Ad Astra

Directed By James Gray

Starring – Brad Pitt, Liv Tyler, Ruth Negga

The Plot – Astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt) travels to the outer edges of the solar system to find his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones) and unravel a mystery that threatens the survival of our planet. His journey will uncover secrets that challenge the nature of human existence and our place in the cosmos.

Rated PG-13 for some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong adult language

POSITIVES

– Stinging sound mixing. My respect for a space film that channels the absence of sound accordingly is far greater than a film that tries to pass off blaring volume as a substitute for a script’s inability to craft earned anxiety, and the former can be said for “Ad Astra”. Articulately channeling the isolation and immensity of space, the intense sequences put us front-and-center in the suit alongside of our protagonist, giving us a rich audible vibrancy of authentication that other space movies can’t maintain consistently. Saying that this is a quiet film might not appeal to a mass audience, but it’s my belief that Gray and Bradley were going for an immersive quality to the setting that audibly articulates a distance in space where no one can hear you scream, and that element plays wonderfully in the many adversities that Pitt and crew endure throughout the longest road trip ever put to film.

– False advertising. Another negative sounding positive comes from the marketing team’s inability to sell this picture for what it really was, which resulted in no shortage of pleasant surprises for me in all of its thought-provoking human commentary. Depicted as a science fiction thriller through the cosmos, the finished product itself is a character study on the boundaries of interaction, grief, and especially love, bringing forth a slow-burn cerebral undoing that gave me much more rewards than a by-the-numbers action film ever could. There’s definitely action sequences in the movie, but 90% of them are the ones shown in the trailers, and even then they never stick around long enough to dominate or take away from the poignancy of its vital importance.

– Useful narration. I could be in the minority here, but I felt that “Ad Astra” is a movie that earns its narration, for the way it illustrates what the visual storytelling refuses to commit to. Sure, there are scenes on the ship where Pitt’s mental elaboration paints what we already interpreted, but it’s really in his past dynamics with his ex-wife and estranged father that allows us to crack open his psyche and absorb the kind of feelings that reside within from no shortage of mistakes that he frequently regrets. The editing of flashback sequences only appear sparingly, so some audible dialogue that novelizes the value in deconstructing Pitt’s character is one that I greatly appreciated, especially for the way its audible capacity is presented. Throughout the film, this narration is deposited with a slight echo, giving off the impression of the full spectrum when it comes to his character’s position inside of the space suit. In addition to this, it also further paints the poison that comes from his career obsession, and the many ways that it has destroyed his chance at a normal life.

– As a science fiction picture. The best kind of science fiction films to me are the ones that bridge the gaps fruitfully between our current landscape and the future in the film, which feels closer than we think initially. Aside from some outstanding world building, which includes a sampling of some off-in-the-distance familiar product placement, the film also values a social commentary that is cherished by me for being “Hopeful and disastrous”. Instead of giving us a post-apocalyptic rendering, the film feels more effective in giving us slight deviations from our world, in a way that colorfully paints our similarities, all the while giving food for thought towards our differences. It treads its creative feet as a smart science fiction film instead of a cool one, and this unshakeable presence of a subgenre surprisingly feels more accurate because of its creative restraint.

– Variety of conflict. This script constantly evolves, bringing forth a series of adversities and even frights that I truly wasn’t expecting, but one that kept me invested to the sometimes arduous pacing of the film. A lot like life in this regard, the mission at hand sometimes becomes slightly skewed, and antagonism materializes in the form of conflict spontaneity that tests this group of astronauts in unforeseen circumstances. What’s valuable is that none of these set pieces feel hollow or tacked-on to the rest of the film surrounding it. They transition in a way that feels honest and even in some cases pre-conditioned to the exposition that gave us pieces of speculation before they come forth. It keeps the anticipation and anxiety firmly gripped in to the integrity of the picture, and succeeds in mastering a level of vulnerability that makes space undefeated in that regard.

– Human themes, big stakes. Grey has always been known for taking these big epic surroundings, and boiling them down to relatable eye level, thanks in whole to these reflective themes that his audience goes through every day. There are many to dissect in “Ad Astra”, but the ones that feel the most prominent to me deal with workplace dependability, forgiveness, and the fear that we have in becoming our parents. The last one is mentioned unabashedly in dialogue, but the way the shot compositions elaborate this paranoia gives something unique and visually receptive to that fear. For instance, there’s one scene where Pitt is in front of us, staring at a video of his father right in front of the camera. As the camera moves upward, the screen of the father slowly takes over the face of the son, and soon this humbling juxtaposition gives visual way to the quote in the movie “The sins of the father soon become the sins of the son”.

