Baby Driver

The assistance of a driver simply known as ‘Baby’ is the best case scenario for the criminal underworld, looking for the fastest route out. In “Baby Driver”, the newest from critically acclaimed writer/director Edgar Wright, A young and talented getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) relies on the personal beat of his preferred soundtrack, to be the best in the world of crime, as music heightens his focus and reflexes to extreme levels. A car accident as a child killed both his parents, and left him with permanent tinnitus, which he blocks out using music. He is preferred as a driver by Doc (Kevin Spacey), a mastermind organizer of bank robberies and other high-earning heists. During the biggest mission of Baby’s career, he finds himself and his loving girlfriend Debora (Lily James) in grave danger at the hands of some rough customers who want him dead when Baby decides to flee town. “Baby Driver” is rated R for adult language and violence throughout.

Edgar Wright, take a bow. After nearly twenty years of directing both feature length films and brilliant cinematic shorts, the master of satirical modern comedy dons his absolute best film to date, in the adrenaline powder-keg known as “Baby Driver”. As far as cinematic experiences go, this is easily the most fun thus far that I have had in a movie in 2017, and is only really matched or topped in my six year critic career by that of “Mad Max: Fury Road”. Wright is the kind of director who always seems to pull one over on his audiences, advertising and marketing a movie one way and then completely peeling it back to show you the never-ending multitude of layers that his stories boost for themselves. To define “Baby Driver” as just a satirical comedy on 70’s speed flicks, or smash-em, crash-em big budget carnage films of modern day, is doing this movie the greatest disservice that I could possibly muster up. It’s a play on a magnitude of genres, never settling for constant direction, and this gives the movie a kind of playground where all of these tonal shifts can meet and play as one, an aspect nearly impossible without suffering compromising damage to the film’s integrity. But it serves as a testament to Wright for not only being a name that makes us perk up when we hear he’s got a new film coming out, but also one that proves his versatility is only getting started.

Even after seeing trailer after trailer for this film, it still manages to have a strong ambiguity quality about its plot that makes it feel like nothing has been spoiled. In the first act of the movie, Wright kind of just introduces all of the essential chess pieces on the board and has them play up to their moral fiber safely, and for a second you feel like you are typically getting the story you were promised. In Baby, we meet a young man who feels stuck in a job that he knows is wrong, but he keeps doing it to pay off a debt to a crime lord boss who took a chance on him. This is probably the lone critique of the movie that you will hear from me, because unfortunately we never really hear much else about this expositional past between Elgort and Spacey’s characters that maximizes the importance of this crossroads that the title character is on. Thankfully, the second half of the movie did more than enough to make me forget about such miniscule negatives. It’s in the second act when you start to understand the evolution of this story and how little you truly know about where it’s headed. With some surprising brutality twists along the way, this one constantly kept my eyes glued to the screen, pacing itself out accordingly across 108 minutes that felt about half of that. The ending itself might sour some audiences, but I found it to be responsible with the dark and twisted alleys that the film’s third act took us down. In Edgar Wright’s world, it’s understood that there are consequences for every action, unlike other crime films that make the existence of cops feel like a joke.

What Wright does with a pen and a pad is impressive, but I would say takes a silver medal to that of his mesmerizing scope behind the camera. This movie doesn’t just play safely to the genre’s standards, it completely re-defines them in how each and every little shot maximizes the potential of each sequence even further. The editing here is textbook, garnering a quality about it that illustrates and combines the importance of quick-cut jabs to reflect the modern age, and a forceful close-up occasionally to reflect that of 70’s chase flicks like “Duel”. This gives the action sequences a monitor for us to tell that it’s fully beating and increasing in pumps with each passing dodge. On top of this, there are some impressive long take shots during character confrontations that proved Wright has a lot of faith in his star-studded cast. Because our view is with the camera’s, we often get to immerse ourselves in each ever-passing environment that has engulfed these unpredictable situations. A credit to this camera work is that we never once see one robbery in the movie, but we feel like we’re with these characters through every bullet fired. The sound mixing is also quite impressive for the kind of tricks that it plays on our own ears, making us feel Baby’s situation front-and-center. Music will occasionally drop out in volume if a shot is taking place outside of the car, and this is respectable because it would otherwise feel fake if we hear the same kind of volume outside that the characters do inside of the car. Edgar also pays attention to Baby’s peculiarity because we get several examples of the muddled “Hum-in-the-drum” that has left him somewhat impared, and it’s in that stance where we feel more personal with a protagonist than other films can get. We’re hearing what he hears, so when the music hits, it sounds so much sweeter.

On the subject of that music, “Baby Driver” boosts a collection of mostly classic ballads and toe-tapper funk grooves that is sure to have you fighting back the urge to mouth the words to some of your favorite jams. The cleverness comes out of how each song shapes not only the tone, but the editing of each and every scene. If there’s a drum beat that is constant in the song Baby is jamming out to, it becomes evident that we too will be treated with the riddling of bullets richocheting to the bass of such a powerful audio level. There’s also some clever Easter eggs along the way that add lyrics to the song that is being listened to at any given moment. For instance, during the scene where Baby walks to the diner for his first meeting with Debora, we see scattered lyrics all around the sidewalk, windows, and street signs that he passes by. This gives the movie some quality re-watches to see just what in the backdrop you may have missed upon initial watches.

But a film this impactful would be nothing without a charismatic cast that guides it through these often entertaining waters, and thankfully this collection of heralded A-listers know a valuable chance when they see one. For anyone who thought Ansel Elgort’s most memorable role would be Augustus Waters in 2014’s “The Fault In Our Stars”, you have no idea the oral crime you just committed. As Baby, Elgort unlocks a mystery wrapped inside of an enigma, and because there’s so much personality to his character, it’s the spunk and likeability of a leading man that he lends his talents to marvelously. Elgort proves he can hang with the big names by giving us a character who constantly evolves into being a product of his environment, and when the tough get going, Baby is no infant. Two other members who I want to praise are Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm for completely stealing the show. Not that either of them need help in their careers, but their roles in this movie are the shot of adrenaline that both need from being typecast into the safe roles that have plagued their careers. Foxx dominates the first half of the movie as a menacing robber who always has his finger on the pulse of everyone involved. Because of such, he’s kind of a leader who always likes to stir the pot, and I found him to be authentic in his push for greed. Hamm too is a worthy opposition, but not until later in the movie do we see his truest of colors. In fact, the movie tells us all we need to know about Hamm’s character when he’s not living up to that immense shadow, but treat this as a warning because you will never look at Don Draper the same way again.

THE VERDICT – “Baby Driver’s” tank never runs close to being empty, taking us on a fast-paced thrill-ride that will have you holding onto your seat, afraid to take that breath of release for fear you might miss a delightful peak on auditory capabilities. There’s enough firepower and unpredictability in the mastery of Edgar Wright’s closely-guided touch to keep it from ever stalling, and the personalities from some of Hollywood’s finest make this one impossible not to want to strap in. Even if you just seek a movie to shut your brain off, “Baby Driver” will take the challenge one step further by astonishing you at every feat of the technical specter. Mister Wright can do no wrong.

9/10

Transformers: The Last Knight

The key to saving the future is buried in the past of Camelot, in “Transformers: The Last Knight”. Michael Bay returns once again to helm the latest chapter of the Transformers franchise, this time conjuring up a story that proves only one world can survive. The film shatters the core myths of the Transformers franchise, and redefines what it means to be a hero. Humans and Transformers are at war, Optimus Prime is gone. The key to saving our future lies buried in the secrets of the past, in the hidden history of Transformers origins on Earth. Saving our world falls upon the shoulders of an unlikely alliance: Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg); Bumblebee; an English Lord (Sir Anthony Hopkins); and an Oxford Professor (Laura Haddock) who all must act fast before our time on Earth comes to an abrupt ending. “Transformers: The Last Knight” is rated PG-13 for for violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, adult language, and some sexual innuendo.

