The House With A Clock In Its Walls

Directed by Eli Roth

Starring – Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccard

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

6/10

Unbroken: Road To Redemption

Directed by Harold Cronk

Starring – Samuel Hunt, Marritt Patterson, Will Graham

The Plot – Based on Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling book, the film begins where the previous film concluded, sharing the next amazing chapter of the unbelievable true story of Olympian and World War II hero Louis Zamperini (Hunt). Haunted by nightmares of his torment, Louie sees himself as anything but a hero. Then, he meets Cynthia (Patterson), a young woman who captures his eye-and his heart. Louie’s wrathful quest for revenge drives him deeper into despair, putting the couple on the brink of divorce. Until Cynthia experiences Billy Graham’s 1949 Los Angeles Crusade where she finds faith in God and a renewed commitment to her marriage and her husband

Rated PG-13 for thematic content and related disturbing images

POSITIVES

– For a Pure Flix film, this one sure does have a lot of daring material. Usually with these kind of movies, I prepare myself for the kind of provocativeness that comes with singing ‘Old Mcdonald Had a Farm’ in a preschool class, but surprisingly the PG-13 label is tested repeatedly, with an array of spousal abuse and alcoholism that gives the movie actual personal demons that provide our protagonist with plenty of character flaws. I commend the movie for being amongst the most daring from the production company, and hopefully our first R-rated film isn’t far behind.

– Brandon Roberts nostalgic musical compositions. Even during a movie that my interest kept waning in, the musical score served as the shot of much-needed adrenaline to keep me into the grip of the story. What Roberts does is pay homage to the era of Jazz music in the 40’s that paints a vivid portrait of feel-good cinema. On my ears, it reminded me a lot of ‘The Sandlot’, in that it audibly enhances the beauty of the scenery that surrounds us, constantly reminding us of the light-hearted atmosphere that our characters partake in.

– I’m not of the camp who think this film was pointless, in fact I applaud it for telling the story AFTER the heroic event. Most films or franchises rarely ever tell the whole story, refusing to focus on the psychological toll that a haunting event from ones past has on the aftermath of their well-being, but Cronk takes that chance, and while the movie simply doesn’t work for its own reasons, you can’t hate against a director who is hungry to take chances.

NEGATIVES

– Feels like one long musical montage of Zamperini’s life. Perhaps the biggest offense that this film commits is that it’s trying to tell too much in such a short allowance of time (93 minutes). Particularly in that of the first act, Louie’s life flashes by with little ability to stop and soak in the very meaningful moments of his emotional homecoming, choosing instead to rush to a red light of entertainment that isn’t remotely as compelling. Because of this, this movie is a very difficult sit to get through because it’s all these remote tidbits that never add up to form the outline of this wounded man.

– Flawed production values. It isn’t enough that Zoran Popovic’s uninspiring cinematography hinders much of the style and vibe that the backdrops have going for it, but the camera quality and set designs mirror something of a low-budget dramatization show on television. Louie’s horrific flashback sequences are done in the lightning fast depictions because much of the effect work stumbles from low grade green-screen quality and obvious studio room limitations that remind you that these scenes are taking place anywhere but the actual ocean. This aspect alone constantly reminded me of watching a straight-to-DVD sequel, and it’s in Angelina Jolie’s once lucidly imaginative style that forces us through the biggest of all drop-offs.

– While I have no problems with the performances in this movie, other than the romantic leads having zero chemistry with one another, it’s more so in their demeanor and how they’re directed for why I felt they were both terribly miscast. As Louie, Hunt channels a vibe of arrogance on top of smug facial reactions that make him anything but relatable. Patterson is decent when she’s left to deal with being the eyes and ears of the household, but physically there’s nothing about her appearance that tells me she was the right woman for the job. If my words aren’t enough, wait for the film’s credit sequence, which does Patterson zero favors in the authenticity department.

– Constantly reminds you of the better film you should be watching. I get that this is a movie that takes place as a result of something tragically horrific for the protagonist, but this movie went to the well far too many times with this angle, saving its lone intriguing moments for the reminders of what we as an audience have already been through with a far superior film. Take this out of the film, and you start to find out not only how little this film established in terms of originality, but also how truly boring the diminishing laws of return are when the story’s meat has been removed.

