Game Night

Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein

Starring – Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler

The Plot – Bateman and McAdams star as Max and Annie, whose weekly couples game night gets kicked up a notch when Max’s charismatic brother, Brooks (Chandler), arranges a murder mystery party, complete with fake thugs and faux federal agents. So when Brooks gets kidnapped, it’s all part of the game – right? But as the six uber-competitive gamers set out to solve the case and win, they begin to discover that neither this game – nor Brooks – are what they seem to be. Over the course of one chaotic night, the friends find themselves increasingly in over their heads as each twist leads to another unexpected turn. With no rules, no points, and no idea who all the players are, this could turn out to be the most fun they’ve ever had… or game over.

Rated R for adult language, sexual references and some violence

THE POSITIVES

– Blending two polar opposite genres together is something that often fails, but ‘Game Night’ conjures up this kind of hybrid playing field where the worlds of horror and comedy merge together soundly. Much of the reason for this is because the humor in this script never takes away, nor sours the mood of the very surreal consequences that these friends are dealing with.

– If a film is called ‘Game Night’ and it isn’t at least fun, you would have an instant fail, but thankfully that doesn’t happen. This film is tightly paced at 95 minutes, richly humorous without anything of the raunchy nature, and packs enough twists in narrative to always keep you guessing.

– Cliff Martinez, how do you do it? Not only does my favorite music composer score this film, but he once again tickles our audible sense with a collection of music that is every bit as transfixing as it is vital to carving out the ominous urgency in his influence of synth-pop game changers.

– There’s much argument for who steals the show here. McAdams and Bateman are of course a delight, harboring a kinetic kind of energy in chemistry that makes their connection evident. But then there’s excellent supporting work from Jesse Plemmons, Lamorne Morris, and probably my personal favorite: Billy Magnussen as the idiot friend whose stupidity is his greatest asset in charm.

– In addition to the well-rounded cast, their characters are each given plenty of scenes to chew up, making each of their voyages on this night of terror equally important to moving one step closer towards the big reveal. I personally will always support a film that caters more to the team aspect than just one or two great leads, and ‘Game Night’ is certainly of that caliber.

– Surprisingly enticing cinematography by Barry Peterson. With the exception of ’22 Jump Street’, Barry hasn’t gotten a chance to really shine in a winner, so it’s a pleasure to see how far his experience has come in gripping a visually enhancing companion piece to the hip script unfolding before us. The chase sequences both in and around the car are shot competently in keeping with the pulse of intensity, and a two minute chase sequence in the house that is manipulated to look like one continuous shot is one that I appreciated for the kind of choreography that you can bend in a setting so immense.

– This is definitely the most I have laughed over the last year of cinema, and that really surprised me because after not laughing at all during the trailer, it saves its best material for the paying customers.

– It goes against the grain in not falling into the trap of a third act conflict between these friends that almost every comedy today must do. Instead, by keeping them constantly on the same page, it enriches their friendship in standing together through arguably the worst or best night of all of their lives.

THE NEGATIVES

– There’s a scene about midway through where Bateman’s character is searching a police database laptop for the identity of a man they are searching for. There’s two things funny about this; 1. There’s a search bar labeled “Alias name”, and 2. He types in “The Bulgarian” and only one person comes up. I guess only one person in the entire world goes by a name as cryptic as “The Bulgarian”.

– The final two shots of the movie are easily the weakness of the entire film. The first involves continuing the story with a kind of sequel bait kind of way that doesn’t make sense with how things concluded, and certainly doesn’t fit in any kind of possible continuing conflict. The second scene is a credit sequence that shows how everything was accomplished by a certain character. Every film mystery needs an answer, yes, but in solving the mystery here and trying to answer so many questions, you only see the glaring plot holes that highlight just how truly impossible this whole thing was to script together by any one person.

8/10

Samson

Directed by Bruce Macdonald

Starring – Jackson Rathbone, Billy Zane, Taylor James

The Plot – A Hebrew (James) with an unusual gift of strength must respond properly to the call of God on his life in order to lead his people out of enslavement. After his youthful ambition leads to a tragic marriage, his acts of revenge thrust him into direct conflict with the Philistine army. As his brother mounts a tribal rebellion, only Samson’s relationship with a Philistine seductress and his final surrender, both to the Philistines and to God, turns imprisonment and blindness into final victory

Rated PG-13 for scenes of violence from battle sequences

THE POSITIVES

– At this point in the game, if religious films can’t even get costume and set pieces correctly, there’s no point in even trying. ‘Samson’ certainly continues this trend with a fine line of dissection between the Palestinians and the Hebrews that visually tell the difference in wealth distribution.

