Kidnap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

Alien: Covenant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6/10

Snatched

Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn are a Daughter and Mother on vacation, running from the clutches of being ‘Snatched’. When her boyfriend dumps her, Emily (Schumer), a spontaneous woman in her 30s, persuades her ultra-cautious Mother Linda (Hawn) to accompany her on a vacation to Ecuador. Polar opposites, Emily and Linda realize that working through their differences as mother and daughter involves getting thousands of miles away from it all. At Emily’s insistence, the pair seek out adventure on the island, mostly involving that of a good looking guy that Emily meets at the bar, but suddenly find themselves kidnapped. When these two very different women are trapped on this wild journey, their bond as mother and daughter is tested and strengthened while they attempt to navigate the jungle and escape their dangerous captors. Snatched is directed by Jonathan Levine, and is rated R for crude sexual content, brief nudity, and language throughout.

Trailers played everywhere for half a year promoting this movie, and after finally sitting through a screening of it, I can safely say that Snatched is one of those films that is easily diagraphed from seeing a trailer that gives away a bit too much, while also giving away its biggest laughs. There were very few surprises or contrasts from its two minute promotional tour, and that left me feeling like I had watched this movie long before I actually watched this movie. As a critic, one of the most difficult things to grasp for me has always been how people could laugh at a particular line that they already know the punchline to from seeing the trailer. Snatched has some competent enough throwaway scenes, but as a whole it will leave you feeling disappointed for the juxtaposition in attitude that this film searches to be. On the surface, this can easily be labeled as a female raunch comedy, but as the film goes on I found it to be ridiculous for how serious that it was trying to take itself, despite not fully committing to such directions. Late in the second act, the movie tries to pay homage to kidnapping subgenre films, but too much illogical and frankly paper-thin setup, keep you from ever feeling even a slight chill from the urgency in danger that alludes these two protagonists.

The set-ups to said danger feel hollow, with our leading ladies easily escaping the clutches of their captors time-after-time to really highlight just how mind-numbingly awful that their opposition really is. Some scenes paint themselves into such a corner that there’s nothing else to do except have a character go to sleep and wake up in a different place, freeing them from danger. Then there’s the conveniences of of objects that just happen to be in the room to help them escape. It definitely feels unlikely that these antagonists wouldn’t take the time to case the room out to remove any possibilities before placing their victims inside, and I can’t imagine how this passed through the minds of writers and directors, let alone an idiot writer who is seeing this for the first time. From the structure of how everything feels with the plot of this movie, it forgets to have fun with itself during the final act of the movie, instead opting for a confrontation that feels slightly rushed, if not meaningfully undercooked.

At least there are some delightful supporting cameos even if the leads feel underwritten behind every turn. Joan Cusack shows up as a former FBI agent turned mute to keep her secrets secure. It was very refreshing to see Cusack in this particular role as she’s usually relegated to the tight-ass conservative of every film. Without ever uttering a word, Joan brings enough flare in reactions to make her the one you must watch whenever her character pops up. Christopher Meloni was my personal favorite of the movie, and his character resolution gave me the single biggest laugh of the movie. As for the leads, Amy Schumer’s character was the hardest pill to swallow for how detestable she is as a person. This is a character that does the charisma of Schumer absolutely no favors, bringing along the luggage of someone who hates to spend time with her Mother, never listens to other people talking around her, and makes stupid decisions that she later seeks forgiveness for. It should be a testament that Amy is given almost nothing as a character and spins it enough to still harvest some decent one-liners. It was great to see Goldie Hawn back, but I felt that the writing did very little to make her stand out as a welcome back party for the veteran actress. This was really a chance to play into the irresistible chemistry of Hawn and Schumer, but instead the movie would rather take away the family element between them and split them up at nearly every chance.

The humor did bring me a couple of solid laughs, particularly in that of catchy dialogue sporadically, but as a whole the timing of each zinger kind of spins by without the emphasis on the punchline for audiences to follow along. There were times when the retort to each set-up sometimes felt rushed or overlooked, and that unfortunately did more to step on important scenes for future jokes that the film returns to. One of the strangest subplots in the film is that of the increasing hunger of Schumer’s Emily that leads to a climax of pure ridiculousness. I won’t spoil much, but the writers felt it was important to stop the movie for ten minutes to focus on a scene that involves a tapeworm and the illogical ways that they feed. This is stupid in composition and totally does nothing for the progression of the script that was finally building some momentum just before this. I can give credit to Schumer to know what works for her female fans that will follow her through a firestorm, but nobody can tell me that this scene did anything but crave the desperation of the gross-out humor that is all the craze in every modern day comedy. Snatched went to this well far too often for me, and it just doesn’t mesh well for Schumer’s dialogue driven comedy.

THE VERDICT – Snatched is so out of touch with reality that it supplants a moral lesson that drinking with a good looking man in a foreign country could lead to danger, the reality of which its audience is already leap years ahead of in logical thinking. Jonathan Levine’s film holds us ransom for laughs, diminishing the endless possibilities of Schumer and Hawn who could make for a dream team clashing of past and present comedic heavyweights, but instead flail in the same way a fish does when they are taken out of their element. Laughs will happen, but the inconsistency in flow of their firepower leaves a lot of boredom on the table to fill in the gaps from one to the next. If you love your Mother this Mother’s Day, give her something that shows how valuable she is to you, not an hour-and-a-half of missing personalities.

5/10

The Wall

Two American soldiers seek safety and shield behind an unsteady structure that has them fighting for their lives, in Doug Liman’s latest action thriller, The Wall. The movie is a deadly psychological thriller that centers around two soldiers, Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Matthews (John Cena), who are pinned down by an unforseen Iraqi sniper with extreme precision, with nothing but a crumbling wall between them. Their fight becomes as much a battle of will and wits as it is of lethally accurate marksmanship, thus proving that even the smallest of wars do indeed have grave consequences. The Wall, produced by Amazon Studios, is written by first-time screenwriter Dwain Worrell. It landed on the 2014 script Black List, and is rated R for adult language throughout and some war violence, including sequences of peril.

The Wall can be best described as being a strategic impulse thriller that plays to a familiar backdrop in the Iraq War, during the year of 2007. President Bush has since declared victory in the Middle East, yet the opposing sides are still spilling vital blood. Off in the uncertain distance of it all are two soldiers and an ambiguous sniper that wants them dead. There’s something greatly appreciating about what Liman does in scope here to craft this as one of the hardest hitting war films of the last decade. Despite there only being three people in the entirety of this film, it never diminishes the importance or the urgency of its story or winning the war, even when its dangerous game is being played on the smallest of stages. The film feels like a game of chess, with both sides jockeying for position on their opposition, and it’s in that procedural of sorts with army protocol where Worrell’s cunning script thinks the loudest in terms of keeping this interesting for 86 minutes. It does so and proves that the war genre doesn’t necessarily need to be played at the most epic of scopes to be compelling, and that it’s the millions of smaller battles that demand their stories to be told.

The action and sound editing really puppeteer the emotional response from its audience by offering crisp, sudden impact that plays tenderly to the eerie nature of the quiet surrounding our protagonists. t This feels like the kind of movie where these men make every single bullet count, so each time that you hear that long gasp of silence, you can’t help but fear for that whoosh in sound that tells us bullets are on the way. As far as the mystery within the film goes, I felt that the film is best reserved when we don’t know the exact location of our gifted sniper, playing more into the uncertainty that could strike at any and everywhere when he chooses to push the button. This angle of script perspective takes place more during the opening half hour than the rest of the script, but unfortunately gives away this reveal far too early in the movie to play more into keeping the audience guessing. What does work is the two sides being able to communicate on a CB radio that paints more of a vicious shadow for the man who could literally be anywhere. The choice in desert backdrop makes for a location that is every bit as forgiving as it is influential in playing to the advantages and disadvantages of hiding a plan from the oppositions. I thought it was cool to see a sandstorm literally take over certain scenes between characters with their own agendas. It kind of signals that Mother Nature and life in general continue on even in the most dire of situations.

