The Upside

Directed By Neil Burger

Starring – Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman

The Plot – Inspired by a true story, the film is a heartfelt comedy about a recently paroled ex-convict (Hart) who strikes up an unusual and unlikely friendship with a paralyzed billionaire (Cranston).

Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and drug use

POSITIVES

– Hart and Cranston are a constant riot. Aside from the impeccable chemistry that provides endless banter between them, the stage proves that there’s enough room to their performances for this to be eye-opening for both. In Hart, we are still saddled with the same comedian that we’ve come to expect in every film, but his temperament feels much more reserved and timely when he instills a laugh to the picture. He also proves that he has some fine dramatic chops, as Burger takes his character through this redemption arc with a family who are at odds with him, and Kevin obliges by providing enough heart to help develop his moral transformation. Cranston’s physical limitations are consistently authentic through two hours of film, and his personality renders that of a man who has lost everything while struggling for a reason to hang on. Being a rich protagonist is a difficult thing to translate in terms of likeability, but Bryan’s timeless smile and dry reactions to Hart’s shenanigans makes the money a backdrop instead of a defining character trait.

– The less you know about the original film, titled “The Intouchables”, the better. I think “The Upside” will charm audiences of a new generation, who aren’t suffering from inevitable comparisons to the original movie. For one, I feel enough time has passed to give this a modern rendering, as well there’s much to be appreciated about a feel good story that doesn’t sugarcoat the material to manipulate them in one way or another. This film is very much a ball of nerves, that like life, will have you riding the highs and lows of a bonding friendship in which these two men desperately need each other for completely different reasons.

– Tons of personality in the overall photography of the picture. What’s commendable about Burger behind the lens is his ability to switch things up and never allow his presentation to feel conventional or stale, and because of such it adds a lot of energy to offset the weight of the dramatic material. Some examples we are treated to involve unnerving close-up angles to represent the awkwardness of something said or done, as well as following self-still frames to represent the lunacy of two characters getting high together. What’s even more important is that these special takes are reserved for the right time, and do wonders in articulating the atmospheric mood that the material sometimes clashes over.

– Charmed by the material in the script. While some scenes did challenge me morally for laughing at them, I do enjoy a film that takes place in the modern P.C era and doesn’t abide by any particular book on what’s acceptable. Instead, it lets the audience interpret things for themselves, and because of such I was treated to an early 2019 favorite in terms of comedic firepower. As well, I’m glad that it was the dialogue that I was laughing at, and not physical or bodily humor like Hart’s other films are known for. The dialogue is rich with a combination of sarcasm and character personality that allows it to thrive from each perspective, and we simply can’t get enough interaction between Hart and Cranston because of it.

– Informative look at the quadriplegic lifestyle. In taking care of people like Cranston’s character in this movie, I can say that the depictions and treatment given warms my heart with a level of honesty and fact that I wasn’t expecting from this movie. Everything from the way we look at paraplegic’s when we speak to them directly, to the sensitivity needed in feeding them, feels enriched because of the knowledge it passes down, allowing it to succeed as so much more than a piece of entertainment.

NEGATIVES

– Production issues. There is no shortage of color correction used, especially during the first act of the film that made for that inauthentic feel that we all get from Lifetime Television movies. One such instance involves sun shining through the windows, when in reality we see that it is a cloudy day outside, and there’s no possible way that this volume of light could possibly be bleeding through the windows. Likewise, the overall cinematography feels a bit too experimental for something that could’ve thrived with more nuance and less painting of the picture for us.

– Jarring musical score. The tones and music incorporated into the film reeked of 90’s romantic comedy, in that its intrusive nature tried to audibly narrate what the audience should be feeling because of its lack of confidence in the clashing of tones in material. There is no precedent for consistency here, and it makes some of these scenes swell up with a lack of subtlety that constantly pulled me out of the dramatic depth in every scene. It simply tries to accomplish too much, in that it can’t decide if it wants to be heartfelt and emotional or bumbling and funny. Each are fine by themselves, but when stitched together as a cohesive unit lack the kind of solid direction needed in mastering these meaningful moments.

– Needs another edit. “The Upside” is two hours even, and the ambition of that run time just doesn’t match the fluidity of the script that begins to feel its weight around the halfway point. For my money, twenty minutes could easily be removed from this script, as there are scenes involving Hart and Kidman’s characters that could easily be trimmed or cut all together because they add nothing to the developing progress or character dynamics established early on. There’s also an early third act introduction involving a romantic subplot that comes and goes only to force a conventional third act distancing that doesn’t feel believable because of everything that has already transpired. This drags the pacing down violently, and especially so with an ending that feels like it happens ten minutes too late, and builds something climatic that is instead neatly tucked away in predictably bland territory.

– Great imbalance in tone. Films that incorporate both comedy and drama to a movie can work. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t have a subgenre titled “Dramedies”. But the occasional slapstick scene, like Hart being overwhelmed by a technologically advanced shower, don’t blend well with those deeper moments where the integrity of the film needs to resonate with the heartbeat of its audience. For much of the first half, the film feels juggled between these two opposite directions, giving it a feel of multiple cooks in the kitchen to the movie’s development, all before settling down in the final act as a sombering drama completely. Much of the film constantly feels like a juxtaposition of itself, and with more control could’ve balanced these directions seamlessly into feeling like one cohesive unit.

– Racially insensitive? Similar to last year’s “Green Book”, we have another story of trade-offs, where a black and white character give each other something that they were lacking before, but unlike that movie the exchange in “The Upside” feels cringing the minority audiences who will see it. Cranston instills class in Hart’s character in the form of opera music, while Hart gives Cranston weed and Aretha Franklin music. You can kind of see where the representations are a little one sided here, and for a business that claims it is becoming more progressive with each passing film, it certainly drops the ball in leveling the playing field with this exceptionally offensive take.

EXTRAS

– One unique take. Considering this film revolves around an ex-con who is looking to redeem himself to the people who judge him for his past, I guess it’s appropriate that Hart is cast in this role, considering the current controversy of the Oscars with Hart once recruited to host. If we learn anything from this film and particularly Hart in general, it’s that people can change, and shouldn’t just be defined by something from their past that was more than enough time ago to believe they may have changed for the better. It’s a reminder to our own world that people make mistakes, and we can either allow ourselves to become saddled with those mistakes and keep them from redeeming themselves, or we give them the chance to make everything right.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

Holmes & Watson

Directed By Etan Cohen

Starring – Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Ralph Fiennes

The Plot – Legendary detective Sherlock Holmes (Ferrell) and his partner Doctor Watson (Reilly) return for a comedic take on their classic literary partnership, as they use their incredible deductive minds to solve a mystery involving the Queen.

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

POSITIVES

– On-location filming and detailed set design. One of the few fortunate aspects of this film is in the beautifully rugged England scenery, which gives the film an authentic channeling of its late 19th century setting accordingly. The interiors are laced and loaded with a barrage of English colonial furniture and Gothic wall decor, to add a lot of style to the bumbling substance that fills the air like a clogged toilet. Thankfully, the historical accuracies providing a lot of depth and legacy to the interiors at least gave me something to look at.

– A big name presence behind every corner. While there’s nothing to rave at in terms of performances, the work of everyone on-screen constantly emits a level of professionalism that is far too good for this movie. Actresses like Kelly Macdonald and Rebecca Hall supply endless energy and tasteful pulp to their respective characters, treating this like a stage show of “Macbeth”, instead of the illegitimate step cousin of “Taladega Nights”. My favorite however is definitely that of Fiennes, whose air of sophistication and mental prowess outline an antagonist to the movie that I wish we spent more time with. In the end, anyone who acted in this film should get a free coupon to be cast in an Oscar bait contender, squarely out of pity, but the dedication to the craft is never stilted for a single second, outlining a glow of respect for these film veterans who go above and beyond the smell of duty.

NEGATIVES

– One flimsy idea. “Holmes and Watson” is based off of a Saturday Night Live skit, in which Ferrell dons the raincoat and three piece suit to garner a bunch of laughs in a four minute allowance. The problem comes when you try to stretch out the ideas within a four minute skit and turn them into an 86 minute feature length film, complete with new comic material and a narrative that should’ve easily been solved in five minutes. Television laughs don’t translate well to the silver screen, and it makes for a very subdued, straight-faced comedy that feels too dull to ever be intriguing. Because of such, the entertainment factor for the duo characters suffer tremendously, adding nothing of value or even originality to the tale that could’ve taken this ages old story in an intriguingly fresh direction.

– Poor audio mixing. Not that I expect flawless execution when it comes to a spoof film, but the amateur work of some horrendous sound mixing and possibly the worst A.D.R of 2018 is something that would be bad for a Sears infomercial at three-o-clock in the morning. There are times when mouths move, but words aren’t heard, there are times of vice versa when the words are heard with no mouth movements, and then there are times when words are shaped and manipulated so that they cater to the PG-13 tagging. This film was butchered in post production, and it shows behind scenes of tweeked dialogue that may have been the only laugh that I got during the entirety of the film.