If this is in fact the fifth Transformers movie in this Bay-helmed series, then one would think that a majority of the problems that plagued the earlier movies should be solved by now, right? “The Last Knight” is without a doubt the very worst of this series that I have seen so far, and sets the bar to incredibly low depths for the inevitable sequels that are bound to follow. If I were to tell someone who hasn’t seen these movies everything that’s wrong with them, I would save them time and tell them to just watch this movie. It’s got everything; slow-motion action sequences that overstay their welcome, jarringly compromising tonal shifts that often make it difficult to decide what genre category this should fall under, wincingly vicious dialogue that falls completely flat around these one-dimensional characters, and a knack for over-complicating and convoluting every kind of plot and subplot that make up the script. I have yet to enjoy a Transformers live action movie, but this is the first that has made me legitimately angry leaving the film, and has me debating if I want to finally use my veto card for future installments.

These movies are certainly no easy feat in run time, this one clocking in at nearly two-and-a-half hours, a basic average for this series. So of course this script has to be massive. To do this, we get a story that splits time between modern day and medieval times, the latter of which plays great importance to where this story is headed creatively. I’m fine with introducing new layers to this series to keep it fresh, but essentially this film is derived from every earlier movie before it; a high stakes game of capture the flag. In each movie, the Decepticons always invade Earth to capture something, and in this one it’s no different with the introduction of Merlin’s staf. What I don’t like about the writers establishing that Transformers were around throughout history is a two-fold problem. First, we as a civilization haven’t been able to learn their technology faster? and two, how can anyone keep a secret as big as robots invading over the course of 1600 years? The characters in the original movie (Government officers included) certainly seemed surprised upon the first invasion. But the film tries to be cute by establishing a secret society that have kept the robots from the eyes and ears of its people. If that’s the case, why has this society waited until the fifth invasion of the series to finally do something about it. What we’re they doing? biding their time? If this isn’t enough, there’s a noticeably big gap between Transformers fight sequences, as well as human character abandonment that overall attains a level of sloppiness that not even “Revenge of the Fallen” could attain quite so consistently.

The story is bad, but man does it pale in comparison to the overall dialogue composition that someone approved as being screen-ready. There are several problems that I have with the lines in the movie, but to sum it up, most of them drown on for far too long, fluffing out the run time extensively by never cutting to the point. On top of this, the progression halts every few minutes so a character can express their hollow personalities, or present a line of comedic dialogue to ruin the urgency of such matters. Some of the scenes that drove me crazy were when so much of the Staf’s history was being explained, and Anthony Hopkins character would stop to bicker with a robot, or take the boringly long route in conveying the importance of this piece. This script greatly needed another edit, so much so that my mind wandered repeatedly to how I would’ve shortened the long-winded releases that kept taking creative liberties, and gotten the same point across without the nauseating history lesson that followed. The comedy falls so flat most of the time in this film that I wish they would just leave it be. Michael Bay movies do have personality, but during a time of grave devastation for the world, it almost feels inappropriate that the movie would rather focus on the unlimitted cast of characters and making sure the audience knows that each and every one of them can be cooky and full of spunk.

On the subject of such characters, the problem of overcrowding continues in these movies, with about 90% of the film’s characters being brand new and needing valuable screen time to get their characters across. Considering this film violently shifts back and forth between the many groups, there’s just not enough valuable resources to bestow upon them to make their presence warranted. The most trivial for me was that of Laura Haddock. It’s true, her character is a valuable one when you think about what gets developed late in the second act of this movie, but the film does her zero favors in terms of material, often times serving as the prime argument for why women feel so alienated with their lack of female development in Michael Bay movies. Thankfully, we don’t get any close-up body footage here, but the film’s way of introducing her doesn’t paint her in the most likeable of lights early on, and throw her in the box of lost toys with other female leads by giving her a clumsily thrown together romance with Mark Wahlberg. Besides this, the additions of Anthony Hopkins and Isabella Moner were a positive and a negative respectfully. Hopkins is at least having fun in this role, so there’s not too much that I can condemn him for, but I could honestly do without his rambling which became insufferable and redundant once I decoded the set-up for it every time. Moner was the one character who I clung to because she channels the often ignored double sides of kids and female characters that Transformers hasn’t really capitalized on. It’s a discredit to the 15-year-old actress that we don’t get a lot of wiggle room with her in run time, but she does make the most of every scene, instilling an equal offering of intelligence and attitude in Izzy that make you want to stay with her character more than anyone else in this movie.

If Michael Bay can still do one thing gorgeously, it’s in his ability to depict high-priced action sequences that spare no expense in the effects department. The camera work is slightly too shaky-camera for me, but it’s passable enough that you can decifer what is going on in the sometimes convoluted field of battle. “The Last Knight” smashes us through buildings, wields many funnel clouds of explosions, and takes our breath away with some adrenaline-fueled intensity through the streets. The chase sequences in these scenes are a sight to behold, and were those rare moments that got me back into the movie when I felt I couldn’t take anymore of the poor pacing. A friend of mine recently mentioned on his podcast (WELKINONE.COM) that nobody else could do action at the level of intensity that Bay does, and I think I finally have to concede to him and give him his credit. Where Bay stumbles at nearly every other level of the directing capacity, he brilliantly takes the medal when it comes to capturing such devastation at a grand level, a true pioneer who has shaped action well into the 21st century.

THE VERDICT – “The Last Knight” is just that, the last night that I ever waste nearly three hours on a Michael Bay helmed Transformers. It’s a movie that summarizes everything wrong with the last ten years of his filmmaking career; Overstuffed and convoluted plot, cheesy cringeworthy dialogue, abuse of slow motion sequences that echo that of the snails pacing that drags on, and an overabundance of characters who most of which never get the proper development that they deserve to make an impact. Sure, the action is still there, but it’s such a small positive considering there are more than a couple of long spans in the script when the Transformers don’t appear. Haters of the series won’t be swayed by this effort, and true hardcore fans of the series will finally be tested to see just how deep their love is. If there is indeed more that meets the eye, consider me blind. I frankly don’t get it.

3/10

The Book of Henry

Things will never be the same for a small town neighborhood once a mother discovers a troubling book written by her son, called “The Book of Henry”. Sometimes things are not always what they seem, especially in the small suburban town where the Carpenter family lives. Single suburban mother Susan Carpenter (Naomi Watts) works as a waitress at a diner, alongside feisty family friend Sheila (Sarah Silverman). Her younger son Peter (Jacob Tremblay) is a playful 8-year-old. Taking care of everyone and everything in his own unique way is Susan’s older son Henry (Jaeden Lieberher), age 11. Protector to his adoring younger brother and tireless supporter of his often self-doubting mother, and through investments, of the family as a whole, Henry blazes through the days like a comet. Susan discovers that the family next door, which includes Henry’s kind classmate Christina (Maddie Ziegler), has a dangerous secret, and that Henry has devised a surprising plan to help. As his brainstormed rescue plan for Christina takes shape in thrilling ways, Susan finds herself at the center of it. “The Book of Henry” is directed by Colin Trevorrow, and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief adult language.

This movie has been the victim of a lot of negative reviews lately in the media, so going into it I kind of found myself at the questioning position of how a trailer with what I felt had so much promise could receive a critique as low as it has shamefully received, but we must remember that these trailer magicians are the same people who make money by presenting a less-than stellar film in attention-grabbing detail. Upon viewing “The Book of Henry”, I am here to add my two cents to the pile of growing naysayers for the film, as this movie is very much a disaster in everything from tone continuity to lack of moral integrity for characters that violently shift with each passing moment. It’s a jumbled experiment that is often trying to pass itself off as too many things at once, and because of such a concept, it often feels like you are watching three different acts from three different movies. Even the shining performances of three marvelously gifted child actors wasn’t enough to steer this film, as well as its condescending direction out of the woods with even so much as a compass to find its way.

