The Greatest Showman

‘The Greatest Showman’ looks to hammer home the idea that there’s no business like show-business. After being laid off from his longtime job and feeling a regret for the life he once promised those he loves, the charismatic P.T Barnum (Hugh Jackman) does some endless soul-searching, finding an inspiration from those who are labeled as freaks by the society that shuns their talents. Together, with the help of his wife Charity (Michelle Williams) and business partner Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) in tow, Barnum organizes the world’s first ever circus, a barrage of death-defying stunts and gravity-defying thrills that has never before been matched. But after suffering the backlash from the townspeople, Barnum will find himself and his show hanging by a bar of survival, trying to prove those wrong who have never seen the spectacle. ‘The Greatest Showman’ is directed by Michael Gracey, and is rated PG for thematic elements that include a fighting brawl.

‘The Greatest Showman’ succeeds with enough flair and untamed energy as a reputable musical, but doesn’t have enough psychology or honesty in its title character to achieve the greatness needed for a revealing biopic. For those who don’t know, P.T Barnum led a double life of sorts. For every great thing that is depicted in Wikipedia summaries, as well as in this picture, there is a steep list full of negatives that took away a bit of the glitz and glamour from a man who supposedly did so much for the silent minorities of the world. This raises a bit of a problem for Gracey as a commander behind the scenes, because in making this film a whimsical musical of sorts, it almost immediately takes away from the honesty of the biography, casting a shadow of betrayal as a storyteller that only feeds us the most noble of character instances. Even in finishing the film, I felt like I found out more about the circus that Barnum himself brought together, and less about the man behind the scenes who was pulling the heavy strings of doubt from a community that shun him and his cast completely. If you’re looking for credibility, this certainly isn’t the film for you, but if you’re looking for a fantasy daydream that fills your heart with magic like only the silver screen can do, ‘The Greatest Showman’ will point you the way.

There are certainly no shortages of negatives from this uneven script, and while speedy pacing might seem like the way to go in keeping the audience’s attention, it ultimately dooms the progression of character arcs and conflicts that go practically unnoticed. For the entire first act of the film, we are sped through Barnum’s childhood, meeting and courting of his future wife, and the loss of his dead end job. The screenplay takes very little time in getting to understand and shape the adult Jackman who we see before us for a majority of the film. Because of this, the script feels so hollow when compared to the song count that overwhelmingly outnumber and take such a huge piece of the pie, that the characters have very little time to win us over and make us feel invested in their temporary adversities. Barnum isn’t alone in this handicap however, as the romance of Efron and Zendaya’s characters, as well as the entire supporting cast of characters are rarely mentioned or presented from in terms of an angle that can appropriately represent their disposition. The only time that progression occurs is during a song, and it’s strange because unless you are paying your most dedicated attention, you might miss how some of these flimsy subplots seek resolving. The third act is a much noticeable improvement, especially in the rare occasion that this reputable cast actually get to stretch some dramatic muscle, but by then the familiar notes of modern musicals closing moments seems limited in offering very little in terms of variety.

As for that cast, it’s no surprise that this is a mostly one man show in Jackman’s ambitious turn as Barnum, but the silenced ensemble does give way to one glittered performance of youth along the way. I am talking of course about Zendaya as one of two trapeze artists that work in Barnum’s circus. ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ might’ve introduced us to Zendaya, but ‘The Greatest Showman’ provides the emphasis necessary in highlighting this girl as a true tear-jerker for decades to come. As I mentioned before, we don’t get a lot of time to get to know her character, so it’s in Zendaya’s emotional register where so much of her emphasis and carefree demeanor carve her out as a one of a kind in this sea of familiar faces. Sadly, Michelle Williams and Zac Efron are completely wasted here, being reduced to baggage handlers of Jackman’s character whenever his act grows stale. This disappoints me extremely for Williams in particular because she has the dramatic pull to move a house on-set, yet the film constantly keeps her grounded from ever opening Barnum’s eyes to the world that he already has. Jackman himself is every bit the charming leading man we’ve come to know, but it’s his singing that is much improved from his days on ‘Les Miserables’. It has been reported that this was Hugh’s passion project, and that all seems evident from the way he captures the screen and holds it in his hand to harvest the energy of the audience watching from beyond.

Benji Pasek and Justin Paul, fresh off of the Oscar winning soundtrack of 2016’s ‘La La Land’, again strike gold with a collective group of songs that definitely put the cart before the horse, in terms of story versus song. To say that this is my favorite soundtrack of 2017 would be a disservice. The songs in ‘The Greatest Showman’ are full of inspirational essence and big stage presence that constantly breathe reaction with anyone they come into contact with. My personal favorite is ‘This Is Me’, a three minute unapologetic stand against any adversity that constricts you because of your appearance. Meandering yes, but there wasn’t a single song inside that didn’t move me to the point of toe-tapping glee. I’m even listening to it right now as I type this, it has that kind of infectious effect. Complimenting the music is also some vibrantly colorful set pieces and faithful wardrobe that capitalized on its fantasy aspect. The circus has rarely looked this vivacious, and if Gracey is restricted to a single compliment, it’s that he knows how to play to being under the lights. My only critique with the presentation is the limited sound editing and mixing that definitely take away the immerse effect needed in making the performances feel believable. ‘La La Land’ was a master at this, but this film definitely feels studio influenced because of the situations that constantly raise doubt. An example of this is when Zendaya and Efron’s duet as they jump around high-and-low across the stage. There’s no shortage of breath or distort in their vocals that puts us front-and-center in the moment with these lovebirds. This kind of thing always takes me out, and with the exception of a few acapella sequences that are in the moment, I kept finding myself having difficulty in crediting the syncing nature from scene to song.

THE VERDICT – ‘The Greatest Showman’ as a story feels like the most conniving piece of 19th century propaganda, in that it ignores much of the complexity behind Barnum’s dark past that beg to be told. Through a very shaky first act, the consequences of a rushed plot and underdeveloped characters boils to the top, leaving very little room to be inspired by Barnum’s life of chances taken. Beyond this crucial mistake, this ‘Showman’ swings because of its endless spectacle of song and dance, as well as a magical stage that thrives under the lights of showcase for us to soak in. Middle of the road muster for the musical genre.

6/10

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The galaxy far away returns for a ninth silver screen installment, this time promoting the end of the Jedi tradition for the greater good. In ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’, Rey (Daisy Ridley) develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of the longtime missing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who himself is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Rey seeks to find her place in the bigger galaxy where she lacks a clear and defined fate due to her family’s anonymity. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order after Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) escapes death, and plans a journey en route to crushing the union that is currently being led by his own Mother (Carrie Fischer). ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ is written and directed by Rian Johnson, and is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, including peril.

In its ninth and most explosive chapter, Star Wars continues to re-define itself in ways that George Lucas could’ve only dreamed when he penned the 1975 original. This time, it’s Rian Johnson’s turn, and while Johnson sometimes over-indulges on fan service, there’s plenty here to love for fans young and old that have handed these series of films down as a generational affair. For his capabilities to dabble in twice the involvement with this picture, Johnson constructs a series of different train tracks in plot that each add a rumble of momentum to the continuous pulse that the film continues through an ambitious runtime of nearly two-and-a-half hours, the single longest film of the series to date. Each of these tracks twist and turn with enough surprises and jaw-dropping moments to give each of them their own turn at controlling the pacing, but it’s in their crash collision that stacks the suspense accordingly and really drives the endless fun and worthy payoff for the twelve months between that we have to wait for the next one. This isn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but the positives of Johnson’s artistic scope and widening of character depth, reminds us that this series is only getting started, and the force is strong with the future.

For how ‘The Force Awakens’ introduced us to these new complex characters in a kind of interviewing for the job type of atmosphere, ‘The Last Jedi’ feels like the hiring process, in that we are seeing what each of them has to offer for the spectrum. The story is divided into three different angles with each of them playing a pivotal role to where the film ends up at the heart of this terrifying and brutally violent war being played out. Rey’s story with Luke is continued from the final scene of ‘The Force Awakens’, and it becomes clear that while Rey seeks Luke’s guidance in maintaining the force, it is the teacher who requires the youthful exubberance of his student in inspiring him to live again. The second tier involves Kylo Ren at a crossroads with his inevitable destiny. It was in this subplot where I felt the film had the most to offer in terms of depth, and it’s refreshing to see that good and evil in this universe can’t always be defined by a color, let alone a single action. The final involves Finn (Played by John Boyega) and his newly formed sidekick Rose (Played by Kelly Marie Tran). There’s been much negativity surrounding this subplot, mainly because of how it fits with the other two, but I found it to be much needed for the impact that it placed in fighting the dark side. Is it convoluted at some points? Absolutely, but the endless energy and distinct adult tone of some adult-like fight scenes complete with consequences, constantly kept the bar of expectations elevated throughout some occasional dragging.

