Johnny English Strikes Again

Directed by David Kerr

Starring – Rowan Atkinson, Olga Kurylenko, Emma Thompson

The Plot – The third installment of the Johnny English comedy series, with Rowan Atkinson returning as the much loved accidental secret agent. The new adventure begins when a cyber-attack reveals the identity of all active undercover agents in Britain, leaving Johnny English as the Secret Service’s last hope. Called out of retirement, English dives head first into action with the mission to find the mastermind hacker. As a man with few skills and analog methods, Johnny English must overcome the challenges of modern technology to make this mission a success.

Rated PG for some action violence, rude humor, adult language and brief nudity

POSITIVES

– Late but purposeful. It has been eight years since the previous Johnny English installment, and fifteen since the original that went on to be a box office smash, bringing 320 million dollars between them. So it’s certainly easy to understand why a third chapter exists, and with the addition of technological nemesis like Cyber-Hacking, Identity Theft, and such, it allows English to explore avenues of antagonists that he hasn’t yet tackled. But it also provides the opportunity in valuing these new toys that help him crack the case a little easier. This gives the third movie proper motivation and deters it from the previous movies, whose environments were a product of their time.

– Stylish, spy thriller cinematography by Florian Hoffmeister. ‘Strikes Again’ is fill of slick car chase sequences through the bending mountainside, as well as never-ending portraits of English countryside that competently articulates the genre’s predecessors in visual likeness. These examples are a constant reminder of how faithful this film sticks with its intended genre purpose, and perfectly sets its audience in the mood for what’s to come.

– Quick run time. The film clocks in at a measly 84 minutes, and this may perhaps be its greatest benefit against a plot that isn’t necessarily substantive or even imaginative. Much of the pacing remained persistent, and never felt like it was sagging or dulling me to the point of checking my watch, particularly with the carefully spread out sight gags that bring enticement to each act.

– Doesn’t require allegiance to the previous films. As a critic, I am a bit ashamed to say that I never saw either of the first two films in this series, but thankfully Kerr’s sequel doesn’t rely at all on Johnny’s past work, just on the very legend of the character that sets him apart from the other spies. In this regard, the movie stands on its own independent feet, catering to a new generation of youthful moviegoers without ever alienating fans of the series, who are now grown-ups.

– Hit or miss performances. Atkinson still gives his all to this character, portraying English with a sort of unaware cool smug about his asinine decisions that make him the proper outcast for any spy character. His best attribute is in his bodily movements that dare you not to laugh each time he dedicates a thorough amount of time to the gag. Likewise, his chemistry with sidekick Bough (Played by Ben Miller) is impeccable, and allows the two cherished English actors great importance to the story’s progression. Unfortunately, the female cast is less opportunistic. Thompson is virtually wasted as the Prime Minister, sprouting her sparse ten total minutes on camera as being the subplot to Johnny’s mayhem. It is unfortunate that the two have such little screen time together to bounce off of one another, as the inclusion of a prestigious actress like Thomposon could’ve added much-needed female dynamic to the film that it just doesn’t master. Kurylenko is also phoning it in, playing Bond girl 27. The film just kind of forgets about her the longer it goes, proving her intention was nothing more than eye-candy that feels dated for the kind of equality we have mastered most recently in films.

NEGATIVES

– Cheap budget for virtually non-existent action sequences. What this film needs is an element of devastation in adding weight or memorability to the movie. One example of this limited perspective is a fire sequence in the opening twenty minutes that not only shies away from depicting the start of the fire, but also only acknowledges it through the facial reactions of our two male leads, with a flicker of light reflecting from their faces. Sadly, this is the highlight for the film in the set pieces department, removing any kind of consequential weight from the irresponsibility of clumsy characters.

– Ineffective humor. This film, perhaps more than anything else, is a blueprint for the differences in English and American comedy that have divided them for decades in terms of intended marks. With the exception of one sequence that stretches the boundaries and believability of virtual reality, I didn’t laugh once in this entire film, and that’s a huge disappointment for someone like Atkinson, whom I’ve adored for decades on the Mr. Bean program. Part of the blame is the juvenile atmosphere created, but I put so much more on punchlines that are skimmed over like just another line read.

– No surprises. Considering this is a spoof on spy thrillers, the lack of overall mystery and motivations within the characters feels like a pivotal misfire against a predictable screenplay full of genre cliches. Pretty much from the opening ten minutes of the movie you can piece it all together where the film’s antagonist, conflict, and resolution will fall, proving that the film’s lack of intelligence within itself stems from so much more than a bumbling protagonist who has never used a cell phone in 2018.

– An idea within. Instead of a plot that more than rubs together with previous films in the series, I preferred an angle that the screenplay only hints at. English is now an espionage teacher of sorts for a school of youths, and I think this original direction could’ve done with its youthful cast the same things that ‘Kingsman’ did for troubled adolescents. Is there any guarantee it would’ve been a better film? Absolutely not, but the desire in crafting a chapter of originality is something I commend any series for, but unfortunately it’s a sequel in plot that never strays far from familiarity.

– In Kerr’s directing, the biggest flaw that I found was his inability in taking chances. Most of the shot compositions, as well as character world-building feels very pedestrian and one-dimensionally confined to the actions of the film. What I mean by this is it doesn’t feel believable in the slightest that this world exists outside of this movie, refusing to explore English when he isn’t donning the three piece suit. This is where screenwriter William Davies takes his share of the blame, because his conflict lacks true complexity in fleshing out the true danger of the profession. These psychological delves could allow us not only to feel more invested in the hollow plot, but also in the range of the character, who hasn’t sprouted much in fifteen years.