– Weak material. If you don’t feel confident in the laugh you’re trying to pull from your audience, yell repeatedly. That’s the thought process behind Ferrell and Reilly, whose comic delivery rival that of a mortician, and made for an experience so mind-numbingly annoying that it made “Step Brothers” material look like “The Godfather” by comparison. In addition to this, the material doesn’t have enough cleverness to stay in its designated time frame, so it moves on to modern day gags that make absolutely zero sense, and feel forced for their redundancy. In particular it’s the inclusion of “Unchained Melody” to mimic the scene from “Ghost”, a 1990 drama that revels in the freshness of its passing decades, and the work of (Count em’) FOUR Trump Jokes that were so desperate to cater to audiences that they had a Trump hater like me saying enough is enough when I saw an obvious one coming. Are you starting to see the SNL ideas coming into play? To wrap it all up, yes they actually went there: A “No Shit Sherlock” joke of course is included, leaving the last bit of shame evaporating from my body just in time for the holidays.

– And then there’s…… If the work from above isn’t enough to tickle your funny bone, take comfort in knowing that each of them drag on and are repeated endlessly throughout the film. If you cut off Ferrell or Reilly after their first delivery for a respective joke, this film would barely clock in at an hour. Instead, with the lack of depth in script or even pacing for audiences still with a percentage of battery left on their phones, Cohen would rather replay each delivery, in case you may have missed it the first, second, or fourteenth time. Believe me, the law of averages diminish every time you have to go through something you may have laughed at only minutes before.

– Female abuse that is played off for a laugh. I left this one separate because it really does deserve a section of its own to scoff at any director’s idea in 2018 that female abuse is an admirable trait of any big screen protagonist. If this happened once, I could forgive Holmes and Watson, but in physically assaulting multiple females in the film, the movie creates an air of acceptability that proved where this movie and screenwriter’s moral compass were at. If there’s even a glimmer of consequence to what these two idiots are doing, then fine, but it’s all brushed off like a pat on the back, and if I’m the only person who sees anything wrong with it, it proves to me how many moviegoers have already been dumbed down by bodily humor stick that should’ve died in the Post-silver screen, Pre-Netflix era of Adam Sandler flicks.

– Lack of believability. Even for a spoof, Ferrell and Reilly’s portrayal of the title characters lack a single bit of familiarity to make them easily immerse themselves into the roles. Both are braindead idiots, whom I would have difficulty believing that they could tie their shoes, let alone solve a crime. Every other character surrounding them is at least a football field ahead of them in terms of intelligence, and if it had not been for supporting cast practically beating the answer over the heads of these buffoons, then this film would never end (An idea I don’t even want to think or joke about).

– Telegraphed twist. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that even the mystery of this film is a big letdown, ushering in a switcheroo during the third act that has prepared us for this throughout the film, thanks to Cohen’s script spoiling things almost an hour in advance. To put it lightly, I sniffed out the twist of this movie at around the twenty minute mark, and that was with mild interest toward the movie. It’s about as subtle as a colonic volcano, and even more incredible is that the twist totally breaks established history with Mortiary, in that we know from past stories he doesn’t have a daughter. But once the movie so bluntly establishes this point of reference during the first act of the movie, you see it coming from a mile away, which wouldn’t be so bad if you were having a good time in the first place.

– Rating limitations. Courtroom masturbation, heroin, cocaine. These are a few of the mentions in the movie, but are unlikely to receive further elaboration because of a PG-13 rating that does the material, nor its leading males any favors in highlighting forbidden material. Any movie can talk about anything endlessly, but there comes a time when showing it would elicit more of a general reaction from surrounding audiences, but sadly the film just can’t capitalize on such a thing. For my money, even mentioning something that you can’t further in material or shock factor is completely pointless, and only serves as a reminder of why some films lack that compelling edge that leaves them otherwise searching for an identity of their own.

My Grade: 2/10 or F-

Welcome To Marwen

Directed By Robert Zemeckis

Starring – Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger

The Plot – When a devastating attack shatters Mark Hogancamp (Carell) and wipes away all memories, no one expected recovery. Putting together pieces from his old and new life, Mark meticulously creates a wondrous town where he can heal and be heroic. As he builds an astonishing art installation, a testament to the most powerful women he knows, through his fantasy world, he draws strength to triumph in the real one.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence, some disturbing images, brief suggestive content, thematic material and adult language

POSITIVES

– Vibrancy in art design. While nothing original in terms of its production specifics, the animation in the film free-flows the beauty and attention to detail of a doll’s aesthetics. The actors film these scenes in live action, and in post-production are given a plastic shine filter to emulate them as acting dolls against a live action backdrop. In addition, the lighting of these scenes are beautiful, conjuring up a soft gloss of light that reflects on the smooth plastic exterior of their physical properties. You can say a lot of things about this film, but lacking in the art department will never be one of them.

– Steve Carell dazzles once again. The screenplay does this man zero favors in making his character look presentable to the audience, yet the constant professionalism of one of the strongest dramatic forces working today constantly elevates the material and gives light to another transformative performance. In Carell’s Hogancamp, we taste humor, some anguish, and a lot of fragility, and it’s in the masking of the last term where we really outline a layer of empathy to the character, making his a story of redemption that we are constantly investing ourselves in. Steve delivers a lot of heart for the real life figure, and that commitment to the ball of nerves that dominate his daily routine is something that only an actor of this magnitude can pull off without it feeling humorous every time.

– Believable setting. The boundaries of Mark’s real life town inside of Kingston, New York are tightly shot, preserving that air of a small town quality where everyone knows everything going on. This not only explains why Mark’s situation is the discussion of so many people surrounding him, but also a news broadcast that clues us in on what’s taking place with the men who jumped and beat him down during one fateful night. This is an area of filmmaking that is often overlooked for whatever reason, but in keeping our filming locations limited, and the framing tight, it accurately presents that air of claustrophobia inside of a small town.

NEGATIVES

– Musical miscues. Besides these obvious tracks feeling distracting during the scenes in which they play because of their boisterous volume levels, the overall soundtrack for the film is riddled in such topical convenience for what is playing out on-screen. An example is a sleeping sequence that is being enveloped by The Everly Brothers “Dream” playing out in the most eye-rolling manner. It made for these times of musical incorporation that I dreaded hearing from, and made me wish the remainder of the film was a silent one from the roaring 20’s.

– Cluttered dialogue. There’s nothing subtle or nuanced about the dialogue in the film. From force-feeding of backstories, to obvious metaphorical representations, this film constantly reeked of desperation, and progressed little because of how much explanation it was required to give for the past. Because of such, it feels like two movies are playing out in real time: one for the current narrative, and the one in which the movie has to stop every two minutes to explain something we see in real time or hear about on the news. Who knew in 2018 that biopics can still be this clumsily written?

– Lack of sensitivity for the subject matter. Hogancamp’s story is one that is plagued by mental illness, depression, and especially abuse, and the screenplay tiptoes around these subjects so as not to make anything under Zimeckis’ roof feel risque. For Mark himself, the movie approaches him as this bumbling infant who is part compassionate and part creepy for the demeanor he exerts on others. An example of this is his interaction with Leslie Mann’s character, in which he describes how he collects women’s essences. Keep in mind that all of this is out of Mann’s context, as she just moved to the town, and would otherwise come across as a serial killer who is obsessed with her likeness. In addition, the conflict of mental illness is cleaned up in such a way that is not only insulting to someone like me who has fought his own battles with such adversities, but irresponsible for how easy it is eventually defeated.

– The “Sucker Punch” effect. Zach Snyder’s 2011 fantasy epic is the last film that I ever thought or ever wanted to reference again, but it feels like Zimeckis has watched this film one too many times in his rendering of this project. The fantasy sequences often take far too long to reach their point. As well, they also dominate the time allowance over the live action narrative in a two-to-one ratio, taking far too much focus away from Mark’s confining circumstance. There’s almost too much optimism in a story that should otherwise feel so dark, and I’m not naive enough for a second to believe that the answer to both films conflicts resonate somewhere in the fantasy world. Seriously, fuck you.

– Disjointed continuity. Some character dynamics are dropped and never referenced again, some female doll likenesses are never explained or introduced at all, and some scenes are so miniscule in importance that they were better left on the cutting room floor. It all pressures the pacing of the film into some dire consequences that make 111 minutes feel like three hours of burning wax torture. The main problem is that these scenes never allow themselves to pick up any kind of relative momentum, instead feeling like a collection of instances that don’t gel together as one cohesive unit that is otherwise building towards the bigger picture.

– A talented cast that is completely wasted. Besides what I mentioned earlier about the work of Carell as the film’s central protagonist, the entirety of the female cast is shipped in and shipped off in such a way that makes their value that of their wax counterparts. There just simply isn’t enough time to donate to all of them, so inevitably someone is going to get sacrificed, and the pendulum swings more on Mann and Janelle Monae than anyone else. Mann is Mark’s love interest, and aside from them intentionally lacking chemistry despite Mann and Carell doing three films together, the development constantly feels rushed and unnatural in the way it flows, limiting the film’s one redeeming quality in such a way that gives us the audience nothing to look forward to from the predictably bland third act that comes to fruition.

– Pretentiousness rears its ugly head again. While this isn’t the most pretentious film of 2018 thanks to Lars Von Trier’s “The House That Jack Built”, it does more than its share of Zimeckis referencing to drown out the immersion of the film. I won’t spoil all of them, but I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention that the Doloreon from “Back to the Future” is prominently featured in the dynamic of an important scene, midway through the final act. Why is this included? Because one of the doll’s require a time machine, and we obviously can’t think of anything other than Robert’s biggest franchise when it comes to that distinction. It stinks of desperation, and emits an air of pretentious filmmaking that reminds us that Zimeckis is leaps and bounds from where he once was.