Director Colin Trevorrow, as well as screenwriter Gregg Hurwitz should definitely be commended enough for crafting a story that does play with respect to these children that they are front-and-center of this unfolding melodrama, even if their ambitious reach of plot does over-exceed what should be a simplistic approach. What was appreciative for me was that this duo seem to understand and see children as this driving force within the world who will stop at nothing to help when they see danger. Hurwitz depicts the point of view of a pediatric as such that there is no filter with them in their wanting to get involved in compromising situations, a detail that any adult in the audience will wonder with curiosity where we went wrong in deciding to turn our heads to help those who are troubled along the way. It’s encouraging to see a director who sees the value in child actors, and doesn’t choose to wither away their increasing value in cinema. Because of such, Colin does succeed in crafting a surreal world where children can get involved with adult actions, a concept that only gets stronger the further you dive into “The Book of Henry”.

Where he goes wrong however, is in the increasing ridiculousness of cliches that continuously overstay their welcome, as well as the violent tonal shifts that cut this film’s momentum down at nearly every level. The light-hearted coming-of-age story of the first act was the only section of the film that felt natural to me. Trevorrow’s immediate introduction of our characters and their worlds is one that instantly pulled me in and had me demanding more for the personality in dialogue that leaps off of the page of the script. Then it all goes wrong. Instead of continuing with this vibrant feeling, the film turns into a crass melodrama due to a sudden plot twist that shakes everything up. I’m fine with different layers to a story in a movie, but when it’s as violently forced as this was, it can feel like it never finds its footing back to what made it great in the first place, a problem that sticks with this production. The third act throws everything at us, as the craziness of this plan between our protagonist and her children is one that not only annoyed me in logic, but also angered me in how much it repeats itself. Without spoiling much, sometimes you will have a scene in a movie where a character will listen to a tape, that character will say something, and then the person on the tape responds back to what they just said. It’s often used as a throwaway comedy line that is harmless, but here it happens every minute when this tape is on-screen. There’s geniuses among children, and there’s God-like characters. “The Book of Henry” casts its title character as the latter, and soon this ability to predict action and consequences in something as unpredictable as people, is one that does great harm to the believability of this once humane piece.

With twenty minutes left in the movie, and very little answered or satisfyingly concluded, Hurwitz moves fast in offering us a conclusion that really made me take a step back and compare how far we’ve come in the short 100 minute offering that rode a wave of unnecessary twists and turns to get here. That’s of course a back-handed compliment, because I found the ending of this movie to be bafflingly dull when compared to what was the lead-up before it. Everything is put together a little too “Matter-of-factly”, and it constantly left me with a bitter taste in my mouth of the juice never being worth the squeeze, a harrowing reality that starts to set in the more you think about the actions of this movie. On that thought, “The Book of Henry” feels like an irresponsible plan of mind-numbingly barbaric execution, instead of a gripping therapeutic plunge into the perplexities of grief and how it affects everyone else, a missed opportunity that could’ve played this film as slightly more cerebral than the outside-of-the-glass treatment that we got here.

What does keep my score on this film from falling too far down is in the charming circumference of this ensemble cast that each add wonders to their respective characters. Lieberher has been a star in the making for quite some time, but the momentum of the film rests solely in his small hands, as he portrays Henry as a boy genius who never feels rude or condescending. Tremblay relies more on the dramatic pulse of the film to get his points across, and I’ve never seen a child release the tears so heart-achingly surreal as he has in films like this and 2015’s “Room”. Maddie Ziegler, despite not having many line reads in the movie, is a force to be reckoned with for how she visually commands the presence of this tortured girl next door. Christina is someone who lives out her worst nightmares every single day of her life, and Ziegler doesn’t falter this in facial responses that define the absence of positivity. Naomi Watts, Sarah Silverman, Dean Norris, all also buy into what Trevorrow is selling, so much so that their adult counterparts blend satisfyingly well enough to never feel like they are cutting in on the children’s time to work their craft. Norris is great as a villain, but does so without ever needing to come off as some Lifetime Television cliche. The worst kind of antagonist is the guy we should trust the most, and it’s very unsettling to know just what is going on under the roof of the police chief’s house that has left the surrounding patrons shattered in its wake.

THE VERDICT – “The Book of Henry” is three movies for the price of one, and only one of them should’ve been interesting enough to continue. Because of an overabundance in tone shifts, as well as fourth-dimensional breaks in logic, Trevorrow’s latest crashes and burns fast, leaving a finished product that feels slightly incomplete and muddled in seemingly unnecessary directions. The film definitely crafts an original take on child-first stories, but does so in a way that robs those intentions by the increasingly silly plot mechanics that would rather be the umpteenth “Home Alone” rather than the first “Book of Henry”.

4/10

Cars 3

Pixar Studios sets out once again to prove that the race isn’t over until lightning strikes, in the third chapter of the animated trilogy “Cars 3”. Racing is starting to become tough for Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), as he is becoming one of the oldest race cars on the race track and a generation of new rookies are coming into the evolving racing world. After he is pushed out of the race track, he begins a road of redemption that inspires his aging model to turn back the clock once more. For Lightning to prove that he is still a top racer, he is going to need help from an eager young female car named Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), who is to help and train Lightning. He’s not quitting until he shows the world that he is still a top racer, and silences the younger, faster doubters on the track who want him gone. “Cars 3” is written and directed by Brian Fee, and is rated PG for scenes of disastrous peril.

It isn’t reaching too ambitiously, but “Cars 3” is a greater improvement to that of “Cars 2” that flopped at nearly every turn, conjuring up Pixar’s absolute worst movie to date. However, the third film in this trilogy proves that no sequel can quite attain the greatness of the first movie that throughout stayed competently focused, and excited us for what could follow in this seemingly post-apocalyptic world run by automobiles. It is a step up, but one that comes with great caution for how not to introduce an ensemble cast with a brief 104 minute run time. That may seem lengthy for this plot, but when you consider how much material this movie truly has, it’s but a fraction of what is needed to smoothly depict. Brian Fee’s film is one that starts out a lap or two behind, due to a rocky first half of the movie that greatly overcomplicates and convolutes the importance of exposition in all of its flimsy details. Because of this, the film often lacks consistency in momentum, and finds itself trying to catch up for the rest of the film, nearly pulling it off in the final act that finally plays to the dramatic pulse in this kids movie, but still flounders away the possibilities of its gripping material and breathtaking visual displays that up the ante to this once prosperous franchise.

Simply put, there are far too many characters in this movie, and that is often the root for the cause of every problem associated with this movie. There is some commendable voice work, mostly in that of Wilson and Alonzo who radiate an innocent friendship over the grounds of the teacher becoming the student. But all admirations aside, the first two acts of this movie constantly halt plot progression each and every time to introduce a character who doesn’t have a lot of weight to the importance of this blossoming comeback story. Sure the immediate value is obvious with most of them, but by the film’s conclusion you will wonder why they even bothered. Because of this, our antagonist and Lightning’s up-and-coming new blood to the race track feels virtually ignored for the entirety of this movie, only occasionally bringing him back as a reminder to the audience who have long since forgotten about him. Even more confusing is how this film manages to pile in so much progression during the first act, but then screeches itself to a grinding halt during the second, trying to balance out misfiring pacing that feels like it’s riding on two bad tires. Without developing the antagonist plot, the film rarely feels like it’s building to something bigger, and often sifts through a second act that will bore audience members of every age bracket. Believe me, I know, my auditorium carried on conversations without ever thinking twice about it, a sure sign of the disconnect from film to viewer that only maximizes as “Cars 3” carries on.

What the film does do well is conjuring up a genuine comeback story that does have some emotional grit to it, particularly during the final half hour that does remind audiences of the weight that these Pixar movies can respect audiences with. There are the obvious measures of the occasional music montage playing to the training of Lightning, as well as the subplot that involves our hero finding himself in ways that he never deemed necessary, but what impressed me more was the surreal aspect that we as stars of our sport are someday told that we can no longer play the game, and when that day comes it’s in your hands with how you attack it. This was the aspect of the film that drew me in during the trailers, but unfortunately didn’t arise until nearly the end of the movie. I mentioned earlier that this is the strong point of the movie for me, and that’s because the movie doesn’t play it like your typical Disney style ending, a fact that I greatly appreciated having seen stories like this play out quite a few times. It does kind of pull the wool over the eyes of its audience, in leading the film down a familiar path, then throwing a curveball, but it’s one that I greatly appreciated despite the rules of the switch leaving a huge plot hole or two when it comes to the rules of racing.