5/10

The Predator

Directed by Shane Black

Starring – Sterling K Brown, Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn

The Plot – From the outer reaches of space to the small-town streets of suburbia, the predator walks again. Now, the universe’s most lethal hunters are stronger, smarter and deadlier than ever before, having genetically upgraded themselves with DNA from other species. When a young boy accidentally triggers their return to Earth, only a ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and a disgruntled science teacher can prevent the end of the human race.

Rated R for strong bloody violence, adult language throughout, and crude sexual references

POSITIVES

– Coveted R-rating. Thankfully Shane Black knows the kind of adult material required to properly convey the ferocity of the Predator character, and this film makes the most of opportunities that other Predator movies weren’t fortunate enough to get. This latest chapter is bloodier (Albeit C.G blood), cruder, and especially the most violent of the series thus far. Simply put, you can’t succeed in a movie like this if you don’t give yourself the chance, and there’s zero limitations in terms of the influence of those things that I previously mentioned.

– As a writer, Black dabbles a lot in the Predator folklore and ideals for a franchise that six films in still feels very cryptic. This really feels like the first time we’ve ever tried to understand the culture of this alien race, and what their soul purpose is for frequently visiting our planet. Does every idea succeed? Absolutely not, but the layers that Black has given this iconic character certainly opens the door of experimentation for future films to soak in.

– Treasures its past. What I love perhaps the most about this film is that it is a sequel, first and foremost. In the era of reboots and rehashes, ‘The Predator’ continues the thirty year continuity with a chapter that bridges the gaps of the previous films, including many winks and nods to characters and invasions that only hardcore fans of the series would understand. Why reboot a series that frankly hasn’t even tipped the iceberg in terms of its creativity? Instead, cherishing the past will undoubtedly enhance the appeal of the future.

– The Predator’s costume is still one of the coolest in all of horror, and we are treated to several lengthy vantage points of its artistic integrity. The regular Predator has so much practical layers to it, and the new “Super-Predator” simply cannot compete with its ingenuity. What’s even more effective is that the movements of the actor inside the suit doesn’t feel hindered or compromised because of suffocating weight, giving whoever the ability to move as fast as the scene or sequence requires.

NEGATIVES

– Poorly edited. A question arose every ten minutes of my showing for this film, and I feel like a lot of people will suffer a similar fate because of the horrendous job of visual storytelling that this film merits for itself. Character deaths are missed by choppy cuts, certain characters feel like they transport from one room to the next between cuts because there’s no scene in between to bridge the time of travel, and days feel like they rub together because of how a scene taking place on Halloween cut and pasted a daytime and nighttime scene literally back-to-back.

– Do you watch a Predator movie to laugh? I certainly don’t. It’s not that I have a problem with humor being a part of the Predator franchise. Hell, there were great male sex jokes in the original movie. But you have to know where to draw the line, especially when it diminishes the line of suspense that this film goes without throughout its entirety. The comedy for the most part works in generating its intended laughter, but in going to this well far too many times, you start to lose sight of what kind of tone this film should rightfully be.

– One-off scene problem. This question will only be familiar to people who see the film, but how the fuck did the main protagonist swallow that enormous metal object in the beginning of the film? My suspension of disbelief can only go so far, and there’s no physical way that anyone on this planet could swallow or stomach something so abnormally big for the human throat.

– Pedestrian performances. I didn’t hate anyone’s work in this film. After all, poor character direction can only take you so far. But nobody in this movie feels believable in the roles they adopt. Olivia Munn is arguably the least convincing doctor that I have ever seen. A fellow doctor asks her how she got this far, and her reply is “I wrote a note to the president when I was a little girl, that said if an alien race was discovered, I want to examine it”. For a second, I wondered if this was a joke, and that something bigger was coming, but no, that’s the explanation we as an audience are treated to. Beyond this Holbrook’s leading man lacks enough charisma to be the true focus, and is responsible for most of the trouble that his group of misfits encounter. Donald K. Sterling is entirely wasted, being in the film for about fifteen total minutes, only to chime in when the film requires sloppy exposition to counter its minimal storytelling balance. It’s a shame too, because Sterling’s energy does give sagging scenes a much-needed pick-up, but Black never commits himself beyond billing to be a main character.

– Lack of geography or telegraphing within the action sequences. In addition to the various choppy editing that I already mentioned, what makes these scenes of havoc so difficult to interpret is the poor lighting associated with shooting these scenes at night. This pales in comparison to the final fifteen minutes of the movie however, as the last big bang by the two sides at war goes by so lightning quick, yet its pacing somehow feels like it takes a lifetime to get through. This is of course because we as an audience can’t read properly into what is happening to who, therefore diminishing your interest and forcing you to keep checking your watch to see how much is left.

– Takes far too long in getting to the movie that was advertised. To anyone who watched the deceiving trailer, you can put together that this is a film about humans battling a Predator, when a bigger, badder Predator shows up. That’s it. But in getting to that subplot (Yes I said subplot), you must first tread through fifty minutes of government agencies, dismissed soldiers, and scenes so full of dialogue that it would make Quentin Tarrantino say “Enough is enough”. Once we finally get the movie that was promised, it never feels like the most interesting or focused-upon material of the movie. For all of its hype, the super Predator is just a bigger version of the already dangerous model one, and his terrible C.G influence makes me want to cancel the upgrade, and instead stick with the original that is already proven.

