Brigsby Bear

The happiness of a child lies in the weekly broadcast of his favorite furry animal named ‘Brigsby Bear’. First time filmmaker Dave McCary brings to us his film starring one of the film’s writers, Kyle Mooney as James, a thirty-something man-child who is obsessed with his favorite television show, owning every cassette, and several pieces of memorabilia. After the show’s untimely cancellation, James’s life takes a turn for the extreme, forcing the number one fan to now finish the show himself, for better or worse. Along the way, James must learn to cope with the realities of a new world that he knows nothing about because he has never stepped foot outside of his protective weekly bubble. ‘Brigsby Bear’ is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, brief sexuality, drug material and teen partying, and teams up the acclaimed Saturday Night Live duo once more of Mooney and Beck Bennett.

Now that you’ve read my synopsis for ‘Brigsby Bear’, you should know that everything that you think you know about this movie is only an illusion. This is very much an independent dramedy that is more clever than what meets the eye. The plot and ensuing story surrounding it revolve around this surprising shock twist that takes place within the opening fifteen minutes of this film that completely blew my mind, changing the tone and material alike, and then proceeding on from there as A result of this big bang. This is a touch that is certainly nothing groundbreaking or original, but it does lend itself to the confidence that the duo of McCary and Mooney possess in their film to appeal to the audience that they have practically alienated themselves from, with anyone thinking this was going to be a goofball comedy similar to Mooney’s SNL stick. For Mooney, this is A Chance to breakout from a stereotype that has garnered him minimal time on that show, and to trade it in for a hearty performance that proves he is a force to be reckoned with when compared to the barrage of SNL greats that have and have not gone on to make a name for themselves when they no longer go live at 11:30 PM on Saturday night.

Once that plot twist that I mentioned happens early on during the first act, it feels very much like the film is playing into our nostalgia as an audience for the kinds of television show characters and worlds alike that we immersed ourselves in when we the young adolescent age, and pulled the wool from James eyes in the same manner that all of us ensued when we were forced to grow up. This is of course A story with A bit more devastation to it, and that mood layers itself with A screenplay that I never would’ve expected from the guys in The Lonely Island of all things. The film does stay a bit one note remedially, hinting at a bigger picture in reveal that those few possible subplots never pursue with much more persistence. There were a few aspects with the production of this television show that raised a few good questions in my mind, but it just felt like me making the direction into something that never became. This is a 92 minute brief engagement, so to say that this film sticks close to its three act structure, is putting it firmly. With that said, I can’t say that I was ever bored or disengaged from this film, and my fear of this man-child’s fragile psyche playing into this tight-rope of nerves between past and present that has brought him to this day, always kept me watching closely for the cause-and-effect that a sheltered life can leave on the mind of a dreamer with miles to travel creatively.

McCary’s film embraces the concepts of James past metaphorically through the eyes of the bear, so when the idea pops into his head to continue on with the show, it not only feels like A longing for his sheltered past, but also a halting of progress for his ability to move on, a concept that the film stands firmly at on the crossroads of repetition and influence. On the latter, this film becomes kind of this character study for James and how his interaction with other kids his age can feel can come across as mimicking. He’s only known this one thing for the entirety of his life, so it feels like the typical character from another world who is being taught our way of life for the first time, except here it warrants those concepts because we feel a great empathetic pull for James and the new experiences that he will never ever fully grasp for being late to the fold because of his limited past. That’s why the first half of the film was marginally better than the second half for me; its deranged nature comes across as the factor that gives it wings, and once that’s put away for good, the film’s moral framing hints that it’s OK for James to feel this reliant on Brigsby, A motion that I found difficult to cope with for the well being mentally of this nearly closed book.

The aesthetic touch is perhaps some of my favorite aspects of McCary’s film, as the television show within this movie feels like a callback to 80’s public access productions where the minimal money reaped the bigger monetary reward. Because so much of ‘Brigsby Bear’ feels cheap in design, it caters to the spandex generation of children who grew up knowing and loving shows with this kind of terribly under-utilized effects and dated synth-pop musical score to boost. The Lonely Island are known for this kind of thing, but while we as an audience might giggle from time-to-time, wondering what the appeal is to it, the film very much envelopes itself into every character that it comes into contact with, framing Brigsby as an irresistible hero just waiting to be believed in by all who take on his VHS challenge.

Kyle Mooney can rest assured that his performance as James will be the memorable role for him that turned the tide in his once one-dimensional career into A remarkable transformation as an acting darling. In James, we embrace a delivery from Mooney that is soft and gentle like a child, but rebellious and crass in the defiance of an expanding teen. With a lesser actor, this would come across as A condescending lead, playing more into a gimmick rather than an immersing, but Mooney’s shy and bashful delivery prove that he is the right man for the job, being not fully aware of the terrible things that have transpired in his early career. This makes him A character who is easy to get behind and embrace because we never like to see bad things happen to children, A thought that is ludicrous considering Mooney is 32 years old, but it’s A testament to how committed he embraced this cryptic adolescent. Handing in supporting turns are Clare Danes , Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, and Matt Walsh, A usual one line cameo artist who finally gets A major helping in this script. Everyone plays a pivotal role in James life, but it’s great to see so many memorable faces committing to something off-screen as different for A supposed comedy like this.

THE VERDICT – Make no mistakes about it, this bear isn’t soft or cuddly, it’s an earnestly eye-opening look at the dangers of addiction that never needs drugs or alcohol to roar with other cautionary tales. Mooney’s performance is right on cue, balancing the sentimental with the synthetic, and McCary takes a huge leap in the director’s race in only his first feature film. The lack of comedy might alienate some of its audience, but if you stay patient, this unusually poignant melancholic plot will steal your heart and your respect. Everything you want with nothing you are expecting. The less you know going in, the better.

7/10

The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature

The gang of furry friends and lovable creatures are back, this time to do something much more urgent than cracking nuts, in ‘The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature’. Two years after the original movie, Surly Squirrel (Will Arnett) and his friends, Buddy (Tom Kenny), Andie (Katherine Heigl) and Precious (Maya Rudolph) discover that the mayor (Bobby Moynihan) of Oakton City is cracking one big hustle to build a giant yet quite-shabby amusement park, which in turn will bulldoze their home, which is the city park, and it’s up to them and the rest of the park animals to stop the mayor, along with his daughter and a mad animal control officer from getting away with his scheme, and take back the park. ‘The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature’ is written and directed by Cal Brunker in his first big budget presentation, and is rated PG for action and some rude humor.

Considering it was three years ago and arguably the very worst animated film of the year, ‘The Nut Job’ offers very little that comes to memory when I think about it now, and while this same problem might suffer the same fate with its unnecessary sequel, I can happily say that this is an improvement for the series that nearly meets the requirements to be an enlightening and entertaining movie for kids. Make no mistakes about it, some of the same problems involving inferior animation, limited storytelling involving cliche plot, and of course plain Jane characters who have little or no exposition for their respective arcs. Those problems are still there, but what ‘The Nut Job 2’ has going for it is that it truly feels like the makers of this film threw away all of the rules and just didn’t care as long as it was memorable. It attains this status at least temporarily because of a third act that completely flew off of the rails, and serves as a hotbed of anarchy that doesn’t stop until the credits end. That could be where this franchise finds its voice, even if it as at the hands of another sort-of loss with the overall finished product. The positive is that it isn’t a devastating one, and at least gives me some hope that a third film could turn everything around for this tortured story and characters if they just throw out the tired formula of what makes a good kids movie.

Yes, the animation continues to underwhelm, despite some much needed improvements to the backdrops that speak to that French artistic visionary of animation designs. Where this positive sticks out like a sore thumb is in the character dimensions and outlines in design that make the pop to the eye for all of the wrong reasons. Open Road Films still struggle when it comes to the live action movements of its animated characters, with everything from their speech patterns being dramatically off from what is coming out of their mouths, to the expressions on faces that don’t feel as detailed when compared to the flock of kids movies that are setting precedents today. But what those landscapes do with precision in beauty is float a dreamscape full of colorful residence that really pop in front of the camera. I can remember the first film being an ugly one because its backgrounds weren’t used accordingly enough to immerse the audience in this particular world, but thankfully ‘Nutty By Nature’ doesn’t have this problem, as it leaves little to the imagination of what can be done with story when it has a beautiful canvas to play out on.

This is really where the film suffers the greatest for me, because the first two acts of this movie are really just throwing a bunch of tired ideas at the screen and seeing what sticks. As seen before, there is the evil mayor of the town who has somehow gotten voted in despite breaking every zoning code, as well as human right known to man, but none of that matters because every kids movie needs a villain right? The film knows how overblown and laughably bare this antagonist feels because it chooses to focus so little of its 80 minute run time on him and his evil child who had some real possibilities when laid out in material that could’ve laid into the effects that bad parenting have on their spawns. I mentioned that this film barely breaks an hour, and what little of material that the film does try to progress forward is often times slowed down to a grinding halt when a new character is introduced, and this film has no shortage of them. Instead of presenting their introductions in smooth detail, the film supplies us with no fewer than three exposition montages that bring their stories up to date to this moment, and whether or not you agree with me that this feels like sloppy character introductions, you can’t debate that this method feels redundant by the second time it is brought up. The last half hour is easily the climax for my interest in this movie because it turns into kind of a shit show firework that lights the longest fuse to keep the madness running. I did laugh quite a few times during this part not only for the breaking of logic that was being displayed so non-chalantly, but because there are winks to some pretty sinisterly occurances that feel like the appropriate bone thrown to adults who have had to endure this series up to this point. That is what I want to see more of, and I hope that if there is a Nut Job 3, that it takes the risks that will award it the single craziest scene that I have seen in a kids movie in quite a long time.

