Aquaman

Directed By James Wan

Starring – Jason Mamoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe

The Plot – Arthur Curry (Mamoa) learns that he is the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, and must step forward to lead his people and be a hero to the world. Standing in his way is the leader of a dangerous army, led by Arthur’s brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson). Will the communicator of underwater life stake his claim, or will the wrath of the Seven Seas provide too much for him?

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

POSITIVES

– James Wan’s immense scope on this decades old property. After you see the film, you will have no doubts that this modern day maestro was the right man for the job, as the variety of geographical set pieces and enhanced world building gives new life to the property many deemed impossible to bring to the big screen. Wan spares zero expense when it comes to capturing the sheer magnitude of the world beneath our feet, bringing with him several rumbling action set pieces and believably textured C.G work as far as the eye can see, that is sure to silence even the loudest doubters.

– Consistency of tone is key. One thing that D.C has failed with at nearly every big screen release until now is the cohesive bond that appropriately measures humor and drama respectively. Thankfully, “Aquaman” feels like the blueprint for future successes here because it keeps each within their boundaries, so as to never encroach on the importance of the other. What’s most commendable is the humor doesn’t feel forced or immature to the kinds of personality that the characters maintain throughout the film. There’s this very accommodating sense within the material that doesn’t just cater to older audiences like in past movies, allowing kids the chance to enjoy the wonderment and light-hearted atmosphere that this company has been under-appreciating in its comic movies.

– Strong ensemble work all around from this talented cast. While this is certainly a breaking out vehicle for its main star, who exuberates enough brawn and bravado behind a crooked smile, I was surprised at the allowance given to the supporting cast as well. Heard possibly steals the movie in my opinion, carving out another female heroine for D.C in ways Marvel can only dream of. Likewise, Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, and Patrick Wilson each turn in impactful dramatic turns, giving the franchise name tremendous value because of the sum of its big name parts. It could be easy for any of them to get lost in the ridiculousness of wearing these costumes or donning these tridents, but each actor brings with them a level of professionalism that makes them believable in their respective roles, transcending the familiarity of their appearances into the characters they are portraying.

– The single most beautiful looking superhero film of all time. Yes, I just gave “Aquaman” the honors over films like “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Thor”, mainly because the difficulty in capturing the beauty of something as dark and mysterious as the sea is something film just hasn’t captured until now. Don Burgess’s turquoise filtering reaches an astonishing level of consistency throughout, but it’s his enveloping nature of the above water landscape shots that constantly captured my attention and stretched the boundaries of imagination, making these two worlds truly rub together synthetically. Whether you like or hate this movie, everyone will feel like they just came out of a film where the pages of a comic book came to life, and that above everything else is probably the most important aspect to any comic book adaptation.

– Learning from mistakes. Where “Aquaman” takes perhaps its biggest step forward is the decision not only to not make this an origin story, but also not to cater to a future installment before attaining greatness with this current film. Sure, there’s certainly flashbacks to Arthur’s training growing up, but they actually serve a purpose in echoing the timeline of current day, all the while leading to a big discovery that shakes both timelines immensely. If you’re watching this film for a link to other D.C movies, you will be very disappointed, but I think that’s the proper steps necessary for finally gaining some traction of momentum for this once storied company.

– Hits and misses with the music. While I despised the soundtrack for this movie (A Pitbull cover of Toto’s “Africa”? Seriously?), the compositions of Rupert Gregson Wagner more than carried the load in this particular area. Wagner’s entrancing and wonderous musical score instills enough fantasy to the outline of the picture that really makes those moments of triumph truly pop. In addition, the thunderous audible presentation of the war sequences bring with them a sense of rumbling urgency that frequently hold your attention, and echo that of war genre films like “The Thin Red Line” or “The Patriot” that juxtapose that level of uncertainty on the screen.

– Creative touches in serene camera work. Wan is the culprit here once again, as his revolving scope around these important scenes of dialogue experiment in a way that truly allows the audience to move and immerse themselves in the thick of the water itself. This one-of-a-kind experience gives us several takes of textbook pasting in editing that made even me question several times if what we are seeing was long take sequences of long-winded dialogue delivery. It’s great to see Wan has developed a level of personality behind the lens that constantly evolves with each project, and never distracts or takes away from the beauty within the fantasy of the setting.

– Despite the setting being this fantasy realm of caves and creatures, the material itself is instead grounded in this family hierarchy, debating the bond of blood relatives in a way that everyone watching can relate to. Think “Game of Thrones” set in a world of fantasy and you’re already halfway there. What I love about this dynamic is it takes something as unfamiliar to us as the deepest darkest blue and withdraws from it this level of family drama that everyone has dealt with at one time or another in their lives. More than anything, this makes “Aquaman” certainly the most relatable and accessible to audiences enjoying one of these movies for the first time ever, and highlights yet another layer of brotherly bond that we thought we’ve seen enough of.

