Super Troopers 2

Directed by Jay Chandresekhar

Starring – Kevin Hefferman, Jay Chandresekhar, Steve Lemme

The Plot – When a border dispute arises between the U.S. and Canada, the Super Troopers are tasked with establishing a Highway Patrol station in the disputed area.

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

POSITIVES

– The chemistry is better than ever between the five members of the Broken Lizard squad. Through mountains of personality and an endless supply of ricochet banter, these troopers easily pick up the ball where they left it over sixteen years ago.

– There’s a surprisingly solid amount of poignant social commentary on Canada, as well as the United States that allows the finger to point back at those of us who are firing the shots. When you really think about it, for everything that we say about Canada, it’s all materialistic, when America is deeply rooted in social and economical problems that (like the troopers themselves) we’ve turned a blind eye to.

– When I saw the trailer, I was scared completely that this film, like other comedy sequels before it, would rely far too heavily on the first movie. Thankfully, that wasn’t an issue at all, as I counted only four examples of jokes and puns from the first movie coming into play. This allows ‘Super Troopers 2’ to carve out its own respective chapter, proving that as a writer Chandresekhar is no one trick pony.

– High intensity chase sequences. Considering the entirety of this film was funded by fan donations, it’s mind-blowing to see how beautifully sequenced and adrenaline-fueled the camera work is for the picture. The opening involving two cameos is probably my favorite scene in the movie for this exact reason, and it nails home the thought that a comedy can overachieve if sequences out the most enticing camera angles.

– As a director, what I appreciate from Chandresekhar is the selflessness that he commands in taking a noticeable backseat to the rest of his co-stars. His character was arguably one of the more focal points of the original film, and here it’s obvious that he’s playing a supporting cast mate to those adorned with more lines of dialogue. He knows what and who to exploit the most in this sequel, and his influence behind the camera is needed much more than on-screen where no fewer than five other characters maintain the weight.

– Whether you view this film as stupid or intriguing, I think audiences will be won over by the feel good atmosphere that this second chapter indulges in. Leaving the theater, I knew this film was miles behind the first movie, but I couldn’t shake that undeniable feeling that this movie gave me 95 minutes of fun and excitement that a majority of comedy sequels blunder away. It’s a passion project at its finest, and through that inspiration we see five friends who are above all else having fun reclaiming the roles that helped them steal the show nearly two decades ago.

NEGATIVES

– While I did mention that the comedy doesn’t follow in the shadow too closely of the original film, I can’t say the same for the structure of the script. From a drug bust intro, to a rivalry with another local police force, to an ending resolution that practically screams redundancy, this script could’ve tried a lot harder in voiding itself of the predictability that weighed it down heavily.

– Because this is a sequel to a movie that hit it big, there are no shortage of celebrity cameos. None of them are too offensive, just rather pointless. When I get a cameo, I want it to leave lasting weight on the remainder of the movie, and with the exception of Rob Lowe as a hockey player-turned-mayor and Emmanuelle Chriqui as the new love interest for one of the troopers (There’s that first movie again), a majority of those one-off actors serve as nothing but a wink and nod to those of you paying attention at home.

– I get that this film is a goofball comedy, but has anyone in Broken Lizard ever heard of a Canadian or French Canadian accent?? There are examples in this film of supposed Canadian characters whose accents sound closer to Indian, Italian, Swedish, and even African more than Canadian. What’s even better is that none of them are consistent from scene to scene.

– The law of averages with laughter is noticeably lacking when compared to the first film. While I did laugh a lot during this sequel, I can say that what hinders the lasting power is how long the cast will sometimes beat a joke into the ground, or how repetitive the material can feel. One such example is a joke involving Fred Savage that eventually gets a payoff at the end of the movie, but isn’t worth the mind-numbing amount of times it’s mentioned throughout.

6/10

Traffik

Directed by Deon Taylor

Starring – Paula Patton, Omar Epps, Roselyn Sanchez

The Plot – A couple off for a romantic weekend in the mountains are accosted by a biker gang. Alone in the mountains, Brea (Patton) and John (Epps) must defend themselves against the gang, who will stop at nothing to protect their secrets.

Rated R for violent and disturbing material, adult language throughout, some drug use and sexual content

POSITIVES

– Usually the confines of cheap cinematography will limit a film’s visual potential, but in ‘Traffik’ it’s quite the opposite. Here, the legendary Dante Spinotti knows exactly the kind of visual entendre necessary for capitalizing on a modern day exploitation film, and because of such we are treated to dim-litted areas, a faded color palate, and an overall sense of B-movie goodness that transports us to a simpler age of cinema.

– Refreshing movements with the camera that give scenes the only personality that this one is going to garner. Some great examples involve the abrupt close-up zooms that happen when something shocking takes place, as well as the vivid flashbacks that give the film a kind of daydream-to-nightmare sense of imagination.

NEGATIVES

– Inconsistent editing that can at times intrude on valued exposition, and other times forget to spring up on scenes that run far too long.

– The film’s deep-seeded material centers around the harsh practice of sexual trafficking, and while this illegal practice certainly deserves a magnifying look, it goes unmentioned until the final fifteen minutes of the movie. This is not only irresponsible, but downright insulting considering nothing that the film wastes time on is anywhere near as compelling or important to us the audience.

– As far as tone goes, the film never fully realizes its cherished exploitation direction fully. In fact, Taylor’s jumbled direction often feels like an action flick that goes horror by the darker third act, speeding towards a dead end with two opposite tastes that contradict instead of converge with one another.

– It takes far too long to get to the thrills of this desolate screenplay, and even then the law of averages within 91 minutes isn’t enough to hold your interest.

