Coco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9/10

Justice League

The biggest of D.C Comics brand of superheroes team together to save the day as the ‘Justice League’. Months after the destruction of events caused in ‘Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice’, Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s (Henry Cavill) selfless act, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), to face an even greater enemy. Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to find and recruit a team of metahumans to stand against this newly awakened threat. But despite the formation of this unprecedented league of heroes-Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and The Flash (Ezra Miller), it may already be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions at the hands of the deadly Steppenwolf and his army of deciples. ‘Justice League’ is co-directed by Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon, and is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action.

After the momentum of ‘Wonder Woman’ from earlier this year, the D.C Comics Universe is looking to extend that winning streak a bit more with assemblance of ‘Justice League’, the long-awaited team-up of a dream team of heroes, some of which being portrayed on screen for the first time ever within this realm. Because of these vastly different personalities, ‘Justice League’ feels like a welcoming appreciation of changes from previous efforts that could prove that D.C is starting to find their unique voice with comic storytelling. The inevitable comparisons to Marvel will always be there, but it is up to us as moviegoers to understand that these are two different worlds that divert in everything from tone to visual presentation, and while ‘Justice League’ isn’t the home run collectively that this series so desperately needs, it is a stand-up double that sets the stage fruitfully for the introductions to some vital characters with their own undisputed honor to the D.C calling card. Considering that this is a film that had problems in production both on and off of the silver screen, it’s a major step forward for a finished result that gave me a rousing good time.

Almost immediately, anyone will pick up on the change of atmosphere that has reduced itself from the serious drag that was films like ‘Man of Steel’ or ‘Batman Vs Superman’, and traded it in for an embracing of light-hearted tone that carves out some much needed personalities for these iconic figures. While it doesn’t get as over-the-top in laughs as say ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ did, I can confidently say that this movie guided the balance between serious and humorous more capably, finding a comfortable medium that caters to Snyder’s brand of adult-like settings. Much of my problem with these films up to ‘Wonder Woman’ this year has been the decision to take itself far too seriously, forgetting that this is a fantasy world that is being depicted, so the fun of imagination should definitely be there. Most of the humor fails or succeeds in the hands of the actors who harbor strong timing with their deliveries, but screenwriters Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon as a whole leave plenty of room in the comic kitchen for two chefs who are more than capable of playing off the right moment properly, leaving the garbage can of fails relatively limited in the grand spectrum.

The film’s runtime of nearly two hours definitely feels like it was trimmed down, especially considering so many scenes that were frequent in the trailers are nowhere to be found in the finished product. The pacing is more than remotely uneven, especially considering the exposition-heavy first act breezes by with the speed of The Flash, but the second act builds the process prominently of this team coming together as one and giving us plenty of chances to embrace their personalities bouncing off of one another. Particularly in the opening half hour of the film, it definitely felt like D.C knew that it still had plenty of ground to make up in bridging the gap towards the three characters of Cyborg, Flash, and Aquaman, who have only made brief cameos in the series up to this point. But time is of the essence here with Warner Bros limiting this film to the two hour mark, and because of such, those origin stories will have to wait for another day. What’s commendable here is that the film feels like five different movies being welded together for the price of one. Surprisingly, the film seamlessly blends together like one cohesive plot, proving that the ingredients taste the best when they’re working together as one. Overall, I had a great time with the film until about the final half hour, when the expected third act struggles of D.C rear their ugly heads again. Once again it’s too much C.G, too much quick-cut editing, and far too much structural damage instead of dramatic pulse to push its final scenes to the finish line. Because so much of the final fights in these films lack desperation or vulnerability, I never feel any grave danger for what is at stake, and it proves that D.C has plenty to work on to send audiences home electrified instead of antsy.

From a production standpoint, ‘Justice League’ also raises the bar, proving that aesthetics do matter just as much to this coveted team behind the camera. Thankfully, the cinematography by Fabian Wagner lightens things up visually to present us with some eye-catching landscapes to pop that comic vibe of authenticity. Snyder is a sucker for dreamy comic illustrations, and no one does it better than him in bringing these pages of vibrancy to life with such pulse. Sure, the C.G still oversteps its boundaries as a whole against physical properties, but Gotham honestly never looked so beautifully toxic as it did here. One point that I couldn’t ignore was the removal of Henry Cavill’s mustache which looked terrible in post production. I can’t imagine how anyone can’t see that his lip and mouth movements look about as authentic as Cyborg’s bodily property, leaving a stain on the film any time that his character decided to open his mouth. The lighting aspects here are much improved when compared to ‘Batman Vs Superman’ that looked like it was filmed in a dark, damp basement. I think this step creatively feeds to the concept that this isn’t just one or two characters movie, this is now an entire team, and it’s a great time for such a change when we’re trying to represent a magnitude of artistic integrities equally.

As for performances, the positives far outweighed the negatives for me, and even offered some surprises that silenced this critic. To that regard, I apologize to Ezra Miller for thinking his humor would overshadow the character of Barry Allen. He doesn’t always land the gut-busting punch that he’s pulling for because of his awkwardness, but that alone in itself feeds into the youth who is at an awe with the personalities who now surround him, leaving him starstruck. Affleck and Gadot continue to breathe the very essence of their characters, providing a satisfying blend of humanity with a dash of hinted romance to mend their respective aching hearts. Jason Momoa is also outstanding in depicting this new side of Aquaman that I didn’t think was possible. At first, I kind of worried that Momoa would portray this Thor-like musclehead with very little reasoning or logic to his character, but as the film goes on, you start to understand that he offers the most eclectic striking when it comes to the versatility of his offense. I can’t wait till next December to see him reap the benefits of an entire script. My negatives start sadly with Ray Parker as Cyborg. Parker himself isn’t terrible, just what the script has for him is. His very first scene sets the stage for some dramatic pulse of being stuck in a situation that he had no choice over, but the script doesn’t add anything to this. I was waiting for Parker to get a scene of clarity for himself, but he’s sadly ignored as the film goes on, handing in an incomplete that did nothing for the weight of his character. Ciaran Hinds is arguably the worst kind of Warcraft villain that a movie like this can find. Comic book genre films haven’t quite figured out the emphasis on a good villain yet, and Hinds might be the worst to date, equipping Steppenwolf with no proper motive or valued screen time in getting his character across. Again, it’s another villain that a film forgets about for a half hour, and I never felt like we were any less for his absence.

THE VERDICT – If you compare this to Marvel, you’ve missed the point immediately. ‘Justice League’ finds its own original voice of impulse, despite its sometimes rushed script that diminishes the capability of its talented cast. Snyder’s latest chapter adds a much-needed dose of atmospheric humor that relays this being a COMIC book movie first, leaving its colorless drag in the past for good where it belongs. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but the future is finally bright for these heroes in individual efforts, with the possibility that justice might come to all of them with valued patience.