NEGATIVES

– Manta, while looking menacingly awesome in a detailed body suit, never feels like an important or vital part of the film because of limitations of time given to his development. This is also the only light pacing issues I have with the film, as every time we cut to his subplot, it all just feels like filler to reach the 130 minute desired run time and breath for the more important war that Arthur is building towards. I would’ve preferred they saved this antagonist for an Aquaman sequel instead, allowing them not only to properly flesh out the revenge associated with the character, but also proper time for Yahya Abdul-Mateen to shine in the role.

– Clunky dialogue. There are still problems in the script with characters speaking these cringing lines with such a lack of conviction. That’s not to say that it’s the actors faults, just that far too often these lines don’t flow as natural conversation, instead catering to the superhero demographic that literally forces these people to say these same tired lines. A great example is “The Dark Knight”, where no one speaks like a superhero or villain, instead sounding like a conversation between HUMAN beings, that transcends its superhero label. “Aquaman” shakes itself of all of these familiar tropes except for this one, and it makes for instances of unintentional humor that were distracting.

My Grade: 8/10 or B+

Mortal Engines

Directed By Christian Rivers

Starring – Hera Hilmar, Hugo Weaving, Jihae

The Plot – A mysterious young woman, Hester Shaw (Hilmar), emerges as the only one who can stop a giant, predator city on wheels devouring everything in its path. Feral, and fiercely driven by the memory of her mother, Hester joins forces with Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), an outcast from London, along with Anna Fang, a dangerous outlaw with a bounty on her head.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of futuristic violence and action

POSITIVES

– Poignancy in politics. One thing that I wasn’t expecting in a movie that takes place decades ahead of our own, is the similarities in government that truly transcends the screen. Aside from Weaving’s power hungry antagonist being one who believes in a wall separating kind, the very ideal of this bigger, more advanced vehicle being a bully of sorts to its contemporaries is something that certainly doesn’t go unnoticed. There are these kind of a tiny sprinkles of thought throughout the film, and prove that “Mortal Engines” never settles for being another Young Adult conventional offering, instead going the route of thought-provoking social commentary that certainly gave me something to hand my interest on.

– A duo of delight. Weaving continues to demand bigger roles in movies, carving out an antagonist who is every bit deceitful as he is narcistic. When Weaving isn’t chewing up the scenery in every scene, his presence feels the most valuable, detaching us from this character who you hate to love and vice versa. The real surprise however, might come from Hilmar as the story’s lead. Like the fragile character she plays, the narrative takes its time in getting to know Hilmar, starting off as another dry female badass who takes a licking and keeps on ticking. But as the film progressed, I started to notice the layers and nuance that this young actress gave to her character, competently juggling enough tearful remorse and growth in reflection to make you buy into her investment into the character.

– Style eeks out substance. I mentioned earlier that there are some thinking points for the film, but for my money the allure of artistic integrity in the film is too valuable to be topped. During a season when films like “Venom” and “The Possession of Hannah Grace” make the nighttime look like a collection of colorless blobs, here comes a film that completely restores fate to what can be done in the shadows. The airtime battles are vibrant with moonlight ecstasy that radiates ever so smoothly against the fireworks of firepower that play in front of it, and the lighting scheme indoors takes on enough filters and dimensions to truly keep you guessing. If I recommend this film for anything, it’s the third act conflict that features a gala affair of everything I mentioned here.

– Effective camera work. I did have some problems with the concepts inside of the ships themselves, but Rivers as a first time filmmaker showed a lot of tinsel in movie magic in making me believe the immensity of its size. The revolving shots around this moving setting are luxurious and move at just the right speed to never slug down the movie and give the audience ample time to see what is transpiring behind every corner. Likewise, the action sequences are shot with enough urgency and articulate detection that you never struggle in hanging on to the many angles and characters inside.

– There’s certainly enough comparisons with popular films of the genre like “Star Wars” or “Mad Max” that the film evidently borrows from, but there’s also enough variation in the ideas to cement a name of its own. The concept of cities eating smaller towns (a process called Municipal Darwinism that provides an obvious metaphor for capitalism) is stunningly brought to life on screen, thanks to some truly extraordinary production design work never limited by its inflatable budget. The dynamic of land and air is also a unique take, allowing the film to press on through the ever-changing circumstances of the meaty two hour run time that would challenge the audience inside of a lesser quality science fiction film for all of the wrong reasons.

NEGATIVES

– Clumsy subplot juggling. This movie has no fewer than six on-going subplots from what I counted, and not only does this make for a challenging interpretation of who our intended protagonist is supposed to be during the first act, but it also limits certain narratives that easily could’ve used more time in development. My favorite subplot in the film deals with a male android and the relationship he has with Hester, and it just never felt fleshed out enough to warrant the sharp direction change that it takes midway through the film, and how it left this character feeling directionless. When you’re still introducing characters and subplots to the audience more than 80 minutes into the movie, you’ve certainly got problems, and I constantly felt suffocated by how bloated this screenplay truly is. Likewise to “Fantastic Beasts 2”, this film is overflowing with flashback exposition, giving way to many instances where this inevitable one-off film is compressing as much from the source material as humanly possible.