As for script, the film surprisingly offers an array of social commentary on the perils of war and the prices that we pay for democracy. Worrell feels like a writer who chooses not to glorify war, but instead the value of human life and our purpose for others in power making decisions for that value. There were several times during the movie when the thought-provoking question of ‘Why You?’ is wonderfully positioned, and yet we as an audience can’t help but wonder the same thing. With only one chance at this thing called life, are such invasions literally important? Like most responsible movies, this one never steers one way or the other, but I do appreciate that it isn’t afraid to at least challenge the status quo. There’s also a terrific style of execution based on the very exposition within the movie that communicates to its audience what happened before we arrived, without ever needing the introductory montage that feels like it’s everywhere anymore. To begin this film already inside the cloud of danger is quite risky, but as the film goes on, we learn important reveals about Taylor-Johnson’s Isaac, as well as the key events of their mission that reveals why their once prosperous army has been winded down to a party of two. Some of our initial images from the get-go are that of several U.S army soldiers laying dead and spread out all over. This tells us two important things; this sniper is very good at his job, and those still alive are well-versed in that capability and must choose carefully what to do next. An aspect like war can play so beautifully into capturing the peaks of a story long before we’re being narrated through it, and Liman does a terrific job at setting the stage for a battle that will change everything.

This begins my problems for the movie however, as this feels like a movie that starts to show its weaknesses the longer it goes on. The film’s pacing rarely dragged for me, but in the final half hour I started to see how this film painted itself into a corner for how little it truly answered leading into the final few scenes. Because of such, some highly unbelievable aspects happen that took me out of my immersive dive into this dangerous world and continued to remind me just how much a movie this really is. On top of this, I also hated the dialogue within this movie, and this negative plays into the very hollow characters that we are presented with. The performances of Taylor-Johnson and Cena are solid enough, and they certainly give it everything that they have to make this characters appealing protagonists. But unfortunately, these two feel like stereotypical muscle-head soldier types without any of the heart or empathy that makes them compelling. There’s a point towards the end where Isaac is literally crying from all of the mental and physical anguish that his character has taken, and yet I never felt troubled for his character. Where the dialogue plays into this is every other word practically settling for the F Bomb for the hell of it, or an arrogant retort by Isaac as he talks back-and-forth to his enemy. Fear should be the more prominent emotion being portrayed here, and that clumsy decision to always keep our hero jabbing off does damage in illustrating the versatility within his character.

THE VERDICT – The Wall stands strong through a weathered third act that nearly diminishes all of the strong foundation built in the first hour of the movie. Doug Liman’s choice for a smaller scope for his war thriller is just what is needed to instill a fresh outlook on the genre to keep it from sinking under familiar waters. He elevates the handicaps of his one stage setting by focusing on only two characters to make the urgency that much more valued. A minimalist survival plot that hinges on the concept of ambiguous murder and the prices were willing to pay to play.

6/10

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Critically Acclaimed filmmaker Guy Ritchie brings his dynamic style to the epic fantasy action adventure genre, in ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’. Starring Charlie Hunnam in the title role, the film is an iconoclastic take on the classic Excalibur myth, tracing Arthur’s journey from the streets to the throne. When the child Arthur’s father is murdered, Vortigern (Jude Law), Arthur’s uncle, seizes the crown. Robbed of his birthright and with no idea who he truly is, Arthur comes up the hard way in the back alleys of the Londininum, not knowing his royal lineage. But once he pulls the sword from the stone, his life is turned upside down and he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy…whether he likes it or not. He joins the rebellion and a shadowy young woman named Guinevere. He must learn to understand the magic weapon, deal with his demons, and unite the people to defeat the evil dictator, the same man who murdered his parents and stole his crown to become king. ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong adult language.

Guy Ritchie is a prominent enough name when it comes to reputation in film for capturing an original angle of a project that he feels passionate about. Most notably, his action thrillers like The Man From U.N.C.L.E and Sherlock Holmes are my blend of comic awkwardness combined with dire consequences to mesh into a thrilling good time. So when I heard that he was tagged to direct a new adaptation of the King Arthur folklore, it did get me at least slightly curious because his style of filmmaking is more upbeat and faster paced when compared to the Arthur movies of the past that I grew up with. What comes of it is perhaps the strongest argument for why opposites most certainly do not attract. The Legend of the Sword isn’t just a terribly underwritten movie, it’s one whose visual scope in presentation fights to ever stay focused, humiliating itself with jumbled narration that feels like a child on too much sugar. This blending of worlds just doesn’t work in solidifying that middle ages feel of authenticity, and because of it, Ritchie’s dive into the dark ages is a mind-numbing affair of laughably bad cliches that hinder his overall growth as a director on an epic stage.

The story is an origins tale, highlighting how Arthur came to be known as the man who pulled the sword from the stone, but the way it catches the audience up during the first act is one that repeatedly made me wince and felt troubling on the progression of the current storyline. Immediately, The Legend of the Sword feels like it suffers from a lot of the problems that Warcraft did, in that there’s a three hour presentation just screaming to get out here, but has to trim an hour in run time just to keep the butts in the seats. What that decision sacrifices is truly one of the worst first acts that I have seen in 2017. Everything from Arthur’s childhood, to the death of his father, to him being raised on the streets is glossed over like the fast-forward button on your DVD has been pushed to 3x speed. As the film went on, there was also a violent shove into contrasting pacing that often made it feel like two different films. The first and third acts skim through the material that could’ve used more emphasis, yet the second act slows things down by dulling us with the intellectual growth and training of what feels like a ten-year-old. So little pizazz or excitement happens during this scene, and it felt like the batteries on my remote ran out suddenly, after pushing fast-forward so many times during the first hour.

Flashback montages can serve a vital purpose in a film that dives into the past and present, but here it is presented in such a way that convolutes and confuses the audience into trying to figure out which scene is actually current day. For example, a scene will begin, Arthur will then talk about how he escaped authorities, then an immediate cut displaying that story will overtake our visual storytelling. This wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t happen so much that it becomes a drinking game by the end of the movie. It got to the point where I was hoping no character would ask any questions for fear we would be forced to be yanked back into the past instead of steering forward. Hell, sometimes a character will discuss a plan, and while the narration is being heard, we see the plan being executed visually, and then go back to the scene where the discussion took place. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? How does this pass the final cut? A story is usually told in a straight line, but King Arthur would rather scribble left-to-right and vice versa, testing the patience of audience members who don’t luck out in just having this happen during the beginning of the film.