7/10

Wonderstruck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5/10

Murder on the Orient Express

The search for a murderer on board has a group of strangers on the edge of their seats, in ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. Based on the 1934 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie, the film takes place in 1930s Europe, with famed detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) boarding the legendary Orient Express for a small break in between cases. While on board, he meets an interesting assortment of characters. One fellow passenger, Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp), implores Mr. Poirot to assist him while on the train as he fears for his well-being, though Poirot respectfully declines. The next morning, Ratchett is found stabbed to death. With the train halted due to snow build up on the tracks, and with the evidence and suspects piling up, Poirot finds himself diving into a case that could be his biggest and most mind-bending yet. ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ is directed by Kennth Branagh, and is rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements.

Kenneth Branagh’s modern day adaptation of this legendary crime detective novel offers a dual respect of the past and present that brings to life a special hybrid of sorts for ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. While this was a story that was written over eighty years ago, there’s plenty of artistic merit and expression of modern mastery that instills life into this third live action adaptation, holding its place amongst the vast collection of today’s whodunnits? that establish little in the way of detective procedurals. This film to me was not only a character piece in the eyes of a world renowned detective, but also a thought-provoking narrative that does beg the question if murder is ever acceptable in the most avenging of ways possible. It certainly isn’t an easy thing to cast a near two hour plot in one claustrophobic train-car, but Branagh and his talented cast spin the gears of the wheels , opening up this one setting play in the most elaborate of ways that constantly elevates the tension with each passing clue of development that poisons the air like the swanky soap operas of yesterday that we just can’t get enough of.

This is first and foremost an ensemble piece, garnering with it a collection of top name billers to add prestige to its ages old formula. Branagh pulls double duty here like the few times that he has before, and his command and essence over the character of Poirot proves that if you want something done right, you do it yourself. As this experienced detective, Branagh breathes in a quirky, yet distinguished operational aspect to his madness, establishing why he is the name that everyone turns to in the longest of longshots. Aside from Branagh, I also enjoyed the performances of Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, and Willam Dafoe as suspects aboard this train. There is a big chance that the screenwriters take in the choice to not approaching these characters as anything more than one-dimensional suspects with very little exposition or screen time dedicated to their presence, but I feel that it pays off in spades because we are meeting these characters in the same way Poirot is; as questionable suspects, so I feel that to know too much would render their mysteries silent. Nobody is ever out of place or underwhelming in their displays, and even the brief work of Johnny Depp and Judy Dench prove that no role is too small in getting across the bigger point.

While this isn’t the widest example of free-range storytelling, the film’s investigation into this mystery offers plenty of meat to chew on in keeping the audience at bay. To me, this is a film that definitely has a better second half than first, and I say that because the opening minutes are at times a bit of a chore to get through, with forced humor of the Inspector Clouseau kind being inserted. It isn’t until about twenty minutes into the movie when we’re finally aboard this elegant train that is only one day from spinning out of control. Thankfully, the film does mature along with the subject matter that it encounters, leading to second and third acts in the film that strap on gloves to get ready for to get the hands dirty. One of my only problems with this story that dates back to its literary origin, is that once we find out the one coincidence that links these people together, the answer becomes apparently obvious in where the answer is heading. This to me happens a little bit early, leaving the remaining twenty minutes of film to soak in that question of murder that I asked in this writing earlier. The ending is satisfying, but it does so in a way that could’ve twisted the set-ups differently to present this as something different for the people who have already read or seen any of the two other movie adaptations.

The ending is something that I feel will be divisive amongst audiences, but I myself felt that it was just fine considering this is my fourth engagement with these characters and plot. Knowing this story once will kind of diminish in cliffhanging circumstance what kind of returns that you will get from something that offers very few changes. If you’re seeing this story for the first time in your life, then ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ version 2017 should steer you in the right direction for thrills and seedy developments that will constantly keep you guessing. To that degree, I share an air of jealousy for this being someone’s first dive into this plot, as I feel Branagh’s touch is no doubt the quit-essential precedent for a film in this series before or after this newest chapter. Like any human detective plot with honesty, the film ends without answering all of the questions, but as is life for motives that constantly keep us guessing.

One aspect that definitely should not be understated is in the gorgeous overall cinematography that Haris Zambarloukos displays with prestige in class. This is the Titanic of rolling trains, so everything from the elegant displays of crystal silverware and cozy surroundings does wonder in setting the stage fruitfully for this limited opportunity to tag along. In addition to this, Haris and Kenneth wow us with some intoxicating establishing shots of the many parallel weather patterns and scenery that always gives us something jaw-dropping to gaze at. But to prove that he isn’t just an actor, Branagh knows precisely where to point the camera, guiding us through the many train-cars effortlessly in manipulated one take long-shots that are meant to display the immensity of this setting and mystery that at the start feel completely wide open, but are later chopped down ruthlessly, relaying that the answer is getting closer and closer to the culprit. These aspects alone remind us the rare gifts that remakes can grant us; breathtaking views, luxurious tastes, and puppeteering behind the camera that can do so much with only so little.

THE VERDICT – Kenneth Branagh offers an entertaining upgrade on nearly every aspect of this old-fashioned murder mystery, with enough bends and curves to keep this a bumpy ride frequently. While the overall mystery becomes surrounded with a cloud of convolution, the touch of craft filmmaking involving scene-stealing camera work, overrides those problems, offering a pleasant taste of a golden age of Hollywood production where this train departed from. In lesser hands, this film collapses on its tracks, but the double duty of Branagh as the captain provides enough coal in the engine to power us through.

7/10

Thor: Ragnarok

The devastation from the ruins of Asgaard brings Thor back home, in ‘Thor: Ragnarok’. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) arrives in Asgard after hearing about trouble within his home world, and when he arrives he finds Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) style of ruling (while impersonating Odin) has led to some lapses in the rules and leads to the freeing of prisoner Hela (Cate Blanchett). Thor and Hela naturally come to blows when they meet, which sees Thor “blasted” to Sakaar, described as “a barbaric planet ruled by the charming but nefarious Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum).” There he meets Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), who is hiding out on the planet, and brings him to the Grandmaster to make him a gladiator, where he meets the most popular competitor in the arena, The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and loses his trademark hair and hammer, giving way to a bigger, badder God of war than ever before. ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is directed by Taika Waititi, and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material.

What Taika Waititi has done here for the Thor franchise of films is nothing short of miraculous, and is deserving of all of the praise that only a prestigious director of his caliber can grant. In his re-vitalizing third chapter in this series, Waititi has instilled the fun to a series that frankly was struggling with a mediocre second movie that took itself and its characters a bit too seriously. In his pitch, it was his intention to bring the imagination back to this genre, reminding faithful comic book fans of the kind of antsy anticipation that can only come with bringing these storyboards to life. ‘Ragnarok’ is that breath of fresh air that reminds us how FUN superhero movies are supposed to be, offering a firework of a spectacle in production, as well as a light-hearted atmosphere in material and tone that pushes towards the comedy genre fruitfully with a consistency of laughs that never quit swinging. Even more enriching is the fact that these laughs don’t soil or overstay their welcome at any point in the film. They are well-delivered, well-timed, and well-preserved when you consider that they do no harm to the film’s serious direction when it requires it. Waititi proves that he was the best man for the job, and the many pros of his entertaining installment is deserving of future re-watches that this critic will inevitably hand over the money for.

What ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ did for colorful insertion and artistic stroke in its film, ‘Ragnarok’ ups the ante even further, providing a wondrous stage that beats at the heart of this foreign planet. This impressive series of shots within war sequences are so beautifully decadent that they could all easily be swinging within a picture frame at your local museum, they are that impressive. The film’s usage of slowed down depictions is valued, mainly because it never reaches too often for the gimmick, nor does it feel like it hinders the fluidity in progression of these detailed sequences. The sound mixing and editing throw in two valued cents of thunderous impact for good measure. Hell, Even the style choices for wardrobe sport designs that are entirely out of this world. The film dabbles its commitment to planet building accordingly, and does so with a practical presentation of futuristic ensembles that really treat the eye to some visual candy that can perfectly set the precedent for the landscape faithfully. It all does its part to crafting one of the very best production values that Marvel or any film of this decade can respectfully tip their hats to.

The music deserves its own praise for the subtlety to versatility that has a few tricks of its own up the sleeves of award winning children’s composer Mark Mothersbaugh. Keeping with the miles in parallel locations over the progression of the film, Mark tightly hones his own soundtrack to each of the respective planets with enough opposition in their impacts to feel the differences in each range. While on Asgaard, the orchestral influence of horns and trumpets pay homage to that of battle-cries that feed into this planet of warriors. While on Sakaar, there’s kind of an overthrow of techno break beats and technological sampling to relay the idea of a futuristic prism that is at stake here. I don’t want to say much else besides that because the best treat of all takes place during Thor’s hallucination before meeting The Grandmaster (Played wonderfully by the versatile Jeff Goldblum), and if you pay attention carefully you can see a hinted paying of respects to our favorite lunatic candy maker. I’ve already said too much.

This is also a story that while it does take place in a galaxy far away, does hint on some familiar territory in themes that really strike an honest chord with where the series is heading. Sibling rivalry, self-discovery, and even retribution are all taken paths that the film explores with unshakeable persistence in going a long way to working overtime for this outstanding pacing that runs slightly over two hours. To say I was entertained thoroughly is an understatement. Truth be told, ‘Ragnarok’ is that rare occasion where I gave myself over completely to the roller-coaster within, and was rewarded with some timely surprises and narrative twists that surprised even someone like me who can usually pick these things out of a trailer with ease. The minor problems that I had with the screenplay are barely worth mentioning, but they do knock it down a point when everything else feels so perfect. Mostly it’s the lack of explanation in some key scenes like Loki’s faked death or Thor and Hulk’s fight that is sampled heavily in the trailer. On the latter, it is explained that they must fight to the death, so how could they both possibly get out of this arena with their heads? Besides this, the only other problem I had was with the antagonist. I loved Blanchett’s performance, and I’ll get to that in a minute, but the film realizes that her exposition-heavy appearances are definitely the least interesting aspect of the movie, and as a result kind of forgets about her character midway through the second act. There is a noticeable half hour where her character goes missing, proving that while Marvel might be headed in the right direction with the depth of its villains, they still are leap years away on bottling it up as a perfect formula.

And finally, perhaps the most valuable aspect is in the impressive collection of talented actors who all make a presence felt. The most difficult thing to attain is giving an ensemble this big each a worthy task to appreciate their inclusion, and thankfully Waititi knows the kind of motivation in attaining the best in each of them. Hemsworth definitely feels more open-up in personality and demeanor that reflects a side of his frequent time up to this point on the planet Earth. Hemsworth has such a command over the timing of reactions when it comes to the laughs, making Thor every bit as charismatic as Tony Stark. Cate Blanchett was menacing and able to add an acclaimed side to Marvel villains that has rarely been seen to this point. There’s a big plot twist for her character early on in the film, and thankfully it was setting the motions of equality in plot structure to match her best kind of Malificient impression that beats out even Jolie with ease. Also great to see Hiddleston back again as my favorite low-life Loki. Where Hemsworth commands the time for humor, Hiddleston visually puppeteers it, earning much hearty laughter to the way his straight man reacts to some less than flattering news. I would be lying though, if I said any of these actors were my favorite performance of ‘Ragnarok’, as that belongs to Tessa Thompson commanding the viciously delicious Valkyrie. Thompson provides an air for female moviegoers in this role that they have rarely seen so far in Marvel, and Thompson’s alcoholic-laced anti-hero demands her own movie. What I found so rewarding about her character is that with much exposition, we find this is every bit a revenge plot for her as it is anyone else in the film. Without Valkyrie, much would be lost in the way of the past that comes back to haunt throughout this film, and Tessa is happy to oblige with a performance that proves she can kick ass just as good as she shakes it in that leather number. Mmmm mmmm mmmm

THE VERDICT – ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is a colorfully constructed space opera that swings for the fences because of Taika Waititi’s concentrated direction that results in a fresh reset button for the franchise. There’s an air of spoof on the over-saturation of the superhero genre that may or may not have overstayed its welcome, but the tickling of our senses proves effective none the less, making this easily the best of the Thor franchise, and one of the more versatile comic book plots of the previous decade. If this is where superhero films are headed, strap in and enjoy the ride. Thor has finally earned his throne.

9/10

Thank You For Your Service

Miles Teller and his band of brothers pay the ultimate sacrifice, in ‘Thank You For Your Service’. The movie follows a group of U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq who struggle to integrate back into family and civilian life, while living with the memory of a war that threatens to destroy them long after they’ve left the battlefield. Starring an ensemble cast led by Miles Teller, Haley Bennett, Joe Cole, Amy Schumer, Beulah Koale, Scott Haze, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Brad Beyer, Omar J. Dorsey and Jayson Warner Smith, the drama is based on the bestselling book by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author David Finkel. Jason Hall, who wrote the screenplay of American Sniper, makes his directorial debut with ‘Thank You for Your Service’. The film is rated R for strong violent content, adult language throughout, some sexuality, drug material and brief nudity.

There’s certainly no shortage of post-war films that deal with the traumatizing experiences that only one immersed in the battles for our freedom can detail. Most notably, films like ‘American Sniper’ and ‘Brothers’ pack emotionally stirring exploits that depict hell on Earth being oceans between the peaceful surroundings that we as citizens take for granted every day. ‘Thank You For Your Service’ might be the single best one in this respective subgenre because this is a film that feels like it is finally giving us the whole story involved with post-traumatic stress, and not just catering to the conveniences that play coincidentally into the kind of events that anyone in or out of war would know. Jason Hall’s decision to write and direct this riveting story was definitely the correct motion, as there’s such a fluidity from screenplay to screen that pivots in-sync wonderfully. It’s clear that Hall’s agenda is to showcase that there is a steep price that comes with being a hero, a term that is so loosely defined in the film that it makes it difficult to assume whether it is a positive or a negative, blurring the line of protagonist versus antagonist carefully without it playing into an obvious battlefield gimmick that we’ve seen far too often in war flicks that associate with one particular narrator.