As for the performances, there is certainly no shortage of credible actors and actresses who lend their familiar tones to these characters. Will Arnett has a vocal range that was made for children’s movies, emoting Surly as a know-it-all who sometimes gets carried away with his brash personality. Arnett takes this film on his back and carries it when it feels like no one else is getting a chance to. On that direction, I point to Katherine Heigl and Jeff Dunham who despite their generous influence on this script, underplay every scene-stealing opportunity that the movie gives them. Dunham in particular is the surprise here because his whole stand-up stick is based around vocalizing dummies that he brings on stage, but his presence isn’t enough here with energy in delivery to ever compliment his talented male lead. Jackie Chan was a solid addition as a mouse who is anything but just cute, but his character is introduced almost to the point of insult stereotypes, with oriental music and Chinatown backdrop being present to his arrival. The character almost becomes a running joke of itself before we ever learn anything about him, and that’s truly unfortunate for Chan, as his career is kind of in a comeback mode with a lot of buzz surrounding the upcoming ‘Ninjago Lego Movie’ and ‘The Foreigner’. Arnett sets the table, but it often feels like others are afraid to eat off of it, a true disappointment to a cast of A-listers who could’ve made their presence felt immensely.

THE VERDICT – It couldn’t have gotten worse than 2014’s ‘The Nut Job’, and thankfully it didn’t. ‘The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature’ still lacks the kind of creative bite in consistency to ever compete with the smarter, more ambitious competition of the genre, but the nourishment of this nut wasn’t as far of a reach when presented with an improvement in aspects of animation, as well as a leaning on the values of friendship that make the hearty center something more with this sequel. Maybe it’s the fact that I just saw ‘The Emoji Movie’ two weeks ago, but this film didn’t upset me anywhere near to the point that I was expecting, and hopefully the next nut will fall even further from this tree of familiarity.

5/10

The Emoji Movie

Those characters that we control with the tip of a finger come to life in Sony Animation’s ‘The Emoji Movie’. Hidden within the messaging app is Textopolis, a bustling city where all your favorite emojis live, hoping to be selected by the phone’s user. In this world, each emoji has only one facial expression, except for Gene (T.J Miller), an exuberant emoji who was born without a filter and is bursting with multiple expressions. Determined to become “normal” like the other emojis, Gene enlists the help of his handy best friend Hi-5 (James Corden) and the notorious code breaker emoji Jailbreak. Together, they embark on an epic “app-venture” through the apps on the phone, each its own wild and fun world, to find the Code that will fix Gene. But when a greater danger threatens the phone, the fate of all emojis depends on these three unlikely friends who must save their world before it’s deleted forever. ‘The Emoji Movie’ is written and directed by Tony Leondis, and is rated PG for some rude humor.

For whatever reason, movies will often get a bad word of mouth through the grapevine of gossip, so nobody after will give that movie a fair read. More times than not, films that are given the dreaded 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, or a 1/10 by critics everywhere, are often the victim of unfair critiques from critics who clearly have not seen enough bad films and just want in on all of the fun of bashing. With that said, ‘The Emoji Movie’ is that rare film (if you can call it that) that deserves all of the beating that this word of mouth is dishing out. For my experience, this is as shameless as it gets for product placement. Films have been raked over the coals for less than this, yet here is a movie based entirely on the IPhone and all of its emojis and apps that take up valuable time in our days. This of course comes from Sony Animation Studios, the studio responsible for the very definition of whoring out your product, so it comes as no surprise that this lifeless garbage lacks the kind of inspiring or original story to hold its own amongst the growing field of smart kids movies that are popping up. Lets put it like this; There are films that I hated more in 2017, but none of those gave me as dull and lifeless of a time like this one did for 84 mind numbing minutes that I will never get back.

You will realize just how flat this story falls when the gears start to turn and you see the kind of repetition in direction that this film takes with other movies like ‘Wreck It Ralph’ or ‘Inside Out’. This definitely feels like a cheaper coming-of-age version to those plots, ripping off the very minimal of what fits their dreaded narrative that we’ve all see before. Gene is an underdog, Gene loses something valuable to him, Gene goes on a long distance journey, Gene befriends some wacky characters, Gene succeeds on a road to redemption. To me, this plot falls very flat because its evidenced by its lack of emotional depth or investment by the audience at home just how unimportant it feels when it stands in the way of the humor. More on that in a bit. For so much of this film, it just kind of stands in place because you see so much of what is coming long before they actually get there. It’s a math problem that you can do on a piece of paper, made even worse by clutching pacing that left a phone imprint on my hand from all of the times that I checked to see how much was left of the movie.

As for humor, I didn’t laugh once in the entire film, mainly because I find it difficult to believe that this film was trying anything beyond the wink-and-nod to the audience for the kind of things they see daily on their phones. It’s remarkable just how few actual setups for long-term laughs that there are in this movie, and instead the film would rather focus on these overused puns that continue to inform us of each Emoji’s personality. There is an attempt to poking fun at the awkwardness of teenage conformity to technology, but the only time that humans are seen in this film is when their phones start freaking out and making noises from the chaos going on inside of them. A trait that doesn’t make sense when you consider that the main kid in this movie could easily turn off his ringer to quiet the disturbing things that his phone is saying to him. The funny bone is really pinched tightest though, when it began taking us in and out of apps like Youtube and Candy Crush to sell time and eat up some precious minutes. Because of this, it doesn’t feel like this script was anything remotely more difficult than someone with a typewriter looking at their phone for the few spare ideas that rarely have the kind of cohesive flow to feel like anything other than a collection of moments instead of an acceptable whole. The kind of film where everyone is dumber for having watched it, and if laughs are a measurement of mental capacity, my auditorium sounded like everyone’s reactions were on vibrate.

The cast too is left with wasted efforts because of so little to work with within the material that always keeps them firmly grounded. I love T.J Miller, but it’s clear that the man isn’t getting the kind of scripts that bring his R-rated demeanor to life. As Gene, Miller doesn’t feel like the right man for the job vocally to match the facial reaction of his emoji, a point that does come out in a subplot early on in the movie, but continues to waste away the personality of one of Hollywood’s greatest scene stealers going today. In addition to Miller, we get turns from James Corden as Gene’s friend Hi-5, Anna Faris as Jailbreak, and Maya Rudolph as the antagonist Smiler who left me uncomfortable at every appearance. None of these valued actors have anything above conventionalism to bring to their roles, and never for a minute did I feel glued in on their changing situations. Faris is probably the only one who sounded any different from her normal delivery, but Jailbreak’s backstory is virtually ignored for the entirety of the plot, hinting at possible scenarios that we never get closure on. In a perfect world, Faris would rightfully steal this movie, but she doesn’t even want it when the others are gladly handing it to her on a platter, and the wasted efforts all around are a glowing reminder of what could’ve been from a film idea that feels outdated even in 2017.

If I do have one back handed compliment to say about the film, it is in its animation, which isn’t nowhere near the quality of a Pixar presentation, but is an improvement on past Sony animation films that feel jarring in their shading for character illustrations. ‘The Emoji Movie’ does have a deliciously appetizing color scheme that at least takes us on a visually stunning field trip of ambitious backdrops and energetic landscapes. The character outlines could use more definition on their physical outlines, because sometimes their colors will blend together when put in front of a backdrop with the same color, but it’s hard to fault them so much about this process when everything else is frankly so terrible about this presentation. The animation at least held its own in bringing to life the every day visuals from our smart phones that we have come to know, and while my mind was drowning in a sea of stupidity from everything mentioned prior, I at least had a spectrum that kept the film in beautiful surroundings.

THE VERDICT – Leondis’s ‘The Emoji Movie’ is the kind of film where writers and directors are never heard from again. A lumbering, lazy lack of intellectual fortitude whose only intention is the callous cash grab that does nothing for any age group. The visuals offer momentary bliss between the overwhelming lack of trying that plagued this film at every other turn. Emoji’s are meant to be the time saving methods of expressing emotions to other people, maybe too is this movie for the basic concepts of storytelling and entertainment value that it doesn’t find as remotely important.