– A predictably convenient macguffin. Early in the film we learn about an object needed to suppress England’s power, and evening out the balance of the ensuing war, and to anyone paying even remote attention, the obviousness of the mystery that the film wanted so badly to present falls flat. It’s clear where this is going from the start, and it didn’t differ even remotely from where someone as inexperienced as I to these books predicted. I hate macguffins in movies enough, but when the movie tries to dumb down the material to cater to the audience, it shows its hand more often than not.

– Poorly rendered C.G effects work. There are instances in up tight camera angles where the computer generated effects feel passable enough, take for instance the visually descriptive depictions of England that I mentioned earlier, but as soon as they’re presented with a dominant live action opposition, you start to see the money was spent in less luxurious places. Take for instance the character of Shrike (live captured by the legendary Stephen Lang), who constantly looks phony with an illuminous green glow. I get that he’s an android character, but the design of his property is something out of an early 2000’s Tim Burton animation, and feels so out of place with everyone and everything he crosses paths with.

– Speaking of editing… It’s easy for Ray Charles to see what could’ve been left on the cutting room floor of this film. Often it’s the scenes and lines of dialogue that add nothing to the unfurling narrative, and stand out as an obvious cater to teenage audiences. One such instance involves our lead male protagonist, who has enough time in the face of life-threatening danger to stop and decide which jacket looks cool enough for him to sport. Keep in mind that this character isn’t self-serving or in love with himself by any stretch of the imagination. What makes it truly aggravating is that it’s instances like this one that makes it difficult to ever truly buy in to the supposedly overwhelming cost of what’s at stake, and twenty minutes less of these worst kind of Blu-Ray deleted scenes would serve the pacing of the movie well enough to not need the artistic merit to keep saving the day.

– Man did this movie want a shoe-horned love triangle like other Young Adult movies. There’s awfully sappy dialogue like “I will take away your pain”, a total lack of chemistry between Hilmar and Sheehan, and not a single scene between them that translates that growth in closeness that is present as the film persists. Maybe it’s the total lack of character build, or the one kissing scene between them feature an obvious stall by Hilmar, but I was never fully convinced, and the necessity to even include this sort of thing feels every bit as unnecessary to the film as it does diminishing to the strength of Hester as the female heroine that so many teenage girls need.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald

Directed By David Yates

Starring – Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler

The Plot – At the end of the first film, the powerful Dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) was captured by MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America), with the help of Newt Scamander (Redmayne). But, making good on his threat, Grindelwald escaped custody and has set about gathering followers, most unsuspecting of his true agenda: to raise pure-blood wizards up to rule over all non-magical beings. In an effort to thwart Grindelwald’s plans, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) enlists his former student Newt Scamander, who agrees to help, unaware of the dangers that lie ahead. Lines are drawn as love and loyalty are tested, even among the truest friends and family, in an increasingly divided wizarding world.

Rated PG-13 for some sequences of fantasy and action

POSITIVES

– From a fantasy perspective, this is still the measuring stick, bringing with it a barrage of richly textured computer generated effects and a fine assortment of fictional creatures that we’ve come to expect. Because of this, it is so easy to get lost in this world of pre-Potter hysteria, and the film’s biggest spell is the one that continues to open itself to new audiences, continuing the charms of this franchise feeling like a generation affair.

– Paris in 1927. This element of the film is often so subtle that you have to constantly remind yourself that the film takes place here. This isn’t to say that it’s a fault for the production, but rather the decision not to carve out the cliche elements of Paris that we’ve come to expect in Hollywood. For my money, the authentic vibe of street cafes and Baroque style buildings is simply too sophisticated not to indulge in, and if there was ever a place to properly channel the rebuilding nature of the world, post World War I, it’s the city of lights.

– New additions to the cast. Jude Law as Dumbeldore is without question my favorite, radiating the familiar character with a dual threat of heart and youthful exuberance to properly fill in the gaps of curiosity. Unfortunately, Law isn’t in the movie more than twenty combined minutes, but his sharing gives way to opportunity for others as well. For instance, Depp goes way above the compartmentalized material, making the most maniacal for the mantle for the film’s title character. Depp too suffers from script fatigue, but his big screen presence is something that can’t be ignored, and serves as yet another chance for the acting chameleon to get lost under a range of make-up and contact lenses. Depp’s Grindelwald is cool, cunning, and calculated, in the same manner a cult leader would feel, and his magnetic embrace of the dark side is something that we certainly need to see more of, especially after the magic that was “Black Mass”.

– James Newton Howard, one of the world’s most notorious musical composers, giving us his most entrancingly immersive tones in years. I realized many times that it’s James impeccable touch of his own wand, in the form of an orchestral baton, that gives the film noticeable emphasis, and overall this is a score that I felt equally captured the immensity of the unfolding drama, as well as audibly took us on a journey that couldn’t have been better articulated with words. You feel the intention in every scene with a composer this talented, and Howard’s grip on this series is equally as important as the events that play out in real time.