– Perhaps the best introduction scene to one of these films that I have ever seen. It actually felt like there was an attempt to insert some personality into this movie with the inclusion of quick-cut takes from a heist plan, as well as witty banter that actually brought a smile out of me.

THE NEGATIVES

– In retort to that dazzling intro scene, the rest of the film falls into the mundane category of familiarity. For what started on such a high note, eventually grinded into a slow drafting bible tale with none of the confidence in its characters or events to boot.

– The performances are all around laughably bad, but no one can hold a candle to Jackson Rathbone as the evil Rallah. What Eddie Redmayne did in ‘Jupiter Ascending’ can only be described as amplified to eleven with Rathbone’s unintimidating stature and uninspiring line reads that constantly fall short in carving out a meaningful antagonist. On the other side of the coin, James title character is written as an all brawn and no brain kind of hero who is constantly outwitted to the point of cringing in your seat for how easy his predicaments are to get out of. Even the often times over-the-top Billy Zane is in this film and they do nothing with him or his character. Some enthusiasm from Zane could’ve honestly made this sit a lot easier for me.

– God’s power is reduced to being a magical genie who pops up whenever Samson needs him. So if the rules are this easy to master, why not (Oh I don’t know) ask for food and drink for your starving village in the same ways you destroy a brick wall or bring down a stone building with your hands? I guess spectacle matters over livelihood.

– Consistently dropping the ball on establishing dramatic impact. Much of Samson’s adversity is disposed of within a few seconds, even taking out multiple 30 and 50 man armies by himself with ease. This is only in the first half of the film, mind you, so the second half wants us to believe that he will fail against one puny prince who may be the key to silencing this mystical Hebrew. Give me a break.

– Terribly choreographed fight sequences. Much of the reason for Samson being able to take down these huge armies by himself is because these soldiers only approach him one at a time, waiting in a neat and tidy line for their turns to meet their maker. There are many times when they could easily dispose of this one man army, but they would rather dogpile on him than take a knife to his chest when he’s pinned down. STUPID!! If that isn’t enough, the graphic material is so watered down here, free of blood or much graphic violence to really linger with the audience. An all around dry presentation.

– Uneven pacing plagues this film over and over again, turning a modest 105 minute film into what feels like a two-and-a-half hour plunge. Much of this can be blamed on just how much they try to squeeze into this film, limiting a majority of scenes to under three minutes so we can constantly keep moving. Where this harms the fluidity is in the bubbling feeling that this film garners no consistency in momentum for itself in bringing along its audience on the edge of their seats.

– Clunky dialogue that could double for even softcore pornography. Perhaps my favorite of these lines takes place between Samson and a woman he is courting during the beginning of the third act, in which she tells him that there is no way she could even bond him from leaving. Samson looks at her like he ripped gas and says “You should use the finest rope, that way I couldn’t fight it much” UGGHHHHHH!!!!

– Hallmark Channel level C.G in landscape establishing shots. Thankfully this is about 95% of the computer generation used in the film, but I couldn’t help but wince each time a new scene began.

2/10

Black Panther

Directed by Ryan Coogler

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

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

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

THE POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NEGATIVES

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

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

The Extra

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

8/10

Peter Rabbit

Directed by Will Gluck

Starring – James Corden, Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne

The Plot – Peter Rabbit (Corden), the mischievous and adventurous hero who has captivated generations of readers, now takes on the starring role of his own irreverent, contemporary comedy with attitude. In the film, Peter’s feud with Mr. McGregor (Gleeson) escalates to greater heights than ever before as they rival for the affections of the warm-hearted animal lover who lives next door (Byrne).

Rated PG for some rude humor and action

THE POSITIVES

– While the film isn’t the most faithful to its literary property, it’s completely harmless. Purists of the former will indulge in enough gentle heart imagination and innocence in the bond between humanity and animals, as well as moments of visual Easter egg throwbacks to the original illustration. The new fans of Peter Rabbit will enjoy the quick-witted, physical slapstick that offers plenty of laughs without settling for the low-hanging fruit of toilet humor.

– Speaking of laughs, the film is very clever with its material, choosing to break the fourth wall of kids movies on more than one occasion. Because of this meta stance, the script and these characters constantly feel like they’re one step ahead of our expectations, leaving us plenty to guess about what’s to come.

– Gleeson steals the show. If you didn’t believe that Domhnall Gleeson was a revelation before this film, his role as the antagonist of sorts will be your convincing note. Not only does Gleeson revel in chewing up the scenery of each and every scene as this sophisticated snob of sorts, but his endlessly amped-up physicality in each scene silences the disbelief of live property versus animated one with ease.