4/10

Unbroken: Road To Redemption

Directed by Harold Cronk

Starring – Samuel Hunt, Marritt Patterson, Will Graham

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

Rated PG-13 for thematic content and related disturbing images

POSITIVES

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/10

Peppermint

Directed by Pierre Morel

Starring – Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr, John Ortiz

The Plot – Tells the story of young mother Riley North (Garner) who awakens from a coma after her husband and daughter are killed in a brutal attack on the family. When the system frustratingly shields the murderers from justice, Riley sets out to transform herself from citizen to urban guerilla. Channeling her frustration into personal motivation, she spends years in hiding honing her mind, body and spirit to become an unstoppable force — eluding the underworld, the LAPD and the FBI; as she methodically delivers her personal brand of justice.

Rated R for strong violence and adult language throughout

POSITIVES

– Wrong Place, Right girl. Garner once again gives a stimulating performance, this time as a gang-fighting vigilante, with a lot of pain from her tortured past. In living up to the bill, Jennifer showcases Riley’s transformation as one that clearly divides the two sides of her life, before and after the murders, giving the character the perfect confliction within herself that still yearns to love and be loved. The problem is never Garner in the slightest, but rather the film’s stumbling direction, that sadly once again doesn’t live up to its end of the agreement, in the same way 2004’s ‘Elektra’ nearly ruined her career.

– This is a solid hard-R rating, and those are the kind of stances unfortunately missing from today’s action genre scene. ‘Peppermint’ is anything but sweet, and its visceral carnage candy is the kind that will resonate with audiences, for its combination of fast-paced fight choreography and impactful gun violence that never disappoint. In this regard, ‘Peppermint’ is a homage to mid 90’s shoot-em-up’s that reminded us of the high stakes that our characters so enthusiastically engage in. It feels comfortable in its skin, and there’s something that I respect about that.

NEGATIVES

– This is a film that could’ve greatly benefited from a better editor. Scenes feel like they’re missing between supposed breathing periods of the story, pasting together two scenes that bring to light the problems without allowing time in between. Riley feels like she literally flies across town with impossible speed, characters meet their fates from one scene to the next without much explanation, and the action sequences themselves sometimes feel far too choppy, especially when combined with claustrophobia in location that has it lacking detection.

– Strange effect choices. No film should ever be compared to ‘Suicide Squad’, let alone in this example, but ‘Peppermint’ brings throughout a visually forced exposition that is every bit as unappealing to the eye as it is unnecessary to character psychology. The things the film is telling us aren’t exactly groundbreaking, and the snap-cut instances of their inclusion constantly reminded me of the Joker introduction scene from the film I mentioned earlier, with characters (Including Riley herself) popping in and out of frame like a disappearing trick.

– Offensive pacing. While the film never lagged for me in a 95 minute runtime, the story progression is an entirely different story. The film’s halves are uneven, with the second half feeling like it is constantly speeding towards a red light, and this handicaps the films in many ways. For one, we are told more than shown of the deaths that matter to us. Considering the first half of the film builds up a few characters in particular who hurt Riley, it feels like a betryal that we never get to see her revenge game realized against them. One scene has three victims hung up high on a ferris wheel, and I’m curious how this was even possible by Riley alone?? Then there’s Riley’s backstory when she vanishes for five years. Talking about this time and not showing it is a GREAT misjustice because it is in those scenes where we can gain great believability in Riley’s transformation. It’s the worst kind of slop, and proves the screenwriter didn’t care enough to stack the momentum to the film’s favor. Beyond this, the film overall lacks great urgency for how easy Riley is slicing through this Los Angeles gang like knife through butter. Pacing that is too quick can greatly hinder what’s memorable about a film, and that is what you have here.

– Three different endings. If this film ends in the first or even the second scene that feels like it is wrapping things up, then I would’ve been able to commend it for the bravery and sacrifice of believing in a cause, but unfortunately that isn’t the case here. Not only does this movie sequel bait for a second chapter that will undoubtedly never happen, but it buys its way out in the easiest of escapes, making the touching scenes before it that much more pointless because of it. There’s also a third act twist, which is easily predictable for the lack of exposition given to the antagonists in earlier scenes. The reason I was able to call it out is because the film spends a little too much time with a certain character who has minimal interaction with Riley, setting up an inevitable confrontation between them that can’t come quick enough.

– A Fox News wet dream. It’s great that even during a pivotal time when gun violence in schools is all the craze, there are still movies that have an unflattering agenda to sell. I have no problem with guns being used in action films, in fact they’re basically required, but the film’s lack of responsibility that comes with picking one up is something that still greatly troubles me. Guns look cool in movies, so youths are that much more inspired to pick one up, proving that two wrongs by characters does indeed make a right. If this isn’t enough, the antagonists are of course entirely one-dimensional Mexican characters, and given an immense amount of facial tattoos that make them conveniently easy to recognize in a line-up. I’m certain that movies don’t come on after Hannity, but I believe ‘Peppermint’ might be the first.

