal and redeeming quality to a conflict like this, and only further wastes the time and talents of arguably the most talented worker in the entire cast.

– Moland’s broken promise. I am one of few American critics to have seen “In Order of Disappearance”, and director Moland has gone on record as saying he would only remake his previous film if it were completely different from his original film, and that just isn’t the case here. With the exception of different actors, and one minimally unimportant subplot, the only difference is Nels last name, with it in the original being Dickman, and in this one being Coxman. Yes, that is indeed a dick joke. My point however, is that this film is sadly an almost shot-for-shot remake that will do little for people who have seen the original chapter, and only further convolutes the definition of the term “Remake”.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

What Men Want

Directed By Adam Shankman

Starring – Taraji P. Henson, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Max Greenfield

The Plot – The film follows the story of a female sports agent (Henson) who has been constantly boxed out by her male colleagues. When she gains the power to hear mens’ inner thoughts, she is able to shift the paradigm to her advantage as she races to sign the NBA’s next superstar.

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

POSITIVES

– Henson’s infectious personality. While I found her character to be completely insensitive and often at times irresponsible, the suave charisma of this leading lady made her a delight to watch, and only provided emphasis for her constant professionalism. Henson has taken on some less than stellar films, this one included in the bunch, but as an actress she constantly maintains the raw energy she taps into for every role, that in this case harvest plenty of humorous reactions to boost her relatability. I will seriously watch anything that Henson is in, and I’ve already proved that, as she starred in Tyler Perry’s “Acrimony” just last year. This one is a vehicle for Henson’s charms, and should serve as the biggest influence as to why you should see it.

– Rating does wonders. I was NOT expecting this film to be deemed with a coveted R-rating classification, mainly because the original film was limited with a PG-13, but thankfully the film’s dialogue makes the most of this rare blessing. This never feels like a raunchy or mindless comedy, instead opting for authentication in the form of a lot of frequent cursing to properly channel the accuracy in men’s speech patterns. What’s even more important is that the push for adult language never overstays its welcome or spoils its presence, opting instead to present itself when the laugh reaches supreme prominence in the form of audience reaction. Cursing rarely feels as good as it does in this film, and it’s good to see an adult comedy once in a while that actually gets the gimmick right.

– Hidden meaning beneath the hodgepodge. We can forever debate what this film was trying to teach us based on the way it portrays men and women alike, but a comforting message that emerges late in the movie DOES in fact make the whole shallow trip feel worth it, and provides nuanced sentiment to the woman growing up in a society that still has ways to go in making the genders equal. This is a film about not conforming to men’s expectations to reach their approval, and instead being comfortable in the skin of someone who is empathetic towards others. This third act swing doesn’t win the movie over for me entirely, but unlike films like “I Feel Pretty” or “Shallow Hal”, it proves that its heart was at least in the right place.

– Establishes a decent subplot mystery. Without question, the one thing that I cared about more than anything in this script was the ambiguous figure who has voted Ali down time after time when it comes to partner voting for her agency, and while the end result was every bit as predictable as expected, the setting of the male-dominated, adrenaline-fueled worksite made it feel like any of them could easily be responsible. This gives more insight into Ali’s mentality with how alone she truly is, and leaves her and us the audience without the ability to trust a single one of the co-workers that surround her.

NEGATIVES

– Dated soundtrack. I’m guessing that this remake of sorts has been an idea in the minds of studio executives for a long time because the film’s soundtrack of almost entirely 90’s hip hop and pop jams feels entirely out of place for the current day landscape that the film exists in. I’m not saying that classic music can’t exist in a modern film, but it should be sprinkled in with familiar tracks from the current day, otherwise it comes across feeling like an unintentional tribute to 90’s cinema, which then plays mentally with audience’s interpretation of the world that we are seeing front-and-center. One or two is OK, but the film having five 90’s anthems is a bit too much to be considered coincidence.