– The film’s quick pacing is complimented by some thrilling chase scenes that truly capture the imagination of the environment. These scenes are tightly edited and rapidly moving to keep their audience at energetic levels.

– A rorschach test of character framing. Interestingly enough, I found the children in the audience to be faithfully rooting for Peter and his band of colorful creatures, but I saw things from Gleeson’s point of view repeatedly, and I think that adult versus child comparison comes into play in a film with characters this respective of each demographic.

– In addition to a roller-coaster of laughs and debauchery, there’s a hearty romance developing between Gleeson and Byrne that is taking place in the background. The subtlety of their growing relationship takes its time firmly, and the chemistry between them is every bit as delightful as it is important to each respective person. After being chained down for ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ this weekend, it was nice to see how a real romance develops between two human beings.

– Lets all give Sony a round of applause for making a movie without pimping their products out. While this doesn’t seem like a big deal, I’ve seen films (Cough Cough, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’) that feels like a two hour commercial for the production team behind it. Less is more, and maybe they are starting to learn that.

THE NEGATIVES

– The musical soundtrack does the thing where it soils the integrity of the property by instilling a collection of top 40 favorites to boost downloads. Where it tries to improve itself is changing and adapting the lyrics of such songs like Len’s ‘Steal My Sunshine’ or Fort Minor’s ‘Remember the Name’ to narrate a character struggle. It’s just the minority when compared to the majority that isn’t this creative.

– Pointless narration by Margot Robbie’s bird character. The narration is only in the film four times, and every time we hear it, it’s to remind us of something we just learned in the previous scene.

– The rules of who can hear the animals talking gets slightly skewed in the final act, especially after a random little girl acknowledges that she can hear them easily. This creates some holes in logic for earlier sequences that would’ve been spoiled had the rules followed these twists.

7/10

The 15:17 to Paris

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Starring – Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone

The Plot – In the early evening of August 21, 2015, the world watched in stunned silence as the media reported a thwarted terrorist attack on Thalys train #9364 bound for Paris, an attempt prevented by three courageous young Americans traveling through Europe. The film follows the course of the friends’ lives, from the struggles of childhood through finding their footing in life, to the series of unlikely events leading up to the attack. Throughout the harrowing ordeal, their friendship never wavers, making it their greatest weapon and allowing them to save the lives of the more than 500 passengers on board.

Rated PG-13 for bloody images, violence, some suggestive material, drug references and adult language

THE POSITIVES

– As an experimental director, Clint Eastwood continues to wet his palate with an unorthodox approach to depicting this story. Because of the invasive nature of the angles and approaches to character shadowing, the film feels very much like a documentary that is taking place in real time.

– There was a point in this film where I feared that it would strike at the hot coals of the religious conversation, but thankfully one of the few things that screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal does with confidence is to taste enough of a poignant approach without souring the taste of an audience who came for a particular genre of film.

– It rarely settles for the conventional approach to real life biopics, and whether you like or dislike the film, you must give it respect for instilling some different takes to an overcrowded subgenre.

THE NEGATIVES

– In one word: Scatterbrained. This screenplay is a mess, undermining the terrifying day to the final twenty minutes of the film. Considering the entirety of the trailer is in the train, it’s a major disappointment to see that it means so little to the finished product. In addition to this, there is an attempt to tell the backstory of these three lifelong friends since childhood, but it does so without ever capitalizing on what grows them into a brotherhood.

– There was easily enough material here to push this to the two hour mark, but Eastwood’s newest is a vicious victim of the hack-and-slash by studios without enough confidence in the audience paying to see it.

– I can appreciate the decision to cast the actual three men in the roles here, but it fails for two big reasons. The first, their acting is bad even for amateur standards, speeding through dialogue reads with too much monotone and not enough passion. The second, this is a major spoiler to someone like me who never heard of the events on the train before this film. If the real life figures are alive, then I know they make it out of the train alright.

– Jenna Fischer and Judy Greer play two of the moms to the trio of men, and it’s interesting to note that they don’t age even remotely in the 15-20 years that has passed in this timeline focus.

– Unconventional is one thing, but to not even have a remote outline of a three act structure shows how off of the beaten path this film really was. More than anything, this feels like a collection of scenes while the crew was on vacation. I say that because so little that is introduced ever actually leads to something of substance in the bigger picture.

– This film totally drops the ball on dramatic tension, speeding through brief scenes of conflict with a grave feeling of impatience that does it little favors in pulling the audience into the environment. I’ve been bored before in a film, but I didn’t even have a heartbeat for this sluggish deficit of attention.

– Eastwood’s directing stamp is noticeably missing, particularly in the final fifteen minutes that show too much and don’t tell enough to communicate with the audience. Many of these scenes feel void of an edit button, leaving the camera on for far too long to eat away at the scenery that is fading fast.