My Grade: 3/10 or F+

Vice

Directed By Adam McKay

Starring – Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell

The Plot – The story of Dick Cheney (Bale), an unassuming bureaucratic Washington insider, who quietly wielded immense power as Vice President to George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell), reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today.

Rated R for adult language and some violent images

POSITIVES

– Political commentary of the finest kind. “Vice” is certainly no love-letter to Dick Cheney, nor is it a pulling of the lever execution for what some call the worst thing to happen to the White House. This is a film that lays out all of the facts, for better or worse, allowing the audience to soak everything in with regards to the first man who really re-defined what it means to be a Vice President. Nobody believed for a second that Bush was ever the maker of moves behind his desk, and because of McKay’s air of truth to his story that doesn’t cater to either of the political agendas, we come to understand just how deep Dick’s influence lay with the surrounding courts, parties, and offices in and surrounding Washington D.C. Because of the immense level of detail and information, even someone as politically interested as I am found this movie to be a novel of knowledge that is translated completely to the big screen.

– Perfect tone of atmosphere. McKay’s impeccable direction is only surpassed by his sharp tongue wit of screenwriting that perfectly encapsulates the absurdity of the events being played out before us. Because this is real life, the only way to approach it is to expose it for the hilarity of the situation, and Adam’s precise timing with sarcasm, as well as his tools for the trade technically (more on this in a minute), give a surprisingly feel-good time to such terrible American events that would otherwise leave a rock in your system. It’s a rare look inside of the over-the-top villain we all love to hate in movies, but this time it’s real life, and that is what makes most of the material astonishing in how it’s supplanted.

– Text book editing and technical merit with the film’s presentation. McKay uses plenty of at-the-time references in pop culture, as well as subtle metaphorical digs to expose character’s seedy ambitions. More than that however, the editing of pasted-in stock footage serves as a look inside the mentality of a politician, teaching us that when the light is on, danger lurks. Some examples are that of a fishing pole reeling in its catch to emulate that of Cheney’s sell to Bush to become his Vice President, as well as predators in the jungle who snatch their prey, echoing that of the government monopoly that allowed Dick to quite literally corner every angle of the game. In addition to these marvelous techniques, the film’s credits play with still nearly an hour-and-a-half left in the film, and the intention is something so magnificently brilliant that I just can’t give it away here.

– Best ensemble cast of 2018. Not only do these not feel like spirited impressions, but each of the big name actors lose themselves whole to the characters they portray, giving me several moments during the film when I had to remind myself who played them. None of this is more evident than that of Bale in the title role. Christian has already won the Oscar, he just doesn’t know it yet, or maybe he does. Maybe it’s his confidence that allowed him to emulate Dick’s very speech patters, to his quivering lip, to even the way the man walks. Every year there’s always that one transformational performance that drops your jaw in how creepily concise it is, and Bale’s storied career will always come back to this heralded revelation, no matter what the man does for the rest of his life. Amy Adams is also brilliant as Lynne, Dick’s longtime significant other. Beyond being just an arm piece for our main character, Adams proves early on that behind every powerful man there’s an even more powerful woman, outlining Lynne as someone who picked up the slack when Dick couldn’t because of failing health concerns. Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Lily Rabe, and even Tyler Perry also bring their best to their respective characters, immersing themselves in such a way that removes doubt of familiarity from these accomplished actors and brings light to just the character gracing us with their presence on our screens for one more day.

– A greater understanding. One of my favorite aspects with “The Big Short” was how it related the housing and stock market terminology and structure with these creative instances of celebrities translating them for a wider audience. Something similar is done here, and once again it doesn’t feel dumbed down or catering with its inclusion. One such instance this time involves a restaurant dinner scene with Dick and pals reading from a menu that has some honest-but-appalling bureaucratic descriptions. It’s something that once again caters to the sarcasm of the humor level, all the while providing us information to actually give us a candid look inside of the moves being made in the ivory tower.

– Surprises with the pacing. I simply couldn’t believe that just over two hours had passed in watching this film, as the rapid fire developments and variety of material constantly kept the film interesting, and more importantly: elevated. What I mean by this is the stakes continue to rise higher, until this feels like no one will get out alive, and by that point the devastating blow can come from any direction that has long since been set up. This all keeps the film moving along smoothly, avoiding the hiccup of a first act that sometimes feels a bit scatter-brained and disjointed in picking up proper momentum. But once the familiar administration comes into play, it makes up for those forgetful first 30 minutes in spades, taking the audience through an education lesson on those we invest our trust in every day.

– A wide spanning of Dick’s entire life and career. If you’re someone like me who loves when a story doesn’t just begin and end on the meat of the material, you’ll enjoy “Vice”. The film begins in Wyoming, where Dick and Lynne meet, fall in love, and begin their push to make something of themselves. It’s funny when you consider the most influential V.P of all time began as a way to impress his wife, but that’s what we get here, and it’s in that unabashed ambition where we get a protagonist who we can sink our teeth into and possibly give us the only time when we the average people can relate to someone so obstructed by opportunity. Far beyond this though, it goes through the highs and lows of his life accordingly, never leaving out one event in the unconventional rags-to-riches story that is promised.

– Brilliant gimmick with the narrator. I again cannot spoil this intelligent aspect of the movie, but I can say that Jessie Plemons voices and appears on screen several times as the narrator to Cheney’s story. What is his connection to Dick, Lynne, or anyone associated with them? That is where the true element of surprise takes form, making for one of the more shockingly fitting twists that I have seen in quite some time. I’m not someone who particularly enjoys narrators or narration in a movie, as I feel it often takes away from the immersion of the story itself, but I can promise you that it’s all building to something devilishly constructed, and may be the single greatest metaphor for McKay’s style of diabolical cynicism that tends to be a character in all of his films.

– Flawless make-up and prosthetics. When a film has over two hours to work with, the make-up team can properly span the aging process fruitfully, and that is what we get here with Dick’s familiar balding grey hair and wrinkled face. When the film begins, we still see Bale because it’s basically just him with a little weight gained on, but as the story expands through different decades, the aging feels every bit as timely as it does transformative, diminishing Bale trademarks in favor of this conjuring of the former Vice President. The make-up itself feels believable and never too over-the-top to turn aging into a cinematic gimmick.

NEGATIVES

– Sometimes during the film, it feels like important details are missing from anyone who isn’t Dick, and that void leaves exposition holes as big as the sun. One such instance involves W’s rise to power from being a fall-down drunk college boy. One second he’s insulted by everyone in the Republican party, then the next scene he’s running for president. What’s missing that evolved him as a front runner? This isn’t the only time the movie treats us like we should already know these details, skimming over the evolution of the world outside of its central protagonist. It might be acceptable to some people because this movie isn’t about them, but I think Bush’s story plays as prominently for Cheney’s opportunistic persona if we know all of the facts of his road as well. They are conjoined for the rest of their time on Earth, so why does the movie try to distance them as much as possible?

My Grade: 9/10 or A

Second Act

Directed By Peter Segal

Starring – Jennifer Lopez, Milo Ventimiglia, Leah Remini

The Plot – Lopez stars as Maya, a 40-year-old woman struggling with frustrations from unfulfilled dreams. Until, that is, she gets the chance to prove to Madison Avenue that street smarts are as valuable as book smarts, and that it is never too late for a Second Act.

Rated PG-13 for some crude sexual references, and adult language

POSITIVES

– It’s all in the name. “Second Act” might be the most appropriately titled movie of 2018 because it’s really during that time when the tone and material of the film evolves, all as a result of a twist that I totally didn’t see coming. For a bombshell to come out of nowhere and completely change everything that this film is about is something I greatly commend the screenwriters for, and it takes what could easily be a throwaway comedy and morphs it into a hard-hitting drama that will squeeze the tears from any female moviegoer. Even more important, there are still trailers that don’t ruin the movies that they advertise.

– Thought provoking commentary on book smart versus street smart. I myself am someone who believes that education should never be the single lone argument in determining who is most deserving of a job, and this movie hits on this debate with some strong arguments for the latter that I wish the world would hear. College degrees themselves are catered to the small percentage who can either afford it or go through the first fourth of their lives without so much as a single speed bump to hit them, so there is that feeling that somewhere someone out there is probably a more qualified candidate, and it makes Maya that much more indulging as a protagonist because we’ve all been told that we’re not good enough for something.

– The performances from an eclectic cast. Lopez gives another solid turn as Maya, even if I found her physical appearance throughout the film a little different from what the movie is trying to pursue her as. This is basically a supermodel who everyone treats as nothing special, and after a while the glare from her timeless beauty and extremely revealing outfits kind of shines through. For my money, it’s the supporting cast that really steal the show. Remini gives food for thought as to why she isn’t a bigger star in Hollywood, supplanting much of the film’s best comedic timing throughout. Vanessa Hudgens also gives another dramatic impulsive turn, providing tears on command that prove how far she’s come in her challenging typecast career. I’m glad that she becomes more important to the plot as the film goes on, as her facial registries tug at your heartstrings and hit every time the film needs them to. Also great to see Dave Foley and Larry Miller back on the silver screen, as I feel we just don’t get enough of either comedic icon.

