Rampage

Directed by Brad Peyton

Starring – Dwayne Johnson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Ackerman

The Plot – Primatologist Davis Okoye (Johnson) shares an unshakable bond with George, the extraordinarily intelligent gorilla who has been in his care since birth. But a rogue genetic experiment gone awry transforms this gentle ape into a raging monster. As these newly created monsters tear across North America, destroying everything in their path, Okoye teams with a discredited genetic engineer to secure an antidote, fighting his way through an ever-changing battlefield, not only to halt a global catastrophe but to save the fearsome creature that was once his friend.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief adult language, and crude gestures

THE POSITIVES

– Considering this is a film that is based on an 80’s 8 bit video game smash-em-up, it would be criminal if the production couldn’t even master action sequences and set pieces. Thankfully, this isn’t the case, as ‘Rampage’ spares no expense at destruction of scenary, giving its ape protagonist plenty of time to pay homage to one of the most fun Nintendo experiences that anyone could have.

– In addition to the action, the sound mixing by Beau Borders rumbled the auditorium with thunderous precision. If you’re going to see this movie, make sure you do it in an IMAX setting because the devastation in sequencing is nothing short of incredible for immersing you right into the moments.

– Surprisingly, much of the C.G work is believable and shaded superbly. Why this is shocking is because the trailers make the animals look poorly rendered, and lacking of great weight when compared to their physical properties around them. While it’s not all one hundred percent, as much of the computer work with the long shots lack the kind of impact consistency, I can say that this was one area that cleared up well and made me able to soak in the giant monster smashing movies from my youth that I was addicted to.

– The big name cast is having the time of their lives. Johnson is always someone who makes the most of every opportunity given to him, and it’s in his soft spoken personality to match his intimidating presence where he carves out a human protagonist that is not only likeable, but also believable in the many physical challenges he’s given. Jeffrey Dean Morgan was also great, even if he was just playing Negan from ‘The Walking Dead’ throughout the film. Morgan chews up enough scenary to always leave you wanting more, and the chemistry between he and Johnson feels like a dream team pairing that took me places that I didn’t expect. More on that in a second.

– This is a screenplay that (Like its creatures) constantly keeps moving, engaging the audience in excellent pacing to keep the plot thick. At 102 minutes, ‘Rampage’ never gives much time to breathe, and I appreciate that in an action film that obviously doesn’t have the deepest of storylines.

THE NEGATIVES

– It honestly surprised me that Ackerman is the true villain of the movie, as a big wig corporate executive who is straight out of 90’s bosses. Between the cheesy ominous tones that accompany her whenever she’s on screen and her overall lack of presence, I just couldn’t buy her as the film’s central antagonist. The trailers marketed Morgan as being the villain, so it’s a bit of a disappointment when one of the best villains currently on television is nothing more than a secondary character in this script.

– Anyone who knows me knows that one of my pet peeves in cinema is the overused stable of unsubtle advertising, and this film is full of it. From the Ford emblem being all over the vehicle shots, to the colorful Dave and Busters sign that sticks out like a sore thumb in a dust-filled Chicago backdrop, this movie can’t resist. If this isn’t enough, an actual 80’s Rampage arcade game is shown in Ackerman’s office. This begs the question; is this whole project based on some little girl’s addiction to a video game from her childhood?

– I realize that complaining about logic in a movie where a forty foot tall ape gives the finger and makes sexual gestures with his hands is probably simplistic, but a critic has to speak his mind. When the initial explosion of contaminated pieces happens in space during the first scenes of the film, I find it incredible that despite there being so many of them, they only land in three different places, and in the United States none the less. Imagine the odds.

– The third act of the movie had the ability to really send us home on the strength of dramatic muscle, but it withers away because of some choices made that ruin it. I won’t spoil it here, but in building Johnson and George’s friendship the whole movie, you wait for the inevitable confrontation that will change everything. Nope, it doesn’t happen, and the reason why still makes me scratch my head from a scientific standpoint.

– Despite the repeated notion that the world is in trouble as a result of these creatures, the sense of urgency and weight that resides within the rest of the world feels limited. After all, this is just one city in a bigger world that has plenty more weapons in taking it down. It never feels like armageddon is upon us, and that lack of uncertainty never lifts it from being predictably grounded.

5/10

A Quiet Place

Directed By John Krasinski

Starring – John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe

The Plot – In this modern horror thriller, a family of four must navigate their lives in silence after mysterious creatures that hunt by sound threaten their survival. If they hear you, they hunt you.

Rated PG-13 for terror and some bloody imagery

THE POSITIVES

– Considering Krasinski is pulling triple duty here (Writer, Director, Star), it goes without saying that he digs his grip deep on the pulse of what makes horror films work. Classics like ‘The Thing’ and ‘Psycho’ work because they focus on the characters long before the terror surrounding them. This movie often feels like a coming of age story for two kids that just so happens to take place in a post apocalyptic setting, leaving the ambiance of the antagonists firmly in hand, without soiling their mysticism.