3/10

Hostiles

Directed by Scott Cooper

Starring – Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi

THE PLOT – Set in 1892, Hostiles tells the story of a legendary Army Captain (Bale), who after stern resistance, reluctantly agrees to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief (Studi) and his family back to tribal lands. Making the harrowing and perilous journey from Fort Berringer, an isolated Army outpost in New Mexico, to the grasslands of Montana, the former rivals encounter a young widow (Pike), whose family was murdered on the plains. Together, they must join forces to overcome the punishing landscape, hostile Comanche and vicious outliers that they encounter along the way.

Rated R for strong violence and adult language

THE POSITIVES

– What a breathtaking cinematic scope that cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi helms beautifully. Western genre films are all about these immense landscape depictions that stretch out as far as they eyes can see, and ‘Hostiles’ certainly doesn’t lack this feature in the mesmerizing establishing shots that articulate the Northwest Passage on a big, beautiful screen.

– The Oscars screwed up. How Bale or Pike didn’t get nominated for their dedicated work is beyond me. Pike is my personal favorite, commanding a woman whose transformation after the devastation of loss left me riddled with goosebumps. Bale as well goes through a transformation of his own, but for toeing the line of a life that looks different now that he sees the glass as half full.

– Cooper doesn’t get enough credit for his writing. Here, he exerts himself endlessly as a master storyteller in supplanting us with the important details that paint an ever so vivid picture in understanding the different shade of characters that adorn his film.

– Not for the weak. This film surprised me time and time again with its endless string of brutality and consequential aftermath, but none the more appropriate for setting the tone than the opening ten minute scene that left my jaw hitting the floor with impact.

– Composer Max Richter constructs perhaps an even more dire musical score than even his work on ‘Shutter Island’. What’s more ironic here is not necessarily the pieces themselves, which are all stirring violin-instilled ranges that pay ode to the classic western genre of films intently, but how subtle their influences are. The accompanying music echoes lowly in the background, choosing to never overstep the boundaries of an audience absorbing the ever-changing range of scenery.

– There are many themes throughout the film, but the two important and resonating ones that I found were “When is killing appropriate?” and “How does killing change a person?”. These two directions make up so much of Cooper’s script, and does so in a way that pays homage to the centuries old oppression of Indian tribes, while opening up a poignant approach to modern times with those we deem as different.

– For a 130 minute film, much of the movie blows by and is paced smoothly because of my emotional attachment to the uncertainty of these characters and their dangerous journey ahead.

– The budding romance between Bale and Pike’s characters is certainly evident, yet never used in a way that feels familiar in how Hollywood depicts the emergence of romance between them. To me, I sensed more of a spiritual bond between them, bringing to life a chemistry that unravels as something much more important than bed buddies.

THE NEGATIVES

– Far too often, the film caters to a tell-and-not-show approach with many of its death scenes. I counted three instances when we’re told something that wasn’t shown on screen, and these were important details that bridged the gap in understanding what we’re seeing in front of us.

– The first half of the film is definitely the better half. There’s no more evidence of this than the final twenty minutes in which a new antagonist pops up out of nowhere to give in to that desire of a final shootout. Not only do I think this was unnecessary, but it feels like tacked on dramatic effect to make up for disposing of an original enemy so early in the film.

8/10

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Directed by Wes Ball

Starring – Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Sangster

THE PLOT – In the epic finale to The Maze Runner Saga, Thomas (O’Brien) leads his group of escaped Gladers on their final and most dangerous mission yet. To save their friends, they must break into the legendary last city, a WCKD controlled labyrinth that may turn out to be the deadliest maze of all. Anyone who makes it out alive will get the answers to the questions the Gladers have been asking since they first arrived in the maze. Will Thomas and the crew make it out alive? Or will Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkston) get her way?

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

THE POSITIVES

– There are a few surprising cameos both within the realm of this film universe, as well as real life celebrity that raised my respect of reputation for the film. I won’t give anything away, but my favorite character in this trilogy makes a triumphant return and steals more than a few scenes.

– Big budget set pieces. There’s a ringing feeling throughout the film that no dollar was spared in the visual backdrops (Both C.G and non), giving Ball’s conclusion to this series a grown-up action genre presence that has matured along with the characters fittingly.

– The action sequences are very imaginative and rattling with each passing scene. If it is destruction that you crave, let The Death Cure be your anecdote.

– O’Brien’s commitment to at least seeing the series through. Most stars, once they become a big name presence, forget about the roles that made them (See Lawrence, Jennifer), so it’s nice to see Dylan still being a noble contributor and finishing with gritty personality what he started with green earnestness.