– Strength of humor. It still baffles me that this film is given a PG-13 rating, because there are many instances throughout where the language and ensuing material feels testing for younger audiences. This provided a 33-year-old-man like myself no shortage of laughs, and the landing ratio is surprisingly positive for a movie that I was dreading seeing heading into it. In my opinion, it’s the way the talented cast play out these conventional lines, stretching them to their furthest reactions because of the vibrancy of personality that they invest into each gag. It’s something that constantly reminds audiences of the good times they are having that are helpful in forgetting some of the film’s biggest sins creatively.

– Gorgeous establishing shots of The Big Apple. Segal himself was born and raised in the big city, and his love and passion for the city is clearly evident in some gorgeous photography of New York City that articulately channel the vibe of the setting. Aside from these gorgeous sun-setting shots behind these early 20th century style bridges, we are also treated to frequent shots of the imposing skyline, providing visual emphasis for just how far our protagonist has come, as well as a few moments of reflection sequences inside of the silver bullets that whiz throughout the variety of neighborhoods and cultures alike. Segal, and even his leading lady, have a spot in their hearts for their city, and they’re not afraid to show it with beautiful depictions that constantly capture the beauty from within.

– Has a strong message despite being drowned in lies. I know that sounds completely strange and a bit contradictory, but despite the fact that this woman lies to get this job, and then continues the lie over and over again, the third act of the movie brings home its honorable intentions by explaining the importance of being true to yourself. In doing so, it makes the achievements that you attain that much sweeter because they were done by you….the real you. Whether the film’s conclusion does go the way you think it will or not, I’m a sucker for a feel good story that reflects with respect the kinds of things in our own lives that we take for granted every day, and “Second Act” preserves this quality with dignity.

NEGATIVES

– Recycled dialogue from other obvious films of the genre. Part of the nagging problem with my investment into many of these scenes was the lack of care and concern with dialogue that definitely deserved a second look at the script. There are many instances of films like “Must Love Dogs”, “Sleepless In Seattle”, or even J-Lo’s movie “Main in Manhattan”, but the biggest sinner of all is one of the film’s closing lines that in so many words echoes that of “Field of Dreams” quote “You wanna have a catch?” It basically confirms that these type of movies are starting to rub together, and doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room if the creativity is this limited.

– Nuisance of the gimmick. I believed in this plot for about two minutes, until the blaring voice in my head said how ridiculous this whole thing really is. You’re telling me that a major cosmetics institution based in New York City doesn’t do a deep background check, calling former professors and bosses to confirm that what they read on paper is true? BULLSHIT!!! The movie’s explanation for all of this feeds into that second act plot twist, but the film’s antagonist even has trouble confirming that anything in this application is bogus when he decides to look into Maya. This kind of thing might be believable in the 90’s, but in 2018, during the age of technological advances, it’s not feasible in the least.

– Overlooks vital information about the profession. One of my biggest pet peeves in movies is when a particular job’s specifics are remotely glossed over, leaving you unable to preserve any amount of knowledge gained about the job that would make its characters feel believable. Instead of giving us specifics, we are given a series of montages that are supposed to artistically fill in the blanks, instead of pointing out the weaknesses in Maya taking up a job that she knows absolutely nothing about, other than how it performed in the grocery store she worked at.

– Far too many subplots and side characters. The biggest sacrifice in this formula is the development of a romantic subplot involving Lopez and Ventimiglia that is ignored for almost an entire hour, removing the possibility of gaining some traction for the flailing chemistry and overall lack of weight from consequences that goes virtually unnoticed. There’s far too much at play between the battle for screen time as well, as characters switch sides and personalities at the drop of a hat. The only explanation would be if something was left on the cutting room floor for DVD extras, but as a cohesive narrative, 98 minutes just simply isn’t enough time to juggle this many bowling pins that more times than not crash and burn.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

Anna and the Apocalypse

Directed By John McPhail

Starring – Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire

The Plot – A zombie apocalypse threatens the sleepy town of Little Haven at Christmas, forcing Anna (Hunt) and her friends to fight, slash and sing their way to survival, facing the undead in a desperate race to reach their loved ones. But they soon discover that no one is safe in this new world, and with civilization falling apart around them, the only people they can truly rely on are each other.

Rated R for zombie violence and gore, adult language, and some sexual material

POSITIVES

– Sensational toe-tapping soundtrack. Since this is a musical above everything else, the music better be right on point, and thankfully the combination of Roddy Hart and Tommy Riley gift wrap us a series of spectacles that never trail on personality. The songs in the film are not only catchy, but lyrically cerebral in that they channel the pulse of the character’s inner thoughts at that particular moment. When the music is exceptional during a musical, it pushes a film that much further, and the quality of production and performance in favorite tracks of mine like “Break Away”, “Christmas Means Nothing Without You”, and “Soldier At War” all could easily be played on top 40 radio right now.

– Extremely likeable characters. Most of the reason for the enjoyment of these charming teenagers falls on the shoulders of the exceptionally talented musically trained actors who portray them, but I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t mention how the film does a remarkable job of displaying their hopes and dreams. Hunt’s Anna is a dreamer we can embrace because we’ve all felt muddled in the shallow waters that we were born into, and seek new adventures somewhere just beyond the rainbow. But despite her name being in the title, this isn’t JUST Anna’s movie, as plenty of time is invested in her surrounding friends and family who the movie values equally. Even more so, the rest of the ensemble harvest a variety of personalities and demeanors about them that make you crave more of the delightful dynamic between them that hits its mark every time because of energetic chemistry.

– Stunning special effects work. It’s clear that the budget isn’t anything of blockbuster level here, as much of the zombie sequences limit the make-up’d actors in frame, however what little we do get provides enough bang for the buck in the areas of make up and prosthetics. None of the patterns of decomposition ever feel like they obviously repeat, nor do they struggle at capturing the scarring of blunt force trauma. On this subject, the film has no shortage of creative kills that surprisingly indulge us in the physical side of the red stuff, instead of computer animated like we’ve been trained to. This gives the film easily its biggest desire to be R-rated because the kills are performed in devastatingly invasive fashion, providing several scenes that will make you wince.

– Not afraid to take chances. Part of the thing that really floored me about the much more riveting third act of the movie is how it’s not afraid to put a price tag on any character who comes into frame. Without spoiling anything, I will say that it’s obvious not everyone makes it out alive here, but who we lose along the way will provide a couple of heartbreaking instances where it pleasantly tries to distance itself from the many survival films that came before it, and successfully so.

– Originality in lighting and set pieces. Without question, my single favorite aspect of the film is the presentation and backdrops that add a lot of fun to the technical aspects of the film. Despite being a brief 87 minute movie, the story takes us through a barrage of town landscapes and institutions like a bowling alley, a Christmas tree store, and of course the auditorium inside of the kid’s high school, and each of these presents a new series of adversities for our group of characters, allowing the ability to keep the action fresh in its creativity. In addition, each of these are highlighted by Christmas light style lighting that gives the scenes they accompany a distinct and familiar glow that effectively channels the Christmas season.

– Post credit animation sequence. Be sure to stay all the way through the closing credits, as we are treated to a few familiar scenes from the movie that are played out in zany animated textures. The animation used is almost pop-up style decor, all the while catering to familiar physical traits of the actors that close the gap between live action and animated renderings otherwise feeling so foreign. It serves as the perfect closed door on a movie that never struggled in capturing the fun and airy atmosphere that only a musical can provide.

– A breakthrough performance. Ella Hunt is no stranger to the silver screen, acting in over twenty films and TV shows to date, but it’s her work here that has allowed her to breakthrough the stratosphere to the other side of inevitable A-list names. As the title character, Hunt instills a combination of grief over the loss of her Mother, and ambition for something different to her predictable existence. Hunt’s angelically deep eyes and tomboy persona make her the kind of girl we all need in our lives, but it’s the transformation into this killing machine where it’s probably best we stay away. Well done Ella.

NEGATIVES

– One big disappointment. If I pointed to one thing weighing this movie down negatively it’s the undercooked humor that missed its mark nearly every time. I laughed twice during this movie, and I blame a lot of that on a film that so desperately wants to be “Shaun Of the Dead” without the confidence in material to understand its audience. I mention that movie because there are uncanny similarities in the two films, from something as small as zombie fake-outs in sound, to something big like near-identical humorous deaths. I wish the movie could’ve developed the humor muscle of the movie a bit tighter, as the lines intended to tickle fall flat at almost embarrassingly bad levels.

– No developed urgency. This of course changes during the pivotal third act, but so much of the film’s first two acts lack the kind of danger or devastation needed to understand the magnitude of this situation. This is where the musical designation might do harm in bringing together music and horror accordingly, as the tracks act as a pause button during the scenes of tension, feeling like an abused pause button by the characters that always allows them motivation in evening the odds. I could’ve used a death or two somewhere early on to keep these leads and the audience on their toes, but unfortunately you will be waiting until the final twenty minutes of the movie for things to get interesting.