– Same old same. You don’t have to look far for Punisher style vigilante movies over the last ten years. Hell, after March’s ‘Death Wish’, this is the second one this year with an identical premise and progression. Riley even dons a bullet-proof vest to her wardrobe that makes a die-hard Punisher fan like me yawn with displeasure. What’s troubling about this is ‘Peppermint’ never does anything to break itself away from the pack, feeling like a greatest hits or tropes and cliches for the subgenre that we mark off like a virtual checklist the longer the film goes on. Even if you haven’t seen ‘Peppermint’, you really have. It’s derivative of movies that did it better, and did it first.

– The name Peppermint itself is such a terrible title for this movie, because its usage in the film is minimal at best. Her daughter sells Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies and indulges in peppermint ice cream before the incident, and apparently this was enough to justify the title of the movie. While it has nothing to do with the film itself, a title can articulately set the mood for what a new viewer is getting themselves into. Just imagine if ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ was called Soapstone, for the material Andy carves the chess pieces out of. It’s stretching at the very least, and is a terrible one word representation for everything that follows.

– Spends far too much time with the lawful supporting cast than it does with the leading lady. This might be the biggest offense of all, because Garner feels like a supporting character in her own movie. Instead of trying to piece together Riley’s fragile psyche and taking time to value her interaction with the surrounding homeless residents who view her as an angel, we instead get this boring, by-the-books investigation that is only highlighting what we’ve visually been watching.

2/10

Kin

Directed by Jonathan and Josh Baker

Starring – Myles Truitt, Dennis Quaid, James Franco

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

A.X.L

Directed by Oliver Daly

Starring – Alex Neustaedter, Thomas Jane, Becky G

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2/10

The Happytime Murders

Directed by Brian Henson

Starring – Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph

The Plot – A murder mystery set in a world where humans and puppets co-exist, but puppets are viewed as second-class citizens. When the puppet cast of an ’80s children’s TV show begins to get murdered one by one, a former cop (McCarthy), who has since become a private eye, takes on the case.

Rated R for strong crude and sexual content and adult language throughout, and some drug material

POSITIVES

– This is a funny movie without question. Whether it’s the practical sight gags of two puppets having sex, or the witty banter of McCarthy and her Private Investigator partner, somewhere some way this film is going to make you laugh, and its consistency rate is one that certainly warrants you the ability to give it a chance. My problems with the material itself, I will get to later, but you will have to have lockjaw to escape this film without falling under its spell a time or two.

– Superb cast all around. McCarthy never feels too good or famous for the material, instead having the time of her life playing against manufactured character properties while investing every bit of her body into each scene. The real movie-stealer though, is Bill Baretta (Perfect name) as the film’s central protagonist puppet. Baretta is famous as a voice actor, working with Henson properties in the recent Muppet movies, as well as a decades long career that translates his versatility in vocal range. Here, he voices three different characters, all of which sound different and delivery, but all of which hit their marks with the kind of precision of guidance that a film like this requires. Baretta’s raspy delivery is perfect for a crime noir story of this magnitude, and the chemistry between he and McCarthy transcends the hollow property that his voice is reduced to.

– Hard-hitting fight sequences. Considering the production is working with puppets, it’s incredible to see the tricks that they do in camera angles and editing to make this flow so smoothly. Most of the time, you get puppet movements in movies that feel uninspiring, lacking believability that they move without human interaction, but in ‘The Happytime Murders’ every movement responds well enough so that the puppet characters echo off of their human counterparts with little to no resistance, making for fast-paced action that rarely relents.

– No matter how you feel about the film after you see it, please make sure you stay for the credits, as there’s a brief making-of montage that colorfully illustrates how the puppet effects worked. What’s so captivating about this, is that it’s mostly green-screen digitalization that impacts why this was the perfect place and perfect time for a film like this. As to where the film fell by the wayside by the third act, I could definitely watch two hours of production features for an ensemble team who kept such a tight grip on creativity.

NEGATIVES

– Fails as a crime noir story as a whole. This is a film that is every bit predictably bland as it is compromising to its own gimmick, and both of those make the introductory intention to cast this film alongside a classic like ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ that much more depleting when compared to a film that came out thirty years ago. There’s no style to compliment the gritty nature of the street game, and my ability to figure out the murderer in the opening ten minutes made me feel like I was constantly waiting for the movie to play catch-up. Even more disappointing, the film forgets about this noir style of audible narration midway through the movie.

– There are absolutely no established rules for the puppets and what counts as a vital blow. In one scene, a character is taking several punches by a human biker gang and saying that he can’t feel them because he’s virtually a soft pillow, then in the next scene he’s near death because of a gunshot wound. You can’t do one without the other, so which is it? These characters don’t have organs, yet McCarthy’s character was saved early in her career because she has a puppet liver. Also, where do puppets come from? Are they stitched? Are they born? I know it’s pointless to argue about the rules in a puppet movie, but the film’s repeated contradictions are simply too frequent to ignore.

– Repetition in material. Once you get over the giggles of seeing a puppet curse, take drugs, and have sex, you start to understand how limited this movie’s appeal truly is. Smart writing to me should work whether the characters are human or not, and there’s no way that this juvenile material would have the same effect in a film entirely with human characters. As I mentioned earlier, I did laugh quite a few times at it, but that’s mostly in the third act when the basis of the material is still very fresh. After twenty minutes, you’ll be screaming enough is enough.