– Speaking of thrills, the twists are totally predictable once you know the name of the game with the antagonists. Because of such, this film does reach for the low-hanging fruit of palpability that other more distinguished B-movie classics don’t have the shame to pull from. Often times, I found myself talking allowed “Don’t do that” or “Don’t go there”, and yet every time my worst suspicion was confirmed.

– Patton in particular is trying her hardest in to overcome the director’s desire to film her in skimpy clothing by carving out something of depth to her performances, but she leads an overall cast of characters and performances that collectively miss their mark. The deliveries lack conviction, and even worse, these character outlines couldn’t be any thinner if they were drawn as stick figures. Epps screams cash grab, Sanchez reads these lines in her sleep, and Laz Alonso made me laugh for all of the wrong reasons every time his hot-headed character overreacted.

– Possibly the worst musical score this year thus far. The musical influence in this film is every bit as non-existent as it is repetitive, and this creates a lack of emphasis in impact for when a big chess move has been made between these two sides. This is stock music at its finest, and I hate making that declaration because composer Geoff Zanelli has done some truly compelling work in films like ‘Disturbia’, ‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’, and even the latest ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie.

– I’ve heard reports that audiences were bored by this film’s lagging presence, and while the pacing was never really much of an issue for me, I can point to one aspect of the runtime as an issue, and that’s the minimal material that this film actually has. At 91 minutes, this is a pretty easy sit, but the difficulty comes when you realize how stretched thin the material, as well as the inhuman movements that the characters take in squeezing out every last drop of this screenplay. At it’s core, there is a solid one hour of material here, but in reaching a studio-approved runtime, Taylor never capitalizes on the areas (Like the sex trafficking that I mentioned before) that require increased screen time to dramatize effect in the material.

2/10

Rampage

Directed by Brad Peyton

Starring – Dwayne Johnson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Ackerman

The Plot – Primatologist Davis Okoye (Johnson) shares an unshakable bond with George, the extraordinarily intelligent gorilla who has been in his care since birth. But a rogue genetic experiment gone awry transforms this gentle ape into a raging monster. As these newly created monsters tear across North America, destroying everything in their path, Okoye teams with a discredited genetic engineer to secure an antidote, fighting his way through an ever-changing battlefield, not only to halt a global catastrophe but to save the fearsome creature that was once his friend.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief adult language, and crude gestures

THE POSITIVES

– Considering this is a film that is based on an 80’s 8 bit video game smash-em-up, it would be criminal if the production couldn’t even master action sequences and set pieces. Thankfully, this isn’t the case, as ‘Rampage’ spares no expense at destruction of scenary, giving its ape protagonist plenty of time to pay homage to one of the most fun Nintendo experiences that anyone could have.

– In addition to the action, the sound mixing by Beau Borders rumbled the auditorium with thunderous precision. If you’re going to see this movie, make sure you do it in an IMAX setting because the devastation in sequencing is nothing short of incredible for immersing you right into the moments.

– Surprisingly, much of the C.G work is believable and shaded superbly. Why this is shocking is because the trailers make the animals look poorly rendered, and lacking of great weight when compared to their physical properties around them. While it’s not all one hundred percent, as much of the computer work with the long shots lack the kind of impact consistency, I can say that this was one area that cleared up well and made me able to soak in the giant monster smashing movies from my youth that I was addicted to.

– The big name cast is having the time of their lives. Johnson is always someone who makes the most of every opportunity given to him, and it’s in his soft spoken personality to match his intimidating presence where he carves out a human protagonist that is not only likeable, but also believable in the many physical challenges he’s given. Jeffrey Dean Morgan was also great, even if he was just playing Negan from ‘The Walking Dead’ throughout the film. Morgan chews up enough scenary to always leave you wanting more, and the chemistry between he and Johnson feels like a dream team pairing that took me places that I didn’t expect. More on that in a second.

– This is a screenplay that (Like its creatures) constantly keeps moving, engaging the audience in excellent pacing to keep the plot thick. At 102 minutes, ‘Rampage’ never gives much time to breathe, and I appreciate that in an action film that obviously doesn’t have the deepest of storylines.

THE NEGATIVES

– It honestly surprised me that Ackerman is the true villain of the movie, as a big wig corporate executive who is straight out of 90’s bosses. Between the cheesy ominous tones that accompany her whenever she’s on screen and her overall lack of presence, I just couldn’t buy her as the film’s central antagonist. The trailers marketed Morgan as being the villain, so it’s a bit of a disappointment when one of the best villains currently on television is nothing more than a secondary character in this script.

– Anyone who knows me knows that one of my pet peeves in cinema is the overused stable of unsubtle advertising, and this film is full of it. From the Ford emblem being all over the vehicle shots, to the colorful Dave and Busters sign that sticks out like a sore thumb in a dust-filled Chicago backdrop, this movie can’t resist. If this isn’t enough, an actual 80’s Rampage arcade game is shown in Ackerman’s office. This begs the question; is this whole project based on some little girl’s addiction to a video game from her childhood?

– I realize that complaining about logic in a movie where a forty foot tall ape gives the finger and makes sexual gestures with his hands is probably simplistic, but a critic has to speak his mind. When the initial explosion of contaminated pieces happens in space during the first scenes of the film, I find it incredible that despite there being so many of them, they only land in three different places, and in the United States none the less. Imagine the odds.

– The third act of the movie had the ability to really send us home on the strength of dramatic muscle, but it withers away because of some choices made that ruin it. I won’t spoil it here, but in building Johnson and George’s friendship the whole movie, you wait for the inevitable confrontation that will change everything. Nope, it doesn’t happen, and the reason why still makes me scratch my head from a scientific standpoint.

– Despite the repeated notion that the world is in trouble as a result of these creatures, the sense of urgency and weight that resides within the rest of the world feels limited. After all, this is just one city in a bigger world that has plenty more weapons in taking it down. It never feels like armageddon is upon us, and that lack of uncertainty never lifts it from being predictably grounded.