– Hammered home final message. This is usually incorporated by spoon-fed narration that the film, nor us the audience need to understand the point, but here the producers of the film repeat a song from earlier on that is so clearly obvious that it made me angry for how little of confidence the crew had for me. The irony of the situation is satisfyingly evident without the assistance, and if they ended it just with that, the film could’ve bottled more of that positive energy that it couldn’t afford to give away.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

The Favourite

Directed By Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring – Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz

The Plot – Early 18th century. England is at war with the French. Nevertheless, duck racing and pineapple eating are thriving. A frail Queen Anne (Colman) occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah (Weisz) governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne’s ill health and mercurial temper. When a new servant Abigail (Stone) arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing and Abigail sees a chance at a return to her aristocratic roots. As the politics of war become quite time consuming for Sarah, Abigail steps into the breach to fill in as the Queen’s companion. Their burgeoning friendship gives her a chance to fulfill her ambitions and she will not let woman, man, politics or rabbit stand in her way.

Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity and adult language

POSITIVES

– A trio of award worthy performances. Most films are fortunate enough to contain one breakthrough performance that earns its film recognition, in the form of word of mouth, but “The Favourite” is fortunate enough to have three, a testament to Lanthimos’ tight grip on his characters. Colman adds enough dimension and complexity to this Queen that reaches much further than her being just another spoiled recluse of royalty. There’s an air of sadness and loneliness to her that makes her engaging, despite her endless riches that no audience can relate to. Weisz also marvels as this sternly plotting right hand woman to the Queen’s operations. She does so with very little physical interaction and no yelling during her long-winded threats, and it’s all capped off by Rachel’s cold measuring stare that lets you know an idea is always brewing behind this exterior. The show stealer for me however, is definitely Emma Stone, channeling a transformative performance that adds yet another layer to the young starlet. Abigail knows how to get what she wants, and her sponge-like perception to soak up the boundaries in every situation is what makes her every bit as cunning and deceptive as her counterparts in power.

– The fine use of natural lighting throughout the picture. Aside from Yorgos’ expected cold, greying cinematography that feels more appropriate than ever during 18th century England, the presentational aspect of dimmed lighting and lustrous shadows provides much artistic integrity to the creativity in every shot. This unflinching darkness enveloping these auburn reds and sunlight orange tapestries tend to follow these character for the entirety of the film, visually conveying the ulterior motives behind every act of kindness that only serve as table dressing. This decision articulately channels the cold and insensitive surroundings of the immense mansion, and gives way to filters of colorful expression that never compromise the focus of any shot.

– Lanthimos, the master magician of the lens. In his previous films “The Lobster” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”, Yorgos used unorthodox camera angles and gimmicks to emit this layer of unsettling atmosphere that really allows the audience to immerse themselves in the interpretation, and we thankfully have more of the same here. Particularly in the use of fish-eye lens, the occasional inclusion feels foreign to the rest of its visual counterparts, allowing us these moments of valued focus to soak up the ever-changing scenery. Aside from this, Yorgos’ movements of the camera are always smooth and patient, never settling for handheld camera work that would otherwise distract from the artistic integrity of the portrait being painted before us. This tells me that this is a man who knows the best bang in every aspect of shooting a film, and “The Favourite” is easily his most technically ambitious film to date.

– A sensational game of cat-and-mouse. The rivalry between Abigail and Sarah in the film is easily the sell of it all for anyone who has seen the trailers, and it more than delivers on its pitch thanks to a combination of unpredictability and consequence that constantly raises the stakes. This provides plenty of examples of psychological and physical displays of power between them, and the film is wise enough to constantly keep them leveled evenly, so as not to sway the audience’s decision for who the Queen is better off with, one way or the other. There are many times during the film when the balance of power switches and unforgivable actions takeover, and it forced me to switch my opinion several times for these two dueling dames, providing emphasis for a circumstance so complex.

– Chapter title screens. The entirety of the 115 minute film is divided into these eight devilishly delicious sections, each numbered by Roman numerals, and supplanted with a pulled cryptic quote from somewhere in the film’s dialogue. Many films have been doing the storybook approach lately, but why it works so well for this story in particular is the ambiguity and double meaning of the quotes themselves, to constantly keep you guessing in terms of where this story will take us. There is nothing mentioned in text that ever remotely serves as a revealing spoiler, preserving the quality to constantly keep us guessing while giving importance to the value of episodic storytelling.

– Accuracy in wardrobe and costume design. Mark my words, “The Favourite” will earn an Oscar nomination in the wardrobe department, and the reason for this is the collection of rich Bohemian gowns and expressive makeup design that durably channel the era of England that it’s depicting. With a series of elegant dinner parties and Parlament courts under the roof of this royal mansion of frequent guests, we learn that no cent is spared in the fashion sense of production design, and more importantly it all stays consistent with the respective time period (Take notes “Robin Hood”).

– One thing that I love about Lanthimos’ tones in his films is his ability to channel this comfortable blend between comedy and drama that breeds a subgenre of its own. Considering the shocking and dramatic pull of the material inside of these twists and turns, I wasn’t expecting to laugh half as much as I did. This dry, caustic kind of wit is made for someone like me, who has always seen the charm in English humor that is otherwise considered strange to my territory. The expressionless deliveries of some of these lines occasionally require double takes to let the punchline reach the heights of the quiet surrounding it, and the lunacy of royalty while eating and dancing is more than approached on to give ridiculous emphasis to something that should otherwise be considered prestigious.

– Johnnie Burn and William Lyons riveting use of classical music. There’s a strong compromise here of soft time-honored pieces combined with modern day production quality that gives new life to the music that adorns the film, and makes for a racketing of tension to flow freely into each scene. There is one such number that got a bit derivative for how long its same three tones are repeated throughout the scene, but everything else is delivered with such thunderous volume and echo to make it feel like the music plays throughout the house, instead of just accompanied in post production incorporation.

– Thought-provoking in the way it incorporates provocative subject matter with historical figures of yesterday. I don’t want to give too much away, but a revelation about the Queen happens thirty minutes into the film, and changes the complexion of this cousin rivalry moving forward. What I liked about this aspect was how it’s approached in terms of its shock factor towards its delicate time period, acting as a sort of weakness for her character during a time period when such personal ideals were anything but progressive. Where it crosses over to psychological for me is thinking about the possibility that many royal figures were just like Anne in this movie, in that they died with their own kind of secrets in their minds.

NEGATIVES

– For my money, the film feels slightly uneven after the incredible pacing and blow-for-blow battle for leverage during the first half of the movie. Once this angle runs out of gas, the second half, and more particularly the third act, is left to close things up in ways that don’t feel satisfying, conclusive to the progression of the narrative itself, nor believable for the Queen considering what we’ve been taught about her. I understand the point of the film’s closing shot intention accurately enough, but it loses so much steam by the redundancy of the final act that you wish it would just cut to the chase already. It stretches out for what feels like miles, and serves as the only point during the film when I wasn’t having a blast.

My Grade: 9/10 or A-

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Directed By Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman

Starring – Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld

The Plot – Miles Morales (Moore) comes across the long-dead Peter Parker (Johnson). This Peter Parker is not from his world though; he’s from somewhere else in the multiverse. With Parker’s guidance, Miles will become Spider-Man: and through that he will become part of the ever-expanding ‘Spider-Verse’.

Rated PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild adult language

POSITIVES

– Comic book magazine come to life. There have been films classified as a comic book movie endlessly before, but “Into the Spider-Verse” is the rare exception that actually lives and breathes by this definition. Aside from the breathtaking cinematography that literally transfers the backdrops and landscapes of the comic book accordingly, the movie also brings with it some unique traits in personality that sets it above its kin of the genre. As an animator turned director, Persichetti instills on-screen text that reacts to sounds, on-screen text boxes that serve as the narrator inside of Morales’s mind, three-cut perspectives that radiate that side-by-side feel of a comic book dynamic, and of course the wind range of animation from each respective Spider-Man in the film, that cohesively bonds to feel smoothly in the same film or in this case universe.

– Entrancing visuals in animation. Everything from the variety of ever-changing set designs, including but not limited to a cyberpunk inspired 2018 New York, to the texture of the animation itself, feels every bit as authentic as it does transcendent of the screen, carving out that layer of comic book euphoria that takes precise expertise to competently master it. Sometimes the animation feels straining, like watching a 3D movie without the glasses, but it’s all intentional, as it echoes the vibes perfectly of comic book pages that sometimes lose a little bit of that focus in being the victim of a copy of a copy. But when it’s smooth in depiction, “Into the Spider-Verse” is not only the most beautiful comic book movie of all time, but easily the most beautifully textured film of the year for the knockout presentation that constantly raises the bar with each passing minute.

– Transformative voice acting from a well rounded cast. Shameik Moore is brilliant as the film’s central protagonist, vocalizing the combination of immaturity, fear, and daring nature that we’ve come to expect in the character, from Miles big screen debut. Moore himself is 23 years old, but excels because of a softer and gentler side to vocalizing that easily allows him to immerse himself in this teenage nerd of sorts. Likewise, Nicolas Cage is delightfully meditated as my favorite Spider-Man offering: Spider-Man Noir. His voice is unmistakable, but the smooth deliveries in the manner that only Cage can deliver makes him perfect for the role, and carves out a second animated role of the year (Teen Titans Go To The Movies) that should provide a rebirth for one of America’s most celebrated actors. Jake Johsnon steals the show as Peter Parker, and does so by giving us an older, depressed side to Peter that movie fans aren’t used to seeing. Johnson’s dry delivery and constant undercutting of Miles made for some of my favorite exchanges of the movie, and carved out a dynamic in chemistry between them that had me begging for more films between just these two characters.