At least the animation springs forth an early contender for best visual presentation of the year, spiraling us through scene after scene of breathtaking speed and force that constantly kept me gripping on. Pixar Studios have become so embracing of the live action backdrops in their stories that it now feels like these polarizing characters, complete with eye-popping layers, are now present in our own world. The ability to make these vehicles stand-out might feel on the same field as a movie like last year’s “The Good Dinosaur”, but it works more accordingly here because the cars often feel like the foreign concept in a land as we know it is inhibited by humans, so their conflicting volumes in colorful depiction serve to a greater purpose to single out the characters first and allow the viewer to soak in the vibrancy of the pixelated palate around them. Nobody does this better than Pixar, and it serves as a testament to award-winning effects work when we as an audience have to occasionally stop to ask the question if these three-dimensional characters are being super-imposed on a two-dimensional canvas to feed into a real world backdrop.

THE VERDICT – While “Cars 3” is a serviceable enough improvement from that of its predecessor, there’s a great conflict in the flow of consistency that renders it as just another red flag to an overall disappointing series of films made by a studio that often over-exceeds. Had the first half of the film tried a little harder in adding something in addition to the impeccable visual stylings and Lightning’s battle with time, the film’s triumphant third act would feel more like a victory lap. But instead, Fee’s film lacks the intensity of the emotional gut-punch that a conceptual offering like this one promised in the trailers, moving absolutely nowhere with a tank running on empty.

5/10

The Mummy

Long before there was a D.C or Marvel Cinematic Universe, there was a Universal Monsters Universe, and “The Mummy” kicks that off for a new generation of moviegoers. Though safely entombed in a crypt deep beneath the unforgiving desert, the ancient queen Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) whose destiny was unjustly taken from her, is awakened in our current day, bringing with her malevolence grown over millennia and terrors that defy human comprehension. From the sweeping sands of the Middle East through hidden labyrinths under modern-day London, one man (Tom Cruise) who survives a terrifying plane ride, knows the cryptic code to ending her reign of terror before it goes global, leaving a wake of devastation to those who cross her. “The Mummy” is directed by Alex Kurtzman, and is rated PG-13 for violence, action and scary images, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity.

If I could think of one term to describe the newest remake of the Universal property “The Mummy”, it would be disjointed. That’s right, Universal has gotten the motivation to once again revamp its classic series of films that include Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Wolfman to name a few. But “The Mummy” takes the court first to see if there is a place for these series of legendary films in today’s modern theater, and upon my first take of it, I have to say that the next movie has a long way to go before it can be deemed viewer-ready. Considering there are four different writers for this film, it’s certainly easy to comprehend why there are such vast and jarring displays of tonal shifts in the movie that do its continuity absolutely no favors. From my perspective, one of these writers has definitely worked on Tom Cruise action flicks before, and his voice speaks the loudest in this film. There’s a dark comedy writer who’s reminders that they exist constantly halt the movie with some of the cheesiest deliveries that alienate everything about the intended tone of this story. There’s also the faithful student of the game who has studied the original, and knows what kind of movie this needs to be. Sadly, the latter’s voice is far too limited for this offering to ever be taken seriously.

For the first act of the movie, I was surprisingly glued in to the free-flowing pacing, and gorgeous detailed set pieces that really set this exotic world up in a non-limited budget of capacity. What happens next feels like a huge step back because the film can never feel fully focused enough to continue the positivity to this structure and historical significance, jumping in so many endless directions that often consumes the bulk of what should be the title antagonist’s time on camera. For anyone expecting that this movie is going to be a chapter in the continuous trend of feminist starring roles, think again. In fact, I was greatly surprised as to how minimal both of the female leads in this movie actually played into the big stakes. Sure, Ahmanet is the central antagonist here, but midway through the movie we start to turn into a different direction, one that would rather sell the next movie in the Universal Dark Franchise instead of focus on the areas that this one so desperately needs to sell its story and characters. Ahmanet is violently pushed to the side, and the movie grinds to a screeching halt full of other characters who I couldn’t care less about. Things don’t improve by the finale for Ahmanet either, as the movie has a not so subtle way at establishing how a powerful woman is no match for a powerful man, a sentiment that doesn’t do itself any favors in modern progression.

Then there’s the painful string of exposition that feels like an infomercial that constantly takes away from what is transpiring on screen. I mentioned in my “King Arthur” review that the movie was plagued by countless flashback scenes, and so to is the problem with “The Mummy”. Instead of allowing this story to naturally flow without spoon-feeding everything to the audience, the film endlessly beats us over the head with trying to understand each shot that we previously saw in the opening fifteen minutes of the movie, which itself was ANOTHER EXPOSITION SCENE. I’m not complaining about exposition, because it plays a vital part in the evolution of the story in a film, but when it is done this non-chalantly, I have to wonder just how dumb they that they take their audience. While this movie doesn’t suffer as much as “King Arthur”, it is like constantly being told the same story that you’ve already heard a couple of times earlier. The good news is that if you missed a scene for a bathroom break, or you just fell asleep like I nearly did, this film will continue to make sure you’re covered and never lead you off of a beaten path.

The rules themselves that the movie establishes are kind of inconsistent and often times lead to some major plot holes that had me scratching my head occasionally throughout the film. Without much spoilers, Ahmanet does command Tom Cruise throughout the film after getting into his brain early on. The problem with this is it’s rarely brought up to her advantage. If she can do all of these things and seduce him to paths that go against his logical thinking, then how long does a movie really have to be that competes an Egyptian queen against an everyman thief? I also don’t understand why she needs a king at all. She has all of the power, as well as the army to back her up, so why does she seek a male suitor to stand beside her? The film’s best way to explain it is that “Well, she just wants one”. Male dominance rules in a movie, boys and girls. Then there’s the visual sight gags that gave me plenty to unintentionally laugh about. A character is captured in this film, and the choice of shot angle for this prisoner scene probably should’ve been re-done because their wrist is about half of the size of the shackle that covers it, making an easy escape that definitely shouldn’t have taken as long as it did.

Now that I’ve bitched about the negatives of the film for long enough, lets discuss some positives I had, kicking it off with some luxurious set pieces and action sequences that really riveted my experience from time to time. Even if this isn’t supposed to be an action movie, there’s enough ammunition and free-falling objects at the screen to constitute this one as the next “Mission Impossible” sequel. A couple of my favorites involved a spinning bus that came at Cruise’s character, and required him to jump into to stay safe, a couple of sandstorm scenes whose immensity in volume really upped the ante when compared to that of the 1999 Mummy movie that did the same thing, and of course the airplane crash sequence that was seen in the trailers. On the latter, this sequence is beautifully detailed for how it tangles with gravity and the fast-thinking logic that it takes to even come out of this paralyzed, let alone alive. This scene didn’t take too many liberties with the camera angles, nor too many quick cut edits, so I appreciate it for at least being a textbook example of how to shoot action in a movie that is anything but.

The cast was very hit or miss for me, especially in that of the starring roles that weren’t always given the time that they deserved. I’ve read a lot about Cruise being praised for his commitment to this role, but I just don’t get it. To me, it felt very conventional and slightly phoned in during the exposition-heavy scenes that require his reaction to get across their urgency. It just feels like he couldn’t care less about what is transpiring, and while his performance isn’t terrible, I just don’t think Cruise was the right guy for this role. Sofia Boutella makes the most of what limited time she has as this title character. As Ahmanet, it’s refreshing to see a female take on the mummy character, and her devastation pull is only surpassed by her cunning charms of seduction to locate and terminate her prey. Russell Crowe was also good for me, hamming it up as a character who I won’t mention so as not to spoil it for you. I will say that Crowe is in the film, even though the movie acts like we didn’t see his face a hundred times in the trailers, trying to keep his facial identity a secret until midway through the movie. Crowe’s responses do sometimes feel overboard, but when you find out who he is to this story, you will easily understand why this stance remains faithful to whom he represents. The scenes with Cruise and Crowe together on-screen are wondrous, even if they take away from what should be the prime focus.