5/10

Isle of Dogs

Directed By Wes Anderson

Starring – Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Koyu Rankin

The Plot – In this stop-motion-animated film, an outbreak of canine flu in Japan leads all dogs to be quarantined on an island. A boy (Rankin) journeys there to rescue his dog Spots (Liev Schreiber), and gets help from a pack of misfit canines who have also been exiled. His quest inspires a group of dog lovers to expose a government conspiracy.

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some violent imagery

THE POSITIVES

– It’s clear even in the slightest sense that Wes Anderson has a fondness for man’s best friend. If you ignore the spelling of the movie, it reads instead as I LOVE DOGS, and the script overall has more than a few unique quirks in presenting things from a canine point of view. One such is the language barrier for the film that sees the dogs speaking in English, while the human characters speak in their native tongue without translation. This is to no doubt focus entirely on the animal aspect first and see the human antagonists in the same way that the dogs might see them.

– Perhaps the most noticeable difference between this and Anderson’s animated predecessor is that ‘Isle of Dogs’ speaks with a surprisingly mature approach to the themes and concepts it endures. Beyond the PG-13 rating that the film has for itself, the subject matters of violence, death, and politics push this even further than your typical children’s movie, crafting a kind of adult bedtime story to feast on.

– Breathtaking stop-motion animation. Between this and ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’, Anderson has carved out for himself quite the artistic touch, breathing life into characters and locations that highlight even the slightest detail. It’s abundantly clear that the lighting and scenery feels greatly improved here, and the use of abundance in photographic lens offers so much for a one-off shot that never appears again.

– The movement of the camera feels well paced and incredibly choreographed, mapping out the most of every sequence with a comically familiar nod to Anderson’s one-of-a-kind touch. Considering most of this film is a faithful homage to Japanese classics, the marriage between this and Anderson’s signature style of framing and quick-pans blesses us with endless energy to combat the often monotonous line reads.

– Perfection in music capturing the proper moods and environments. First of all, the soundtrack vibrates that of the bleak and despair that surrounds the island with these betrayed dogs. On top of that, Alexandre Desplat continues the momentum of his Oscar winning year in ‘The Shape of Water’ with a score that is equally ambitious for different reasons entirely. Desplat’s masterful beat of the drum adds the proper kind of energy necessary in combating the prior moods mentioned, but does so in a way that never feels overbearing or compromising to the consistency of the picture.

– Much of the film’s comic muscle dealt with the small touches that I greatly enjoyed as being a fan of 80’s animation cliches. One such instance is that of the dog tussles that are surrounded by what feels like an endless array of smoke, in which we only see the occasional paw or contact. Also great was the on-screen text that sarcastically translates what we already knew with certain foods or emotional responses.

– One thing that worried me about the big name cast voicing these characters was their familiarity in tones that would make it difficult to immerse themselves in their respective characters, and while that is the case as a whole, I think those actors also do wonders for the diversity in character traits that prove no two dogs are exactly the same. Anderson invites the larger-than-life personalities to seep through, and fans of each of them will indulge at this hitters row of A-listers sharing the stage in vocal capacity.

– It is refreshing to see a dystopian film in which a society seems to be progressing. Ignore the obvious plot device of a flu tearing through the city, and you have a beautiful, heavily-populated setting that succeeds in all of the opposite directions that YA novels have soiled.

THE NEGATIVES

– While I was never bored by the film, I found myself lacking the proper engagement in the characters to worry about their well being. One reason for this I believe is that the film drops the ball midway through on juggling unpredictability that compromises the danger in their situation. Had the film went through on the surprising and out of nowhere scene that felt replicated from one in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, then I probably would’ve believed that any character was expendable. I find this a huge disappointment because I myself am as big a dog lover as anyone.

– The plot to the film is a bit elementary when you really think about it. You’re taking what is virtually an episode of Lassie, giving it 95 minutes of screen time, and adding overly ambitious artistic merit in hoping it will hide such single-dimensional penning. It feels like you’ve seen this kind of narrative direction before, and the moot examples of surprises all but confirms our suspicions.

8/10

Beirut

Directed by Brad Anderson

Starring – Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Mark Pellegrino

The Plot – A U.S. diplomat (Hamm) flees Lebanon in 1972 after a tragic incident at his home. Ten years later, he is called back to war-torn Beirut by CIA operatives (Pike) to negotiate for the life of a friend he left behind. (Formerly titled High Wire Act)

Rated R for adult language, some violence, and a brief nude image

THE POSITIVES

– Razor Sharp Editing and technical prowess. Much of the scene transitions and man-to-man perspective conversation pieces rattle off of one another with the kind of precision that constantly keeps the audience engaged. In addition to this, I also greatly appreciated the incorporated images of historic Beirut film that cinematographer Bjorn Charpentier pulls from marvelously for visual design work.

– Excellent communication in storytelling. While I felt that the film struggled in informing us of the ugly and dangerous pasts between those at war, I did feel that at least the tone and conscious of the environment was replicated wonderfully. In particular, Hamm’s intro to the film divulges a sad-but-humorously true metaphor for why this place is plagued with the reputation it has garnered for itself.

– Most of the performances come and go, but as a lead Hamm dissects his character as two different people, before and after the incident, and does wonders in cementing the leading man status he’s always yearned for. The most evident difference between these sides is that this now feels like a man scarred by his past and his newfound hatred for what this hostile land has taken from him.

– The characters are written as so much more than good versus evil, and cater more to the shade of grey that allows you to understand every motivation for said action.

– Two supercharged twists that absorb great weight in the overall growing complexity of the story. What matters most of all is that these twists make sense, an art that many films can’t seem to connect when drawing the dots together.