– Like most Spider-Man movies, there is a twist midway through the film, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Between weak underwriting of the antagonists, as well as a story that was starting to lose steam, this reveal comes and sort of adds fuel to Miles’s fire, serving as the catalyst to motivate him to become who he’s destined to be. This twist actually did throw me off, and reminded me repeatedly of the one thing that comic books do better than telvision shows or movies, and that is the capability to make something so small feel so devastating to everyone enveloped in the unraveling narrative.

– Thunderous sound design. Although the narration deliveries are a bit mumbled and hard to hear throughout the film, the rumbling intensity of character perspectives allowed the audience several takes to investing themselves into the shoes of the character. One such example is early on in the film during a ride to school between Miles and his father, and we are treated to the faint sounds of cars whizzing by. Sounds small in effect, but I can’t tell you how many movies bumble this sound design repeatedly, taking something so honest as influence of environment and wiping it away to constantly remind us of studio interference. This of course isn’t the only aspect of this impactful sound scheme throughout, but just an example of how much time and effort went in to establishing an environment and seeing it all the way through to the finish line of the scene’s progression.

– Patience in storytelling. What I appreciate about the story inside is that it never feels rushed or forced to approach the same kind of familiar tropes that so many of these films are about. As much as this is a coming of age story for Miles, it’s also a family drama, and the elements of both of these slow cook, giving time to each to boil to the top once they’ve reached their respective intensities. Likewise, I also appreciated Miles growing into his capabilities as Spider-Man, instead of being great at them right away. This drives me nuts constantly in Spider-Man films because no one should be able to master these gifts without practice, and Morales’s story finally gives us insight, as well as concentration into the one who accepts these responsibilities.

– Doesn’t try to be something that it’s not with time allowance. So many superhero films are encroaching on that two-and-a-half hour mark with very little reason, but “Into the Spider-Verse” stays confidently firm at 108 minutes because that is how much story it has to tell. Because of this, the pacing feels smooth, never giving us an obvious moment of downtime or lag to the progression of the movie, nor the bottling of momentum that never manages to lose even a single drop. I was very much consistently invested in this story and characters, and this feeling gave off the impression that I was being re-introduced to the superhero genre all over again.

– The more you know. The film will appeal to fans young and old of Spider-Man all the same, but if you have followed this legendary character with more dedication, you will be rewarded for your years and dollars invested. Throughout the film, we are treated to an endless offering of inside character jokes, surprising cameo appearances, and a post credits scene that pokes fun at a certain meme that is all the talk of the comic book community. Aside from this, the humor is above average, and more importantly does so by providing observation at the honest, awkward moments of life, instead of catering to a set-up and delivery that can otherwise grow tiresome.

– Thrilling action sequences and set pieces that add to the intensity of the scene. Much of the fresh consistency comes from the variety of villains that adorn the film, but two sequences in particular stood out as fantasy in possibility that remind us why animated is the way to go for comic book lore. One such scene takes place with Peter and Miles swinging throughout the woods of what feels like an endless forest, giving us several intelligent uses of the web that a city setting just can’t accommodate, and the other is the film’s climax fight high above the city limits, at crossroads of the many universes we’ve been told about. Both of these scenes are great for their super quick arsenals of choreography that exchange like dance partners, but the true beauty and consequences of the latter gave us a finale with a familiar antagonist that fully realizes the Miles transformation.

NEGATIVES

– For my money, I could’ve used more development in the relationship between Uncle Aaron (Voiced by Mahershala Ali) and Miles. We’re constantly told what Aaron means to Miles, but rarely shown it, and I could’ve used a few more scenes to flesh out and truly feel the drama of something that goes down between them. Even if this is nit-picking at this point, this stands out like a sore thumb as the film’s most noticeable weakness, and I could’ve used a couple more scenes to magnify Aaron’s importance to the script and give the movie enough reason to reach for that two hour runtime.

My Grade: 9/10 or A

Bumblebee

Directed By Travis Knight

Starring – Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr

The Plot – On the run in the year 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Charlie (Steinfeld), on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken. When Charlie revives him, she quickly learns this is no ordinary, yellow VW bug.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence

POSITIVES

– Most of the reason that this film works for me is in the dynamic between Charlie and Bumblebee that transcends the conventional film friendship. These are two outcasts who feel alone in the world they both inhabit, so when they do cross paths it allows each of them to open up and shine to their truest potential. Charlie in particular, is still reeling from the untimely death of her father, while B feels like a prisoner on his new home, so we invest in the friendship between them because in turn each one of them represents what the other is missing. Likewise, this dynamic is something that has been missing from this franchise for a long time, and Knight guides along a movie about relationships that just happen to be on the eve of this robotic day of justice.

– Personal touches on the bots. Knight’s beneficial detail is something that certainly didn’t go unnoticed by this critic, as he gives the robots a more relatable side to human emotion and interaction that sometimes felt strained in past editions. Bumblebee’s facial registries are more clearly defined in this film, emoting happiness, fear, sadness, and worry as well as any of the actors in the film. The fight scenes are also better choreographed and full of more hand-to-hand arsenal than we’ve seen, making for sequences when we telegraph the devastation in each and every blow.

– 80’s aesthetic. It makes sense that this film takes place in the 80’s because that is when the Transformers were brought to life, and its influence over this film is something that makes for some truly enjoyable occasions when it’s done right. One such example is in the subtleties of the housing designs, complete with shag carpet and wood paneling on the walls that remind audiences of the setting of their past accordingly. This angle did sometimes feel a bit too on the nose, like when the movie “The Breakfast Club” pops on the tube, or a box of Mr T cereal non-chalantly pops into frame, but overall I think it’s done with enough vibrancy that rarely takes the attention away from the characters and situations of the screenplay. Which leads to…..

– There’s actual consequences. People died in the other Transformers movies, but we rarely ever saw it. “Bumblebee”, despite its small scale on the number of bots that adorn the film, feels like the most dangerous of the series films because it’s never afraid to get its hands dirty. There are three human deaths in the movie that even I thought were a bit risky for youthful audiences, but I commend a movie for documenting the ferocity and dangerous demeanor of the Decepticons physically. Because of such, there’s a bit of uncertainty to a story that would otherwise be predictably cartoonish, and I welcomed this responsibly stern take on depicting the perils of war without flinching.

– Plenty of laughs for the whole family. In addition to the physical bodily humor that was depicted in the trailers for the film, there’s surprisingly no shortage of hearty laughs between the interaction of our two main characters. What’s even more important is that these instances of humor never soiled the heart or the integrity of the franchise, instead instilling these welcome moments of breath in between the carnage and devastation that were the majority of the movie. My favorite is definitely a car vandalization scene, in which B gets his first taste of revenge against an antagonist who clearly messed with the wrong girl.

– Appropriate run time. This might be the single most important aspect of the film, because the previous Transformers chapters felt like an eternity when I watched them. Clocking in at a respectable 109 minutes, “Bumblebee” carries with it the smooth pacing and frequent transitions to constantly keep the screenplay moving at a pleasurable stride, making it feel unlike anything before. There was never a moment in the film where it felt lagging or derivative of an earlier scene, and because of such, this will certainly be the first Transformers movie that I will have no problem watching again.

– My favorite soundtrack of 2018. This could easily fall into the category of 80’s touches, but I felt it required its own mention because of the impressive collection of assorted artists that will earn my first soundtrack purchase of the year. Some of my favorite tracks of the decade, like “Take on Me” by A-Ha, “I Know It’s Over” by The Smiths, or “Everybody Wants To Rule the World” by Tears For Fears, are just a few of the tasty grooves that shine in their respectable moments, signaling the end of a decade of music that some still argue as the very best that ever graced our speakers. While it’s the 80’s that shines for a majority, stay during the artistic post-film credit sequence for an uplifting track called “Back To Life” from the film’s leading lady Hailee Steinfeld. It proves there’s nothing she can’t do.

NEGATIVES

– One character doesn’t fit. I will probably be in the minority here, and I certainly have nothing against this actor, but I felt Lendeborg Jr’s character didn’t work in the dynamic chemistry of B and Charlie. This is especially the case considering where this forced romance to the plot ends up by film’s end. Not only this, but it kind of takes away from the aspect of Charlie feeling like a loner until she meets this one-of-a-kind robot who completely transforms her world. Do me a favor if you don’t believe me: take every situation that Lendeborg’s character is in, remove him, and see if it changes anything at all.

– Choppy editing. This is sadly still a problem in the franchise, and frankly it’s not the soul reason to blame for some sloppy action sequences. The camera angles themselves are certainly far too close on the immense size of these dueling bots, but too many cuts in the sequencing itself is the most obvious enemy that these big budget battles spoil. The special effects themselves look great in the film, so there’s absolutely no reason why we should be using this ploy that hides negatives so frequently. Everyone wants to be “Saving Private Ryan”, but sometimes less pageantry of the visuals is more.

