Logan Lucky

The down-and-out luck of two loser brothers hinge on the theft of millions that will earn them the tag ‘Logan Lucky’. Trying to reverse a family curse, brothers Jimmy (Channing Tatum), who is recently unemployed, and Clyde Logan (Adam Driver), who is forever with one arm, set out to execute an elaborate robbery during the legendary Coca-Cola 600 race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. To do so, they will need the help of a crime mastermind Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) who himself is behind bars. The brothers ban together to construct a plan to get Joe out of the hole, as well as construct the step-by-step procedure in ripping off the Nascar circuit without getting caught or even losing their lives. ‘Logan Lucky’ is the comeback movie from critically acclaimed retired director Steven Soderbergh, and is rated PG-13 for adult language and some crude comments.

Thank the movie cinema lord above that Steven Soderbergh is back behind the camera where he belongs. Following an impressive career with box office hits like ‘Traffic’, ‘Contagion’, and of course the ‘Oceans’ trilogy, Steven opted to take a break from the silver screen to front success in the television market, and while I wish him all of the luck in any kind of media that he attempts, it is clear that the man has not lost his touch with visual storytelling that fronts arguably the best narrative in a Soderbergh film that I have ever seen. ‘Logan Lucky’ is definitely not without its problems. At nearly two hours long, the film does start to overstay its welcome with a third act that presents some unnecessary tension and dramatic pull during a time when it feels like the movie should be wrapping up. But on the overall spectrum, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have a fun time with the wacky hijinks surrounding this historically unlucky family, and their quest to restore their good name amongst a town that has practically written them off a long time ago. To that degree, Steven too feels like the right man for the job, and his latest is proof that this critically heralded director still has some strong days ahead, even if he is venturing back to familiar territory.

With four heist movies now under his belt, it’s difficult not to credit Soderbergh with being the best heist movie director of all time, if such an award truly exists. For ‘Logan Lucky’, I will credit him as a director and writer because we all know Steven plays with pseudonyms in his cast when he chooses to do things incognito. With helming this script, he manages to add some original flares in narration to keep it fresh along the way, pointing to the belief that he has in his audience to be patient with this developing plot and characters. There are aspects to the story that immediately will feel like throwaway dialogue or one-off scenes to pad time, but what I found astonishing was that each and every little piece connects to a bigger picture, and once you start to understand how the grinds turn in this giant machine, you start to truly appreciate what the movie is trying to communicate in if you’re still paying attention. Like most heist films, it does take a degree or two of sustaining disbelief, being that some of these methods to get the cash rely on faith at best, so it’s in those aspects of the film that I feel people will either be on board or not when it finishes their overall dissection on the picture.

The film is very funny and responsible with its dialogue and depiction of Southern U.S.A without feeling too truly overbearing on stereotypes or cultural perception to an insulting degree. I feel like Soderbergh understands these small towns and the conversations alike, so much so that he conveys between these colorfully animated characters that he orchestrates with a light-hearted element of focus on family and the importance that it plays into every decision.. I compare it a lot to ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’, in that so much of their disconnect from the rest of the world isn’t seen so much as something that is lacking, but rather an educational spin on atmosphere that could help everyone outside of the bubble understand their knowledge of the way the world spins tri-fold. Steven’s award winning cinematography behind the lens is also important in said atmosphere, mainly because his exceptional work in editing and pasting keeps the air fresh with movement to feed into these vulnerable angles. Some scenes will have you wondering why they were depicted in such a manner, mainly the crotch shot of Daniel Craig doing push-ups, but it’s to constantly remind audiences that this is a comedy first, and it is one that goes hand-in-hand with juggling such extreme consequences that come with laying it all on the line for one wealthy score.

If there was a weakness to the film for me, it was as I mentioned earlier the spotty third act that feels like it prolongs the dramatic pull long after we as an audience have crossed that bridge, as well as a twist during the third act that frankly doesn’t make sense. A certain A-lister is introduced to the film with only twenty minutes left of it, and it all felt like slightly unnecessary tension that honestly goes nowhere with the film’s ending. Just before the credits roll, it’s kind of left in a hinting way that this story is far from finished, and that feels like a cop-out with how cleverly decisive everything was wrapped up in the closing moments from seeing the whole plan play out in real time. It sticks out more evidently because the first two acts of this movie are so crisp and careful in its planning, choosing to focus more on the build-up to the big day, rather than the heist itself, and it’s incredibly smart in this direction. Once we care about the characters and what is going into every measure of this plan, the impact of it all will connect like falling dominos one clap at a time.

This especially well-rounded cast also does a marvelous and committed job to their characters, sticking to details in personal traits that held up astoundingly through two hours. We can all silence the doubt that Channing Tatum cannot act anymore because this kid can lead a film with such heart and empathy that it makes you almost forget you are watching one of the best looking men in Hollywood, and instead seeing a small town hick with a bad knee spitting tar. Tatum’s accent is consistent throughout the film, and I feel that he has always flourished with wacky comedies like this and anything from the Coen Brothers. Adam Driver for me was the true whirlwind of this picture however. We’ve gotten to the point where Driver is so much more than just delightful with his dry delivery, he’s also gravitating an emotional pull under the surface that channels a side to humanity that very few are able to pull off in 21st century cinema, and I credit him for being so much of the movie’s pulse when sometimes the moral fiber is wearing thin. The reason for a lot of that is Daniel Craig and his unforgettable turn as explosives expert Joe Bang. With a name like that, you know you’re destined for a layered wild card of a character, and Craig certainly doesn’t disappoint, exchanging his English accent and Bond tuxedo for a Southern drawl and bleached blonde hair that truly brings out the hick in him. Craig is possibly the last guy I would expect for a role like this, so it makes it all the more mesmerizing when you see a suave actor like him commit and have fun to a role that couldn’t be any more polar opposite of his demeanor. A true hoot.

THE VERDICT – ‘Logan Lucky’ races to the finish line ahead of most of the pack in the overcrowded heist genre, and does so with one of its master drivers at the helm. Soderbergh’s much anticipated return to the silver screen is a fun thrill ride that does skid at the end of the journey, but the entertainment factor of a big list cast, as well as a carefully mapped out script, gives this one enough traction to pace itself through the slick turns of dramatic digestion that sometimes oversells itself. With a successful comeback, perhaps we are the lucky ones.

7/10

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Even a ruthless hitman needs protection, so he calls on ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’. The world’s top special protection agent (Ryan Reynolds) called upon to guard the life of his mortal enemy, one of the world’s most notorious hitmen (Samuel L. Jackson). The relentless bodyguard and manipulative assassin have been on the opposite end of the bullet for years and are thrown together for a wildly outrageous 24 hours. During their raucous and hilarious adventure from England to the Hague, they encounter high-speed car chases, outlandish boat escapades and a merciless bloodthirsty Eastern European dictator (Gary Oldman) who is out for blood. Salma Hayek joins the mayhem as Jackson’s equally notorious wife. The trio must team together if they wish to defeat their ruthless stalker. ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ is directed by Patrick Hughes, and is rated R for strong violence and adult language throughout.

Remember that time when Deadpool, Nick Fury, and Elektra all teamed up to ruin the evil plan of Commissioner Gordon? That cute and colorful attempt at humor is going to possibly be the most memorable aspect of ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’, a film so ridiculed by amateur filmmaking that even the charismatic combination of two charming male leads isn’t enough to overcome its deficiencies. This film serves as the latest in 90’s action comedy buddy flicks like ‘Money Talks’ and ‘Bulletproof’, that draws a noticeable rinse, wash, repeat outline to its script, offering nothing new to make it memorably salvageable. Of the two films I mentioned, the latter one feels eerily similar to the very outline of this movie, in that two rivals must team together after one has wronged the other, they take a cross country trip together that takes them through the backroads of some pretty silly situations, and it all centers around the concepts of taking a bullet for one another. That’s not to say that ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ is ripping off ‘Bulletproof’, it’s just that this genre of film has been tapped so dry that the only thing interchangeable at this point are the actors who can personalize it to theirs and the audience’s amusement.