– Sloppy third act. Not only does the film reveal the murderer far too early, with nearly thirty minutes left, but it also reverts to improv humor of the worst kind from two of its female leads. McCarthy and Rudolph are the culprits, and because they’ve been in every other movie together we must have an out-of-place scene between them despite their characters having no interaction up to this point, where the material stretches as long as the pacing does. Once the mystery is revealed, we should theoretically wrap the movie up, but the storytelling is still piling miles of unnecessary exposition down our throats, making the final act of the film an arduous race to the finish line.

– Nothing subversive at play here. As to where a film like ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ was intelligent enough to articulate the underlying issue of cop/minority relations, ‘The Happytime Murders’ has nothing remotely thoughtful to grab onto. This film is based purely for shock factor, nothing more. It’s lacking in a deeper motion to prove that it is something entirely different than the shock-and-awe factor that is plastered all over the trailers.

– As someone who understands the impact that puppets can have on immersing people into a particular world, it’s slightly surprising that a Henson directed this. The production quality is cheap, the puppets lack any kind of eye-catching detail, and the presentation never lifts itself from this stilted quality that limits it at every turn. This is great for a short film or a limited Youtube series, but as a feature film the benefits rarely materialize, making for a sit that is every bit as frustrating as it is boring.

4/10

Papillon

Directed by Michael Noer

Starring – Charlie Hunnam, Rami Malek, Tommy Flanagan

The Plot – Based on the international best-selling autobiographic books “Papillon” and “Banco”, the film follows the epic story of Henri “Papillon” Charrière (Hunnam), a safecracker from the Parisian underworld who is framed for murder and condemned to life in the notorious penal colony on Devil’s Island. Determined to regain his freedom, Papillon forms an unlikely alliance with quirky convicted counterfeiter Louis Dega (Malek), who in exchange for protection, agrees to finance Papillon’s escape.

Rated R for violence including bloody images, adult language, nudity, and some sexual material

POSITIVES

– A different beast completely with prison films. When you look at a film like ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, you withdraw the one ideal of it being a film about the preservation of hope, but with ‘Papillon’ it thrives on being a deconstruction of hopes, benefiting the true vulnerability that one faces while being in prison. To anyone seeking an optimistic film, this isn’t the one for you, but for me I took great appreciation in a film being honest with French prison conditions during the 40’s being similar to that of animalistic treatment, and Noer has no reservations about this depiction, using the R-rating to the most gruesome of its abilities.

– Hunnam and Malek are equally magnetic, bringing life to the importance of friendship that the film rests its hat on. Charlie continues to preserve the hearty side of his repertoire, bringing a dedicated role that has him transforming his body to replicate the torture and stress of prison abuse. For Malek, his performance is one of a psychological bending, emoting a quirky side of his personality that slowly brings along this mental break from within him that highlights he has been there too long.

– As a remake, the film’s script remains faithful to the 1973 original starring Steve McQueen, but preserves a modern quality about its production value that gives reason for its existence. One such example is the beautiful cinematography by Hagen Bogdanski that captures the true dread from behind these sacred bars. Much of the camera work in detail feels claustrophobic, especially that of solitary scenes that barely feel like we have enough moving room with the convict on display. Prison should feel this cramped, especially with the overcrowding that the film consistently reminds us of.

– The biggest surprise for me was that this film that clocks in at around 130 minutes, yet never feels like it overstays its welcome. That’s not to say that there aren’t scenes that could be edited tighter, but nothing here ever feels like it should be cut all together from the film. Sentences are a constant endurance test, and it’s not always the easiest matter to depict when you’re only given two hours to replicate such conditions, but Noer subscribes to the passage of time, valuing each chapter of this story with unshakeable persistence that leaves audiences hanging on just enough before boredom sets in.

– Makes the most of its set pieces and backdrops. Whether a bloody, mud-soaked battle to the death, or contrasting the differences in the prison itself to last resort Devil’s Island, this film faithfully pays homage to the epics of yesterday by making the most of their miniscule details, allowing us the ability to telegraph where everything and everyone is in each frame. This is important in immersing us in the many rooms of this setting because it gives us a true authentic feeling of being next to Hunnam and Malek the whole time without actually being there.

– Much respect as well goes to the makeup and prosthetic department for richly generating the aging process without it feeling like a glorified game of dress-up. One of the things that bothers me in films constantly is young actors playing older roles. It always feels pointless to me, because you have old actors who itch to even be cast at the twilight of their careers, but here Charriere’s decay feels subtle and nuanced, and never feels distracting to the concentration of the scene.

NEGATIVES

– First act flubs. Without a doubt to me, the weakness of the film is the introductory opening twenty minutes that could make or break ones investment into the film. I say this because for me there wasn’t enough time devoted to Charriere in making him engaging enough as a character before he goes to prison, so the impact of the tragedy never fully renders the reaction that the film so desperately seeks from it. If it wasn’t for the exceptional work of Hunnam that I mentioned earlier, this character would be easily disposable because the film commands him as nothing more than a thief gangster who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

– Lack of overall intensity. Without this aspect, a prison break film will constantly stay grounded, and that’s what we have for this jaded remake. Once the big day comes to fruition, it never meanders or instills enough uncertainty to truly juggle the nerves of the audience in the way the first movie accomplished much better. Look to a show like ‘Prison Break’ and understand that nothing ever goes completely as planned, so the ability to adapt to any wrench thrown into the fold provides a shade of intelligence with the characters that we never saw before, but none of that is ever present here.