– Too many endings. There’s a shot on the Golden Gate Bridge that was the perfect conclusion to this film, but sadly it’s ruined by an additional three scenes that frankly don’t add anything more of substance, and doesn’t allow us to hit the credits during the most impactful moment. More than anything, it’s to link itself to the other movies in ways that should go without saying, but I would prefer if a movie this special demolishes any roads that leads it to the awful Michael Bay directed movies that kidnapped a lot of adult’s childhoods.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Directed By The Coen Brothers

Starring – Tim Blake Nelson, Willie Watson, Clancy Brown

The Plot – A six-part Western anthology film that acts as a series of tales about the American frontier, as told through the unique and incomparable voice of Joel and Ethan Coen. Each chapter tells a distinct story about the American West.

Rated R for strong violence

POSITIVES

– Artistic framing with the dreamy backdrops. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is possibly my favorite Coen Brothers movie, so it gives me great pleasure that they brought along cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel to provide visual layers with the film’s color pallet, against a gorgeous Wild West landscape. This is the first film that the Coen Brothers have shot in digital film, so there are literally no limits that they and Bruno can take in emitting the true beauty in such a dangerous and unpredictable place. The wide shots during story progression scenes harvest the magic of a refined museum painting, practically begging to be seen on a screen as big as the sky, and the variation of colored lenses throughout the many stories, provided a unique take on the ranging tones in atmosphere that every story took us through. Particularly during the sixth and final story, we are treated to a decaying blue effect that patiently rises as the sun goes down, giving nuance to the very cold shade of discovery that our protagonists are feeling.

– Sharp tongue-and-cheek humor to counterbalance the permanency of the impactful violence. While the film takes us on many bends of tone that would diminish the danger in a lesser directed film, The Coen Brothers instead remain true to their guns, depicting the level of savage, hard-R violence to blend fruitfully with the fantasy of aspects like singing narration, and the strange thing is it all works magically. Never in the film did the latter diminish the quality of the lawless environment, nor did it ever feel out of place with the Coen Brothers usual indulgence of humorous awkwardness during trying times. In fact, there were many times in the film when I was caught off guard with the twists and turns because I was fooled into believing that everything would be alright, with a delightful song and dance.

– Clever uses of the music heard throughout. Particularly during the first two stories in the film, the musical score by Carter Burwell is instilled by aspects that are happening on-screen, that give the music a very realistic shaping to what we’re hearing. Such an example is in a piano during the first story that we hear and don’t see until the camera pans left and our piano player comes into frame. This overall provides a gentle immersion between the road of film and real life that many movies lack anymore, and it’s certainly an ingenious way to bring the elements of music to the forefront of the story.

– Impeccable sound design. “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is a film to watch with the volume turned up as loud as the set of human ears can physically take, and the reason for this is in the riveting, pulse-setting loads of ammunition that fly by our character’s dreaded dispositions. This gives the unfurling drama a sense of being as close to the devastation as an audience can muster without actually being there, and the screenplay’s unforgiving nature to any character only elevates this tension to fearful levels when you hear a gun come into play during a scene.

– Authentically transformative performances from the entire cast, that etch out a reputation for the Coen Brothers handle over the elements of their film. While there are familiar actors in the film’s ensemble, like Liam Neeson or James Franco, the direction does a strong enough job in getting each actor to lose themselves in roles that are different from their usual comfort zones and roles that we as an audience expect from them. It also doesn’t hurt that the wardrobe and props department fire on all cylinders, forcing you to do many double takes towards each actor that moves in and out of frame. Without question, my favorite is certainly Tim Blake Nelson as the title character. Nelson exuberates a slick demeanor and authentic Western accent with confidence, giving us such an alluring set of welcoming arms into this story, and constantly doubling down on the endless charisma. My only wish is that he played a bigger role in the film, but I will get to that later.

– Brilliant camera drifts that works cohesively with the element of surprise. There’s such a cerebral sense behind the movement of discoveries that constantly built the drama, that I couldn’t get enough of. Such scenes are rare in film, and often give us the feeling that we are actually moving a mile ahead of the characters in the movie at all times, and this movie has no shortage of them. While I could list a few for this film in particular, I will say that my favorite involved a big protagonist character who doesn’t realize he’s been shot in the head until the camera pans down and we see a bloody hole in the front and back of his cowboy hat. Aside from the startling discovery of losing someone so prominent to the film, the sequence is shot in a way that forces you to hold your breath and hope everything that you’re feeling isn’t real, when in focus we find that it is. Rhythmic drama at its finest.

– Storybook style narration that adds nuance to the elements within an anthology genre movie. Beyond the many things I mentioned above, it’s the incredibly small attention to detail that gave the movie a rich sense of production value, and transcended the qualities of being just another set of campfire stories. At the beginning of each story, we are shown an actual storybook, complete with author-style text and vibrant storyboard drawings to accommodate what is transpiring on-screen. It gives the film a great sense of re-watchability for being able to pause it and take it all in, and it’s a reminder of throwback anthology films like “Creepshow” that adhered to the gimmick.

– Little things Part two. There’s this strong authenticity with the dialogue and character accents that fruitfully replicate the particular geography and time period seamlessly, and instill this feeling that many hours were spent on perfecting the craft. Terms are used that you wouldn’t necessarily hear in modern day, and that factor plays prominently in the believability of what we’re seeing and hearing on-screen. Nothing ever feels out of place or wooden to the world the brothers create inside, and I respect a perfectionist’s stance when it comes to hammering home something that could easily go over the head of its audience.

NEGATIVES

– A glaring weakness. For my money, stories four and six were the obvious weaknesses of the movie for me, and gave way to a lot of problems that didn’t exist in the rest of the project. It’s in these stories where the uneven pacing begins to show itself, as the stories up to that point moved with such vicious urgency. For whatever reason, these two stories were given much more ample time with developing their stories, and felt much more redundant in events because of such. In addition to this, I was disappointed a bit with the title of the movie because it doesn’t exactly define what the whole film entails. Instead, the title really only speaks to one-sixth of the story, and provides emphasis for why these stories would’ve worked much better as individual episodes, instead of one cohesive project.

– Conservative constrictions. While not a problem for everyone, there’s nothing enveloped that challenges the cliche conventions of Western civilization that are decades old. Once again, white men are heroes, even when they’re killers. White women are delicate prizes to be defended and won. Indigenous people are “savages” who exist purely to terrorize the first two groups. The west is a place of shattered dreams, dust, and death. Turn page. Repeat. The end. You’ve seen it before; the Coen’s have no qualms about showing it again. Just one story of female heroism or Indigenous perspective could’ve satisfied me.

My Grade: 8/10 or A-

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Directed By Phil Johnston and Rich Moore

Starring – John C Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot

The Plot – Taking place six years after saving the arcade from Turbo’s vengeance, the Sugar Rush arcade cabinet has broken, forcing Ralph (Reilly) and Vanellope (Silverman) to travel to the Internet via the newly-installed Wi-Fi router in Litwak’s Arcade to retrieve the piece capable of saving the game.

Rated PG for some action and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Artistic elevation of the new expanding world. As to where the first film riveted us with pixelated 8-bit goodness, with an air of modern rendering, this sequel as well captivates our imagination, depicting the internet as a creative backdrop to all of the world’s business. While probably not always true, the internet in the film is presented as this beautiful place that stretches as far as your vision can go, blending a strong combination of detailed layers and colorful textures, to make for a visual presentation that is second to none, in terms of animated properties this year. Likewise, the blending of old school hand-drawn animation for characters like Sonic the Hedgehog blend wonderfully with the modern day sheik of computer style animation, that make up a majority of characters within the film, and prove that this is a universe with all kind of shapes, colors, sizes, and even dimensions.

– That surprisingly responsible third act. While this film certainly isn’t stretching the boundaries of its PG rating of limitations, the script does take on enough dark and gritty themes to responsibly educate its youth demographic on the hazards of the internet, personal insecurities, and the rules of friendship. It’s in this poignant punch of material where the film’s tone ages gracefully, packing an unexpected psychological antagonist for the characters and film that I didn’t see coming, and one that proves Ralph can garner substance to go hand-in-hand with its captivating visual features.

– Strong ensemble voice work. Reilly and Silverman once again tap into a lot of raw energy and versatility in the stretching of their range capacity, but this time they’re asked to channel more of that impeccable rapport that made so much of the third act in the previous movie the film’s strong point. Thankfully, the consistency remains prominent, and the two pack a sweet punch combo of chemistry that will make you laugh, cry, or lose yourself to the way they live and breathe these animated properties. As for new additions, the work of Gadot as a badass street racer is one that carves out an unlikely outline for little girls who don’t fit into the Disney princess mold, and Taraji P Henson’s sassy familiarity is nearly unrecognizable as the blue-skinned, energetic Yes.

– Clever sight gags and dialogue quips that breathe intelligence. Where a film like this gets it right over a movie like “The Emoji Movie” is that it takes something as universal as the internet and carves out these ideas within the element that many can draw onto for how familiar it all feels. Some of the film’s best work in this regard engages in pop-up annoyances, auction bidding, and my personal favorite: the Disney expanding universe. On the latter, the interaction of superheroes and Star Wars characters makes for one of those once in a lifetime possibilities, but it’s the Disney princess’s themselves who steal the show, etching out a layer of social commentary for how outdated some of their ideals come across in 2018. It all makes for something that doesn’t settle for being just scenery for the narrative, and brings with it no shortage of witty material that tickled my funny bone more times than not.

