First Man

Directed By Damien Chazelle

Starring – Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke

The Plot – A Biopic on the life of the legendary American Astronaut Neil Armstrong (Gosling) from 1961-1969, on his journey to becoming the first human to walk the moon. Exploring the sacrifices and costs on the Nation and Neil himself, during one of the most dangerous missions in the history of space travel.

Rated PG-13 for some thematic content involving peril, and brief strong adult language

POSITIVES

– Masterful sound mixing. One of the most difficult things to channel and articulate about a space movie are those often overlooked aspects of atmosphere that are rarely ever channeled properly in audio capturing. That is until Phil Barrie instills his influence of perfectionist touch upon the presentation. Phil’s consistency constantly overshadows what transpires throughout the many missions in space that the film depicts, and does so in a way that combines them into a chorus line of measurements that continues to magnify the tension associated with every scene.

– Needless to say, this film is much more terrifying than any science fiction horror film can muster up. What Chazelle’s intimate exploration proves is that space never needed a world-ending asteroid or an army of venom spewing aliens to relay the risks that follow, illuminating the uncertainty of timely technology that was anything but a perfect science. You’re almost waiting for something to go bad during each attempt, and this thought process only highlights the desire of the mission that is every bit as urgent as it is delicate.

– Without question, my favorite aspect of this film is the seductive camera work and grainy cinematography. On the latter, it’s incredible that IMAX cameras were used to film a majority of this movie because the film’s intentionally dulled down color pallet is something that moved miles in terms of time period consistency, giving “First Man” a transformative feeling to a time when film quality wasn’t as fortunate. On the former, the decision to shoot the ship scenes with so much intimacy and claustrophobia, in addition to the occasional first person point-of-view, is one that pays off immensely for communicating not only the high stakes of the mission, but also how alone and isolated they feel from those they love. Most space films, especially during the 90’s, got this kind of thing wrong, but Chazelle more than anything wanted to illustrate the fragility associated with space exploration, especially during a time when science was anything but exact.

– In addition to the film’s look channeling its respective time period, the production props and wardrobe also vibrate a sense of authentication in subtlety that are sure to please. We are treated to a lot of short sleeve button up business shirts, with a thin tie to bring it all home. Likewise, the many peeks of classic automobiles and outdated Busch Beer cans were something that was a treat behind every corner, leaving no stone unturned for superb production details.

– Depthful screenplay by Josh Singer. In learning that this was the first film that Chazelle didn’t pen, it did have me remotely fearful for him covering someone else’s vision, but the very man who covered such important topics like child molestation with Catholicism in “Spotlight”, as well as the battle for free press in “The Post”, more than filled my glass of optimism with the amount of versatility he provides in 133 meaningful minutes. More than just another space movie, this film values the battle of what’s going on at home with the wives of these astronauts. It also brings to light the increasing pressure of the United States and NASA to come through with a meaningful triumph, and how those demands fell on the shoulders of one man who bordered obsession in such a mission. All of these subplots continue to play into our thought process as we watch the film, and give us great investment for Neil’s character, if only even for this drained man to finally attain the peace of mind he has worked so hard for.

– While this is Chazelle’s first film that doesn’t revolve around music, it doesn’t mean that the accompanying scores by longtime partner Justin Hurwitz don’t breathe a level of importance for the particular story. What’s appreciative is that they are mostly saved for the moments when their inclusion serves the atmosphere and scenery the loudest, capturing an essence of dramatic wonderment in American achievement that constantly fishes for goosebumps. Strangely enough, there’s one number in the film that repeats twice that I swore was a number from “La La Land”, only slowed down, and that’s quite possible considering the very same man who composed the Oscar winning numbers from that film also perfected the patience and prestige that accommodated “First Man”.

– A touch of the past. I was very surprised and humbled with the film’s decision to include the actual audio transmission of NASA headquarters in Houston, during such a monumental time. Even more pleasing than this however, is the use of 1969 stock footage between American commentary on the failing space program, as well as the influence that arguably the greatest achievement in American history had on the citizens who watched it in droves.

– Surprising assortment of supporting cast. In watching the three different trailers for this movie, I did manage to spot Kyle Chandler and even Jason Clarke, but never did I expect that this film was more of an ensemble piece than I thought. Pablo Schreiber, Ethan Embry, Ciaran Hinds, Shea Whigham, and of course the gret Corey Stoll all play important pieces that interact with Neil before his missions, and prove that the big names are beginning to flock to Chazelle as one of the prime directors of our generation, and with films like “Whiplash”, “La La Land” and “Grand Piano” under his grip, it’s easy to see why.

– The big payoff. It’s no secret the event that this film is building to, but after over two hours of build and exposition does it truly payoff in size? You bet your ass it does. My suggestion would be to see this film in the biggest screen possible, because the combination of breathtaking aesthetics, as well as magnitude in scope remind us not only why this story is so fascinating to us, but why American perseverence never quit. There’s one shot in particular that is almost frozen in frame, giving the audience plenty of time to soak in the immensity of it all, and single-handedly solidifying itself as my single favorite shot of 2018.

NEGATIVES

– If there was one thing that I wasn’t worried about, it was the work of Ryan Gosling, but that proved to be my undoing. This opinion might be unpopular with a lot of people, but Gosling’s reserved performance here is remarkably underwhelming for never giving us a single instance of gripping delivery. Beyond Ryan however, the film’s direction never allows us to see inside of Neil, instead choosing to continuously view him from the outside and come to our own conclusions about what’s going on inside. This proves a huge disconnect for the screenplay, and served as the only real negative that I took away from an otherwise flawless movie.

9/10

Venom

Directed by Ruben Fleischer

Starring – Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed

The Plot – When Eddie Brock (Hardy) acquires the powers of a symbiote, he will have to release his alter-ego “Venom” to save his life.

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

POSITIVES

– One of the few things that this film does right, is Eddie’s juxtaposition for power within himself against this new entity that has overtaken him. My problem with Venom’s depiction in “Spider-Man 3” is that other than Topher Grace’s initial descent into mayhem, there is no balance for power between the two sides, leaving much of the psychosis of the character unsubstantial. Thankfully, “Venom” not only aims for this intriguing angle, but masters it because of Hardy’s physical performance and witty banter with his darker side (Also voiced by Hardy) that is leaps above anyone else in the movie.

– My initial fear going into this film was that we would get two minutes of actual Venom, and the rest would be Tom Hardy moving around, but thankfully I was wrong on this prediction. For fans of the infamous comic character, there’s plenty of destruction and devastation from the symbiote that makes the effort for the film feel warranted, even when the rest of it isn’t as up to par. If you’re looking for a film that presents the character in live action form, then “Venom” might be the bite you’re looking for.

– Whether the audience wants it there or not, the banter between Hardy and Venom offers a surprisingly delightful layer of cheese that will test even the strongest of lock-jaws who want so badly to hate this film. I can say that I myself did get more than a few laughs with this film, harvesting perhaps the most enjoyment that I got from a movie that was otherwise aimlessly conventional by most accounts. If this was JUST a film about a man with voices in his head, then the interaction between the two mentioned above would almost certainly carve out a welcome mat invitation to Hardy for a future comedy, as the man has just the right balance of timing and delivery to make him appealing to anything today that passes for a comic actor.

NEGATIVES

– Offensive dialogue. “Venom” finds this median somewhere between testy mature material involved with a PG-13 rating, yet stilted by the effects of bumbling dialogue that is downright amateur for this level. Much of the conversations never feel synthetic, nor do they withstand the tonal consistency within the film that so much of this comic character is riding on. Simply put, there’s too much humor involved here, and it feels every bit as forced as it does redundantly underwhelming.

– Speaking of PG-13, it does the Venom character, as well as the boundaries of realism zero favors in this particular example. There are no fewer than fifty fatalities in the body count department of this film, but the problem is that not one drop of blood spills, nor is one instant of brutality captured without a quick-cut that renders it emotionless. If you can’t make the movie that the character rightfully deserves, then why even try? “Venom” is a watered down parasite that is constantly in search of an identity to thrive under.