– Forgotten subplots. I’m finding this kind of sloppiness a lot in religious films anymore. A series of storylines will be introduced to the unfolding scenario, usually in the second act, and we never hear anything of their conclusions. For ‘Unbroken’, it’s Louie’s emerging career as a possible professional boxer, or a broken ankle that is never mentioned again. Both of these subplots are given valuable attention and screen time during the film, but are abandoned faster than Louie’s atheist ideals, which I’ll get to in a second.

– For a while, I was convinced that the religious propaganda wasn’t going to pop up in this film. It goes roughly an hour with very minimal mention of anything holy. But the final half hour shoe-horns this angle in so forcefully that it transforms this into an entirely different film all together. Reverend Billy Graham is played in this movie by his real life son, and the last ten minutes are this obviously desperate ploy to speak to us the audience, in place of Louie whom he’s actually speaking to. The camera angles during these scenes are creepy to say the least, positioning Graham front-and-center looking at us to manipulate us into believing that matters of alcoholism and psychological duress will disappear if you believe in Christ. It’s all such an A-to-Z direction in terms of where this movie started, and touched on the very same notes that other Pure Flix films do that make all of their films so predictable.

– Clumsily rendered flashback sequences. The fantasy sequences in question lack even the smallest ounce of nuance and subtlety, reaching for shock factor that simply can’t hold a candle to the more horrific points of Jolie’s original film, that did more in a camp than this film could muster with imagination. Nothing ever feels effective to us the audience, and if we can’t feel Louie’s pain during his most trying moments, then it’s a constant reminder of how tragically flawed a story this easily engaging can’t manage to ever peak our interest.

3/10

Kin

Directed by Jonathan and Josh Baker

Starring – Myles Truitt, Dennis Quaid, James Franco

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

A.X.L

Directed by Oliver Daly

Starring – Alex Neustaedter, Thomas Jane, Becky G

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2/10

Alpha

Directed by Albert Hughes

Starring – Kodi Smit-McPhee, Natassia Malthe, Leonor, Varela

The Plot – An epic adventure set in the last Ice Age, the film tells a fascinating, visually stunning story that shines a light on the origins of man’s best friend. While on his first hunt with his tribe’s most elite group, a young man is injured and must learn to survive alone in the wilderness. Reluctantly taming a lone wolf abandoned by its pack, the pair learn to rely on each other and become unlikely allies, enduring countless dangers and overwhelming odds in order to find their way home before winter arrives.

Rated PG-13 for some intense peril

POSITIVES

– Exceptional cinematography continuously on display by Martin Gschlacht. While known mostly to foreign audiences, Martin’s paintbrush-like canvas here is gorgeous in immensity, and beautiful in his rubbing of colors in the sky that illuminate around the colorless drab of character wardrobes. This is a film that was made for the big screen, as much of the framing work takes advantage of the wide angle lens that articulately illustrates the immensity of a land to be alone in.

– Much of the material focuses on the comparison between man and animal, and does so without ever feeling corny or forceful. Instead, Hughes allows the audience to pick up on matters of family, growth, and survival that highlight the similarities in the next evolutional shift. These two grow together because they embrace the same challenges in their respective journey’s, and that chemistry and bond between them grows into an almost telepathic link that unites them.

– Considering he is front-and-center for 90% of this movie, Smit-Mcphee transformation is well balanced and patient with the many adversities that he faces along the way. In the beginning, his movements are very timid, causing great difficulty in his tactics to survive, but as the film goes on, you start to see his character’s intestinal hunger to survive reach limits that can only be tested under the guidance of isolation. This etches out a coming-of-age story unlike those that we’re used to, in that Keda only has his own instinct to survive.

– Hughes greatest measure as a director here is definitely the established environments that constantly shift with the seasons, while filming on location in East Coulee, Alberta. The animals, while plenty in numbers, feel very scattered out and meticulous, making the hunt for food feel very urgent. Without question though, it’s the winter scenes that really stuck out to me, channeling the worst in cold and snow that one can imagine, and immersing us with snow-cluttered camera angles that feel like we can almost reach out and touch it.

– Educational AND entertaining. This definitely felt like a throwback to the days of being in school and watching a history film about tribes and their strategy for survival, but what’s more accredited is that despite its knowledgeable depictions, it never loses focus in its appeal to capture the intrigue of the audience. The film juggles a balance of intensity and tension during scenes of peril that make for some serious moments of uncertainty for the well-being of our protagonist, testing him in ways that break everything except the human spirit.