For this screenplay, I found it very full of depth because the movie doesn’t focus on just one character, but instead these three longtime friends and soldiers who return home after serving four years in Iraq. It’s in their versatility in characters and traits where the film can delve into so many variations and coping mechanisms with trauma that we as an audience can explore and educate from within ourselves. One of them is anxious to get home, one of them cannot wait to re-enlist for four more years, and one of them seems kind of lost in the shuffle between two lives that he doesn’t comfortably fit into. Each one of them engages in their own struggles once they return home, and it’s in that perspective where I soaked in the scenes of awkwardness between their families seeing them that simulated the hearts of this trio being finally home, but their minds forever being lost overseas. There is a strong disjointed feeling from the three of them that makes this anything but a smooth transition, and it’s in that glance where the film’s psychology starts to take in and gives us glances of what millions are dealing with even in 2017.

Hall’s biggest message feels like it’s saying that there isn’t enough that we as a country can do to mend this permanently broken fence, and fix the damage caused by the new war that they now face at home. Help doesn’t seem to happen at a quick enough pace, and because of such, so many are lost in the shuffle with their own individual nightmares that feels like a suffocating blanket that smothers all of them when being asked to return to normalcy. The message never feels heavy-handed or overdone, and instead relies upon the screenplay subtly taking us alongside our cast of characters when they finally declare that enough is enough. Even from a visual perspective, Hall’s style of filmmaking leaves a lot of distance between us and particularly Miles Teller’s character during these brief moments of reflection. There’s a lot of wide angles that similarly hint at how alone and lost that Teller’s character feels in this new world, and how the immensity of this cloud of uncertainty for situation surrounds him like a dense fog. Hall’s patience and originality in both screenplay and screen override some of the small problems that sometimes snag at the fluid progression of the third and final act.

For me, there’s not a lot to point out here in terms of negatives, but one such example is in the limited opportunities to soak in the actual war field that is talked about repeatedly throughout the film but rarely shown. This mystery stance works early on because there’s so much that Teller’s character in particular is hiding about one fateful day that left his troop in shambles. To reveal this at the end is wise, but I feel like only including five minutes of this experience in the first act of the film is harmful to us as an audience understanding and being able to compare and contrast the two worlds that divide our cast and pull at them like a tug-of-war. After this reveal, the film also just kind of ends without carrying much of the same impact that constantly elevated throughout the 102 minute film. It’s not a violent subdue, but rather a slow release of air that lacks the revelation within a war film’s final devastating exclamation point that it sadly lacked.

Thankfully, these performances are mesmerizingly moving from an ensemble cast that disturbs the definition of supporting characters. Really all of this cast is a main cast because they all go through the rises and falls associated with war. On that account, Haley Bennett gives her very best performance to date, commanding Teller’s wife and Mother of two beautiful children with the kind of unsettling bridging to her husband that commutes to us that not everything is alright. Some people might not her character for being a bit distant from her husband, but to me I found her emotional registry to be very on-point with what a lot of lonely females go through when they are forced to carry the load at home. Miles Teller is also riveting as Sergeant Schuman. Being that this is based on a real life person, sometimes the wiggle room of a character can be limited, but Teller makes Schuman his own, juggling a cryptic emptiness in his demeanor at home that plagues his ability to move forward. Miles is evolving rapidly as a dependable presence on screen, and roles like this really channel the versatility in his personality that proves he can do it all. It was also a startling surprise to see Amy Schumer playing a serious role as a wife who loses her husband in war to a lot of uncertainty and mystery that Teller’s character isn’t letting onto with details. She’s briefly in the film for only a couple of scenes, but it is an eye-opening performance that proves she has a place in film when all of the low-brow comedy finally loses its legs from her early filmography.

THE VERDICT – ‘Thank You For Your Service’ feels like the most downtrodden thank you to the troops who sacrifice everything for us, but it’s the honesty in their side effects that Hall takes advantage of, giving them a truthful tone and depiction for the first time ever without apology. This film is another one that makes you truly hate the price tag and concepts associated with war, but its brutal honesty never loses grip in the bittersweet pill that some men and women make it home, but don’t actually make it home. Hall and Finkel prove that when one war ends, another one begins, and it’s in that message where the minefield of life truly takes shape in all of its startling surprises.

8/10

Only the Brave

When it gets too hot inside of the western wild, an elite group of firefighters get the call. ‘Only the Brave’ is based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a band of special forces firefighters who smother some of the biggest fires in the world with precision in teamwork. The film is the heroic story of one unit of local firefighters that through hope, determination, sacrifice, and the drive to protect families, communities, and our country become one of the most elite firefighting teams in the country. As most of us run from danger, they run toward it–they watch over our lives, our homes, everything we hold dear, as they forge a unique brotherhood that comes into focus with one fateful fire. The film stars Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, and Jeff Bridges among others. It is directed by Joseph Kosinski, and is rated PG-13 for thematic content, some sexual references, adult language and drug material.

I didn’t think there were any emotionally enthralling original narratives left in Hollywood, but a film like ‘Only the Brave’ comes along and grips you to the point of tears. This is a movie that I expected to have some somber resonance with its true life story of a group of unsung heroes who never seem to get the credit that they deserve, but I completely had no idea that it would be this story would stick with me over an hour after leaving the theater. ‘Only the Brave’ captivates its heroic material without needing any of the familiar dramatic tropes that make a majority of these films identical when you compare all of their high and low points within their respective scripts. Instead, this is a film that carves its own identity, and does so in a way that takes its time in establishing characters and environment equally, triggering a beneficial appreciation for both that makes this film fire off on all cylinders. The heat constantly rises from the enveloping cloud of tension that swallows these people and their respective subplots whole, bringing to light a respect for another dirty job that you’re either born with the bravery to undertake or you’re not.

In over two hours with this movie, there was never a point when I was bored or losing interest in the film, and I blame that impeccable pacing on a few different aspects. The first is the attention to detail and time dedication in building these characters as a unit first. There’s an honorable chamraderie in brotherhood that is taking place with each minute that we spend with this group of man-children, and the wide range of personalities made it a delight to watch them echo off of one another. The second stance that this film takes is in its background for what goes into such a career decision. As to where most films will briefly skim over this intro to education with a musical montage, ‘Only the Brave’ veers right with unshaken concentration for its career elective that really makes you understand the kind of peak physical shape, as well as sacrificial stance that one with family takes, and that leads me to the third important positive that this film has going for it; the home side. This is usually ignored entirely with dramatic hero plots, but this film values the importance of impact left at home when these immense figures aren’t around. This in turn allows us to get to know some of the female characters a little better, and engages in the negatives that come with being a hero. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows with this group, and screenwriters Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer have definitely done their homework when it comes to this risky lifestyle that doesn’t come with as many perks as one would believe.