– As far as world expanding goes, this sequel has everything to up the stakes of the exceptional first film. Yates and Rowling continues to introduce us to creatures, cultures, and locations throughout the wizarding world that will please even the most passionate of fans of nerd euphoria. This element of the script lends more to the idea that the world of magic in the 20’s spans far outside of the school of Hogwarts, giving way to a wide range of possibility and relatability in these clashing characters that we haven’t even grazed the surface of, in two-two hour movies thus far.

NEGATIVES

– “Flash-Back: The Movie”. I say this because this film has no fewer than six flashback sequences to explain exposition, and none of them are the briefest of explanations in the way we would cut to the chase as storytellers. This element wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t frequented so often, and about halfway into the film, it relates this idea that the progression of the current day narrative isn’t as important or as compelling as those details of things that have already happened.

– Does that time honored pain of building the third movie more than making the second film a stand alone classic. If the friendship between Grindelwald and Dumbeldore isn’t enough, the direction of many characters, especially during the confrontational third act, more than cements an outline for where the next chapter may be heading, but it’s one that comes at a price for the weight of the conclusion of this film, that feels anything but heavy. Ultimately, the second movie feels like the first trailer for a much bigger third film, and because of such, this film will easily be the most forgettable of the Wizarding world franchise thus far.

– Newt is a bad protagonist. Bear with me here. This film exposed for me some pretty serious problems for the series central character, all of which are more prominent than ever in this installment. First, he’s selfish. He doesn’t listen to a friend when he’s confiding in him, and is only occupied with figuring out his own conflicts. Second, Redmayne’s performance and direction from Yates lacks the kind of charisma and focus that cement him as the pivotal character throughout. Watch this movie and tell me that Newt MUST be the main character, and I’ll tell you where millions of dollars are buried. There’s nothing to the film’s conclusion that makes us thankful that Scamander was there to save the day. Third and finally, there is no evolution with the character. This is very much the awkward, mumbling tick, who existed in the first film, and never during this movie does he feel any closer to solving the matters that bother him, nor does it ever feel like he truly will. At this point, it will take 27 films for Newt to even properly talk to the object of his affection, and everything I mentioned will still very much be an issue.

– At 124 minutes, it is far too long of a movie. Don’t get it wrong, it’s not the run time that bothers me, but rather how we got there. The first Fantastic Beasts film was 130 minutes long, but I never felt bored or suffocating from a convoluted script. The problem lies in the element of too many characters with too many perspectives. Far too often, this screenplay morphs from character to character, quite often leaving important ones on the waiting path, inevitably making them forgettable until they pop up violently again. This film should’ve taken a page from the first film and just combined some of these subplots, limiting the down time in pacing that does anything but hold your attention.

– Antagonist angles that go nowhere. Considering how vital the elements of magic are to this series, it’s surprising that there isn’t more of it in this film. Take for instance Grindelwald’s capability of body possession that is only used twice, during the first act, and never mentioned again. It’s easy to understand how this gift could’ve played out in allowing him to understand his enemies when they are hot on his trail, but that would expose the obvious problem of this film being over in an hour, and at the risk of this gift being believable in the first place. Believe me when I say this isn’t the only dropped gift throughout the film, and what’s worse is they only highlight why no one, at least in this universe, should be able to remotely compete with Grindelwald’s power.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

Directed By Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnston

Starring – Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley, Morgan Freeman

The Plot – All Clara (Foy) wants is a key; a one-of-a-kind key that will unlock a box that holds a priceless gift from her late mother. A golden thread, presented to her at godfather Drosselmeyer’s (Freeman) annual holiday party, leads her to the coveted key-which promptly disappears into a strange and mysterious parallel world. It’s there that Clara encounters a soldier named Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), a gang of mice and the regents who preside over three Realms: Land of Snowflakes, Land of Flowers, and Land of Sweets. Clara and Phillip must brave the ominous Fourth Realm, home to the tyrant Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), to retrieve Clara’s key and hopefully return harmony to the unstable world.

PG for some mild peril

POSITIVES

– Disney’s choice for a 65 mm Kodak format for the presentation. To anyone who has just seen the trailers, it should come as no surprise that this is a beautifully exceptional looking movie, filled with enchanted glimmer that radiates ever-so-gently off of the colorful wardrobes and dreamy landscapes. The team of Hallstrom and Johnston have moved mountains in bringing to life this ballet-turned-film to audiences, and the tinsel of magic that only Disney can emit, is a constant throughout Clara’s wonderous journey.

– Considering this is a ballet with very little exposition between characters and events, it’s a benefit for the film to keep things tight at 89 minutes, leaving the fluff of downtime on the cutting room floor. This is a film that constantly keeps moving, whether you’re into it or not, and I commend the production’s desire to not reach for the low hanging fruit of turning this into an epic, like other Disney live action properties. As far as the burning of an hour-and-a-half goes, it’s as smooth as silk, and keeps the attention of adult and child audiences alike, without a noticeable test of patience.