– Thunderous musical score. What composers Joseph DeBeasi and Michael Stearns do for this film shouldn’t be understated. Through a use of 808 drums that repeat with increasing intensity, the musical score is anything but the Imagine Dragons putrid that we were promised in one of the most eye-rolling trailers of the season, giving us echoing vibes of isolation that haunt Keda throughout, and add life to scenes that would otherwise depreciate without energetic emphasis of the danger that is impending.

– Stays committed to its gimmick. A lesser production would have these human characters speaking in perfect English, but thankfully ‘Alpha’ keeps its characters mostly muted, occasionally reaching for the tribal language that we read in translation for one hundred percent of the movie. This element kept me firmly in the grasp of this A.D setting, and instead relied on body language to progress the relationship between human and dog. Beyond this, four bison were slaughtered for use on a skinning/hide-removal scene, and while I don’t overly support the slaughter of animals, bison are in fact overpopulated in the Alberta territory.

NEGATIVES

– Redundant to a fault. The hardest sell to audiences will definitely be the element of one man and his dog for most of 93 minutes, mainly because there’s only so much variety you can instill on routines that feel this repetitive. In my opinion, the biggest mistake is to get rid of Keda’s father and tribe subplot for easily an hour during the film, relying too much on Keda’s journey without capturing the vulnerability for the tribal leader and the kind of impact this has on his now decaying life. If you include the other side of the story, the former won’t feel as repetitive as it inevitably does.

– Again, we have another movie that doesn’t know when to end on its most impactful visual. This film has three different ending scenes when it fades to black, and each time chooses to prolong the lasting impression, which ultimately forces it to lose a noticeable amount of steam before the credits finally hit. This is becoming a growing trend in Hollywood, and makes me wish they would combine everything they want out of three scenes into one, so as to not feel as tacked-on as this cliche makes good movies feel.

– Teeth for show? The film fails to capture the sheer difficulties and spontaneity of dangerous wild animals thanks to its domestication of wolves that feels slightly laughable even by movie standards. I get that this is the first story of ‘Man’s best friend’, but there is such little struggle in the film with earning the trust of the wolf, that it might as well be a snorting pug with their lovable cross-eyes.

Bonus Points

Props to Sony for not figuring out a way to market their products in a movie that takes place in the Ice Age. I half expected a big SONY to be carved out in the ice, but I commend them for showing great restraint. We might be able to take you seriously sure enough, Sony.

7/10

Dog Days

Directed by Ken Marino

Starring – Nina Dobrev, Vanessa Hudgens, Finn Wolfhard

The Plot – Follows a group of interconnected people in Los Angeles who are brought together by their lovable canine counterparts.

Rated PG for rude and suggestive content, and for times of adult language

POSITIVES

– Knows its audience very well. This movie is what I like to call “Aww-proof”, in that it has plenty of cute visuals where the dogs are doing humorous things, to make viewers shriek in delight. Manipulative? Absolutely, but ‘Dog Days’ is a love letter to the Youtube generation, who take big chunks out of their day to watch dog and cat videos as an escape from the real world.

– Personably grounded ensemble cast. While Marino doesn’t do a strong enough job in establishing some of the finer points in personality, most noticeably in a doctor character who changes at the drop of a hat, this crew of energetic B-listers bring radiance to their portrayals. Hudgens charms with that classic Hollywood smile, Wolfhard has charisma well beyond his years, and Ron Cephas Jones was single-handedly my favorite part of the movie, for his chances in dramatic pulse that the film fought so hard to constantly diminish.

– Breezy pacing. For the most part, the film sails by in the winds of progression that never stumble nor stilt with the many on-going subplots. Despite a third act that I’ll get to later on, the movie’s first half flourishes by building the many different relationships that these characters have with their furry counterparts, and does so in a way that honors importance in animals without dumbing the movie down with unlikely stunts or situations that dog movie writers love to include.

– Raises awareness on its own terms. Never does the film feel meandering in the slightest with this aspect, instead bringing light subtly to the over-crowding of dog shelters by valueing their importance. What’s even more appreciative in this aspect, is that there’s no over-the-top antagonist landlord character to bring down the mood of the picture once it is revealed that the shelter is closing. That alone is something I greatly commend the movie for, as the spanning of a lot of characters already casts a great divide in the fight for screen time.

– Much of the interactions scattered throughout the film are rooted in realism that many dog owners can relate to. Examples range in the form of rude wake-up calls, to the barking reactions of loud noises around them, to an overall lack of eating etiquette that proves no food is safe. ‘Dog Days’ is very grounded in this respect, allowing the humans to narrate us through, while letting the dogs be the comic relief that the film depends on so persistently.