My biggest problem with the film isn’t just in the excess runtime, because I feel like the film’s pacing stays firmly tight until the final forty minutes, it’s in where the film finishes that left me kind of with a sour taste. For every riveting blow of battle that is felt throughout, the third act ends on what feels like a stalemate, taking the easy way out in the name of fan service to con the audience into thinking a lot was answered. Besides this, there’s much about the second act, particularly that with Finn and Rose’s adventure on her former planet that definitely could’ve used an edit button. It’s weird because the film feels like this dog with an endless appetite who doesn’t know when to stop eating, then feels bloated when time and reaction starts to set in. There was never a point in the film where I was truly bored, but so much of what transpires feels repetitious to the smooth pacing that Johnson overall masters soundly considering it is 147 minutes, and I feel nothing would be sacrificed with an even two hour film that would definitely keep the audience on their toes.

Not all is a loss however, as the involvement of composer John Williams, as well as cinematographer Steve Yedlin combine in establishing the single most beautifully decadent Star Wars film to date. Williams is always someone who feels more in tune (pardon the pun) than anyone else with this universe, and his score here rumbles through our endless enthusiasm with a versatile score that beats to the drum of several diverse and varied atmospheric landscapes faithfully. It’s gotten to the point that I couldn’t imagine this series without the melodic tones by John that cements that big screen feel. As for Yedlin, I was blown away by the breathtaking scope that he and Johnson team up for in articulating the wide range of color and construction of many establishing shots. The wide angles in space deserve a pause button so you can embrace them in all of their immense details. But not to be outdone are the adrenaline-fueled war sequences in all of their fast-paced glory. There’s a sense in the air that if you blink you might miss something vital, but the strategy involved with gaining on your opposition becomes prevalent the more we see force meet object. But even despite the wide range of color and structure involved with the space scenes, it was the interior shots involving Snoke’s layer that perplexed me with their personal touches of color coordination that beautifully decorated each chance to soak it all in.

I mentioned earlier that this feels like an adult oriented chapter in the Star Wars legacy, and nothing could be more evident than some of the eye-catching visuals that will surprise even the most dedicated of fans. I’ll be blunt here without spoiling anything, there are some very graphic death scenes that I can imagine pushed the boundaries of the PG-13 rating that adorns the film. If I have a say, I think the series needs more of this, as the one problem that I’ve constantly had with these films are the lack of consequences involved in some pretty high stakes gambling of lives for all considered. Johnson does enough to place the urgency firmly where it is needed, and I commend Disney for sitting back and letting a master work his magic in feeling confident that he knows his vision better than anyone.

Finally, the performances brought the thunder for the mostly returning cast, but also opened our eyes to some new favorites who are no stranger to the Hollywood A-list. Laura Dern, Benecio Del Toro, and Lupita Nyongo are just a few to be introduced to the Star Wars legacy, and each of them thrive under the pressures of the spotlight of being cast in a series that they grew up with. One cool thing that hit me over and over again was the casting of Carrie Fisher’s real life daughter Billie Lourd as Lieutenant Connix, one of Leia’s coveted right hands on board. It’s very sureal to see the two sharing screens together, and it offers a heartfelt sentiment knowing that in Carrie’s final film she got to share the screen with her own flesh and blood. Daisy Ridley still kicks total ass as Rey, feeling like the female heroine that so many little girls need in embracing their own inspiration. The scenes between her and Hamill are my absolute favorite of the movie, but there was also no denying the magnetic chemistry that she shared with Adam Driver (As Kylo Ren), even if some scenes had a sexual awkwardness to them in the funniest of depictions. Driver is much better here than his dive in ‘The Force Awakens’, and it’s nice when the film lets him toe that line psychologically in a game of head versus heart.

THE VERDICT – Disney’s third take on its legendary property yields energetic force and stylistic ecstacy for fans of any age group who seek the best in visual spectrum to add to its lifetime of personalities. The film sometimes stretches character arc’s for a bit too long, and the ending itself is one of the least satisfying for me in terms of emphasis in conclusion, but there’s no denying the growth in characters as a result of some sharp twists that shape this as the enthralling thrill-ride of the holiday season. It’s a reminder that each chapter (or episode) peels back another layer in the discovery for who we really are.

8/10

Coco

The striking chords of music separate a boy and his deceased family to The Land of the Dead, in Pixar Animation’s newest ‘Coco’. Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel (voice of Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (voice of Benjamin Bratt). Through daily viewings of video tapes and a shrine dedicated to Cruz, Miguel puts in the hours to becoming a signature guitar player with very little luck along the way. Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events. Along the way, he meets charming trickster Hector (voice of Gael García Bernal), and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history. ‘Coco’ is written and directed by Adrian Molina, and is rated PG for thematic elements.

Music can serve and narrate the link between the past and present in ways that can tenderly preserve our memories. This was my biggest takeaway from ‘Coco’, the newest grand slam strike from a company that continues to amaze and raise the bar with each passing year; Disney Pixar. Once again, this company strikes gold in emulating the very traditions and lifestyles of a foreign land in a way that is not only educational for youths with a thirst for exploration, but also intelligent for the way that it carefully juggles the tone of every scene. Like only a couple of films before it, ‘Coco’ took me on a high speed rush of emotional versatility that made me feel bi-polar because of how much can resonate from within in a single 100 minute sitting. Besides the moral of the story that I took away, there’s so much more to this film that provides the perfect family gathering this Thanksgiving weekend, harvesting an urgency for life, as well as a celebration for the deceased that vibrantly decodes the link between these two entirely vast worlds. This is very much a movie that makes you feel enlightened when you leave the theater, and that’s a feat that I feel a lot of films (especially kids movies) are missing from this current day and age. This proves that Pixar isn’t just crafting kids films, but films that cater to every age spectrum that never limits their profound voice.

This is very much a script that takes its time in getting to know our characters pasts respectively, but it moves along so sharp that I never felt bored or dragged down by the endless exposition. The first half Molina’s script follows near the casual setups of a protagonist who is searching to find his voice in more ways than one, but what evolved proves that the information in the trailers is only table dressing to the much tastier main course. The film is a mystery at times, and crosses into the theme of needing to invest in our pasts if we are to continue forth with our futures. This provides plenty of surprises along the way, including a plot twist midway through that takes its cues from the ‘Blade Runner 2049’ school of storytelling that this film even did slightly better. There’s also great thought and imagination invested into the very world building that Molina confidently casts upon his shoulders. The kinds of themes and rules are a throwback to the very legends of Mexican tradition that are past down from one generation to the next, feeding into the finely tuned engine of intelligence that ‘Coco’ carves out for itself. Believe me when I say that this is a screenplay that will at the very least touch your heart, but for the select few, it will resonate in a way that transfixes you with the music that serenades your soul.

On that topic, we have a spirited contender for best musical soundtrack of 2017. At this point, Disney is turning out earworms that live and breed inside of our heads, and the best decision is not to fight it, but go with irresistible melodies that get your toes tapping. Michael Giacchnino’s collection of songs moves at many tempos fast and slow, highlighting the many moments that require an essence of song in the air, but what impressed me most was the insertion of these inevitable hits that built their deliveries. As to where most musicals insert songs every five minutes of the movie, often creating scenes of song that don’t feel authentic in their dissertation, ‘Coco’ carefully reserves the proper moment in time to deliver these numbers. The most important thing here is that the music is working hand-in-hand with the story, firing on double cylinders that brings out the most in terms of confidence for both aspects. Songs have been important in films, but in this movie it feels like breathing for this family of personalities that have either thrived or been left to rot because of it. Either way, I see a lot of Itunes purchases being made for Giacchino’s stirring audible revelation that struck more than just a chord with my heart and ensuing tears that followed.