2/10

Despicable Me 3

The Minions and Gru are back for the third installment in Illumination’s treasured trilogy, simply titled “Despicable Me 3”. After being fired from the Anti-Villain League for failing to take down the latest bad guy to threaten humanity, Gru (Steve Carrell) finds himself in the midst of a major identity crisis. But when a mysterious stranger shows up to inform Gru that he has a long-lost twin brother (Also Carrell)-a brother who desperately wishes to follow in his twin’s despicable footsteps-one former super-villain will rediscover just how good it feels to be bad, all the while stopping an incredibly outdated villain named Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), who will stop at nothing to rid the world of its riches. “Despicable Me 3” is directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, and is rated PG for action and rude humor.

I wasn’t much of a fan with 2015’s “Minions”, mainly because it felt like overkill on a one-note joke that doesn’t have enough fuel for an entire motion picture fire. It wasn’t terrible, but felt like a noticeable drop-off from the creative quality of “Despicable Me 1 and 2”, lacking much of the original firepower in energy and comedic timing that we’ve come to know and love from these lovable lugs. And now with “Despicable Me 3” on the horizon, we return front-and-center to the world of Gru, The Minions, Lucy, and the rest of the adorable family, on a mission to re-claim Gru’s name as one of the best villains in the world. This movie does improve itself slightly from that of “Minions”, in that its humor does work better when there are two types of characters to bounce off of; ones that are human and ones that are not, but sadly, this franchise is starting to feel the sting of a series that has overstayed its welcome, especially with the many variety of subplots that this film throws at the screen in hopes that something useful will stick. Very little does, and because of such, we’re left with a picture that is decent for laughs and bubble-gum entertainment, but far from the studio-building features of the first two movies that set a respectable measuring stick for Illimination Pictures.

Over the course of four films, we’ve certainly gathered up no shortage of characters along the way, but the decision to give each of them their own respective subplot comes at quite a creative price for the brief 83 minutes of runtime that adorns this film. I kid you not when I say that there are no fewer than five subplots that make up the bulk of this script, a majority of which don’t go very far in the long term building of conclusions that happen during the final act. What does work is the brother angle here. There’s a real heartfelt center to Coffin and Balda’s material that put family first ahead of anything else going on, and you have to respect that. Because these Brothers are so different in their past upbringings, we as an audience get to indulge in the little quirks and ticks that make each of them different in character traits, but real when it comes to the twin instincts that makes two hearts beat as one. This is where the film worked for me, but everything else was very hollow garbage. The movie feels like a fight for survival amongst the other four subplots in the movie, all with very little progression or screen time to make them anything memorable. The saddest of all for me is in the plot and building of Bratt, the supposed antagonist of the movie who lacks a significant weight in the finished product. Considering most of the trailers are decorated around him, it’s a big letdown to find out that 90% of his material is just that; IN THE TRAILERS.

This movie did create some decent laughs for me, but nothing in terms of a hearty laughter to overtake my audible hearing. The Bratt 80’s cliches are decent, but so overdone in their repetition that it almost becomes one of those things that you wish would just cut to the point. His soundtrack 80’s hits are a great collection of Top 40 favorites though, and it does impress me that Illumination managed to buy the rights to the big name selections that occasionally pop in to play-to these scenes. The Minions do their usual yelling in non-English that people have come to either love or hate, and this movie will do nothing to change your stances on either of those sides. For me, I laughed the most when there are those observations to matters like parenting or the awkward struggle in a reunion with someone whom you have never even met before. Those to me are the kind of things that could set this apart as being just a typical kids movie, but then we would be forgetting what kind of audience partakes in this series.

The animation is probably the single biggest improvement from the past films, lighting a luminous torch for this ambitious company that rivals the masters of Dreamworks and Pixar Films respectively. Everything feels slightly more crisp here, echoing off an artistic integrity that reminds you that you are constantly watching a cartoon, but to never be letdown by such a fact. I made an observation earlier that this was bubble gum entertainment, and that couldn’t be more correct figuratively or literally with the eye-enhancing visuals that overtake the screen. There’s a lot of expression in that of the colorful buildings or the animated personality traits of each character, but for my money the shading and lighting of this film is a delightful improvement from the sometimes plain-Jane backdrops that Illumination hasn’t been able to thrive on. Most won’t notice the extra emphasis on these matters, but shadows and reflections are often a thing that I’m always examining in animated kids movies, and this one passes with flying colors on that perspective.

As for the performances, this talentedly decorated comedic ensemble does do their jobs in bringing to life these large personalities, but the direction falls very flat considering they are all juggling for time in an overcrowded atmosphere, and this stings none more than Bratt. Trey Parker excited me as an addition to this cast, and his overly-hyped deliveries give us an antagonist who we love to hate, but he feels like so much of a supporting character in a film whose events revolve around his actions, a huge mistake for someone as historically triumphant as the animated characters Parker voices on “South Park”. Carrell is probably the one performance that stands out not only because he is voicing two different characters, but because he depicts a clear difference in their speech patterns, despite a similar German accent. This is a difficult thing to do, and often I found myself closing my eyes to hear if I could tell the difference, and it was a success. Carrell’s wide range of emotional releases were made for the animated stage, and in the course of seven short years, Steve has etched his name as one of the very best animated leads going today.

THE VERDICT – “Despicable Me 3” does show its wear-and-tear over the course of its four feature length films that is a rarity for today’s animated sagas. The film’s script is a bit of a scatter-brained mess that feels all over the place in tone and development, but the jaw-dropping visual spectrum, as well as the return of Carrell in one of his most prominent roles, makes this latest chapter just sweet enough to snack on. My suggestion would be to end the series here, or to at least make some supporting characters just that; SUPPORTING. Otherwise, this series will slip on the banana peel that its Minions so viciously chew on.

6/10

Lowriders

In southern Los Angeles, the lower you go the better in the competition that has the Mexican-American community battling for prestigious rights. In “Lowriders”, Set against the vibrant backdrop of East LA’s near-spiritual car culture, Danny (Gabriel Chavarria) is a talented young street artist who is caught between the lowrider underworld inhabited by his old-school father (Demián Bichir) and ex-con brother Ghost (Theo Rossi), and the adrenaline-fueled outlet of graffiti art that defines his self-expression. When Danny’s life comes to a crossroads, he must make the decision between family and family to steer him on the right path towards an ambitious future. “Lowriders” is directed by Ricardo de Montreuil in his first feature film, and is rated PG-13 for adult language, some violence, sensuality, thematic elements and brief drug use.

“Lowriders” approaches the concepts and the histories of one of automobile’s most prolific models and spins it into a family drama that is equally as compelling as it is informative. For the first half hour of this movie, I really didn’t know what to expect, but was slightly worried that this movie would serve more as a biopic for its automotive title character, and less about the spinning web of family tangling going on within the picture. Thankfully, my worries were put to rest, as de Montreuil’s film is a portrait on the struggles of family grief, as well as a front-and-center love-letter to the kind of arts and concepts that go into the car. From Ricardo’s point-of-view, the car is really just the table dressing to the main course that simmers underneath the hood. The real story is in the trio of family characters here whose pasts have set them on different sides of the tracks respectively. There’s a real understanding of the essence not only in the Mexican-American community and its families, but also in that of Southern Los Angeles for the visual spectre and feels of this melting pot that constantly keeps on boiling for its many of stories under one roof. This is just one of those stories, and it brought me enough suitable entertainment for 93 minutes that it’s really difficult to ever begrudge it for the few things it does misfire on.

What I enjoy about the narrative is that we as an audience are coming into this story with the past already playing a pivotal meaning in the relationships between each of the sons with his Father. Danny as a protagonist is kind of that young adult who is at a crossroads within his own life, so when the return of his absent Brother comes into play, we immediately see the effects of such an influence in his own life. For me, the most compelling aspect of this movie was between the divided relationship of Ghost and his Father, which took the movie on slightly more serious turns than what the gimmick of lowriders could do for the story. It’s in this subplot where we attain the knowledge of just how important these man-made structures are to the overall enlightenment of the audience watching at home, and for me it was during the brief interaction between these two when the movie prospers the most. The film doesn’t necessarily paint Ghost as this villain character, instead choosing to focus on the positives and negatives within each of the three main characters. After he gets out of prison, his actions dictate the kind of person and influence that he wants to be to Danny, and this is where the film nearly lost me in the shuffle of conventionalism that felt like it was playing desperately to studio needs.

The film does at times feel slightly by-the-numbers, in that you can see the outline of the predictable story, even if it takes some unorthodox methods of attaining this status. The second act of the film is definitely the dullest for me in terms of wiggle room for this outline, and suddenly there are some vast character shifts that kind of alienate the equal moral compass that the film once prescribed for itself. There is also a romantic interest for Danny introduced in the form of Melissa Benoist that felt shoe-horned in, and assured even more of such towards the end of the movie when it’s never brought up again after their “Routine” couple drama that happens in every movie for the sake of it. It’s nothing that I could fault it for too much, but if you’ve seen one of these kind of hard knocks lifestyle movies, you’ve seen them all, and “Lowriders” does very little to distance itself from an overcrowded genre that feels like we’ve seen everything by this point. The final act does pick itself up slightly, and there’s enough mystery and intrigue in the film’s closing minutes to put the story back to where it needs to be first and foremost; the dramatic circumference between this family’s tangled web that desperately needs healing. Without spoiling too much, I think the ending satisfied this craving while adding enough uncertainty between them that feeds into ideals of cleansing, in that not everything is as simple as open and shut.