THE NEGATIVES

– While I dug the action sequences, the film is littered with them to a fault. As to where ‘The Scorch Trials’ was plagued with too much exposition and not enough action in between, this film is the exact opposite, exhausting me to tears by the repetition in setup that wears itself thin quickly.

– Speaking of exposition, this script picks and chooses what gets highlighted for its audience. Some things that don’t feel remotely important by the end of the movie are given long-winded explanations, while those key details that bridge the gap of understanding for audiences feel lost in the shuffle.

– The film could’ve used an introduction recap in refreshing the previous two films for people like myself who see over 200 films a year and can’t quite remember every detail from Y.A series that rub together. Without it, this only feeds into the hardcore fans who have stuck by this franchise this long and await a payoff that never comes.

– Urgency yes, vulnerability no. Believe me when I say that you never fear for our protagonists a single time once you’re about a half hour into the film, and the reason for this is because there is a laughably tedious routine each time they get in the slightest bit of trouble that sees them escape the jaws of death in the most silly of ways, making it feel like it was planned like such.

– Watching this film with an avid fan of the books gave me a stunning comparison. She revealed to me that this film is about 7% on par with the events of the book, casting a huge drop-off from the book versus film comparison of the original Maze Runner, which she said was 75% alike. This ultimately means that fans of the books might feel alienated with a series they’ve come to know and love.

– My biggest problem with the series overall is what mazes that risk the lives of youths have to do with testing their intelligence. Surely there are less maniacal ways to test their strongest muscle. Perhaps a math challenge??

4/10

Den of Thieves

Directed by Christian Gudegast

Starring – Gerard Butler, O’Shea Jackson, Pablo Schreiber

THE PLOT – A gritty Los Angeles crime saga which follows the intersecting and often personally connected lives of an elite unit of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. and the state’s most successful bank robbery crew as the outlaws plan a seemingly impossible heist on the Federal Reserve Bank of downtown Los Angeles.

Rated R for violence, adult language and some sexuality/nudity

THE POSITIVES

– Gerard Butler gives arguably his best performance since ‘300’. It’s probably not saying a lot positively when Butler gives the best performance in a film, but as Nick Flanagan, Butler rides a double identity that has him juggling family life and a dangerous career to stay afloat.

– The sound design here is an up-roaring achievement. Through a few shootout sequences, the amplified echo of automatic riffles transformed Los Angeles into a think-fast warzone, over the all American dollar.

– Some beautiful exterior shots of the city of angels that hints at a Michael Mann kind of influence behind Gudegast’s inspirations. As to where Mann fell in love with the flashy neon’s of the southeast, Christian balances the beauty and ugly under the same west coast sky where millions reside.

– There was never a role where I felt that anyone was miscast. Bridges in particular continues to be a commanding presence on the silver screen, carving out a name for himself that reminds us that he is anyone but his father when it comes to projects he accepts.

THE NEGATIVES

– Two hours and fifteen minutes is an endurance test for any film, let alone one whose story could easily reside under two hours with some attention to necessary trimming in expositional over-abundance. Considering the big robbery begins with an hour left in the movie, it’s mind-boggling why that was the area of the film that plodded the most.

– In addition to the previous point, there are scenes that serve little purpose the more I thought about them, as well as character traits that go absolutely nowhere. For instance, Jackson’s character is a well known speed demon behind the wheel, but this never comes into play during the robbery, so why include it in the story? Another scene involves 50 Cent’s daughter being taken to a dance, only to be intimidated by his group of criminals. Where this goes in the long run? Why nowhere but a standard throwaway scene for the audience to remotely chuckle between scenes of suspense. It’s mood-ruiner 101 at its finest.

– Some of the dialogue in this film points to late 90’s anti-homosexual spouting that seems severely outdated with our current scene on Hollywood. It’s embarrassing and stands out like an unnecessary sore thumb during the tense scenes of the two gangs colliding.

– In my opinion, the film progressed the smoothest when the lines of comparison between the two sides seemed apparent. So it angered me deeply when so much of the second act becomes a dick measuring contest between Butler and Schreiber’s characters, limiting the rest of the supporting cast to disappearing acts that only re-appear when the film absolutely needs them to.

– Obvious C.G blood that reminded me of Syfy movie-of-the-week’s when it splattered in front of the screen. The closer its depiction, the worst it looked in terms of believability.

– The finale reaches for a twist that honestly isn’t defined as an actual plot twist. In addition to this, it’s obvious because the film showed its hand during the first act in a throwaway line in which they felt no one was paying attention. Probably because no one but me actually was.