On the side of production value, the film’s consistency in establishing the correct look and feel for these harsh environments really rings true through some gritty action sequences that are articulately spread out across the script. There’s surprisingly not a lot of these scenes in the film, which one might feel is a negative, but to me it made those spare few feel that much more impactful when compared to their normal environments that make up a majority of this movie. The C.G fire looks beautifully authentic, leaving the risk on screen where it belongs, and really garnering with it a movement of fluidity that had me even questioning at times. Most recently I reviewed ‘Geostorm’, and that film could take more than a few lessons from ‘Only the Brave’ on how to faithfully illustrate the layers involved with its artificial properties. Besides the tasteful C.G, the sound mixing done here by David Brownlow is award-worthy. As to where we see the flames coming from miles away, it’s the sound of its sneaky seclusion that tiptoes the volume with ease until it rises to a flaming crescendo. The film also does a valuable job in showing that there’s so much more dangerous with this environment that these men work in than just the fire that they are smothering, this is also home to some deadly creatures. When watching this film, you should imagine that anything can and will hurt our protagonists, it will make it that much easier when the merited jump scare that comes out of nowhere makes its presence felt on more than one occasion.

The performances as well are a whirlwind of emotional response that assemble one of the finest ensemble casts of the year. What I like is that everyone is doing their part in bringing to life some truly lively personalities, and nobody doesn’t belong in their respective roles. For my money though, Jennifer Connolly, Miles Teller, and Josh Brolin steal the show. Teller continues to enhance his dimensional limitations with some challenging roles that have him charging his actor’s batteries. As the humorously named ‘Doughnut’, Teller comes from an immature kid who has made mistakes, and decides to turn his life around when he gets some altering news. His transformation throughout grants him the light of a tightly paced transformation that plays out before our very eyes with the wink of Miles charm still peaking through. Brolin as the leader is a wise choice, and his visual likeness to his real life character couldn’t be more precise. Brolin speaks gently throughout a majority of his lines, but you feel great power and respect in the way he commands his troop with a fatherly brush that motivates accordingly. The best to me however isn’t even a Hotshot, but instead Jennifer Connolly’s radiant fiery register as Brolin’s wife who plays by her own rules. What’s so refreshing about her portrayal is that the film allows her voice to be heard, and Jennifer kindly obliges, ingesting the fuel for some truly heart-stopping moments that remind us of her greatness, and Connolly’s volcanic approach made for a character who I couldn’t spend enough time with.

What small problems that I did have with the film aren’t really worth mentioning, but they do kind of stand out when everything else feels so perfect. The entire third act is predictable, but still has enough gas left to make you realize you’re not fully correct on where it’s headed. The signs are there for the entirety of the film, and I wish the practicality of it all wasn’t as obvious as the previous 90 minutes sets itself up for, but with that said, the film still manages to withhold a surprise or two that proved just how little I was ready for what was approaching. My only other problem is with one subplot involving Miles Teller’s character which was kind of left open even at the end of the movie. I feel like the film sets itself up for a major decision with this character, then never fully commits itself to it, leaving me struggling to understand the significance of even including it in the script.

THE VERDICT – Joseph Kosinski’s gut-wrenching story includes all of the testosterone, heartbreak, and humor that one could ask for in an intensely compelling dramatic plunge. Through a look at a hero’s world inside of the glass, ‘Only the Brave’ connects with its audience in a way that wipes away two action packed hours with ease by zeroing in on the versatile performances and irresistible personalities who breed the iron will of the American spirit every single day. No film this year prior made me shed a tear, but ‘Only the Brave’ left me in shambles.

9/10

Geostorm

Technology plays another instrument of our undoing, in the newest science fiction disaster flick ‘Geostorm’. After an unprecedented series of natural disasters threatened the planet, the world’s leaders came together to create an intricate network of satellites to control the global climate and keep everyone safe. But now, something has gone wrong—the system built to protect the Earth is attacking it, and it’s a race against the clock to uncover the real threat before a worldwide geostorm wipes out everything…and everyone along with it. Gerard Butler stars as Jake, a scientist who, along with his brother, Max, played by Jim Sturgess, is tasked with solving the satellite program’s malfunction. Abbie Cornish stars as Secret Service agent Sarah Wilson; Alexandra Lara as Ute Fassbinder, the ISS astronaut who runs the space station; Daniel Wu as Cheng, the Hong Kong-based supervisor for the Dutch Boy Program; with Andy Garcia as U.S. President Andrew Palma; and Ed Harris as Secretary of State Leonard Dekkom. ‘Geostorm’ is written and directed by Dean Devlin, and is rated PG-13 for destruction, action, and violence.

‘Geostorm’ is the latest in the series of compelling cases that showcase just how stupid human beings in movies truly are. For a film that centers around ideas for the future that speak out to some of the problems with Global Warming that we face in our own real world, this film lacks any kind of intelligence or concrete fact in backing up its truly fantasy-like concoctions of thinking when it involves solutions. I get that this is a movie, but even in a film it isn’t asking too much to think inside of the realm of logical solutions, and because of that I could never remotely take this movie seriously in any capacity. ‘Geostorm’ feels like a Sy-Fy Channel movie of the week, complete with awful C.G effects and equally bad acting to compete for the honors of being so bad that it’s good. This one isn’t good in any stretch of the imagination, and leaves behind it 104 minutes that is every bit as convoluted in expositional explanation as it is dull to sleepy levels of visual presentation.

The film’s material spark comes from a speech that president Kennedy gave in 1961, in which he predicted that we are on the cusp of evolution with controlling the weather. It’s clear that over fifty years later that JFK’s prediction still feels incredibly far-fetched, made even more obvious by this film’s lack of details that support how any of this is even possible, let alone how it is being monitored. Lets pretend for a moment that we can suspend enough disbelief to imagine that computers can run our weather. Why leave it in the hands of something so vulnerable? Considering bank accounts and personal information get hacked all the time at the highest respectable security, why should we think that the weather couldn’t be broken into as well? On top of this, the film supplants the idea that one man’s fingers have the scanning to shut it all down. What if the president goes into a coma? What if he dies? What if a terrorist kidnaps him and removes his hand? These are just some of the examples of stupidity that riddle this film to the core, calling itself out on its own bullshit for its great lack of trying.

There’s certainly very little redeemable qualities about the cast, considering the fight for screen time feels sacrificial on more than just a few of the supporting characters. Butler, Cornish, and Sturgess are definitely the prime focus here, but the first act vaguely skims over their character arc’s and leaves them moving without a pulse of intrigue that you feel for their bland personalities. With other disaster films, it was important enough to cast these big name actors that can carry even the flimsiest of time devoted to their characters, but the trio listed above never feel like the most entertaining of people who we want to spend nearly two hours with. I blame a lot of this on what feels like these actors playing up to a character outline and never making these examples their own. Butler’s Jake is a hard-ass. Big stretch there. Sturgess Max is the brother in the suit who is always at odds with his own brotherly kin. This relationship is played at more than a few resemblances to that of Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis in ‘Armageddon’, and believe me when I say that the two films similarities don’t stop there. As for Cornish, she’s definitely the most fun to watch because she’s a female secret service agent who feels progressive in her role, but what’s even more remarkable is how little I took away from her background. The character is left essentially cryptic beyond her involvement with Max and her being the president’s protection. THAT’S IT. There was a chance to really bring the female audience into the fold with this one, but the grading of the overall entirety of Cornish as well as every other character leaves this film with limited personality on getting it through the fold of some truly perplexing directions of tone.