NEGATIVES

– Mind-bashing music. I can’t believe that in a movie about dogs that I have to bring up music, but it’s a painful headache constantly throughout. There’s a band named Fronk in the film, led by Adam Pally’s character, and they somehow take these AWFUL one hit wonder jams like ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ and ‘I’m Too Sexy’ and make them even worse with their funk renditions. I’ve heard less agonizing listens during a Kidz Bop CD, and what’s even more unfortunate is the film goes back to them no fewer than four times.

– Generic production qualities. Besides the fact that the film casts this imitation lighting that many films today like to use to throw off the authenticity of natural lighting, the movie also slices scenes prematurely with terrible edits, and brings back what I thought was a forgotten relic of Hollywood Cliches. In that regard, the final setting of the movie takes place on a painted backdrop that doubles as downtown Los Angeles, and it couldn’t be any more obvious if the wind in the studio shook its images to the point that they flowed like a flag.

– Constant predictability. When I say that there was nothing original or remotely surprising about this movie, I really underplay it. Once you’re introduced to each character and their respective dispositions, you begin to comprehend where they will be once the film ends. Because of this, I constantly felt like I was ten minutes ahead in the film, and was continuously waiting for them to catch up.

– Third act problems. This is where the film really starts to overstay its near two hour run time. Because of the structure in having so many leads splitting time, each of them is treated to a set-up, conflict, and resolution that rides the waves of redundancy. Once everything has been put away neatly, the film loses a lot of its momentum by not understanding where to end the film. There are no fewer than three different endings in the film. All of which would’ve been fine enough to roll the credits, but none of which actually do, and needless to say I didn’t stay for the credit blooper reel that only further prolonged the dragging.

– The only times I laughed in this film were with the reaction shots of the dogs, because the human material had me questioning what age group this movie is marketed towards. The adult directions used for some of the set-up, including themes of cheating significant others, as well as a barrage of sex jokes, combined with these very animated deliveries, made for an uneven strategy that very seldom paid off. The imagery of the four legged friends was very beneficial, but I never have a reason to watch ‘Dog Days’ again, because it does nothing to stand out from the rest of the pack.

5/10

Christopher Robin

Directed by Marc Forster

Starring – Ewan Mcgregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael

The Plot – An adult Christopher Robin (Mcgregor), who is now focused on his new life, work, and family, suddenly meets his old friend Winnie the Pooh, who returns to his unforgotten childhood past to help him return to the Hundred Acre Wood and help find Pooh’s lost friends.

Rated PG for some live action

POSITIVES

– Considering the immense shoes that ‘Christopher Robin’ has to fill, the movie’s overall imagination and innocence come through in the clutch. This inescapable range of heart that tries to bridge the gap between the inevitability of adulthood surrounds this film, leading to many moments where Christopher’s past and present collide in a fight for clarity. In this regard, we too as an audience can lose ourselves in 97 minutes of light-hearted material, with the very same furry characters who were such a big part of our childhoods as well.

– The visual effects are charming in their subtlety. Much of the movements of the animals feel authentic without sticking out like a glaring attention-grabber, and the attention to detail with their shaggy designs grants a stuffed animal concept that really grounds the illustrations in realism. Likewise, the gloomy and often times dimmed lighting filters of the film also does wonders for the graphs in effects work that more times than not can relay feelings of counterfeit reflection, in how it bounces off of the live action setting around it.

– While the live action performances are just alright, it’s the voice acting of some of our favorite animated characters that truly steals the show. Jim Cummings is one of the most infamous voice actors in the world today, and his double duty as Pooh and Tigger radiates with personality when the film so desperately needed it most. As Pooh, you notice the vocal transformation over time, that begins as a somber whimper but eventually leads to thriving adventurer, and we start to feel meaning in his life once again, now that Christopher Robin has popped back up. Brad Garrett as Eeyore is also a dry delight. Garrett was born for this kind of delivery, channeling an unlikely humorous side of depression that the film relies on him for each time they need a sarcastic reaction.

– Much of the introduction in storyboards are done with a storybook animation that pays homage faithfully to these character’s origins. Each meaningful moment of Christopher’s life is given a page-by-page visual enhancement to introduce the moment that is about to play out, and with it comes dream-like animation on the pages being lifted, in the form of the books we used to read growing up. My only complaint is that the movie never does this again after the first few minutes. I really think it could’ve added to the presentational aspects of the film.