– Part of the problem for me with intrigue and captivation into this movie is that it constantly feels like another film is taking place while this one is front-and-center, and we’re constantly reminded of it. It’s been reported that this movie has been a victim of the hack-and-slash experimentation on the cutting room floor, wiping away more than forty minutes from its presentation that could easily be the answers in exposition that we need. Instead, we are subject to things happening like a little girl coming into contact with the symbiote, and the mention of Eddie climbing a huge tree that never comes into play once during the film, leaving the audience scratching their heads for these moments mentioned that had me debating my memory.

– Easy way out on Venom. This one is difficult to explain without spoilers, so I will just say that there is a twist 80% of the way into this film that levels the playing field between good and evil respectively, and in doing so it feels like a betrayal to the definition of the entity. If you don’t want to craft Venom with a villainous edge, then don’t make the movie. Instead, we get a buddy comedy cut-out that for my money is every bit as offensive as Topher Grace spouting off cheesy one-liners, more than ten years ago.

– Wasted performances from a talented cast. Hardy’s physicality and conversations within himself give him just enough to be passable as Eddie Brock, but his underdeveloped backstory and misdirected vulnerability never fully capture the essence of investment needed from us the audience. Likewise, Riz Ahmed’s antagonist is every mid 90’s superhero villain, before anyone knew how to make one of these movies. He whispers when he speaks, he does his evil deeds behind the walls of an evil corporation, and he gets erect at the thought of world domination. He’s a walking, talking cliche that might be Hardy’s biggest argument for more screen time. Michelle Williams? Don’t get me started. Behind one of the worst wigs I’ve ever seen, as well as being reduced to nothing more than the hero’s eye candy, this Oscar nominated actress feels like she has more than served her community service time, between this and early 2018 sludge “I Feel Pretty”.

– Awful effects work. In the trailers, this aspect stood out like a sore thumb, but when expanded over 91 minutes of screen time, it’s more like a boner in sweat pants. How could computer animation be this bad in 2018? Uninspired facial distorts that feel like Hardy’s character stood in front of a projector, motorcycle chase sequences with Apple 95 cut-and-paste facial renderings, and a clunky design for the symbiote that feels so weightless in movements and vibrations that you could almost see mouse pad used to move it. You may like or hate “Venom” all the same, but you in no way can give a pass to effects that are one step above The Lawnmower Man in terms of artistic layers.

– But wait, there’s a mid-credits scene. Despite the fact that a film this jaded has the balls to market a sequel, we are treated to the idea of who the villain would be for that alarm clock fantasy, and while I love the actor who is playing this character, it is again an homage to the mid 90’s, when big name A-list actors would portray comic characters even if they were terrible for that role. My biggest problem though, is how the big reveal is delivered, with the character revealing their name in a way that hasn’t felt as desperate since Joker wrote his own name in a tattoo in “Suicide Squad”. Without this name drop, this scene would be completely useless, and only highlights once again how poorly developed the characters and their respective backstories were for this movie.

3/10

The House With A Clock In Its Walls

Directed by Eli Roth

Starring – Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccard

The Plot – Lewis Barnavelt (Vaccard), after losing his parents, is sent to Michigan to live with his uncle Jonathan (Black). He discovers his uncle is a warlock, and enters a world of magic and sorcery. But this power is not limited to good people: Lewis learns of Isaac Izard (Kyle Maclachlan), an evil wizard who wanted to cause the Apocalypse so that he could see what happened afterwards. To do this, he constructed a magical clock with black magic, as long as it exists it will keep ticking, counting down to doomsday. He died before he could finish the clock, but he hid the clock in his house, where Uncle Jonathan now lives. Now Lewis and Jonathan must find the clock before it’s too late, and before Isaac’s wife, Selena (Renee Elise Goldsberry), gets to it.

Rated PG for thematic elements including sorcery, some action, scary images, rude humor and adult language

POSITIVES

– Zany production designs on every level. This is a film that takes place in the 1950’s, and what I appreciate about that is it gives the film a one-of-a-kind style in wardrobe and architecture to compliment the special effects that are constantly flying at us on-screen. The wardrobe in particular is a delightful throwback to the days of faded gowns and dusty blue jeans, and the lighting scheme inside of the house vibrates well off of the gothic style set pieces, that all of which perfectly capture the mood of the material in spades.

– Strong crossover appeal with Harry Potter fans. Whether you know it or not, the book of the same name for which this film is based on was actually an inspiration for J.K Rowling and her series of novels that have re-defined the young adult genre respectfully, so it’s certainly easy to see the appeal for kids in particular, who will easily immerse themselves in this world of similarity. I do have problems with some of the magic itself, which I will get to later on, but there’s clearly enough paranormal instances depicted here that will give the less-picky audience members a roaring good time.

– Black and Blanchett steal the stage. What I appreciated about their relationship more than anything is that the film doesn’t forcefully paint them as this romantic coupling just because every film seems to require that. These are very much two friends with devilishly delicious banter back-and-forth, who colorfully narrate the bond between them that transcends romance. In that way, they very much feel like outcast soulmates who have grown together because of their inability to fit in anywhere else in society, and the duo constantly keep this film on the railings of positivity thanks to their portrayals never feeling like this is a basic paycheck job.

– Sentimentality. Beneath the complexions of spells and warlocks, what won me over for this film immensely was the subplot involving Lewis’s remorse for his parents, and how it crafted and underlying layer of sensitivity for the film that I wasn’t expecting. Early on especially, we feel a sense of great isolation for Lewis that overrides the actor’s lack of focus on emotional resonance, keeping our investment in the character firmly for wanting to see him achieve the greatness he is destined for. Where the film ends especially hammers this angle home, and proves that this film has the heart required to counterbalance the scares, that could or could not test the younger audience.

– Enchanting musical score by Nathan Barr. More often than not, Barr’s tones of temperament ease us through the majestic mystery that resides in this gorgeous house, repeatedly giving that feeling of possibility in the air that the film’s environment requires. Nathan uses a lot of orchestral cues in enhancing the energy of what transpires visually, and offers enough variety in samplings to never feel like each piece is rubbing together or repeating.

– Great world-building in magical spells that will surely satisfy even the most hardcore magic fans. What I like about the spells mentioned and portrayed in the film is that they very much feel like they are ones that are at an introductory level, for the beginner who has recently picked up the skill of magic. Never in the film does Lewis feel like this prodigy who advances without practice, and I appreciate when a film isn’t afraid to document a character’s struggle, especially for something that is anything but easy to pick-up as a casual hobby.

NEGATIVES

– Poor child acting. I’ve already mentioned what worked about Vaccaro’s performance, but his screeching delivery and unbalanced emotional registry made for an uninentional rendering of the character that left him more annoying than indulging. In particular, it’s Owen’s inability to play up the dramatic pulse of the film dealing with his deceased parents that constantly underwhelmed, and left me wondering what could’ve been. Beyond Owen, the extras in the school scene severely lack focus. There are scenes where kids are in frame staring at the camera, that left me wondering how this ever got past the editing room that usually fixes these sort of ordeals.

– Obvious Plot Ploys. As usual in kids movies, there’s a lot of emphasis in the first act objects and subplots that are briefly mentioned, yet quickly diminished, that you know will pop up eventually as the film goes on. It’s terribly distracting for how these drops of exposition force their way into these casual conversations, but one in particular is far worse than the rest. This involves a backstory flashback scene shown to us the audience in film-strips, but doesn’t answer the question of how or who is filming this amazingly edited scene for the time.

– While this isn’t Eli Roth’s best film to date in my opinion, it is definitely the most ambitious of his career. Unfortunately, Eli is only half up to the task of the scope of such a legendary story, feeling the constant nagging of tonal imbalance and lack of overall wonderment that the story so desperately requires. There are interesting aspects that go bump in the night, but the volume of Roth’s magic feels very tamed when compared to a Potter or Goosebumps film that properly emphasized more of the impact and consequences from its delicate pages.