– What’s interesting about this screenplay is how one vivid night that only affects a small group of friends has a butterfly effect with where screenwriter Tony Gilroy’s spy thriller goes. There’s a reason why Hamm’s character is called upon, and everything lines up in a kind of air-tight execution that Gilroy attained in films like The Bourne trilogy.

THE NEGATIVES

– There are impactful, albeit brief action sequences in the very beginning and very end of the film. This makes it difficult to attain the thriller tag in ‘Spy Thriller’, doing nothing but harm to the already tiptoe pacing that is fading away before our eyes.

– Hamm’s character suffers from alcoholism, and this plot device is very seldom used in generating something of a character flaw for him to overcome. It’s a kind of tell-not-show kind of exposition that is rarely if at all explored and never adds any kind of growing concern to the way he performs under pressure.

– I had a major problem with the overall lack of Muslim actors and characters in the film who weren’t terrorists. I get that terrorism is associated with a lot of their people in this instance, but in an era where White-washing is all the craze, maybe offer some examples of diversity for dissection in instilling the thought that not all Muslims are gun-toting terrorists.

– The screenplay was written in 1991, and that’s clearly evident for how the film misuses Rosamund Pike’s leading lady character. Pike makes the most of what limited opportunity, but it’s a shame that in a character who surprisingly has a lot of resolve with this particular plot doesn’t exactly come across as a major player in a male dominated ensemble.

6/10

You Were Never Really Here

Directed by Lynne Ramsay

Starring – Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Larry Canady

The Plot – Balancing between feverish dreamlike hallucinations of a tormented past and a grim disoriented reality, the grizzled Joe (Phoenix); a traumatized Gulf War veteran and now an unflinching hired gun who lives with his frail elderly mother (Roberts); has just finished successfully yet another job. With an infernal reputation of being a brutal man of results, the specialized in recovering missing teens enforcer will embark on a blood-drenched rescue mission, when Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), the innocent 13-year-old daughter of an ambitious New York senator, never returns home. But amidst half-baked leads and a desperate desire to shake off his shoulders the heavy burden of a personal hell, Joe’s frenzied plummet into the depths of Tartarus is inevitable, and every step Joe takes to flee the pain, brings him closer to the horrors of insanity. In the end, what is real, and what is a dream? Can there be a new chapter in Joe’s life when he keeps running around in circles

Rated R for strong violence, disturbing and grisly images, adult language, and brief nudity

THE POSITIVES

– My Love is deep for the way the camera revolves and studies each new room that the story takes us through. This allows us time to soak in the placement of every person and object. Beyond this, much of the framing in the film keeps Joe’s facials out of focus to relate the very struggle for identity within himself.

– Lots of mystery to the compromising, out of context visuals that you are seeing. This keeps the story intriguing and edgy from a cryptic standpoint in wondering what’s real and what is part of Joe’s delusions. This is credited to Joe Bini’s razor sharpe editing that always illustrates colorfully the outer dimension that we’ve seemed to slip into with this film.

– Johnny Greenwood again musically lifts the emotional palate straight from the pages, giving breath to the very nightmarish dreamscapes in lighting and environment that the film takes us through. His strident touch is quickly becoming one of my favorite musical composers, and has really given new life to his turn in music after his work in Radiohead. Beyond this, the inclusion of 50’s AM radio favorites from time-to-time gave the film a dreamy fantasy like feel to counteract the nightmare playing out before us.

– Phoenix’s physical performance that inhabits not only the sadness of this tortured soul, but also the very motivation for why he excels in such a field. He toes a fine line between paranoia and sensitivity that constantly feels like a struggle for control within him.

– My appreciation for not necessarily tying things up with this entire screenplay is very high. I think sometimes in film we try far too much to illustrate a silver lining, but Ramsay’s plan is to keep things grounded in communicating to the audience that things don’t always get better after help is sought.

-Joe’s remaining humanity really rests upon his sometimes comical relationship with his mother. These scenes feel like a warm blanket surrounded by an otherwise toxic cloud of violence that engulfs this troubled soul.

– I love a thinking person’s film, and this one gave me a few theories based on the evidence in the film that hinted to me that maybe not all is as it seems with Joe and Nina. Obviously based on the novel, which is more in-depth, that is not the case, but the film leaves enough room in leverage to bring to light some of your own theories with the side of Joe’s mind that is being covered up by all of the traumatic fright.

THE NEGATIVES

-There’s definitely great restrain from Ramsay’s direction with what we’re shown in action or violence, catering more to the psychological side of action movies. But I feel like it can occasionally lose its genre designation with such long spans in between that showcase why this man is so good at his job.

– The dissection of this character will leave more to be desired by some audiences. For me, it’s kind of refreshing to not have to be spoon-fed every single detail of his tortured past, but I can certainly understand why some people require more context to the visuals that are stylishly pasted in.

– Terribly unauthentic sound effects that don’t accurately register the weight of a particular blow. For instance, one scene involving a tie being whipped in the face of a character, sounds like a brick. This gives a cheesy underlying to an otherwise seamless presentation on the violence side.

7/10

Tyler Perry’s Acrimony

Directed by Tyler Perry

Starring – Taraji P Henson, Lyriq Bent, Crystle Stewart

The Plot – A faithful wife (Henson) tired of standing by her devious husband (Bent) is enraged when it becomes clear she has been betrayed as a result of a hidden affair. After the news breaks, revenge is the game, and hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Rated R for adult language, sexual content, and some violence

THE POSITIVES

– Henson knows in her mind that she’s far too good for a Tyler Perry movie, but nonetheless she commits herself in omitting a truly haunting and emotionally scarred performance. Taraji was clearly given no boundaries here, and despite her filmography this year leaving slightly more to be desired, it’s clear that the talented actress gives you the most return for your dollar.