– Anonymity. I mentioned earlier that the film is a faithful homage to the 73 original, but this can also be a flaw in how identical it comes across when compared. In my opinion, this film is roughly 80% the same outline, order, and dialogue as that better original film. The only differences are at the very beginning and end of the film, and even those aren’t vital enough in what eventually comes of this film. It’s an aspect that I wish screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski would’ve evaluated further, and inspired within himself the ability to find HIS distinct voice within telling this story. Noer says it’s not a remake, but a re-imagining, and no statement has never been more laughable.

– Speaking of pointless additional scenes, the inclusion of a love interest (Played by Eve Henson) comes and goes without any further emphasis throughout the film. Did she come visit him during his time in prison? Did she remain faithful to him? Was she in on the set-up that got him locked away? None of this is never further elaborated on, and what’s even stranger is that those initial first few scenes set it up to where their love story is one for the ages that will undoubtedly be tested by the distance between them. But since the film is faithful to just telling Charriere’s side of things, these subplots that were introduced are never further elaborated on, leaving more questions coming out of the film than you had going into it.

6/10

Mile 22

Directed by Peter Berg

Starring – Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, John Malkovich

The Plot – In a visceral modern thriller from the director of Lone Survivor, Wahlberg stars as James Silva, an operative of the CIA’s most highly-prized and least-understood unit. Aided by a top-secret tactical command team, Silva must retrieve and transport an asset who holds life-threatening information to Mile 22 for extraction before the enemy closes in.

Rated R for strong violence and adult language throughout

POSITIVES

– Crisp, pulse-setting sound mixing. While I’ve never been a fan of being put into an action sequence visually, I more than appreciate the decision in popping up these stunning shots of ammunition and explosions that feel like they’re happening all around us. If there’s any reason to spend a little extra and see this in X-D or IMAX, do it because of the full throttling of sound that never relents.

– Brutally violent fight choreography. I definitely have my problems with the documentation of this, which I will get to later, but the fight work from star and choreographer Iko Uwais. Fresh off of his success in ‘The Raid’ series of films, Uwais continues to captivate American audiences with his fast-paced, innovative measures of violence that place him second to none in modern day stunt work. While it is slightly silly that this group is protecting the most dangerous guy in the van, I can never get enough of Iko doing what he was born to do; take names and kick ass.

– At least from a psychological toll level, this feels like the first special forces film that articulately depicts the mentality of an employee who’s been in the business for too long. Wahlberg and Cohan’s character’s in particular are loose cannons, exploding on even the smallest instance of grief that comes their way. There’s plenty of problems in the performance department here, but the portrayal of this career feels like the most honest telling of anything that takes place during the film, and I greatly commend Berg for instilling this heroes job is anything but rewarding.

NEGATIVES

– Peter, what happened? It’s hard to believe that this is the same guy that directed ‘Deepwater Horizon’, ‘Patriots Day’, and ‘Lone Survivor’, because ‘Mile 22’ is a convoluted mess of storytelling. The movie constantly feels like it is telling three different stories at the exact same time, inter-cutting back and forth between different time periods and characters without any kind of indication we’re headed that way. In addition to this, it feels like the dialogue never takes a single second of breather, blowing through valuable lines of exposition that will leave you stranded if you’re not fully committed to paying attention 100%.

– Hyperactive editing. The fight sequences in this film could be incredible if they were given the chance to grow, and not be chopped down each time this violent cut kicks in. This gives the film an overwhelming feeling of attention deficit disorder that will put your eyes through the gauntlet of physical torture, every couple seconds. Most of the fight detection in non-existent because of the angles being so tight in their capture, but the bigger toll comes in the form of these violent cuts that add nothing of versatility to the creativity behind documenting an intense sequence.

– Detestable characters. When I say that I didn’t like a single character from this movie, I’m not embellishing in the slightest. Wahlberg’s character might be my least favorite of 2018, for annoying tone of voice and motor-mouth dialogue delivery that he constantly puts us through. This is his impression of a guy with mental instability, but I call it Wahlberg turned up to eleven. In addition to him, Ronda Rousey plays a bully (Original, I know), and Cohan is doing her best to one-up the guys in her unique methods of using the F-bomb. With protagonists like these, who needs enema’s?

– Minimal character development. The only kind of character exposition throughout this whole 90 minute film is for Wahlberg’s character, and it’s during the opening credits. This is every bit as lazy as it is ineffective at intriguing audiences into his rare condition. Beyond this, you’re out of luck if you seek any kind of depth to these people without personalities. The film outlines them as unimportant, thus so should we, and that lack of care spoke volumes in my lack of concern, once the bodies started dropping.

– This film takes something as harmless as rubber bands, and makes them offensive by depiction. Wahlberg’s character has autism, so to keep him focused he keeps a yellow rubber band on his wrist that he snaps each time he feels stressed or overcome with anger. This is very much a real life technique with autism patients, but I don’t need to be reminded of it each and every single scene. Because they couldn’t just have him snap it in frame, his wrist gets its own frame of film each time he goes to reach for this relief, cutting in between important scenes that test our attention and patience at even the ten minute mark of the movie.

– Erratic without those moments of downtime to pace it all out. There is a three act structure within this mess of a screenplay, as small and ineffective as the second act is, but this presentation of disjointed scenes and derivative male pissing contests, makes it all run together as one continuous act that is in a race to reach the finish line. Bored isn’t the proper word, but rather dejected for how this film takes what feels like 22 miles of ideas and fleshes them out into a film that barely hits the hour-and-a-half mark.