– Proper location majority. Because we’ve already seen the Hundred Acre forest in the original Pooh offerings, it’s nice to see this film wasn’t afraid in setting most of the film in the real world. What this does is allow us to not only examine and solidify if these animals talking are just a figment of Christopher’s imagination, but also how they interact with other grown-ups around them. It bridges the film on so much more than a metaphorical level, forcing the characters of this man’s youth to collide with the responsibilities that he harbors as an adult.

– The musical aspect of the film is hit AND miss for me, but not giving respect to Jon Brion and Geoff Zanelli’s glimmering tones would be a crime. So much of the numbers are filled with such wonder and soft encroaching among the story, solidifying that sometimes the most effective musical pieces are those that are patient and never overbearing. These two each have more than twenty years of scoring between them, and that wisdom of experience is on display repeatedly for a film that never settles for just one consistent tone.

NEGATIVES

– Lack of chances or originality. ‘Christopher Robin’ certainly isn’t breaking any new ground. Every single trace that the script takes us through feels like it was derived between ‘Return To Oz’ and especially ‘Hook’. But I can get over similarities in story. What I can’t get over is how safe Disney continues to be with the sequel/remake formula that is all the rage over the last five years. If you’re going to bring a respected property back to life, add something memorable to this new chapter. Otherwise, the lack of creativity becomes evident, and it loses the chance to rid itself of the immense shadow before it has even started. A fine example is last year’s ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’, an unaffiliated-with-Disney film that explored the psychological effects of Robin’s time in the war, and why he lacked the connection with his adopted daughter.

– I mentioned earlier that I have my likes and dislikes for the music department in this film, and my problems rely with the lack of musical numbers that we get. With the exception of a line of ‘Wonderful Thing About Tiggers’, there isn’t a single familiar track in the film, leaving much of the whimsical side of the Pooh environment stuffed in a box, like the very memories that Christopher goes through with such forgetfulness.

– Songs aren’t the only thing ‘Christopher Robin’ lacks, as an overall lack of humor adds only further weight to the second act pacing that occasionally stands still. ‘Paddington’ is a great example of a movie that balanced heart and humor alike, without ever feeling confrontational of one another, but ‘Christopher Robin’ greatly lacks the confidence in its delivery, instead settling for cramped slapstick humor during the closing moments that highlighted its desperation. I laughed once during the movie, and that’s saying nothing. The real problem is with the children in the audience who grew restless with material that looks beyond them instead of right in the eyes.

– This film lacks such conflict in plot that it must create its own, with about twenty minutes left in the movie. The emerging subplot with Robin’s work comes out of nowhere, and only points out the silliness when kids movies try to depict big-wig corporations. I’m supposed to believe that this company will go under if they don’t find a way to sell more luggage? I’m also supposed to believe that they’ve never thought about selling to lower class incomes, and THAT is the big break needed to turn it all around? Do poor people not have luggage when they go on vacation? Who cares, because they’re kids, and kids are stupid.

6/10

Teen Titans GO!!! To the Movies

Directed by Aaron Horvath and Peter Rida Michail

Starring – Scott Menville, Khary Payton, Tara Strong

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

Rated PG for action and rude humor

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

7/10

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

Directed by Ol Parker

Starring – Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Meryl Streep

The Plot – Discover Donna’s (Streep, James) young life, experiencing the fun she had with the three possible dads of Sophie (Seyfriend). Sophie is now pregnant. Like Donna, she’ll be a young mother, and she realizes that she’ll need to take risks like her mother did.

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material

POSITIVES

– The infectious atmosphere is as present as ever, without settling for some of the hokiness of musical acting that plagued the first movie. It’s rare to feel entirely different about two films as identically structured as the two in this series, but ‘Here We Go Again’ manages this feat, combining whimsical song and dance choreography, while playing each individual number to expositional context. Very little feels phony about the way it is delivered, and I appreciate that when immersing myself in the musical genre. It’s high energy without feeling hyperactive, conjuring up an air of musty charm that even males can partake in.

– Fans of the original cast will take great praise in knowing that all of them return here, although some with more screen time than others. The chemistry between Firth, Brosnan, and Skarsgaard is still the sweetest treat within the film, but the on-time comedic delivery of Baranski is as polished as ever. Beyond this, the new additions who represent younger versions of the characters are completely spot-on in appearance and demeanor, to make the transition as seamless as possible. I was convinced that Baranski’s younger self was a real life sibling who was separated from her at birth.