– If Perry can do one thing right, it’s that he knows how to keep his audience invested. The film is narrated throughout by Henson’s character while talking to a therapist. As the film goes on, it feels more and more like she’s really communicating with those ladies in the audience who have been down this very road a time or two, making it extremely difficult to ignore something that ties so closely to their own lives.

THE NEGATIVES

– Continuity errors. It’s funny that while the two love interests are in high school, the female is noticeably two or three inches taller than the male, but ten years later their characters have morphed to give us a depiction of the man now being at least five inches taller. That’s a huge swing for post-adolescence.

– Jarring Green screen backdrops. There are some beautiful shots of the city engulfed in fog that seems to hint at the unforeseen troubles ahead for these characters, but anytime a character is shown in front of this area, the outline of their bodily properties is so terribly shaded that you’re constantly reminded of this cheap presentation by a director with tight pockets.

– The run time of two hours is far too long for this screenplay. This isn’t because the film is terribly paced or boring, but rather the perils of repetition that could easily use another edit in keeping it closer to that 100 minute mark.

– In addition to that repetition, the film is also prolonged by convenient plot devices that pop up out of nowhere. These scenes puzzle me even further because they often feel like they accompany a scene that is missing from the movie. One such example is a woman’s purse that shows up in our leading man’s truck, but the scene before that one the woman mentions how she refuses to be alone with him. So did she change her mind, or do purses fly all of a sudden?

– I had to check how many different writers penned this script because I refused to believe that the sharp turns in character logic were written by a single author. Much to my surprise, Perry also wrote this film, leading me to believe that he himself suffers from mixed personality disorder. Characters switch sides at the drop of a hat, and the film’s third act flies so far off of the rails that it feels like we’ve stumbled upon a completely different film all together. Just more proof of the man’s genius.

– This film is every bit as manipulative as it is morally bankrupt. If you saw the trailers, they made it look like Taraji’s character was taking revenge on a former lover for cheating on her and giving the new love all of the things that she deserved. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the last act of the movie convolutes character motivation so drastically that it almost approaches the clutches of Stockholm Syndrome with arms wide open, refusing to ever punish those who laid the groundwork for such conclusions.

– ‘Acrimony’ was made in eight days, and it clearly shows. In addition to the missing scenes that I mentioned before, much of the dialogue feels sloppily rushed and overall in a hurry to get to reach its destination without cutting to the psychology involved in spousal abuse. Any person with a shred of logic can comprehend that no sane adult would ever make these movements. On top of this, the film takes the time to visually define what Acrimony as well as other words associated with the script mean. That’s great because the only thing that can top laughably bad dialogue is an English lesson. SWEET!!!

– This is a thriller that for the most part lacks the thrills. We get one scene of action early on in the movie, then nothing until the final twenty minutes that I mentioned above. Perry as a screenwriter relies upon frantic dialogue reads by Henson, instead of the unchained Taraji that was promoted. For my money, watch the final twenty minutes. You could probably fill in the blanks as to what happened even without the rest.

2/10

Ready Player One

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring – Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn

The Plot – In the year 2045, the real world is a harsh place. The only time Wade Watts (Sheridan) truly feels alive is when he escapes to the OASIS, an immersive virtual universe where most of humanity spends their days. In the OASIS, you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone-the only limits are your own imagination. The OASIS was created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who left his immense fortune and total control of the Oasis to the winner of a three-part contest he designed to find a worthy heir. When Wade conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends-aka the High Five-are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and adult language.

THE POSITIVES

– The aesthetic touch couldn’t be better, bringing to life the vibrant visuals of the OASIS with a synthetic gaming feel. I would normally call out other films that depend so much on C.G graphics, but this kind of effect was made for a film that almost entirely takes place in a world so foreign from our own.

– Art imitating life?? Because of the beauty and adventure involved in the OASIS, the real world is associated with a bleak, almost hopeless feel by comparison. There’s a real sense of escapism with this gaming world, and while that comes with endless exhilaration for our protagonist, it ignores the real problems that have doomed society because of their dependency upon this magical place. This responsible take is every bit as refreshing as it is vocal about our own addictions to technology.

– There’s no secret that this film could easily be called ‘Easter Egg: The Movie’ because of its endless displays of pop culture icons from film and gaming that give it an overall big budget feature. What’s surprisingly pleasing however, is that with the exception of one scene, their appearances feel necessary in upping the ante of importance to Halliday’s future and never steal the film’s focus for themselves. In catching them all, this film has outstanding replay value, and will welcome hundreds of upcoming Youtube videos to point out the ones that are extremely obscure.

– Spielberg has directed adult or child protagonists before, but surprisingly never teenagers until now. In doing so, it feels like he has a real grasp on their psychology and mannuerisms when it comes to their overall sense of spontaneity. ‘Ready Player One’ could easily pass for a teenage genre film in any of the eras it homages, and it’s clear that Spielberg’s latest awakens the adolescent from within him that has constantly kept beating through over forty years in cinema.

– This film is a collective audio scrapbook of 80’s synth hits that each meet their desired emotion in their respective scenes without feeling topical. From Van Halen, to A-Ha, to even Twisted Sister, this soundtrack mirrors that of the fictional star power shown in the film, and serves as a respectable nod in our present day to the past era of music that felt bigger than life.

– Sound mixing at its finest. You have to listen and pay attention closely, but the sound effects in the OASIS that serve as a reaction when something has been hit or destroyed also borrows from film, carefully placing a sound that the audience is familiar with into a new atmosphere to give it a new lease on life. For instance, the fading picture noise in ‘Back to the Future’ is now used for the key reveals.