– Breathtaking cinematography. I saved my two favorite aspects of the film for last because their consistency in excellence alone kept this from ever becoming a disappointing film. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema has crafted some gems in the form of 2017’s “Dunkirk”, 2014’s “Interstellar”, and 2013’s “Her”, but his work in “Ad Astra” feels more prominently eclipsing of those past counterparts because of the way he moves elaborately with his angles to move the image towards crowding. The shots of the planets transfix us in all of their colorful immensity, and the absorbing color schemes within these structurally complex set designs better helps emit the tension of the atmosphere more fruitfully than words or actions ever could. When you have a master of the lens this impressively gifted, you wish you could pause specific frames within the movie, and hang them on the walls of your house to gaze at for decades to come, but thankfully Hoyte’s work has already done that, giving us no shortage of gorgeous scenery and unshakeable focus to capture the immensity of our solar system. It’s my early favorite for best cinematography this year.

– The Richter scale. Musical composer Max Richter’s constant influence over the integrity of the picture gives us these classically rendered compositions that build the anticipation for the inevitable wonderfully. Max’s electronica-tinged opera relies on a lot of persistence in volume, feeling equally effective as any other musical score this year, despite his incorporation sounding at half of the volume. It throbs away at these scenes like a riveted heartbeat that beats stronger with each second it’s put through physical intensity, and while Van Hoytema visually stimulates us with imagery that weakens us in the knees, it’s Richter’s audible emphasis that gives us the bed of gravity to float on. Together the two make an unstoppable duo, which will bring forth depression the next time they work on a film without one or the other.

NEGATIVES

– Weak performances. I know, this one is especially shocking when you consider the talented big name cast that fills its ensemble. Unfortunately, Gray’s weakest stance as a director comes from the complete lack of emotional resonance that he pulls from his protagonist and Tommy Lee Jones, making both feel terribly miscast in their respective roles. For Pitt, it’s his constant stone-face that keeps us from fully investing in these gut-punch scenes involving a scarred boy searching for his father, but we never embrace the hurt because neither does Pitt, and it leaves the big payoff for the movie feeling cold and underwhelming because he never loses sight of the tough guy demeanor. Beyond this, the use of these big name stars like Jones, Donald Sutherland, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler and even Natasha Lyonne felt insulting for how little screen time they are actually given. Pitt is certainly the main character, but everyone else is a glorified cameo, with most of which adding so little importance to the value of the film.

– Disappointing ending. Aside from the emotionally vapid performances of Pitt and Jones, which I previously mentioned, the conflict resolution to me didn’t work for an array of reasons. MAJOR SPOILERS. DO NOT GO ANY FURTHER IF YOU WISH NOT TO BE SPOILED. The first deals with the scene in question between father and son. Terribly acted, yes, but it feels rushed considering how committed Jones is one second to staying on board, yet in the next he is walking out with his son. Secondly is the conflict resolution itself. I would never promise to be a science major, but does blowing a power grid that is giving off power surges to planets away sound like a good idea to you? I get destroying the product, but something made of so much energy might not be a good idea to release into the environment. Finally, after Pitt lets go of his father during an exchange in space, Jones floats out to darkness to die. Pitt later mentions in the closing moments that he has no nightmares now that everything is resolved. I guess his conscience allowed him to forgive himself for basically honoring his father’s suicide wish. It points to aspects with the script that caused me to do a double take, and really left the big payoff for the movie feeling like the scene where nothing adds up.

My Grade: 8/10 or B

The Goldfinch

Directed By John Crowley

Starring – Ansel Elgort, Nicole Kidman, Finn Wolfhard

The Plot – 13-year-old New Yorker Theo Decker’s (Elgort) life is turned upside-down when his mother (Kidman) is killed in a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Confused in the rubble of the tragedy, he steals a priceless piece of art known as The Goldfinch.

Rated R for drug use and adult language

POSITIVES

– Gorgeous cinematography. If a film that deals with art so closely wasn’t beautifully rendered, only then would this movie be a complete and total tragedy. Thankfully, the team of Crowley and famed cinematographer Roger Deakins present us with an absorbing pallet that really captures the tonal complexities of the picture. For coloring and texture, there’s a lot of callous whites and greys to match the abstraction of the mystery surrounding these events, giving us tasteful melancholy that constantly reminds us that this is an arthouse film first and foremost. For shot composition, it’s mostly still-frame, and I feel that’s the best vantage point for facial resonation and the small things out of focus that the movie’s themes allude to so candidly. It summarizes the lavish lifestyles of the characters thoroughly, which practically allows this adaptation to immerse us in the details of the novel.