– Underwhelming effects work. While not everything is terrible about the 90% C.G work here, there’s also nothing impressive about it that we haven’t seen from better films. In the era of computer generated effects that often lack weight or heft to their inclusion, here comes another film that finds its way into that dreaded category. The layers of color constantly feel off with their manufactured properties when compared to physical that surrounds them, and the interaction with live actors always feels a step too late to feel surprising.

6/10

The Predator

Directed by Shane Black

Starring – Sterling K Brown, Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn

The Plot – From the outer reaches of space to the small-town streets of suburbia, the predator walks again. Now, the universe’s most lethal hunters are stronger, smarter and deadlier than ever before, having genetically upgraded themselves with DNA from other species. When a young boy accidentally triggers their return to Earth, only a ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and a disgruntled science teacher can prevent the end of the human race.

Rated R for strong bloody violence, adult language throughout, and crude sexual references

POSITIVES

– Coveted R-rating. Thankfully Shane Black knows the kind of adult material required to properly convey the ferocity of the Predator character, and this film makes the most of opportunities that other Predator movies weren’t fortunate enough to get. This latest chapter is bloodier (Albeit C.G blood), cruder, and especially the most violent of the series thus far. Simply put, you can’t succeed in a movie like this if you don’t give yourself the chance, and there’s zero limitations in terms of the influence of those things that I previously mentioned.

– As a writer, Black dabbles a lot in the Predator folklore and ideals for a franchise that six films in still feels very cryptic. This really feels like the first time we’ve ever tried to understand the culture of this alien race, and what their soul purpose is for frequently visiting our planet. Does every idea succeed? Absolutely not, but the layers that Black has given this iconic character certainly opens the door of experimentation for future films to soak in.

– Treasures its past. What I love perhaps the most about this film is that it is a sequel, first and foremost. In the era of reboots and rehashes, ‘The Predator’ continues the thirty year continuity with a chapter that bridges the gaps of the previous films, including many winks and nods to characters and invasions that only hardcore fans of the series would understand. Why reboot a series that frankly hasn’t even tipped the iceberg in terms of its creativity? Instead, cherishing the past will undoubtedly enhance the appeal of the future.

– The Predator’s costume is still one of the coolest in all of horror, and we are treated to several lengthy vantage points of its artistic integrity. The regular Predator has so much practical layers to it, and the new “Super-Predator” simply cannot compete with its ingenuity. What’s even more effective is that the movements of the actor inside the suit doesn’t feel hindered or compromised because of suffocating weight, giving whoever the ability to move as fast as the scene or sequence requires.

NEGATIVES

– Poorly edited. A question arose every ten minutes of my showing for this film, and I feel like a lot of people will suffer a similar fate because of the horrendous job of visual storytelling that this film merits for itself. Character deaths are missed by choppy cuts, certain characters feel like they transport from one room to the next between cuts because there’s no scene in between to bridge the time of travel, and days feel like they rub together because of how a scene taking place on Halloween cut and pasted a daytime and nighttime scene literally back-to-back.

– Do you watch a Predator movie to laugh? I certainly don’t. It’s not that I have a problem with humor being a part of the Predator franchise. Hell, there were great male sex jokes in the original movie. But you have to know where to draw the line, especially when it diminishes the line of suspense that this film goes without throughout its entirety. The comedy for the most part works in generating its intended laughter, but in going to this well far too many times, you start to lose sight of what kind of tone this film should rightfully be.

– One-off scene problem. This question will only be familiar to people who see the film, but how the fuck did the main protagonist swallow that enormous metal object in the beginning of the film? My suspension of disbelief can only go so far, and there’s no physical way that anyone on this planet could swallow or stomach something so abnormally big for the human throat.

– Pedestrian performances. I didn’t hate anyone’s work in this film. After all, poor character direction can only take you so far. But nobody in this movie feels believable in the roles they adopt. Olivia Munn is arguably the least convincing doctor that I have ever seen. A fellow doctor asks her how she got this far, and her reply is “I wrote a note to the president when I was a little girl, that said if an alien race was discovered, I want to examine it”. For a second, I wondered if this was a joke, and that something bigger was coming, but no, that’s the explanation we as an audience are treated to. Beyond this Holbrook’s leading man lacks enough charisma to be the true focus, and is responsible for most of the trouble that his group of misfits encounter. Donald K. Sterling is entirely wasted, being in the film for about fifteen total minutes, only to chime in when the film requires sloppy exposition to counter its minimal storytelling balance. It’s a shame too, because Sterling’s energy does give sagging scenes a much-needed pick-up, but Black never commits himself beyond billing to be a main character.

– Lack of geography or telegraphing within the action sequences. In addition to the various choppy editing that I already mentioned, what makes these scenes of havoc so difficult to interpret is the poor lighting associated with shooting these scenes at night. This pales in comparison to the final fifteen minutes of the movie however, as the last big bang by the two sides at war goes by so lightning quick, yet its pacing somehow feels like it takes a lifetime to get through. This is of course because we as an audience can’t read properly into what is happening to who, therefore diminishing your interest and forcing you to keep checking your watch to see how much is left.

– Takes far too long in getting to the movie that was advertised. To anyone who watched the deceiving trailer, you can put together that this is a film about humans battling a Predator, when a bigger, badder Predator shows up. That’s it. But in getting to that subplot (Yes I said subplot), you must first tread through fifty minutes of government agencies, dismissed soldiers, and scenes so full of dialogue that it would make Quentin Tarrantino say “Enough is enough”. Once we finally get the movie that was promised, it never feels like the most interesting or focused-upon material of the movie. For all of its hype, the super Predator is just a bigger version of the already dangerous model one, and his terrible C.G influence makes me want to cancel the upgrade, and instead stick with the original that is already proven.

4/10

Mandy

Directed by Panos Cosmatos

Starring – Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache

The Plot – Taking place in 1983, Red (Cage) is a lumberjack who lives in a secluded cabin in the woods. His artist girlfriend Mandy (Riseborough) spends her days reading fantasy paperbacks. Then one day, she catches the eye of a crazed cult leader, who conjures a group of motorcycle-riding demons to kidnap her. Red, armed with a chainsaw and other weapons, stops at nothing to get her back, leaving a bloody, brutal pile of bodies in his wake.

Rated R for scenes of terror, violence, and nudity

POSITIVES

– An invitation into the Panosphere. For only his second film, Panos Cosmatos continues to raise the bar of expectations, bringing to ‘Mandy’ a serene sense of hallucination that is the closest I’ve ever been to feeling on drugs. Visually, this film is a rock and roll fever dream of epic visuals and an over-the-top color pallet that constantly amazes. Shot with a Panavision AL series with an anamorphic lens, Benjamin Loeb’s mesmerizing cinematography is unlike anything that I have seen in such a long time, bringing beauty and euphoria to such nightmarish imagery.

– Marc Engels manipulative presence behind such sharp sound mixing. One sign of great mixing is when a film is able to fool me into hearing something that may very well not in fact be there, and it’s a constant in this film for my eyes to continue wandering, as I heard a barrage of animals and chanting that never appeared once in the film’s vantage point. Even better, it never intrudes on Johan’s sacred territory of scoring this midnight terror.

– Speaking of Johan, the gifted composer’s work in ‘Mandy’ is unfortunately his swan song cap on a legendary career, and he brings his A-game to outlining this other-worldly dimension that feels present in this film. Besides his love for the dark and ominous, it’s Johan’s range in electronic instruments and synth strings that gives this film’s horror and humanity the effective layers needed. Johansson has always been one of my absolute favorite composers, and from this critic and fan I say thank you for the memories. I’m glad you went out with arguably your most evasive and daring work to date.

– On a level of horror, many might be offended by ‘Mandy’ because it doesn’t have jump scares or conventional tropes, but this film does for atmosphere what others can only dream of. Much of this film deals with the devotion to the occult, so in depicting the helplessness and brainwashing, it truly is terrifying how one man’s guidance can be so dangerous based on how he chooses to unleash it. I found the thought process of this group to not be necessarily scary, but more unnerving and disturbing, for how they continue to believe they are doing the right thing.