– Precise casting. I have only read ‘Ready Player One’ once, but for my money the casting of Sheridan and Cooke feels right on point. The two emote an on-screen chemistry that radiates without being forceful. What’s even more impressive is that these two must connect on a spiritual level and not a physical one since a majority of the film takes place in the OASIS. It’s also in the care and backstory of their respective characters that the film takes in drawing them together. You feel strong empathy and investment into their conflicts because of their conflict with this major corporation that has taken everything from them.

– It’s not often that I get edge-of-my-seat giddy during a film, at the age of 33 years old, but the second key challenge in the film had my eyes glued to the screen with anticipation. Many people will be raving about the third challenge in this film, but my vote for coolest scene goes to the second challenge that bends the pages of historical film without desecrating them.

– If you listen to me about anything, hear me when I say that ‘Ready Player One’ is the film you go all out for and pay top dollar. This is a film that deserves to be seen by as many eyes on the biggest screen possible. The 3D actually added effects work to the outline of characters and backdrops that put you front-and-center inside of the game, and for once the colors don’t diminish or fade with the thick lenses of these theater goggles. Treat yourself, you deserve it.

THE NEGATIVES
– A majority of the action sequences are shot a bit too close for my taste. What this does is make it slightly more difficult in registering each deciding blow with the kind of clarity needed in keeping the audience’s focus. Because so much of these scenes are cluttered with characters, I could’ve used that wide angle shot in seeing things from the grander scale, instead of feeling like I was holding the hand of the main character.

THE EXTRAS

– It hit me about midway through that this is a modern day ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’. Five kids work closely together while mining through a series of tests for the prize of winning a genius’s empire. Sound familiar?

9/10

Pacific Rim: Uprising

Directed by Steven S DeKnight

Starring – John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Tian Jing

The Plot – John Boyega stars as the rebellious Jake Pentecost, a once-promising Jaeger pilot whose legendary father gave his life to secure humanity’s victory against the monstrous “Kaiju.” Jake has since abandoned his training only to become caught up in a criminal underworld. But when an even more unstoppable threat is unleashed to tear through our cities and bring the world to its knees, he is given one last chance to live up to his father’s legacy by his estranged sister, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi)-who is leading a brave new generation of pilots that have grown up in the shadow of war. As they seek justice for the fallen, their only hope is to unite together in a global uprising against the forces of extinction. Jake is joined by gifted rival pilot Lambert (Eastwood) and 15-year-old Jaeger hacker Amara (Cailee Spaeny), as the heroes of the PPDC become the only family he has left.

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

THE POSITIVES

– There’s no question that the meat and potatoes of this franchise is still the action, first and foremost. It is definitely still there, vibrating the screen with no shortage of combat and devastation that makes the most of the set pieces that surround the robots and monsters respectively.

– Boyega definitely feels like the most beneficial addition to the script, if only for his endless charisma and presence that steers the film with command whenever he is on screen. I do wish they would’ve evolved his character and subplot progressively more, but John makes the most of the limited opportunity, pushing through the sludge with the kind of attitude the film so desperately needs.

– The decisions in camera work smoothly, and never replicate the negatives of modern day action flicks with too many quick-cuts. Instead, Uprising focuses on each and every crushing blow without ever flinching or looking away from the unfolding scene.

– Perhaps a motivation for the script that worked above all others for me was the maturity and steering by the youth of this fresh faced cast in saving the day. This inspires a positive message from our own next generation to take charge of our own world and future when it comes knocking on their doors.

THE NEGATIVES

– For my money, the action sequences look much better at night than they do in the day. This not only feeds into the idea of the mystery behind what’s waiting in the dark, but also the hollow and empty presentation from daylight sequences that don’t echo that cool, Tron-like vibe from the neon decor.

– Much of the screenplay felt like a hybrid between Independence Day and Transformers. In fact, I predict much will be forgotten about this film because you’ve seen it in bigger, more gifted productions that (Above all else) did it first.

– The humor in dialogue felt so forced and unnatural that it comes across as more awkward than humorous. A good deal of my problems creatively with the film clashed with the overall tone that caters more to young adult moviegoers than a matured adult presentation that adorned the first movie. More on that in a second.

– It is my opinion that Dr Gottlieb (Played with commitment by Burn Gorman) deserved more screen time for his evolution, and there’s one glaring area that I would’ve taken away from. How does a movie make Charlie Day feel like John Turtoro from the Transformers series? Day is AWFUL here, and his emerging plot feels as believable as pigs flying. Each time he was on-screen, he took away from the more entertaining scenario behind him, and if this is where the series is going I will pass.

– There’s not nearly enough urgency or vulnerability in this world and its people, and I blame a lot of that on the mistimed tone that I mentioned above. To further elaborate on this, I never felt glued or uncertainty for the action-packed third act because I never felt the danger of a situation that either cuts to Day for his goofy one-liners, or uses valuable camera time in getting one of the robots to give a monster the middle finger.

– DeKnight is certainly no substitute for Del Toro. A lot of the film lacks the style, creativity, attention to detail, and innovation that the first movie had. Instead of elevating the rules and technology in this film, DeKnight would rather rest on much of the positives of the first movie, leaving him without a knife to carve his name in this 50/50 franchise.