Before I begin to critique this film, I will tell you that the performances lift my score dramatically, and kept a lot of this generic action movie fresh for me. I have always been a huge fan of Reynolds, but he’s best when he has a force of equal value to bounce off of. As the deadpan, straight man of the movie, Ryan is irresistible when it comes to drawing a smile out of you, even if it comes at the expense of his character’s calculated precision. With Jackson, it’s everything at an opposite. His character thrives on impulse and rash decision making, so when these two come together, they make a dynamic duo that equally compliments one another fluently. The film definitely moves accordingly whenever these two are on-screen, but what does the rest of it offer? Well, an R-rated performance turned in by Salma Hayek, who is easy to fall in love with, but isn’t the widest range of character once you’ve seen her material on one scene. The film refuses to elevate her as anything more than this expletive instilled firecracker who serves as nothing more than the trophy to that of Jackson’s character, and that is a missed opportunity of shame. Gary Oldman hands in another committed antagonist performance, mimicking his German accent with range and consistency that never flounders. The unfortunate aspect with him is that the film kind of forgets about him during a second act that fluffs the past rather than enhance the progression of the current. By the end of the movie, we’re supposed to feel intrigue towards his terrifying plot, but the film hasn’t approached matters from his point of view enough, leaving us with a set-up that is just put in pause until our two heroes can save the day.

As for that script, there’s many problems, but the most apparent to me was the jumbling of atmospheric mood for the film that tries to be too many genres at once. First and foremost, this film thrives best when it is a goofy comedy that stands tall with the personalities of its two leads. There’s also action, and that is Ok until the movie tries to blind us with a side that we haven’t grown to expect; violence and terrorism that speaks wonders to a serious side of film that feels out of place in this plot. During the nauseating third act of the movie, there’s also a switch to infuse some romance into the fold, concocting an overstuffed sandwich that feels harder to swallow the more we continue to chew on its ever-changing atmospheres. For my money, this film could afford to shave about fifteen minutes off of its runtime, most notably from a dependency on five different flashback scenes that fluff the hell out of this 110 minute show. To make matters worse, the ending could’ve concluded three different times, but because so little has progressed most notably with the antagonist angle of the movie, we must tough out the murky waters of convolution during the final twenty minutes that does the pacing very little favors.

After directing ‘The Expendables 3’, the personal worst of the series, Patrick Hughes came back with this film to kind of redeem his influence behind the directing chair, and there’s kind of a noticeable personalization of his pictures that have yet to cast him into efficient filmmakers. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have his charms, but when I think about the visual presentation of this movie, it does leave so much more to be desired in a major motion picture. The C.G backdrops and explosions adhered to the same problems that 2015’s ‘The Transporter: Refueled’ experienced, in that there’s a noticeable dimension of off-coloring that peaks every time this effect is present, relaying a feeling of cheap ambiance that sets a small stage for the A-list cast to perform on. Beyond this, the musical score is among the worst of the year easily. At the beginning of the film, this music is blared to such ear-deafening levels that I couldn’t hear the opening dialogue of the movie’s first scenes. It also beholds that annoying gift where its easy tones do nothing in adding to the scene except to tell audiences audibly how they are supposed to feel because the producers feel they’re to stupid to understand something so basic. I could honestly make a review on this aspect alone, but I will only go so far as to say that visually and audibly this movie really let me down. It feels like it could be a spoof movie at times, but the film isn’t clever enough to capitalize on that kind of medium to bring the sensibility to such bland tastes in visual stylings.

The action sequences are hit and miss, providing a combination of chase sequences and fight scenes that cater to the catastrophic hound in all of us. For me, the chase sequences are where the money is. If there’s anything that Hughes has a knack for, it’s in the fast paced intricacy of plotting out a chase that is shot with exceptional confidence. The movements of the camera keep up fine with the speeds of these vehicles, even enhancing the editing with some experimental perspectives that refuse to ever settle for mediocrity. I would’ve been fine with chase sequences for the whole film, but there are fight sequences to make it all the more personal. There’s certainly nothing condemning about Hughes methods to shooting fight scenes. At the very least, he isn’t too close to the action to where the audience doesn’t register what is happening. My problem is that the camera movements here become slightly too ambitious, mimicking the movements of the actors rather than capture the magnitude of every crushing blow. This jerky style of shooting left me winded after one scene, let alone four different fight sequences that don’t get any easier on the eyes as the film progresses. Experimenting is fine, but I think too much movement can feel taxing to those watching closely for each balance of power happening in the scene. At least it’s not as bad as a POV shot, but too much movement sequencing these violent dances more often than not had me looking away.

THE VERDICT – This bodyguard can take a bullet or two and keep charging because of energetic performances from Reynolds and Jackson, two leading men who are far too great for this movie at this point in their careers. Hughes scattershot creativity limits the film in tone and sequencing quite often, even so that the laughs from witty dialogue fade into the air like smoke rings because of the atmosphere being too thick of genre recycling to withstand lasting power. This one earns its place in the late Summer graveyard, but thankfully its impressive cast will rise from the dead once they shake themselves of this pity project that constantly misses its mark.

5/10

Batman and Harley Quinn

The Dark Knight of Gotham returns to the animated silver screen, joining forces with one of his greatest nemesis, in ‘Batman and Harley Quinn’. The city of Gotham comes under grave danger yet again, this time under a poisonous spell from Pamela Isley (Paget Brewster), better known to her enemies as ‘Poison Ivy’, that transforms citizens into plants. Faced with a dire urgency to save the day and find out quick about their powerful foe, Batman (Kevin Conroy) and Nightwing (Loren Lester) seek help in the most unlikely of sources; the sinisterly dangerous Harley Quinn (Melissa Rauch). The trio collide on more than a few occasions, but learn quickly that they must achieve the common goal of taking down the Poison if they are to return to simpler times. ‘Batman and Harley Quinn’ is rated PG-13 for scenes of action and peril, and is directed by Sam Liu, the very same man responsible for some classic animated hits from Marvel and D.C.

It’s become a bit of a tradition to get a new Batman animated feature every year now, with Fathom Events, and ‘Batman and Harley Quinn’ continues that tradition with arguably the most clashing of ideals team-up that comes to mind. I was a bit disappointed with last year’s ‘The Killing Joke’, but If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve come to appreciate that film a bit more. That’s not to say that this newest chapter is anything terrible, it just feels so contradictive to what we have come to expect from the legendary D.C Animated Films productions that seem to get things correct when the live action movies do not. This film truly felt like one of those experiences where I myself had a lot of fun with what was transpiring on-screen, it just came at a steep price for those characters and concepts that I grew up, and how some less than stellar liberties were taken with their source materials. There’s some nice Easter Eggs in dialogue with past editions of Batman comics like ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, or even the original live action television show, complete with BAM!!! and KAPOWS!!! hitting the screen. But this (like other straight to video releases from D.C) feels like a chapter in itself, and that will undoubtedly divide audiences looking for more of a callback from the 90’s animated series that might just be the single greatest Batman offering that has ever graced a screen.

At least the animation is still carefully detailed, depicting the Gotham skyline with that same crimson red filtering above that reflects that of the blood spilled in these corrupt streets. This is the one aspect where I feel like fans of all Batman walks will agree that D.C continues to amaze. During an age when other studios have moved onto 3D outlines for their presentations, this company remains faithful to the style and traditions that brought it to the dance, echoing a rich vibrancy in color coordination, while never overdoing it into making Gotham somewhere that it isn’t. This definitely feels like a callback to my childhood days of soaking in the colorful personalities and costume designs within this world, but there’s enough experimentation to commend it for never playing things moot. Some of the fire and smoke illustrations are really attention-grabbing, and continue to move even when it feels like a character is in pause because of the next stenciling in page flips. The finale too, sets the stage appropriately once again for the central antagonist, immersing us into an ever-changing swamp that changes the more the situation does.

One thing that I commend these films for is that even though their visual stylings and plots can be considered for younger audiences, the material is anything but. This film has no problems with earning its coveted PG-13 rating, as there is no shortage of adult language exchanges, mature content in both the violent and sexual nature, and reliance upon comedic stick that does overstay its welcome quite often. I understand that this story relies around the Quinn character, but I feel that the campy vibes that radiate from this film are ones that do a disservice instead of an enhancement in creativity. I did laugh a few times, but there are plenty of examples of material that drowns on for far too long, feeling like a comfortable padding for the barely 75 minute presentation that we got. A fine example is a scene that takes place in a gay bar, complete with Harley musical performance and Batman pick-up lines. Awkward? a bit, but it pales in comparison to yet another unwanted sex scene between two characters that is every bit as unnecessary as it is cringe-worthy. Hinting is fine, but when the film stops to subject us through these sequences, I can’t help but feel bad for the youth in the audience who were as embarrassed as I was when I saw my first sex scene at 9 years old in ‘Heavy Metal’.