One aspect to the movie that did fruitfully achieve the Los Angeles color palate was that of the shot composition and overall cinematography by Andres Sanchez that really illuminated this picture. There’s a constant tinge of yellow to the film’s illustration, radiating the always sunny backdrop of Southern L.A that shines on its blacktop streets. The camera work here is carefully depicted in that it has that grainy kind of visual to it, but moves fluently with and around our characters to capture the cheap essence of an independent movie. This is a worthy choice to me because pristine visuals that are too clean will sometimes spoil the feel of the environment that the movie’s creative engine is trying to depict. Because of such, de Montreuil feels like the right man for the job in constructing the right visual tones for the film that depict the city of angels as a character in itself. A place where the streets can make or break you, depending on which one you take.

As for performances, “Lowriders” has a solid Mexican-American dominated cast that more-than gladly took the ball and ran with their meaty characters. Demian Birchir is someone we’re starting to see more of, with recent turns in “The Hateful Eight”, as well as “Alien: Covenant”, but he feels most at home with family drama as gritty as this. Birchir’s pop character has lost a lot in his life, most notably his wife who passed away off-screen, so the values that he tries to store upon Danny feel like the only thing he has left. Birchir is warm and humble as this father figure, but not afraid to raise his tones when he feels threatened, a true Father figure if there ever was one. As for youthful approaches, Chavarria takes his first lead in a major motion picture, and Rossi once again steals the show as a sneaky antagonist we love to hate. On the former, Danny is every bit the kind of typical protagonist you expect to see in these films, often times making the stupid decisions to cater to his youth, but the slow aging of how Chavarria supplants this character is what makes him profitable to this story. Rossi himself can do so much in a look that tells you everything you need to know about his character, and as far as visual traits go, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone in Hollywood who can stare into the camera emoting such deceit.

THE VERDICT – “Lowriders” does muddle occasionally in predictably shallow waters in overall plot structure, but the film’s warm-hearted peak into an often under-executed Mexican-American setting, and authentic visual presentation more than make up for some of the short-comings that can hinder it from going the full mile. Ricardo de Montreuil’s film doesn’t feel forced to keep the story on the road, instead choosing to focus on the ardent entanglements of forgiveness that has plagued this family’s future.

7/10

The Book of Henry

Things will never be the same for a small town neighborhood once a mother discovers a troubling book written by her son, called “The Book of Henry”. Sometimes things are not always what they seem, especially in the small suburban town where the Carpenter family lives. Single suburban mother Susan Carpenter (Naomi Watts) works as a waitress at a diner, alongside feisty family friend Sheila (Sarah Silverman). Her younger son Peter (Jacob Tremblay) is a playful 8-year-old. Taking care of everyone and everything in his own unique way is Susan’s older son Henry (Jaeden Lieberher), age 11. Protector to his adoring younger brother and tireless supporter of his often self-doubting mother, and through investments, of the family as a whole, Henry blazes through the days like a comet. Susan discovers that the family next door, which includes Henry’s kind classmate Christina (Maddie Ziegler), has a dangerous secret, and that Henry has devised a surprising plan to help. As his brainstormed rescue plan for Christina takes shape in thrilling ways, Susan finds herself at the center of it. “The Book of Henry” is directed by Colin Trevorrow, and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief adult language.

This movie has been the victim of a lot of negative reviews lately in the media, so going into it I kind of found myself at the questioning position of how a trailer with what I felt had so much promise could receive a critique as low as it has shamefully received, but we must remember that these trailer magicians are the same people who make money by presenting a less-than stellar film in attention-grabbing detail. Upon viewing “The Book of Henry”, I am here to add my two cents to the pile of growing naysayers for the film, as this movie is very much a disaster in everything from tone continuity to lack of moral integrity for characters that violently shift with each passing moment. It’s a jumbled experiment that is often trying to pass itself off as too many things at once, and because of such a concept, it often feels like you are watching three different acts from three different movies. Even the shining performances of three marvelously gifted child actors wasn’t enough to steer this film, as well as its condescending direction out of the woods with even so much as a compass to find its way.

Director Colin Trevorrow, as well as screenwriter Gregg Hurwitz should definitely be commended enough for crafting a story that does play with respect to these children that they are front-and-center of this unfolding melodrama, even if their ambitious reach of plot does over-exceed what should be a simplistic approach. What was appreciative for me was that this duo seem to understand and see children as this driving force within the world who will stop at nothing to help when they see danger. Hurwitz depicts the point of view of a pediatric as such that there is no filter with them in their wanting to get involved in compromising situations, a detail that any adult in the audience will wonder with curiosity where we went wrong in deciding to turn our heads to help those who are troubled along the way. It’s encouraging to see a director who sees the value in child actors, and doesn’t choose to wither away their increasing value in cinema. Because of such, Colin does succeed in crafting a surreal world where children can get involved with adult actions, a concept that only gets stronger the further you dive into “The Book of Henry”.

Where he goes wrong however, is in the increasing ridiculousness of cliches that continuously overstay their welcome, as well as the violent tonal shifts that cut this film’s momentum down at nearly every level. The light-hearted coming-of-age story of the first act was the only section of the film that felt natural to me. Trevorrow’s immediate introduction of our characters and their worlds is one that instantly pulled me in and had me demanding more for the personality in dialogue that leaps off of the page of the script. Then it all goes wrong. Instead of continuing with this vibrant feeling, the film turns into a crass melodrama due to a sudden plot twist that shakes everything up. I’m fine with different layers to a story in a movie, but when it’s as violently forced as this was, it can feel like it never finds its footing back to what made it great in the first place, a problem that sticks with this production. The third act throws everything at us, as the craziness of this plan between our protagonist and her children is one that not only annoyed me in logic, but also angered me in how much it repeats itself. Without spoiling much, sometimes you will have a scene in a movie where a character will listen to a tape, that character will say something, and then the person on the tape responds back to what they just said. It’s often used as a throwaway comedy line that is harmless, but here it happens every minute when this tape is on-screen. There’s geniuses among children, and there’s God-like characters. “The Book of Henry” casts its title character as the latter, and soon this ability to predict action and consequences in something as unpredictable as people, is one that does great harm to the believability of this once humane piece.

With twenty minutes left in the movie, and very little answered or satisfyingly concluded, Hurwitz moves fast in offering us a conclusion that really made me take a step back and compare how far we’ve come in the short 100 minute offering that rode a wave of unnecessary twists and turns to get here. That’s of course a back-handed compliment, because I found the ending of this movie to be bafflingly dull when compared to what was the lead-up before it. Everything is put together a little too “Matter-of-factly”, and it constantly left me with a bitter taste in my mouth of the juice never being worth the squeeze, a harrowing reality that starts to set in the more you think about the actions of this movie. On that thought, “The Book of Henry” feels like an irresponsible plan of mind-numbingly barbaric execution, instead of a gripping therapeutic plunge into the perplexities of grief and how it affects everyone else, a missed opportunity that could’ve played this film as slightly more cerebral than the outside-of-the-glass treatment that we got here.

What does keep my score on this film from falling too far down is in the charming circumference of this ensemble cast that each add wonders to their respective characters. Lieberher has been a star in the making for quite some time, but the momentum of the film rests solely in his small hands, as he portrays Henry as a boy genius who never feels rude or condescending. Tremblay relies more on the dramatic pulse of the film to get his points across, and I’ve never seen a child release the tears so heart-achingly surreal as he has in films like this and 2015’s “Room”. Maddie Ziegler, despite not having many line reads in the movie, is a force to be reckoned with for how she visually commands the presence of this tortured girl next door. Christina is someone who lives out her worst nightmares every single day of her life, and Ziegler doesn’t falter this in facial responses that define the absence of positivity. Naomi Watts, Sarah Silverman, Dean Norris, all also buy into what Trevorrow is selling, so much so that their adult counterparts blend satisfyingly well enough to never feel like they are cutting in on the children’s time to work their craft. Norris is great as a villain, but does so without ever needing to come off as some Lifetime Television cliche. The worst kind of antagonist is the guy we should trust the most, and it’s very unsettling to know just what is going on under the roof of the police chief’s house that has left the surrounding patrons shattered in its wake.

THE VERDICT – “The Book of Henry” is three movies for the price of one, and only one of them should’ve been interesting enough to continue. Because of an overabundance in tone shifts, as well as fourth-dimensional breaks in logic, Trevorrow’s latest crashes and burns fast, leaving a finished product that feels slightly incomplete and muddled in seemingly unnecessary directions. The film definitely crafts an original take on child-first stories, but does so in a way that robs those intentions by the increasingly silly plot mechanics that would rather be the umpteenth “Home Alone” rather than the first “Book of Henry”.