For anyone who loves CGI effects, this movie will be right up your alley. It’s not all terrible, but I wondered frequently if that is because most of the movie’s color scheme is presented so dark, as to not show the graphing and shading of the animated animal counterparts. This movie flies off of the rails quickly in this movie, embracing a code of magic that stretches logic well beyond that of what we’ve come to know in this particular folklore. Because of this, The Legend of the Sword feels more like a fantasy dive into imaginative waters, similar to the same scale as say 300 or Gods of Egypt, the latter feeling more like what we’re given creatively. I did enjoy Ritchie’s camera work in communicating the very immensity and epic of this kind of story. The long-shot angles certainly play into capturing the kind of effect that this war has on the land. Where the CGI doesn’t flatter me is in the final battle scene when all rules in logic are set to burn. Besides the fact that there is CGI fire that doesn’t have smoke accompanying it, there is a forty foot tall snake in this movie that looks like it came straight out of a Windows 95 program. The very movements and synchronicity of this design had me fighting back laughter, and it’s a terrible final swallow of disappointment to go with the two hours that made this Ritchie influenced fast-paced camera style even more boring than that of the lessons we learned about Arthur in Elementary School.

What Ritchie’s scope didn’t nail was that of the fight sequences, which are terribly choreographed and even more terribly shot. This film falls under two of my least favorite annoyances with modern day action films, in that it shoots too close and cuts far too many times to ever register mentally what is being depicted. If that wasn’t enough, this tired old cliche of slowing the action down for two seconds after the registered hit happens is overused to the feeling of walking through a pool of syrup. This kind of effect was cool when it debuted in The Matrix. THAT WAS 1999. Find something new. I will give credit though because without the slow-down effect, I would’ve never been able to register what was happening because of poor sequencing that nearly left me cross-eyed.

The acting wasn’t terrible by a solid collection of veteran actors, but most of the leads did have me violently suspending disbelief to even think for a second that they were who they were supposed to be. Charlie Hunnam is someone who I mentioned during The Lost City of Z who has unbelievable potential if he is given the proper script in offering a compelling character. My problem with him as the title character is that Arthur here feels arrogant, immature, and even heartless when he relates to his peers. The only thing that really makes him Arthur is his wielding of the sword, but without it, he lacks the true essence in awe to become a revolutionary. I blame this more on poor character directing by Ritchie, and a script that hindered Hunnam’s growth behind every turn. Eric Bana is also relegated to a brief cameo as Arthur’s Father. From a physical stature, Bana doesn’t scream to me that he is king of the land, and even more so, his delivery never feels like he fully commits himself to relaying the true heartbreak that his character inevitably will face. The one positive that I did have was Jude Law as Vortigern, not necessarily for his dedication to character, but more for his hamming up at the script that he knew he was far better than. Law is having the time of his life as this character, and he feels magnetic anytime he shows up on screen sporting a shit-eating grin that finds it easy to soak up one of Hollywood’s most charismatic.

THE VERDICT – King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword is attention grabbing, but for all of the wrong reasons. It’s a fast-cutting, logic-bending dullard of a presentation by one of the truly most gifted directors of the past decade, who sacrifices the heart of the original story’s charms in favor of CGI overhauls of animals that leave this story feeling hollow and lacking any kind of considerable substance. It takes a real warrior to pull the sword from the stone that buried this movie under two hours of ridiculousness, but this is one task where I lack the true grit needed to make many positives out of this grand scale disaster. F for Forgettable.

3/10

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

The most unlikely of heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe return to save the galaxy again, in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. Written and directed by the original film’s James Gunn, the film is set to the backdrop of ‘Awesome Mixtape #2,’ Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the adventures of Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper), and the newly born Mini Groot (Vin Diesel) as they traverse the outer reaches of the cosmos to stop a new threat. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mysteries of Peter Quill’s true parentage involving a mysterious new acquaintance (Kurt Russell). Old foes become new allies and fan-favorite characters from the classic comics will come to our heroes’ aid as the Marvel cinematic universe continues to expand. The movie is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, adult language, and brief suggestive content.

After the surprising smash hit that was Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel Studios has decided to strike fast while the iron is hot, churning out an ambitious sequel three years after that original effort. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is very much that first film turned up to eleven, with an unabashedly driving force direction for the best aspects of that original effort, and pushing them into overdrive here. This was a movie that I found very entertaining, with some problems on the side that Marvel still has had trouble with adjusting to. Because of those hiccups, Volume 2 falls just short of the first effort for me, but there’s still more than enough in artistic overdrive to recommend this movie to the faithful fans of the first film. For story in concept, In the same manner that the first movie was about this rag-tag group of misfits becoming a family, Volume 2 focuses on them actually being one, a decision in directional force that caters more to the light-hearted atmosphere of these worlds and characters respectively, and focuses almost entirely on the bond by these protagonists. What follows is over two hours of the most colorfully explosive action that you will see this Summer on the big screen.

Striking a perfect stroke of artistic expression is the color scheme that radiates the contrasting blends of a vintage comic book. Gunn plays so distinctly to color in each and every planet that is depicted here, and it really casts such a gorgeous detail to a setting that is already polar opposite of the one that we live in. Some of my personal favorites were that of the army of gold soldiers that really pop in the dark blue backdrops that illuminate these ships. This use of gold signaled the royalty that was inhabited amongst these people, setting the stage mentally for the kind of character exposition that is to come from us just meeting them. I also enjoyed that very vibrantly breathtaking visuals in explosions and fireworks that is sure to cash in on the most bang for your buck with paying extra for a special screening. I saw this movie in XD, with the wall-to-wall big screen, and I feel like I underpaid for a spectacle that radiated color in comic book movies far greater than anything that I have seen to this point. With Thor: Ragnarok just around the corner, it’s clear that Marvel is moving into an artistic phase to match that of the colorful contrasts in characters that we have come to know and love.

Perhaps that mission in color might’ve cast a shadow slightly too thick however, because the story in Volume 2 pales greatly in comparison to that of the original movie, and that’s mostly because this film is overstuffed with subplots that doesn’t know where to trim. First of all, the positives. I did enjoy the introduction of Peter Quill’s father to the story, and felt that it added a satisfying layer of conflict to that of the family that Peter has come to know with his family in arms. With the introduction of Ego, Peter clings to that last bastion of his past life that still burns inside of him, and the temptation to get closer to a figure that he has only heard about proves to be too intriguing. Another satisfying plot was that of Gamora and her Sister Nebula (Played by Karen Gillian), and the peeling back of their pasts that comes to light. Volume 2 casts Nebula in a different light of sorts with these big reveals, and you tend to feel great empathy for her character and the deadly game of revenge that boils in her fragile state of mind. Unfortunately it’s all downhill from here, as I thought a lot of the film’s tone in scene-to-scene transition felt very jumbled and all over the place. This is a film that rarely ever slows down (Not a good thing) and allow itself time to build to the next big reveal, therefore hurling everything in our direction of narrative too quick to fully register the impact of its reveal. There is a big twist midway through the movie with our intended antagonist, and it just never felt earth-shattering to me or the characters that it impacts. This is mainly because Gunn lacks great restraint in orchestrating sequencing in transition, leaving many scenes of jarring correlation that doesn’t flow together smoothly.

This movie also continues the spell that Marvel has been under since using Loki as a central antagonist in two different films, and that is a great lack of compelling villain to match the protagonists that it so richly devotes time to. Many people will disagree with me here, but this movie uses three different antagonists to make up for its lack of vision with even a single one. When the answer and intended direction finally does appear, it not only feels far too late to make the impact that this character deserves, but this character’s brief appearances on-and-off never give us time to build their importance. This can also be said about the other two groups of antagonists that couldn’t have been more boring during the first two acts. What does work about the characters is that this film feels like an apology to some supporting characters in the first movie that were glanced over. Nebula is given appropriate time in character dissection to finally cast an element of humanity to her tortured soul, Drax the Destroyer carries the comedy with brutish strength and stability that serve as the most dependable aspect in personality that Gunn is trying to convey, and Yondu embraces a road to retribution that has him seeking his own identity. Each of these characters play pivotal roles in the movie’s pacing and entertainment factor, and Volume 2 levels the playing field for their lack of involvement in the first movie that proves it may have been a tragic misstep.