The performances were all around incredible by this big name group of actors young and old that carve out something far beyond the one-dimensional protagonists that we’ve come to sadly expect. My favorite is definitely Bernal as Hector, the antsy wild card of the film that steers a bit to close to ever be forgotten. What makes Bernal’s voicing so memorable here is that he allows himself to get lost in the character, channeling a sadness and longing because of being forgotten that has paralyzed his time in the afterlife. The chemistry between the tag team of he and Gonzalez leaves nothing to be desired in the very way that it establishes two characters who we yearn to spend more time with, and soon it becomes evident how desperately they need each other. Speaking of which, the little boy himself commands the film with such innocence and wonder that make him feel years ahead of his young age in real life. Anthony himself is certainly no rookie when it comes to acting or singing, but his grasp of both firmly exceeded my wildest expectations for how a child can command a crowd both on and off of screen. Benjamin Bratt also leaves a lasting impression as charmingly arrogant De La Cruz. Behind every immense pop star, there’s a personality a mile long, and Bratt is happy to oblige with such suave debonair that makes it easy to fall to his musical seduction.

Without question though, my single favorite aspect of the film is in the endlessly intense attention to detail that fronts an artistic flow that crushes any other animated film this year in its path. When I see an animated film, I always speak of rendering, shading, and color palate, and this film hits the mark with precision on all of them. The backdrops and landscapes in this Land of the Dead provided so many awestruck moments when it feels like their luminous lights and high-stacked houses stretch further than the eye can see, but how is the character detail? My answer is PERFECTLY. It’s getting to the point where it is truly scary how much Pixar is mastering every small detail to make a character stand out. What I mean by this is just how many differences in bone structure that the film goes through for its hundreds of the dead that get even a second of screen time, as well as spots or moles on skin for those in the living. The hair threads themselves on character heads feel like you can reach out and touch them at any time, only to be topped by the design of Grandma Coco that better win the production an Oscar or I will scream my lungs out in anger. The wrinkle patterns and rendering of this aging woman confined to a chair had me demanding to pause the film just to soak in how fluently she moved to that of her respective age and situation, and I’ve never seen anything so jaw-dropping illustration when it comes to matching that of a live action counterpart.

What small problems I had with the film were so miniscule that it barely requires mentioning, but two things stand-out like a cancer in an overall production that is nearly perfect. The first is the one roadblock in the animation from a group of flying beast characters (they look like tigers) that alienated the consistency of every person or property around them. The beasts have a strange color design to their characters, but my concern is more in the outline of their designs that screams computer animation. If it were up to me, I wish they weren’t even in the film, as their inclusion even feels like it stretches the rules that were carefully constructed in this other world. The other (and much bigger) problem involved the rules provided in the exposition that doesn’t make sense later on. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I will just say that a character in the Land of the Dead is slowly deteriorating because his loved ones can’t remember him. This of course makes no sense because one of his loved ones is indeed with him throughout the film walking, talking, and all else communicating with him. If I spoke to my Mother directly, IT MEANS I DID NOT FORGET ABOUT HER. My point is that this character should never be deteriorating, and it otherwise feels like an obvious ploy to dramatic pulse in a film that was otherwise dealing with death and its themes maturely.

THE VERDICT – Coco will remind you that you have a pulse, in all of its heartwarming family pleasantries and endless ambition to follow your dreams that will provide inspiration aplenty to those who seek it. The animation feels three-dimensional without the need for eye-cramping glasses, and an energetically spirited musical score by Giacchino brings it all home with a tempo-building final performance that concludes with electricity. It’s a responsibly refreshing story that bridges the worlds of the living and the dead impeccably, bringing to light the importance of family that can’t be diminished by either.

9/10

Wonderstruck

Two stories between two children come at a crossroads with fifty years between them, in Todd Haynes newest visual delight ‘Wonderstruck’. In the film based on Brian Selznick’s critically-acclaimed novel of the same name, Ben (Oakes Fegley) and Rose (Millicent Simmonds) are children from two different respective eras (Ben in 1977, Rose in 1927) who secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known, while Rose dreams of a mysterious actress (Julianne Moore) whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his home and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out on quests to find what they are missing that unfolds with mesmerizing symmetry in each of their adverse paths. ‘Wonderstruck’ is rated PG for thematic elements and smoking.

It seems that once every decade a director will come along who everyone is raving about for enticing commentary on insightful films, yet a same director who I myself feel like I’m missing something with when it comes to this word of mouth. Along comes Todd Haynes, the man who helmed 2015’s ‘Carol’, a film that I just found so-so, and now the man who brings us ‘Wonderstruck’. After hearing about the positivity surrounding this film, I was ready to give Haynes another chance, but now I feel like the train may have left the station on the relationship between me and this critically acclaimed director. Haynes isn’t terrible. Most notably, he knows how to visually excite a production, giving us such beautiful designs of versatility in film productions that establish a valuable presence behind the camera. It’s just that from a narrative perspective more of the same continues in ‘Wonderstruck’ that leaves a lot more to be desired in an entertaining and poignant sit. For a film so beautiful and rich in visual perspective, ‘Wonderstruck’ often shutters its audience from ever opening us up to a story and characters that we can get behind for the wonderment of it all.

This is a dual narrative that is set between two completely opposite eras being told simultaneously, and the decision to move in this direction is one that I feel proved fruitfully why angles like this are often unsuccessful in film as opposed to novels. Brian Selznick, the original author of the book, is the screenwriter here, but his inexperience in adapting is one that comes back to haunt this picture repeatedly throughout. For a majority of this movie, it serves as a silent film, paying homage to the age of picture shows whose only audible sounds were those of the musical score that it accompanied. The reason for such a decision is because both of our child characters are deaf, so the decision reflects that of their certain perspective that limits them aloud. Where this subdues is in the inconsistencies of experience within this film that takes us in and out of the head of our main protagonists. For some scenes, you hear things from their perspective; blurry and distant in what you can make out. Yet in other scenes we hear the characters around them talk with no problem. This is something that I feel strongly about with needing a dominant direction as to which way the film is taking us creatively, because it doesn’t feel like it can stay committed to any gimmick long enough to reap the benefits of such a decision. In addition to this, the overall progression of the film takes ages, feeding us a dose of painful pacing medication that left me slouching in my chair and checking my clock every twenty minutes. Much of this finished product demands another edit, even if it cuts the over-burdened runtime of two hours dramatically. Silent films are a tough enough sell to audiences today, but when you add on the difficulty of seasoning them with plodding movements, the film will feel like a chore instead of an imaginative immersion.

The transition sequences are so jagged and faulty that the film often feels like a forced surgical addition where we’re trying to tie two films together with one knot. For the first half of the movie, much of this can be attributed to the impatient juggling that Haynes divides the two worlds on, giving us a minimal offering of time to ever follow along. It feels like the film is trying to make both eras equal in time allowance and importance, but for my money the 20’s era with Rose definitely feels like the attention-grabber that can at least stay on track for its one intended direction to stay put. The counterbalance with Ben keeps throwing all of these unnecessary wrenches in getting us to the destination that frankly shouldn’t be this difficult. Between the both of them, this should roughly be a half hour of actual storytelling that is being stretched even further because of endless divides in transition that only ends when one of them is abruptly finished with still twenty five minutes left of the film. This movie tries so unbelievably hard in tying the two films together because of certain physcial properties involved in each scene, but it all has an air of self-importance to its material that gave off an extreme indulgence of pretentiousness that was cringe-worthy. It’s painful to think that transitional sequences can still be this painful in 2017, especially when Haynes sets a stage beautiful enough to wow us into the most majestic of cinematic experiences visually.

On that account, thankfully the film has enough style over its floundered substance to keep this thing from ever getting truly out of hand. The color of the 70’s scenes, as well as the colorless backdrops of the 20’s offers a helpful line in the sand to shape how these worlds are divided in tone and in lifestyles. Proving that this goes all the way to the end, the film surprised me with some third act storyboards involving clay animation in bodies and profile pictures in heads that offered my single favorite scene of the entire film. The mystical musical score of composer Carter Burwell also provides enough gusto with soft piano and tempered flute in the dividing atmospheres playing to the wide ranges of tone that each respective era provides. Because of all of these things, ‘Wonderstruck’ has the gusto in visual enhancements that give it a step above in artistic expression, leading to what could be a worthy Oscar nomination coming this March.