The script too has its problems, mostly because once again there’s an uneven distribution of plot progression that hinders our antagonists. Based on the title, it’s obvious where the film is focused on, but without that compelling antagonist plot to combat them, their journey of unlikely teammates doesn’t gel the way it rightfully should. I did enjoy seeing the daily life of Harley in her environment, as I feel it offered us a look at the human side of Quinn that we rarely get to see, especially in the day and age of the ‘Suicide Squad’ further diminishing her character origins. One problem for me that picks up in this film where ‘The Killing Joke’ left off was the notable absence of Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, or even Bruce Wayne from the fold. On the latter, I feel like it’s important to offer audiences an equal dose of Wayne versus Batman, and doing so only limits the true capabilities that a force like Conroy can convey. More on that later. A scene or two with these characters could certainly do wonders in keeping up the pacing, which does an alright enough job through the minimal runtime, but something great always beats something good. The ending left me slightly disappointed, mainly because one of the two antagonists is defeated in the most eye-rolling of ways, and the other we don’t get much of visually. The film just kind of ends with more of a hint than an actual result, and if this were a live action movie, I would be wondering if the production ran out of cash for a cheap exit like this one. Even the emergence of a D.C favorite hero felt completely unnecessary, especially when poked for fun by Harley herself after his brief cameo. It certainly doesn’t leave you with the greatest taste exiting this thing, and that is unfortunate because it feels like some solid performances were virtually wasted.

Upon them, Kevin Conroy is once again putting on a clinic as the defining Batman for all time. Conroy has been playing the caped crusader for over two decades at least, but he never feels redundant in his portrayals. Here, Batman is every bit as cryptic as he’s been, while playing into the intelligence that renders him a step above his competition. Kevin’s brooding release is everything that we have come to define for this character that was alive long before Conroy walked the Earth. Loren Lester adds up to one truly charismatic Nightwing. Not only was it nice to see this seldom used character depicted on screen, but Lester vocalizes him with the young adult side of the spectrum, falling for good looking girls, as well as fart jokes that he at least committedly plays into. The only performance I wasn’t in love with was Rauch as Quinn. The reason I say this is because she only truly channels one side of Harley, the jester, and leaves the menace in the closet for another actress to pull out. As the comedian Quinn, Rauch is well timed and articulately captures the Bensonhurst accent that is essential to the character. But I never felt the truly deranged side of her performance, and that missing link feels like only a half performance for such a complex antihero.

THE VERDICT – The newest Batman animated adaptation has wings, but quickly gets winded with a thin script, as well as an over-dependency of humorous material that frequently lets the air out of the mystic sails. Conroy and Lester make a solid team, and the animation is as good as it’s ever been. But the ambiguous ending leaves much more to be desired from the ambitious set-up that never quite quenches the thirst of the audience it narrates to. Even still, the nostalgic glee of the animated setting is worth the cost of a DVD evening in with your own Harley or Batman.

6/10

Detroit

One of America’s darkest and most troubling nights is recalled in this part-fact, part-theory depiction of the racist fueled events that terrorized one of the biggest cities in the country. In ‘Detroit’, critically acclaimed director Kathryn Bigelow returns to her spot behind the camera, helming a drama recalling the true story of one of the most terrifying moments during the civil unrest that rocked Detroit in the summer of 1967. Amidst the chaos of the Detroit Rebellion, with the city under curfew and as the Michigan National Guard patrolled the streets, three young African American men were murdered at the Algiers Motel. 50 years after the events of July 25th, 1967, the question remains: what happened at the motel? and who is to blame? ‘Detroit’ stars John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, and Will Poulter, and is rated R for strong violence and pervasive adult language.

Kathryn Bigelow has always been a master of circumstance within a particular environment for her films, crafting her war films like ‘The Hurt Locker’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, where the talented director has set a precedent for the way settings and atmospheres are to be established for the importance of their stories. For all of its merits on this subject, ‘Detroit’ might be the movie that elevates her already impressive resume to the kind of levels in diversity that prove she can tell a heart-racing story on any continent, during any time in history. ‘Detroit’ is the kind of film where you leave angry, but certainly not because you didn’t enjoy the film. Your displeasure is contributed mostly to the idea that even fifty years later, the war for equality for minorities is still being fought, reminding you just how little has actually progressed when you think about how these same kind of stories are in the news even today. Bigelow transports us back to a time-and-place within this city when racial tensions were already boiling over, but the pride of the patrons within this city wouldn’t let their injustices go unnoticed. It’s a big bang theory that evolves into suffocating tensions by way of the smallest acts being enough to reach a breaking point, and what is unknown about the facts, might be the scariest aspect to the event.

From a narrative perspective, the film’s 138 minute runtime are divided into three different ways; before, during, and after the tragic events at the Algiers Motel. This is a refreshing take because most historical biopics will usually only cover two out of the three, leaving some unanswered questions or motives for the audience to speculate on. Bigelow feels much more responsible in this method because she finds all three angles to be equally as important when contributing to the heart of this story. Yes, at nearly two-and-a-half hours, it is a notable investment on the audience, but it is this length of time that is needed to articulately depict a bad situation gone worse over the course of three nights. With that said, there are some small scenes that could’ve used an edit, but I was never taken out of the story completely, just curious to move on to the next confrontation for position between these two sides. As for those sides, the film is also responsible enough to not lash out or overly support either side to the point where the film becomes propaganda. The police force of Detroit are represented in a way that shows (like any other job) there are good and bad eggs that contribute to the cause, and that judging them as a whole (like minorities) is simply not the right kind of message.

What surprised me about the performances is that nobody stands out on a pedestal more than anyone else. That’s not to say that this movie doesn’t have a worthy cast, quite the opposite. It means that this feels like an ensemble piece instead, with the city of Detroit being the lone character in the film that is the one constant. Each human character like John Boyega, Will Poulter, and Anthony Mackie to name a few, come in and out of the story in the same manner that stage actors do, and that concept does result to sort of coming across as a stage play that is taking place at this troubled motel. Poulter is probably my favorite performance of the film if I am singling out anyone, and that makes me sick to my stomach to even compliment him for the malicious job he does here. As we know, every good story needs a worthy villain to increase your interest in the film, and Will is definitely the brains and the execution of these dirty police officers who often act with their emotions before they think with their minds. Boyega too is solid enough, but I was slightly disappointed with how little of a presence that he has during the second act. I thought this would be the film for him to carry, but his character just kind of blends into the fold of this bigger ensemble that each carries their own respective load.

Another aspect that shouldn’t be ignored is the beautifully layered cinematography by Barry Ackroyd that single handedly makes the immersive experience that much easier in taking in 1967 Detroit. The film’s overall look has a glossy documentarian kind of style to it, making us feel like we are watching historical footage that we shouldn’t be watching. The inclusion of stock footage shots in between each establishing or transitional scene makes the accuracy that much more appealing, and one that proves this production has definitely done its homework. As for Bigelow, she also commands such a presence behind the camera that includes us personally on each and every character perspective that the film takes us through. The shots are so close and invasive that there were those brief moments of tension within me that made me feel uncomfortable to even be in the same room as these disgusting acts that are happening. That aspect alone is a very difficult one to channel, especially to adult moviegoers, but it’s Bigelow’s ambition for setting and set pieces that spring forth the believability in every movie she helms.

THE VERDICT – ‘Detroit’ is without question the most important film that you will see in 2017. It’s a somberly poignant reminder of the kind of grizzly details from our past that will continue to haunt us until we as a society change for the better. This makes three films in a row that Bigelow has taken a true story and ran with it through artistically decadent and provocatively rich waters that grip onto the pulse of the American subconscious. By putting us right in the heart of the action, Kathryn forces us to take everything in without looking away, an eye-opening concept necessary for the forgetful. This was nearly two-and-a-half hours that shook in ways that horror films don’t do anymore.

9/10

The Dark Tower

Stephen King’s most epic saga of novels comes to life in the big screen adaptation, ‘The Dark Tower’. Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is an ambitious 11-year-old adventure seeker who discovers clues about another dimension called Mid-World. Upon following the mystery, he is spirited away to Mid-World where he encounters a Gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), who is on a quest to reach the “Dark Tower” that resides in End-World and reach the nexus point between time and space that he hopes will save all existence from extinction. But with various monsters and a vicious sorcerer named Walter o’Dim, A.K.A the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) hot on their trail, the unlikely duo find that their quest may be a difficult and deadly one to complete, saving the world from a man worse than the devil himself. ‘The Dark Tower’ is directed and co-written by Nikolaj Arcel, and is rated PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action.