I mentioned earlier that some aspects of the movie are slightly overdone, and this distinctly speaks to that of the music and comedy that was depicted in the film. What I can say positively about the music is that very few films use it to the level of importance that Guardians of the Galaxy does, and this revival of 70’s and 80’s rock favorites kind of serves as the Glee of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for what it does in reverting interest back to these tracks. But here it is gone to the well a bit too much. At 135 minutes, a lot of the length can be attributed to these scenes that completely stop every story or subplot to show Peter or Rocket listening to their favorite track. It doesn’t feel as smoothly depicted as the first movie because it’s so practically delivered here, and it’s a shame because it really is a smashing collection of toe-tapping struts. The comedy level is also raised much higher here, catering more to the laughs instead of the character in the sake of our actual Guardians. You will definitely laugh more than a few times if your experience is anything like mine, but once again this humor slows the movie’s progression down to work in scenes of improv that feel irritating after the first few times. If it’s a one-off line, I’m all for it. Make them laugh and move on. But there are quite a few scenes in this sequel that overstay their welcome far too much and far too long, giving the audience ample time to use the restroom and not miss anything. I’m not naive to not think that this group doesn’t cater to the feel good mood, but much of these lasting setups should’ve been deleted scenes that pushed the sales of the DVD, instead of testing the patience of humorous flow that took a beating by the stretched third act.

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 lacks the patience or practicality to play its greatest go-to hits of the first film that made it such a breakout smash, but Gunn’s return to the scene of his delightful crime does possess enough infectious laughter and visual flair to make this enticing well into the second hour. James sequel is overstuffed, but it’s overstuffed with the kind of joyous, silly, and often heartfelt family elements that makes this latest return to the galaxy one of undeniable pleasure. Good not great.

7/10

Colossal

The invasion of a giant creature from parts unknown centers around a down-on-her-luck-girl who bares a ‘Colossal’ effect on the rest of the world. Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is an out-of-work girl who, after getting kicked out of her apartment by her boyfriend Time (Dan Stevens), is forced to leave her life in New York and move back to her hometown. After re-connecting with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), the two examine Gloria’s past while the city around them literally crumbles. When news reports surface that a giant creature is destroying Seoul, South Korea, Gloria gradually comes to the realization that she is somehow connected to his far-off phenomenon. As events begin to spin out of control, Gloria must determine why her life is the motivation for this creature’s presence. Colossal is written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo, and is rated R for adult language.

Colossal is one of those films that is very difficult to translate into words. I know that I had a great time, and that Nacho Vigalondo is still one of the most effective directors in terms of relating to the heavy-handed themes that comes with the human spirit. More than anything, it feels like one of those movies where anything and everything is possible, most notably from the humans in the story who feel more self-destructive and imposing than that of their colossal counterparts. This is a world that feels distant from our own, but brings it all full circle with some honest reveals about self-reflection. It’s a story about empathy and the kinds of people that we surround ourselves with, on the road to returning to seek the kind of greatness that we were once destined to attain. But what makes it all so difficult in paraphrasing is that this beast (Pun intended) is something unlike anything that you have ever seen in terms of structure and attitude that don’t just rattle the audience, but rivets them to something much more than just a casual monster movie with loads of destruction. Vigalondo sir, you grabbed my attention early, and you held it in the palm of your hands through a truly challenging experience.

What I commend this movie most of all for is how many different tones and shifts within those tones that the movie breezes through effortlessly. The most difficult thing is grouping this kind of film into any kind of particular genre or sub, and that’s because it’s a film with a very surreal pulse that always kept me guessing. The comedy is rich, hitting me in the gut several times with well-timed awkward humor, compliments of observational material that always feels one step ahead of the audience just waiting to pull the curtain back. Beyond this is the drama, a nerve-shattering crescendo of dealing with the demons of alcoholism and abusive relationships that hinder our growth. It’s easy to see the problem, but it’s more cathartic to understand how it came to be. The thriller aspect was one that I never saw coming, but one that takes the second act of this movie to heart-pounding heights. This was where the film feels the biggest change in terms of tone, but it works because of how patient Nacho is with his characters and their actions, a true personal highlight of the film for me.

As for the screenplay, the film approaches this story at a metaphorical and literal level, obstructing the boundaries of our wildest depictions. I personally enjoyed the film more on a metaphorical stance because there’s so much to this puzzle that easily translates to that of human consequence that is easy enough to read between the lines. Gloria’s destruction on South Korea feels similar to that of the roller-coaster that she puts her closest acquaintances through. It’s also obvious to see the kind of monster that she becomes (Literal and metaphorical) when she reaches for the bottle. This aspect to her character is delivered so honestly and unapologetically that its embraces sometimes left me very embarrassed, as well as sad for this woman who knows the terror she inflicts night-after-night, but still returns to the scene of the crime. Is that scene the bar or South Korea? It all only adds to my point. As the film goes on to the later acts, it does start to lean slightly heavier on the literal side of things, building to a finale that did lack the fire power of what was built. I don’t say this in terms of the monster itself, but the demons inside of Gloria are never really given that moment of clarity. During the third act, it no longer feels like her story (More on that later), and that direction never allows us the time to celebrate her growth. The very end is proof of all of this, and it sometimes left me feeling like the most important battle was never defeated.

Without strong performances from Hathaway and Sudeikis, this film would feel the crunch of its imposing stature, and thankfully our two leads are more-than up to the task of carrying the weight. Anne Hathaway is an Oscar winner, so there’s no surprise at the layers of depth that her embrace of Gloria steers through. But what is so gripping about this woman is you see her doing all of these irresponsible things, yet the heart of her innocence is what shields you from the rain. So much of her performance is a callback to the girl she used to be, so there is that kind of hope that she’ll get there with persistence, a feat that leaves Anne standing as tall as her gigantic counterpart. Jason Sudeikis, where have you been? I knew this guy could act after stealing the show in 2016’s Race, but his work as Oscar is on a completely different level than anything he’s ever done. Perhaps the most honest aspect of Oscar’s character is that he always keeps you guessing, fighting through his own past that has molded the enigma that you see before you. Sudeikis’s performance doesn’t feel like a transformation, but more of the same guy who we’ve been watching for years, who we feel like is opening up for the first time. There’s a lot of fire in that basement that has been begging to be let out, and Nacho is happy to add the coals. There were times he shocked me, scared me, and settled me, a trio of emotional response that I didn’t know this comedian from Saturday Night Live could command. From here on out, I’ll never view him the same again.

Colossal is a screaming reminder to the monsters in our own closets that sometimes come out during the most undesirable of circumstances. Sometimes the biggest re-actions are caused by the smallest actions, and the struggles of self-control that define us. Vigalondo weaves a rich tapestry of tonal tantalizing to construct a new kind of beast all together, bringing along Hathaway and Sudeikis who leave very little room for error with their spell-binding portrayals. When people say they only wish to have fun and not think during monster flicks, they aren’t referring to Colossal. This one requires the mind and the heart to stay on.