Now for the opinion that is sure to get my house egged; the acting is horrendous in this film. Mostly it is the child actors of Fegley and Simmonds whose silent acting feels so rehearsed that it constantly breaks the mold of investment in each scene. Simmonds at least carries her innocence throughout the likeability of her character, but both are terribly executed because their energy and approach to the characters felt so unconvincing. Julianne Moore is barely in the film, despite appearing so prominently in the film’s trailers that displayed her likeness. When she is in the movie, she is much-appreciated, but there’s not enough lasting power in her character throughout a movie that forgets about her for about forty minutes during the film. Michelle Williams is only in two scenes during the movie, but the way that this film tries to establish her as what has to be a 60 year old woman is almost insulting. Williams isn’t in makeup, nor is she made to look even slightly older than her much younger real life age. But that doesn’t stop the film from trying to piece her together into something she so clearly is not. For any moviegoer who can do basic math, you’ll realize how impossible this breach of casting truly is, and it finishes off an ensemble of cast that were very underwhelming despite their respectful names.

THE VERDICT – ‘Wonderstruck’ and Todd Haynes alike have a thirst for whimsical sentimentality, but the combination of the two’s finished effort gives this product an air of self-importance that has it staring, instead of shooting for the stars. The film lacks any real honest intuition to cater to its ambitious method of dual-storytelling, and unfortunately the damage of some terribly constructed transitional scenes leaves this feeling like two uninteresting stories fighting for one collective breath. There’s a lot of ‘wonder’ to the designs, but nothing about the screenplay ‘struck’ me the same.

5/10

Blade Runner 2049

Back in 2019 Los Angeles, things were much easier for the jobs of Blade Runners commanding the actions of replicant androids, but three decades later, one man will take the reigns against the advancement of technology that will paralyze society. Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new determined blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. K’s discovery leads him on a quest to seek out and find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing from the public eye for 30 years. Along the way, Officer K will investigate the seedy business practices of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), better known as ‘The Creator’, and the surprising revelation of K’s involvement in it all. ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is directed by Denis Villeneuve, and is rated R for scenes of violence, some sexuality involving nudity, and adult language.

Denis Villenueve is a master magician behind the lens, crafting modern day masterpieces like ‘Sicario’, ‘Prisoners’, and of course my very favorite from him, last year’s ‘Arrival’, which I gave the coveted 10/10 to. But in accepting the job to helm the sequel to one of the most beloved science fiction movies of all time, ‘Blade Runner’, he tests strength in his biggest uphill battle to date. When you consider the adversity of this being thirty-five years after the original, the extremely difficult task of equaling the award-worthy visual presentation of its predecessor, as well as establishing a chapter to the Blade Runner realm without doing damage to that original movie, it certainly seems impossible that this would be anywhere on the same field. But once again Denis proves that he was the first, last, and only choice for the role, as ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is a more than worthy competitor to the kind of lightning in a bottle that originally struck for this series. This is every bit the kind of film that fans of a franchise dream about when they hear a sequel is being made, but rarely often get. I went into this film with the highest of expectations that any normal director would crumble under the pressure of, but Villenueve continues to raise the bar for cinematic experiences that bring back the emphasis in taking in his films on the silver screen, assembling a team of over-achievers that each bring their best to offering not just another replicant.

There’s so much to breakdown with this film, but lets begin first with the story. It’s difficult to dissect without giving anything away, but screenwriters Michael Green and Hampton Francher offer an equally encompassing dive into the themes of what defines a human being. Certainly the trait of one’s soul would be more than enough to establish this narrative, but this film proves that there’s so much more than just what is beating on the inside. The themes of love, loss, personal identity, and even freedom more than add their two cents to the very parallels of what divide us from the replicants here. On top of this, there’s much advancement over the last thirty years in story time that has transpired. In this future, it feels like the replicants have advanced, mirroring human emotional response without any qualms, and the sparse humans that roam the Earth are losing what articulately defines them as the envied race. It’s smart to market so much backstory (Including three online shorts that fill in the gaps of the transpired events prior to the film) surrounding these ideals, and there’s so much concrete social commentary within its grasp that offers a glance at the similarities within our own world that are still evident even in this Los Angeles. Most future movies center around themes and ideals that feel like decades away, but Green and Francher provide stern warnings that these environmental issues are closer than we may think.

What I love is that no matter how much material and pinpoints that this screenplay has to hit, it does so in a way that feels entirely satisfying to those seeking answers to the questions that come up. Villenueve is known for his cryptic approach in his movies, challenging the audience to feed into their own theories, but in ‘Blade Runner 2049’, it feels like the answers are always presented in a way that offers little debate. This is certainly a different take from the original film, as many have speculated Rick Deckard’s authenticity since it aired in 1982. But much of the answers are presented early on during the first act. It’s important to pay attention during this time because many of the establishing minutes focus on foreshadowing that will play an important role later on. It certainly feels different to have a detective story with all of the answers almost immediately, but even in knowing the ends to the means, I still found myself perplexed at how this film surprised me over and over again, presenting a contrasting angle to the kind of truths that I already knew without falsifying the scene narration. Speaking of narration, if I did have one tiny problem with the film, it is once again in the overstepping in boundaries that the rare audio narration sometimes provides. This was a big problem in the original movie, and during the third act of this film I feel that yet again it tries to hard to force-feed the audience into knowing the emotional response in the head of K without giving us much time to soak it in. I think the performances are so strong that none of this feels necessary, and I’m thankful it only occurs in a few scenes later on.

As for some of those performances, this ensemble cast prove that there’s no such thing as big or small parts, just impactful ones. Ryan Gosling feels catered for this role. In commanding K, Gosling feels like a product of his weathered environment in personality, as there’s no sign of satisfaction or defining trait that establishes him being happy with his life, emoting a great underlying sadness in his situation that blurs the definition of slavery that I really connected to. Jared Leto was also valuable in fronting the antagonist of sorts in Niander Wallace. Truth be told, Leto is only in three scenes during the movie, but his lasting impression is one of great money and power that center around the legitimacy of what he is doing with the Nexus program. The visual darkness that surrounds his character is more than just a clever metaphor for what Niander has done with this business, and Leto’s almost robotic delivery will have you hanging on his every word. The favorite for me however, was definitely Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, Niander’s trusty right hand replicant. Luv partakes in all of the dirty work for the antagonists of the film, especially with Leto’s noticeable absence during the second act, but she is more than up to the task. Luv is the kind of female antagonist that ushers in a refreshing combination of exuberant confidence, as well as deadly muscle to make her a more than a worthy representation of feminist progression during modern times. Hoeks steals every scene that she is in, giving forth to the inevitable threat that is hot on the tail of K and company. A taste in direction that is better suited with a woman’s touch.

But what Blade Runner sequel would be a success without an entrancing visual stage that pops the eyes without the use of 3D technology? Enter the best cinematographer working today, Roger Deakins, as well as one of the very best musical composers of all time in film, Hans Zimmer. Together, these two set the mood in stage and sound that transfixed me in ways that made me want to pause the film to soak in every epic shot for just a bit longer. This has always been my favorite fantasy landscape in film, and Deakins presence behind the screen captures a barrage of visual enticements during every shot that casts great replay value during its brief fly-by’s. The duo of Zimmer and Deakins are so in-sync here that they often feel like the same person, crafting a presence of beauty and despair equally in sight and sound at the beginning of every establishing shot that rivets your immersion into these foreign backdrops. Deakins scope has never been bigger, but it’s in his lighting for each scene that offers a diversity of color that never limits him to just one shade. Despite being computer generated for the most part, his manipulation of natural light feels authentic in a kind of stained glass kind of feel to the sequences, providing the important emphasis that color constructs in appropriately setting the mood. The sound as well is Oscar worthy, vibrating the tones of Zimmer to pulse-setting levels of diversity in instrumentals that constantly always give that sense of dread in the air. It was a dream team combination to see and hear these two together, and because of their importance to a film so wrapped in presentation, you couldn’t have chosen two better men for the job.

THE VERDICT – The best kind of sequels are the ones that establish the importance of its own chapter while adding depth to the original, and ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is the rare example of a perfectly crafted science fiction film that will equally stand the test of time to its predecessor for its own wondrous reasons. Through nearly three concentrated hours of epic cyberpunk presentations and imaginative thought-provoking material, Villenueve spins a spellbinding immersion of biblical proportions that doesn’t require nostalgia in getting its feet wet. One of few films that must be seen in theaters, and one of the only that this critic will see again.