– As for musical selections, there are a few tracks that are derived from the original film, but repackaged in a way that breathes new life into their familiar chords. ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Mamma Mia’ are obviously the familiar ones, but here they are performed by someone entirely different, and cater more towards the inspirational peaks of the subplots they enhance. With performances, thankfully nothing is as dreadful as the off-chord work of Streep and Brosnan in the original, instead opting for versatile actors like James and Seyrfied, who remarkably do all of their own singing.

– Richly vibrant costume and set pieces. Familiar pieces of time and place are carefully inserted into the backdrops of each room that the dual stories take place in, hinting with the air of subtlety as to what track might be coming. ‘Waterloo’ for instance, breathes French renaissance in costume design and restaurant decor, transporting us back to the 19th century battle that the Abba song describes. Beyond this, the flashback narrative fashions reflect that of 70’s Swedish tastes, combing through a colorful blend of button-ups and chalets that give way to the relaxed paradise that is captured in location.

– In my opinion, this film has much more reach for the dramatic pull than the original movie did, comparing the lives of Mother and Daughter so fluently with similar movements in time. Despite the delightful atmosphere that nearly fills the entirety of the film, there is a strong sense of longing with the noticed absence of one important character, who most of the film revolves around. This makes ‘Here We Go Again’ more of a generational affair than anything, and the tasteful, feel-good PG-13 escapism makes this angle reach well beyond the screen, for Mothers and Daughters to enjoy alike.

– This film does do a solid job of tying up some loose ends from the first movie that left audiences hanging, regardless of how you felt about it. The delve into Donna’s past paints the vivid picture in details that the first film only spoke about, allowing itself to experience the careless, free-spirited adventure of the main character and her diversity of interaction between each of the three men who eventually played pivotal roles in her future (No jokes here). This gives the original film the kind of replay value that it would never have over the previous decade, and forces you to approach Donna’s character in a much different way than you would’ve originally.

NEGATIVES

– This film grinds to a screeching halt somewhere in the middle of the second act, and I believe I have figured out the reasons. The overall minimalist approach of developing plot between an overabundance (17) of songs, as well as the meandering material with an overall lack of conflict, leaves the material being approached at a topical level, instead of an immersive one that can properly develop with time being devoted to it. For my money, I would trim this down to 12 songs, and not transition between old and current story as much, because the 70-30 favoritism for the past makes the present feel not as valued. If you wanted a prequel film, just make this a prequel film for 109 minutes.

– Terrible green-screen effects work. For every scene that takes place outside by the water, I couldn’t stop staring at this glaring red flag that made itself present in the cheapest of renderings. If the outline around the character’s bodies doesn’t feel extremely evident, the off-coloring darkness of the sky when a storm is approaching will. We see dark clouds in the distance, but lots of sunshine when it reflects off of a character’s face, and it made for plenty of unintentional laughs when the narrative so badly required focus.

– There is a HUGE deception in the marketing of this film, particularly with that of one vital character who is only in the movie for two scenes. I say deception because the film’s trailers play it off like this character never missed a beat in this second installment, and the posters have this person amongst the top bill, when they should clearly be reduced to the ‘AND’ role that ends every cast text introduction. If you’re seeing this film for this character, the opening five minutes should make you as angry as finding out your favorite relative passed away and no one cared to tell you.

– It’s great to see Cher, but between my disdain for her character’s personality, as well as how late in the film she comes into it, her role feels like the very definition of tacked-on, and frankly I don’t think she was needed. There are certainly enough characters to keep the interest in the material, but for some reason Cher (Who basically plays Cher) is called upon to add something more to this film. Considering Streep as the daughter looks to be somewhere between 55-60 in the movie, how old would that make Cher when she had her?

6/10

Leave No Trace

Directed by Debra Granik

Starring – Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie, Jeffrey Rifflard

The Plot – Will (Foster) and his teenage daughter, Tom (McKenzie), have lived off the grid for years in the forests of Portland, Oregon. When their idyllic life is shattered, both are put into social services. After clashing with their new surroundings, Will and Tom set off on a harrowing journey back to their wild homeland.

Rated PG for thematic material throughout

POSITIVES

– This is a beautifully shot film, documenting the Oregon countryside with such an evocative colorful palate of vivacious strokes. The natural lighting is a meaningful choice for authenticity, but it’s in the yellow sunlight bleeding through the green of the trees that gives the backgrounds that stained glass effect that only comes naturally when you’re shooting a majority of your film outside.