– Cage unleashed. While Nicolas has never been one of my personal favorite actors, I can say that he is the perfect man for this project, if even just for the pure insanity that he brings to every character he takes on. As Red, Cage’s indulgence for overacting is the status quo, bringing a combination of grief and vengeance to his demeanor that feels animalistic when he reaches his road of revenge. His words are minimal, instead allowing his actions to do the talking. Cage’s crimson mask is worn like a trophy for his savage retaliation, and for the first time in a while, he feels inspired to give his all to a role that deserves him.

– Pays homage to the classic horror films before it that obviously influence this student-of-the-game director. I’m sure there are more than the ones I found, but my first viewing brought obvious dedications to films like ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’, ‘Phantasm 2’, and of course ‘Evil Dead 2’. The one common factor here is that they are all sequels, but interesting enough, this is Cosmatos’s second directing effort. It takes two indeed.

– Unintentional humor that speaks volumes for the designated time period. Considering this film takes place in 1983, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the infamous disco versus rock and roll war are prominent in an environment even miles from society, and Panos heart lies with the latter. Our two protagonists don metal t-shirts that bear the obvious pentagram influence, but it’s in the cult’s musical choice of The Carpenters that nearly brought tears to my eyes. In so many words, Panos is relaying the idea that only people under the influence of some higher power can listen to such melodramatic music, and these few instances served as a welcome breath between terror shrieks that were the majority.

– Artistic expression. I know, big shocker right? But far beyond even the variety of colorful vibes associated with the film’s vibrant color scheme, the deposits of animated sequences were also a welcome breath of fresh air. These trippy free-flowing layers represented the dream sequences of those who the focus was on for that particular scene, and echoed accordingly the drug-enhanced vibe that is everywhere throughout the film. Even beyond this, I loved the neon title screens that introduced each character to us the audience. In accordance to this, the film’s title screen doesn’t pop up until halfway through the movie, signaling the start of the movie that was advertised as promised.

– Simplicity in story. What I appreciate about this film most of all is it didn’t require itself to feel cryptic or mythological with where it was headed, despite the first act that sets the stage for some abrasive folklore. At the end of the movie, the decision to hone this as a pretty conventional revenge flick is something that amazes the most, because it’s garners such a gut-punch of an impact from the imagery you partook in. This gives the film such an immense return that doesn’t require poignancy in material to spread the word of its mayhem. The film’s after midnight portal to another world more than takes care of that.

NEGATIVES

– Far too padded out in dialogue and sequencing. This film has no right to be over the 100 minute mark, and it’s unfortunately in its uneven first act where it wears too much of its weight. Dialogue is redundant, editing is testy in its delayed response, and the progression of plot feels most stunted during this period. This aspect will no doubt be the most difficult sell to audiences in terms of pacing, and I can understand it, because this film was one more edit away from being perfect.

9/10

Kin

Directed by Jonathan and Josh Baker

Starring – Myles Truitt, Dennis Quaid, James Franco

The Plot – The story of an unexpected hero destined for greatness. Chased by a vengeful criminal (Franco), the feds and a gang of otherworldly soldiers,? a recently released ex-con Jimmy (Jack Reynor) and his adopted teenage brother Eli (Myles Truitt) are forced to go on the run with a weapon of mysterious origin as their only protection.

Rated PG-13 for gun violence and intense action, suggestive material, adult language, thematic elements and drinking

POSITIVES

– When this film focuses on the brotherly element being the forefront for the story, it’s surprisingly a lot of fun. For my benefit, the time when this is a road trip movie that pays homage to the grown up children’s movies of the late 80’s/early 90’s it works the best, and makes the most sense to the film’s title that articulates how the only thing these brothers have in this world are each other.

– Perfect film location. This film takes place in Detroit, Michigan, a city that is no stranger to the live fast style that many youths grow up with, and that concept in establishing the stage emphasizes why these characters have fallen on such hard times in each of their respective lives. For Eli, being a youth in this geography leaves him with little hope at a positive future, and it’s only until Jimmy comes back in his life where he realizes he’s not alone in the effects that this place has had on both of them.

– Tightly shot action sequences. Perhaps the biggest surprise to ‘Kin’ is that it is filmed competently enough, bringing a wide range of angle accessibility, as well as impact in devastation that makes its weight feel believable. The shot composition is versatile in its documentation of the fast firepower that comes in its direction, but thanks to the lack of shaking camera effects and average spring of cuts in between that feels nice on the eyes, we never miss any of the carnage.

– Performances over characters. This is a prime example of when a script does no favors for outlining exposition of each character, so the talented cast must go into business for themselves. Surprisingly, this is Truitt’s first feature length film, bringing with him a lot of heartache and isolation in Eli that would otherwise be mulled over in the establishing introductions. Reynor does wonders as the single dumbest character that I have seen in 2018. Thankfully, even though this character angered me on several occasions, for the selfish choices he makes, his chemistry with Truitt moves this film miles, and much of the dramatic pulse weighs heavily on their interaction with one another. I also can’t forget to mention Franco as the film’s gun-toting antagonist. James has played a villain character before, but never as energetic or as impulsive as he does with this opportunity. When you get a chance to urinate on a gas station floor, you call James Franco. He is Mister Dependable in that regards.

NEGATIVES

– Terminator Part duh? I don’t want to channel what thought process the Baker brothers were conjuring up when they wrote ‘Kin’, but I can bet it was within days of watching the Terminator franchise. Not only are plot points touched on from this respective influence, but scenes are completely played out action for action, and it’s in that obvious influence where this film constantly struggles to find a voice of its own.

– Convoluted third act dooms this one completely. For my money, the science fiction element is what dooms this film, because it’s in that where you start to see how shoe-horned this idea is with its minimal time allowance. The scenes with the gun constantly feel like they serve as a reminder that this element is still there in the film, waiting to jump in, and it picks the final ten minutes of the movie to transform what realism and grounded actions it took in the previous 80 minutes of the film to compromise it for some details that come completely out of left field.

– Indecisions doom what could’ve been. Simply put, this film tries to move in too many directions for it to ever work out to its benefit. Of the subgenres that I counted in this movie, it’s a road movie, a family drama, a violent crime shoot-em-up, and an offbeat science fiction thriller. It’s a virtual tug-of-war for creative control, and all of its disjointed pieces never form together to make one creatively cohesive project, choosing instead to throw a bunch of ideas at the wall to see what sticks. As it turns out, little does.

– Questionable cameo. In addition to everything else wrong with the film’s final ten minutes, the surprise reveal of a certain celebrity made me scratch my head for how little this person has to do. If you pay close attention to the credits at the beginning of the film, you can figure it out pretty easily, but it’s obvious that this actor wanted very little to do on-screen with this film, because they are visually represented for a matter of five minutes. Why not introduce them early on for more celebrity firepower? See my theory two sentences ago.

– Limited by its rating. Besides the fact that I still wonder what age group this film is geared towards, I scratch my head even more at the scenes that can’t be fully attained by such a tight rating from the academy. There’s a strip club scene with the dancers wearing jean shorts, gun violence that shows limited penetration and absolutely zero blood, and curse words that were obviously edited out post production with terrible A.D.R. This continues the realization that this film had zero confidence in the original vision that it had for itself, choosing instead to cross promote itself to anyone that would bite.

– Questions I have. As a nod to how much this film couldn’t explain in logic, I have gathered a couple of questions for the Baker Brothers that maybe they can someday answer. Minor spoilers ahead. Why would Taylor (Franco), a gang leader in Detroit, agree to arrange for Jimmy’s in-prison protection for sixty grand, not demand any of the money until he serves a full sentence, and then wonder why he can’t pay him when he gets out of prison? Why would a murder in Detroit turn up on a news broadcast in Nevada? Why is Carrie Coon given second-billing for the eight valuable minutes of screen time that was completely forgettable? Where the hell is Sulaco County in Nevada? and finally how did a team leave behind a gun so important, in a place where literally anyone could get it? Couldn’t they have just left it in Eli’s bag or house, or something more available to the one party?