4/10

Tomb Raider

Directed by Roar Uthaug

Starring – Alicia Vikander, Walton Goggins, Dominic West

The Plot – Lara Croft (Vikander) is the fiercely independent daughter of an eccentric adventurer who vanished when she was scarcely a teen. Now a young woman of 21 without any real focus or purpose, Lara navigates the chaotic streets of trendy East London as a bike courier, barely making the rent, and takes college courses, rarely making it to class. Determined to forge her own path, she refuses to take the reins of her father’s (West) global empire just as staunchly as she rejects the idea that he’s truly gone. Advised to face the facts and move forward after seven years without him, even Lara can’t understand what drives her to finally solve the puzzle of his mysterious death. Going explicitly against his final wishes, she leaves everything she knows behind in search of her dad’s last-known destination: a fabled tomb on a mythical island that might be somewhere off the coast of Japan. But her mission will not be an easy one; just reaching the island will be extremely treacherous. Suddenly, the stakes couldn’t be higher for Lara, who–against the odds and armed with only her sharp mind, blind faith and inherently stubborn spirit–must learn to push herself beyond her limits as she journeys into the unknown. If she survives this perilous adventure, it could be the making of her, earning her the name tomb raider.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and for some adult language

THE POSITIVES

– This is definitely a Lara Croft for the post Time’s Up society. Instead of her physical attributes getting her over, Vikander’s Croft uses her cunning intellect and overall ability to think on her feet in order to get five moves ahead on her enemies. Vikander’s vulnerability is also something to admire, never depicting Lara as a superhero or surreal entity by any means. Overall, it illustrates a female presence that many females young and old can feel inspired by.

– As to where the inspiration to be a Tomb Raider was slightly cryptic in the original movies, screenwriters Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons carve out a spiritual side to Lara’s undertaking of this newfound hobby. This tomb and all of its mysteries is the last link to her disappearing father, so in seeking it out, she sees this as the final goodbye that she sadly never received.

– Of course with this being a video game movie, there are sporadic Easter eggs from the games that occasionally pop up. It’s even more of a benefit that this is used with patience and doesn’t deem it necessary to overcrowd the movie with cheap fan service.

– Fine camera work and sequencing with the chase and action sequences that throttle the audience and get close without being plagued by motion sickness.

– It’s odd to me that the first half of the film was the time that I felt the most immersed in this story, and not so much the actual tomb parts of the film. I believe this is because I enjoyed the up-close-and-personal backstory to Croft’s intimidating family history that she instead chooses to pave her own path, as well as my own theories for what happened towards the end of the film. More on that later.

THE NEGATIVES

– A majority of the C.G stunt-work in this film is very hollow and lacks the kind of weight of impact necessary for making Croft’s risks feel dangerous. Much of it can be blamed on her off-color shadow scheme that the graphics work supplant her with, but I blame it on the green-screen movements of the live actress feeling artificial because she isn’t in the moment and living out those situations.

– It pains me greatly that Walton Goggins is wasted away in this film as just another bad guy. This is one of the best TV villains of the past decade, so the screenwriters reserved stance in letting Goggins move through the motions of the outline that hundreds have done before him is downright shameful. You have a great actor here, people, USE HIM.

– There’s a second act plot twist that completely didn’t work for me in believability because of how underwhelming it was played emotionally. This is perhaps the single most important scene in the movie, and the actors involved treat it the same way as any other. With intent and commitment, this could’ve been the emotional center that Tomb Raider needed in cementing it as the best video game adaptation of all time.

– I mentioned earlier that the third act has many problems in this film, and I really don’t know where to start. For a movie called TOMB RAIDER, the decision to hold off on this setting until the final 35 minutes is one that comes with grave consequences mostly for video game enthusiasts just waiting to see the big budget set pieces at work. What they get is a series of rushed sequences and puzzle pieces that never take their time in amplifying the tension to keep you glued. Beyond this, the rules of the tomb’s airborne plague is one that comes with a few holes in continuity in the way things play out.

– The visual storytelling in narration exposition feels so forced that it occasionally made me cringe. Exposition is fine when used in wise doses, but the overabundance in this film made me feel like we didn’t even need the events playing out in real time if sloppy flashbacks were going to tell us everything that we need to know. People might not view it this way, but to me this is completely disrespectful on audience intelligence by thinking that they can’t put these unfolding pieces together on our own for something that (Frankly) isn’t that difficult to grasp.

5/10

The Hurricane Heist

Directed by Rob Cohen

Starring – Maggie Grace, Toby Kebbell, Ryan Kwanten

The Plot – Under the threat of a hurricane, opportunistic criminals infiltrate a US Mint facility to steal $600 million for the ultimate heist. When the hurricane blows up into a lethal CATEGORY 5 storm and their well-made plans go awry, they find themselves needing a vault code known only by one Treasury Agent (Grace), a need that turns murderous. But the Treasury agent has picked up an unlikely ally, a meteorologist (Kebbell) terrified of hurricanes but determined to save his estranged brother kidnapped by the thieves. He uses his knowledge of the storm as a weapon to win in this non-stop action thriller ride charged with adrenaline throughout.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence, action, destruction, adult language and some suggestive material

THE POSITIVES

– The lead antagonist is a double cross, and the actor who portrays this lead does a solid job in carving out a powerful and dangerous enemy for our central cast to square off against. He carefully plans things out, takes measures NOT to kill anyone, and on top of it all is Irish (wink wink)

– While they are few and far between, the action sequences and fly-by set pieces pack enough of a punch in popcorn thrills to constantly keep the audience firmly in its grip for carnage candy pay-offs.

– Toby Kebbell and Maggie Grace definitely work best when they are together as opposed to when they are separated. They have the appropriate kind of chemistry needed in male and female colleagues without settling for the obvious script conveniences of being love interests.

THE NEGATIVES

– Poor computer generated effects work that truly makes you appreciate the bigger budgeted disaster films that I constantly make fun of.

– Taking this one step further, deserving of its own point; there are faces in the clouds of the hurricane. I know that there’s a feeling in these films that storms can sometimes come across as sinister villains, but this takes it a bit too far in the corny and impractical direction.

– The screenplay’s biggest disappointment is that it doesn’t fully commit or embrace its B-movie campiness. Far too often, scenes are depicted with serious intent, and these overshoot the idea of producing something just silly enough to lure you in to its mayhem. As for the dialogue itself, it too lacks any kind of humor in personality needed to get out of these repetitive dry spells. For crying out loud, there’s a two minute scene where Grace and Kebbell discuss peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

– Messy sound mixing that rarely distorts nor lowers the vocal capacity of our characters.