– Rounded cast. The performances are vibrantly complex, starting especially with the combination of Oakes Fegley and Elgort, who round out consistency in psychology for the respective character they embody. For Fegley, it’s interpreting him coming out of his shell the longer that time and people allow him to distance himself from this unshakeable tragedy, and Elgort is really the embodiment of such timing. Not only are these two believable in portraying the same character, but every single dual time-frame character transformation is only rivaled by Stephen King’s “IT: Chapter Two” for most seamless visual transformation. Rounding out the leads is a stoic performance from Kidman, an indulging outcast by Wolfhard, despite an inconsistent Russian accent, and a captivating focus on Jeffrey Wright, whose tapped-into wisdom gives the picture direction and moral fiber during the times when it requires it the most.

– Grief channeled. Perhaps the thing that I respected most about this script was the focus it portrays in depicting grief, and the vulnerability that leads our protagonist through many dark paths that he otherwise would’ve never reached. In embracing the loneliness and disposition of living with a parent who isn’t fully invested in him, Theo’s desperation to attach himself to anyone and anything to release everything inside is something that is admirably honest, especially for youths who sometimes aren’t mature enough to properly emote what is taking place inside. Aside from this, it’s another tip of the hate for Fegley, whose blank stare authenticates a boy who is still very much in shock, granting no shortage of empathy for the character, despite us the audience knowing so very little about the details of the day in question, at least early on in the film. I’m a sucker for a movie that gets emotional resistance right, and doesn’t play it for the temporary cliche that has become a consistency in Hollywood big screen releases. It’s a long and shape-shifting road, and with the right people for guidance, it it allows us to heal by confronting what was there all along.

– Surprising soundtrack. While I have problems with the musical score, which I will get to later, the cues in soundtrack brought audible pleasantries to my ears in the form of familiarity to my album deck that I appreciated probably more than most. Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place” is given about two minutes of run time, to the point that I was desperate for Thom Yorke’s repetition of lyrics, which never come. It’s more used as a compartmentalized score inside of this otherwise awfully obvious one, and really adds to the dimension in dynamic of the scene it accompanies. In addition to this, Van Morrison’s “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” articulately captures the depressive progression of the movie’s third act in a way that an abundance of obvious dialogue never truly captures. Sometimes music is the way to go to allow the audience to reflect on the impacts of a previous scene or sequence, and that’s the case with these two tracks that I wasn’t expecting in a plot and characters with champagne wishes and caviar dreams.

– Go in blinded. I have heard from readers of the novel that this isn’t the best adaptation in terms of faithfulness to a product that some have deemed as “Incapable of being adapted”, and I can accurately interpret that from my own ignorant and inexperienced position. For someone like me who hasn’t read the novel, I enjoyed the many twists and turns that played as a placebo for the ambitious run time, that we start to feel by the third act. There’s enough intrigue and misdirection in the heart of these subplots to not only grant a layer of much-appreciated empathy for Theo as a protagonist, but also to further flesh out some of those scattered pieces that didn’t seem to materialize until they are given the light of realization. This is a story that certainly didn’t end the way that I wanted it to, nor that I expected to, and that’s more of a homage to the spontaneity of our short time here, and how nothing goes the intended route of conventionalism to our satisfaction.

NEGATIVES

– Violent tonal shifts. If I had to summarize this movie’s biggest problem in a single area, it’s that it often tries to be too many different genres in the same picture, and none of them transition believable enough to feel like they’re helmed under the same director. This is definitely Crowley’s biggest problem with adapting the source material, because too often too many of his tones are abruptly rendered, and it ends up changing the entire dynamic of the attitude surrounding the central plot. In the third act alone, there are three different kinds of subgenres introduced and not followed through on, making the important and pivotal climax feel as scatter-brained as anything that I’ve seen in 2019.

– Disjointed storytelling. Another mess that the movie endures is this spontaneous jump in multiple timelines, that is every bit unnecessary as it is compromising to the pacing of the sequences. What’s most important during a steep timeline jump is to introduce all of the elements that have transpired, and while the script does do this, it does it in a way that makes us the audience feel like we were already privy to this information, and it’s not exactly a big deal. One such element deals with a romantic subplot for Theo, which is frightening in itself considering what these two characters are to each other, but made even more sudden because of how little the story decides to develop between them. This kind of story shift is littered throughout the film, and cements the idea to me that this film would be better served on Netflix as a ten episode streaming series.