4/10

Cars 3

Pixar Studios sets out once again to prove that the race isn’t over until lightning strikes, in the third chapter of the animated trilogy “Cars 3”. Racing is starting to become tough for Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), as he is becoming one of the oldest race cars on the race track and a generation of new rookies are coming into the evolving racing world. After he is pushed out of the race track, he begins a road of redemption that inspires his aging model to turn back the clock once more. For Lightning to prove that he is still a top racer, he is going to need help from an eager young female car named Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), who is to help and train Lightning. He’s not quitting until he shows the world that he is still a top racer, and silences the younger, faster doubters on the track who want him gone. “Cars 3” is written and directed by Brian Fee, and is rated PG for scenes of disastrous peril.

It isn’t reaching too ambitiously, but “Cars 3” is a greater improvement to that of “Cars 2” that flopped at nearly every turn, conjuring up Pixar’s absolute worst movie to date. However, the third film in this trilogy proves that no sequel can quite attain the greatness of the first movie that throughout stayed competently focused, and excited us for what could follow in this seemingly post-apocalyptic world run by automobiles. It is a step up, but one that comes with great caution for how not to introduce an ensemble cast with a brief 104 minute run time. That may seem lengthy for this plot, but when you consider how much material this movie truly has, it’s but a fraction of what is needed to smoothly depict. Brian Fee’s film is one that starts out a lap or two behind, due to a rocky first half of the movie that greatly overcomplicates and convolutes the importance of exposition in all of its flimsy details. Because of this, the film often lacks consistency in momentum, and finds itself trying to catch up for the rest of the film, nearly pulling it off in the final act that finally plays to the dramatic pulse in this kids movie, but still flounders away the possibilities of its gripping material and breathtaking visual displays that up the ante to this once prosperous franchise.

Simply put, there are far too many characters in this movie, and that is often the root for the cause of every problem associated with this movie. There is some commendable voice work, mostly in that of Wilson and Alonzo who radiate an innocent friendship over the grounds of the teacher becoming the student. But all admirations aside, the first two acts of this movie constantly halt plot progression each and every time to introduce a character who doesn’t have a lot of weight to the importance of this blossoming comeback story. Sure the immediate value is obvious with most of them, but by the film’s conclusion you will wonder why they even bothered. Because of this, our antagonist and Lightning’s up-and-coming new blood to the race track feels virtually ignored for the entirety of this movie, only occasionally bringing him back as a reminder to the audience who have long since forgotten about him. Even more confusing is how this film manages to pile in so much progression during the first act, but then screeches itself to a grinding halt during the second, trying to balance out misfiring pacing that feels like it’s riding on two bad tires. Without developing the antagonist plot, the film rarely feels like it’s building to something bigger, and often sifts through a second act that will bore audience members of every age bracket. Believe me, I know, my auditorium carried on conversations without ever thinking twice about it, a sure sign of the disconnect from film to viewer that only maximizes as “Cars 3” carries on.

What the film does do well is conjuring up a genuine comeback story that does have some emotional grit to it, particularly during the final half hour that does remind audiences of the weight that these Pixar movies can respect audiences with. There are the obvious measures of the occasional music montage playing to the training of Lightning, as well as the subplot that involves our hero finding himself in ways that he never deemed necessary, but what impressed me more was the surreal aspect that we as stars of our sport are someday told that we can no longer play the game, and when that day comes it’s in your hands with how you attack it. This was the aspect of the film that drew me in during the trailers, but unfortunately didn’t arise until nearly the end of the movie. I mentioned earlier that this is the strong point of the movie for me, and that’s because the movie doesn’t play it like your typical Disney style ending, a fact that I greatly appreciated having seen stories like this play out quite a few times. It does kind of pull the wool over the eyes of its audience, in leading the film down a familiar path, then throwing a curveball, but it’s one that I greatly appreciated despite the rules of the switch leaving a huge plot hole or two when it comes to the rules of racing.

At least the animation springs forth an early contender for best visual presentation of the year, spiraling us through scene after scene of breathtaking speed and force that constantly kept me gripping on. Pixar Studios have become so embracing of the live action backdrops in their stories that it now feels like these polarizing characters, complete with eye-popping layers, are now present in our own world. The ability to make these vehicles stand-out might feel on the same field as a movie like last year’s “The Good Dinosaur”, but it works more accordingly here because the cars often feel like the foreign concept in a land as we know it is inhibited by humans, so their conflicting volumes in colorful depiction serve to a greater purpose to single out the characters first and allow the viewer to soak in the vibrancy of the pixelated palate around them. Nobody does this better than Pixar, and it serves as a testament to award-winning effects work when we as an audience have to occasionally stop to ask the question if these three-dimensional characters are being super-imposed on a two-dimensional canvas to feed into a real world backdrop.

THE VERDICT – While “Cars 3” is a serviceable enough improvement from that of its predecessor, there’s a great conflict in the flow of consistency that renders it as just another red flag to an overall disappointing series of films made by a studio that often over-exceeds. Had the first half of the film tried a little harder in adding something in addition to the impeccable visual stylings and Lightning’s battle with time, the film’s triumphant third act would feel more like a victory lap. But instead, Fee’s film lacks the intensity of the emotional gut-punch that a conceptual offering like this one promised in the trailers, moving absolutely nowhere with a tank running on empty.

5/10

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

Lifted from the pages of the best-selling children’s graphic novel, a new superhero has come to town, and he doesn’t even require pants. “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” boasts a terrific A-list cast like comic heavyweights Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, and Nick Kroll. DreamWorks Animation brings audiences the long-awaited global movie event, That revolves around George and Harold, two child pranksters living in Piqua, Ohio, who hypnotize their over-controlling principal Benny Krupp into thinking he’s a ridiculously enthusiastic, yet incredibly dimwitted superhero named Captain Underpants, whom the duo have illustrated in their own personal free time. After donning the cape and tighty-whities, Krupp must deal with the arrival of the evil German scientist known as Professor Poopypants who is out to end world-wide laughter. “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” is directed by David Soren, and is rated PG for mild rude humor throughout.

Growing up, I remember reading the Captain Underpants novels as an early teenager, and I found their brand of toilet bowl humor, combined with practicality when it comes to animation style, to be a cut above the rest in bridging the gap from one age group to the next. The movie catches wind on a lot of the same sails creatively, bringing to life perhaps the craziest superhero that the graphic world has ever encountered. For a limited run time of 80 brief minutes, “The First Epic Movie” conjures up a thoughtful side to the superhero genre that the entirety of live action offerings just can’t capture. Comics first and foremost should be for kids, and a world of imagination that peels back the layers of fantasy and making them reality. David Soren’s film certainly captures that aspect in spades, providing a satirical commentary on childhood imagination that encourages its story to tell it from their point-of-view. In doing so, this movie finds a comfortable medium in tone that proves time-and-time-again that nothing is off limits when it comes to the bizarre and unorthodox, and it’s that unchained response that offers something for the whole family.

From an animation perspective, this is a gorgeous movie, offering throughout a breaking of the fourth wall that doesn’t limit the artistic integrity to just one kind of style. What I mean by this is that in addition to the breathtaking rendering here of the town and its inhabitants, there’s also cut away scenes that colorfully narrate what each boy is discussing for that sequence. I compare its style in illustration to that of the 2015 “The Peanuts Movie”. Where the alteration comes in is that these textures radiate more to the amateur drawer in all of us when we were kids, presenting a style that swims in a Crayola current of free-flowing streams. In addition to this, there’s also a lot of scenes in which the colors splash across and overtake the look and feel of each character to emote whenever they are happy, sad, or in grave danger. This gives the movie a kind of comic book authenticity that constantly reminded me that we are indeed in the land where superpowers make anything possible, speaking levels to the chain that bonds this delightful duo of protagonists in their unbreakable link to their favorite hero.

On the subject of that friendship, we get a real candid look at the importance that George and Harold play in the other’s lives, even going so far as to hold its value hand-in-hand with that of the madness developing around them. There is no getting around it, everything that happens in this movie is because of them and their imaginations that never stop, nor slow down, and always feel continuously in-sync with one another. What I commend the film for is not presenting some flimsy subplot that temporarily divides them because of a stupid argument or differing opinion. These two stay together for the entirety of the film, and it really spoke volumes to me that this might be the single best duo of any film in 2017. There is a negative side to that in terms of narration however, as Captain Underpants himself plays such a miniscule role overall in the finished product. Considering the title of this movie, there is a bit of a letdown with the exposition of Underpants, and what makes him tick. He certainly made me laugh, but his urgency in time and inevitability that his existence must end soon, certainly leaves more to be desired with the dramatic itch that went unscratched within the movie. This film stays purely comedic, and there’s really nothing wrong with that.