THE VERDICT – Universal’s opening investment into crafting the monsters of the golden age for a new generation lacks the kind of campy thrills or tragedy in character that makes its predecessors such worthy classics. Kurtzman’s film stumbles as a hurried mess that often feels like three different movies Frankensteined into one disjointed monster, and the result is a product that neither resurrects nor rises itself from the tomb where it laid sleeping. Surprisingly misogynistic, despite its progression of female focus.

4/10

Megan Leavey

The relationship that one U.S soldier has with her dog eases her removal from family and friends who are now thousands of miles away. “Megan Leavey” is based on the true life story of a young marine corporal in question (Kate Mara) whose unique discipline and bond with her military combat dog saved many lives during their deployment in Iraq. When she is assigned to clean up the K9 unit after a disciplinary hearing, Leavey identifies with a particularly aggressive dog named Rex, and is given the chance to train him. Over the course of their service, Megan and Rex completed more than 100 missions until an IED explosion injures them, putting their fate in jeopardy. After returning home, Megan spends her days fighting for the removal of Rex from the war scene, while hoping to adopt her canine best friend. She finds out that the obstacles at home are just as difficult to overcome as the ones she once faced while dodging gunfire. “Megan Leavey” is directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite in her first narrative film, and is rated PG-13 for war violence, language, suggestive material, and thematic elements.

I didn’t gather the greatest buzz after seeing the trailer for “Megan Leavey” over and over again, throughout nearly every movie that I’ve seen over the last four months. My biggest fear with these movies involving animals is that the film will feel meandering and slightly corny for the magical superpowers that the canine will have. Thankfully, those concerns can be put to bed, as “Megan Leavey” is a capable enough biopic that stays firmly grounded in the events surrounding the movie’s two best friends. The film works efficiently enough as two different kinds of movies; one about the PTSD that many soldiers human and non deal with when they return to homeland soil, and a melodrama about the values of friendship in the strangest of places. There are very few limitations in Cowperthwaite’s first big budget presentation, and what speed bumps that it does hit come too late to spoil the creative directions that Gabriella hits on time-and-time-again. Either way, this movie will warm your heart and even steal quite a few tears on the way to telling this moving true story that competently pushes near the two hour barrier.

What impresses me greatly about the detailed screenplay by the trio of writers is not only the fluidity that the tone of the movie continues to move in, despite having more than one cook in the kitchen, but also how in-depth the film takes its responsibility to showcasing Megan’s long road overseas. For the first act of this film, there’s a solid circumference of Megan’s troubled past, some of which involve the passing of a best friend that leaves her at a crossroads with her own life, and also the training that goes into being a marine and one that becomes a canine carrier. The film’s informative approach to building a bond with these animals is one that I greatly appreciated, and proves that animals (like humans) take a long time to earn their trust. How this plays into Megan’s past is that Rex becomes this sort of life-changing miracle that removes her from her shell and inspires her to live again, despite their dangerous re-location of Iraq that plays such a pivotal catch-22 in their blossoming trust.

The second act continues this trend, vitalizing the growth between both of them, in the field of battle where every decision comes with such grave risk. The action during this section of the film is shot exceptionally, even if one particular C.G.I explosion scene stood out like a sore thumb. Regardless, the pacing keeps chugging along, and I was surprised at just how little was left in the film considering what we know from the trailers hasn’t even happened yet. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything since anyone going into this film should already know from the trailers, but there’s a dangerous attack that takes Megan out of action, and leaves Rex alone in this dangerous place without the human who knows him best. This is where the film’s weakness appears, as the final act of this movie withers away any possibilities to further dive into the effects that war has had on Megan’s psyche. The movie does hint at some glaring issues periodically, but it feels greatly avoiding what could impact her loneliness even more. Rex should be the key transition in Megan’s return home, but instead the final minutes of this movie ignore what has already been proven there for the inevitability that didn’t feel even remotely rewarding for how predictable it came across. Bluntly put, there were more articulate avenues that this film could’ve crossed, but it ends on such a conventional note whose plain taste is unavoidable as a kind of disappointment when stood up against the acts that came before it.

The visuals of the film command the camera with handheld work that has been known to annoy me from time-to-time, but it works elusively here because of the dangers that surround war, and how much of a benefit a camera that moves with our soldiers is to relaying the think-fast concepts of the profession of dog carriers. The editing never goes overboard in the heap of battle, and the sound editing/mixing lines up perfectly with the firepower that is depicted. Despite the fact that their use of range is limited exclusively to the second act of this film, the technical side of this film always held up, and did a hell of a job immersing us into this world that is certainly hard enough to see humans go through, let alone man’s best friend.

As for performances, there’s nothing that’s ever terrible, but this is kind of a missed opportunity in particular for Kate Mara, as her filmography up to this point has limited her on the kind of talents as a versatile actress that she possesses. I say missed opportunity because Gabriela’s character direction as opposed to her narrative approach feels at times non-existent, removing the possibility of an emotional release that could open a lot of eyes to her leading lady. For what she’s given here, Kate is solid enough, radiating a charm in Megan that makes it easy to invest in her despite her moral flaws early on, but we’re rarely given a chance to sell the troubles of her rehab, despite the entirety of the third act in which she’s alone and sole focus for the taking of the audience hearts. Besides Mara, there are solid turns by Bradley Whitford as Megan’s father, being the lone positive influence in her life, as well as another outside of the box turn for Tom Felton as a hard-headed drill sergeant who sees potential in Leavey. In Felton in particular, it’s still a little difficult to not see him as a villain, but his hearty turn here speaks levels to the very spirit of the American soldier that leaves everything on the field of battle.

THE VERDICT – While “Megan Leavey” does leave slightly more to be desired with the dramatic pull of a lackluster final act, the first hour of the film makes up for it by building on a duo in which the other person is greatly important to the future well-being of the other. Cowperthwaite’s character direction could afford to get a little more hands-on with the developments of performance, but what she lacks in exposition she more than makes up for in versatility of where this story takes us. “Megan Leavey” isn’t flawless in its uneven structure, but its sentimental stirring about the values of loyalty, sacrifice, and purpose flesh-out this critic’s soft spot for a love story of the canine kind.

7/10

Wonder Woman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8/10

47 Meters Down

“47 Meters Down”, two sisters find themselves at the mercy of a lurker of the sea with a thirst for blood. On the rebound after a devastating break-up, Lisa (Mandy Moore) is ready for a thrilling adventure while on vacation in Mexico. Even still, she needs a little extra persuasion when her daring sister Kate (Claire Holt) suggests they go shark diving with some locals. They board a boat captained by Taylor (Matthew Modine), and once underwater in a protective cage, Lisa and Kate catch a once in a lifetime, face-to-face look at majestic Great Whites. But when their worst fears are realized and the cage breaks away from their boat, they find themselves plummeting to the bottom of the seabed, too deep to radio for help without making themselves vulnerable to the savage sharks, their oxygen supplies rapidly dwindling. “47 Meters Down” is written and directed by Johannes Roberts, and is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense, peril, bloody images, and brief strong adult language.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, a film like “47 Meters Down” comes along and adds to an already terrifying history of shark attack movies. I of course deem this a shark attack movie on the loosest of terms because this movie offers the bare minimum in terms of satisfying material for fans of the overcrowded subgenre or even appearances by our sharp-toothed monsters of the sea. At this point in film, if you’ve seen one shark movie, you’ve seen them all, and “47 Meters Down” is flimsy even in comparison to something like last year’s “The Shallows” that constantly kept the danger and the pacing of the movie moving, well beyond the average 90 minute mark for these kind of movies. Roberts movie clocks in at 84 minutes, and with only about 10 minutes of actual sharks being present in the film (I’m being generous), there’s very few thrills or payoffs for anyone who watched this trailer and thought it was promising for human protagonists being under water for once, instead of on top or in it. The movie gives forth a worthy gimmick in terms of its structure, but offers very little of anything in terms of positive returns to make it memorable against classics like “Jaws” or “Open Water”.