– As for the work of Foster and McKenzie, they are asked to be in 100% of the scenes, and that dependency really drives home the work of these two polished actors carrying the movie. These performances never include those long-winded diatribes that feed into Academy recognition, but rather they are praised for feel synthetic to the human approach. Most of their charm is that they don’t ever feel like characters, but rather real people, and both respective actors bounce off of each other with the father/daughter honesty that radiates the chemistry between them.

– What I love about the exposition is that it never feels forced or convenient to the unfolding knowledge that we are learning about Will, in particular. This requires audiences to hang on to literally every single conversation between the two characters, if they wish to learn more about them. Even then, the film leaves plenty to abstraction, choosing not to follow these bombshell droppings within the three act structure like we’re used to. Granik is wise enough to not have to force-feed the audience these vivid details, instead spreading out these details of truth that speak volumes to her trust in us to adapt.

– Poignancy in parenting. One great debate frequently revolved around in this film is the spotty definition of the terms “Provider” and “Providing”. Through the ventures that feature many ups and downs between these two characters, we as audience are left with plenty of instances for an enlightening conversation, with no side ever being clearly defined for being wrong. Will believes he is right because it’s worked this way for so long between them, and the Children’s Services believe they are right because they act within the best interests of the child. The best part is that no matter where your allegiance lies on this issue, Granik as a screenwriter throws many wrenches along the way that are sure to keep you updating your stance from one side to the next.

– Deep beneath this family drama that engulfs the entirety of this film, is a maturing coming-of-age narrative that develops terrifically during the third act. These developments certainly speak wonders to the fragility of adolescence, and just how tragically some kids are forced to grow up far too quickly. I took great empathy towards this aspect, because it is in those aspects that we can’t control that feel the most damning to those they sneak up on, and it all leads to a bittersweet finale that reflects the miles that these two have traveled.

– Like Granik’s earlier work in ‘Winter’s Bone’, I find it quite indulging how the environments in her films present themselves as an integral member of the cast, allowing her to play with volumes for such an immersive experience. What this does is allow us to soak up the atmospheres whole not only in sight, but in sound. There’s excellent capturing of forest sounds like birds and branches rubbing up against one another that you could almost close your eyes and imagine yourself right there with the protagonists.

– The comparisons with 2016’s ‘Captain Fantastic’ are inevitable, and while I think this is the weaker of the two films by comparison, ‘Leave No Trace’ is more appealing on a personal measurement of character study that the former just can’t get close enough to. Because this movie only has two central characters, we are able to focus more prominently on the dynamic that eventually shapes the emotions that each are feeling. This kind of story I feel works better with less characters for the danger and isolation that we feel for them, making their situation feel more bleak upon dissection.

– Likewise to Granik’s admirable patience within her current masterpiece, the musical score from Dickon Hinchliffe also has great restrain in its presence throughout. The musical inclusion is certainly there, most notably when a scene requires self-reflection, but it does so in a way that never intrudes or soils the somber deliveries or required focus that remains faithful to your investment in the characters. Hinchliffe instead serves as more of an underlying current of steady keys that never needs to push the volume to eleven to maximize a scene.

NEGATIVES

– It pains me to say that even though this film succeeds on its own merits, it’s a difficult recommendation because of plodding pacing that eventually catches up. Much of this fault is due to redundancy in the material that shortcuts any kind of tension that this film so desperately requires, but the overall lack of a central antagonist certainly shouldn’t be understated. Without that continuous presence hot on the heels of this duo, the film gives up on an early included subplot that just kind of dissolves without resolve.

– While I mentioned earlier that this film can contribute more of its time to two characters, as opposed to a big cast, the film kind of squanders the psychological presence of the movie by never delving into Will’s head in the way we need for context. I was never lost or confused by the brief details delivered in the film, but I wouldn’t have been opposed to some flashback sequences involving the Mother in this family, no matter how forced or cliche that may sound. To me, I couldn’t escape this feeling of a bombshell delivery coming throughout the movie, but it never comes, and we are left to put together Will’s pieces without ever having a look at the box for the bigger picture.

8/10

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

Directed by Genndy Tatakovsky

Starring – Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Mel Brooks

The Plot – Mavis (Gomez) surprises Dracula (Sandler) with a family voyage on a luxury Monster Cruise Ship so he can take a vacation from providing everyone else’s vacation at the hotel. The rest of Drac’s Pack cannot resist going along. But once they leave port, romance arises when Dracula meets the mysterious ship Captain, Ericka (Kathryn Hahn). Now it’s Mavis’ turn to play the overprotective parent, keeping her dad and Ericka apart. Little do they know that his “too good to be true” love interest is actually a descendant of Abraham Van Helsing, ancient nemesis to Dracula and all other monsters.