– Stylishly decadent wardrobes. In emulating the many differences in world, both fantasy and reality, the great Jenny Beavan has her work cut out for her. But with a faithful homage to the nutcracker and toy soldier tinker toy looks of the early 20th century, she wows us in ways that literally transform actors into the characters. For Clara, it’s a second act unveil that grooms her into becoming the woman she is destined to become, and for such an occasion it’s a transfixing gown that greatly compliments her skin, and lends itself to the finer side of class and sophistication.

– My favorite sequence of the film. It’s strange that possibly the only scene that I remember from this film an hour after is the ballet early on in the second act, that depicts Clara’s mother finding the Four Realms, because I myself am not even close to being a ballet fan. But it was in this exceptionally choreographed and wonderfully serenated play that not only built the most in backstory for the film and characters, but also fed into the concepts of majestic, an angle that much of this movie sadly under-developed. It’s a subtle reminder of why this story works on stage in ways that it can only dream of on film.

– No forced humor or cliche supporting cast. You can see it early on. Disney wants so badly to give Clara two dim-witted soldiers to chime in when the movie feels forced to cater to younger audiences. Thankfully, they hold off on this instinct, keeping the film’s tone grounded in expectation, keeping this from becoming a bumbling occasion that would do this story more harm than good. The lack of risk does catch up later on, as I will get to, but the best measures are always those that differ itself from what’s been proven ineffective, and this decision pays off immensely for me.

NEGATIVES

– Terribly miscast ensemble. It’s a disappointment to me, because I love Foy as an actress, and it’s not all on her. Everyone here is recruited for the wrong intentions, feeding into big budget films dreadful 90’s idea of bringing along the biggest name possible, regardless if it works for their personality or not. In this regard, Foy lacks energy as a protagonist we devote ourselves to, Freeman and Helen Mirren are in the film for a matter of minutes, and Knightley brings forth easily her most annoying portrayal to date. To piggyback off of what I said earlier, I enjoy all of these people individually as actors, but their casting here leaves much to be desired in the way they commit to their roles, and even expanding on their range as actors, making this feel like nothing more than a paycheck project.

– Same old same. You’ve seen it every year: a film will come along involving a child being shipped off to a wonderous land, and asked to save it. There’s nothing shocking about “The Nutcracker” taking this ages old troupe, but rather how little it truly does in adding layers of depth to such a tired plot. Because I’ve seen this concept played off in films like “The Wizard of Oz”, “Empire of the Sun”, and most recently “Ready Player One” to name a few, I can telegraph what will happen throughout, leaving little suspense or imagination to a decaying product.

– Considering this is a film with four different realms inside of this adventure, there’s an overall great lack of concern for the world building that goes unnoticed. Attribute this to the minimal runtime if you must, but in films that depict worlds far from our own, I prefer to be brought up to speed on what makes this place so special, and it just isn’t present here. If it’s in the title, you better do a great job of luring the audience inside, and there was never a moment over C.G backdrops where I felt amazed or riveted by what the film presents.

– This is again another example of a movie with so much computer influence that you wonder why it simply isn’t an animated movie. If you’re going to adapt a story into live action, do so in a way that justifies its existence. Instead, we are treated to hollow properties and poorly rendered rodents that make up the majority, and leave much to be desired in terms of reality. It’s no secret that this is the growing trend, especially with Disney remakes, and to me it’s the kind of creativity the production can muster up in bringing to life live action that impresses me. I’m not against C.G, but it should never make up the majority of any single shot in a movie.

– The dad in this film (Played by Matthew Macfadyen) is creepy to say the least. I get that this is a man who is grieving after the untimely death of his wife, and loneliness eventually sets in, but the way he looks at his oldest daughter in her Mother’s dress, as well as obsess over dancing with both of his daughters, made me slightly uncomfortable to say the least. This is the man’s entire story arc, and his intrusion upon these scenes make it stand out even more unnaturally, and if you think I am indeed bluffing on this, I challenge you to take in the movie and see the weirdness of this aspect, live and in living color.

My grade: 5/10 or C-

Assassination Nation

Directed by Sam Levinson

Starring – Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse

The Plot – High school senior Lily (Young) and her group of friends live in a haze of texts, posts, selfies and chats just like the rest of the world. So, when an anonymous hacker starts posting details from the private lives of everyone in their small town, the result is absolute madness leaving Lily and her friends questioning whether they’ll live through the night.

Rated R for disturbing bloody violence, strong sexual material including menace, pervasive language, and for drug and alcohol use, all involving teens

POSITIVES

– Stylish introduction sequence that sets the precedent. The film opens with this stylish sequence that reminded me of exploitation movies of the 70’s, complete with audible narration and visual likenesses to tell you what’s behind its creative content. In this regard, it pretty much runs through every reason why this film is rated R, giving you a taste of the material before the storytelling has truly begun. This not only showed me that this film had a sense of humor, ala Quentin Tarrantino vibes, but also that it values style every bit as much as substance, welcoming us into a world where law and order has been reduced to civilian measures.