It’s difficult to gage where the big screen adaptation of the super popular novels was supposed to appeal to. For the people who have read what is critically acclaimed as his “Magnum opus” of books, this is as cheap of a knock-off as you could possibly get. A brash disappointment to the kind of fantasy dreamscapes and supernatural aspects that make it an irresistible piece of immersive literature. For those who have not read the novel, there won’t be much to grab onto either, as the film kind of requires that its audience must know the bare minimum of rules and logics within this world. Otherwise, the new fans will be clinging to any kind of explanation for something they don’t understand, making their first intake to this story one that is heavily flawed in storytelling concepts. ‘The Dark Tower’ feels cheap in every possible way because it cuts itself too short time-and-time again, choosing instead to follow the cheap and limited boundaries of a PG-13 young adult constriction rather than the R-rated Science fiction thriller that it should’ve been. As far as book-to-film adaptations go, it might be the most disappointing of all time, and feed into the theory further by some of the novels fans who claim that this series is impossible to adapt faithfully.

After doing some studying, I found out that this film is actually supposed to be a sequel of sorts to the novels itself, and not a take from the first novel, one of my personal favorites in the series. So already we as an audience are taken on a trek of betrayal by the film’s producers who have been promoting this like the next big series for quite sometime. Even this direction is heavily flawed in logic because the film takes characters like Jake Chambers and makes them a pivotal point in this story, while stripping them of anything that makes them remotely identifiable. In fact, this film is introduced by playing into Chambers story rather than Roland’s, and I found this to be a dramatically huge mistake that blazes a trail of displeasure much further than how terribly underwritten these characters really are. The narration feels like we should already know everything about these worlds and characters, and chooses to educate the new fans any further on what questions they might have. One that I myself as a fan of the novels brought up was the explanation for why The Dark Tower is essentially pointless in this film. The idea is that the destruction of this tower will cause hell to be unleashed upon our world, but that makes no sense when you consider that McConaughey’s Man in Black is already doing that, piling up body after body in his wake of devastation. In fact, the more you think about it, the bigger the flaw is that an antagonist who can click his fingers and kill people would need any further help in getting the job done.

This constantly feels like a movie that is being played in fast-forward, moving along with pacing that never stops once to take anything of the culture in to further the fantasy elements to the plot. Such an example of this is in nearly every single scene that involves Roland or Jake, as they are constantly preparing to travel somewhere other than where that scene is. If you wanted a terribly shitty cliff notes version of The Dark Tower folklore, then this will be right up your alley because it feels like the three different writers within this film have the attention span of an 8 year old child, choosing instead to speed their way to a final act and conclusion that set this thing at right under 95 minutes, the basic average of studio offerings. Imagine that you’re told by a studio to adapt the epic thousands of pages of material that you have written into 200, and try to make that compelling. That’s what the film is asking of us as an audience right here. If there was one benefit, there are some satisfying Easter eggs thrown into the film from time to time that range anywhere from other King novels like ‘1408’, ‘IT’, or ‘The Shining’. It was in this aspect and this one alone where this feels anything like its literary companions because The Dark Tower serves as the universe of sorts to the entire Stephen King Universe. So it feels like a tragic misstep when you consider how these eggs don’t even begin to scratch the surface of a much bigger picture.

The action is quite limited, but appealing when on-screen to some average CGI designs that are at least responsible enough to keep most of the shading problems of its creatures in the dark. The computer generated backdrops do work wonders for what little few chances that we do get to see the midworld, as well as the tower in this film, but it’s just a big shame that they are such a miniscule presence in a film that would rather base a majority of its visual compass in New York, a place with no shortage of big screen settings in film. The final inevitable showdown between The Man in Black and Roland feels so distanced between them, opting instead for the magic of both characters to their arsenal. What this lacks is that personal taste of vengeance for both of them that really sets it all off and leaves the audience on the edge of their seats, leaving an ending that was every bit the reminder of the previous acts that told me to never trust Hollywood again with timeless artistic expression.

As for the performances, there was definitely one shining example among the other miscast choices, and that was Idris Elba as The Gunslinger himself. Whether people want to admit it or not because of their color preferences, Elba embodies everything about being a magician behind the gun; heart, strength, and most importantly precision. With a gun, Roland simply cannot be stopped, and some of the trickery that the film focuses on with his hands make up for the lack of personality or backstory that they dispel upon him or any of the other two main leads in the film. As Jake, Taylor isn’t terrible, but there simply isn’t enough charisma in his deliveries to give this character the attention and the majority of runtime in the script that he so desperately craves. Again, possibly call it bad directing, but I lacked the empathy that I felt for Jake in the novels, especially considering his Father isn’t anywhere to be found in this story. It pains me to say this, but McConaughey was terrible as The Man in Black. Matthew underperforms every line of dialogue and sinister delivery to never make him feel like anything supernatural or unstoppable in his register. Even more apparent was just the lack of commitment that his line reads deliver, making me question several times if this really was the best read that the director decided to go with. To that theory, funny enough, there is a line where he talks about death always winning in the trailer, and it’s given with much more energy and emphasis than the scene used in the actual film. I can never understand why these kind of decisions are made in post production, but they do no favors for the legitimacy of a man who is deemed “Worse than the devil”.

THE VERDICT – Bad Stephen King adaptations are certainly nothing new to this critic, but ‘The Dark Tower’ feels like the first slap in the face of fans who have waited decades to see this epic play out on the big screen. The unlimited levels of potential are traded in for a rushed script that only borrows key aspects to the story without context, bland performances besides Elba, and a plot hole so big that you could fit an entire tower inside of it. When given the option to see this one, take the bullet and read instead.

4/10

Chuck

The real life story for the inspiration of Rocky Balboa comes to life in this eye-opening sports biopic from director Philippe Falardeau. ‘Chuck’ tells the story of the pride of Bayonne, New Jersey, a man who went fifteen rounds in the ring with the heavyweight boxing champion, Muhammad Ali, who may or may not have knocked the champ off of his feet. But before all that, Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber) was a liquor salesman and father with a modest prizefighting career whose life changed overnight when, in 1975, he was chosen to take on The Greatest in a highly publicized title match. It’s the beginning of a wild ride through the exhilarating highs and humbling lows of sudden fame-but what happens when your fifteen minutes in the spotlight are up? Driven by a committed performance from Liev Schreiber, Chuck is a refreshingly human tale of resilience and redemption. ‘Chuck’ is rated R for adult language throughout, drug use, sexuality/nudity and some bloody images.

‘Chuck’ was never going to be a better film than the 1976 Oscar winner for Best Picture counterpart that it so vibrantly echoes around, but what it does is peel back the glitz and glamour of a Hollywood movie by telling you about the real gritty ugliness that lies within the true story. ‘Chuck’ is thankfully another enlightening dose of reality from the same director who penned 2014’s ‘The Good Lie’, humbling his audience with what feels like one of the more honest depictions not only in the sport of boxing during the dark ages of exposure, but also the troubles associated with temporary celebrity that influence ones irrational decisions. It’s a dramedy that can sometimes feel slightly off with its creative tone, but being that Wepner was never one to shy away from kicking himself, the film feels obliged to run the course carefully. I enjoyed this film enough, despite it only briefly capturing the psyche of one of the 70’s most prominent personalities inside and outside of the ring. This is more of an outside perspective in the way that we as an audience are supposed to see Chuck, and because of that we are only offered temporary glances at trying to get close to this troubled character as an endearing protagonist.

The story takes us on a kind of cause-and-effect train when it comes to what inspired arguably the greatest sports film of all time, and does so in a way that still leaves plenty of room for the one-named title character in this film to tell his side. Chuck, like any of us, is seduced by what little fame he commands. As a local rundown fighter, he’s kind of seen as a joke within his community, so when stardom finally knocks on his door, he is more than happy to answer, and that choice comes with some steep consequences for the hard hitter as to how he handles it. The film has a constant responsibility in observing and contrasting the beat down that Wepner takes in the ring versus the one he takes outside of it, and the one constant is that this character knows how to take a punch and keep on moving forward. It’s certainly easy to pick out which points were lifted from Wepner’s life to compliment the Rocky franchise, but in this example it feels more emphatic than the homage of ‘Rocky’ because this after all is real life, a breaking of the fourth wall by watching a character on-screen who lived through all of these things 42 years ago. The tone to me could’ve used more of a dramatic pull, instead of the dark comedy that sometimes outlines the film’s events. I feel like everyone watching except Wepner is in on the joke, and that aspect feels like a heavily missed opportunity on understanding the epiphany within this character that happens a bit too late in his life.