– As expected by the trailer, this does become cameo porn in the form of one-and-done faces who add nothing of dimension to the script or even the weight of the protagonist’s gimmick. Even more shameful, the movie becomes this obvious commercial for the National Basketball Association, in that it’s using valuable minutes to spend at a basketball game or the NBA Draft itself, and these scenes do nothing except to showcase a big budget feel in ways that are totally unnecessary and irrelevant. It’s completely distracting, and speaks volumes to the worst part of celebrity cameos being when a script literally has nothing for them to do except to pop in and out of frame.

– Not a single instance of artistic substance. Adam Shankman is easily one of my least favorite directors who keeps getting these mainstream projects, and his work in “What Men Want” is a cliff notes version for everything that limits his potential as an influential filmmaker. Cheap editing effects, dull and uninspired cinematography, flawed camera placement, endless product meandering, and repeated establishing shots of the city of Atlanta. On the latter, the same shot was used on three different occasions, and if you think I’m exaggerating, you should pay close attention to the one car that is parked in the parking lot of Turner Field. It’s all a reminder of how little Shankman has accomplished since 2002’s “A Walk To Remember”, and how little personality he exerts in his mundane presentations.

– Terrible scene plotting. Improv comedy is once again an uninvited guest, but that’s only a small percentage of the problem for a movie with such rocky pacing with a goal to hit two hours. It’s so easy to see what should be cut from this film. Do we need two different sex scenes with the exact same characters? Do we require three different appearances from the psychic character? Is there any need for a wedding that feels forcefully lifted from a Tyler Perry screenplay for its sheer lunacy? Scenes like these exist, and then there are important scenes that gain momentum for the film that are cut abruptly, and it never manages to gain an air of consistency to the pacing that is all over the place when compared and contrasted.

– Pains of the gimmick. The rules associated with the ability to hear the opposite gender’s thoughts didn’t make sense in “What Women Want”, and it’s not any more elaborated on in a sequel nearly twenty years later. How far does her ability to hear go? Can she hear men in the room next door? Why does she perfectly hear each thought and that no two men’s thoughts ever overlap in sound design? How come she doesn’t hear thoughts during pivotal matters like sex or physical fighting? How come she can’t hear her significant other’s son’s thoughts? Is it a puberty thing? There’s plenty more, but I’ll spare you the pointless diatribe. My point is that for a movie that literally centers around mental capacity, its structure couldn’t be any more mindless.

– What Does it say about men? I was offended at the simpleton look of “What Women Want”, and how every woman on the planet was put together in this gift-wrapped box, so you can imagine my disdain when it comes to my actual gender. It turns out that men are feeble-minded, are almost entirely hateful, think about cheating on their girlfriends constantly, and only two great guys in forty exists, and one of those is gay. I wish a film like this would take the time to establish more layers of the gender that it depicts, because its focus feels too much like a spoof to ever capitalize on garnering some substantial social commentary. Films like these should be a breakthrough in communication, but instead are used as nothing more than opportunities to feed into dangerous stereotypes that wedge us even further. Coming from a single 34 year-old-man who can’t manage a date with a female because they have perceived us all the same, I say a big Fuck You to movies like this.

My Grade: 4/10 or D

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Directed By Mike Mitchell

Starring – Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett

The Plot – Reunites the heroes of Bricksburg in an all new action-packed adventure to save their beloved city. It’s been five years since everything was awesome and the citizens are now facing a huge new threat: LEGO DUPLO invaders from outer space, wrecking everything faster than it can be rebuilt. The battle to defeat the invaders and restore harmony to the LEGO universe will take Emmet (Pratt), Lucy (Banks), Batman (Will Arnett) and their friends to faraway, unexplored worlds, including a strange galaxy where everything is a musical. It will test their courage, creativity and Master Building skills, and reveal just how special they really are.