4/10

A.X.L

Directed by Oliver Daly

Starring – Alex Neustaedter, Thomas Jane, Becky G

The Plot – A.X.L. is a top-secret, robotic dog created by the military to help protect tomorrow’s soldiers. Code named by the scientists who created him, A.X.L. stands for Attack, Exploration, Logistics, and embodies the most advanced, next-generation artificial intelligence. After an experiment gone wrong, A.X.L. is discovered hiding alone in the desert by a kind-hearted outsider named Miles (Neustaedter), who finds a way to connect with him after activating his owner-pairing technology. Together, the two develop a special friendship based on trust, loyalty and compassion. Helping Miles gain the confidence he’s been lacking, A.X.L. will go to any length to protect his new companion, including facing off against the scientists who created him and who will do anything to get him back. Knowing what is at stake if A.X.L. is captured, Miles teams up with a smart, resourceful ally named Sara (Becky G) to protect his new best friend on a timeless, epic adventure for the whole family.

Rated PG for sci-fi action/peril, suggestive material, thematic elements and some adult language

POSITIVES

– At least it’s short. Clocking in at a mere 90 minutes, ‘A.X.L’ never felt sluggish or dragging, despite the fact that I couldn’t have cared less about these characters. It is incredibly self aware about the lack of depth that the film entails, and because of such never tries to make the experience longer than it rightfully should be.

– Motocross stunt work by extras that really brought the sport to life. Even though the film kind of forgets about its initial roots by the third act, there’s just enough instances of adrenaline that pulse through the aired-out bike sequences that were responsible for what little interest I had in the film. High risk choreography resulted in some devastating crash sequences, allowing Daly the opportunity in showing us the live fast lifestyle that many are addicted to.

NEGATIVES

– No guts, no glory. There’s a sharp B-grade horror film that is locked inside this dull kids movie, and there’s several instances of its existence. Midway through the film, there’s a violent tonal shift that overtakes the direction, giving us what feels like a similar road that films like ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ took. Unfortunately, this dog has no balls, as the film waters down these instances of brief violence and panic, opting for the easily forgettable side of August cinema that has become customary over the last decade. Even for PG, this feels terribly limited.

– Film errors. Considering this film is such a far-fetched idea, it should come as no surprise that it can’t even follow the rules of logic for its audience. One character touches a football dipped in gasoline, then controls a blowtorch without anything happening to him, no tracking device is ever put on the dog for the company to find him, U.S marine soldiers point guns at Miles and A.X.L and never fire a single bullet, and yet these aren’t even my personal favorite. In one scene, the robot dog jumps in the bed of a truck, allowing its weight to bury it underneath dirt. Yet in the next scene, the dog gets in the bed of the truck and everything is fine.

– Offensive editing. There’s two major problems with the editing in this film. The first, it cuts scenes of exposition in half so that the it has no relation to the scene that follows. One example involves a party scene where the antagonist for the film has something to show our main character, then the film just cuts to a scene involving the main character and his father in the garage. The second problem involves scenes of dialogue that are brutally cut off before they can finish. I know this because there are several instances where the audio of a character speaking will overlap that of the new line of dialogue that begins before the prior one finished. Completely sloppy.

– With the exception of Thomas Jane’s three scenes, the film’s acting is completely in the toilet. Neustaedter has the emotional registry of an aged boot at the bottom of the stairs after a terribly long fall, and Becky G continues to underwhelm with a nasally delivery that constantly sounds like she’d rather be doing something better. In this instance, that’s probably true. What’s worse is these two have the chemistry of an E-harmony first date constantly, and that lack of connection and physical spark never grows. Their kissing scenes feel like cousins who decided to test Arkansas laws with little regret.

– Intrusive musical score. When the film first started, Ian Hultquist’s new wave vibes gave me hope that at least the music would echo that of late 80’s science fiction, like ‘Robocop’, but my positivity quickly gave way to what I describe as blunt manipulation of the audience. This is when compromising tones will overtake a scene, often blaring too loudly, and force the proper atmosphere and tone on us, whether we appreciate it or not. The antagonist has his own clunky theme because he’s extreme, and the government character’s tone conjures sounds of orchestral intrigue that promises us thrills that honestly never come.

– This film lacks any sense of focus or identity. To me, it feels like a rehashing of kids movies from the 80’s, like ‘E.T’, bringing absolutely nothing fresh in terms of originality to the table, with constant cliches dragging the plot forward. There’s everything checked off here that you’ve seen before, including loud E.D.M music, forced romance, psycho evil antagonist that get away with everything from arson to downright attempted murder, and of course extremely unnatural dialogue. Daly fails as a director and screenwriter because his feature lacks any kind of excitement or suspense, even in scenes where characters are supposedly in danger.

– One near positive for me was in the decision to work with practical effects, as opposed to C.G that have outnumbered multiplexes everywhere in modern day. Unfortunately, this film does nothing for the practical effects lovers like me, because the very design of A.X.L feels far too massive to ever be used conveniently on the field of war. Beyond this, the direction to compromise the physical with C.G movements is one that doesn’t come across as fluid for the robot itself, conflicting the balance between slow movements while on the ground with those of superhero-like flying while in the air.

– Problems with the robot design itself. An aspect to the plot that I still don’t understand is why the emphasis on this robot being a dog. The movie explains quite often that dogs are the most faithful animal, so their dedication to getting the job done will be that much easier because of its species type. The problem is that this isn’t a natural dog, it’s a robot that can easily be programmed, so faithfulness should really have nothing to do with the idea. Another problem is that apparently despite being made of metal, fire is the only weakness for the dog’s design. I guess the advantage will still hold up as long as America doesn’t go to war with anyone who has ever heard of fire.

2/10

The Meg

Directed by Jon Turteltaub

Starring – Jason Statham, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose

The Plot – Five years ago, expert sea diver and Naval Captain Jonas Taylor (Statham) encountered an unknown danger in the unexplored recesses of the Mariana Trench that forced him to abort his mission and abandon half his crew. Though the tragic incident earned him a dishonorable discharge, what ultimately cost him his career, his marriage and any semblance of honor was his unsupported and incredulous claims of what caused it; an attack on his vessel by a mammoth, 70-foot sea creature, believed to be extinct for more than a million years. But when a submersible lies sunk and disabled at the bottom of the ocean; carrying his ex-wife among the team onboard, he is the one who gets the call. Whether a shot at redemption or a suicide mission, Jonas must confront his fears and risk his own life and the lives of everyone trapped below on a single question: Could the Carcharodon Megalodon; the largest marine predator that ever existed still be alive … and on the hunt?

Rated PG-13 for action/peril, bloody images and some adult language

POSITIVES

– I’ve heard plenty of complaints about the 150 million that was spent on this film, and how it makes little effect on the grand scheme, and that couldn’t be more wrong. Aside from the shading and graphing C.G work of the shark feeling more authentic in design, the set pieces breathe an air of futuristic style and technology that makes the most bang for its buck. This makes the very career paths of these brave souls that much more believable, and with the dependency on innovation comes the heated nature versus technology confrontation that we are treated to throughout.

– While much of the cast is easily forgettable to me because of their lack of personality and depth, Statham skates by as the hero of the day. Besides an overabundance of charming bravado, Statham knows how to deliver the most in each line of dialogue, carving out a shape of the blue collar heroes we all grew up on. My favorite parts of the film were Statham’s interaction with a little girl (Played by Shuya Sophia Cai) that channel his inner sensitivity, a rare occurrence for the roles he’s become saddled with.

– Much of the first act felt slow to me, but it quickly picked up once the human characters took a backseat to their rival mammal. Once The Meg comes into focus, the film’s pacing glides by, and the run time of 100 minutes feels just right in this tug-of-war for power that barely ever relents in cooling down periods. Bottom line, if you want you want two hours of pure escapism, ‘The Meg’ is your catch of the day.