– Throughout the film, I couldn’t shake the overwhelming feeling of this being played off like a Twister/Hard Rain hybrid of a film. I say that because all of the familiar steps are there; an old character who is days from retiring, a main character who combats storms because of a tortured past, doubters of the storm’s power before it ever hits, and of course a rainbow at the end of the storm that produces several double-crosses along the way. It’s a best-of cornucopia of 90’s disaster goodness.

– As for the storm itself, it holds such minimal consequential value in the overall bigger picture. During outside sequences, the storm’s impact feels more like a nagging nuisance instead of an elevating death threat. Out main characters even dodge cluttered objects flying at them like the storm outlined it that way. If you’re not going to give examples of how terrifying this environment can be, why even require it?

– One continuity error that I couldn’t stop laughing at took place during a semi truck chase sequence where the storm is behind our characters. During this, we keep getting cuts of the dark storm clouds quickly approaching them, yet when we see something as obvious as the huge driver side mirror on the side of the truck, it is reflecting a dry, cloudy day. I don’t need believability in a film like this, just care for those important details.

3/10

A Wrinkle in Time

Directed by Ava Duvernay

Starring – Storm Reid, Chris Pine, Oprah Winfrey

The Plot – Meg Murry (Reid) is a typical middle school student struggling with issues of self-worth who is desperate to fit in. As the daughter of two world-renowned physicists, she is intelligent and uniquely gifted, as is Meg’s younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), but she has yet to realize it for herself. Making matters even worse is the baffling disappearance of Mr. Murry (Pine), which torments Meg and has left her mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) heartbroken. Charles Wallace introduces Meg and her fellow classmate Calvin (Levi Miller) to three celestial guides-Mrs. Which (Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling)-who have journeyed to Earth to help search for their father, and together they set off on their formidable quest. Traveling via a wrinkling of time and space known as tessering, they are soon transported to worlds beyond their imagination where they must confront a powerful evil. To make it back home to Earth, Meg must look deep within herself and embrace her flaws to harness the strength necessary to defeat the darkness closing in on them.

Rated PG for thematic elements and some peril

THE POSITIVES

– That sense of escapism and imagination that filled the pages of the book is one of the only things that translates well for this picture. Throughout the movie, we are treated to some truly gorgeous Greenland landscapes that never need C.G pixelation in harnessing their beauty, as well as a vibrant color scheme that triggers an out-of-this-world kind of energy for us to intake.

– It’s kind of refreshing to me that for once in a movie we are seeing the little girl take command of the situation, and the little boy is kind of left to be the side piece to do nothing but support her. This certainly gives the film a progressive sense of direction that will inspire girl audiences everywhere.

– While she doesn’t succeed at every level of camera work, Duverney can at least hang her hat on being a risk taker. Ava refuses to ever settle for just one continuous style in shooting these characters and visuals, and this speaks volumes to the levels of articulation that she possesses as a top notch director in Hollywood.

THE NEGATIVES

– This screenplay feels like it (Like Chris Pine’s character) got lost somewhere along the way. I say that because so much of the material not only feels out of context, but also short on exposition for the very lack of rules explanation that the film supplants. The on-going journey very much feels like writers who are making up the rules as they go, neglecting the vital details from the book that communicated the logic. The child reactions and logic are also ridiculously stretched here. Kids react to these weird things going on around them like these three magical women showing up on their doorsteps like it’s no big deal. There’s no shock or awe in any of them, and sadly I blame this on a director who never dives deep into her characters.

– Speaking of lagging exposition, not one character outline is given to any single person in this film. Reid’s Meg is obviously the main character of the film, but there’s very little we actually know about her by film’s end other than she’s smart and she’s Chris Pine’s daughter. When I care more about the characters, I care more about their peril, and I never found myself fully immersed in any kind of conflict in the film.

– EXTREME CLOSE-UP WHOOOAAAAAA!!!! I mentioned that Duverney doesn’t succeed at every angle she shoots in the film, and none are more harmful than the tedious exertion that she gave in shooting too close. There were several times in the film where I felt physically uncomfortable with Ava’s decision to cover each and every reaction that sometimes goes without saying.

– Considering this is Disney Studios and there is over a hundred million dollars invested into the film, the computer generation properties in the film are really an eye-sore. This goes well beyond the hollow movements and terribly cheesy green-screen outlining. This is really more about the believability in presentation that leaves very little to the imagination. A film should try its hardest to make the live action transition seamless, otherwise why not make this an animated movie to begin with?

– Nothing memorable in terms of performances. Reese Witherspoon is definitely the best of the three adult counterparts, emoting Mrs Whatsit with a sarcastic tongue that occasionally got the better of her. The problem is Witherspoon (Like Winfrey and Kaling) is playing an amplified version of herself, never allowing herself to get lost in the character. The child actors too are abysmal. Reid lacks enough personality to make her intriguing as someone we follow for a majority, and the work of Levi Miller as Meg’s crush made for as much awkwardness in line reads as a Fifty Shades movie. Seriously, this kid was a stalker, right?

– If you forget Meg’s brother’s name is Charles Wallace, fear not because the movie repeats it no fewer than sixty times throughout. If there is one positive to this, it’s in the capability in creating a fun drinking game with friends that will have you passing out before having to sit through 104 minutes of this boredom.

– Which brings me to my final problem for the movie; it is an anomaly with its pacing. I say that because despite a screenplay that is literally and figuratively running through scenes with very little explanation or impact, the film still manages to slug along with repetition in dialogue about the importance of love and family that they beat over the head time-and-time-again. After an impressive opening act, it’s a shame that this film never finds the proper formula in establishing that the sum is greater than its parts.

3/10