– One spectacular musical number. While the Wreck-It Ralph franchise isn’t like other Disney properties, in that it never has to sing about its emotions, there is one number in this movie that I thought fit wonderfully from Vanellope’s downtrodden disposition and Disney princess recommendations. What’s even more important is that it’s actually a good song that does a double service deed of authenticity, depending on how you choose to look at it. The first is for Disney’s usual sporadic lyrics, which sometimes are all over the place in terms of topical consistency, and the second is keeping with the tradition of catchy chorus lines, that will have you humming it long after you leave the theater. Silverman won’t be confused for a singer any time soon, but her infectious vocal deliveries combined with the absurdity of the lyrics, make for three delightful minutes that I greatly enjoyed.

– Perfect timing for a particular cameo. I won’t ruin anything for this person popping up, but when you consider what the entertainment media world has been through in the last two weeks, the appearance of a familiar face to the silver screen feels transcendent for how incredible it played hand-in-hand with this person’s real life passing. It’s only for around two seconds long, but only proves how much of a lasting memory and permanent stamp on pop culture this person made on us all. You truly couldn’t have timed this one any better, and its subtlety as being the only real life person in this world of fantasy proves that they will live on forever.

– I commend a movie where the setting itself is secondary to the characters, and it’s clear that the evolving and straineous friendship between Ralph and Vanellope is what plays front-and-center here. As the film progresses from internet arrival, to money-making campaigns, to a King Kong inspired final conflict, you come to understand that everything we’ve been shown ranges around the adventures of these two people, and I loved that the film, despite educating its youth on the internet, never strayed too far away from the unveiled layers of these two people. An example of this done wrong is in the National Lampoon’s Vacation sequels, in that the Griswolds became almost an experiment of the environments they were being introduced to. Here, Ralph and Vanellope constantly bring the focus home. If they didn’t, the moving closing moments of the third act wouldn’t register, and thankfully they did.

NEGATIVES

– Age boundaries with the humor. While the comedy worked around 70% of the time for me, I feel like it’s because of my age why I was able to grasp onto the clever material with so much success. I noticed in my theater that most of the quips were going over the kids heads, and I think that lack of crossover appeal between age groups may limit Ralph Breaks the Internet’s final judgement. Because of such, I would recommend this more as a home video kind of experience for kids, as the theater is designed to test their attention in ways that isn’t as easy as sitting in front of the tube.

– I hate the title of this movie. I know, it’s stupid to complain about something so minimally important, but in my eyes a title can tell you everything that’s clever and important about a movie, and “Ralph Breaks the Internet” is in the shadows of a much more encapsulating title. “Ralph WRECKS the Internet” not only tells you everything that’s to be expected, but also keeps the consistency of its predecessor, that was short, sweet and simple. If you watch the first trailer, even Disney agrees, when Yes asks Ralph why they don’t just call it “Ralph Wrecks the Internet”, during a scene that isn’t even in the final cut of the film.

– Sloppiness during the first act. It’s strange to speak of a movie that gets better as it progresses, but that’s what you have here. The first thirty minutes of this movie not only feel very rushed to me, but also limit the kind of proper character exposition needed to pull you into its new conflict. This didn’t happen for me until about halfway into the film, once the focus drifts away from the internet and rests on its two central protagonists. As guilty is an out of place exposition line requiring a flashback, that felt completely out of place compared to the rest of the film. This to me is the definition of lazy writing, and there were certainly much more easier ways to work this into the script than halting the progression of our current day narrative.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

Green Book

Directed By Peter Farrelly

Starring – Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini

The Plot – When Tony Lip (Mortensen), a bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx, is hired to drive Dr. Don Shirley (Ali), a world-class Black pianist, on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South, they must rely on “The Green Book” to guide them to the few establishments that were then safe for African-Americans. Confronted with racism, danger-as well as unexpected humanity and humor-they are forced to set aside differences to survive and thrive on the journey of a lifetime.

Rated PG-13 for thematic content, adult language including racial epithets, smoking, some violence and suggestive material

POSITIVES

– The powerful dynamic between the two leads that keeps your attention throughout the film. There are very few scenes when Mortensen and Ali aren’t sharing the screen together, and that dependency speaks volumes to the confidence that the script writers had on their unshakeable chemistry, which is appealing in any and every way you can imagine. Besides their impeccably witty banter that I couldn’t get enough of, and firm grasp that each actor had on their character, the duo each do a positive service to the other, like how Tony breaks down decades old levels of racism in how he was brought up, and Don adapts to the cultures and experiences that have eluded him in his classical music upbringing. Each character opens up the eyes to the other, and it’s refreshing to see two older male leads who work better as a team than they do solely.

– Speaking of those two men, the performances from them are more than deserving of Oscar consideration, and consistently keep pace with each character’s evolution. For Mortensen’s Tony, he’s every bit naive as he is disgusting, and it’s in the unabashed nature of the latter that keeps the former in the range of childhood innocence. He says some pretty offensive things, but you get the feeling that he doesn’t know any better, and Viggo’s charisma is constantly on display. For Don, it’s a classier side of Ali that we unfortunately haven’t seen until now. Mahershala keeps Don bottled up for most of the movie, restrained by the confines of countrywide racism and isolation, as a result of his astonishing talents. Ali continues to build lengthy presence on screen, and his designation as the straight man to Tony’s mayhem never limits him to playing second fiddle.

– In seeing the trailers, I designated this as just another road trip film, with sprinkles of racist tribulations thrown in, and I couldn’t have been more wrong in that assumption. Sure, the elements of that subgenre are certainly there, but they’re only an outline to cater to a much bigger picture. The film’s meaty material guides us through elements of racial stereotypes, police brutality, and obviously the cultural divide between the north and south. This film takes on so many subplots, and yet it succeeds at stirring the pot of conversation in every single one of them. Eventually, it even evolves into one hell of a Christmas movie, during the emotionally stirring third act that warmed my heart in ways that only the Christmas classics have done. I haven’t felt this emotionally satisfied from a film in quite some time, and its important subject matter makes it very time appropriate for our particular age.

– Unorthodox introduction. There are no opening credits or title card in the film. This is done as a way to immerse audiences into the action of the opening scene, and ultimately makes them forget that they’re watching a film. I would like to see more movies taking creative stances like this one, as I feel too much is hung on the conventional introductions that have otherwise become stale in films. With more emphasis on the transcendence of real life, the film can blend into the real story taking place at hand. Beyond this, some of the real life Vallelonga family members are extras during family dinner scenes.

– Peter Farrelly’s strongest work to date. Yes, it’s the same guy who wrote the ear jizz scene in “There’s Something About Mary”, but this is Peter’s welcoming parade into the world of compelling drama and hearty lessons, that audiences can take home with them. What’s most impressive is Farrelly’s ability to incorporate the same kind of comedic material that exists in his previous movies, and balances it with the dramatic pulse in material that adorns the film, and none of it ever misses a step. This keeps the optimism firmly in the air of a consistent tone for the film, and it’s an example that no director in Hollywood should ever be written off before the project is finished.

– The look and feel of 1962 is represented fruitfully with an earnestness to captures that radiates. There wasn’t a single aspect of the vintage automobiles, three piece suits, or throwback hotel interiors that didn’t sync up, and it’s great to see a film that captures the beats of its respective era by properly channeling the vibes of everything prominently familiar about it. Visually, this is an America we’re no longer accustomed to, and it gives food for thought for the picket fences format, in that the most disturbing things are happening in the most ideal looking backdrops.

– We’ve seen this kind of story before, but what transcends the material of the cliches within this screenplay, is the poignancy of it being based on a true story. These were two men who remained best friends until their dying days, only months apart from each other, and the film does a strong enough job of juggling the expectations of a real life story with the entertainment value of a screenplay, only changing about the story what wouldn’t have otherwise translated well on-screen. It’s also got great adaptability as a crossover favorite for mainstream audiences, highlighting a similar track to some recent best picture winners that previously started off as just independent buzzworthy cinema.

– Contrary to what you’re seeing on-screen, Mahershala Ali does not play the piano, but the film does a great enough job in camera manipulation and sound editing to properly attain this believability. Kris Bowers, the film’s musical composer, doubles as Ali in his piano sequences, and in particularly hand close-ups that attain the movements of a reputable pianist superbly. When Ali is obviously in frame, the audio from the piano is muted and replaced with Bowers masterful work, carving out times when I really did question whether Ali took classes as a pianist, leading up to the film.

– One aspect that a lot of road trip movies forget about is properly channeling the distance in miles to properly articulate the distance from home, and thankfully “Green Book” doesn’t fall under this same spell. In addition to its over two hour run time, the majority of which is spent on the road, the film takes us through a variety of landscapes and cultures to echo that of the melting pot known as America. This is a film that takes its time in illustrating the perils of isolation on the road, making the months feel like years, and the appreciation of things absent from sight that much more meaningful once the reunion takes center stage.

NEGATIVES

– There’s a subplot twist that happens with Shirley’s character midway through the film, that I wish the movie would’ve further elaborated on. In addition to people’s prejudice against him as an African American man, this would’ve only further enhanced the fight against that hatred, and for a scene that changes much about the way we view Shirley, it’s quickly disposed of, to never be mentioned again. This is the one example when a character needed further fleshed out. I could’ve also used more time devoted to Shirley’s estranged brother, who is occasionally brought up to represent Don’s loneliness.

My Grade: 9/10 or A