8/10

The Lost City of Z

The search for a rumored nation of people brings a cryptic explorer to the forefront of the raging jungle. Based on author David Grann’s nonfiction bestseller, ‘The Lost City of Z’ tells the incredible true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who journeys into the Amazon at the dawn of the 20th century and discovers evidence of a previously unknown, advanced civilization that may have once inhabited the region. Despite being ridiculed by the scientific establishment who regard indigenous populations as “savages,” the determined Fawcett, supported by his devoted wife (Sienna Miller), son (Tom Holland) and aide-de-camp (Robert Pattinson), returns time and again to his beloved jungle in an attempt to prove his case, culminating in his mysterious disappearance in 1925. An epically scaled tale of courage and passion, told in writer/director James Gray’s classic filmmaking style. The Lost City of Z is written and directed by James Gray, and is rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some nudity.

The Lost City of Z found a way into my heart that very few two hour plus films do anymore. This structure in storytelling and various depth in plots is the kind of justifiable leap that you take when it comes to an investment as big as this one (135 Minutes), and it paid off in presenting to me a film that touches so unapologetically on so many life themes about becoming the person we were destined to become. Sound cliche and a bit tacky, I’m sure, but James Gray’s masterful touch at bringing to life a story with such a massive following like this one, speaks volumes considering our current day release takes place more than one hundred years after the initial setting of this picture. At its core, The Lost City of Z is structured like a horror movie. Don’t believe me? A crew of men take a dangerous cross-world journey of uncertainty to clash with the boundaries of stepping on a land that is run by cannibals. But even so, Gray’s story dabbles in these bloody waters while still capturing an essence that very few nail on such a collective grasp of the details as this one does.

My mind raced at the very brutal consequences of time, and just how important of a hand that it played in Percy’s explorations. One thing that I loved so dearly about this movie was its jumbled sense of time misdirection, which is obviously that of intentional directing by Gray. My lone problem coming out of this film was that the jungle sequences sometimes blend together because there’s no sense of time translation in text, nor in physical features like different clothes or longer beards. Then it hit me; James uses this to establish the pay-as-you-play kind of rules to following your dreams and immersing yourself in imaginative waters. This theory of mine was made even more apparent when he includes text in every time jump in story while Percy and his crew are out of the amazon. To play further into my ideal of this, I believe Gray is showing us how easy it was for Percy to get lost in his own expedition, forgetting the humbling evidence until he gets home. We are treated to gut-wrenching visuals that depict his children and wife getting older, while our central protagonist (At least immediately) still looks the same. It’s touches like this that kept me glued to the on-going events that always seem to stand in the way of this passionate man that was once an order to explore, but has now become his life’s mission.

After you get past the first twenty minutes, the film constantly keeps moving, crediting that of storytelling that paces itself out accordingly in epic style fashion. The film’s responsible direction to show the audience how dangerous and taxing that a trip like this was in 1915 is one that I commend dearly, and this decision radiates effortlessly throughout the film. Physically in brutality, some characters are killed in the waters by creatures that they cannot see. Mentally, the exceeding limits of sanity and bodily torture are pushed through an endurance test of iron man proportions. It all sets up to a finale that has as much sentimentality in heart as it does fear in our confidence with Percy and how much age has finally caught up to him. I fear that some people will feel underwhelmed by the final shots of the movie, but I drank it in for the rewards it instilled into our lead protagonist. It is definitely the peaceful catch-22 that Percy needed, but from an audience standpoint, I can see some complaining about the juice not being worth the squeeze. I disagree because it’s never about what we see, it’s about what HE does, and in that regards, this feels like the peak of the mountain.

The technical tapestry provided some truly elegant aspects to the overall cinematography for Gray’s right hand man, Darius Khondji. As the director of photography here, Darius pops his colorful touch at just the right moments. From the grainy sun-eclipsing shading that vibrantly commute Percy’s enjoyable home life, to the blending of greens that overtake the screen with each trip for this mystical land, this film radiates the conflicting backdrops in land that constantly serve as a reminder just how far these men are away from home. I also greatly enjoyed the makeup work of the 12-person crew that brought the aging process to life in a faithful way for once in Hollywood cinema. It’s rare that I will commend a movie for this aspect because most of the time the aging process is presented in laughably bad context, showcasing an all grey wig, or skin so wrinkled that it looks like our characters have sat in the sun for too long. If you can’t do it right, just cast older actors to play the roles. Thankfully, this film’s production team accomplish so much by doing so little, and it’s in those light touches that we pick up on without being bashed over the head with its gimmick. For Charlie Hunnam, we are treated to a lighter shade of blonde than the one he adorns for the earlier acts of the movie, as well as some light aging around the eyes that tell of the stress that this character has endured. What’s even more impressive is that this crew does it without turning the movie into a laugh riot, something that goes a long way in my final grade.

Not to be outdone by the technical of the story however, the main trio of actors bring so much humanity and personality to their respective roles, each of them giving arguably their best performances to date. I had my doubts about how deep of an actor that Hunnam could be, but as Percy we get the dreamers protagonist who does so without feeling cocky or crass. Hunnam reminds me a lot of a young Brad Pitt for how he is able to emote empathy from the audience who see this man who practically has everything. This is a tough guy with loads of heart to boot, and Hunnam’s urgency brought goosebumps to me on more than one occasion in his fight against time. Sienna Miller also dazzles as Percy’s wife Nina. Miller herself always feels like a chameleon because she transforms her identity over and over again. I was awestruck at how I didn’t recognize her until an hour into the film, when she had been acting in front of me up until that time. Her identity became evident on a random expression that I otherwise might’ve went the whole movie uncertain at this new actress who is holding up her own against the boys. Robert Pattinson though, is the true surprise for me. As Henry, Pattinson commands a redemption tale through the eyes of a struggling alcoholic who now sees purpose for his life. He does it all in his best John Lennon appearance, and it is intriguing how easily this man loses himself in this role, despite a third act that is less than kind to the creativity of his character. Robert has earned a fan out of me because of his subtle delivery that constantly feels like the cloud of clarity for these characters. A cloud that rightfully earns him the status as Percy’s right hand man, a man who is always quick to cast a hilarious truth.

The Lost City of Z is easily the grandest surprise that I have had the pleasure of taking in this year. James Gray adds to an already astonishing list of visual accomplishments by succeeding at his most ambitious project to date; a nearly two-and-a-half-hour epic that pays homage to Herzog and Lean. Hunnam and Pattinson were made for the big stage, committing to a journey of ambiguity that like the water that surrounds them, always keeps rushing. When you walk out of a movie this long begging for more, it’s a sign of a modern classic, and Gray is happy to construct the kind of movies that make you think as well as gasp.

10/10

The Promise

The Turkish dream for an Armenian refuge envelopes him into ‘The Promise’ that will shape his life for better or worse. Empires fall, love survives, hope stands still. In 1915, at the beginning of World War I, Michael (Oscar Isaac), a brilliant medical student, meets Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), their shared Armenian heritage sparks an attraction that explodes into a romantic rivalry between Michael and Ana’s boyfriend Chris (Christian Bale), a famous American photojournalist dedicated to exposing political truths that shake in controversy. As the Ottoman Empire crumbles into war-torn chaos, their conflicting passions must be deferred while the two men join forces to get their people to safety and survive themselves to get back to their cherished woman. The Promise is written and directed by Terry George, and is rated PG-13 for thematic material including war attrocities, violence and disturbing images, and some sexuality.