4/10

12 Strong

Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig

Starring – Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, William Fichtner

THE PLOT – The True Story of the Army’s Special Forces “Green Berets”, who within weeks responded to the 9-11 attack. Green Berets and AFSOC took over the country and allowed other Special Forces and the rest of the conventional military to begin the more publicly visible war.

Rated R for war violence and adult language throughout

THE POSITIVES

– An impressive introduction sequence that is articulately narrated and edited through the days after America’s darkest hours. This history lesson paints a vivid reality of the eggshells that we as a country were walking on.

– Exceptional camera angles that replicate a soldier’s point-of-view faithfully, through tight and over the back view points. This puts the audience in the moment without it being a gimmick like POV.

– Action sequences while limited, are shot competently enough, with shreds of urgency that trigger the uneasy from the audience watching from beyond the screen.

– Speaking of action, the final twenty minutes pack a vibrating crescendo that never stops pumping. These sequences are so finely paced, and never run short of visual thrills.

– The weaponry and combat versatility compliments a dual blend of traditional (Horseback strikes) and modern (Automatic arms) that superbly bridges the generations of war. We’re so used to seeing tanks and airstrikes that we rarely ever think about the countries who strike by horse.

– Fuglsig’s film never aims to be anything bigger that it rightfully is. While this is a brave and harrowing tale in the war against terror, the film reminds us that it is only the first chapter in a bigger war.

THE NEGATIVES

– There’s too much talk and not enough action during the first half of the film. This is when the movie dragged the most for me, and felt the demands of a 125 minute runtime.

– There’s an attempt to understand the villain’s perspective, but it’s every single Taliban antagonist that CNN has ever painted for you. There’s nothing that makes them standout in a poignant approach.

– This film needs so desperately for someone to take the reigns as a reputable performance, but the underwritting of personality in this script disappointingly wastes what is an early favorite for best ensemble cast of 2018. There’s ultimately no diversity in this brotherhood, so many of the characters rub together without breaking free from their shackles of ambiguity.

– The second half of the film is definitely much more impactful, but it comes at the price of abandoning character exposition. Beyond even the soldiers, Hemsworth’s wife and kids are never brought back up again after the opening ten minutes, leaving behind a chance to finally capitalize on a soldier’s price paid back home that very few war films capitalize on.

6/10

Proud Mary

Directed by Babak Nijafi

Starring – Taraji P Henson, Neal McDonough, Danny Glover

THE PLOT – Mary (Henson) is a successful hitwoman working for an organized crime family in Boston. However, her life is completely shifted when she meets a young boy whose path she crosses when a professional hit goes wrong, leaving the boy orphaned with only Mary to protect him.

Rated R for graphic violence and minimal adult language

THE POSITIVES

– Brief runtime of 82 minutes that really keeps the focus of the story grounded, and limits much downtime in between.

– Henson’s precise performance that gives way to Mary’s gritty and ferocious side. We’ve seen Taraji playing a badass before, but this role feels like breakthrough territory for the actress, establishing her as a possible new face of action annihilation.

– An exciting shoot-em-up finale that finally gives us light into Mary’s particularly gifted set of skills. This, as well as the 70’s Blacksploitation introduction felt like the only proof of the film that I was promised from a light-hearted atmospheric trailer.

– I feel that the set pieces and interior backdrops articulately channeled the personalities and backstories of Mary and her entire supporting cast. For Mary, the guns being hidden behind walls of vibrant decoration hint at the kind of double life that she leads.

– The sporadic action sequences do hit when they finally appear, bringing with them ruthless impact in sound mixing that only magnifies the dire urgency of the situation.

THE NEGATIVES

– There is simply no first act in this film. When the movie begins, it feels like we have walked into a situation that has been building for ten prior minutes. Further proof of this is Mary just appearing without any kind of build or impact for her appearance that gets us psyched.

– Because of the bone-headed choice NOT to exploit this Blacksploitation direction, the film settles for being a bland, generic action presentation that never sticks around long enough to leave a memorable impact.

– For a movie called ‘Proud Mary’, the screenplay cares so little about her. When she’s not splitting screen time with her newly adopted youth, the majority of scenes focus on her adversaries. I appreciate building equal ground here between protagonist and antagonist, but I feel like this film was a huge missed opportunity in getting to know Mary the person before she became this hit-for-hire.

– The fight choreography is virtually non-existent, opting instead for gun fights for the majority. When we do see hand-to-hand combat, the edits are very quick and choppy, making Henson’s believability that much more taxing by the minute.

– This film takes itself far too seriously. Much of this problem feeds into my second problem with the film, but action films become a problem first-and-foremost when I’m not having fun, and ‘Proud Mary’s’ biggest undoing is sticking with a formula that only until recently had re-defined the genre (John Wick).