– The performances are equally impressive without needing much dialogue. I don’t get to brag about child actors often, but Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe command the screen, playing a brother and sister duo that harvest such resentment towards their tortured pasts. If this wasn’t enough, Blunt’s on-screen chemistry with real life husband Krasinski transcends any kind of story setting, and illustrates some of that surreal bond between them that gives their on-screen relationship believability.

– Much of the sound mixing and design is impeccable. For Simmonds, she is deaf in real life, as well as the film, so what the film does is highlight her point of view by dimming the volume any time we get a point-of-view shot from her perspective. Beyond this, the film juggles tension in sound so wonderfully that it gives meaning to each of the terrific jump scares that it designs.

– I have mostly good and a few bad things to say about Krasinski’s writing here, but for the positives I will say that he carefully places the focus of each scene on a singular object and watches the madness implode around that object. It’s pretty cool because we as an audience know that thing is there and we know what’s going to happen, we just don’t know how, and it’s in the how where such tension is built continuously until the big impact happens. Perfection in patience, sir.

– As for the C.G antagonists, I loved their mix of Carnage and Predator in design scheme that felt like it brought an entirely new hybrid to 21st century monsters. Much of the effects work for this artificial property does present itself as visually stimulating for a low budget horror flick, and their movements were given plenty of weight to make it constantly breed danger anytime they show up.

– There’s tons of respect that I have for any movie that forces audiences in a theater to shut up and just focus. Because the film’s audio is mostly dimmed for a majority of the scenes, it transfixes us in this kind of muted embrace to immerse ourselves within this world on-screen, making it easy to get lost in the story and characters that outline the rules.

– The combination of Krasinski’s unnerving camera angles combined with composer Marco Beltrami’s stimulating musical score, carves out the most suspense in every conflict. Beltrami never feels intrusive or betraying of the very mood set up in the film, and his score seems to remain guarded until our characters finally decide to make a move.

– Most of this film is surprisingly well paced considering its plot is quite basic. Most of it can be credited to the credible performances, but I feel that the credit in keeping the audience invested relies upon Krasinski’s desire to show us what is boiling in his left hand, while reaching for something else to get ready with the right. It proves that he never stops thinking, and his sequencing of these attacks are something of a worthy prize during the scenes that push us to the edge with ensuing tension.

THE NEGATIVES

– There were a few too many conveniences especially during the final ten minutes of the movie that soured my investment into the well-being of these characters. There are times when their decisions are incredibly smart for a film in this genre, yet others when they fall under the very same stupidities that have made us laugh for decades. Once you know the trick in diluting these monsters, it becomes fairly easy how this family can get rid of them. But they keep them around because the plot requires them to, and the longer the film goes on, the more this becomes obvious.

– As I mentioned before, Krasinski nearly fires on every cylinder in his screenplay, but one such scene gave me the impression that he lost faith in his talented cast’s ability to visual storytelling. It happens during the middle of the movie at a waterfall, and gave me a sour taste with how it reviewed everything up to that point in a cliff notes sort of manner. One character blames themselves for something bad that happened a year prior, and it’s fairly obvious that this person lives with that grief, but the movie wants to keep checking to make sure we know this VIA a father and son talk that serves as nothing but a review for people who haven’t been paying attention up to this point.

8/10

Ready Player One

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring – Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn

The Plot – In the year 2045, the real world is a harsh place. The only time Wade Watts (Sheridan) truly feels alive is when he escapes to the OASIS, an immersive virtual universe where most of humanity spends their days. In the OASIS, you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone-the only limits are your own imagination. The OASIS was created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who left his immense fortune and total control of the Oasis to the winner of a three-part contest he designed to find a worthy heir. When Wade conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends-aka the High Five-are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and adult language.

THE POSITIVES

– The aesthetic touch couldn’t be better, bringing to life the vibrant visuals of the OASIS with a synthetic gaming feel. I would normally call out other films that depend so much on C.G graphics, but this kind of effect was made for a film that almost entirely takes place in a world so foreign from our own.

– Art imitating life?? Because of the beauty and adventure involved in the OASIS, the real world is associated with a bleak, almost hopeless feel by comparison. There’s a real sense of escapism with this gaming world, and while that comes with endless exhilaration for our protagonist, it ignores the real problems that have doomed society because of their dependency upon this magical place. This responsible take is every bit as refreshing as it is vocal about our own addictions to technology.

– There’s no secret that this film could easily be called ‘Easter Egg: The Movie’ because of its endless displays of pop culture icons from film and gaming that give it an overall big budget feature. What’s surprisingly pleasing however, is that with the exception of one scene, their appearances feel necessary in upping the ante of importance to Halliday’s future and never steal the film’s focus for themselves. In catching them all, this film has outstanding replay value, and will welcome hundreds of upcoming Youtube videos to point out the ones that are extremely obscure.