– Even though this is a movie about a gargantuan shark, much of the decisions in tow by the characters feel grounded in intelligence. If you can factor in that these characters are constantly on edge while being chased by this deadly creature, then you can take mercy that sometimes they are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. What is commendable here, is that they know what they are dealing with, and rarely ever seem to underestimate their gigantic opponent, despite one selfie scene that qualifies for dumbest decision of the movie-going year.

– I do have problems with some of the camera angles, particularly underwater, that I will get to later, but the capture of the imagery above water sparkled an air of artistic violence that occasionally made me want to pause the movie to adore closer. My favorite single frame of the movie involves a big swallow by Meggie, and it’s in that particular frame when the audience truly understands how subtly off-the-wall this one-of-a-kind creature truly is, and how vulnerable the crew is, whether in the water or on a boat.

– Turtletaub’s directing breathes life into the very concept of Summer Blockbuster’s that have sadly faded away in recent years. Everything from the jaunty dialogue, to the paperweight characters, screams big budget cheese in the most delicious form, and what Jon does to push it one step further is develop a movie that doesn’t necessarily have to be constantly ridiculous to please his audience.

NEGATIVES

– Ultimately, the biggest stab against this film will be how forgettable it is because it chose to take itself too seriously. For shark movies, there’s a healthy blend somewhere in the middle, that allows you to indulge in enough menace with violence, as well as silliness in its title character’s movements, to create something for everyone. Sadly, if you’re watching ‘The Meg’ to laugh, you will be bored out of the theater, as it is far too mature to sizzle the cheese of its story. This one has a serious case of identity crisis.

– Rating captivity. Once again we have a film’s potential limited by a ratings classification that renders the gore and violence virtually non-existent. When you make a movie about something as dangerous as this huge shark, you have to shake our seats and rattle us hysterically by throwing enough limbs and blood at the screen for us to soak up. On the whole, this is a relatively dry film in that perspective, and it’s in that obvious element that will serve as the first noticeable disappointment for a movie like this.

– I mentioned earlier of my disdain for some of the camera work underwater, and I blame this on two things. The first is the angles of the shark being far too close to ever properly digest just what we’re seeing on-screen. I found great difficulty making out the fates of a couple of characters, because the zoom lens is taken advantage of far too often. My second problem is in the lack of depictional scale for this mammoth creature that the film rarely capitalizes on. This is where a wide-angle shot can allow us the audience to perfectly compare and contrast the immense size difference between predator and prey, also allowing us the psychological tease of what lies in the shadows of the deep blue sea.

– Who is the protagonist? One of the reasons why audiences take pleasure in watching Jaws get defeated in those series of films, is because Jaws invades human land to start the conflict. This is also the case in a majority of shark related movies, but in ‘The Meg’, it’s the human characters who invade the underbelly of the ocean, provoking the giant creature to take the fight to them when they press their luck a time too many. Why I think this is a problem is because I never felt that air of triumph each time the humans tortured this shark, and without that intrigue that comes from seeing a bully defeated, ‘The Meg’ just kind of comes and goes without much emotional investment, throughout the film.

6/10

Slender Man

Directed by Sylvian White

Starring – Joey King, Javier Botet, Julia Goldani Telles

The Plot – In a small town in Massachusetts, four high school girls perform a ritual in an attempt to debunk the lore of SLENDER MAN. When one of the girls goes mysteriously missing, they begin to suspect that she is, in fact, His latest victim.

Rated PG-13 for disturbing images, sequences of terror, thematic elements and adult language including some crude sexual references

POSITIVES

– Creepy visuals that are very well edited and pasted together. For this reason alone, I wish this film was a 30 minute short to capitalize more on the lore aspect of Slender Man, instead of being a jump scare fest that feels drawn out even twenty minutes into the movie. When the focus is on this viral video to capture the essence of the character, it’s so much more unnerving than something we can predict the formula to.

– If one thing stands out above the rest in this film, it’s definitely the atmosphere of Slender Man’s woods and surrounding landscapes, that properly set the mood. Almost immediately, we’re treated to cheap production qualities that include blurry out-of-focus lenses, and dimmed lighting to properly set the mood, and it’s something that I would normally call out for a negative, but in films like this you need the presentation to look so far from anything else in its respective genre. This measure is valuable in a visual metaphorical sense as well, because it constantly feels like this virus or plague continuously follows around these ladies in their everyday routines, and they just can’t shake it.

NEGATIVES

– Shameless Sony as usual. For those who have read my reviews about Sony produced films, you know that I have no problem calling them out on the obvious promoting that they do for their products in films, and ‘Slender Man’ is more of the same. Nothing keeps you more in that terrifying frame of mind from horror than your concentration being broken when you notice the obvious Sony logo on a Vaio laptop or cell phone that the characters have. Maybe I wouldn’t mind as much if the name brand was edited out of the frame, but it’s so obviously intentional the way a particular frame zooms in on the outer layer of a screen.

– Terrible acting all around. My problem with the main four girl protagonists in this film is that they know they’re in a horror movie, and that constant over-reaching to make up for a lack of overall personality shows in spades. Long before Slender Man ever comes into the story, these ladies talk and act like they are the victims of some terrible tragedy that has plagued their family, worse of which being Botet, who couldn’t summon one ounce of dramatic depth to her often numbingly-dull facial reactions.

– No scares equals boredom. If you are searching for cinematic Nyquil, look no further. Because of its lack of capitalizing on an already established atmosphere, as well as a desire to play towards the cliches of thoughtless jump scares, the film loses its fresh factor quick, feeling a condemning of redundancy that keeps it from ever evolving. The film is hoping that this imagery that is completely out of context will satisfy the easy-to-please horror fans who don’t need meaning or even remote psychology to what they’re seeing.

– Something is missing. Considering this is a film that has sat on the shelf for almost a year now, it definitely feels like some judgemental cuts were made that hinders its exposition. Aspects of subplots come out of nowhere in the film, like the offering to Slender Man, as well as what comes from a love interest that completely goes nowhere, leaving me frequently scratching my head where this opposite direction even stems from. I felt this way a lot in ‘The Bye Bye Man’, although not quite to that damning of a level. ‘Slender Man’ just feels like a director’s cut that suffers from amnesia, for the way its shapeless pieces never fit the rest of the puzzle.

– There is a satisfying twist at the beginning of the third act that involves a character betrayal, but it’s quickly ruined for the lack of intelligence and logic that went into it. I can’t give away everything, but a character is outed because she turned the cell phone on herself when she’s talking to another person, and this makes no sense for a couple of reasons. For one, why even do this? If you’re looking to not get caught, the only way would be to keep the camera on the other person. For two, how is she even turning the camera on herself this cleanly without it stumbling or feeling shaky? For three, why have I already put more thought into this than the director did?

– After coming out of the film, I feel like I know even less about Slender Man than I did going in. The lack of overall conviction and energy lended to this urban legend is something that only makes me shake my head, and leaves me appalled for how they could’ve made this terrifying figure their own. No backstory in legend? CHECK, No consistency in rules for how to suppress him? CHECK, Nothing that makes you root against him, especially with stupid kids who are dumb enough to mock his legend? CHECK

– The sound mixing in this film is every bit as deafening as it is ineffective. The idea here is to blare as much loud noise and buzzing as possible, whenever Slender Man appears, taking audiences completely out of the moment every time they have to clutch their ears in agony. I guess if they can’t conjure up any meaningful scares, the only way to have people running out of the theater is to make the auditorium sound like the worst Sweedish death metal band you’ve ever heard.

– Attrocious C.G effects that stick out like a sore thumb more because everything else in the production feels so grounded. This is sloppy levels of post-production even for an afterthought horror movie that is nine years past its shelf life, but it does beat the many times we are constricted by the PG-13 rating that does us zero favors. For the first half of the movie, we are treated to a barrage of cutaways that offer horror hounds nothing in the way of satisfying gore or violence, and in the second half it’s C.G effects that wipe away anything and everything from the imagination and practicality of the picture.