At 129 minutes of run time, Terry George’s World War I epic walks a tight rope of entertaining nature between two areas; love and war. After watching the trailer of this movie, you might be steered in an incorrect momentum with the film’s direction, but I was legitimately shocked at how opposite the finished product gears itself towards. For a movie that hints at the love triangle between that of Isaac, Le Bon, and Bale, there’s very little exposition or payoff to that particular emphasis of the story, opting more for the conflicts and suffering that the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire brought these characters. I don’t have any problems what so ever with a film that is surrounded by bloodshed, but there’s so much setup during the first act of this triangle that honestly goes very far or resolves itself accordingly for dramatic syntax. What I did enjoy was that for once these are two equals in male moral stigma, making the female protagonist’s choice, as well as the audience’s that much more enthralling. This gives more pull to the idea of you not wanting to see either one of them broken-hearted. Props to for George, who remains faithful throughout the film in keeping this an Armenian told story of bravery. Through a lesser director, this would easily become Bale’s movie, but Terry keeps the focus right where it needs to be, offering a fresh take of this angle of World War I that has rarely been told on-screen.

The pacing is what will honestly be the biggest negative for audiences, because this is one movie that goes back-and-forth between which conflict deserves the majority of the run time. It feels like an 80-20% ratio in terms of war dominating love here, and because of that we never get the kind of focus on the characters that dilutes their one-note angles. I was right there for the first act of the movie, because there is a strong coming-of-age story here with Michael’s branching away from home on his own. There is a kind of hinted at poetic justice for the idea of this terrible tragedy that has befuddled all of these people, yet life still moves forward for Michael on a road of love-and-loss that pushes him to age that much faster. The second act is where things really kind of halted for my experience. During this time, the setup feels slightly repetitive and even rushed through some notable events that could’ve used more psychological sting on our protagonist. The attitude of the film stays on one level of somber throughout the film. That is expected for war, but not something that gravitates audiences to the story closer. A fine example is in Saving Private Ryan, when despite the war, these young men are still stopping to tell a joke or bust each others chops. That kind of depth in personality felt non-existent here, and due to its lack, this story will drag in more ways that one for you as you push through the second hour of the film.

Props to the production team is evident in nearly every aspect of the visual spectrum of this movie, as HD cameras combine modern medicines in filming to really grasp that epic feel. When reading about this style choice for this film, I worried that it would take away too much of the taste in time, when everything felt weathered and bleak. Thankfully, George is the kind of filmmaker who knows when to pull back, and because so we are treated to some gorgeously infinite landscape shots in the Turkish deserts, as well as a some water sequences that put us right in the middle of this chilling compromise in weather shifts. With an HD camera, the splashing of water can feel authentic, replicating a movement in volume that you can’t help but adore at. There are some shaky transitions in chase scenes, but thankfully the editing covers up a majority of the problem, leaving very little to point out when they happen. For me, it was really the angles leaving slightly more to be desired in the characters that we’re following. Close is always better for suspense, and I have no clue as to why everything was pointed so far out.

I mentioned earlier that the characters could’ve been stronger in the film, but thankfully that didn’t hinder the performances, as this trio of actors never phoned in one aspect to their performances. Bale is one of the best character actors in the world, no doubt. I was slightly worried in the beginning that his wooden release would stick around, but as the film went on I distinctly heard the urgency and vulnerability in his voice that relayed the dire consequences of this situation. Le Bon definitely gives her best performance to date as Ana. In her, we get a woman who loves children, and at times feels like one herself. This aspect gives her performance a compassionate aspect to the movie that we rarely get. It certainly makes it easier to justify why these two men are willing to travel the ends of the Earth for her heart. Oscar Isaac has been one of my favorite actors for a while now, and The Promise is another example of his movie to steal. The transformation for Michael from a once ambitious medical student to a veteran of war who suffers some great losses along the way, played beautifully into Isaac’s hand of emotional distribution, an aspect that never runs low on tears or goosebump-appearing moments. Isaac himself isn’t even remotely Armenian, so the credit to make his accent that much more authentic rests solely on the shoulders of one of the truly most versatile actors of the past decade.

The Promise is a long-winded and often times convoluted screenplay that rarely gives us the answers in dramatic climaxes that we seek to satisfy in such an investment. What does work about George’s ambitious project is that of his leading cast, as well as the camera work in landscapes that easily immerse our imaginations back to a hundred years ago. This is very much a movie of two opposite directions that are never equally distributed, nor never crossing paths to offer a moment of peaking example. Giving us a story that unfortunately doesn’t live up to the grandeur of visual offerings.

5/10

The Fate of the Furious

The fastest moving series of movies get an eighth installment, in Fate of the Furious. Now that Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are on their honeymoon, and Brian and Mia have retired from the game-and the rest of the crew has been exonerated, the globetrotting team has found a semblance of a normal life. But when a mysterious woman (Charlize Theron) seduces Dom into the world of crime he can’t seem to escape and a betrayal of those closest to him, they will face trials that will test them as never before. From the shores of Cuba and the streets of New York City to the icy plains off the arctic Barents Sea, the elite force will crisscross the globe to stop an anarchist from unleashing chaos on the world’s stage… and to bring home the man who made them a family. Fate of the Furious is directed by F Gary Gray, and is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content, and language.

After eight movies in this series, one thing is for certain; this film jumped the shark a long time ago. With its latest chapter titled The Fate of the Furious, the shark isn’t just jumped, it’s pulled out of the water, laced with steroids, and told to do the humpty dance. F Gary Gray’s latest is the first truly bad movie in the series, and that’s disappointing coming from a director as prominent and accomplished as he. I’m not crazy enough to think that my thoughts on this movie will be in the majority with Furious fans. This is very much a movie that they will eat up because it is basically catering service full of pokes and prods that know are used accordingly when the audience requires a smile or giggle to remind them that they are having a good time. This forceful method clearly illustrated how manipulative and desperate that this film felt as opposed to the previous efforts. Before, the idea of the characters and subplots being enough were given the free time to reign supreme, but in here there’s no weight or gravity to the events in these two hours and eleven minutes to justify the offering after a near perfect conclusion in the last film.

For the first half of the movie, I was actually enjoying myself. There’s a cheesy feeling of superhero atmosphere to these films now that relay the idea that anything on and off of the road is possible. The mission briefing in airplanes and government labs practically scream that of S.H.I.E.L.D in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the idea of turning a hero against his team has recently been done in films like Civil War and Batman Vs Superman. The first act gets our blood pumping with some dynamic expositional work on where our characters have been, and it works in reiterating their traits and personalities well. The second act does up the ante, as there are two big surprises that shape out the remainder of the film. My problem with these attempts were how they are literally fizzled away as the movie goes on, leaving very little cause or effect for their existence. One of these involves the past of Dom’s character, and I really commended the film for adding intriguing depth to his character, but it makes it clearly obvious for another character on what’s to follow, thanks to an introduction early on in the movie between Dom and Lettie that spilled the beans on the future of their relationship. The other was a disappointment because it proved to me how much bravery is lacking from this series to pull the trigger on casting a memorable scene to make this one stand out with the better films in this series. This leads to the third act, which not only felt weightless to the previous two hours that I spent with these people, but also costly in character to one particular character who is relegated to wink-and-nod moments at the camera. More on that later. If you consider what happens in this movie from point A to point Z, there’s so little impact or shifting in the conflict of this plot, and this related more to the actual superhero genre aspect that I mentioned earlier.

I do commend the movie for some outstanding devastation action sequences that remind audiences just how far this series has grown in overall gross. This film is full of awestruck moments that defy the kind of stunt work and aerodynamics that we can muster on a public setting like New York City. The Big Apple isn’t alone however, as the chaos follows our cast of characters on more than one continent, carrying with it a simmering pot that is constantly rising in carnage-inducing mayhem. Most of the camera work does do the quick-cut editing that drives me nuts, but here those cuts are used to show the angle of the same crash from a different angle, something that does go a long way in registering the fast-paced action. I was overall floored by how many cars and buildings are sacrificed to conjure up the richest budget to date (250 million) in its sixteen year existence, and this steep investment pays off grandly for some gravity-defining moments that brings the gas to this supercharged engine of gripping proportions.