– Spielberg has directed adult or child protagonists before, but surprisingly never teenagers until now. In doing so, it feels like he has a real grasp on their psychology and mannuerisms when it comes to their overall sense of spontaneity. ‘Ready Player One’ could easily pass for a teenage genre film in any of the eras it homages, and it’s clear that Spielberg’s latest awakens the adolescent from within him that has constantly kept beating through over forty years in cinema.

– This film is a collective audio scrapbook of 80’s synth hits that each meet their desired emotion in their respective scenes without feeling topical. From Van Halen, to A-Ha, to even Twisted Sister, this soundtrack mirrors that of the fictional star power shown in the film, and serves as a respectable nod in our present day to the past era of music that felt bigger than life.

– Sound mixing at its finest. You have to listen and pay attention closely, but the sound effects in the OASIS that serve as a reaction when something has been hit or destroyed also borrows from film, carefully placing a sound that the audience is familiar with into a new atmosphere to give it a new lease on life. For instance, the fading picture noise in ‘Back to the Future’ is now used for the key reveals.

– Precise casting. I have only read ‘Ready Player One’ once, but for my money the casting of Sheridan and Cooke feels right on point. The two emote an on-screen chemistry that radiates without being forceful. What’s even more impressive is that these two must connect on a spiritual level and not a physical one since a majority of the film takes place in the OASIS. It’s also in the care and backstory of their respective characters that the film takes in drawing them together. You feel strong empathy and investment into their conflicts because of their conflict with this major corporation that has taken everything from them.

– It’s not often that I get edge-of-my-seat giddy during a film, at the age of 33 years old, but the second key challenge in the film had my eyes glued to the screen with anticipation. Many people will be raving about the third challenge in this film, but my vote for coolest scene goes to the second challenge that bends the pages of historical film without desecrating them.

– If you listen to me about anything, hear me when I say that ‘Ready Player One’ is the film you go all out for and pay top dollar. This is a film that deserves to be seen by as many eyes on the biggest screen possible. The 3D actually added effects work to the outline of characters and backdrops that put you front-and-center inside of the game, and for once the colors don’t diminish or fade with the thick lenses of these theater goggles. Treat yourself, you deserve it.

THE NEGATIVES
– A majority of the action sequences are shot a bit too close for my taste. What this does is make it slightly more difficult in registering each deciding blow with the kind of clarity needed in keeping the audience’s focus. Because so much of these scenes are cluttered with characters, I could’ve used that wide angle shot in seeing things from the grander scale, instead of feeling like I was holding the hand of the main character.

THE EXTRAS

– It hit me about midway through that this is a modern day ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’. Five kids work closely together while mining through a series of tests for the prize of winning a genius’s empire. Sound familiar?

9/10

Pacific Rim: Uprising

Directed by Steven S DeKnight

Starring – John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Tian Jing

The Plot – John Boyega stars as the rebellious Jake Pentecost, a once-promising Jaeger pilot whose legendary father gave his life to secure humanity’s victory against the monstrous “Kaiju.” Jake has since abandoned his training only to become caught up in a criminal underworld. But when an even more unstoppable threat is unleashed to tear through our cities and bring the world to its knees, he is given one last chance to live up to his father’s legacy by his estranged sister, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi)-who is leading a brave new generation of pilots that have grown up in the shadow of war. As they seek justice for the fallen, their only hope is to unite together in a global uprising against the forces of extinction. Jake is joined by gifted rival pilot Lambert (Eastwood) and 15-year-old Jaeger hacker Amara (Cailee Spaeny), as the heroes of the PPDC become the only family he has left.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some adult language

THE POSITIVES

– There’s no question that the meat and potatoes of this franchise is still the action, first and foremost. It is definitely still there, vibrating the screen with no shortage of combat and devastation that makes the most of the set pieces that surround the robots and monsters respectively.

– Boyega definitely feels like the most beneficial addition to the script, if only for his endless charisma and presence that steers the film with command whenever he is on screen. I do wish they would’ve evolved his character and subplot progressively more, but John makes the most of the limited opportunity, pushing through the sludge with the kind of attitude the film so desperately needs.

– The decisions in camera work smoothly, and never replicate the negatives of modern day action flicks with too many quick-cuts. Instead, Uprising focuses on each and every crushing blow without ever flinching or looking away from the unfolding scene.

– Perhaps a motivation for the script that worked above all others for me was the maturity and steering by the youth of this fresh faced cast in saving the day. This inspires a positive message from our own next generation to take charge of our own world and future when it comes knocking on their doors.

THE NEGATIVES

– For my money, the action sequences look much better at night than they do in the day. This not only feeds into the idea of the mystery behind what’s waiting in the dark, but also the hollow and empty presentation from daylight sequences that don’t echo that cool, Tron-like vibe from the neon decor.

– Much of the screenplay felt like a hybrid between Independence Day and Transformers. In fact, I predict much will be forgotten about this film because you’ve seen it in bigger, more gifted productions that (Above all else) did it first.

– The humor in dialogue felt so forced and unnatural that it comes across as more awkward than humorous. A good deal of my problems creatively with the film clashed with the overall tone that caters more to young adult moviegoers than a matured adult presentation that adorned the first movie. More on that in a second.