2/10

The Darkest Minds

Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson

Starring – Amandla Stenberg, Bradley Whitford, Mandy Moore

The Plot – When teens mysteriously develop powerful new abilities, they are declared a threat by the government and detained. Sixteen-year-old Ruby (Stenberg), one of the most powerful young people anyone has encountered, escapes her camp and joins a group of runaway teens seeking safe haven. Soon this newfound family realizes that, in a world in which the adults in power have betrayed them, running is not enough and they must wage a resistance, using their collective power to take back control of their future.

Rated PG-13 for violence including disturbing images, and thematic elements

POSITIVES

– Stenberg is leaps-and-bounds above the material she is given to work with. As a star in ‘The Hunger Games’, Amandla is no stranger to Young Adult adaptations, so in being a veteran she knows how to bring a combination of likeable personality and feminine strength in her role as Ruby. She isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, and I appreciate an actress who takes command and keeps the attention on her throughout. I can’t wait till the day Stenberg is old enough or successful enough to pass on scripts like this, but for now we can adore a rising star who adds a presence of range to the forefront.

– There is a real hearty third act scene, part in thanks to the two leads, that really reached hard for the heartstrings of the audience. This scene involving memory erasing was among my very favorite for the movie, and proved that it did earn the depth needed to send this film out on a positive note. Part of this relies on sacrifice for Ruby, in that she must give up everything she has come to know to fight the greater good. It finishes the first (And likely only) installment of this franchise on a somber epilogue that really makes you feel for her jaded disposition.

– As a first time director, Nelson is someone who definitely proves that she deserves another chance, next time with a property that doesn’t have so many restrictions. In her competent command, Jennifer not only utilizes Stenberg to a meaty performance, but also establishes the power of adolescents, who together have the capabilities to do anything they want. In this regards, art imitating life is something that our own real world so desperately needs right now, even if our own youths lack the ability to breathe fire from their mouths. Nelson makes this distant future feel somewhat relative by today’s standards, and that alone establishes her guided presence behind the lens.

NEGATIVES

– Law of diminishing returns. Ever since ‘The Hunger Games’ became a rousing success at the box office, Young Adult adaptations have been all the rage. Unfortunately, each of them have decreased in quality ever since, and ‘The Darkest Minds’ is a victim of this problem. Despite the fact that this film could easily qualify as a sequel for ‘The 5th Wave’, or television knock-off of ‘Divergent’ or an ‘X-Men’ side story of sorts, there’s nothing about this movie that stands out as remotely poignant in substance, nor terribly original in story outline. Love triangle? CHECK, Evil Grown-ups? CHECK, Slave camps? CHECK. Interchangeably fault.

– For those who didn’t comprehend or forgot about the many meanings of ranks of the teens in ‘Divergent’, this movie dumbs it down using colors to determine who is the most powerful. The orange and reds are the worst (Because ya know, danger), and the Green’s (Intelligence) represent the lowest on the totem pole. If this wasn’t enough, the film never allows you to forget each person’s rank for a single second, beating us over the head with colors in character’s eyes throughout the film to remind us of what is otherwise easily forgettable. They know it and now so do we.

– Once you understand the rules of Ruby’s powers and what she can do, there is absolutely no tension or suspense left in the many conflicts she comes across. This character is essentially God, so what is there that regular human beings can do to stop her? Even worse, it brings to light some of the inconsistencies that the film portrays. Ruby can read the minds of character’s pasts when she touches them, but why not during the scenes when she holds hands with a character or when she’s dancing with them? Ruby can move trains and bend titanium, so why can’t she unlock a van door? Ruby erases her parents memory of her, but how can she do this when she never touched her father? Does this include pictures, videos, and keepsakes?

– This is a post-apocalyptic movie of sorts, but the small scale always kept this from immersing me in this kind of environment. There’s one big budget set piece throughout the film, but otherwise most of the set designs and backdrops feel infantile when compared to their counterparts. In other YA adaptations, we see visual examples of deteriorating landscapes or something that commutes how far the cancer has spread, but with ‘The Darkest Minds’ there’s nothing to challenge the thought that this isn’t a society in any sort of immediate danger, instead carving out an ‘Us versus Them’ focus towards the evil government. Yawn.

– Choppy action sequences. When you are fortunate enough to get an action scene, the editing feels far too intrusive with far too many cuts to ever properly digest what is taking place. Two character suicides aren’t shown all together, but a chase sequence involving a falling tree is completely wiped away with an overzealous editor who instead prides angles over impact.

– Lack of overall resolution. It’s obvious that any movie these days fishes itself for a sequel, but I couldn’t escape this lack of satisfaction for a third act that is basically inconsequential, despite having no shortage of minutes donated to it. There are essentially two different endings in the movie, and the one that was more satisfying to me revolved around the love story that I referred to in my positives. For the conflict itself, it comes and goes like the wind, leaving about as much of an impact as a breezy cloudless day. If honesty serves ambition, a sequel will never see the light of day, leaving many unanswered questions for die-hard fans of the book, who deserve better.

– Too clean to a fault. Considering the novel is filled with lots of language and teenage personality to humor its audience, it feels like the movie isn’t being faithful in how it adapts the finer points of why people found these characters fascinating in the first place. There is a need for studios to market a film a certain way, but without the edginess in experimentation, that could’ve saved this film for better or worse, the movie doesn’t feel bold enough to live up to its own marketed age group, therefore it doesn’t feel rooted in the finer points that brought these characters to life in the books.

3/10

Teen Titans GO!!! To the Movies

Directed by Aaron Horvath and Peter Rida Michail

Starring – Scott Menville, Khary Payton, Tara Strong

The Plot – It seems to the Teens that all the major superheroes out there are starring in their own movies-everyone but the Teen Titans, that is. But de facto leader Robin is determined to remedy the situation, and be seen as a star instead of a sidekick. If only they could get the hottest Hollywood film director to notice them. With a few madcap ideas and a song in their heart, the Teen Titans head to Tinsel Town, certain to pull off their dream. But when the group is radically misdirected by a seriously super villain and his maniacal plan to take over the Earth, things really go awry. The team finds their friendship and their fighting spirit failing, putting the very fate of the Teen Titans themselves on the line.

Rated PG for action and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Instead of instilling an honorable message, ‘Teen Titans’ uses its limited time (82 Minutes) for satirical laughs of the daring kind, that come at the expense of everyone in the superhero genre. Using a spotlight to highlight the oversaturation of superhero movies that never stop, this film uses cutting edge timing to poke fun at the familiar elements that serve as a virtual checklist through every installment. Even better, it spans out these deliveries, allowing audiences much-needed breather in between to wait for the next one. In doing so, DC can finally indulge in a light-hearted atmosphere that superhero movies should be all about.

– The animation is vibrant in color graphing, and detailed in visual sight gags that you almost have to constantly rewind to fully grasp. Part of my favorite elements of the film involved spotting the names of some of the businesses that are expressed in humorous context in advertisement, as well as the overall feel of immersing yourself in a comic book feel kind of presentation. Between dust flying as a reflection of impact, as well as text being displayed visually in a way that pays homage to those comic book properties, this film carves its own path that is everything different from today’s DC properties, thus the reason for its valid success.

– It was great to see a film where Robin is front-and-center for once, and I’m hoping this will open the door for DC to take more chances with this often ridiculed character. Here, Robin articulates and solidifies his status as a leader to this group who they themselves feel like outcasts shunned by their peers, and perhaps that angle is why Robin takes the wheel and steers us into an adventure where he thrives because of endless heart and determination.

– Best cameo ever in a superhero movie. That’s all I’m going to say.

– Impeccable pacing that feels synthetic in the television structure that this show-turned-film has prospered with. Most of the filler in between comes from no shortage of musical numbers, and that’s fine because it doesn’t hinder or dampen the overwhelming feeling of delight that you get from taking it all in. No film this Summer made me laugh more than ‘Teen Titans’, and very few have flowed as smoothly in entertainment value, so it shouldn’t come as no surprise how easy of a sit this film is to waste time on a hot day, when you just want to feel the cool breeze of the theater air and an immersive cotton candy superhero film alike.