10/10

Woodshock

The grief and anguish of loss takes many mental and physical forms, in the new psychological melodrama ‘Woodshock’. The exquisite feature film debut of visionary fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy , their film is a hypnotic exploration of isolation, paranoia, and grief that exists in a dream-world all on its own. Kirsten Dunst stars as Theresa, a haunted young woman spiraling in the wake of profound loss, torn between her fractured emotional state and the reality-altering effects of a potent cannabinoid drug that has got her uncertain about the things that she sees and feels. Immersive, spellbinding, and sublime, ‘Woodshock’ transcends genre to become a singularly thrilling cinematic experience that marks the arrival of the Mulleavy siblings as a major new voice in film. ‘Woodshock’ is rated R for drug use, adult language and a scene of violence.

We’ve all been around that pothead at a party who has had too many tokes on the old wisdom weed and decides to tell a story. For whatever reason, his story could last a minute, five minutes, or in some cases even ten minutes if he is committed to enough bullshit and payoffs in laughs from a crowd who are just trying to be nice to him. Under no circumstances however, can anyone be nice to a guy of this description for 95 minutes, and that’s ultimately what my experience with ‘Woodshock’ gave me. The Mulleavy’s certainly know what is captivatingly original about their visual spectrum to this film, but as screenwriters they have plenty to learn about entertainment value that lends no favors to their debut featurette. For all of its dabs into visual and literal intoxication, the film feels like it is jumbled into a million pieces, never having the glue or the right hands behind it to getting its narrative base put back together to make a cohesive whole. Sadly, the most obvious fact that I will take away from this film is that Kirsten Dunst has a fantastic body, a statement that I feel disgusting for mentioning in a theatrical review, but none the less relevant when compared to how little else I took away from this sloppy disaster.

The dialogue in this film comes at a minimal offering, choosing instead to visually depict the kind of emotions and post-traumatic traits that come with losing the most important person in one’s life. I don’t personally have a problem with this particular direction. Most notably ‘A Ghost Story’ this year succeeded at visually carrying the double load in progression for the narrative, and never struggled once. At this perspective, I was riveted early on during the first act, looking forward to what theologies and spins on the afterlife for those still living that these sisters indulged in. Sadly that movie never materialized, and what we do get in return is a barrage of mind-numbingly vague sequences, as well as quick-cut edits that at least unintentionally pay homage to the kind of editing that Aronofsky was doing in ‘Requiem For A Dream’. The film’s pacing stalls out repeatedly, making the entirety of the second act feel like a chore that feels like it is paying zero dividends to the kind of progression that this film needs in getting us ready for a gut-punching final act. That too is wasted away in the hazy cloud that engulfs this movie whole, closing out with some last minute twists that intend to resonate, but fail to break the rough exterior of anger that I felt from being mislead one time too many throughout this picture.

Another big negative for me comes in the neglect of character exposition that not only makes these characters feel foreign, but also gives the supporting cast no weight of importance to the film’s lasting memory. There’s no question that this is a one woman show of sorts, with most of the attention being paid to that of Dunst’s Theresa, but as a character she feels too underwhelming and quite self-pitying to ever bask in the sadness and emotional distress that she is going through. So much of her actions and movements are overly repetitive that I often found myself wondering if the film intentionally repeated scenes from earlier, but instead just decided to portray the same result, but this time with slightly different consequences. And because so much of the imagery that we are seeing is being played out by the drug use in that of our central protagonist, there’s a haze about the film’s cerebrum perspective that fails to give any kind of insight into Theresa’s rumored past that the film only hints at and fails to ever fully materialize. It makes for a focus in presentation that doesn’t feel interested in exploring the effects that Theresa’s shaky behavior has on others, yet doesn’t give us a lot of reasons in excitement to ever stay committed to her perspective.

As for performances, I will choose to only speak about Dunst because frankly everyone else is just afterthoughts in the prime focus of screen time and dialogue. It feels like we’re at that point in the career of Kirsten’s where she is beginning to explore in her choice of roles. Most recently, her portrayal in ‘The Beguiled’ felt like the right kind of motherly hands to carefully cradle the film’s often conventional approach. For ‘Woodshock’, she’s asked to be depended upon again, and this time harbors an enigmatic delivery in Theresa that articulately conveys the imprisonment of grief. There are times when you’re not sure whether to laugh, cry, or stay paralyzed from her volcanic offering that constantly builds itself in every scene. Most definitely in the third act, we see the biggest parallel in her previously reserved embodiment, and the anger that multiplies in her eyes in the later scenes brought the only kind of emotional feeling that I related to during the film, saving me temporarily from the depths of boredom that clouded this film entirely.

Without a doubt though, my favorite aspect to the film and one that keeps it above water from being one of the more dreadful theatrical experiences of the year for me is in the film’s visual compass that declares the marriage of art and fashion like only siblings of this magnitude can do. The editing can be choppy at times, but the grainy spectrum when combined with off-center framing gives the film an unnatural home video kind of feel to it that I found vividly appealing. In my opinion, it feels like much of this movie was shot on reeled film, a form of filming that sadly is limited in its uses during the digital age, and evidence of such seems apparent especially during these psychological scenes that mirror that of Theresa’s past and present. It’s presented in a manner that doesn’t feel tampered or manipulated with in digital encoding, but natural in how appealing the very unappealing vision of it comes across. It’s just too perfect to be unnatural, and presents some beautifully hypnotizing trances that keeps us in its daydream.

THE VERDICT – The buzz of two reputable sisters like the Mulleavy’s should’ve been enough to carry it through a dreary and dreamy trip through bereavement, but their debut effort stumbles at nearly every narrative miscue and patience-testing minute that ruins the high. Like most trips, afterwards you’re hungry for something of substance, and sadly you won’t find it in this clouded and convoluted fog that blurs the line of some pretty cutting edge photography. Dunst is riveting, but this is one Mary Jane that she might want to distance herself from.

3/10

My Little Pony: The Movie

The Mane 6 are back, this time to be given a big screen adaptation of the popular 80’s and 90’s animated show of the same name. In ‘My Little Pony: The Movie’, a new dark force threatens the inhabitants of Ponyville, and the Mane 6 ; Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy and Rarity ; embark on an unforgettable journey beyond Equestria where they meet new friends, luxurious landscapes, and exciting mental and physical challenges on a quest to use the magic of friendship that will save their home. The “My Little Pony” movie will feature all new music with the Mane Six characters voiced by Tara Strong, Cathy Weseluck, Andrea Libman, Tabitha St. Germain and Ashleigh Ball. ‘My Little Pony: The Movie’ is directed by Jayson Thiessen, the director of three previous My Little Pony movie before, and is rated PG for mild action and scenes of peril.

Surprising or not, the ‘My Little Pony’ universe is a difficult sell to a teenage boy who was into horror movies and professional wrestling. It’s even more difficult of a sell to a 32 year old man required to sit through it in order to discuss and break it down with all of his readers. ‘My Little Pony: The Movie’ is 98 minutes of film that feels like an eternity. It’s this way because there hasn’t been a film this year that I was lesser interested in than this one, and it’s something that feels like a punishment to anyone who hasn’t before endured the world of Equestria and all of its colorful characters. This film isn’t just a bore to me, but it’s one that adds little to make it standout in the way of crossover power to those teenage boys who have now grown up to be fathers. A talented kids movie today can reel in its opposing audiences with a combination of intelligence and risky humor that can sometimes aim its intent well over the head of youthful audiences who don’t quite understand. But there was never a moment when my investment paid off in the ways that quieted my stereotypical attitude towards this franchise, making this one of the truly more insufferable sits that I have endured in 2017.

The plot is pretty atypical, in that if you have seen one 90’s animated adventure film, you’ve seen them all. This typically revolves around an antagonist character who shows up to wreak havoc on the backdrop of the film, expelling the central protagonists to go on a cross-country journey to return home bigger and better than before. There are so many outlines like this in kids movies that it feels like a waste of time to even run them all down, instead I will focus on what this movie proved to me. The ponies themselves have flying power, but never choose to use it to get them out of some pretty error-filled leaps in logic when it comes to imprisonment. I also learned that sometimes it’s better to cower or hide when it comes to building up characters that the film requires to grow by the final confrontation. Because so many of these characters blended together in terms of traits and overall personality, I looked forward to any and every time that the antagonist for the movie popped up to spice things up a bit. I’m grateful that I didn’t have to see this movie in the theater because it took me three different continuations to finish the film, and in summary I can say that this is a script in versatility that doesn’t move half as far as its characters do throughout it. Hammering this thought home is an overload of padding that comes in the form of song.