– It is my opinion that Dr Gottlieb (Played with commitment by Burn Gorman) deserved more screen time for his evolution, and there’s one glaring area that I would’ve taken away from. How does a movie make Charlie Day feel like John Turtoro from the Transformers series? Day is AWFUL here, and his emerging plot feels as believable as pigs flying. Each time he was on-screen, he took away from the more entertaining scenario behind him, and if this is where the series is going I will pass.

– There’s not nearly enough urgency or vulnerability in this world and its people, and I blame a lot of that on the mistimed tone that I mentioned above. To further elaborate on this, I never felt glued or uncertainty for the action-packed third act because I never felt the danger of a situation that either cuts to Day for his goofy one-liners, or uses valuable camera time in getting one of the robots to give a monster the middle finger.

– DeKnight is certainly no substitute for Del Toro. A lot of the film lacks the style, creativity, attention to detail, and innovation that the first movie had. Instead of elevating the rules and technology in this film, DeKnight would rather rest on much of the positives of the first movie, leaving him without a knife to carve his name in this 50/50 franchise.

4/10

A Wrinkle in Time

Directed by Ava Duvernay

Starring – Storm Reid, Chris Pine, Oprah Winfrey

The Plot – Meg Murry (Reid) is a typical middle school student struggling with issues of self-worth who is desperate to fit in. As the daughter of two world-renowned physicists, she is intelligent and uniquely gifted, as is Meg’s younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), but she has yet to realize it for herself. Making matters even worse is the baffling disappearance of Mr. Murry (Pine), which torments Meg and has left her mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) heartbroken. Charles Wallace introduces Meg and her fellow classmate Calvin (Levi Miller) to three celestial guides-Mrs. Which (Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling)-who have journeyed to Earth to help search for their father, and together they set off on their formidable quest. Traveling via a wrinkling of time and space known as tessering, they are soon transported to worlds beyond their imagination where they must confront a powerful evil. To make it back home to Earth, Meg must look deep within herself and embrace her flaws to harness the strength necessary to defeat the darkness closing in on them.

Rated PG for thematic elements and some peril

THE POSITIVES

– That sense of escapism and imagination that filled the pages of the book is one of the only things that translates well for this picture. Throughout the movie, we are treated to some truly gorgeous Greenland landscapes that never need C.G pixelation in harnessing their beauty, as well as a vibrant color scheme that triggers an out-of-this-world kind of energy for us to intake.

– It’s kind of refreshing to me that for once in a movie we are seeing the little girl take command of the situation, and the little boy is kind of left to be the side piece to do nothing but support her. This certainly gives the film a progressive sense of direction that will inspire girl audiences everywhere.

– While she doesn’t succeed at every level of camera work, Duverney can at least hang her hat on being a risk taker. Ava refuses to ever settle for just one continuous style in shooting these characters and visuals, and this speaks volumes to the levels of articulation that she possesses as a top notch director in Hollywood.

THE NEGATIVES

– This screenplay feels like it (Like Chris Pine’s character) got lost somewhere along the way. I say that because so much of the material not only feels out of context, but also short on exposition for the very lack of rules explanation that the film supplants. The on-going journey very much feels like writers who are making up the rules as they go, neglecting the vital details from the book that communicated the logic. The child reactions and logic are also ridiculously stretched here. Kids react to these weird things going on around them like these three magical women showing up on their doorsteps like it’s no big deal. There’s no shock or awe in any of them, and sadly I blame this on a director who never dives deep into her characters.

– Speaking of lagging exposition, not one character outline is given to any single person in this film. Reid’s Meg is obviously the main character of the film, but there’s very little we actually know about her by film’s end other than she’s smart and she’s Chris Pine’s daughter. When I care more about the characters, I care more about their peril, and I never found myself fully immersed in any kind of conflict in the film.

– EXTREME CLOSE-UP WHOOOAAAAAA!!!! I mentioned that Duverney doesn’t succeed at every angle she shoots in the film, and none are more harmful than the tedious exertion that she gave in shooting too close. There were several times in the film where I felt physically uncomfortable with Ava’s decision to cover each and every reaction that sometimes goes without saying.

– Considering this is Disney Studios and there is over a hundred million dollars invested into the film, the computer generation properties in the film are really an eye-sore. This goes well beyond the hollow movements and terribly cheesy green-screen outlining. This is really more about the believability in presentation that leaves very little to the imagination. A film should try its hardest to make the live action transition seamless, otherwise why not make this an animated movie to begin with?

– Nothing memorable in terms of performances. Reese Witherspoon is definitely the best of the three adult counterparts, emoting Mrs Whatsit with a sarcastic tongue that occasionally got the better of her. The problem is Witherspoon (Like Winfrey and Kaling) is playing an amplified version of herself, never allowing herself to get lost in the character. The child actors too are abysmal. Reid lacks enough personality to make her intriguing as someone we follow for a majority, and the work of Levi Miller as Meg’s crush made for as much awkwardness in line reads as a Fifty Shades movie. Seriously, this kid was a stalker, right?