5/10

The Commuter

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Starring – Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson

THE PLOT – Michael (Neeson) is an insurance salesman is on his daily commute home, when it quickly becomes anything but routine. After being contacted by a mysterious stranger (Farmiga), Michael is forced to uncover the identity of a hidden passenger on his train before the last stop. As he works against the clock to solve the puzzle, he realizes a deadly plan is unfolding and is unwittingly caught up in a criminal conspiracy. One that carries life and death stakes for himself and his fellow passengers.

Rated PG-13 for some intense action/violence, and adult language

THE POSITIVES

– No matter how many times Neeson has played this particular role in this particularly jaded situation, his everyman routine never loses flavor. As Michael, Neeson’s humanity shines through, depicting the only character that we, as well as the film cares about to put valued exposition into.

– Collet-Serra again adds a shade of weathered atmosphere to play into the real beauty of his picture. For a film that basically feels like it was straight out of 90’s action flicks like ‘Speed’ and ‘Air Force One’, there’s certainly a lot more to look at here that wets the appetite of anyone looking for warmth in personalized touch that rubs off vibrantly in every shot.

– Speaking of shots, the film’s train sequences are shot superbly, catering to a majority of tight-knit angles that speaks volumes to the very claustrophobia of the revealing situation around our protagonist.

– Despite being confined overwhelmingly in stage setting, the fight sequences pack enough brutality in brunt offense to keep the fight lover in all of us at bay. My personal favorite is the inclusion of a guitar that comes into play.

– The pacing for at least the first two acts is something that keeps this train moving at top speed. Sure, the setup cares more about the story and less about the pawns, but the mental gears of the audience continuously turn through a modern day whodunnit? that throws a wrench or two into theories.

– This is one film that isn’t demeaned by a PG-13 setting, keeping the dialogue classy and the violence sporadic to feed into the ‘less is more’ theory.

THE NEGATIVES

– Despite Neeson’s Michael, no other character is given even slightly enough exposition to make the big reveal something jaw-dropping in terms of shock factor. To fix this, I wouldn’t have been in such a hurry to get to the train, and let his supporting cast respond to this terrible day that Michael was having before he ever boarded. The biggest regret is unfortunately Farmiga’s antagonist character who never feels like an intellectual equal to Michael’s detective background.

– Third act blues. Would it be cliche to say that the final thirty minutes of this film flies off the railings? Well, I’ll just say that between a crash sequence that feels like an afterthought and a final scene that feels every bit as tacked on as it does tidy, there’s an overwhelming feeling that this script was written on an idea and very little else.

– I’m all for paying attention, but the clues used in this film to figuring out the motive are a bit too meandering and scatter-brained for my taste. I figured out Farmiga’s right hand culprit with about a half hour left of the movie, and that’s because I started to see that the obviousness of some events in the first act that stick out like a sore thumb. Convenience of being in the right place at the right time also serves Neeson well in cracking the case.

– The musical score by Roque Banos is disappointingly his worst to date. After riveting tonal capacities in films like ‘Evil Dead’ and ‘Don’t Breathe’, Banos here feels out of place, ushering through a strong repetition of tones that wouldn’t be good enough to make his B-sides of a greatest hits compilation. A thriller especially relies on the music to stir the uneasy in its audience, but its underwhelming string sometimes gives these fight scenes a feeling of stock sampling.

6/10

Pitch Perfect 3

Pitches of the world unite for one final tour that will send the Bella’s on their respective paths to adulthood for good. In ‘Pitch Perfect 3’, after the highs of winning the World Championships, the Bellas find themselves split apart and discovering there aren’t job prospects for making music with your mouth. But when they get the chance to reunite for an overseas USO tour, this group of awesome nerds will come together to make some music, and some questionable decisions that will make or break them, one last time. Along the way, they will meet an array of talented musicians from across the globe who will rival them once more to wonder if they can bring the thunder for the performance of a lifetime. ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ is directed by Trish Sie, and is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, adult language, and some action sequences.

I think it’s safe to say that this series has officially jumped the shark. In its third and (as of right now) final chapter in the series, the Pitch Perfect franchise has betrayed what it was known as before, in all of the musical muster and comedy hijinks that they could get themselves into, by adding an unnecessary and unfitting level of action thrills to this series that is anything but. This gives the film an overwhelming lack of confidence within itself to remain true to what (frankly) got it through two films. I am someone who has been half and half with this series up to this point. The first film was a lot of fun, shedding light to a side of college career paths that don’t often get the exposure. The second film added very little to the franchise because of how much it took from its original and better predecessor. Then comes ‘Pitch Perfect 3’, a film that is once again completely unnecessary and only has leverage to lose in what it offers to its faithful audience. As it turns out, that is very little. ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ falls flat on the series closing efforts, cementing a thought process that this series should’ve easily been left at one.