Rated PG for some action and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Sandler’s career has found a bit of a resurgence in vocalizing animated characters. After three straight films that have made me laugh more than the last ten of Sandler’s live action movies combined, I think Adam should stick with voicing Drac and other animated properties for the foreseeable future. Sandler works in this environment because his vocalizing has always catered to adolescent material, bringing with it a tone in reactionary humor that was made for animated film. On top of it, he gets to stick to formula and bring with him his growing number of friends, to make sure each of them always has a paying gig. Quite the samaritan.

– Tatakovsky’s style of animation that is unlike anything by comparison in the animated world of cinema. The eye-popping colorful stroke, combined with facial defining traits are something that clearly makes this franchise standout, and pushes the boundaries of its comedy even further by some effective sight gags that consistently keeps the humor in check.

– Speaking of sight gags, they easily carried the humor over the dialogue that rarely ever hit for me. For my money, I would’ve been fine with ‘Hotel Transylvania 3’ being a silent animated film that captured all of the cause and effects of monsters being aboard a cruise ship, and how their dispositions fed into that setting’s entertainment traditions. Particularly, my favorite scene of the entire film is an airline run by some familiar 80’s cinema monsters, that adopt their own brand of customer hospitality that will have you shrieking with laughter.

– Being a fan myself of the world’s biggest mysteries, I love that the setting of this film takes place in the Bermuda Triangle, on Friday the 13th. The date in particular is interesting, because that is of course the release date for this film, and kudos to the studio for breaking the fourth wall in those regards. The setting perhaps does or does not elaborate on the urban myth to why so many have disappeared in its clutches…..or should I say tentacles (Wink Wink)

– On the front of messages for the film, at least there are two out of three that youths can take away from positively. These are the importance of family, as well as never judging those who are different on just appearances alone. I think if these messages stick, those younger audience members will be alright. If the third and more consequential message sticks, in which we should pursue endlessly the objects of our affections, then I have great terror for the world in the coming decades.

NEGATIVES

– As par for the course of Sandler films, this one has no shortage of classic rock favorites, or even the best of modern day top 40 to accommodate its repetitive dance sequences. My problem with this is the music included feels so commercialized, adding very little value or importance to the scene based on creativity. It feels like a lazy excuse to sell downloads, and never really fits in this particular world, no matter how goofy Drac and friends are portrayed.

– It’s interesting to me that this film takes place over the course of a few days, and yet we never see any daytime scenes. One could say that’s obviously because Drac sleeps during the day, but there are also no scenes involving Drac going to sleep or resting of any kind. Because of how the film is edited and paced together, it feels like one continuous trip into a world where the sun never rises, and the characters, both monster and human, never sleep.

– By the third installment of this franchise, there are simply far too many characters at this point with nothing to do. It’s certainly an easy paycheck for those talented voice actors, but their inclusion adds so little to the film in a creative sense, and I would’ve liked to have seen some of them stay behind at the hotel to run things while a few go on-board. Wait a minute, who the hell is running the hotel while everyone is gone???

– The biggest negative to the story comes in the lack of attention donated to the unfolding narrative to the Drac and Ericka, before the pivotal third act. Considering this is a light, breezy 87 minute sit, there is no shortage to throwaway one-off gags that add nothing of weight or growth to what should be front-and-center in our focus. This film has A.D.D of the worst kind, leaving about fifteen minutes of actual development for the film’s central plot to feast on. Perhaps that’s why I’m left with this overwhelming sense of carelessness for where the film ends up.

– As for that finale, what develops between protagonist and antagonist is ridiculous even for a children’s cartoon. Not since the movie ‘Couples Retreat’ has a conflict been resolved in such juvenile and far-fetched way that has more holes in its plan than a piece of swiss cheese. What’s even worse is that even after sitting through ten minutes of ridiculousness that I couldn’t script if I was high on LSD, we come to discover that it all really doesn’t matter in the bigger picture. We end up some place where consequence and resolve doesn’t exist, instead opting to set up for a fourth movie that I hope returns this franchise to prominence.

5/10

Ant Man and The Wasp

Directed by Peyton Reed

Starring – Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

7/10