Accordingly, the pacing too is constantly kept moving, despite an overall run time that does feel about twenty minutes too long. A lot of that reason is because the action sequences take a majority of the screen time over exposition, that while it doesn’t do wonders for our characters, does keep the eyes of the auditorium glued to the screen in building the ever-growing intensity. The overall tone for the film does clash on more than one occasion however, jading the compromising blend in earlier editions of off-the-wall silliness and espionage scenarios that still find a way to bring out the fun in the most tense of situations. My guess for what it doesn’t work here is two-fold; one, we’ve already seen this multitude of attitude played out on more than one occasion, so it doesn’t feel as fresh by chapter eight, and two, this film in particular does rely slightly more on the serious manner to sludge through the compromising second act. To me, it’s either go big or go home, and the idea of anyone trying to take these movies seriously waived goodbye a long time ago. I myself get a lot of criticism for this aspect in my grading, but if we rake weaker movies than this over the coals for their juxtapositions on tone, then why does a bunch of mechanics gone spies given an alternative take?

On the subject of some of those people in this story, I often wonder why any of them ever worked on cars in the first place. Surely their capabilities in martial arts fighting, computer hacking to the highest government degree, and intelligent planning for events that haven’t even come up yet, clearly could have made them some of the more sought out people by government agencies. These characters don’t even slightly resemble who they were when we were first introduced to them many moons ago, so I won’t go there. What I will say is that there are a couple of solid performances in the movie, and a majority of mostly bad or ineffective ones. On the latter, my logic is that the ever-growing number of series regulars in this film has clearly reached its ceiling level, and could afford to lose more than one. Charlize Theron was sadly unmemorable as the antagonist for the film. Some of her dialogue with Dom sounds like it was written by a college student seeking his first script approval, and there’s little about her as a villain that makes her complex or memorable. The Rock is as charismatic as ever, but some of his dialogue too suffers from the syndrome of the big guy trying to be the cool guy far too often. His long-winded deliveries sometimes require an edit that we sadly don’t get, and are relegated to sitting by for him to reach his point. My positives are that of Vin Diesel (Surprisingly) and Tyrese Gibson. Tyrese stands out from everyone else because he is the one silly character who knows his purpose; he’s the comic relief. Gibson manages this by poking fun at himself on many numerous occasions, and I couldn’t get enough of his honest observations of how ridiculous this whole thing truly is. Diesel gives arguably his best performance to date. His screen time is brief, but what I dig about him here as opposed to other films is a hearty layering to his performance that gives him that human vulnerability for once. Diesel does bring the tears, and his fleshed-out deliveries give us faith that he will one day star in something better.

If this is The Fate of the Furious, then let it be the last in what little respect that this franchise has left. F Gary Gray’s turn takes several misfires on dialogue, consistency in tone, and bravery in script that constantly settles for predictability. This eighth installment is a constant reminder of the overabundance of mileage that the creativity has endured, so now might be as good of a time as ever to evacuate the car. Unfortunately, I’m sure Dom Toretto will figure out a method using toothpicks and Jolly Ranchers to keep this engine running long past its logical date.

5/10

Ghost in the Shell

One woman’s fuzzy recollection of the night that changed everything for her, has her taking on the role of the ‘Ghost in the Shell’. In the near future, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals. When terrorism reaches a new level that includes the ability to hack into people’s minds and control them, Major is uniquely qualified to stop it. As she prepares to face a new enemy, Major discovers that she has been lied to: her life was not saved, it was stolen. She will stop at nothing to recover her past, find out who did this to her and stop them before they do it to others. Based on the internationally acclaimed Japanese Manga of the same name, ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is directed by Rupert Sanders, and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, suggestive content and some disturbing images.

The American version of Ghost in the Shell serves as a beautifully energetic cliff notes version of the 1995 popular Anime original, even if it lacks some of the more diverse material from its source material. There’s plenty for new fans and even fans of the original to gaze at for the live action adaptation that hits all of the production high notes that one could ask for. Coming in at 97 breezy minutes, Sanders film is paced accordingly for the most part, speeding through a one track direction of plot. If anything, this will be the sole negatives of Ghost in the Shell enthusiasts because it lacks dipping into the creative waters of espionage, cyber terrorism, and even shell philosophies that pose many thought-provoking questions for audiences to ponder at. Even still, I had a blast with this movie, and my opinion is that Sanders is a director who cares passionately for the original story, emulating a visual treat that encompasses the best in the worlds of Blade Runner and The Running Man. Films like these were made for the big screen, and demands a top notch projection system that demands you pay a couple of extra bucks for a feature presentation that will tie audiences over until the Summer blockbuster season hits us.

What I love about the message in this particular story is one of humanity’s dependency upon technology being the beautiful rose that pricks us full of thorns. A concept that is certainly nothing new for cinema, but one that does hold great weight in our current day advancements that seem to be overtaking our own society. From the outside, this is a world that looks beautiful and prosperous, illuminating the streets with neon and holograms that decorate the skies above. But upon a closer look, there’s a poison that is slowly eating away at this world; a yearning for the bigger, better invention, and one that’s begging becomes regretful once people get a taste. It’s clear that those enveloped in the experiments of this company are still clinging to that past where everything was simple, and being human was simply enough. It proves that with advancements comes great vulnerability, a concept that will hold great staying power over time with where our own advancements take us. A beautiful apparition at such a steep cost.

On the subject of some of those visuals and the overall production, Sanders and team illustrate a world that feels light years ahead of our own, even when our own realities exist within the picture. I’m a sucker for future films that depict an ambitious world of foreign concepts, and this film certainly partook in that realm. There always seems to be an immense cloud of fog hanging over the landscapes, perhaps an isolation of dread and doom for the last remaining human originals who find themselves with an alienating presence in this new world. The fight scenes felt very fluid with that of an androids pulses and movements, and I also greatly enjoyed the new wave/techno musical score by legendary composer Clint Mansell. This is the same guy who musically narrated Requiem For a Dream among many other films, so his immersing inside of a dark and gloomy world is certainly nothing new for the composing prodigy. His tones take us through suspense, action, and great tragedy, all that center around this mind inside of a body, searching for her identity. This 1-2 combination landed soundly in immersing myself in this vibrantly compromising world that was accurately lifted from the animation of one of the 90’s most impactful films.

The performances was one aspect that I was greatly terrified with, but Johansson leads a promising cast that nearly perfectly depicts this wide range of characters. As Major, Scarlett might not reach the visual acceptance of her animated counterpart, but what she lacks in visuals, she more than makes up for in robotic delivery and movements that cement her status for the part. Normally, the idea of a hollow performance would be one to poke away at with negatives, but in this movie it is necessary for the background in story that her character entails. Johansson has rarely been one to steal the show, but this is without question her best performance to date, slowly transforming back into the human being that her mind still recognizes her as. It was cool to see her movements and speech patters start to break the confinement of this company, and I still greatly hoped that this tragedy filled character could one day live again. Props also to Michael Pitt and Pilou Asbaek as two of the more prominent figures in Major’s life. It would be expected for a film to make Asbaek’s Batou Major’s significant other, but thankfully his ruggedly sarcastic protagonist serves better as her law enforcement equal. I greatly enjoyed watching the patter between them lead to a laugh or two to break the ice in this otherwise serious picture. Pitt continues to be one of Hollywood’s most versatile of actors as Kuze, a cyber hacker who has his own secret to spill. In Michael, we see an honorable, if not destructive character with his own earnest intentions at taking down this new world, and Pitt is certainly happy to oblige on drawing a faded line between menace and heart to relate him to the audience’s human side.