– As for the music that I previously mentioned, this is bar-none one of the best soundtracks that I have heard in recent memory. Beyond the music feeling energetic and full of feel-good passion, the lyrics being sung by the various members of this group leave your tummy tickled, with descriptive emphasis that exerts no shortage of personality or the T.M.I kind of too much information that leaves a character the butt of many jokes. So Often in kids movies, I find myself dreading a musical number, but I found myself waiting impatiently for the next one here, and it’s all because of what it does for the characters, as well as how it relishes the opportunity to get the youths moving in their seats.

– Much respect goes to the production team of this picture for bringing back the credited voice actors of the television show, all the while bringing in several A-list names to bounce off of them. Menville as Robin, and Tara Strong as Raven are definitely my favorites, proving that they haven’t missed a single step in the chemistry of their off-fire deliveries. But the chance to finally hear Nicolas Cage voice Clark Kent was one that was nearly 25 years in the making. For those who don’t know, Cage was supposed to play Superman in an early 90’s adaptation of the character, but it fell through. So to see Cage get the chance once again was something that proved cathartic and even affirming for how much command he had over the immense presence.

NEGATIVES

– One surprising aspect of the film that kind of disappointed me was how little there is for the youth of the audience to hang their hats on. Most of the meta-breaks will of course only benefit older audiences who grew up with these properties, but the other material feels like it has a great dependency on the color scheme of the film in luring the kids in and it’s just not enough. As it stands, no kid in my audience laughed, except during the fart gags that (Thankfully) are few and far between. Attaining two different audiences is incredibly difficult, but a film advertised like this should always get the kids first. Without them, you’ve already lost a majority of your audience.

– Despite the bending and breaking of the fourth wall that prospers repeatedly throughout, the enabling strings of redundancy begin to show at the beginning of the third act. All of the familiar tropes are there; the antagonist who gets one-up on the gang, the gang break-up, the moment of reflection for the protagonist, and of course the third act DC action sequence where they throw anything and everything at the screen. For a film that prides itself on being “The epiphany” for the genre, there’s far too much hypocrisy in where it settles to ever be as impactful as something like ‘The Lego Batman Movie’.

– Pointless short before the film. There’s a three minute short attached to ‘Teen Titans’ that serves no point to the forthcoming story, nor does it ever remotely hit its mark in intended direction. Considering Pixar are attaching these breathtakingly beautiful shorts at the beginning of their movies now, this forgettable, bland Batgirl short should’ve just been left on the cutting room floor. I originally thought this was part of the real movie, and was going to lead into the Titans watching this stupidity in a theater, but it didn’t. It was three awkward minutes of unattached material that starts this film off in a deficit before the actual movie even begins.

7/10

Ant Man and The Wasp

Directed by Peyton Reed

Starring – Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena

The Plot – In the aftermath of ‘Captain America: Civil War,’ Scott Lang (Rudd) grapples with the consequences of his choices as both a Super Hero and a father. As he struggles to re-balance his home life with his responsibilities as Ant-Man, he’s confronted by Hope van Dyne (Lilly) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) with an urgent new mission. Scott must once again put on the suit and learn to fight alongside The Wasp as the team works together to uncover secrets from their past.

Rated PG-13 for some mild profanity, and scenes of sci-fi action and violence

POSITIVES

– Rudd and Lilly, while still leagues away from feeling authentic in a romantic staging, preserve their chemistry with a tag team dynamic that compliments the other one. With Marvel movies, we typically get solo efforts or a group of superheroes, so the elements involved with a man/woman duo can compliment the choreography in action in the same way tag team wrestling does. Along the way, there are plenty of set-ups and knock-downs that each of these characters feed each other, making it difficult for antagonists to look one way without something coming at them in a different direction.

– The visual effects work is leaps and bounds the single greatest aspect of the film, bringing to life childlike imagination and creativity in spades. Ant Man and The Wasp is certainly a film that couldn’t be made ten years ago, and much of that perfection amongst green-screen assistance is something that has come with time, with in-sync color shadowing and precision volume in movements and weight that ease the boundaries of believability. There is one certain problem that I had with a scene involving hot wheels that doesn’t make sense in any way, shape, or form, but it’s just part of the tone set for the film.

– Pacing that literally FLIES by (Get it?). While the run time for the film is nearly two hours, the final conflict wrapped itself up in a way that finished before we as an audience were ever aware that resolution was coming. Not that this happens in a way that is anti-climatic, but rather screenwriters Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari leave us wanting more by exiting at the highest peak of the intensity mountain.

– Perfect timing. The film doesn’t hold much weight with everything else currently going on in the Infinity War and Thanos, and maybe that’s for the best. Considering so many people were depressed coming out of Infinity War, the necessity for something like Ant Man and The Wasp is that much more appreciated, because of its colorful textures and substantial value in light-hearted thrills. So many people just want to laugh anymore, especially in our own real world, and if Rudd avoiding house arrest while watching Animal House doesn’t do it for you, then nothing will.

– Much of the tone for the film stays grounded, leaving very little to even push forth with a PG-13 rating that even I felt was stretching it a bit. This film’s biggest strength is in its adaptability for all members of the family, especially considering it is the first Marvel property to feature a female presence in the title of the movie. With Wonder Woman kicking so much ass for DC, it was certainly time that Marvel engaged the female fans of its inner circle, and the film does a superb job at leveling the playing field for both characters gifts that they bring to the table. Also, some of my favorite scenes harvested that family element beautifully, with Rudd losing the suit to play dad to his adorably precocious child daughter.

– The marriage of C.G and makeup sets back the clock. As we saw with how Marvel made Robert Downey Jr twenty years younger in Civil War, it too brings a more impressive palate in the designs of Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeifer for this picture. Not that either have aged terribly. Pfeifer is still a fox, but the scenes relating to their pasts remind us of the prime for some of Hollywood’s once prosperous A-list hitters, proving how scary realistic these transformations feel without ever coming across as hollow.

– It should be obvious that you stay for the credits for one amazing post credits scene, and one that was an extreme waste of time. However, my post-movie cheers goes to a credit sequence that storyboards the movie’s biggest scenes with action figures. It harvests the energy of what it meant to be a kid, dreaming up these superhero scenarios when anything was possible.

NEGATIVES

– While the humor in dialogue for the film did hit its mark around 80% of the time, there were some examples where this direction did harm for the atmosphere. Considering Reed also directed the first movie, it’s interesting to see how much more he values sitcom comedy in the sequel as compared to the original film. Quite often, there is a desire to supplant a laugh or sight gag in every single scene, making it difficult to feel dramatic tension in the form of urgency . Beyond this, the over-extending use for puns became eye-rolling about midway through the movie.

– The biggest disappointment for me was easily the setting. While the first film entirely took place in the real world, I was hoping that the sequel would establish the rules and atmosphere inside of the Quantum Realm. Sadly, we only invade this outerworld with a mere 30 minutes left in the movie, and even then it is only temporary. I didn’t care for either of the dual antagonists for the movie, and often times it feels like they are created to give each protagonist their own conflict. Instead, I wish the Quantum Realm itself, in all of its mysteries and risks, was the antagonist for the movie. It’s that rare case I feel where a superhero film didn’t require an antagonist, and now makes this series 0 for 3 in terms of compelling villains who offer no kind of depth to their missions.

– When you really think about it, this film is a big game of Hot Potato, and for it to be reduced to something that elementary with as many elements that are boiling around the pot, it’s a bit of a glaring negative that the character development in exposition feels secondary to the prize itself. This is big on the antagonists, but also on someone like Pfeifer’s Motherly character, who with the exception of the opening couple minutes of the movie, goes a long span of time before appearing again. Why even reach for a big name like Pfeifer when the best you have for her is three scenes throughout nearly two hours of film?

7/10