Rated PG for mild action and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Endless imaginative animation. Since this is a sequel, the stakes and production should be twice as strong, and thanks to a collection of immensely detailed Lego structures and a variety of ever-changing landscapes and scenery, the film’s digitalization refuses to ever grow stale, all the while raising the bar respectively between two different worlds, real life and Lego, that offer enough contrast in character movements to flesh out the rules and engagements of each atmosphere. The color scheme is vibrant in depiction, offering a cornicopia of colorful explosion to constantly hold the attention and amazement of each respective age group.

– Character cameos. The first Lego Movie brought us the introduction to one of my favorite Batman’s of all time, but it’s nothing compared to the intelligence instilled in how the sequel incorporates some familiar faces into the Lego Universe. I won’t spoil anything, but the one that steals the show easily for me is a 90’s action icon who pops up twice in extremely creative and humorous ways, that may or may not be his best performance in years. Aside from him, there are appearances with everyone from superheroes, to sports stars, to teen heartthrobs, and even an easily recognizable actress to play Will Ferrell’s wife, that is just too perfect not to capitalize on.

– A completely brand new earworm of a soundtrack. While nothing reaches the replay value or adventurous spirit of something like “Everything is Awesome”, the musical numbers in the film offer plenty of balance and eclectic instrument progression that will surely craft a favorite for everyone. For my money, it’s definitely the appropriately titled “This Song Will Get Stuck In Your Head”, a building stadium anthem that not only pokes fun at the repetition of chorus used in most modern day pop music, but also speaks volumes to the way a track will inflict pain no matter how bad we try to fight it. It’s the perfect cap on another collection of surefire favorites that won’t relent until they have been played in every family minivan cruising the world.

– The progression of the script. When the film started, the first act felt like a chore to get through, mainly because every scene during this time was given away in the overly-revealing trailer, leaving nothing but predictability in the way, but thankfully the rest of the film builds an intriguing triple-tiered narrative, all the while harvesting something truly conveying for our particular time in history for its heartfelt message. For the last hour of this film, this very much reached the level of the satire and sharp delivery of the first movie, allowing it to serve as that rare example where a movie progresses instead of regresses.

– What a cast. There is simply too much to cover here, but the double duty work of Chris Pratt, the brawn edginess of Elizabeth Banks, the sinister personality of Tiffany Haddish, and of course the dry narcissism of Will Arnett fire on all cylinders, giving us no shortage of vibrant personalities to bounce off of one another. This is an ensemble-first kind of film, in that the sum of its parts equally help boil the pot, and while no one truly loses the familiarity of their one-of-a-kind tones, the infectious energy delivered by some of the most hip actors working today is simply too enticing to ignore.

– Not afraid to get dark with its material. I love a movie that can grow with its following chapters, because this keeps things from getting stale or even far too similar to its predecessors, and in that regard we have a third act psyche-out that was every bit as terrifying for our favorite characters as it was transcendent in capturing the dire dread of the situation. Did I know what was coming during the psyche-out? Absolutely, but I commend a movie greatly for capturing the magnitude of the antagonist’s plan, even rivaling that of “Avengers: Infinity War” in terms of inescapable weight that registers hard with us the audience effectively.

– Actually feels like a sequel. Aside from the film connecting the events of Taco Tuesday to the now weathered and decay look inside of Bricksburg, the very twist associated with the ending of the first Lego Movie more than sets the ground for what we’re seeing transpire before us in this film. Because we know who and what is behind the miniature movements, we feel a need to better trace how all of this is possible, and while I do have more than a few problems with the logic design inside of the gimmick, which I will get to later, I will say that establishing this film as a compendium piece to its original chapter gives the series continuity that is sadly missing from a majority of episodic kids movies.