On that ground, the pacing for me was the film’s biggest weakness, often rushing through the more important peaks of Chuck’s life without feeling much weight for the situation. At 97 minutes, this is a brief film for a biopic, so the movie’s first act speeds by without a single moment of patience to let it all sink in. There is a major change that occurs midway through the film for Chuck, but in the movie’s inappropriate tone combined with rushed plotting, it feels more like a temporary speed bump instead of something much greater, and it becomes slightly difficult to take this story seriously with the kind of attention that it needs when being compared to other true story films. There’s also some sloppy time transitional scenes that jump time without any kind of warning or leading up-to for it to make sense. One scene rushes three years forward after a scene in which a possible new love interest (Played by Schreiber’s real life wife, Naomi Watts) is introduced, looking like it might go somewhere. It doesn’t, and its importance is left without much reasoning. If there’s anything positive that we can say about this aspect, it’s that the film is a rather simple sit, and doesn’t drag or grind to a screeching halt before we hit the credits. The kind of stories that are interesting should be remarked as the ones that you want to see more of, and ‘Chuck’ for me could’ve easily used another half hour to let these events flow with the kind of fluidity that relates their vital importance.

I did however manage to find myself another noteworthy cinematographer, as Nicolas Bolduc’s style for the picture moved me miles into immersing myself within this particular era. The movie’s design caters more to a film that looks and feels like it was shot during the 70’s, instead of a movie that is just spoofing the decade. This accomplishment is tough, especially considering we are more than four decades removed from the setting of the film, but Bolduc’s attention to detail moved me immensely with the insertion of classic footage for the establishing shots, as well as a grainy layer to the coloring palate that makes ‘Chuck’ feel like you’re watching something shot for laser disc. The intro starts the movie off right, communicating to the audience the kind of setting that Bayone, New Jersey plays to in this kind of film, echoing the hippie generation in all of its drugs and devilish pleasures in one visually faded interpretation.

On the subject of performances, I thought that Schreiber put in the necessary time and effort to transform himself into an athlete that looks anything but what Liev does in his physical appearance. He becomes Chuck with a noticeable weight increase, as well as a prosthetic wig that nails down his commitment for the role. This was a dream role of sorts for Liev, and that shows in the morally flawed Wepner, a character he emotes with such shovanism and imagination that often both get him in trouble. Elizabeth Moss was also a breath of fresh air, playing Chuck’s emotionally fragile wife Phylis. Moss channels so much fire and emotional hilarity in her range that it can sometimes feel like she is too good for this kind of role, but it speaks depths that the film cares enough to make her a pivotal member of this plot even if it forgets about her halfway through. My lone problem with the casting was whoever was the agent who cast two polar opposites for Sylvester Stallone and Muhammad Ali that couldn’t be further from their real life appearances. I get that these larger-than-life people are difficult to cast, but I would’ve been fine with only hearing their voices while their backs are turned to the cameras. Their faces aren’t even close to the original thing, and it’s an aspect that broke my concentration every time they popped up on screen.

THE VERDICT – ‘Chuck’ is a stiff jab to the chin, but lacks the kind of tonal focus or steady hand patience in script to ever command knockout power. Because of the committed, durable performances of Schreiber and Moss, as well as a faithful brush of artistic stroke integrity that makes up the gorgeously decadent cinematography in the film, Falardeau can rest assured knowing that he has given the Bayone Bleeder one more round in the public eye. This one doesn’t quite go the distance, but it stands its ground with the other heavyweight contenders in an overcrowded genre that is only getting bigger. A constant reminder that somebody is always watching your story playing out under the eyes of the public lights.

7/10

Atomic Blonde

Charlize Theron returns to the silver screen to kick some more ass, this time as an intelligence agent known as ‘Atomic Blonde’. In 1989, on the eve of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the shifting of superpower alliances, the dangerous Lorraine Broughton (Theron), a top-level spy for MI6, is dispatched to Berlin to take down a ruthless espionage ring that has just killed an undercover agent for reasons unknown. Lorraine is ordered to cooperate with Berlin station chief David Percival (James McAvoy), and the two form an uneasy alliance, unleashing their full arsenal of skills in pursuing a threat that jeopardizes the West’s entire intelligence operation. But someone close is revealed to have set Lorraine up, so now she must take down the entourage while finding her mysterious betrayer. ‘Atomic Blonde’ is directed by David Leitch, and is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity.

Being that ‘Atomic Blonde’ is set during the late 80’s, at the dawn of a new era in Russia, there’s much to be said about this distinct setting that clutches itself around the look and feel of Leitch’s picture. The movie features a very weathered kind of look behind the lens of cinematography that faithfully paints the picture of the mundane exterior shots, but also the neon interiors that made up eastern Europe during this age. This film definitely casts an easily immersive experience to surrender yourself to the kind of panic and uncertainty that filled the air during the fall of the Berlin Wall, and If this isn’t enough, a vibrantly echoed soundtrack of 80’s new wave hits more than audibly set the stage for some graphic chaos that never relents on its opposition. Despite the music generating more than a healthy dose of toe-tapping from this critic, I was alarmed at the jarring mixing that was being done to the levels of its volume that would jump from time to time. Most of this can be explained by the music feeling like a tool to increase the intensity of a chase or fight sequence, but I refer more to the toll that it took on my ears as it picks and chooses various times during a single sequence when to increase and decrease the decibals. Picture a child manning the control switches in a car; it is that alarming.

From a storytelling perspective, this is basically an inquisition scene to that of Theron’s Broughton for the chaos that has ensued over the last ten days. There are a lot of problems that I have with this perspective, mainly that the editing of present day and past flashbacks are so jumpy that I often had trouble reminding myself where I was at in the script, but more so in the flaws of storytelling that the writers have no better way to cover up. For example, one of my favorite cliches in this particular kind of setup is how a character can explain in such vivid detail everything that went down during a scene and location where she wasn’t at. Then there’s the chronological sequencing which went off of the rails more than once. There were more than a few scenes in the film where there would be a flashback within a flashback, and it left me aghast at just how overcomplicated these simple tasks performed themselves. Thankfully, the jumpy nature does settle down during a second half, which was definitely the movie’s strengths once it has riddled itself of all of the gimmicks from the first act of the movie that handicapped it at nearly every turn.

A lot of the reason for this is the big twist midway through that does add a much needed dose of intrigue into the redundancy that was muddling the progression. This becomes a sort of cat-and-mouse thriller between Theron and her mysterious antagonist who prefers to work in the shadows of betrayal. The mystery itself isn’t that difficult to figure out thanks to a trailer that was more than slightly revealing, but it is the best case scenario for the many directions that this film could’ve taken us. It’s during this welcome mood change early on in the third act where I gained my biggest appreciation for the film because of its urgency that couldn’t have come at a better moment. As for the finale itself, it does have one too many endings that further prolong and test the patience of the audience who were satisfied with the conclusion ten minutes prior. There is a twist too many that never equals the importance of that of the betrayal twist, but I can at least commend a film that always throws a monkey wrench to its audience who thought this one would again take the easy way out, an avenue that this blonde never takes.

What blew me away was the artistic integrity of the film, particularly in that of the fireworks in front of and behind the camera during some gritty fight scenes. If you’re an action junkie like me, this film has got you completely covered in all of the bone-crunching carnage that keeps on kicking. The fight choreography is superb, showcasing the determination that Theron puts in to become this character. Charlize does perform each and every one of her devastating moves, and it pays off especially well during a stairway fight that is articulately timed. The sound mixing too, during this sequence plays a pivotal role in magnifying the true impact of every hit or kick that our characters in view soak in. The camera work here is a marvel of visual decadence, and being a student of that Inarritu style, I appreciate when a sequence isn’t afraid to leave the camera on during long periods of time before cutting. The stairs scene isn’t one entirely unedited sequence, but it is manipulated in such a way that it never gives you time for breath. It, like the endless number of bodies that stack up, never relents on pulse-setting punishment to kick the adrenaline into overdrive.

Of course all of this would fall apart without the work of an impressive collection of Hollywood heavy hitters at the helm in portraying these vibrant personalities, especially that of Theron and McAvoy who are committed to their roles. The film flows the best with charisma when this duo are on-screen together, as it offers a chance to see two method actors who really play into these outlines and make them their own. Theron as Broughton is everything that female ass-kickers in 2017 are all about. Lorraine is of course beautiful and dangerous, but the film takes valuable time to appreciate her cunning intellect along the way, proving that a woman can have beauty AND brains to get the job done. Theron says so much with a cold stare that there is never really any need for the long-winded threats that follow, but we’re of course happy to oblige on such a commanding presence that only Charlize could hone. McAvoy too equals Theron’s leadership as Percival, a flawed womanizer agent with a personality second to none. James is definitely one of my favorite actors, and while Percival isn’t his most memorable role from 2017, it is the one that allows us to marvel at the man who omits so much charm from a single crooked smile. In addition to these two, the great Toby Jones and John Goodman round out the cast, and add prestige to this cult-like graphic novel to please its droves of longtime fans.