On that subject, you would expect ‘Geostorm’ to be entirely a disaster film with little or no additional tonal shift to give it merit, but you would be wrong. At its heart, this is mostly a political thriller, in that our main characters are trying to reveal who is responsible for clouding the clear path to the White House for the president just days before the election. What I liked about this additional trek is that it at least tries to make itself something more than just the popcorn disaster flicks that are disposable less than five minutes after you leave the theater. Where it fails in my opinion is in forgetting about its previous designation about midway through the film, leaving us with a noticeable lack of visual spectrum one hour in that had me fighting back sleep. Its stance is so political at times that it feels like the central premise is sidelined as a subplot, crippling for many what will pack the butts in the seats and leave them thirsty for the big budget devastation that they were promised in the unsubtle trailers.

When it does happen, the devastation is very impactful in the film, even if its visual presentation leaves much more to be desired. If you’re going to see this movie, see it in a theater with a great sound system, as the chorus of impact certainly never shielded the weight of every crushing The C.G effects unfortunately didn’t impress me as much as the sound mixing because so much about it feels obvious in its color rendering that made backdrops standout as foreign for the shot. A fine example of this is during a White House briefing that shows the house with an obvious green screen shadowing around it. This can sometimes give off the feeling that the sky looks fake around it, but it’s actually the residence that lacks authenticity and gives way to the eyesore of every scene. The crashing of buildings is serious enough to make Michael Bay or Jerry Bruckheimer cream themselves, but at this point in 2017, these kind of effects don’t radiate in the same vein that they did twenty years prior. We’ve pulled back the curtain on our expectations for the action epics of current day, so now the magicians behind the lens must find another trick to give these presentations something more than a taste of outdated spoil.

THE VERDICT – ‘Geostorm’ puts the disaster back in disaster movie. With a lackluster visual capacity, as well as bigger plot holes than the one in the ozone, Devlin’s supposed action spectacular fumbles away the chance for thrills in favor of a political mystery that serves as the final nail in the coffin for the patience that the film quickly eats away at. While weather is usually an uncertainty, one thing is for sure about this witless made-for-TV spectacle; when it rains, it pours.

3/10

The Snowman

The disappearance of a local woman sends a team of investigators on the hunt for a killer with a chilly side, in ‘The Snowman’. Michael Fassbender , Rebecca Ferguson and Charlotte Gainsbourg star in this terrifying thriller from director Tomas Alfredson. Based on Jo Nesbø’s global bestseller of the same name, the film begins when an elite crime squad’s lead detective, Harry Hole, yep that’s his name, (Fassbender) investigates the disappearance of a victim on the first snow of winter. Harry fears an elusive serial killer may be active again. With the help of a brilliant new recruit, Katrine Bratt (Ferguson), the cop must connect decades-old cold cases to the brutal new one if he hopes to outwit this unthinkable evil before the next snowfall. ‘The Snowman’ is rated R for grisly imagery, brutal violence, some adult language, and sexuality involving brief nudity.

History has proven that novels are often the winner in their often times inevitable showdowns with the big budget adaptations. More times than not, a book can grant you the kind of freedom from restrictions that hinders a film cold from keeping up the entertaining factor. No sentence will better define ‘The Snowman’, as this jumbled, melted mess that limps its way to a finish that had me questioning where it all went wrong. It is my opinion that much of the problems that screenwriters Peter Straughan and Hossein Amini encounter is in their desire to over-convolute a story that doesn’t require a thinker’s approach. The case within this story is your basic serial thriller, so when the film tries to demand that unnecessary reach to intelligence, it comes up short in its returns that bore you out of your seat. At nearly two hours, so much of ‘The Snowman’ can be trimmed or edited to fit its narrative, but this film is so poorly directed that it makes it easier to understand the negative side of when a film is left in improper hands, the making of such a decision that soils Alfredson’s often prestigious name and leaves him out in the cold for a story that fumbles at nearly every given chance.

The story for the film makes the conscience decision to craft this as a dual narrative for the first half of the movie. This second tier is led by Val Kilmer as an alcoholic detective nine years prior whose own obsession for The Snowman Killer ruined his life. I see the importance of what this arc played to our story in the bigger picture, but its insistence upon eating up valuable minutes of exposition comes at quite a hefty price. This could’ve easily been used in various flashbacks throughout the film, but every fifteen minutes or so, we are reminded of its existence by a brutal shoving in the script that doesn’t distinctly signify when this flashback happens or give any kind of indication of the time switch. Elsewhere, this screenplay feels gobbled up by a series of gaps and holes in sequencing that leave its audience struggling when trying to keep up. Things just kind of happen without any rhyme or reason, leaving me to wonder if a bigger director’s cut is lurking on a shelf somewhere. Either way, I’m not interested. As for the mystery itself, it’s somewhat intriguing, particularly during the early third act when it does start to feed into its ambiguity, but it’s ruined on one brutal shot of spoiler with about twenty minutes left in the film, that gives away everything without reaching a beneficial shock in its reveal. The final fight sequence is so underwhelming in its conclusion that I found myself asking repeatedly if that was it.

Possibly my biggest problem with the film is in the editing that can’t possibly be justified at a professional level. I’ve already mentioned that it feels like this script is subject to holes in progression that make it feel like an entire movie is missing, but the true horror comes in the fact that somewhere someone lacks that kind of personal imprint from the director that tells them when a scene should be shortened or ran longer. With ‘The Snowman’, there are many scenes left in this final cut that had me scratching my head for what pivotal role they played. There are also scenes that I felt were finally getting us somewhere, but were jarringly ripped from the screen with malicious intent. The editing is so devastatingly awful in this film that it in its own way is responsible for the mind-numbingly dull pacing that never bothers to pick up momentum or move cohesively as one continuous movement. Until the third act when things start to somewhat pick up in mystery, I was bored to tears because of the lack of energy or impressionable character that exerted itself into this movie.