– The only scene of value for me happened at the very end of the movie, when a twist is thrown in too late to even matter. This does set-up what Berg and Wahlberg are hoping will be a trilogy of films for this franchise, but will inevitably fade away because in their building of another film they forget to properly end this one. Character outcomes are left to speculation, and this inescapable feeling of regret from a bombshell that could’ve saved the movie, happens far too late to be anything but forgettable.

3/10

Alpha

Directed by Albert Hughes

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

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

Rated PG-13 for some intense peril

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

Bonus Points

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

7/10

The Meg

Directed by Jon Turteltaub

Starring – Jason Statham, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose

The Plot – Five years ago, expert sea diver and Naval Captain Jonas Taylor (Statham) encountered an unknown danger in the unexplored recesses of the Mariana Trench that forced him to abort his mission and abandon half his crew. Though the tragic incident earned him a dishonorable discharge, what ultimately cost him his career, his marriage and any semblance of honor was his unsupported and incredulous claims of what caused it; an attack on his vessel by a mammoth, 70-foot sea creature, believed to be extinct for more than a million years. But when a submersible lies sunk and disabled at the bottom of the ocean; carrying his ex-wife among the team onboard, he is the one who gets the call. Whether a shot at redemption or a suicide mission, Jonas must confront his fears and risk his own life and the lives of everyone trapped below on a single question: Could the Carcharodon Megalodon; the largest marine predator that ever existed still be alive … and on the hunt?

Rated PG-13 for action/peril, bloody images and some adult language

POSITIVES

– I’ve heard plenty of complaints about the 150 million that was spent on this film, and how it makes little effect on the grand scheme, and that couldn’t be more wrong. Aside from the shading and graphing C.G work of the shark feeling more authentic in design, the set pieces breathe an air of futuristic style and technology that makes the most bang for its buck. This makes the very career paths of these brave souls that much more believable, and with the dependency on innovation comes the heated nature versus technology confrontation that we are treated to throughout.

– While much of the cast is easily forgettable to me because of their lack of personality and depth, Statham skates by as the hero of the day. Besides an overabundance of charming bravado, Statham knows how to deliver the most in each line of dialogue, carving out a shape of the blue collar heroes we all grew up on. My favorite parts of the film were Statham’s interaction with a little girl (Played by Shuya Sophia Cai) that channel his inner sensitivity, a rare occurrence for the roles he’s become saddled with.

– Much of the first act felt slow to me, but it quickly picked up once the human characters took a backseat to their rival mammal. Once The Meg comes into focus, the film’s pacing glides by, and the run time of 100 minutes feels just right in this tug-of-war for power that barely ever relents in cooling down periods. Bottom line, if you want you want two hours of pure escapism, ‘The Meg’ is your catch of the day.

– Even though this is a movie about a gargantuan shark, much of the decisions in tow by the characters feel grounded in intelligence. If you can factor in that these characters are constantly on edge while being chased by this deadly creature, then you can take mercy that sometimes they are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. What is commendable here, is that they know what they are dealing with, and rarely ever seem to underestimate their gigantic opponent, despite one selfie scene that qualifies for dumbest decision of the movie-going year.

– I do have problems with some of the camera angles, particularly underwater, that I will get to later, but the capture of the imagery above water sparkled an air of artistic violence that occasionally made me want to pause the movie to adore closer. My favorite single frame of the movie involves a big swallow by Meggie, and it’s in that particular frame when the audience truly understands how subtly off-the-wall this one-of-a-kind creature truly is, and how vulnerable the crew is, whether in the water or on a boat.

– Turtletaub’s directing breathes life into the very concept of Summer Blockbuster’s that have sadly faded away in recent years. Everything from the jaunty dialogue, to the paperweight characters, screams big budget cheese in the most delicious form, and what Jon does to push it one step further is develop a movie that doesn’t necessarily have to be constantly ridiculous to please his audience.

NEGATIVES

– Ultimately, the biggest stab against this film will be how forgettable it is because it chose to take itself too seriously. For shark movies, there’s a healthy blend somewhere in the middle, that allows you to indulge in enough menace with violence, as well as silliness in its title character’s movements, to create something for everyone. Sadly, if you’re watching ‘The Meg’ to laugh, you will be bored out of the theater, as it is far too mature to sizzle the cheese of its story. This one has a serious case of identity crisis.

– Rating captivity. Once again we have a film’s potential limited by a ratings classification that renders the gore and violence virtually non-existent. When you make a movie about something as dangerous as this huge shark, you have to shake our seats and rattle us hysterically by throwing enough limbs and blood at the screen for us to soak up. On the whole, this is a relatively dry film in that perspective, and it’s in that obvious element that will serve as the first noticeable disappointment for a movie like this.

– I mentioned earlier of my disdain for some of the camera work underwater, and I blame this on two things. The first is the angles of the shark being far too close to ever properly digest just what we’re seeing on-screen. I found great difficulty making out the fates of a couple of characters, because the zoom lens is taken advantage of far too often. My second problem is in the lack of depictional scale for this mammoth creature that the film rarely capitalizes on. This is where a wide-angle shot can allow us the audience to perfectly compare and contrast the immense size difference between predator and prey, also allowing us the psychological tease of what lies in the shadows of the deep blue sea.