THE VERDICT – Though narratively flawed at nearly every turn, there is enough artistic merit in ‘Atomic Blonde’ to indulge in its ass-kicking romp that constantly keeps the charge moving. Theron and McAvoy are two of the modern day greats, and the inclusion of 80’s pop music Americana at their devastating disposal offers a throwback that is equally as visually enticing. The second half is definitely much better than the banal first half, but I’m not quite ready to call this the next Bond or Wick without some much needed consistency.

6/10

Dunkirk

When 400,000 men couldn’t get home, home came for them off of the shores of ‘Dunkirk’. The film that is written and directed by critically acclaimed filmmaker, Christopher Nolan, depicts the dramatic and true story of the Dunkirk evacuations from a war torn beach and harbor in France May 26- June 04, 1940, following the seemingly doomed plight of allied soldiers in World War II. As the immense enemy German soldier forces close in following the evacuation of Operation Dynamo, it seems the troops have nowhere to go, but help is at hand and a fierce battle ensues, forging the ultimate battle of sacrifice among them. ‘Dunkirk’ is rated PG-13 for intense war experience involving brutal violence, and some adult language.

Is there any doubt left that Christopher Nolan is one of the elite masterful filmmakers of our generation? Throughout his storied career, the man has made some of the most articulately crafted gems of the past two decades, but ‘Dunkirk’ might very well grow with time to be his magnum opus. From a scope perspective, this is the kind of film that was made for the IMAX screen with enhanced sound system to craft an out-of-this-world experience that is second to none. I myself have never served in war, but I can imagine that Nolan hits the mark with the kind of triumphant precision that pays homage to those men during this particular war who paid the ultimate sacrifice in standing up for what they believed in. So none of this of course comes as any surprise that ‘Dunkirk’ riveted me in ways that very few war films before it have with such unapologetic circumstance. It’s a technical marvel that is easily immersive through tight camera work that follows our soldiers through the most compact of situations, a trait that sometimes brought out the worst in this critic’s claustrophobia. That’s not to demean his breathtaking sequences, but to say that Christopher knows what it takes in capturing the essence of this week of war that will leave every man involved in it changed forever.

Time has always played such a pivotal role in past Nolan films, and once again the director bends the very notion of minutes and seconds to play to the unpredictability factor of this story. The film is presented through three different time periods, each involving different characters involved in their particular angle from this immense devastation that is crumbling everything around them. This is a huge risk for Nolan because it has the chance in backfiring against clouding the usually narrow timeline of events that take place in war genre flicks, but he pulls it off brilliantly because it is involving the viewer watching at home to always think six moves ahead to see how each respective plot will eventually overlap the others. It’s an original take for chronological sequencing similar to that of his earlier film ‘Memento’, and it’s measures like this that prove that Nolan is playing on a psychological ball field that many haven’t even sniffed the grass to. My only lone problem with this aspect and the entire film as a whole was the ‘one week away’ perspective that lacked any kind of nighttime scenes to relate the passing of time that eventually meets up with another perspective. It just didn’t feel like a week had passed for me, and I felt that additional scenes could’ve helped not only in believability, but also in beefing up the runtime which is surprisingly thin at 102 minutes.

The presentation here is almost as scene stealing as the violent outbursts that are happening within its walls. It is incredible what Nolan is able to pull off with IMAX cameras, in that way that he twists and bends each angle to offer us a perspective of what that character is experiencing without settling for the POV angles that have grown stale in 2017. The sound is crisp and should earn no less than an Oscar for its achievements in mixing and editing that carefully commentate everything even when it becomes too much to keep your eyes open at the horrors. An impressive aspect to this is that Nolan doesn’t need blood or gore to get across the barbaric sacrifices of war, he instead plays to the volume of water, as well as the burdens of captivity that slowly reaches for the vulnerability in each and every character involved. My favorite aspect of the technical however, was that of a gorgeous cinematography coloring by Hoyte Van Hoytema. Hoyt captivated in collaboration with Nolan in 2014’s ‘Interstellar’, and his usual pale greys and aqua blue shadings are exerted again in ‘Dunkirk’, but this time with more symbolic meaning. Most Nolan films have similar palates in cinematography, but here is feels warranted because of the inevitable cloud of dread that has overcome not only the abandoned landscape, but also the soldiers who feel that their time is numbered. The altering on this grand of a stage by Hoyt visually feels what we can feel so heavily in the water, on the land, and even in the air; the scent of death that follows this army everywhere.

Musical composer Hans Zimmer again crafts a must-own collection of ominous tones and building tension numbers that faithfully narrates hand-in-hand with the terrifying visuals. Being my favorite composer going today, I could speak for hours about Zimmer’s masterful touch on the films he musically enhances, but for now we’ll stick to ‘Dunkirk’. It feels like Zimmer is the most valuable player in this ensemble production because his tones barely ever leave the screen, more so because the film surprisingly doesn’t have a lot of long-winded dialogue to it. The music is constantly blaring and increasing with each passing second, and boy does it payoff in leaving the audience on the edge of their seats. Some of his tones here are as simple as repeating the same few notes, but adding a slight orchestral accompany with each passing verse to really trigger the impact that it has with what is being depicted. At an age when most composers start falling into obscurity, Zimmer continues to be the most familiar name associated with musical score because he wraps himself up in these unfolding stories, setting the stage for inevitable confrontation and a spring of goosebumps that repeatedly spring to life on the arms of those leveled by their enhancing pitches.

There is a great lack of character building within the film, but I confess that this aspect didn’t bother me in the slightest because I took it with great reasoning. There is no one person bigger than war, so when someone dies, the next person comes along to continue it. Sure there are some notable exceptions in actors like Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Fionn Whitehead, and Kenneth Branagh being featured so repeatedly, but when you really think about it, you learn very little about each character’s backstories, and it’s in that fact where I give Nolan great respect as a screenwriter because he is essentially building a great film without so much as a single shadow of character between them. The performances are solid from this ensemble cast, but I’d have to say that my favorite of the three different stories involved that of Rylance commanding a small boat on his way to Dunkirk to help with his kids in any way he can. There’s great sense of pride in his character, and sometimes the biggest changes come from the smallest of places, and even though his group isn’t actually involved within the war until the third act, their stark contrasts to that of a soldier they pick up (Played by Cillian Murphy) reminds us why war, no matter how paralyzing, does serve a purpose.

THE VERDICT – Nolan once again blows away our minds and our ears with the most impactful war film of the last twenty five years, undertaking this important memory in history with terrifying immediacy. ‘Dunkirk’ is a technical masterpiece that rivets us in all of its atmospheric horror on land, sea, and air, mimicking the moniker that never quits or surrenders. The movie never feels weighed down by the immense responsibility, nor the narrative gimmick that it adopts, establishing itself at the forefront of the 2017 Summer blockbuster season with an homage that honors the forgotten on a scope that feels like the next most terrifying thing to being there.

9/10

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Among the immensity of a thousand planets, lies two soldiers tasked with protective peace between it, in ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’. The film is the new adventure film from Luc Besson, and is based on the comic book series which inspired a generation of artists, writers and filmmakers. In the 28th century, Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are a team of special operatives charged with maintaining order throughout the human territories. Under assignment from the Minister of Defense, the two embark on a mission to the astonishing city of Alpha-an ever-expanding metropolis where species from all over the universe have converged over centuries to share knowledge, intelligence and cultures with each other. There is a mystery at the center of Alpha, a dark force which threatens the peaceful existence of the City of a Thousand Planets, and Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe. ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’ is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material, and brief language.

It should never be said that Luc Besson isn’t a visionary when it comes to capturing the attention and the imagination of his audience. Ever since ‘The Fifth Element’, Besson has etched his name as one of the very best in his field. So it should come as no surprise that ‘Valerian’ is undoubtedly the most beautiful film visually that I have seen this year. There’s a certain weight in matter that Luc establishes effortlessly with C.G.I effects and backdrops that nearly everyone else fail at, and his commitment to task sets a vibrantly colorful backdrop that constantly keeps raising the bar. Because this is a film about a thousand planets, it is important that each one comes across as contrasting, yet beautiful to the iris that takes it all in, and there was never a moment visually in this movie where I wasn’t completely blown away at the specter in immensity that an epic like this one captures so breathtakingly. For a movie set in 2150, I had zero doubts believing that the kind of concepts and visual extravagance like this could exist in a galaxy beyond the stars.