On the latter of that concept, the performances within the film are about as good as they could be considering this top notch cast is getting no direction beyond the camera. Considering this is a film that takes place in Oslo, Norway, not one character speaks with the proper accent or even remotely struggles in speaking English. Fassbender can only do so much, despite being one of the most versatile actors working today. As Harry, we hear about a legend that has done so much, but there’s nothing about him that ever makes you understand why he is depended upon so much. To me, I feel like Harry’s biggest positive is that he’s in the right place at the right time, and that’s about as underwhelming with a protagonist as you can get. Val Kilmer is depressing because you can see on-screen how much life has worn him down, and shitty films like this will only make it worse. Kilmer’s painfully obvious ADR voice-dubbing is something that adds a jarring aspect of immersive break for me in each scene, and Kilmer can barely move at this point, let alone invest every emotional muscle to giving a performance for the ages. It’s just not there. J.K Simmons and Charlotte Gainsbourg are wasted in the bigger picture that doesn’t involve their characters holding weight within the complexity of this screenplay, and sadly Chloe Sevingly is only in one scene for the movie. Possibly the only actor who gets away with a passing grade is Rebecca Ferguson. Her performance at least feels like one with the proper kind of motivational pull, and there were times in the film where it feels like this should definitely be more of her movie than Fassbender’s Hole (Sounds terrible) because of this perspective. Ferguson commands Bratt with the kind of intensity in vengeance that has me screaming out to Hollywood and begging them to put this woman in a STARRING role for once, atop her own movie. To make something out of this hodge-podge, we owe her at least that.

Not all was terrible for me however, as the film’s visual compass was stunning in its overall cinematography and tonal volume that visually appealed to me. ‘The Snowman’ is very much an absorbing kind of movie that locks you into its setting almost immediately, and you can’t help but feel transfixed by the seclusion in immensity of the grand scale being depicted in the film’s opening shots. The sound mixing could’ve been better in audibly immersing me tighter in the experience, but the landscape shots and shooting locations were used superbly in setting a stage that unfortunately lacks the fire in material to combat the ever-enveloping cold around us. What this setting does wonderfully is replicating in detail the kind of character response that eats away at our main cast almost entirely. It feels like Harry and company have lived here for too long, becoming a product of their cold, harsh environment that has swallowed them whole and left them bitter.

THE VERDICT – ‘The Snowman’ collapses under a series of devastating plot holes and contrivances that leave it struggling to reach air from its numbing series of unnecessary plot contrivances. This underdeveloped mess of a film wastes its talented cast almost entirely, and leaves itself falling as the latest victim to being inferior to its multimedia predecessor of the same name. Adaptations can be done with excitement, but Alfredson’s dreadful direction here leaves this snowman without a base to prop itself up on.

4/10

The Foreigner

Jackie Chan returns to the silver screen, this time to do battle against Pierce Brosnan as a deceitful business head, in ‘The Foreigner’. Quan (Jackie Chan) is a humble London businessman whose long-buried past within the crime underworld erupts in a revenge-fuelled vendetta when his teenage daughter dies in a senseless act of politically motivated terrorism. Quan struggles to find a reason to go on, but the thrill of revenge against those who hurt the one he loved most, motivates him to keep going. His relentless search to find the terrorists leads to a cat-and-mouse conflict with a British government official Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), whose own past may hold the clues to the identities of the elusive killers. ‘The Foreigner’ is directed by longtime action director Martin Campbell, and is rated R for brutal violence, adult language, and some sexual material.

At its heart, ‘The Foreigner’ spends a minority of its screen time as a revenge action flick, and a surprisingly overwhelming majority of it as an espionage political thriller. It attains this satisfying counterbalance between these two parallels well enough by a sharing of screen time between many characters whose twists and bends in storytelling binds them together with many different motives, synching it all together in one free-flowing movement of direction for Campbell at the helm. I had a lot of fun with this film personally, and adored it for putting Chan back on the map after a couple of bombs during the early 2000’s that hindered his status as an action star. In many ways, ‘The Foreigner’ feels like Chan’s ‘John Wick’ moment, re-introducing the world to perhaps the very best on-screen martial artist going today, and leaving very little doubt if the man does indeed still have it. Thankfully, this is a serious adult action flick, and it’s in that perspective where it feels like Chan can benefit the most, offering a compromising blend of heartfelt acting to match his ruthless aggression in fight sequences that still pack a wallop of a punch internally to anyone who is watching.

Over the course of 109 minutes within its clutches, you start to understand the evolution that this story takes in comparing the decisions in one’s past that comes back to haunt each respective character. For Chan’s Quan, it is finding the momentum to get back up after losing the last piece to his ravaged past. We see a man who is rendered visibly emotionless after this terrible tragedy, deciding to take the law into his own hands when the higher-ups decide to keep the investigation from him. There is of course a reason for this, as Brosnan’s Hennessy is a conniving chess player with his own self-centered inspirations for getting things done. His character feels like he’s in too deep with the many movements that he is making to the board from both sides, and it kind of creates a suffocating atmosphere in which the water keeps filling deeper for him and his family, especially now that Quan is knocking on his door and searching for answers. It makes for two incredibly fleshed-out characters who no matter how you feel about them personally, you understand the equal importance in the value of each coming out on top. This doesn’t feel like a world with good guys and bad guys, it’s just a big shade of grey that groups them all together, and it’s in that perspective where the film feels like it doesn’t adhere to the conventional tropes that limit an action screenplay in a particularly predictable method.

As for the entertaining factor, my favorite act of the film was during the second act, in which several pivotal movements are made in setting up some jaw-dropping third act surprises that gives the film longevity. This is also when the intensity in action sequences feels like it picks up dramatically in spades, leveling us with impactful fight choreography that riveted with each concrete blow. Overall, the decision to stitch Quan, Hennessy, and the terrorist’s stories together on one screenplay does become a slightly cluttered in a fight for screen time, but I can say confidently that I was never bored or taken aback enough to jar me out of interest for the film. The second half of the movie is so much more beneficial for me personally, and I could see a lot of other people who see the film who might be conflicted by how difficult it can be to get to this point. The first act was definitely the weakness of the film, mainly because the lack of exposition for Quan is something that I feel was a major disappointment to the overall investment in who is supposed to be our central protagonist. This area of the film noticeably stands still when compared to the cerebral movements that take place later on, but I promise that if you can stay patient this film will pay off beneficially to anyone seeking a gritty, bare-knuckled brawler.

The aesthetics aren’t completely a winning combination here, but there’s enough to be praised from some stand out gripping touches that livens up the destruction action sequences. For one, the musical score from legendary composer Cliff Martinez brings so much riveting urgency in influence to each chase scene, bringing a sort of callback to the same late 90’s heart-stoppers that Chan mostly adorned. The camera work during the fight sequences are also done competently well enough, relying on a lot of handheld artistic directions that tend to follow the actor’s movements faithfully. What does drive me nuts occasionally about some of these scenes is the choppy editing that can get carried away with the complexities of a sequence that is so simple. The unnecessary amount of cuts that take place is something that has driven me crazy for years, and ‘The Foreigner’ certainly isn’t going to change my stance on this anytime soon. It gives the film a feeling of ADHD from its most exciting scenes that humbles the pacing of each sequence in the least flattering of production enhancements.