– Who is the protagonist? One of the reasons why audiences take pleasure in watching Jaws get defeated in those series of films, is because Jaws invades human land to start the conflict. This is also the case in a majority of shark related movies, but in ‘The Meg’, it’s the human characters who invade the underbelly of the ocean, provoking the giant creature to take the fight to them when they press their luck a time too many. Why I think this is a problem is because I never felt that air of triumph each time the humans tortured this shark, and without that intrigue that comes from seeing a bully defeated, ‘The Meg’ just kind of comes and goes without much emotional investment, throughout the film.

6/10

BlacKKKlansman

Directed by Spike Lee

Starring – John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace

The Plot – It’s the early 1970s, and Ron Stallworth (Washington) is the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. The young detective soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Driver), into the undercover investigation of a lifetime. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organization aims to sanitize its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream.

Rated R for adult language throughout, including racial epithets, and for disturbing/violent material and some sexual references

POSITIVES

– One of my favorite aspects of film is how it has this overwhelming power to push this string of emotions out of you, and ‘BlacKKKlansman’ is certainly no stranger to this. I can’t recall the last time when a film has made me this angry and disappointed in our nation from refusing to learn from our torturous past. Lee conducts this on-screen story that takes place in the 70’s, all the while offering the modern day comparisons of the incidents that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, and the resemblance between the K.K.K and the so-called “White freedom chasers” is uncanny. The final moments of the film are a stern warning to the kind of impacts inequality and racism continue to cast great urgency on our own society.

– As a director, Spike is still one of the master experimentalists, carving out a combination of crooked,, unorthodox personal still frames and slow character pans that both pay homage to the 70’s Blacksploitation films that have left an obvious impact on his style. Because of this, the immersion into this particular time frame feels rich in authentication, and layered to the tee in complex filmmaking.

– Much of the humor in the film works because of the absurdity of the situation that would otherwise make you want to scream. As a screenwriter, Lee knows when to pace these valued moments of positive release out, conserving them between scenes that blur the line of reality vividly with vicious surrealism. One such example is the big two hour payoff that this film continuously builds towards, and it makes for one stunning moment of reality that forces the world of one character to come crumbling down.

– Plenty to provide from a dominantly fresh-faced cast. The work of the two male leads in Washington and Driver definitely made the movie for me, both offering an equally poignant approach to infiltrating two different gangs that ironically are similar for an array of ways, as well as preserving this chemistry of brotherhood that we’re treated to, the deeper it goes. For Washington, his borderline arrogance due to his constant naive demeanor is one that builds and burns bridges within the police force, but it was Driver’s constantly raising stakes in this purely evil assembly of middle aged white men that brought this film the real conflict. Driver’s character, a Jewish descendent, deals with standing against his family traditions, transforming him into this Klansman that challenges him ideally and morally. Topher Grace is also surprisingly smooth as David Duke, bringing a different take on such a monstrous personality that otherwise gets you to comprehend how easy it is to fall for his sinister pitch.

– There’s always that one scene that stands out in a Spike Lee movie more than the others, and the trophy here definitely goes to the history lesson that visually depicts the birth of the Klan. Without spoiling much, there’s this side-by-side comparison shot that very much shows the impact of the Klan’s pride in consequence to that of the African-American’s well being. It’s riveting to say the least, and serves as a reminder that our history has treaded through some very shallow waters.

– Perhaps Lee’s greatest triumph is the film is that he marries the relationship between anger and intensity with the restraint that he’s usually known to hold in visual poetry of editing. Why it works so wonderfully here is that those gentle brushes continuously build until the bigger picture of displeasure is seen in its completion, and it’s never preachy like Lee has been known to be, because the very proof is in the pudding that he dishes out.

– Despite the many themes that the film covers, the tonal balance is well maintained throughout. As is the case with other racially uneasy movies this year like ‘Sorry To Bother You’ and ‘Blindspotting’, this one feels capable of transitioning through each of those valued tiers of material seamlessly. Perhaps you can blame that on the two hour run time that the film harbors, but I believe it is Lee’s constriction to this being a true story that doesn’t allow him to get too fantastical with it. This keeps the film and its respectable material very grounded, leaving our teeth firmly gripped into the message at hand.

– While ‘BlacKKKlansman’ isn’t my favorite Lee film, I can value it as arguably his most important to date. This feels like Lee at his most focused, and a lot of that can be contributed to a career that has spanned 21 feature length films all leading to the kind of media attention that this film and respected director has gathered. It proves that in the clutch Lee can deliver in the most provocative of ways, and that the line between satire and reality is blurring with each passing day of social injustice.

NEGATIVES

– While I more than admire the film’s stance against racism and objectifying how wrong it truly is, Lee’s morals still feel a bit outdated due to the way his antagonists AND protagonists bash the gay community with their version of the N-word repeatedly. This can be contributed to the 70’s setting, but when you’re speaking to a 2018 audience, it blurs the line of right and wrong viciously, conjuring an air of hypocritical stance that the characters become saddled with.

– The romantic subplot in the film felt so forced and underdeveloped in what the film required from it. Particularly late in the third act, the film relies on this angle to play a pivotal role in Stallworth’s urgency and vulnerability, and yet it simply isn’t anything close to that level, besides the increasing racial tension that the whole film is about. With the exception of one brief scene where Stallworth and Patrice (Played by the beautiful Laura Harrier) discuss 70’s Blacksploitation heroes, it goes relatively unheard of for the better part of 45 minutes, and it’s the one glaring flaw from this otherwise well-maintained film.

8/10