NEGATIVES

– The percentage of humor. The first Lego Movie was near perfect in this regard. In fact, it was so good with its comedy that the rapid fire delivery of hearty laughter forced me to miss some jokes because I was still laughing from the previous delivery. With this sequel, that sadly isn’t the case, as probably only 40% of the jokes pulled a chuckle out of me, and this is because the film so obviously caters more to a child demographic with this sequel. That is to be expected with a kids-first movie, but part of what I enjoyed so much about the first film is that it was something that kids and adults could take in and equally indulge in, as to where this film left me with a feeling that lacks the consistency or confidence of material that was literally everywhere in its previous chapter.

– Too many musical numbers. As I mentioned earlier, the musical force behind this film does remain faithful in giving audiences at least one more earworm in unlimited listens, but the pacing of the inclusions themselves could’ve used more restrain, particularly during that of the late second act, which fires off three different tracks in a matter of ten minutes. What’s even more discouraging is that not all of these songs are winners in progressing the plot, nor tickling the tummy of its audience, and instead the failures just feel like unnecessary padding in stretching this run time beyond where it needs to be.

– Twist inconsistencies. There’s many problems that I had with the twist revealed late in the first film that definitely doesn’t make sense here. SPOILERS AHEAD – For one, where do all of these character voices come from if they’re being moved and played for by children? If you don’t have a problem with this aspect, you should consider that Will Ferrell, who plays the father in this family, voices a Lego character in this universe, but apparently the other kids do not. Another problem takes place when the protagonist and antagonist have a fight under the washing machine minutes after the kids have put away their toys. The movements of these Lego characters would make us think that someone must be playing with them if they are moving during this confrontation, so I ask how this is possible in the first place?? If you think this was the only time that an inconsistency like this reared its ugly head, think again, as there were many scenes that simply don’t add up with the rules we’ve been told and run through. If this doesn’t bother you, fine, but you have to at least acknowledge that this movie doesn’t follow the rules that it has taken two movies to establish.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

Stan & Ollie

Directed By Jon S. Baird

Starring – John C. Reilly, Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson

The Plot – The true story of Hollywood’s greatest comedy double act, Laurel and Hardy, is brought to the big screen for the first time. Starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly as the inimitable movie icons, “Stan and Ollie” is the heart-warming story of what would become the pair’s triumphant farewell tour. With their golden era long behind them, the pair embark on a variety hall tour of Britain and Ireland. Despite the pressures of a hectic schedule, and with the support of their wives Lucille (Henderson) and Ida (Nina Arianda), a formidable double act in their own right, the pair’s love of performing, as well as for each other, endures as they secure their place in the hearts of their adoring public.

Rated PG for some adult language, and for smoking

POSITIVES

– Stage like presentation. The way that Baird frames this film is simply marvelous, combining the elements of the world that our title characters lived and breathed in, and incorporates them for us the audience to feel like we are embracing their show in the same way people did in the post Vaudeville era. The introduction text is complimented by a curtain in the background, feeding us exposition for the past between these two, and the backdrops and props are carved out in a way that echoes hollow interiors, making this all feel like a manipulated presentation for only our eyes.

– Candid reveals about the duo. Without question, my favorite aspect of this film is its approach to matters happening off-stage that equal or even surpass what their audiences perceived because of their stage show. As expected, the bond between them is tested and even strained because of decades on the road together, making their relationship feel like a marriage during confining times. In addition to this, there’s much focus on the significant others of the duo in how each of them unabashedly influence the decisions of their male suitors, providing a sort of fuel for the fire which led to the distance between them. The material nuances much more than the conventional entertainer biopic that we’ve become saddled with, and makes “Stan & Ollie” much more than a series of sight gags to tug at our funny bones.

– Speaking of humor, the dynamic in banter between Coogan and Reilly is fantastic in replicating the many routines that they made famous night after night. I am not a fan of Laurel and Hardy, nor am I a fan of slapstick humor on the whole, but the fine timing between these two simply couldn’t be ignored, and gave me a series of hearty laughs that solidified their impeccable chemistry. Even beyond the stage however, the banter between them in their daily lives felt like it’s serving a greater purpose in perfecting what they bring to their material. Some of my favorite parts of the film are just the small talk scenes between Coogan and Reilly that speaks volumes to two men being involved in the business for far too long.