I’m usually not one for toilet humor because it reminds me constantly of the Adam Sandler B-movie plots that have sunk a once prominent actor, but in “The Epic First Movie”, those moral capacities make sense and never hinder or take away from the fluidly moving pace that rarely ever slowed down. Some jokes do last for a tad bit too long, speaking to the kind of Seth Mcfarlane humor that can sometimes overstay its welcome. It doesn’t do too much harm to the movie, and most of it feels like fluff for how quick of a movie that we are presented with. Overall, I did laugh quite a few times at this movie, and that’s mostly because of its impeccable timing when it came to the bizarre observations that it was saying out loud. I have great faith that this movie will win older audiences over as well because as dumb as it gets, it seems to build itself stronger for a third act that requires you to leave any maturity at the door. The film even pokes fun at this concept, signaling out the ones who balk at toilet humor, and check our age at the door. To this regard, “Captain Underpants” is an infectious little-engine-that-could of a film that constantly reaches for a pulse in its audience, depending on the very wonderment and mayhem of youth that never ends.

Credit to Hart and Middleditch for lending their electric personalities to the vocal work of George and Harold, leading a comedic cast of who’s who in the industry who give to this picture. Hart in particular has always been an off-the-wall personality, so the decision to voice an adventurous child is one that feels like a meant to be marriage. I don’t know much about Middleditch, but his commitment to playing the straight man of the duo and registering the biggest response from his dry demeanor is one that is very valuable to the material here. Together, the two of them make it difficult to focus on anyone else, and certainly give in to the temptation of being bad influences when they are together. Nick Kroll also deserves major praise for voicing the villain known as Professor Poopypants. Kroll is virtually indistinguishable here, delivering a German accent that increases the laughter for how serious his character is trying to pass for. I just spoke about “Wonder Woman” and how comic book movies in general lack intriguing villains. Then a guy named Poopypants comes along and puts them all to shame with a sinister plan to wipe away laughter, and despite how silly it is, it actually works behind a terrifying plan.

THE VERDICT – Animation movies have gotten off to a rocky start thus far in 2017, but “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” puts the horse ahead of the cart by embracing a thirst for silly sight gags, as well as endless pranks and hijinks that transform all of us to a simpler time. Besides a lack of the title character, as well as a brief stretching of the occasional one-liner, Soren’s epic catches wind early on with indulging animation that sets a colorful stage for our pranksters to highlight their craft. With Hart and Middleditch at the helm, there’s no constricting or wedgie in this charming brief(s).

7/10

Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Men Tell NO Tales

Johnny Depp returns to the big screen as the iconic, swashbuckling anti-hero Jack Sparrow in the all-new “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” The rip-roaring adventure finds down-on-his-luck Captain Jack feeling the winds of ill-fortune blowing strongly his way when deadly ghost sailors, led by the terrifying Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), escape from the Devil’s Triangle bent on killing every pirate at sea; notably Jack. Jack’s only hope of survival lies in the legendary Trident of Poseidon, but to find it he must forge an uneasy alliance with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a brilliant and beautiful astronomer, and Henry (Brenton Thwaites), a headstrong young sailor in the Royal Navy. At the helm of the Dying Gull, his pitifully small and shabby ship, Captain Jack seeks not only to reverse his recent spate of ill fortune, but to save his very life from the most formidable and malicious foe he has never faced. The movie is directed by the team of Espen Sandberg and Joachim Rønning, and is rated PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence, and some suggestive content.

There are two scenes in “Dead Men Tell No Tales”, in which Captain Jack Sparrow is caught sleeping, a suitable metaphor for the latest installment that relies far too heavily on the fan service of the better, past movies in this saga. With five films produced over the last two decades, it’s clear that the Pirates franchise has overstayed its welcome, thriving on derived concepts and plots that were done accordingly in their originality, but now lack the kind of influential impact that these movies once used to conjure up the imagination of their audience. Some of these examples within this movie are; Sparrow being introduced in a silly manor by appearing on land, a new guy and girl supporting cast that bicker at each other until they fall in love, a ghostly antagonist who has been wronged by that of Sparrow, and an execution scene early on in the first act that our characters will inevitably escape from. All of the scenarios that I just mentioned have popped up somewhere in the first two films of this franchise, and it leads me to the conclusion that “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is perhaps the laziest of a sequel chapter that is supposed to stand on its own.

One of the biggest problems concerning this more-than two hour feature is that the film immensely lacks any kind of vulnerability or urgency to ever put us on the edge of our seats for one moment. If this chapter instilled one lesson to us, it’s that this is a world in which there are very few consequences or actual deaths in the series, and this concept is highlighted early on when we realize the ties that bind this film with that of the previous movies. One of the scenes that truly drove me crazy in this film was that of Salazar releasing some ghost sharks into the water to hunt the trio of protagonists in a canoe. It’s obvious that these sharks could tear them apart in seconds if they really wanted to, but they only tease them for absolutely no reason. During the sequence, a shark jumps out of the water, flies over the canoe, and extends his jaw like he is going to dine on Sparrow for a snack. Of course the shark doesn’t even make a move, and the slow motion scene was used more as a tease instead of an actual taste. There are so many scenes like this in the movie, and because of it, I never feared for the lives of our characters even for a minute. Without spoiling anything, there is one death in the movie, but I guarantee this character will return in a couple of films.

The pacing too also hits a lot of speed bumps, especially early on in the second act when the same deposition is repeated no fewer than four times by four different duos of characters. Seriously, every time a new development in the script is revealed, mostly about Smythe’s character, we must get a reaction shot from Sparrow’s crew, Barbosa’s crew, Salazar’s crew, and the British Empire at home. I understand that this is a concept from a character standpoint for each of them to be filled with all of the knowledge, but so much of this could be cut or combined in a summarized scene to please all parties concerned. If I knew this many scenes were repeated in the movie, I could’ve received my first bathroom break of 2017 during the actual movie, and my bladder would’ve obliged. The first act of the film comes out of the gate with some serious firepower, but we never reach that level of excitement again because the action sequences often stay neatly tucked away in the closet of conventionalism.

At least the action sequences themselves still dazzle in their epic depicting, illustrating the hundreds of year old Pirate era as colorfully faithful in palate. The war scenes do happen too few and far between during the movie, most notably in the second act when the film exchanges its firepower for flimsy subplots that rarely have any weight in the inevitable conclusion. But there is some gorgeous detail work in the establishing shots of the ships, as well as the fast-paced sword work that happens within, and the movie’s angles never felt compromising or overzealous in editing despite the volume of scope that it has to cover. The framing work here is exceptional, capturing the volume of production from the crew that goes into every ocean movement, all the while previewing for us the kind of adversities that await them in the distance. It proves that at its heart, the Pirates movies are still one of the very best action/adventure franchises going today, and can instill the excitement behind something as dull as cannonball fighting to the next level.

The comedy itself does overtake the action in terms of tonal shifts for the movie, and the tired use of slapstick humor can only take the already wining interest of the audience only so far. So much of the humor in the film flops, and the stuff that does land speaks more to the adults in the audience, with material that I’m not sure children should be hearing. Just some of the material engages in jokes about sexually-transmitted diseases, infidelity, and a joke about prostitution that we’re fortunate enough to hear from every ten minutes during the entirety of the film. Because of this, I’m starting to find it difficult to immerse myself within the epic scope in landscapes that the films entail because of crude humor that constantly goes over the line of taste. I compare it to that of the Geico Insurance pirates commercial, in all of its cringe-worthy dialogue.

As far as performances and character work goes, there is one pleasant addition to the series, in terms of Scodelario as Smythe, an intelligent female presence that holds the key to the trident of the sea. What I love about Smythe as a character is that she feels like the lone voice of reason for her extensive knowledge of the sea, but it’s made even more apparent how important she is once her family lineage reveals itself to our eyes and ears. Keira Knightley evolved into something great for little girls in the audience, but that took three movies. Smythe is someone whose benefit is approached right away, and it’s clear that her character offers a refreshing blend of feminist approach for a change. Depp is still solid as Sparrow, but it’s evident just how little of material that he has in this phoned-in script. At this point, Sparrow lacks the kind of cunning bravado that he combined with his evident humor in the first two movies, instead becoming a Three Stooges kind of character that stumbles at every turn. From the antagonist side, Javier Bardem’s Salazar is menacing in C.G appearance, but lacking in importance from dwindling screen time, sound editing and mixing that does him no favors in fluent speaking. Bardem’s Spanish accent is already difficult enough, but the decision to fill his mouth with cups of blood at a time is like trying to speak with marbles in his mouth, and made his speaking parts tone-deaf on my sensitive ears. As a villain, Bardem has the right personality, but there are leaps in the script when he goes hidden, a definite mistake for someone who has crafted some of the best villains of the past twenty years.

THE VERDICT – This is one tale that deserves to never be told. The fifth installment in the Pirates franchise is the perfect campfire story in terms of putting us to sleep for the night, but lacks the kind of excitement or unpredictability to ever stand with its first two immortal efforts. The action is still there, lending itself to the kind of Disney immersing that peaks the imagination particularly in its younger viewers. But the holes amount aplenty in this ship, springing from a reliance upon previous film material, as well as mostly forgettable performances and poor pacing that sink our sails.