– If you forget Meg’s brother’s name is Charles Wallace, fear not because the movie repeats it no fewer than sixty times throughout. If there is one positive to this, it’s in the capability in creating a fun drinking game with friends that will have you passing out before having to sit through 104 minutes of this boredom.

– Which brings me to my final problem for the movie; it is an anomaly with its pacing. I say that because despite a screenplay that is literally and figuratively running through scenes with very little explanation or impact, the film still manages to slug along with repetition in dialogue about the importance of love and family that they beat over the head time-and-time-again. After an impressive opening act, it’s a shame that this film never finds the proper formula in establishing that the sum is greater than its parts.

3/10

Every Day

Directed by Michael Sucsy

Starring – Angourie Rice, Justice Smith, Maria Bello

The Plot – Based on David Levithan’s acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Every Day tells the story of Rhiannon (Rice), a 16-year old girl who falls in love with a mysterious soul named “A” who inhabits a different body every day. Feeling an unmatched connection, Rhiannon and A work each day to find each other, not knowing what or who the next day will bring. The more the two fall in love, the more the realities of loving someone who is a different person every 24 hours takes a toll, leaving Rhiannon and “A” to face the hardest decision either has ever had to make

Rated PG-13 for thematic content, adult language, teen drinking, and suggestive material

THE POSITIVES

– No matter how ridiculous in concept, I do enjoy a film that takes an idea in plot and can at least have fun with it. There are several attempts at humor when it comes to this spirit inhabiting these bodies that occasionally gave me a light chuckle to the unfolding absurdity.

– Angourie Rice proves that she might be one of those few child stars who makes the transition seamlessly to adult actor. Here, Rice is the dominant focus for the film, and through that majority of time spent with her we are treated to an emotional register for how complicated adolescence can truly be. Everyone else in the film was disposable, but she gave me levels of substance that I greatly appreciated.

– Soft lens kind of cinematography that articulately channels indie romance flicks beautifully. This graduates the source material from a young adult origin to a mature adaptation before our very eyes.

– I am so thankful that the final ten minutes of the film addressed many of the problems that I had with where this romance is going. For instance, what if Rhiannon gets pregnant someday? What if people see her with a new man or woman every day? What if a body is taken over by A that is suicidal? The film not only explores these ideas, but does so in a way that feels responsible to the ending.

– Any chance where I get to hear that 80’s reminiscent sounds of The The’s ‘This is the Day’ is a pleasure-filled delight. This song not only slyly winks at the film’s unfolding events, but also serves as a meaningful way for Rhiannon to distinguish who is A.

THE NEGATIVES

– The film’s beginning almost feels like we’ve stumbled upon a film that has begun with another film already in progress. I say this because much of the initial first few scenes proceed with very little exposition for those of us in the audience who haven’t read the novel. It threw me off because I always expect the introductions to either explain the character’s curse, or at least indulge us in getting to know its main characters, but neither of those happen in this forced beginning.

– This script has several one-off scenes that add nothing of substance to the remainder. Things like Rhiannon’s Mom randomly coming to her room to have a talk, and then deciding against it, could easily be left on the cutting room floor. They are scenes that are never further elaborated on, and feel more like unnecessary padding to push this 90 minute agenda.

– It’s my opinion that this film is following the wrong person. Rice’s performance is solid, yes, but the whole idea of the film is about A, so why does he/she constantly feel like a shadow in his own movie?

– I can appreciate a film that speaks to the spiritual side of love and not the physical side of it, but that theme is slightly difficult to believe when 95% of the bodies that A inhabits are cute teenagers of the Banana Republic catalogue type. Even when it turns out to be a woman, there’s very little physical interaction in the same way that Rhiannon feels when she gets a strapping young lad.

– Does it freak anyone else out that Rhiannon is having sexual relations with people’s bodies without their consent? Quite a tough sell indeed.

5/10

Annihilation

Directed by Alex Garland

Starring – Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac

The Plot – A biologist’s husband disappears. She puts her name forward for an expedition into an environmental disaster zone, but does not find what she’s expecting. The expedition team is made up of the biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist.

Rated R (for violence, bloody images, adult language and some sexuality)

THE POSITIVES

– Being a fan of the books, I can thankfully say that Garland follows enough of the outline from that source material while deviating dramatically with the central themes and development for where his characters take us. It was like following the rules without knowing fully where it would go; the most satisfying kind of adaptation.

– Eye-entrancing visuals. There’s plenty to mention here, including the death scenes that are viscerally artistic in the most cinematic of qualities. Aside from this, the film’s backdrops for The Shimmer radiate the same kind of prism magenta that fills the air like a cancer. More on that sentiment in a second.

– The performances are well done without being overly dramatic. Midway through the film, I kept saying to myself how underplayed these characters are from this exceptionally talented cast, but then their pain and personal miseries snuck up on me with each passing reveal, speaking levels to the kind of empathy that Portman, Thompson, and my personal favorite, Gina Rodriguez garner for each other.