Right away, we are presented with a set-up in execution that makes about as much sense as the mind will allow. The USO has decided to not only bring this college acapella group that no one outside of the college knows about, but also in four other groups that are so well known that they must perform famous musician’s songs in getting over. Who knew that the USO were so cheap? I mean, it’s my thought process that can’t overlook the idea that if these groups are singing a Lenny Kravitz song, why not just bring over Lenny Kravitz to perform for our men and women who are defending our freedoms? Beyond this, the film has a subplot that is completely out of left field with Amy’s father (Played by John Lithgow) coming back into her life with some secrets of his own. It is in this angle where we not only learn that Amy’s family has been involved in some dark details, but that Amy herself is a well-trained martial artist who can flip and kick her way through any adversity. Where did this come from? This once sweet and soft side series now feels miles away from where it ends up in this jumbled plot that is all over the place thematically. I’m all for adding something additional to play off of the music that will always be there, but the additions here don’t work from any level of consistency in bridging the gap between films.

The humor usually misses more than hits, mainly from Amy’s low-brow humor that outlines a terribly nasty person inside who stops at nothing to cut down everyone around her, but I did notice one direction out of left field that could’ve saved this film overall and offered a refreshing take for the series had they exploited it more. That angle is in the satire of the series that even the most vital of protagonists are poking fun at, in this stage. This definitely isn’t a film that takes itself too seriously, despite the compromising shifts from action sequences that totally feel out of place on every possible level. There are on-going angles involving the unlimited number of Bella’s, the few of which never get any screen time. There’s also a reflection of their first act battles with other groups that always ends with them losing. These familiar roads for fans will have them fighting back laughs in the very predictable-without-being-stale roads that this trilogy has taken, and prove that these women are strong enough to take a joke even at the heart of its own structure. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t exploit this blessing from the gods enough, and the majority of its material surges on the same undercooked material that we have seen for going on five hours now in this series as a whole.

Thankfully, the music selections and performance numbers still offer an air of creativity that pushes them further than this being just another karaoke contest. Part of the reason that you watch these films is to see the unorthodox spin that the movie takes on current top 40 hits and even classic rock-n-roll favorites that offer something for everyone. In addition to the Bella’s singing, they also beatbox their way in some truly clever instances that never require instruments in getting their performances over. If this isn’t enough however, the groups that challenge the Bella’s bring everything from guitars to a fiddle in presenting the widest example of musical versatility that has ever hit this series. If I had one critique for the performances, it was in the underwhelming sound mixing that offered a wall of disbelief to their lip-synching. There are several scenes during the film in which we see the mouths of our ladies moving, but there’s no microphone in front of them. So how are we hearing them crystal clear over mountains of thunderous music that echoes around them? Negatives like this are so easy to fix that it’s baffling, but it reminds me time-and-time-again the kind of lack in focus and phoning it in that this series has become saddled with.

As for characters and performances, the main characters stand-out again, leaving very little wiggle room for the supporting cast that are table dressing for the main course. Kendrick is again fit as a fiddle for her leading role, but there’s an ambiance of this being a paycheck film for her that overrides the lack of energy within her performance. Not that the miniscule direction gives her much help along the way, but Kendrick’s often dependable stride feels like the biggest mourning in terms of the biggest changes here from film to film, and it’s a task in replacing that the film never truly fills. If I had to pick a favorite, I would say Brittany Snow’s Chloe is arguably the most improved player, juggling this air of inevitability with her group as well as a budding romance with a soldier that gives her reason again to shine in the light. As I mentioned before, Rebel Wilson’s Amy is truly awful and filled me with anger every time her shallow character filled the screen. She would be the worst character in a normal movie, but here Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins are happy to cast the expectations even lower. Why are these two even in this film? Their characters are there to make a documentary that no one is ever going to see, and in it they continuously mock and tear down the Bella’s self-esteem. They are like Waldorf and Stadler from The Muppets, but without any of the class or reasoning that comes with their inclusion. Every time the film cuts to them, you know what’s coming, so it just creates another speed bump on the progression through this brief 89 minute script that needs more anchor from its confident cast.

THE VERDICT – ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ is the sequel that no one asked for, and worse yet earned very little in surprises to justify its existence. This is one swan song that goes out on the lowest of low notes disappointingly, and the tonal switch in genre form compromises every noble ideal of learning to thrive by being yourself that the series has harvested to this point. If Sie’s blunder is a stage-show, it’s one that plays for far too long, with one too many encores that send the audience home exhausted instead of exhilarated.

4/10