In terms of lighting and overall shot composition for the movie, it’s very limited of what it can do from being angled at this capacity. I do give props that this is a movie that actually relates what it means to be under the sea, in terms of all of its darkness and immensity that can easily get one lost if trapped under such a circumstance. This also benefits the production designs in terms of the actual C.G sharks, and how that lack of color can do wonders for covering up the jarring movements of such a computerized property. But the angles particularly in that of the action on the rare occurance that it strikes, is too close and zoomed in to fully register just what is happening at any given moment. It almost works as a blessing and a curse against the abilities of the production team for making the natural lighting come across as faithful because there was so much going on that I couldn’t piece together beyond the fact that these two women were being attacked. In my opinion, it desperately needed some further angles that would study the cage that they are trapped in from the shark’s point-of-view, not necessarily in a POV style shot, but more in the wide angle lens that could capture and build on the tension of the attack that is seconds away. Because this movie lacks major emphasis on that tension, there’s very little times where I felt invested in the well being of these characters and their constant battle to air level.

As for the protagonists themselves, Mandy Moore definitely can’t be faulted for getting her second chance at Hollywood, long after her fifteen minutes burned out after a noteworthy performance in 2002’s “A Walk To Remember”. Here, Moore lends herself to an action/horror genre and the payoff feels very unnatural for someone not afraid to spread her lungs when it comes to emoting. As Lisa, Moore’s screaming and moaning throughout the film repeatedly took me out of the movie for its repetition in patterns that felt very manufactured in terms of petrifying nature. I could write this off except the way Lisa is written is the gullable third-tier female character in one of these films, instead of the lead protagonist that the movie makes her out to be. There’s never that moment of transformation in her character, even going so far as to having her phone it in during an ending that underwhelms from the second you realize what is going on. As for Clare Holt, the film kind of forgets about her with twenty minutes left, and focuses more on Lisa. It isn’t enough that these women waste most of their oxygen by trying to swim to the top, even after being told to just stay in the cage, but they repeatedly keep leaving their only safe zone from the sharks to give this film any kind of suspense from the minutes that are literally wasting away.

The first act story didn’t even offer anything in terms of exposition to eventually make it tie together for a finale that makes you understand these characters. There’s a brief throwaway scene in terms of Lisa’s boyfriend leaving her and this trip being a sort of escape from reality for the two women, but that poor last few minutes that I mentioned earlier does nothing to tie it all together and shape her into being a new woman with a new lease on life. Once it hits underwater with an hour left in the already brief run time, I started to understand that this is less a shark movie and more a survival movie for the women’s decreasing air supply that leaves them pressed for time. Even the wound that Lisa clearly suffers on her leg during the trailer isn’t even done by the shark itself, but by the cage that falls on her leg, an example of this film having nowhere to move in terms of creative, and quite figuratively and literally writing itself into a cage with very little opportunity to escape.

Far and away, the biggest positive for this movie is in the sound mixing and minimal approach to musical score by composers TomandAndy, two guys most notable for their tones in horror for “The Mothman Prophecies” and the remake of “The Hills Have Eyes”. Here, they manipulate the muted tones off in the distance in favor of real time sounds and atmosphere from the seabed that does wonders in capturing the lack of echo or immensity in volume that surrounds our duo of protagonists. There’s definitely musical accompanyment there, but it’s so distant that it could pass for a surrounding boat’s frequency or just the hallucinations of the girls who have sucked up too much air. I love a movie whose musical score serves as almost a gimmick of the world depicted in the film by itself, and TomandAndy are two of the very best when it comes to drilling on terror at whatever level in release that they deem necessary.

THE VERDICT – “47 Meters Down” doesn’t have the shock or awe to compete with the better movies of the genre that balance the concepts of humanity and breaking points accordingly in their clash with urgency. This one lacks the sharks, competent shots, or even compelling characters to make you ever invest in their struggles, and because of such, this one sinks fast, and becomes bait for the bigger Summer blockbusters that simply can’t be caged. Moore and Holt are believable enough as sisters, but are given such hollow and ample material to make their characters shine in their finest hours. While “47 Meters Down” is an improvement from Johannes Roberts 2016 effort “The Other Side of the Door”, his lack of memorable material settles for the latter in the sink-or-swim atmosphere.

4/10

Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Men Tell NO Tales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

Baywatch

The saviors of the water invade the big screen, in this comedic romp based on the 90’s television show of the same name. Baywatch revolves around Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), the gung-ho leader of the elite Baywatch lifeguard squad in Southern California, who clashes with new recruit Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a washed-up professional olympic swim athlete brought in as the new face of the organization. The P.R stunt gets shoved to the side however, when a dead body is recovered from the ocean, and the two bickering collegues must put aside their personal differences and work with their respective team to stop a criminal mastermind’s drug trafficking operation on their sacred land. Baywatch is directed by first time director Seth Gordon, and is rated R for adult language throughout, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity.

When spoofing a 90’s television show as ridiculous as Baywatch, there was really only one direction creatively that this film could take, but somehow the producers of this remake found a way to take a completely alienated approach that ultimately finishes as a missed opportunity for something that could’ve been an exercise in comedic ridiculousness. Baywatch at times lacks the real definition in its script to be a Baywatch movie, mainly because of its decision to reach for the spoofing of satirical nature so minimal in the film, instead opting to create a big budget action flick in blueprint for what the television show could’ve been if it were crafted in the 21st century. This was a major mistake, as Gordon’s movie never feels confident in finding a pleasing compromise in tone that blends together properly. Because of such, this remake often feels like it is at war with itself. Sure, it isn’t the disaster that Rotten Tomatoes is currently making it out to be. I certainly had enough fun to keep it from movies that I deem as a colossal waste of time. But this remake fails to reach the level of 21 Jump Street because it never feels faithful to the campy vibes of the original that practically begs to be roasted on an open flame.

The biggest laughs for me came during the very few times that this movie acknowledged how ridiculous these lifeguards saving the day sounded. During the first act especially, the film feels most like a comedy, blending the angles of slapstick and physical humor (Think Farelly Brothers) for all to adore. During this time, there was a slight feeling of the true conflict of the movie being pushed to the side. Most obvious is that our female antagonist doesn’t make a grounded appearance until nearly thirty minutes in. Even with that said, the first forty minutes of the movie is definitely its strength. Then the film decides to lose its identity for everything that it truly is, in favor for a 21st century action flick complete with big budgets and C.G.I designs that took itself a little too seriously. Most of the backdrops for the second act of the movie don’t even take place on or near that of the Baywatch landscape, and that obvious absence sparks a flame of abandonment for fans of the original work that will leave them aghast at where it all went wrong.

Something that truly perplexes me not only with this movie, but any deemed slapstick comedy is why the writers think that two hours is needed to tell such a superficial story like this one. Baywatch clocks in at 114 minutes, a dedication in time that truly defines the concepts of fluff sequences. So much of what adorns the exposition between our duos of characters feels repetitive from scene-to-scene with the next time their respective subplots are featured on-screen, pointing to the obvious to which parts should’ve been saved for Blu Ray deleted scenes. The pacing wasn’t terrible for me until late in the second act, when you really start to feel the thin layering of what defines this as a Baywatch movie. For me, this film can easily be re-written with taking out the five or six scenes early on that take place on the beach, and make this into a Bad Boys sequel. At least in removing those scenes, you would have a smooth 95 minute run time that should’ve been the appropriate measure taken for Gordon’s often dry marathon of a film.