As for plot, there is a healthy offering that takes this film a tad bit above those other movies that I have deemed as all style and no substance. The problem is that as a writer Besson could use more hands-on in this bloated script that drags on for about thirty minutes too long. As I mentioned before, the concepts and the dissection of a variety of species will certainly satisfy even the most hardcore of Sci-fi buffs, but its more in its graphing that could definitely use some trimming, even despite it at times being so appealing to the masses who are foreign to their livings. When you’re 90 minutes into a movie and character exposition is still a thing, you’ve certainly got a problem, and this kind of storytelling certainly limited my investment and patience in this movie that was wearing thin with each passing minute. The pacing caught up to me with about forty minutes left in the movie, when it becomes apparent at just how frozen we are in story progression. So much of this filler during the second act could certainly use an edit button, as it often times feels like we’re watching a director’s cut instead of a theatrical release. In addition to contrivances, there’s also an antagonist subplot involving a certain actor in the movie that is treated like a mystery, when from the very beginning of this character’s intro, you can tell from the ominous tones in music, as well as his speech patterns that this character isn’t in to the best of intentions within this galaxy. The resolution between our duo and this character amounts to nothing more than the simplest of ways out, and the lack of confrontation between them in the film’s closing moments leaves with a wimper, and not quite the bang that we so rightfully deserved.

The performances was also an aspect that greatly bothered me. When Rihanna as an evolving chameleon who is in the movie for twenty minutes serves as the single best performance, you’ve got problems. On Rihanna, she gives a presence here that proves she has grown immensely and is destined for the silver screen. There’s a sadness in her eyes that brings a much needed layer of melancholic weight to the ever-adjusting tonal shifts within the movie, and I found her to be quite enjoyable in this role. As for the duo of protagonists, I found that I enjoyed them separately, but when they are together (Which is very minimal), they lack great chemistry to ever come across as believable in these roles. Call it lack of conjoined screen time, or the fact that their constant bickering is about as enjoyable to listen to as Nickelback’s greatest hits, but they don’t work well together. Delevingne does exert some swift action moves to feed into the females in the audience, but her character constantly gets in these binds where she has no choice but to become the damsel in distress, and after a while, enough is enough.

With enough negatives, there is one more positive that I had for the film, and that is in the pulsating musical score of craft composer Alexandre Desplat in the chair. Usually known for sophisticated tones in films like ‘The King’s Speech’ and ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’, Desplat here feels slightly more at home omitting these rumbling numbers that really feed into that space opera kind of feel that is transcribed throughout the film. Alpha feels like a place where there’s always music in the air, the most echoing of sorts happening when a chase sequence or shoot out happens among them, and it makes for a much-needed pulse and reminder of excitement that this film should’ve provided otherwise. What I found so delightful about its blends is how each number that gets repeated somewhere else in the movie has these minor tweaks and twists to them that make it sound like an entirely different number, but in deep listening you start to hear the familiar notes that bare resemblance. Because the action sequences are only so-so in the film and barely worth mentioning, I will say that Alexandre did lift their depictions slightly, encompassing the kind of urgency to play with hand-in-hand with the surreal atmospheres that adorned the film.

THE VERDICT – ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’ can at times feel like we’ve visited them all. The two hour-plus runtime does very little favors in combating the wooden performances that lack chemistry, as well as the jumbled narrative that can sometimes stop a bit too much to keep the fluidity of the story competent. What works is strictly the scope here, with luxurious eye-catching details, as well as musical accompanying that breathe life into this picture, but ultimately fall a bit too short in overcoming the increasingly stacking odds against them. Besson is still one of those directors who you anticipate their next big project, but it’s clear that this planet might be his orbit from prominence.

5/10

War For the Planet of the Apes

The third and final chapter of this apocalyptic trilogy lays it all on the line between humans and apes, in the “War For the Planet of the Apes”. Two years after the events of the previous film, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson) who will stop at nothing to wipe out their kind in devastating fashion. After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his breed. As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and the Colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both their species and the future of the dying planet Earth. “War For the Planet of the Apes” is written and directed by Matt Reeves, and is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, thematic elements, and some disturbing images.

It’s rare, especially in this day and age, that a trilogy of films will not only be entirely excellent in their individual efforts, but also as a whole when you step back and look at the complete picture. The trilogy of apes movies changed all of that for me, and let me believe again that a series can be done with such precision if it is under the proper guidance, and Reeves very much directs his magnum opus while offering a film that is every bit as provocative as it is endearing. To take a film like 1968’s “Planet of the Apes” and give it an entire prequel universe surrounding how this takeover came to be, was quite the risk, especially with its passionate fanbase, but these films became the single greatest trilogy of the 21st century by the contrast and decay of this world through each chapter. This story did become bigger ironically as the world got smaller, and to me, this series allows us to take a step back and examine the actions in our own world that could very much lead to our demise, much in the same way that George Romero did during the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s with his trilogy of zombie horror films. If a film can entertain you AND teach you, its material with flourish as so much more than a movie. ‘War’ takes this challenge and runs with it for over two hours.

This is very much a comparison piece between two entities; the humans and the apes, and the opposite roads that each tribe has taken in this lengthy fifteen year battle. One cool aspect when I step back and take it all in, is that I find it astonishing that the apes become more-and-more prevalent in their screen time with each movie, signaling not only their succession in taking over, but also the intended changing of the guard that is subtly taking place before our very eyes. In ‘Rise’, we view apes as kind of the antagonists of sorts because their story isn’t given as much time as the humans in that particular film. Then when you compare it to the exposition in ‘War’, it’s clear that they (like us) just want a place to call their home, and protect their families. In that regards, it makes them an easy shift into protagonists, especially when stood alongside that of the human counterparts that hunt them. In this world, humans have clearly become animalistic in their rage, and Reeves starts to focus on what clearly defines a human as a human, Almost as a reverse in the evolutionary chart that has defined these two sides for so long.

If there’s one theme that defines this film for me, it is in the quote that if we do not learn anything from history, we are doomed to repeat it. This theme, as well as history in general is echoed throughout the movie, and it’s clear that no matter how much our side has lost, we never lose the urge for dominance. This trait alone could solve the war with Caesar and the apes, but as in our own global domination, this colonel too seeks death and devastation anywhere he can find it. There’s nothing beautiful or glamorizing about war in this film, responsibly it is very much a painful retribution with each side suffering immense torture. In that respects, Reeves articulates a tone for the movie that echoes in the air that aura of defeat, yet a springing of hope somewhere off in the distance that signals this world, as well as the individual rights that these apes believe they are entitled to, are worth fighting for. The story constantly kept my eyes glued, even if there is a scene or two when they try to force a bit too much comedy to forcefully remind the audience that they are having a good time. It didn’t sour it completely for me, but these scenes do stick out like a sore thumb when squeezed into these gut-wrenching scenes.

And on that subject, the presentation and overall scope to Reeves world takes its biggest step forward here, signaling a student of the game who has clearly done his homework. ‘War’ for my money felt like it pays homage to the epic studio pictures of the middle 20th century, complete with a roaring musical score by Michael Giacchino, as well as nostalgic camera angles behind the camera that drive the story and its larger-than-life characters. On the former, the music plays to these vibrantly echoing drum beats similar to that of its 68 original. I would have to think back to “The Hateful Eight” when music played this much of an important role in the movie’s tone and capture of imagination with these blending of two worlds that feels anything but natural. The cinematography is breathtaking, and made even more so with these beautiful panning shots of the cold and immense world that these two sides fight for in the balance. I also loved the zoom-in style of close-ups that sprung up early on for a couple of key character introductions. This was done in the past to signify an important character to the movie, and the first meeting between Caesar and the Colonel gave me chills because even if I knew nothing about the latter, the focus on the intensity of the former kept me glued to see who was going to make a move first.

As for performances, I am happy to report that the master of stop motion, Andy Serkis, is back and has never been better. As Caesar, Serkis has clearly put his stamp on the character in personality, but here we find some of Andy’s best work as an actor first. Detailed, careful C.G.I makes his job easier in the visuals department, but the heart of Andy’s dedication goes to displaying some chilling visual acting with his facial movements and clearly defined expressions give his performance spirit even when we know most of the body around him is artificial. Props also goes to one of my favorite actors, Woody Harrelson, as the arrogant colonel with the goal to wipe out apes. In the colonel, we meet a menacing figure who speaks volumes to that of the dictators like Hitler or Stalin, and it’s made even more terrifying when you consider that this similar character rules on our own soil. His backstory is one you can understand and appreciate, but you see the true darkness in his character taking over, lessening the humanity inside of him that he claims to fight for.