– Authentic dialogue. As a screenwriter, Levinson channels rich honesty in the way he mimics the speech patterns and conversations of today’s youth, bringing forth a level of realism that proves that the man has done his homework. But it isn’t just in the way that this group of free-spirited women communicate personally with each other, it’s also in the articulation and abbreviation of texting that really hammers this positive home. The amount of times that these characters reach for their phones is a constant reminder of how attached at the hips they are to social media, luring them with the cheese that will eventually trap them whole.

– As for the film’s camera work, there’s a documentary vibe that elicits itself from the experimentation in angles and movements that sets itself apart from the rest of the pack. Levinson cashes in quick edits for manipulated long takes, and this decision pays off immensely with some of my favorite scenes that keeps the grip on tension firmly. One such scene involves a house break-in by a masked group of guys, and we the audience are taken through each room of the house from the outside, pasting together the stream of madness that is spreading like a cancer inside. It is definitely one of my favorite sequences of the year, and magnificent for how it’s cut together to feel like it’s playing out in real time.

– Fresh-faced cast. While the film does have some big name long-time actors like Jennifer Morrison, Joel McHale, and even Pennywise himself, Bill Skarsgard, the decision to hire actresses who are majorly inexperienced is one that pays off greatly for immersing yourself in them as characters. What’s equally more endearing is that each of them steal the show in their own ways, carving out four star-studded breakthrough performances that will undoubtedly bring them to the spectrum of bigger pictures. More than anyone, it’s Young’s nightmarish transformation of Lily that keeps your attention, experiencing a growing reaction to the town that puts her at the forefront of the growing panic.

– Going into this film, I felt that this was going to solely rest as a study of harrowing feminism across a post-Trump elected environment, and while it thrives as that, it doesn’t just rest on those laurels. This is also very much a warning to the kind of stock and security that we put into technology, opening our eyes to how truly vulnerable every one of us are when we think this four inch device shields what’s boiling underneath. We are treated to the fragility of hormone-drive males and how respond to female nudity, and how often women are condemned for doing what they want with their own bodies. All of this echoes these small seeds of truth that we can pull from our own society, allowing the fears that are homegrown within the film to grow with the light of audience eyes firmly focused upon them.

– Reflective storytelling. While I already mentioned the transformation of Lily and what it does to the significance of her character, it also shouldn’t be understated what this does to the movie itself that so faithfully follows her. About halfway through the film, this turns into the scariest Purge horror movie that you’ve ever seen, bringing with it more seeds of honesty than that series could ever attain with satire. The unnerving movements and actions of the townspeople are very effective, and the movie’s thirst for blood is fully realized in the way the angles play with your imagination.

– Without question, my single favorite aspect of the film was the mesmerizing lighting scheme that radiated throughout much of the first act. These unorthodox coloring measures are every bit euphoric as they are absorbing, often embracing the mood of the room and characters respectively with its neon tints. As the film progresses, we are given subtle reminders of this scheme, but never as obvious or as influential as it was during those pivotal first twenty minutes, and I believe this is because there’s something to be said about shaking this almost angelic and dreary perception that the townsfolk have on these girls, in seeing them how THEY want them to be.

NEGATIVES

– Not a major problem, but calling the town Salem was a bit over the top for me. If you know anything about the Salem Witch Trials, you know what I’m referring to, and this not only gives off an unsubtle hint at what’s to inevitably come within our story and main protagonists, but also takes away from the audience relating itself even further to the material. For my money, I wish they would’ve not even mentioned the town name. Mentally, this would be food-for-thought in that it could happen anywhere, and doesn’t limit its message of urgency to one specific place.

– Second act spills. Without a doubt, the second act is the weakness of the film for me, often feeling like its narration is trailing off on character shaping and residential panic to properly bring along its progression. Because of the latter, it greatly feels like the response from the town jumps two steps with little or no warning, exceeding believability a bit with such drastic jumps, and I would prefer Levinson focus slightly more on what’s going on outside of these temporarily protected walls that our group of ladies secure themselves in.

– Principal subplot? One such instance of the sloppy grip that Levinson occasionally stumbles at with his materialistic agenda, is the subplot involving a principal’s secret being revealed. This goes virtually nowhere after the news breaks, and what’s even worse is the lack of involvement from this actor/character as the film goes on, reminds us just how much fat the film could’ve trimmed for itself, in ridding itself of these distracting subplots that take us absolutely nowhere. Another such example is the FBI supposedly tracking Lily’s online movements, but then never actually appearing in the film. Surely something this big would have government workers all over the place, but all we ever get is a goofy sheriff twice removed from a Dukes of Hazzard movie.