A minute ago, I touched on the decision to up the budget of this project, and a lot of it goes into some computer generated work that omits the feeling of a Sharknado sequel in shallow design. There were two major problems that stand out like sore thumbs here; fire and the sky itself. On the latter, I’m guessing the difficulties with naturally lighting a scene that is supposed to take place out in the deep water was the cause for concern, but I can’t comprehend how a golden glow around our characters was the finished product. I noticed this problem during one of the earlier trailers, but thought that they were still finishing up post-production, but to see it in the actual movie makes it difficult to ever ignore. As for the fire, give credit that this design at least brings the smoke. So many C.G.I uses anymore for fire forget that aspect, but Baywatch is at least capable in that department. The problem is that the fire is so thin in design and screen definition that our characters walk through it without ever the slightest of consequence. Picture Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Arcade Game for the 8-bit Nintendo console. There’s fire at the bottom of the screen, but we know it’s only there for effect, and it will never hurt anyone if they come into contact with it. If you’re going to go big, then go all the way. Don’t skimp out when it comes to computer effects that soil the integrity of a direction in tone by their compromising visuals.

The strong point in the movie for me was actually the performances. Yes, that sound terribly stupid in a Baywatch movie, but it is the truth. Before I get into those, it was a tasteful nod for every one of the main roles to be named after a character from the TV show, two of which actually pop up as cameos in the movie that sadly the opening credits spoil. Dwayne Johnson kind of phones it in with his usual stick, but that shouldn’t alienate his many followers. Dwayne is charming and certainly rises to the occasion of Buchannon, but his non-existent arrogance leaves slightly more to be desired with his original counterpart. What is a solid investment for starring roles is that of Efron as the troubled bad boy Matt Brody. Efron has proven he has solid comedic chops yes, but here he is actually required to do some solid acting for once, and Zac rises to the occasion. In Brody, there’s a deep taste of regret and retribution that boils inside, and his mental growth throughout the movie is the cause of my embrace for the character. He’s cocky, but you never want to give up on him for how alone in this thing he truly is, a testament to Efron once again stealing the show. I also gave major props to the film for sticking all the way through with a female villain, and giving her the valuable screen time to make her a noteworthy presence against two mammoth personalities like Johnson and Efron. The woman in question is of course Priyanka Chopra as drug lord Victoria Leeds. Chopra commands the attention of everyone she comes into contact with, transfixing the screen with the decision to talk, instead of yell. Even if everything else doesn’t please you, the thought of a well written female antagonist in 2017 should, as Priyanka’s work here deserves credit.

THE VERDICT – Because of a lack of satirical intent and a run time that exceeds necessity by twenty minutes or so, Baywatch sinks before it can ever swim, limiting the effects of a well-rounded and charismatic cast of fresh faces to embrace. The film paddles hard to validate its R-rating, but the current of conventionalism capped off any attempt at making this the latest nod to a forgotten era of television. I don’t say this often, but this one could’ve used more corny to appeal to the show’s fans that laughed even when they weren’t supposed to. For Gordon’s film, you’re not supposed to laugh, and you won’t much anyway.

4/10

Kidnap

Halle Berry races against the clock and the road with anything in her way, as the victim of a “Kidnap”. A single mother named Karla Dyson (Halle Berry) lives a perfect life with her young son Frankie (Sage Correa). One day, upon entering a local park, Karla sees her son suddenly being abducted out of the blue by a savage kidnapper. To save Frankie from abduction, Karla goes out on an unending and thrilling car chase behind Frankie’s abductors. Her steely resolve and determination to save her son at any cost takes her on a dangerous mission, endangering herself, as well as her son who is held captive in the antagonist’s car. With little help from the local law enforcement, Karla realizes that if she wants something done right, she’s going to have to put the pedal to the medal and do it herself. “Kidnap” is directed by Luis Prieto, and is rated R for some adult language, scenes of peril, and automobile devastation.

Prieto’s second directing effort has had a bit of problems en-route to making it to the silver screen. After the closing of Relativity Media, “Kidnap” was one of a few films that sat on the shelf well past its designated release date. Set for debut in December 2016, Prieto’s movie never reached the light of day for whatever reason, being pushed to the end of 2017 for its new possibility. After finally getting my hands on a copy of it, I can once again understand why such decisions get made by big budget studios. “Kidnap” is very much as conventional and underwhelming as it gets with the chase subgenre, mainly because there’s nothing extraordinary or memorable about the 90 minutes that you sit through to reach the predictable ending. If you’re fortunate enough to sit through the trailer, you will already have an idea in your head about the meandering direction and risk-less sequences that play out before our very eyes. Its biggest sin is that it isn’t terrible enough to be laughable, it’s forgettable enough to be wasteful, an idea that too many of these B-90’s films are settling for twenty years after their expiration dates.

Right off of the bat, we are treated to everything that we will come to understand with what follows in this careless picture. A slideshow of Frankie growing up and being narrated by Berry opens the film, but her vocals are clearly inserted in post production. How do I know this? Because her voice never sounds any different in tone from scene-to-scene, nor blurred any in volume when a video takes place outside or around loud circumstances. I guess I shouldn’t complain too much because this is among the only narration that we received for the entirety of the movie. The biggest problem with having a film take place entirely on the road is that there’s very little time to soak things in and allow the audience to follow along with our protagonist. Because of this, Berry is relegated to coming off as a psychopath by continuing to talk to herself and explain her plans in great detail. It’s evident that this is for the audience and not so much for her worry towards the ensuing developments, but because this movie has virtually no evolving plot aside from what you read above, we have to be satisfied with the crash-and-stash mentality that Prieto conjures up.

The story stays faithfully grounded, limiting what happens off of the road with character exposition or plot advancement. If there is one positive, I can safely say that “Kidnap” is everything that it advertises. There’s no manipulation when the movie phones in the emphasis on urgency that films like these need to steal your emotional investment. Despite this, the film’s pacing rarely ever lags or drags due to boredom, but the overly-anxious push to a speedy conclusion throttles to a dead end road full of neatly tucked away conclusions. Believe me when I say that there is nothing remotely fascinating about the ending of this movie, even skimping on the setup for a possible fight scene that could’ve showed the true rage of a Mother protecting her cub. The film’s final fifteen minutes just kind of come and go with very little adversity, and it proved to be the final stamp on a movie that didn’t care enough to offer a satisfying enough poetic justice for those who commit the most unlawful of crimes.

As far as the actual action goes, the stuff on the road is satisfying enough, very rarely slowing down to give us the chance to breathe. The problem comes in the logic of the circumstances that our hero, as well as our villain makes along the way. If one thing was clear to me early on, it was that this film certainly isn’t raising any geniuses, and while there is something to be said about thinking under the pressure of the moment, there’s a louder voice speaking to the depths of just how easy it would be for Karla to defeat her faceless nemesis in minutes, or how said nemesis keeps managing to run into her despite getting several head-starts and immense advantages. Because this isn’t a cerebral chase film on the heels of 90’s thrillers like “Breakdown” or “Highwaymen”, it immediately takes away from how cunning that the mental chess game between these characters could’ve been.

Some more of the technical achievements that I pulled from the movie only added further to the already lackluster approach that handicaps Prieto’s abilities. Each chase sequence is shot in the same formulaic tone that it rarely offers it from different levels of perspective to appreciate what a crew can do with a camera. There were several scenes that embraced the style of shooting Berry’s ridiculously cheesy facial expressions, then cut to the front of the car, then zoom out. Rinse, wash, repeat. It’s only impressive by its generic nature. In addition to this, there was a scene early on when the chase starts that is so ugly in depiction that I find it hard to believe that Ray Charles couldn’t have shot it better. It reminded me eerily of how you will watch a trailer and watch the cliche of everything fading to black scene after scene. That’s fine for a trailer, but when that happens in the movie that you pay hard earned money for, you’ve got a real problem. Thankfully, they only do this the once, but its soul appearance gives off the impression of a different editor who left the job early on.