THE VERDICT – Matt Reeves closes out a very successful trilogy of films with the series best to date. “War For the Planet of the Apes” is the latest in post-apocalyptic action dramas, but this one is done right with several thought-provoking themes about man being his own gravest enemy, as well as the very best in C.G.I effects going today that bring this fantasy world to life, illuminating the logic that makes these apes move with volume. Reeves and we as an audience finally get to bask in absorbing what his series has built for three movies, and the payoff couldn’t be better. On their own, these are three enticing chapters, but together these apes prequels tap into alluring social commentary while making us take one step back in evolution.

9/10

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Marvel’s cinematic web-slinger returns to the studio he belongs, in “Spider-Man: Homecoming”. A young Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) begins to navigate his newfound identity as the web-slinging super hero Spider-Man. Thrilled by his experience with the Avengers, Peter returns home, where he lives with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), under the watchful eye of his new mentor, The “Iron Man” Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr). Peter tries to fall back into his normal daily routine, distracted by thoughts of proving himself to be more than just your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but when the Vulture (Michael Keaton) emerges as a new villain, everything that Peter holds most important will be threatened, pitting Peter as the only option to stop the flying fanatic and save the city. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is directed by Jon Watts, and is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some adult language and brief suggestive comments.

After five movies spanning twelve years, Sony has sold the rights back to the original owner, Marvel Studios, and it suddenly feels like Spidey is right back where he belongs, proving that the title is more than just a clever name. For a million different opinions, the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb directed predecessors have their fans and enemies alike, but it’s in Watts newest re-telling of this classic childhood favorite that I feel will nearly unanimously break through the ceiling for superhero movie fans alike. This film is everything that both Spider-Man and Peter Parker should be, basically a teenage genre romantic comedy that takes place with a superhero backdrop. On the grounds of establishing these two themes equally, there are five screenwriters that craft something that even during the age of overabundance from superhero flicks, still offers us something fresh and imaginative in ways that no other film has done before it. It’s a re-vamping origin story that doesn’t necessarily need to tell us about the things that we already know from two different story arcs that have already beaten the concepts of tragedy over the head a bit too much. A Spider-Man for generations young and old that finally gives the movie that they have been waiting decades to see.

The story’s establishing theme centers around the growth of Parker, and in that we get several different variations on the concepts of what it means to be a teenager in 2017. Sure there’s the awkwardness of dating, or the difficulties of trying to fit in at school, but what I commended the movie for were the original tweeks that only Marvel could supplant in a teenage depiction. Most notably, Peter (like most teens) is finding out how much his body is changing in that he is growing with this highly-technological suit made brand new for him by Tony Stark. Throughout the movie, we as an audience get to finally grasp and understand the gadgets and gizmos that make up this glossed-over property in past films. Because Parker is learning, it means he too must grow with the suit, and along with his body, the two properties transform into the person he was destined to be. I also love the subtle ideals of the abandoning father who is never around, in this case Stark to the younger Parker. There’s definitely a sheen, crisp feeling of parental guidance shining over them, and I frankly couldn’t get enough of how their relationship was blurring the lines radiantly of just what is missing from Peter’s daily routine. My favorite part definitely deals with teenage dating, and I won’t ruin anything for you, but a certain meet-the-parents scene was my personal favorite in this entire movie. It will give you goosebumps for how it takes an already awkward situation and adds a layer of suffocation unlike anything you have ever seen in a meet-the-parents kind of plot.

As far as where this fits in to the bigger picture, this film felt kind of small scale when compared to the worldwide wars fought by The Avengers, and that’s ok. The movie prides itself on Spidey living up to the moniker “Friendly neighborhood Spider-Man”, and because of such, we get a lot of things played out on the ground, a new concept for this character. In fact, I felt that it was the things that I’ve always thought about that gave this movie longevity well into the second hour. Concepts like how the webbing works, how fast does it take Spider-Man to change, and even who cleans up after devastation like the events in The Avengers movies happens. This film captures all of that, and each of it plays an intricate part into its story. For an antagonist, I appreciate that the Vulture isn’t formed because of some freak accident gone wrong. He’s the everyday working class who lashes out after he’s lost the will to feed his family. I’ve always said the best villains are the ones who are the most understandable to grasp, and Toombs Vulture feels like one of Marvel’s very best. More on him later. The only negative that I had in story was that the film does feel slightly catering to fan service a bit too much. There are more than a few instances of this with characters who virtually go nowhere in this movie, and after a while it felt too pandering. I know that I will be in the minority in that opinion, but if we can call “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2” out for it, so too can “Spider-Man: Homecoming”.

The action is riveting, pulsing through one scene after another of beautifully decorated properties that play a vital role in each stunning sequence. Despite this film playing more to the smaller on-the-ground type of scale, the movie has some very epic set pieces in grand vision, and its fast movements really conjure up the idea of just how powerful Spidey can be when he has to be. These sequences bring out the best in his character because you understand that unlike most superheroes who can only do one or two things well, Parker’s Spidey is quick, intelligent, powerful, and reactive, traits that shape and mold a boy-turning-man who thrives as a protector. As for special effects, everything is mostly solid here and done to believable depths, minus a ferry scene that breaks a boat in half and puts it back together just as easily. I’m not looking for logic in a superhero movie, but the properties of cracks and how they form isn’t something that takes a holiday in imagination. Considering it is one sequence in a variety of ground-shaking offerings that would make Michael Bay cream in his pants, I can’t be mad at this lone discrepancy, as it was just a speed bump on the road to the entertaining core of this movie.

And on that front, I commend Homecoming for being bold among its many tonal shifts when it needs to be. There’s something impressive about a film that can make you laugh with consistently juggling the corny and embarrassing, yet still grab you attention in urgency when it needs to. This film pulled this trigger on more than one occasion, creating a kind of mold for two different movies in one with each of them merging together so smoothly. The comedy in this film gave me more than a few hearty laughs, and it’s clear that it never needs to take itself too seriously to get its biggest strength across; personality. If this inevitable franchise has one thing that sets itself apart from the rest, it’s that its spunk feels like it does wonders for the characters, as well as the scenarios that pits each and every one of them together. For Homecoming, it’s definitely the representation of being a teenager and how that by itself would be enough to drive someone crazy, then you add on the fact that you’re the neighborhood hero who is responsible for many. We realize the immensity of it, but I don’t think Peter quite does, and it’s in his ignorance that makes his emotional growth a delight to embrace because this really is all the weirdest and coolest thing that could ever happen to a kid, at the same time.

Props as well to a grade-A cast that nearly feels perfect. Tom Holland displays a great Spidey, but more importantly he accurately captures the complexity of the Parker character that I don’t think Maguire or Garfield garnered in their portrayals; earnestness. True, Parker is cocky when he needs to be, but when the suit is off, we get the impression that he is vulnerable for once, like a shield that de-activates. Michael Keaton definitely stole the show for me, showing off the single greatest Marvel movie villain since Loki. Keaton could read the phone book in this role and I would be on the edge of my seat. Toombs is very much a human antagonist and that is his single biggest positive. For Keaton, he approaches the role with cool calm, but engaging in menacing grips (like a vulture) when he is challenged. Marisa Tomei was also a breath of fresh air even if her scenes were limited. Lots of people balked at the idea of Aunt May being this young, but I always felt it made sense. She’s AUNT May, not Grandma May, so an Aunt naturally should be closer in age to a teenage boy. Tomei is loving and compassionate, but never loses the edge of being a cool parent, possibly commuting a woman who had to grow up too fast to help her family. My only problem with the casting was in Tony Revoli as Flash Thompson. I get that this is the progressive day-and-age with characters, and the need to switch things up should always be welcomed, but Revoli (Someone I enjoy greatly in other films) isn’t someone I would consider the cool kid in school, and his material doesn’t do him any favors in this area either. His character at times feels like it’s trying too hard to live up to some stereotype, and it feeds into more of the fan service idea that I proposed earlier. I frankly could do without him in this film, as his character adds zero weight to the film’s pulse.

THE VERDICT – The streets are safe again now that Parker has returned home to Marvel, where he rightfully belonged all along. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a breezy breath of fresh air that keeps on flowing with breathtaking action, as well as a two-for-one story that brings out the best in superhero and teenage dramas accordingly. It’s a seamless charmer that caters more to the smaller moments in crime-fighting, and that miniscule scale takes things back to the beginning where this all started, long before these movies tookover a worldwide stage. Watts world is brash, funny, and honest, three traits that have been missing from this franchise for a long time.

9/10

Baby Driver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9/10