Much to the chagrin of music lovers everywhere, this film is no slouch when it comes to offering a multi-disc soundtrack that the kiddies will leave on repeat until their Ipods collapse. In the first act, there’s a song or two that doesn’t hinder the fluidity nor the continuity of the film’s pacing, but in the second act this becomes a chore to have to endure because the script stops every five minutes to launch a track that summarizes everything that we have learned over the last few minutes, in case kids are too stupid to keep up (The producer’s thoughts, not mine). The songs themselves don’t lend too much to creativity or imagination that studios like Pixar and Dreamworks have immersed themselves in, and after about ten of this abysmal tracks, I was moaning every time a new one came on. Songs like these should be used to further teach the backstories of some new characters to both fans and non-fans of the series, but it’s another in the long line of wasted opportunities that the film constantly drops the ball on.

Where the few positives do kick in is in the visually appealing animation for the movie that still feels like a faithful homage to the 90’s, in all of its pre-three dimensional days. Do I wish the film could’ve advanced and possibly joined the rest of animated civilization? YES, but the vibrancy of this rainbow coalition and the detail that went into illustrating some eye-catching backdrops are certainly more than enough to stay committed to what they’ve mastered in over two decades. The movements of the characters are still a little slow, a fact that has bothered me ever since I caught a few glimpses of this franchise as a teen, but I can forgive this artistic direction in favor of a film that offers a solid parallel of ever-changing landscapes that never limit itself to just one principal setting. It is refreshing to see a film that doesn’t feel pressured to joining the fray of computer-generated look-a-likes that are ever the fray anymore, and I will take this rare opportunity to commend this film for sticking to where it came from.

As far as performances go, the film does have a surprisingly unlimited amount of top-name celebrities that lend their voices to their animated counterparts. Kristin Chenoweth feels like she was born to be one of these ponies. As Princess Skystar, she omits the squeaky register that only until now has lacked real necessity in her roles, but here she feels right at home. Michael Pena is solid as the comic relief of the movie, Grubber, as he did give me a couple of laughs that while they weren’t the highest brow of intellectual material, did bring out the kid in me for those few split seconds. Emily Blunt is also noteworthy in the as Tempest Shadow, the very threat that has taken over the town by air. I mentioned earlier that Tempest is the breath of fresh air during some truly vapid leaps of screen time between the annoying ponies, and it feeds into more that she is the sole direction when the film breaks away from its squeaky clean image, a fact that required much more emphasis and focus not only to Blunt’s investment but also to Tempest’s importance in getting across the feeling of vulnerability that she casts upon her opponents.

THE VERDICT – ‘My Little Pony: The Movie’ can’t get over the broad bar of corny meandering and snail’s pacing that could add something resourceful to the potential of a visually stimulating two-dimensional classic style. Mainly, there’s nothing necessary about this film. It doesn’t hammer home a strong internal message, nor does it inspire its youthful audience into anything but an early bed time. This is the kind of film that parents hold a lasting grudge towards their children, for making them suffer through nearly 100 minutes of soul-crushing product placement. I too feel that anger, except I don’t have a child, and still had to endure it. You can imagine my boiling pot right now.

3/10

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Marvel’s cinematic web-slinger returns to the studio he belongs, in “Spider-Man: Homecoming”. A young Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) begins to navigate his newfound identity as the web-slinging super hero Spider-Man. Thrilled by his experience with the Avengers, Peter returns home, where he lives with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), under the watchful eye of his new mentor, The “Iron Man” Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr). Peter tries to fall back into his normal daily routine, distracted by thoughts of proving himself to be more than just your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but when the Vulture (Michael Keaton) emerges as a new villain, everything that Peter holds most important will be threatened, pitting Peter as the only option to stop the flying fanatic and save the city. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is directed by Jon Watts, and is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some adult language and brief suggestive comments.

After five movies spanning twelve years, Sony has sold the rights back to the original owner, Marvel Studios, and it suddenly feels like Spidey is right back where he belongs, proving that the title is more than just a clever name. For a million different opinions, the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb directed predecessors have their fans and enemies alike, but it’s in Watts newest re-telling of this classic childhood favorite that I feel will nearly unanimously break through the ceiling for superhero movie fans alike. This film is everything that both Spider-Man and Peter Parker should be, basically a teenage genre romantic comedy that takes place with a superhero backdrop. On the grounds of establishing these two themes equally, there are five screenwriters that craft something that even during the age of overabundance from superhero flicks, still offers us something fresh and imaginative in ways that no other film has done before it. It’s a re-vamping origin story that doesn’t necessarily need to tell us about the things that we already know from two different story arcs that have already beaten the concepts of tragedy over the head a bit too much. A Spider-Man for generations young and old that finally gives the movie that they have been waiting decades to see.

The story’s establishing theme centers around the growth of Parker, and in that we get several different variations on the concepts of what it means to be a teenager in 2017. Sure there’s the awkwardness of dating, or the difficulties of trying to fit in at school, but what I commended the movie for were the original tweeks that only Marvel could supplant in a teenage depiction. Most notably, Peter (like most teens) is finding out how much his body is changing in that he is growing with this highly-technological suit made brand new for him by Tony Stark. Throughout the movie, we as an audience get to finally grasp and understand the gadgets and gizmos that make up this glossed-over property in past films. Because Parker is learning, it means he too must grow with the suit, and along with his body, the two properties transform into the person he was destined to be. I also love the subtle ideals of the abandoning father who is never around, in this case Stark to the younger Parker. There’s definitely a sheen, crisp feeling of parental guidance shining over them, and I frankly couldn’t get enough of how their relationship was blurring the lines radiantly of just what is missing from Peter’s daily routine. My favorite part definitely deals with teenage dating, and I won’t ruin anything for you, but a certain meet-the-parents scene was my personal favorite in this entire movie. It will give you goosebumps for how it takes an already awkward situation and adds a layer of suffocation unlike anything you have ever seen in a meet-the-parents kind of plot.

As far as where this fits in to the bigger picture, this film felt kind of small scale when compared to the worldwide wars fought by The Avengers, and that’s ok. The movie prides itself on Spidey living up to the moniker “Friendly neighborhood Spider-Man”, and because of such, we get a lot of things played out on the ground, a new concept for this character. In fact, I felt that it was the things that I’ve always thought about that gave this movie longevity well into the second hour. Concepts like how the webbing works, how fast does it take Spider-Man to change, and even who cleans up after devastation like the events in The Avengers movies happens. This film captures all of that, and each of it plays an intricate part into its story. For an antagonist, I appreciate that the Vulture isn’t formed because of some freak accident gone wrong. He’s the everyday working class who lashes out after he’s lost the will to feed his family. I’ve always said the best villains are the ones who are the most understandable to grasp, and Toombs Vulture feels like one of Marvel’s very best. More on him later. The only negative that I had in story was that the film does feel slightly catering to fan service a bit too much. There are more than a few instances of this with characters who virtually go nowhere in this movie, and after a while it felt too pandering. I know that I will be in the minority in that opinion, but if we can call “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2” out for it, so too can “Spider-Man: Homecoming”.

The action is riveting, pulsing through one scene after another of beautifully decorated properties that play a vital role in each stunning sequence. Despite this film playing more to the smaller on-the-ground type of scale, the movie has some very epic set pieces in grand vision, and its fast movements really conjure up the idea of just how powerful Spidey can be when he has to be. These sequences bring out the best in his character because you understand that unlike most superheroes who can only do one or two things well, Parker’s Spidey is quick, intelligent, powerful, and reactive, traits that shape and mold a boy-turning-man who thrives as a protector. As for special effects, everything is mostly solid here and done to believable depths, minus a ferry scene that breaks a boat in half and puts it back together just as easily. I’m not looking for logic in a superhero movie, but the properties of cracks and how they form isn’t something that takes a holiday in imagination. Considering it is one sequence in a variety of ground-shaking offerings that would make Michael Bay cream in his pants, I can’t be mad at this lone discrepancy, as it was just a speed bump on the road to the entertaining core of this movie.