Thankfully, Halle is a competent actress when it comes to giving it her all, as her performance was one of very few notable positives that I pulled from the movie. Aside from the goofy facials that I expressed about earlier, Berry commands Karla as a mentally unfurling force of one who refuses to ever give up when it comes to the thing she loves most in this world. On that sense, Karla feels like a character that many women will easily get behind, and Berry’s conscious effort behind it seals the deal for a protagonist who grows in doubles by the end of the film. I’ve always thought she was a solid actress, just accepts the leads in movie scripts that are well below her potential in terms of material. Don’t believe me? See “Gothika”, “Catwoman”, and “The Call”, the latter of which is essentially the same movie as “Kidnap”. Berry definitely deserved better antagonists for the film, because if the movie doesn’t even find them interesting enough to focus on until the final act, why should we as an audience?

THE VERDICT – “Kidnap” catches a flat tire of modest ambition early on, and then spins out of control by the end of the film, with stretched logic and lackluster consequence. Berry’s performance proves that she can still bring a tasty center to a meaty delivery, but unfortunately the miniscule scale here is what kept her abilities and the film alike, on the shelf for the past five months. This one steals our childlike dreams of ambition for hopes of an enjoyable hour-and-a-half, and never gives them back. Unlike Berry in the movie, I’m still in search of my time back.

4/10

Alien: Covenant

The crew of a colony ship, slash through a dangerous breed of indiginous creatures that inhabit their newfound land, in ‘Alien: Covenant’. Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created, with “Alien: Covenant,” a new chapter in his groundbreaking “Alien” franchise. The crew of the colony ship Covenant (Including Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, and Billy Crudup), bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world. When they uncover a threat beyond their wildest imaginations, they must attempt a harrowing escape, banding together to take out their acid-spitting antagonists hand-in-hand for survival. ‘Alien: Covenant’ is rated R for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity.

I’m someone who didn’t care much for Prometheus and the philosophical directions that it took one of the more prominent horror/sci-fi movie franchises, and unfortunately Alien: Covenant steers more in that same direction of where the previous left off. It is a better film in my opinion than that of its predecessor, but still suffers from the same problems revolving around its menacing antagonist that Scott still hasn’t fixed five years later. There are two tones in the film of Covenant, pushing to satisfy the diverse crowds of this series that were split right down the middle in their interest of Prometheus. For the supporters of it, this film does bring back the origin story of the creators, as well as the artistic and ambitious direction that only Scott can accomplish at this magnitude. For fans of the original Alien and Aliens movies, this film shifts back to the pacing of those movies, even so far as to include their increased appetites in brutal violence that reigned supreme during that era. The gore is very satisfying to a horror lover like me, and I felt that this film had some of the best deaths of the series. However, For this kind of juxtaposition in tone, it does often feel like a tug-of-war battle for the creativity of this movie, tightly jamming two different feels of movies into one Frankenstein-like finished product. The film satisfied in many ways, but had nearly as many problems to point out for my final grade of the film.

Ridley Scott still proves that after over forty years of sitting behind the director’s chair that he still has it in the visual presentations that envelope his films. Whether you love or hate Scott as a director, it’s measures like the interior ship designs and lighting of this movie that orchestrate the idea that this man is playing on a totally different ball field. The interiors of this film took me back to Aliens and Alien 3, opting for more of that faded cinematography to accommodate the yellowish tint in lighting that adorned these ships. In addition to this, I greatly adored the decision to film more scenes on the ground, as we very rarely have seen these aliens in their natural habitats. It also fruitfully paints the backdrop in picture for the creators and the kind of epic world that they once lived in, long before they met their genetic match in terms of conflict. These glances offer the kind of answers to the questions that were left anti-climatically in the air during the prior film, and did plenty to satisfy my thirst for foreign worlds that has sadly done very little experimenting before this.

Then there are those decisions by Scott that could’ve used a little more time to develop and mold for the eyes of his passionate viewers. The decision to amplify the tension by making these aliens quicker in this film is one that I do support. Even in zombie films, people often criticize this stance for taking away from the classic movements of the antagonists, but it’s easy to understand that taking away the ability to run away is what makes their actions even more unpredictable. My problem comes in the CGI designs of the aliens themselves. Aside from the fact that there are no practical effects in this movie, I found the computer designs of most of the alien creatures to be laughably bad. The Xenomorphs are fine because they show that of dark skin that makes it difficult to point out the flaws in their designs, but the small white creatures that appeared during the opening act of this movie are so bad that they reminded me of Alien: Resurrection, the stain of the Alien franchise. The shading and texture of their designs feel so foreign to the practical sets that surround them that it makes it very difficult to suspend disbelief for their impacts. By 2017, concept designs shouldn’t lack this much weight, and as a result the gimmick of this creature left me laughing every time it was on screen.

The story too has its problems, even going as far as the actual title of the movie. If this film was called Prometheus 2, or Prometheus with some subtitle after it, I would be fine with it. But to have the actual name ALIEN in the title and only have them in the two hour presentation for a total of twenty minutes (I’m being generous) is a huge mistake. Much of the reason people disliked Prometheus is because they couldn’t find the connection between the two stories. Now we have a movie that connects them, but does it in a way that reduces these creatures to supporting roles in their own film. The movie has an easily predictable plot twist towards the end of the movie that friends will attest to me predicting right away. How did I predict this? Well, a lack of care for what scenes were included leading up to the big reveal, as well as subtle but evident differences in appearance for two characters who are quite similar. It’s tough to explain without spoiling everything, but if you are paying attention even decently, you will easily pick out this flaw from the minute that Scott attempts to accomplish it. Overall, the story to me just fell flat in many long spurts, practically counting down the time when the next attack will happen. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m not crazy about this story getting philosophical, and the idea that these aliens can be reasoned with and even controlled is one that treads the hardest on suspending disbelief. I am reminded of Halloween 6 when they introduced the character of The Man In Black to basically be Michael Myers master. I am of the thought that monsters should always stay cryptic. The more we know about them, the less impactful their rage and dominance feels, and the alien creature is one that I feel doesn’t require that backstory to make it any more frightening.

As for the characters, there are two that stick to mind with being effective in this movie, Katherine Waterston as Daniels and Danny Mcbride as Tennessee. Mcbride especially is the standout here, putting aside his comedic charms for a tough-as-nails character with some intelligence to boot. Danny showcases that he is an actually gifted actor here, and I couldn’t get enough of his commanding presence on this ship, and being the lone voice of reasoning for the film. Yes, Danny Mcbride was the voice of reason, weird huh? As for Waterston, there’s certainly a steer in the direction of Ripley and Shaw for her structure, but Daniels serves as a particularly human lead protagonist here because immediately right away in the movie she suffers the most devastating loss of her life. So we get to see the actual metamorphosis of her character as the film progresses, leading into a captain who takes control for the very lives of not just her crew, but also her friends. Besides these two, the rest of the performances and development was very underutilized. You could blame it on fifteen different faces taking up screen time, but I blame it more on the cliche horror movie characters that they all made up. Characters in these movies typically make dumb decisions, but when you really think about how easily the events in Covenant could’ve been avoided, you start to laugh aloud for how very little has changed in this nearly forty year old franchise. At least in the earlier volumes, you had characters who were able to showcase these fleshed-out personalities for us to enjoy or hate. The people in Covenant constantly feel overlooked, and this is a rare flaw for a director in Scott, who has developed some meaty supporting casts.

THE VERDICT – Alien: Covenant is a welcome addition over the last four Aliens movies that have disappointed this critic for how convoluted their easy-to-satisfy plots have become. The film increases the violence and answers many of the questions that were left hanging from the previous film, but still suffers in terms of what definitive direction that this movie is trying to take. Hollow characters, pee-brain decision making, and some shoddy CGI work, still prove that this series has plenty to perfect before it tangles with the days of Alien or Aliens. Even with annoyances aside, Covenant has enough pulse to bite through the underbelly of horror conventionalism, and still prove that this series has teeth.

6/10