There’s not much that I actually complained about in this film, and what I did happened all coincidentally within the confines of the third act that feels jarringly different from the rest of the film. The movie’s pacing through the first hour of the movie has a one track mind in that it focuses in a cut-and-dry manner on the one conflict throughout. With a half hour left, the film realizes that it hasn’t answered much about Major’s past or the real antagonist at hand, and instead of comfortably transpiring everything smoothly, it does indeed feel slightly rushed in the most impatient of scenarios. There’s also a certain aspect to the script that is revealed in the final fifteen minutes that will surely add fuel to the fire for the white-washing enthusiasts who have marred the lead up to this film. I didn’t so much have a problem with the event that happens itself, but more so in the film’s morality which did unsettle my expectations for how they were going to handle this scene from the original. I was not pleased, and just wish they would’ve left it out completely to spare ridicule.

Ghost in the Shell does live up to the ambitious visual spectrum that offers a multitude of gazing for all of its rich and luxurious tastes. While the overall message does fall slightly short of the many things that the animated counterpart immersed in, there is plenty here to bridge the gap between fans and anti-fans of the anime genre that will maximize their interests in other similar properties. Sanders grasp creatively is just enough to recommend this adaptation for what it truly is; a visually compelling sizzle that lacks the meat in the department of thought-provoking material.

6/10

CHIPS

‘CHIPS’ is the latest 70’s television show to get the big screen treatment, in this remake starring Dax Shepard and Michael Pena. Jon Baker (Dax Shepard) and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Peña) have just joined the California Highway Patrol (CHP) in Los Angeles but for very different reasons. Baker is a beaten up pro motor-biker trying to put his life and marriage back together. Poncherello is a cocky undercover Federal agent investigating a multi-million dollar heist that may be an inside job—inside the CHP. The inexperienced rookie and hardened pro are teamed together, but clash more than click, so kick-starting a partnership is easier said than done. But with Baker’s bike skills combined with Ponch’s street savvy it might just work…if they don’t drive each other crazy along the way. ‘CHIPS’ is written and directed by Dax Shepard himself, and is rated R for crude sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, some violence and drug use.

‘CHIPS’ is an interesting concept in script and tone because I’m not quite so sure about who it is marketed towards. Fans of the 70’s television show won’t like it because it abandons the working formula that made the series a success for five years. Youthful fans who have never seen the show and just want to watch a good movie won’t like it because there’s nothing funny or entertaining about this juvenile film that can barely be called a remake. Over the last fifteen years, remakes of 70’s and 80’s TV shows have been hit or miss for their finished products. Most notably, films like ’21 Jump Street’ or ‘The Man From UNCLE’ have attained that rare stamp of approval from TV enthusiasts of the original, while films like ‘Starsky and Hutch’ and ‘Dark Shadows’ have done lasting damage. Unfortunately, ‘CHIPS’ will fall with the latter because this often distracted bro-comedy offers very little homage or memorable material to justify its presence among the remake ranks. This is Shepard’s second time behind the camera, and its clear that his admirable ambitions overshoots the actuality of his grip on the pulse of this particular franchise.

At 96 minutes, there’s very little in positive returns for that of a script that takes every ten minutes to halt what little momentum these characters or subplots build on. One example of such is the noticeable stance on homophobia, which holds no bearing or place in this particular story. Because of this, ‘CHIPS’ often feels like it was made ten years too late, when the poking fun of cultural explorers because eye-rolling. Often times, this movie feels like it was written by a minor who just peeped his first nudity magazine. The R-rating is used to show female breasts, or to let the cast drop the occasional F bomb, which has zero impact on their overall comedic timing or flawed delivery. Even more so, this movie has some of the most obvious foreshadowing in storytelling that I have seen most recently. It’s easy to spot these lines from the second they are presented because often it holds no meaning or accordance to the material being shuffled in dialogue. Some of these examples were Shepard’s character having bionic limbs from bike accidents, so he tells his captain on the first interview that rain is bad for him. So of course there will be a scene where rain prominently pops up. Another one involves Shepard saying he hates blending house smells because they make him vomit, so of course we are going to have a scene where this gets to him. Pena and Shepard have a conversation early on about girls who marry their fathers, then sure enough there’s a line of dialogue by the end of a movie where a female cop explains that she likes Shepard because he reminds her of her father. This isn’t even half of what I found, and it makes the material more than slightly telegraphed as I waited for the ending.

Then there’s the dialogue, a literal hodge-podge of awful line reading. At first I wondered if this was intentional to play up to the laughably bad forced readings of 70’s nostalgia, but then I realized what little in storyline progression that this movie actually had. This film has this vast offering of multiple scenes that will halt in order for Pena and Shepard to discuss their latest sexual conquests. Most of the time it’s things that the typical grown up would learn in high school, and it hangs what is going on around them in mid-air waiting patiently for when they finish up. I will get more to the characters later on, but Pena’s character in particular crippled me, as every other line of dialogue concluded with a “bro”. On top of that, most of these reads feel like they never should’ve made the finished product, as they rarely ever feel believable through the dense fog of ludicrous developments. Now I’m not foolish enough to expect great dialogue from the CHIPS remake, but it does help the entertainment value if I can immerse myself and believe that these two idiots are officers of the law to benefit the story.

As for the performances, there was nothing of any charismatic charm or finesse to justify the casting of Pena and Shepard beyond the latter’s triple layer mold of power on the project. What passes for character exposition in this movie is the most brief of offerings for us to indulge in. Pena’s character is a sex addict, that’s it. That is all that we have to hang our investment of this character on. Shepard’s is at least slightly more in-depth; he’s an ex-motocross performer whose wife is cheating on him. How could you not want to spend over an hour-and-a-half with these guys? Beyond this, the two have virtually no on-screen chemistry between them, often times feeling like two actors who just met and were asked outside to come in and put on a show on-stage for twenty people. Vincent D’Onofrio is decent, but the biggest aspect to his character is that we learn something about his moral stigma early on that the movie doesn’t catch up to for another eighty minutes, taking us through the most obvious of movie mysteries.

I do have one positive to this movie however, and it’s that Shepard at least has a distinct view for bike chase sequences that serve as the single lone aspect that outdoes the original. These scenes don’t come nearly enough in the overall finished product, but there are some exceptionally well depicted tracking shots that take us through the ritzy areas of Beverly Hills. These luxurious landscapes breeze by through each swerve and turn that our protagonists take us on, and it overall makes for a fast-paced action thrill ride that serves as the brief moment that this film takes our breath away. I also greatly enjoyed the POV style that put us face-to-face with our riders as they embrace the fast-and-dangerous lifestyle. Most of the time, POV won’t work because you miss what is most important that is going on around the actors and action, but the rendering here is justifiable because these officers are constantly imbedded in the chaos that surrounds them.

Whatever CHIPS intends to be, one thing is certain; this film lacks the energy and chemistry of a 70’s TV show by comparison (Laugh intended). A staggerly unfunny comedy that puppeteers the sensitivity of homophobia and important female leads. Something that would make sense in the 70’s, but not in a politically correct 2017 that has grown above that. Shepard has an artistic eye for motocross sequences and little else. Perhaps a future in the X-Games, instead of feature length films is just up his alley. Either way, CHIPS is coming to a yard sale near you.

3/10