4/10

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

The dreaded road trip for the Heffley family turns into ‘The Long Haul’ for Greg and his newest disastrous plot. Based on the record-breaking book series, the Heffley family organize a long-distance road trip to attend Meemaw’s 90th birthday party. But everything goes hilariously off course thanks to Greg’s (Jason Drucker) newest scheme to get to a popular video gaming convention for all of the sweetest prizes. This twisted, off-the-rails family cross-country adventure turns into an experience the Heffleys will never forget, experiencing one wacky shenanigan after another to keep the spirit of the family together forever. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is directed by noteworthy child director David Bowers, and is rated PG for some rude humor.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is cinematic birth control. What I mean by that is this is the kind of movie that adults who are becoming parents dread when they think about the kind of modern day fecal matter that is slopped up upon our children’s plates. As time has progressed, companies like Pixar have continued to test the intelligence of their youthful audiences, with colorful characters, as well as plots that challenge the mind and the heart to offer something special in memorable movies. Then there’s movies like this one that consider your precious children to be mindless idiots that only react to loud, animated noises or a barrage of physical comedy whose only punchline is that of gross-out gags, with each one vying to out-do the previous. To say that I hated this movie is an understatement. I simply gave no emotional response to the 86 minutes of bits that barely passed for a big screen script. Being that this is the fourth film in the Diary franchise, and that everyone in the movie has been re-cast, this is the kind of film akin to that of Beethoven’s 4th or Home Alone 4 that belong strictly on a video store shelf, free from the wallet pressures of adults who work hard for their money.

I myself only saw the first Diary movie in this franchise, and while I only felt that it was OK, it was leaps-and-bounds above the material that passes for plot in this movie. The Heffley’s long distance trip to Indiana somehow clocks in at 47 hours on the van’s GPS, and right away my mind pondered as to where in America takes 47 hours to get to Indiana? Beyond this, the main goal is of course to celebrate the 90th birthday of the boys grandmother, but this ambition is cast aside so much in this movie that I constantly kept forgetting where this ending was taking us. Along the way, there are subplots that deal with Greg being the subject of a vicious viral video that has made him famous for all of the wrong reasons. Compelling huh? On top of that, the film feels like a series of skits instead of one cohesive script that beats to the same drum. For instance, each scene that feels like it was written by a second grader has a setup, a conflict, and the shenanigans that follow. Because this routine became so predictable by the end of the first act, I found myself being able to constantly sniff out what was coming with each (So-called) payoff. If there is a villain or adversary in the movie, it’s with this rival family that is on the exact same road and hotel path that the Heffley’s are on. This leads to a final showdown that (I’m not kidding you) spoofed Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, complete with slashing music and shot-for-shot re-creations. If this movie didn’t have enough guts from having the words LONG HAUL in their title, the bravery to mock one of the master filmmakers of all time certainly blows my mind.

Don’t worry though, I’m sure the laughs are aplenty from a movie with no shortage of urine, vomit, poop, and fart jokes. At this point in the game, these directions feel desperate, and even in a kids movie we should be reaching a lot further. On the scale of disgust, the film certainly makes a threat to 2015’s horrible Vacation remake, testing your stomach’s limits for what is tasteful. A pet pig is introduced midway through the film. Why? so he can fart and cause a big accident. The family stops at a country fair. Why? So one of the boys can vomit all over the people riding the ride. In case you’re wondering what the urine joke is, they borrow that too from another movie, this time from 1994’s Dumb and Dumber, in which Harry keeps filling up bottles. I’d elaborate a lot more, but frankly I just don’t want to. In a nutshell, I never laughed a single time in this movie, and the single greatest emotional response that I felt was that of two once prominent stars (I know I’m stretching that term) who now have to settle for this muck.

The two who I am referring to are of course Tom Everitt-Scott and Alicia Silverstone as the very parents of the Harelly clan. Silverstone is at least committing to this role, even if her character feels to cynical to ever be a progressive parent. Her character is wound slightly too tight, and it feels like she is trying to live up to an adjective like ‘Square’ that the director told her to aim for. Her singing of Wannabe by The Spice Girls that was seen in the trailer is so damaging to my ears that I began writing her a scathing e-mail to ease the pain. Scott feels asleep at the wheel for a lot of his performance, and often only pops up whenever it feels like he is required to earn a paycheck. For a man who stole many of movies like Dead Man on Campus and That Thing You Do, Tom feels like a shell of himself, going through the motions of workaholic Father who is forced to spend 47 unflattering hours with his family. We too suffer Tom. As for the lead role of Greg, Jason Drucker doesn’t have the personality or charisma to make this an appealing lead protagonist. For much of the movie, Drucker is relegated to complaining or reacting to the comic relief around him, and the lack of emphasis on the actual diary of the movie leaves him squandering for life support to live up to those who donned the role better. Greg embraces the embarrassment of being a child, but never the energy of what goes into being the pulse of this mind-numbingly bland family.

Perhaps the single worst aspect of The Long Haul is how its producers care so little about fluid continuity or the aspects that just don’t add up. Besides the 47 hour trip that I mentioned earlier, there’s also plenty of other mistakes or poorly efficient measures of filmmaking that shows the kind of care that went into this project. I’m certainly not asking the world out of a movie like this, but when I see two characters sitting in their respective seats in one shot, then immediately in the next one that shows them together they are in different seats, I wonder. This movie also re-uses actors and actresses like they think the audience is simply too stupid to piece this all together. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if a black man in the movie who carried a Southern accent during an earlier scene didn’t pop up as a completely different character during the final act. This is as sloppy as it gets with production decisions, but it pales in comparison to that of truly awful voice editing that adorned a particular character. The actor who plays the oldest brother in this film must’ve mis-read a lot of his lines because his lips rarely add up to what is being heard from his character. The volume levels are also slightly higher in his deliveries as opposed to his counterparts, pointing to post-production nightmares that aren’t tightly fixed enough for cinephiles like me to notice.

THE VERDICT – The Long Haul runs out of gas early and finds itself running on fumes for the entirety of this humorless, lifeless picture. If the film captures just one thing perfectly, it’s the torture that envelopes being stuck in a vehicle with people who annoy you to death, with you thinking about the better things that you could easily be doing at that particular moment. There isn’t a single moment original from its gross-out material to the way it savagely borrows from greatly more impactful films, and this is one diary entry that should be scratched-out, ripped-up, and left in the same trash confines where it found its humor.

2/10

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

The most unlikely of heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe return to save the galaxy again, in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. Written and directed by the original film’s James Gunn, the film is set to the backdrop of ‘Awesome Mixtape #2,’ Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the adventures of Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper), and the newly born Mini Groot (Vin Diesel) as they traverse the outer reaches of the cosmos to stop a new threat. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mysteries of Peter Quill’s true parentage involving a mysterious new acquaintance (Kurt Russell). Old foes become new allies and fan-favorite characters from the classic comics will come to our heroes’ aid as the Marvel cinematic universe continues to expand. The movie is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, adult language, and brief suggestive content.

After the surprising smash hit that was Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel Studios has decided to strike fast while the iron is hot, churning out an ambitious sequel three years after that original effort. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is very much that first film turned up to eleven, with an unabashedly driving force direction for the best aspects of that original effort, and pushing them into overdrive here. This was a movie that I found very entertaining, with some problems on the side that Marvel still has had trouble with adjusting to. Because of those hiccups, Volume 2 falls just short of the first effort for me, but there’s still more than enough in artistic overdrive to recommend this movie to the faithful fans of the first film. For story in concept, In the same manner that the first movie was about this rag-tag group of misfits becoming a family, Volume 2 focuses on them actually being one, a decision in directional force that caters more to the light-hearted atmosphere of these worlds and characters respectively, and focuses almost entirely on the bond by these protagonists. What follows is over two hours of the most colorfully explosive action that you will see this Summer on the big screen.

Striking a perfect stroke of artistic expression is the color scheme that radiates the contrasting blends of a vintage comic book. Gunn plays so distinctly to color in each and every planet that is depicted here, and it really casts such a gorgeous detail to a setting that is already polar opposite of the one that we live in. Some of my personal favorites were that of the army of gold soldiers that really pop in the dark blue backdrops that illuminate these ships. This use of gold signaled the royalty that was inhabited amongst these people, setting the stage mentally for the kind of character exposition that is to come from us just meeting them. I also enjoyed that very vibrantly breathtaking visuals in explosions and fireworks that is sure to cash in on the most bang for your buck with paying extra for a special screening. I saw this movie in XD, with the wall-to-wall big screen, and I feel like I underpaid for a spectacle that radiated color in comic book movies far greater than anything that I have seen to this point. With Thor: Ragnarok just around the corner, it’s clear that Marvel is moving into an artistic phase to match that of the colorful contrasts in characters that we have come to know and love.