– Garland continues his parade front-and-center towards being possibly the very best science fiction director going today. With ‘Annihilation’, he constructs a science fiction slow-burn thriller film for the strongest of die-hards who welcome the chance to immerse themselves in worlds and rules so foreign from anything on this planet. Any great science fiction film makes you believe that anything can happen, and there has rarely been a stronger case for this than this movie.

– As far as the themes ingested into this story, I took away plenty that I grabbed ahold of, and yet plenty that would still require future re-watches to make this evidence concrete. In my opinion, the film is very much about self-destruction on a global and personal scale, and how the comparison in biology between the two help shape the shadows of who we become when compared to the person we once were. It’s interesting how similarly the people and environment react when faced with an event that will inevitably change both of their futures.

– There’s so much range in the unorthodox sound mixing displayed here by designer Niv Adiri. Acting as something much greater than just visually distinguishing us from the outside, Adiri audibly catches your attention by mastering a kind of counterfeit serenity to what makes up the sounds around us. It almost takes a minute to hear the deviated differences from our own air, but the cause for concern will produce in spades for anyone so firmly committed to soaking it all in.

– A very eclectic musical score from producers Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury. With enough free range between the worlds of folk and techno that audibly adorn the film, the duo of musicians master a slow change in genre sounds to replicate the change in fear that is taking out in this mental chess game between human and alien.

THE NEGATIVES

– The film greatly suffers from that cliche of immense creatures that apparently don’t make sounds as they approach. While not as humorous as something like the ‘Jurassic Park’ films, it is ridiculous here considering their movements have virtually no sound in The Shimmer to compete against thanks to the lack of human influence.

– While I always appreciate a film that offers a chance for audiences to debate and interpret what they see, I think Garland as a writer remains far too cryptic in his battle for sending audiences home with that final emphasis during the third act that leaves too much open. Far too often, the answer of “I don’t know” fills the dialogue, and it made me annoyed for just how little we definitively answered in 110 minutes.

– Once again, another harmful introduction. The first scene in this film continues my least favorite tradition of giving away spoilers before we’ve even stepped foot into the story. Sure, there’s much more to these answers that we’ve been given, but the well-being of the characters in particular hinders any kind of suspense later on that some of these rare fight sequences could’ve used badly.

7/10

Black Panther

Directed by Ryan Coogler

Starring – Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o

The Plot – After the events of Captain America: Civil War, King T’Challa (Boseman) returns home to the reclusive, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to serve as his country’s new leader. However, T’Challa soon finds that he is challenged for the throne from factions within his own country. When two foes conspire to destroy Wakanda, the hero known as Black Panther must team up with C.I.A. agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) and members of the Dora Milaje, Wakandan special forces, to prevent Wakanda from being dragged into a world war.

Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture

THE POSITIVES

– Ryan Coogler’s visual and audible feats in directing that bring to life the technologically advanced world of Wakanda with flare. We’ve certainly seen Marvel astound us with dives into other worlds and galaxies before, but this feels like the first time where they got the flavor of the sizzle complete on every spectrum.

– Behind every great man is several amazing women. There have been films where a female has been my favorite character, but I can’t recall one where my two favorite characters from a film have been of my opposite sex, and that’s completely unintentional. Not only is this a film breathes life into the fight against minority examples in superhero genre films, but also one of female empowerment that invites the ladies along to share in these magnetic personalities.

– Ludwig Goransson’s impeccable blend of 808 drums and percussion edited beats that spin an inspirational movement taking place before our very eyes. Not only does this musical score get your toes tapping, but it also speaks volumes to the kind of consequential landscape that these varying tribes set for themselves.

– Speaking of tribes, the wardrobes all around were very vibrant and full of rich traditionalism that tickles the eyes. What’s even more impressive is that this is not only a film that caters to that historical past, but also one that embraces the future in us all coming together as one tribe.

– Has there been a Marvel film with a collective cast this deep? Boseman was born to play T’Challa, but I can’t help but feel that he is outshined on almost every single scene that he comes into contact with a friend or adversary, relaying just how much meat there is to feast on for everyone here. Lupita Nyongo offers a warm and caring compassion, Danai Gurira amplifies that Michonne burning intensity from ‘The Walking Dead’ to eleven, and my introduction to Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s genius sister, is one that I just couldn’t get enough of.

– A special mention for Michael B Jordan as the film’s antagonist Erik Killmonger. Villains seem to be a continuous problem for Marvel films ever since the success of Loki, but here they instill a level of relatability to Erik that had me even questioning what side I should be rooting on. His motivation in seeking the throne is one that works on all accounts mainly because it feels like a superhero origin story with some twists in personality that allows you to see the shades of grey between good and evil.