One thing that I want to talk about candidly is the enjoyment from the dual offering of seeing Chan and Brosnan prove they have plenty to offer in their respective action careers. It is such a delight to watch them collide in the few scenes that they are on screen together, bringing out the prime of two charismatic heavyweights that each offer something vividly different in portrayals. In Chan, we get a surprisingly limited amount of screen time, but he’s up to the task in making a lasting impression from a brief portrayal. He’s older, a little slower, but it’s in his vulnerability where Jackie feels like he finally earns each physical encounter. As a performance, Chan sports Quan with a ruthless, yet human approach to the young man’s game of revenge. This feels like the first time that we are treated to Chan’s acting first, and it shows that he has a lot to offer, emoting an emotionally crippled man with a fire of revenge in his eye that will burn for miles. Brosnan definitely steals the show, and why shouldn’t he? He is given an overwhelming majority of the film’s screen time to portray one of the most versatile villains of the year. It shows that Pierce is having the time of his life here, and that’s always the biggest benefit to individual performances. He proves that the most dangerous men in an action movie are often the ones who never throw a punch.

THE VERDICT – Jackie Chan returns to the forefront of action cinema with a complete offering of physical stunts and emotional acting that supplants his most versatile role to date. ‘The Foreigner’ feels a little convoluted in story midway through, and will test your patience early on, but once the smoke clears on some of these important subplots, you’ll start to see the materializing of a much bigger picture at work. Director Martin Campbell fires off more than a round of riveting revenge, hitting his target with unstable force each and every time he re-loads with satisfying shifts in coil.

7/10

Blade Runner 2049

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10/10

The Mountain Between Us

The meeting and befriending of two total strangers will require them to depend upon one another in the coldest of conditions, in ‘The Mountain Between Us’. Stranded after meeting and co-ushering a tragic plane crash, two strangers (Kate Winslet and Idris Elba) must forge a connection of trust between them to survive the extreme elements of a remote snow covered mountain in the coldest of conditions. When they realize help is not coming, they embark on a perilous journey across hundreds of miles of wilderness, pushing one another to endure and discovering strength they never knew possible. Along the way, they learn plenty about each other that prove appearances aren’t everything. ‘The Mountain Between Us’ is directed by Hany Abu-Assad, and is rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, peril, injury imagery, and brief strong adult language.

‘The Mountain Between Us’ has a lot of potential from its personality and charm as a result of the turns of its two extremely likeable leads, but treads on thin ice with a barrage of romantic genre cliches that ultimately sink it. Undeniably, there’s too much weight of predictability and unnecessary comedic tone here that takes away from the intrigue and suspense that counteracts what the film builds on itself for an isolated disaster movie during the first act, and it’s proof that these opposite directions clash with the most dire of consequences, leading to much of what the audience will wisely enough discover from just the brief character outlines. It was maybe thirty minutes into this film when I mapped everything out that was going to happen in this movie, complete with character backstories and forced innuendos in screenplay that really takes the breath from a movie this limited. Sure, there isn’t a lot that you can do with a movie primarily set in one place, but films like ‘127 Hours’ and ‘Cast Away’ serve as validated examples of keeping the focus equally on the characters, as well as the conditions in consequences of the landscape, the latter of which Abu-Assad’s drifts away from like the very snow coming off of the landscapes.

From the get-go, Winslet and Elba’s characters meet and feel like old college friends. This is a puzzling direction immediately because it lacks some of the awkwardness and the vulnerability that will come into play later with trusting someone you just met. If these two are working together as a team early on, it will limit the transformations and growth that each character supplants with one another as the film goes on, and their resources become more and more limited. What I did enjoy about the screenplay is that it all kind of centers around this one conversation that the two characters have about brain versus heart, and in that instance the roles that each one of them play in such a debate. Elba is definitely the brain, considering his character is a surgical doctor and he is the one who plainly speaks “The heart is just a muscle”. Winslet’s character takes offense to that statement, and it’s clear that her drive and perseverance provide her with so much of that muscle that it often provides the light to keep on going. The film is also tightly paced until the third act, in which the movie feels like it tacks on one too many endings to cater to the audience who might feel alienated from a brave approach in closing minutes. I found this to drag on immensely, and I wish that some of the risk taking that the screenplay took in the mountain’s final minutes would’ve carried over to the film’s closing because it screams out the desperation that feeds into the redundant machine of romantic movie cliches.

On the subject of some of those cliches, this film has absolutely no shortage of them, providing an unintended spark of comedy that some can’t help but roll their eyes at. Considering these are two good looking people in the heart of the winter season on the rockies, this script practically writes itself. This feels even too obvious to someone like Nicholas Sparks, whose films revel in the opportunity to make a teenager’s most romantic fantasies come true, and leave out the logic or awkward exchanges between two strangers who met only days before. My issue with this aspect isn’t so much the overflowing amount of their uses, but more so in just how dishonest and undercooked that it makes this story feel. As the film carries into the second half, I found myself occasionally forgetting that these two were stranded because it’s clear that the film’s focus of that aspect felt secondary to the importance of a man and woman in seclusion, miles away from anyone, and with only the power to keep each other warm. If you think that sounds bad, I’m literally vomiting in my mouth as I type this out.

At least the scope of Abu-Assad and company bring aplenty to the film’s breathtakingly gorgeous production that certainly set the stage for the cold and unforgiven conditions. The decision to film this movie on location reaches levels of importance not only in immersing yourself in the very environment that our protagonists are thrust into, but also in the believability in physical performances that feel authentic to the toll of their body’s beat-down. The wide angle lens plays a valuable role here in accomplishing some the immensity of this landscape and the kind of uphill climb that the two now face. But not to lay back and play it safe from afar, the film also is credited with some vibrant experimental shots that had me twisting and turning in my seat quite a few times from the kind of point-of-view that the visuals cast us into. One such example is a scene involving Elba near the peak of a mountain, when he loses his footing and is sliding down towards the edge. Elba stops himself, but the camera keeps on going over the cliff, and it gives off this feeling of unpredictability even when the curtain has already revealed the result.

The performances as well are equally praising, even if the material frequently lets Elba and Winslet down in nearly every instance from conventional stakes. There’s no question that these two are too good for this kind of film this late in their careers, but I indulged none the less in their impeccable chemistry that they enveloped each and every scene with. I mentioned earlier that these two give such physically gifted performances on top of their already resilient personalities, but it’s in the work of Elba and the kind of secrets that transpire late into the movie surrounding his past that prove how capable he is of holding a script in the palm of his hands. Winslet is no slouch either, it’s just that the emotional register of Idris when it feels like a camera has got him cornered, is an illuminating shine that only gets brighter for him with each passing role. Kate’s on-time delivery in sarcastic wit plays valuable into keeping the attention spans firmly locked in on the movie during some trying times in pacing, and it all just serves as a testament to one of the most dependable leading ladies even still in all of Hollywood.

THE VERDICT – ‘The Mountain Between Us’ will certainly have its fans of date night moviegoers looking for a few simple thrills in action sequences, as well as some soft tenderness to go with a love story that you can get behind. Unfortunately for this critic, my heart is worth so much more, bringing to mind the never-ending inclusion of romantic movie tropes that exposed the predictability in every direction. If the film ends ten minutes before the string of false finishes, then it would be enough for me to push this through with a passing grade. But this, in addition to the overly telegraphed peril, and there’s nothing that could’ve closed the mountain of distance between me and Abu-Assad’s film.

5/10