7/10

The House With A Clock In Its Walls

Directed by Eli Roth

Starring – Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccard

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

6/10

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

Sorry To Bother You

Directed by Boots Riley

Starring – Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler

The Plot – In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, black telemarketer Cassius Green (Stanfield) discovers a magical key to professional success, which propels him into a macabre universe of “powercalling” that leads to material glory. But the upswing in Cassius’ career raises serious red flags with his girlfriend Detroit (Thompson), a performance artist and minimum-wage striver who’s secretly part of a Banksy-style activist collective. As his friends and co-workers organize in protest of corporate oppression, Cassius falls under the spell of his company’s cocaine-snorting CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), who offers him a salary beyond his wildest dreams.

Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use

POSITIVES

– Boots Riley is one of those film revolutionaries when it comes to the way he views the world. Considering this is the musical maestro’s first effort behind the director’s chair, it’s astonishing the way he blends colorful chaos and air-tight editing to feed into the absurdity of channeling a world so satirically unbalanced from our own, while leaving enough truth in the material to see the similarities. This is a music video director who transitions over to the big screen, and he does so without it ever feeling minimal like a music video, nor sacrificial for his volume of art that he unleashes.

– The material itself (Also written by Riley), ages like a fine wine, initially feeling like a full-on comedy that eventually morphs into horrific circumstance. While a film like ‘Get Out’ opened the perspective on interracial relationships, ‘Sorry To Bother You’ does so much more in exposing the delirium in the workforce that minorities wake up to every day. It’s every bit as smart as it is precise with its focus, feeling like the most elaborate episode of ‘Black Mirror’ that you will ever find.

– Beyond the confines of corporate consumerism, Riley also points a finger at slavery-like business models, corporate racism, dumbed down media programming, and even the blurring of lines between what really makes a celebrity. The thing is that the material is done in such an originally metaphorical sense that it will more than likely fly over the heads of a majority of its audience, but I found it to be very much intelligent and even brave for the way it takes the tense initiative and uses humor as its own kind of puppet to enhance the lunacy.

– As far as performances are concerned Stanfield might be my absolute favorite one so far this year. In emoting Cassius, Stanfield’s transformation and his vibe change so frequently throughout the film to mirror his corporate influence, and he never misses a single note. Everything is finely timed out and crisply directed for him, and Lakeith himself has plenty to add in animated facial reactions that tell the story of how the heart is feeling inside. This leaves you plenty of empathy to donate to the character, all the while he isn’t making some of the best decisions that we as an audience agree with.

– Not since ‘Requiem For a Dream’ has an environment surrounding our story felt so reactionary and ever-changing on the same path that our protagonist takes. As the film finishes up its pivotal second act, we barely start to recognize any of our characters, and it overall feels like the world could burn down around them at any time. The most impactful storytelling takes one person’s angle and enriches the volume to feel suffocating, and there were many times in Riley’s film where I felt like the progression of this future will do more harm than good to these people striving for the American dream.

– One interesting tidbit to the transition sequences involving Cassius talking on the phone to his customers, is that it is actually a practical effect. Boots hired many strong men to lift the desks at the beginning of every sequence, giving Lakeith that frazzled and shook feeling that could only reach for the kind of authenticity that comes with practicality.

– Never anywhere on this planet will you find someone who can even remotely label this film as predictable. The trailer itself is done in such a clever way that only showcases much of the first act shenanigans, leaving plenty along the way that transforms this story in the most weird and elegant of ways, creatively. This is a very quickly paced 100 minutes that look like two completely different films from start to finish.

– My favorite scene of the film is a transition montage sequence that I really don’t want to give too much about it away. What I will say is that it represents the rags-to-riches story that Cassius embarks on, duplicating the change in material things that spring up in his own life, done in the most elaborate and beautifully eye-hatching method of visual storytelling.

– My hat is off to any film that figures out yet another way for Danny Glover to utter the line “I’m too old for this shit”. Cliche? YES, Overdone? YES, Funny? Even still. It’s every bit as expected by now as Tom Hanks urinating in a movie, and it’s definitely my favorite of obvious Easter eggs in the movie.

NEGATIVES

– I hate even mentioning a negative in this film, because it’s so close to perfection for me, but the love triangle between three central characters was definitely the sloppy weakness of the film. Because of its lack of resolve and inconsequential weight within this story, it feels almost pointless to even introduce this subplot into the script. It is mentioned once during the third act, but then never elaborated on, leaving a noticeable flaw with some of the way these characters shake out in the end of the film.

9/10

Incredibles 2

Directed by Brad Bird

Starring – Craig T Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L Jackson

The Plot – Everyone’s favorite family of superheroes are back in Incredibles 2, but this time Helen (Hunter) is in the spotlight, leaving Bob (Nelson) at home with Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Huck Milner) to navigate the day-to-day heroics of “normal” life. It’s a tough transition for everyone, made tougher by the fact that the family is still unaware of baby Jack-Jack’s emerging superpowers. When a new villain hatches a brilliant and dangerous plot, the family and Frozone (Jackson) must find a way to work together again, which is easier said than done, even when they’re all Incredible.