– It’s impressive how consistent this screenplay changes up the tempo. During the first act, this very much feels like a James Bond spy thriller of sorts. During the second act, our direction is transformed into a science fiction space odyssey that ironically takes place on Earth. And finally during the last third of the film, we get all out war in a fantasy epic that re-defines the rules of what transpires on a battlefield.

– This panther is its own animal. The decision to make this film stand almost entirely on its own without the inclusion of prior Marvel stories or subplots is one that I greatly valued, and proves that the producers had a lot of faith in this film’s capabilities in seducing its audience with something remarkably fresh for such an overflowing genre of films. It really does feel like a movie that set high standards for itself, but achieved each goal because (like the protagonist) it stayed true to itself the whole time.

THE NEGATIVES

– I was honestly unimpressed with a majority of the overall C.G work in authenticity. The backgrounds especially gave me an exhale of disappointment on more than one occasion, especially during daytime scenes where the layers in shadowing weren’t fully realized. To someone else, this isn’t a big deal, but to me, it takes much of the heartbeat away from a film when everything feels like a cartoon or in this case a contrived sequence that strongly lacks the impact of its physical properties.

– Some of the fight sequences are too overly edited for my taste. Thankfully, they aren’t as bad as say ‘Resident Evil: The Final Chapter’, but there were some examples where the inclusion of gunfire during nighttime scenes not only made it difficult for me to stay focused on a character, but also made it that much more of a challenge in registering each crushing blow that I could hear and barely see.

The Extra

– I vow to never watch a Marvel trailer again. Once again, one scene in particular during the beginning of the third act was ruined because whoever cut the trailer is a major asshole and decided to include this compromising visual in the finished two minute piece. This not only took out my suspension of disbelief for the conflict that develops with T’Challa and Killmonger, but also spoiled to me what happened before they ever touched fists.

8/10

The Cloverfield Paradox

Directed by Julius Onah

Starring – David Oyelowo, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Daniel Bruhl

The Plot – Orbiting a planet on the brink of war, a group of scientists from many countries test a device to solve an energy crisis, but instead end up face-to-face with a dark alternate reality.

Rated PG-13 for mild profanity, violence and gore, as well as frightening imagery.

THE POSITIVES

– This is a very talented collaborative cast who are put through the ringer of some very basic character development. Where the sun shines is in the hearty humanity of Mbatha-Raw, as well as Oyelowo’s endless intelligence. In them, the film offers two compelling leads to play against typecast of minorities in this particular genre.

– Legitimate frights that feed to the very modern day ‘Black Mirror’ influenced audiences who crave nightmare worlds being brought to life.

– A dual narrative between orbit and land that seeks the importance of both. As to where most science fiction in space films leave the latter behind, this script understands the value in both to the progression of the revealing points.

– Bear McCreary’s enthralling musical tones. While only a stud previously on television scores like ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘Battlestar Galactica’, McCreary dedicates his single best feature film score to date, pushing the urgency long after the uneven twists have peaked creatively.

– For a Netflix film, the movement of the camera angles and pursuing shots offer a subtle, yet commanding focus on where to keep your attention at all times.

THE NEGATIVES

– It doesn’t take a genius to see how thin the Cloverfield folklore is squeezed here. Once again, this feels like a script for an entirely different film that was re-written last minute to cater to a popular franchise. I never thought I’d say this, but this sequel needs more influence of its predecessors.

– The continuing problem that I have with this series is that I’m left with even more questions with each passing chapter. This is OK temporarily to get the next one over, but I can’t escape this inevitable feeling that the questions that arose from the original film more than ten years ago will be left forgotten.

– While not the worst I’ve ever seen, the computer generation in effects work can be boldly compromising to the live properties around it, giving scenes an unwelcome cartoonish layer that totally took me out of the terror. The eye ball scene in particular looked so unappealing that its movements never feel authentic enough to take seriously.

– There never feels like enough capitalizing on the intoxicating ideas that the first act introduces. The final minutes, which have previously been the peak of the previous two films, peters away enough momentum, and will have you checking your watch for the first time all film.

– Smart people making stupid decisions part……….umm. Certainly nothing new to space settings, but the choices made by scientists here continue to insill laughter in me when I really shouldn’t be.

5/10

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Directed by Wes Ball

Starring – Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Sangster

THE PLOT – In the epic finale to The Maze Runner Saga, Thomas (O’Brien) leads his group of escaped Gladers on their final and most dangerous mission yet. To save their friends, they must break into the legendary last city, a WCKD controlled labyrinth that may turn out to be the deadliest maze of all. Anyone who makes it out alive will get the answers to the questions the Gladers have been asking since they first arrived in the maze. Will Thomas and the crew make it out alive? Or will Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkston) get her way?

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, adult language, and some thematic elements

THE POSITIVES

– There are a few surprising cameos both within the realm of this film universe, as well as real life celebrity that raised my respect of reputation for the film. I won’t give anything away, but my favorite character in this trilogy makes a triumphant return and steals more than a few scenes.

– Big budget set pieces. There’s a ringing feeling throughout the film that no dollar was spared in the visual backdrops (Both C.G and non), giving Ball’s conclusion to this series a grown-up action genre presence that has matured along with the characters fittingly.