And on that front, I commend Homecoming for being bold among its many tonal shifts when it needs to be. There’s something impressive about a film that can make you laugh with consistently juggling the corny and embarrassing, yet still grab you attention in urgency when it needs to. This film pulled this trigger on more than one occasion, creating a kind of mold for two different movies in one with each of them merging together so smoothly. The comedy in this film gave me more than a few hearty laughs, and it’s clear that it never needs to take itself too seriously to get its biggest strength across; personality. If this inevitable franchise has one thing that sets itself apart from the rest, it’s that its spunk feels like it does wonders for the characters, as well as the scenarios that pits each and every one of them together. For Homecoming, it’s definitely the representation of being a teenager and how that by itself would be enough to drive someone crazy, then you add on the fact that you’re the neighborhood hero who is responsible for many. We realize the immensity of it, but I don’t think Peter quite does, and it’s in his ignorance that makes his emotional growth a delight to embrace because this really is all the weirdest and coolest thing that could ever happen to a kid, at the same time.

Props as well to a grade-A cast that nearly feels perfect. Tom Holland displays a great Spidey, but more importantly he accurately captures the complexity of the Parker character that I don’t think Maguire or Garfield garnered in their portrayals; earnestness. True, Parker is cocky when he needs to be, but when the suit is off, we get the impression that he is vulnerable for once, like a shield that de-activates. Michael Keaton definitely stole the show for me, showing off the single greatest Marvel movie villain since Loki. Keaton could read the phone book in this role and I would be on the edge of my seat. Toombs is very much a human antagonist and that is his single biggest positive. For Keaton, he approaches the role with cool calm, but engaging in menacing grips (like a vulture) when he is challenged. Marisa Tomei was also a breath of fresh air even if her scenes were limited. Lots of people balked at the idea of Aunt May being this young, but I always felt it made sense. She’s AUNT May, not Grandma May, so an Aunt naturally should be closer in age to a teenage boy. Tomei is loving and compassionate, but never loses the edge of being a cool parent, possibly commuting a woman who had to grow up too fast to help her family. My only problem with the casting was in Tony Revoli as Flash Thompson. I get that this is the progressive day-and-age with characters, and the need to switch things up should always be welcomed, but Revoli (Someone I enjoy greatly in other films) isn’t someone I would consider the cool kid in school, and his material doesn’t do him any favors in this area either. His character at times feels like it’s trying too hard to live up to some stereotype, and it feeds into more of the fan service idea that I proposed earlier. I frankly could do without him in this film, as his character adds zero weight to the film’s pulse.

THE VERDICT – The streets are safe again now that Parker has returned home to Marvel, where he rightfully belonged all along. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a breezy breath of fresh air that keeps on flowing with breathtaking action, as well as a two-for-one story that brings out the best in superhero and teenage dramas accordingly. It’s a seamless charmer that caters more to the smaller moments in crime-fighting, and that miniscule scale takes things back to the beginning where this all started, long before these movies tookover a worldwide stage. Watts world is brash, funny, and honest, three traits that have been missing from this franchise for a long time.

9/10

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7/10

Wonder Woman

DC Comics first and most powerful female superhero gets her own big screen treatment, in the origin story, “Wonder Woman”. Fresh off of her debut in 2016’s “Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice”, Gal Gadot returns as the title character in the epic action adventure from director Patty Jenkins. Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior while living on the island of Themyscira, a sheltered island paradise. One day, American military pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes on their shores and tells of a massive conflict raging in the outside world, Diana leaves her home, convinced she can stop the threat. Fighting alongside man in a war to end all wars, Diana will discover her full powers and her true destiny. “Wonder Woman” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content.

It’s interesting that perhaps D.C Films last chance at standing against the monster empire of Marvel at this point, comes in the form of a woman. Neither of the comic book giants have taken many chances at female led stories after the failures of films like “Elektra” and “Catwoman”, but “Wonder Woman” stakes its claim as the perfect superhero story at the perfect time, for all of its practically identical similarities of art imitating life. For the first time in the three films in the D.C Universe, one of its movies doesn’t feel like an advertisement for the upcoming movie that follows this one, choosing instead to focus its merit and time on the origin story of perhaps the most powerful female superhero of all time. Because of it, it’s clearly evident that the Justice League has now found a suitable leader, guiding their team of unstoppably gifted protagonists into the 21st century. With Jenkins precision in guiding along female stories, the force is strong with this one, and certainly gives back the kind of hope to its fans that they may have found something that Marvel just can’t touch; a desire to reach out to its female moviegoers in the audience, in hopes that they finally have a character who speaks not only to their superhero side, but also to what it means to be a woman in modern times.

On the count of that subject, the material in “Wonder Woman” offers a stark self-reflection in our own society for the ridiculous nature in which the male population more times than not views their female counterparts. It does so in an educational manner instead of a contradicting one, still reminiscing on the importance of men, but showing that females can offer an equally distinctive vision for a future of promiscuity. I laughed quite a few times during this picture, mostly at the material that compares and contrasts the two worlds of Themiscyra to our very own, and signals some odd peculiarities for what it means to be a woman in a male dominated day-and-age. As a screenwriter, Allan Heinberg gives us quite the abundance of thought-provoking conundrums to make us as an audience question the status-quo of things being the way they are, and the dominant backdrop of World War I playing a prominent role in teaching us that no matter how far we’ve come with equality, we still have miles to travel before reaching our destination.

I mentioned earlier how “Wonder Woman” carries such an empowering voice to the female audience well beyond being a superhero idol, but so much of what the script is really about channels the themes of growing up and becoming who you were born to be. It’s evident in Diana’s leaving of her home, as well as seeing the world and living with her eyes open for the first time that this is very much a woman on the cusp of her own spiritual awakening, and that’s a concept that I think will intrigue many ladies in the audience into an experience that they have yet to illicit in these kind of films. It’s funny that going into the film I figured that so much of the movie’s two-plus hours would be geared towards us learning about Diana and her vast culture compared to the 1940’s era that dates this movie. The surprise was that instead it was her learning more about us, and from a creative standpoint I think that is the right decision on an entertainment and a narrative angle, speaking to the idea of there being so much more for Diana outside of the only place she has ever really known. Strolling us along is a riveting musical score from composer Rupert Gregson-Williams that always sparks such powerful compositions of thrilling nature to the depictions of war that envelope the movie. The action scenes themselves leave nothing more to be desired, and are shot beautifully without an overabundance of cuts to over-complicate each angle.

As for problems with the movie, I did have two that reminded me no matter how far we’ve come with D.C, this is still the same company that took a movie like “Batman Vs Superman” and convoluted it to the point of a third act that jarringly complicated the rest of the movie. Here, we have the same problem, as the final twenty minutes of this movie tries so hard to break down what made the rest of the movie so revolutionary in terms of its material. There’s a subplot that I won’t spoil, but deals with a certain figure in Diana’s life whom she’s been told stories about, and the movie approaches this from a literal standpoint instead of a figurative one, and it’s the signal for all things flying off of the handle in the most negative of ways. The final battle contradicts everything that I mentioned about the crisp and vivid detail of how these war scenes were previously shot, instead opting for more of the explosions, crashes, and burns that took something pure and made it a grandstand of C.G portions. This movie also pulls the 1960’s alien movie trick where if you kill the master, the rest will turn back to good. I could go for this if ya know….it wasn’t the Nazi’s that we were talking about. As a whole, I would’ve been fine with this particular angle not being in the movie, and there’s definitely a part before the final twenty minutes that while it would’ve underwhelmed for its equality in fight, would’ve at least ended things calmly instead of going batshit insane. That leads to my other problem in the movie. We once again have a great lack of compelling antagonists to go against our prominent lead. This is becoming more and more of a problem with both comic book empires, and the fix is something as easy as possible for this movie. There is the basic minimum of exposition when it comes to the two antagonists that make up our story, and that’s a shame because the movie feels like it moves on without them, only bringing them back when it’s absolutely necessary.