Perhaps that mission in color might’ve cast a shadow slightly too thick however, because the story in Volume 2 pales greatly in comparison to that of the original movie, and that’s mostly because this film is overstuffed with subplots that doesn’t know where to trim. First of all, the positives. I did enjoy the introduction of Peter Quill’s father to the story, and felt that it added a satisfying layer of conflict to that of the family that Peter has come to know with his family in arms. With the introduction of Ego, Peter clings to that last bastion of his past life that still burns inside of him, and the temptation to get closer to a figure that he has only heard about proves to be too intriguing. Another satisfying plot was that of Gamora and her Sister Nebula (Played by Karen Gillian), and the peeling back of their pasts that comes to light. Volume 2 casts Nebula in a different light of sorts with these big reveals, and you tend to feel great empathy for her character and the deadly game of revenge that boils in her fragile state of mind. Unfortunately it’s all downhill from here, as I thought a lot of the film’s tone in scene-to-scene transition felt very jumbled and all over the place. This is a film that rarely ever slows down (Not a good thing) and allow itself time to build to the next big reveal, therefore hurling everything in our direction of narrative too quick to fully register the impact of its reveal. There is a big twist midway through the movie with our intended antagonist, and it just never felt earth-shattering to me or the characters that it impacts. This is mainly because Gunn lacks great restraint in orchestrating sequencing in transition, leaving many scenes of jarring correlation that doesn’t flow together smoothly.

This movie also continues the spell that Marvel has been under since using Loki as a central antagonist in two different films, and that is a great lack of compelling villain to match the protagonists that it so richly devotes time to. Many people will disagree with me here, but this movie uses three different antagonists to make up for its lack of vision with even a single one. When the answer and intended direction finally does appear, it not only feels far too late to make the impact that this character deserves, but this character’s brief appearances on-and-off never give us time to build their importance. This can also be said about the other two groups of antagonists that couldn’t have been more boring during the first two acts. What does work about the characters is that this film feels like an apology to some supporting characters in the first movie that were glanced over. Nebula is given appropriate time in character dissection to finally cast an element of humanity to her tortured soul, Drax the Destroyer carries the comedy with brutish strength and stability that serve as the most dependable aspect in personality that Gunn is trying to convey, and Yondu embraces a road to retribution that has him seeking his own identity. Each of these characters play pivotal roles in the movie’s pacing and entertainment factor, and Volume 2 levels the playing field for their lack of involvement in the first movie that proves it may have been a tragic misstep.

I mentioned earlier that some aspects of the movie are slightly overdone, and this distinctly speaks to that of the music and comedy that was depicted in the film. What I can say positively about the music is that very few films use it to the level of importance that Guardians of the Galaxy does, and this revival of 70’s and 80’s rock favorites kind of serves as the Glee of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for what it does in reverting interest back to these tracks. But here it is gone to the well a bit too much. At 135 minutes, a lot of the length can be attributed to these scenes that completely stop every story or subplot to show Peter or Rocket listening to their favorite track. It doesn’t feel as smoothly depicted as the first movie because it’s so practically delivered here, and it’s a shame because it really is a smashing collection of toe-tapping struts. The comedy level is also raised much higher here, catering more to the laughs instead of the character in the sake of our actual Guardians. You will definitely laugh more than a few times if your experience is anything like mine, but once again this humor slows the movie’s progression down to work in scenes of improv that feel irritating after the first few times. If it’s a one-off line, I’m all for it. Make them laugh and move on. But there are quite a few scenes in this sequel that overstay their welcome far too much and far too long, giving the audience ample time to use the restroom and not miss anything. I’m not naive to not think that this group doesn’t cater to the feel good mood, but much of these lasting setups should’ve been deleted scenes that pushed the sales of the DVD, instead of testing the patience of humorous flow that took a beating by the stretched third act.

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 lacks the patience or practicality to play its greatest go-to hits of the first film that made it such a breakout smash, but Gunn’s return to the scene of his delightful crime does possess enough infectious laughter and visual flair to make this enticing well into the second hour. James sequel is overstuffed, but it’s overstuffed with the kind of joyous, silly, and often heartfelt family elements that makes this latest return to the galaxy one of undeniable pleasure. Good not great.

7/10

3 Generations

Elle Fanning makes a life-altering decision that has her identifying as a male gender, in 3 Generations. A Family of four living under one roof in New York must deal with a life-changing transformation by one that ultimately affects them all. Ray (Fanning) is a teenager who has come to the realization that he isn’t meant to be a girl and has decided to transition from female to male. His single mother, Maggie (Naomi Watts), must track down Ray’s biological father to get his legal consent to allow Ray’s transition. Dolly (Susan Sarandon), Ray’s lesbian grandmother, accompanied by girlfriend Frances (Linda Emond), is having a hard time accepting that she now has a grandson. They must each confront their own identities and learn to embrace change and their strength as a family in order to ultimately find acceptance and understanding within the other’s tender capabilities. 3 Generations is written and directed by Gaby Dellal, and is rated R for adult language.

3 Generations is a film that has certainly had its fair share of problems with finally seeing the light of cinematic day. Set to release in Summer of 2015 under the original title of About Ray, this film sat on the shelf after receiving mostly negative reviews from the Cannes Film Festival of that year. Nearly two years later, I have finally sat down to watch it, and I must say that I agree with a lot of the criticism. For a movie that could easily be as compelling and insightful with engaging the audience into the world of transgender lifestyle, Dellal often times jumbles her movie with tonal shifts and script directions that frankly feel slightly offensive to that of someone going through the same problems and looking for understanding in their particular desire to become the person that they were born to be. With a bit more focus, there’s clearly the capability of being the forefront piece for transgender relations, but 3 Generations focuses too much on issues that have little to no relevance with the vital foreground plot to the movie, feeling often times like two different kinds of movies colliding on the same track, with a few tragic fatalities.

The first act of the movie lays the groundwork for a tortured soul like Ray to identify with who he really is, but it doesn’t show us the examples of how this hinders his life, minus a brief scene of being jumped and robbed by a street mugger. This is ultimately the pause button that the movie never presses play on; we’re never treated to what’s going on inside of Ray’s head, and this is HIS movie. With that lack of ability of making a film like this cerebral, the majority of whom see things in their lives as one-dimensional will lack the kind of understanding that comes with such a responsible film. There are a few moving scenes along the way, particularly in that of this feminist manifesto that at least conjures up the feel-good nature of seeing them presented in such respectable and groundbreaking lights, the same way that 20th Century Women did earlier this year. Unfortunately, the focus in comparison between those two films never feels close, even by the kindest of judgements.

As for the second film that feels more prominently displayed here, we are treated to a Neil Simon kind of clashing of personalities film from the 1960’s. There is some solid Mother/Daughter kind of humor to the movies that made me chuckle a couple of times, and should make it a worthy sit for the females in the family this Mother’s Day, but it rarely finds the capability in crossover appeal. What my biggest problem with this contradiction in direction is just how off-beat and unbalanced that the film’s direction takes us into a final act that doesn’t seem focused on the right character. This becomes a bit more of a dysfunctional family movie, instead of what we have been steered along to at this point, and Ray’s issues suddenly feel miniscule in a movie that hasn’t completely forgotten about her, but has made it clear that she is now a subplot. When you start taking into account some of the problems with the direction and clashing attitudes, there’s an understanding for why this film remained untouched for nearly two years. A lack of concern for that often silenced voice in cinema that we could certainly use more insight into in 2017.

At least the cinematography and overall shooting scheme for the movie is one that I can commend for its rich and elegant tastes. For color scheme, there’s often a white gloss that fills the screen from shot-to-shot, giving the movie that blend of independent movie visuals that the sets it apart in terms of familiarity. The editing is quite experimental, giving way to some inter-cutting shots of Ray’s reactions while listening to a documentary that he is filming about his experiences. There’s even a POV style scene in which we as the audience see things from Ray’s point of view, as he clashes with insensitive people that choose to poke fun at his situation. It is slightly obvious and a little ham-fisted at times with the necessity to include a scene of bullying to entice the audience into pity, but there is genius in forcing us the audience to understand things on a visual level when the story just isn’t working out for itself, putting us at the heart of the situation and asking the internal question of what would we do.

Most of the performances stay pretty grounded, but the lead protagonist is played with a fireball of emotional response from that of rising actress Elle Fanning. In what is definitely her most challenging role to date, Fanning commands Ray with the blending of teenage rebellion and closed-out personality that really omits a cloud of loneliness for his particular situation. Elle is someone who has stolen the screen in films like The Neon Demon and 20th Century Women, but here her theft feels more accustomed because it is after all her movie to steal. I just wish that her character resolution was given more time to grow, and that we as an audience got that scene to bask in her happiness. Sarandon and Watts are decent as a budding Mother and Daughter who have clearly spent far too much time together. Susan is practically playing the same character that she did in last year’s The Meddler, but that doesn’t make her any less enjoyable. She continues to be a familiar face that you can’t help but smile at, and her relationship with Watts in the movie really casts that shadow of doubt as to who really is the parental figure here.

3 Generations is a sign that we are headed in the right direction with showcasing movies that speak to the modern day growth that we as a society need. Unfortunately, this isn’t the film that we will look back on twenty years from now that signaled the change of understanding. With the exception of a strong performance by Fanning and the embracing of feminist-first material, Gaby Dellal’s 3 Generations has a lot to learn about focus and what her own audience deems as important within the central plot. Like its title character, this movie wants to be something completely else, but lacks to find its identity the same way that Ray does.

5/10