– The action sequences are very imaginative and rattling with each passing scene. If it is destruction that you crave, let The Death Cure be your anecdote.

– O’Brien’s commitment to at least seeing the series through. Most stars, once they become a big name presence, forget about the roles that made them (See Lawrence, Jennifer), so it’s nice to see Dylan still being a noble contributor and finishing with gritty personality what he started with green earnestness.

THE NEGATIVES

– While I dug the action sequences, the film is littered with them to a fault. As to where ‘The Scorch Trials’ was plagued with too much exposition and not enough action in between, this film is the exact opposite, exhausting me to tears by the repetition in setup that wears itself thin quickly.

– Speaking of exposition, this script picks and chooses what gets highlighted for its audience. Some things that don’t feel remotely important by the end of the movie are given long-winded explanations, while those key details that bridge the gap of understanding for audiences feel lost in the shuffle.

– The film could’ve used an introduction recap in refreshing the previous two films for people like myself who see over 200 films a year and can’t quite remember every detail from Y.A series that rub together. Without it, this only feeds into the hardcore fans who have stuck by this franchise this long and await a payoff that never comes.

– Urgency yes, vulnerability no. Believe me when I say that you never fear for our protagonists a single time once you’re about a half hour into the film, and the reason for this is because there is a laughably tedious routine each time they get in the slightest bit of trouble that sees them escape the jaws of death in the most silly of ways, making it feel like it was planned like such.

– Watching this film with an avid fan of the books gave me a stunning comparison. She revealed to me that this film is about 7% on par with the events of the book, casting a huge drop-off from the book versus film comparison of the original Maze Runner, which she said was 75% alike. This ultimately means that fans of the books might feel alienated with a series they’ve come to know and love.

– My biggest problem with the series overall is what mazes that risk the lives of youths have to do with testing their intelligence. Surely there are less maniacal ways to test their strongest muscle. Perhaps a math challenge??

4/10

Insidious: The Last Key

Directed by Adam Robitel

Starring – Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson

THE PLOT – In the fourth installment of the Insidious franchise, parapsychologist Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) must delve even deeper into the infernal world known as “the Further” when supernatural forces target her own family, sending her and her team reeling from a haunting that takes place so close to home.

Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content, violence and terror, and brief strong adult language

THE POSITIVES

– Lin Shaye’s reserved, yet emotionally wrenching performance that proves age is only a number.  Visual scars are there, but it’s in Shaye’s haunting of her past where we embrace her at her edgiest. It’s incredible to see how an originally supporting character has become the focal point for this entire series, and because of such, we are treated to a film that centers around her character’s origins.

– The idea that the most powerful of ghosts are the ones from our pasts that continue to haunt until we choose to confront them once and for all.

– Continued excellence in lighting that articulately divides our world from the further. There’s nothing extravagant or costly about its effects, yet the graying state of this supernatural world omits a clear cut vibe of decay in the atmosphere.

– Jump scares are few and far between, and even better than that, the scares are patient. There were many times during the film where I felt that I had it predicted as to when someone or something would jump out, only to be duped into hanging on a bit longer before that itch had to be scratched.

– The seamless insertion of this film between chapters 1,2, and 3 of the series. Some sequels often feel unnecessary or even forced with their inclusion, but ‘The Last Key’ doesn’t ever feel shy on what happened before or after this story, without using it as a gimmick to feed into fans of those previous installments.

THE NEGATIVES

– This is a series that accomodates to comedy quite well, but this film certainly isn’t one of those, as Whannell and Sampson’s comic relief duo feel every bit as desperate as they do speedbumps to the progression of this story. Each time a scene focuses on them, it either runs for too long in not cutting to the point, or highlights just how truly insignificant their characters are in this fourth chapter.

– Speaking of Whannell, this is arguably his weakest script to date. I could get over the fact that this film doesn’t continue to elevate the rules of the further like the previous movies, but for a writer to write himself as the guy who saves the group and gets the girl, reeks of shameless self-promotion that hinders the power of the pen.

– Too many characters and not enough exposition for any of them. The film’s introduction focuses on our central three characters, then introduces us to three more in the form of three locals who they meet at a diner, then abandons half of them before the pivotal third act. Bruce Davison’s character in particular feels like a wasted opportunity between him and Shaye to really feed into their secret connection.

– Once again, the ear-shattering jolts that each jump scare exert play like an audible poison for your delicate drums. Thankfully there aren’t many of them in the film, but their level of intensity feels artificial when compared to the noise that would be made by those particular instances. For my money, a violin never shrieks whenever I accidentally run into someone who I didn’t see coming.

– Because this is the second chapter chronologically in the series, the air of predictability can’t help but rear its ugly head. Even worse, Whannell does zero as a screenwriter in remotely subduing this handicap for even a minute, forgetting to instill even a slight bit of urgency or dread in visuals that all but paint the scenario for him.

5/10

Downsizing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5/10