The performances themselves merit a solid combo of Gadot and Pine that radiate our screen through every kind of human emotion that they pull from us. The chemistry between them is terrific, and takes very few scenes to understand the charisma that oozes between them every time they look at one another. This is of course a love story between them, but the film takes its time naturally in getting from Point A to Point B, offering a hilarious, albeit informative contrast between the problem solving and moral foundry that both of them were raised upon. This is definitely Gadot’s single best performance to date, and I hope that “Justice League” will take this as a hint to feature her more prominently, instead of shielding her behind two mammoths like Superman and Batman. As Diana, Gal emotes a childlike innocence in a smile that makes it easy to fall in love with her, but equally as devastating with a powerful presence that packs a gripping punch. Above Affleck or Cavill, I can understand clearly what humanity means to her, and her importance with being the face that the people can believe in. I can start to see this actress as Wonder Woman, now I just have to see how the character grows with her time in the real world. Pine has always been a dependable force on the big screen, but here he’s playing accordingly where the movie needs him. He never overtakes or diminishes Gadot’s time to shine, instead offering the perfect circumference of 20th century ignorance and boyish charm to melt the hearts of the ladies in attendance. Steve feels like the kind of character who knew a revolution was coming, and instead of standing in the way of fate, he rides alongside his newfound accomplice, and the two create a kind of box office magic that elevates comic book love stories to a whole other level.

THE VERDICT – “Wonder Woman” lassos a whip of engaging sincerity combined with honest commentary on the very adversities that females face, proving that Jenkins once again can weave a web precision in storytelling with her own sex that very few can follow. D.C’s latest might not be the home run that it needs to fully get back into the game, because of a lackluster third act, as well as underwritten villains, but it does swing for the fences in terms of a pro-feminist direction and overall fun that has rarely ever succeeded quite this WONDERfully. Gadot and Pine are a match for the ages, and their humanity brings depth to a world full of the extraordinary. Move over boys, Diana’s taking over.

8/10

Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Men Tell NO Tales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Critically Acclaimed filmmaker Guy Ritchie brings his dynamic style to the epic fantasy action adventure genre, in ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’. Starring Charlie Hunnam in the title role, the film is an iconoclastic take on the classic Excalibur myth, tracing Arthur’s journey from the streets to the throne. When the child Arthur’s father is murdered, Vortigern (Jude Law), Arthur’s uncle, seizes the crown. Robbed of his birthright and with no idea who he truly is, Arthur comes up the hard way in the back alleys of the Londininum, not knowing his royal lineage. But once he pulls the sword from the stone, his life is turned upside down and he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy…whether he likes it or not. He joins the rebellion and a shadowy young woman named Guinevere. He must learn to understand the magic weapon, deal with his demons, and unite the people to defeat the evil dictator, the same man who murdered his parents and stole his crown to become king. ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong adult language.

Guy Ritchie is a prominent enough name when it comes to reputation in film for capturing an original angle of a project that he feels passionate about. Most notably, his action thrillers like The Man From U.N.C.L.E and Sherlock Holmes are my blend of comic awkwardness combined with dire consequences to mesh into a thrilling good time. So when I heard that he was tagged to direct a new adaptation of the King Arthur folklore, it did get me at least slightly curious because his style of filmmaking is more upbeat and faster paced when compared to the Arthur movies of the past that I grew up with. What comes of it is perhaps the strongest argument for why opposites most certainly do not attract. The Legend of the Sword isn’t just a terribly underwritten movie, it’s one whose visual scope in presentation fights to ever stay focused, humiliating itself with jumbled narration that feels like a child on too much sugar. This blending of worlds just doesn’t work in solidifying that middle ages feel of authenticity, and because of it, Ritchie’s dive into the dark ages is a mind-numbing affair of laughably bad cliches that hinder his overall growth as a director on an epic stage.

The story is an origins tale, highlighting how Arthur came to be known as the man who pulled the sword from the stone, but the way it catches the audience up during the first act is one that repeatedly made me wince and felt troubling on the progression of the current storyline. Immediately, The Legend of the Sword feels like it suffers from a lot of the problems that Warcraft did, in that there’s a three hour presentation just screaming to get out here, but has to trim an hour in run time just to keep the butts in the seats. What that decision sacrifices is truly one of the worst first acts that I have seen in 2017. Everything from Arthur’s childhood, to the death of his father, to him being raised on the streets is glossed over like the fast-forward button on your DVD has been pushed to 3x speed. As the film went on, there was also a violent shove into contrasting pacing that often made it feel like two different films. The first and third acts skim through the material that could’ve used more emphasis, yet the second act slows things down by dulling us with the intellectual growth and training of what feels like a ten-year-old. So little pizazz or excitement happens during this scene, and it felt like the batteries on my remote ran out suddenly, after pushing fast-forward so many times during the first hour.

Flashback montages can serve a vital purpose in a film that dives into the past and present, but here it is presented in such a way that convolutes and confuses the audience into trying to figure out which scene is actually current day. For example, a scene will begin, Arthur will then talk about how he escaped authorities, then an immediate cut displaying that story will overtake our visual storytelling. This wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t happen so much that it becomes a drinking game by the end of the movie. It got to the point where I was hoping no character would ask any questions for fear we would be forced to be yanked back into the past instead of steering forward. Hell, sometimes a character will discuss a plan, and while the narration is being heard, we see the plan being executed visually, and then go back to the scene where the discussion took place. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? How does this pass the final cut? A story is usually told in a straight line, but King Arthur would rather scribble left-to-right and vice versa, testing the patience of audience members who don’t luck out in just having this happen during the beginning of the film.

For anyone who loves CGI effects, this movie will be right up your alley. It’s not all terrible, but I wondered frequently if that is because most of the movie’s color scheme is presented so dark, as to not show the graphing and shading of the animated animal counterparts. This movie flies off of the rails quickly in this movie, embracing a code of magic that stretches logic well beyond that of what we’ve come to know in this particular folklore. Because of this, The Legend of the Sword feels more like a fantasy dive into imaginative waters, similar to the same scale as say 300 or Gods of Egypt, the latter feeling more like what we’re given creatively. I did enjoy Ritchie’s camera work in communicating the very immensity and epic of this kind of story. The long-shot angles certainly play into capturing the kind of effect that this war has on the land. Where the CGI doesn’t flatter me is in the final battle scene when all rules in logic are set to burn. Besides the fact that there is CGI fire that doesn’t have smoke accompanying it, there is a forty foot tall snake in this movie that looks like it came straight out of a Windows 95 program. The very movements and synchronicity of this design had me fighting back laughter, and it’s a terrible final swallow of disappointment to go with the two hours that made this Ritchie influenced fast-paced camera style even more boring than that of the lessons we learned about Arthur in Elementary School.

What Ritchie’s scope didn’t nail was that of the fight sequences, which are terribly choreographed and even more terribly shot. This film falls under two of my least favorite annoyances with modern day action films, in that it shoots too close and cuts far too many times to ever register mentally what is being depicted. If that wasn’t enough, this tired old cliche of slowing the action down for two seconds after the registered hit happens is overused to the feeling of walking through a pool of syrup. This kind of effect was cool when it debuted in The Matrix. THAT WAS 1999. Find something new. I will give credit though because without the slow-down effect, I would’ve never been able to register what was happening because of poor sequencing that nearly left me cross-eyed.

The acting wasn’t terrible by a solid collection of veteran actors, but most of the leads did have me violently suspending disbelief to even think for a second that they were who they were supposed to be. Charlie Hunnam is someone who I mentioned during The Lost City of Z who has unbelievable potential if he is given the proper script in offering a compelling character. My problem with him as the title character is that Arthur here feels arrogant, immature, and even heartless when he relates to his peers. The only thing that really makes him Arthur is his wielding of the sword, but without it, he lacks the true essence in awe to become a revolutionary. I blame this more on poor character directing by Ritchie, and a script that hindered Hunnam’s growth behind every turn. Eric Bana is also relegated to a brief cameo as Arthur’s Father. From a physical stature, Bana doesn’t scream to me that he is king of the land, and even more so, his delivery never feels like he fully commits himself to relaying the true heartbreak that his character inevitably will face. The one positive that I did have was Jude Law as Vortigern, not necessarily for his dedication to character, but more for his hamming up at the script that he knew he was far better than. Law is having the time of his life as this character, and he feels magnetic anytime he shows up on screen sporting a shit-eating grin that finds it easy to soak up one of Hollywood’s most charismatic.

THE VERDICT – King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword is attention grabbing, but for all of the wrong reasons. It’s a fast-cutting, logic-bending dullard of a presentation by one of the truly most gifted directors of the past decade, who sacrifices the heart of the original story’s charms in favor of CGI overhauls of animals that leave this story feeling hollow and lacking any kind of considerable substance. It takes a real warrior to pull the sword from the stone that buried this movie under two hours of ridiculousness, but this is one task where I lack the true grit needed to make many positives out of this grand scale disaster. F for Forgettable.

3/10