– Transformative performances. It’s easy to brag about Reilly’s physical transformation here, as he dons a fat suit and multiple prosthetics to make this heralded figure come to life. However, it is Coogan for me who really stole the movie, in that it feels like the first time he has portrayed a character with heart and ambition simultaneously. Coogan channels the gentle side of Laurel that at times gives him the adolescent vibe, and when combined with Reilly’s gruff exterior, the two easily lose themselves in the mold of the characters, cementing my early favorite for perfect casting thus far in 2019. It’s awesome that both actors found their way out of the devastation that was “Holmes and Watson” and managed to get together once more without the confines of immature Will Ferrell comedy to hinder what they bring to the table.

– Choice of time period. Most biopics center around the time frame when an artist hits their prime and really makes it big, but “Stan and Ollie” takes place during those less-flattering years after the fame has worn off, and the two weathered veterans are forced to make some tough decisions moving forward. If you’re invested into the characters like I was, this will make for some truly compelling dramatic elements that come to fruition because of the introduction of some familiar immitators in duo stage shows that are making their mark at the exact same time. It all comes to a head during a post-show dinner gone wrong that vividly paints the picture for past discretions that have solidified their current stance towards one another.

– Manipulated long take sequences. This is especially prominent during the first act of the movie, in which we follow the two leads through a movie studio at the height of their stardom, and what this does is depict the change in the world of pop culture, which feels like it grows with or without the duo’s inclusion. While these of course aren’t one take scenes, the synching of masterful editing by Una Ni Dhonghaile, who did deserve Academy recognition, stitches it together in a way that completely holds your attention, and allows you to take in as much of this duo at their highest fame so that the images of their fall will feel that much more devastating because of it. Brilliant visual storytelling.

– A moving tribute. One unique take in the film involves the duo acting their way through a Robin Hood spoof film that Laurel wrote much of the material for, but sadly the duo never managed to make. The scenes themselves are funny, intelligent in material, and especially beautiful for the time period cinematography, and it crafts a ‘What if?’ element to the screenplay that even Laurel and Hardy themselves would appreciate for the revealing looking into what indeed could’ve been.

NEGATIVES

– Jagged flashback sequences. For my money, there’s not enough definition or subliminal differences in the flashback sequences to not confuse the audience when they appear. These scenes just incorporate themselves like the next scene of the on-going narrative, and forced me several times to stop and accurately define on my own what time period is front-and-center at that particular moment. Thankfully, there aren’t a lot of these instances in the film, as it stays mostly grounded in the current day narrative, but the few instances where it does overtake our story try to do it without text or aging differences from the actors, and it makes for sloppy transitions that feel like speed bumps to important exposition.

– Less than stellar musical choices. Rolfe Kent’s acompanyment here not only misses the mark in channeling the proper vibes in each scene, but it also wants so badly to spoon-feed emotional response down our throats in a way that removes any kind of artistic interpretation. The syrupy orchestral score often feels overwrought and extended, making for a score that feels bigger than where the reserved story takes us, and I wish the producers instead would’ve instead went for a more Vaudevilian-influenced approach in sound to properly replicate the tinge of the particular era.

– Errors….errors everywhere. This falls on the head of Baird, who should’ve used more focus in removing these items that completely ruined my investment into the proper era of film. The first is a modern Canadian flag with the maple leaf that wasn’t adopted until 1965. Likewise, a 50-star American flag that wasn’t adopted until 1960 is shown outside during the Savoy hotel introduction. Finally, a continuity error, in which Stan delivers some eggs to Hardy while he’s in bed. He lays them on the bed, and in the next scene, when Stan lays next to him, they have completely vanished without being moved. Small stuff? sure, but good production focus translates on-screen, and this one could’ve used attention for the things that are easy to reduce.

My Grade: 7/10 or B