Rated PG for action sequences and some brief mild adult language

POSITIVES

– As to where most superhero films will stretch and even force a family narrative amongst a supergroup, this comes natural to a film like Incredibles 2. Most of the film’s material in dynamic stems from the importance and value of those we should never take for granted, etching out a layer of heart in bloodline that we surprisingly rarely get from the superhero genre.

– Bird once again captures the imagination and heart-pumping sequencing when it comes to off-the-wall action that pushes the boundaries for animation. It’s clear that Brad is a fan of vintage superhero shows like the cult 60’s Batman saga, as he incorporates a multitude of sight and sound gags that feel artistically lifted from the pages of a graphic novel. These scenes serve as the strongest positive for the film, and give life to superpowers within a character that never lacks creativity in the way they are used.

– The animation has aged like a fine wine over fourteen years. While the illustrations remain faithful to the previous film, the layering, shading, and overall attention to detail allows technological advances of 2018 to finally catch up to this ahead-of-its-time animated feature. Some of the aspects that blew my mind involved the crinkling of bed sheets, Pixar’s continued excellence in bringing fluidity to water properties, and of course the city skyline backdrops that immerse us within the architectural beauty of a fictional place. While the setting of Incredibles 2 is timeless, there’s a sense of 60’s art deco shapes and sights to cleanse our palate, all the while saving room for the endless blue skies that breed opportunity.

– Poignancy amongst its material. As a screenwriter, Bird allows plenty of humorous but observant takes when it comes to the parallels of parenting, be it toddler, child, or adolescent. Some of my favorite scenes involved the clever visual metaphors that Bird takes in providing a wink-and-a-nod to parents in the audience who know what it’s like to see their own pink monster in their child, but with the nature and patience of a provider, it can all work to their benefit.

– As expected, the leading cast continues to be in-sync when it comes to their impeccable audible chemistry with one another. 14 years have passed, but Nelson, Hunter, Sarah Vowell, and Huck Milner all shine and narrate their respective roles to a tee. It’s clear that Hunter’s Elastigirl is certainly the centerpiece for the sequel, and deservingly so. Hunter’s southern drawl and raspy delivery bring to life an indulgence of excitement for her and women everywhere who break out of the confinements that society often puts them in, behind their male counterparts. As for new additions, the work of Catherine Keener as Evelyn Deavor certainly presented a stark contrast to the roles Keener has been saddled with as of late, and Sophia Bush’s Void was someone who I thought deserved a lot more screen time, if only for her energetic free-flowing delivery that bridges the gap of fan becoming superhero.

– Much of the comedy lands too, although nowhere near as accurate as the original classic chapter that at the time was arguably the greatest superhero film of all time. In fact, much of the film’s three act structure feels slightly more directed towards a dramatic narrative that twists and pulls the strings of family well-being to its breaking point. As for that humor though, the inclusion of this new baby character is one that reminds us of great innocence and humility for an experienced family that is, at the very least, still learning.

– Michael Giacchino’s immersive musical score that roars with passionate thunder through two chilling hours. Michael is certainly no stranger to scoring Pixar films, most recently with his versatile level of emotional response from 2015’s Inside Out, but for Incredibles 2 it’s certain that these boisterously epic horns and trumpets are there for one reason; to inspire. Likewise, the music provides the extra emphasis and impact of each crushing blow that our protagonists orchestrate, once again paying homage to those timeless television cereals that crafted a third-dimensional sense of their own, feeling like they allowed us to actually see the music.

– I mentioned earlier that the boundaries and limits of animation are pushed here, and a lot of that has to do with the invasive camera movements that faithfully follow our heroes throughout their winding trysts. These sharp twists and turns bend with such volume in angles that it really reminds you just how far animation as a whole has advanced over the years, reminding us that the sky just isn’t high enough of a limit for a film so full of heightened adrenaline and entertainment.

NEGATIVES

– Far too much predictability. Considering I mapped out who the reveal was going to be for the centerpiece antagonist Screen Slaver. This is the second film this month that I feel has shown too much of its cards, this time incorporating obvious character slights and overly-insightful clues that you would truly have to not be paying attention to get it. Disney or Pixar, however you want to slice it, is going through a major antagonist problem with their films, and Incredibles 2 unfortunately does nothing to silence it, treating the film’s major plot twist with not even enough air to fill a balloon.

– Second act sleep. It’s not that I hated the second act of the movie, it’s just compared to the excitement and action involved with the first and third act, it’s the obvious weakness for the movie, and it sticks out like a sore thumb. This is clearly the moment for character exposition, and I’m Ok with that, but it becomes a problem when you’re only getting one of the Incredibles in action for a majority of the film. If this is the direction we’re heading, and please consider the mostly child audience, then I would be happy with a 10-15 minute trim to keep their attention.

8/10

Ready Player One

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring – Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn

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

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

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE EXTRAS

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

9/10

A Wrinkle in Time

Directed by Ava Duvernay

Starring – Storm Reid, Chris Pine, Oprah Winfrey

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

Rated PG for thematic elements and some peril

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/10

Black Panther

Directed by Ryan Coogler

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

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

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

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

The Extra

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

8/10