– Meandering music. I won’t mention names, but the composer of this film has been known for some less than thrilling audible emphasis’ in movies, and his streak continues for “The Goldfinch”. To say that this movie manipulates audiences into feeling a certain way that it doesn’t truly earn with its storytelling is the understatement of the year. He takes these sharp and obvious deposits of music, and makes them inescapable, made even more apparent by a choice in volume that drowns out the performances and dramatic capabilities of this talented ensemble cast. This is one of my least favorite musical scores of 2019, and stands as a directional booklet on what not to do when incorporating music into your film.

– Distracted. Considering this film was advertised with the bombing being the central focus of the film, there’s so little attention paid to it, which becomes more obvious the longer the film runs. I was pulled into this movie with the lure of a mystery that centered around what happened on that one important day, and the longer the film goes, it has moved on from it in a way that essentially makes it feel inconsequential. That seems almost disgusting to say considering this is a little boy losing his mother in an act of terrorism, but there’s so little details given with the who and the why that it almost feels like it could’ve happened on accident with the building itself malfunctioning. What’s even more confusing is that Theo blames himself for it throughout, which I get is one of the stages of grief, but there’s nothing revealed that should make him even remotely think that he was a factor in this bombing, so I don’t get it.

– Incapable of satisfaction. This is dealing with the ending primarily, because there are so many dynamics introduced and never followed through that leaves us with an unavoidable inevitability of disappointment that we know is coming. It writes itself into a corner with a long-winded run time, as well as closing moments that are completely anti-climatic, and doesn’t pay-off in the way that entertaining movies rightfully should. For the most part, it’s being asked to come along on this journey with many different arcs and characters, with the promise of something great at the end, but then when it eventually comes, it’s nothing more than a thank you for braving it out. If the closing moments were predictable, it would even be fine, but this film finishes on such a loss of momentum from a previous act that transforms everything in the movie to something completely different tonally and creatively, and it sends us home with the weakest scene of the movie during the time when it needed strength the most.

My Grade: 5/10 or D

Jacob’s Ladder (2019)

Directed By David M. Rosenthal

Starring – Michael Ealy, Jesse Williams, Joseph Sikora

The Plot – After his brother (Williams) returned home from war, Jacob Singer (Ealy) struggles to maintain his sanity. Plagued by hallucinations and flashbacks, Singer rapidly falls apart as the world and people around him morph and twist into disturbing images.

Rated R for adult language, some violence, sexuality and drug content

POSITIVES

– Deviation from the original. If you have to give this movie credit for anything, know that it isn’t a plagiaristic rip-off of the original film that did every single aspect better by comparison. Aside from the names of the character’s being the same, the film does surprisingly take a refreshing direction in the form of the modern war on medicine, which allows it to stand on its own two feet of originality from an otherwise borrowed title. There were some measures taken in the film that I did enjoy, and with a little more time could’ve been properly fleshed out to convey its intentional message to the eyes and ears of the audience. In addition to this, the film is much better paced than the original “Jacob’s Ladder”, moving frequently throughout its 84 minute run time towards the twist that we’ve all been expecting. This quickness is rough on other aspects that I will get to later, but brings forth an easy one-sit watch that never stalls on the message it is conveying to its audience.

– Gifted duo. Ealy and Williams are sound in what they offer to the picture, despite a lack of characterization from Rosenthal that does no favors in fleshing out the hooks to their personalities. These two men are basically playing two sides of the character coin for the price of one performance, and their believability from post-war traumatic stress is only surpassed by the way their impeccable chemistry and near identical looks bring weight to the believability of the brotherly subplot. Ealy has always been an actor who I consider a secret weapon in Hollywood, despite appearing in some quite popular titles, but as the central protagonist, his grip on the constantly changing scenarios around him enhance the paranoia in trying to decipher what’s real, all the while bringing Michael’s soulful eyes to the surface to convey the fear.

NEGATIVES

– If there’s one constant theme throughout this screenplay, it’s the over-the-top nature in which every element of exposition is delivered. The dialogue flows about as naturally as an 80’s porno, the fantastical imagery feels forced even for monstrous visual transitions, and there’s certainly nothing subtle about the war subplot, which I easily predicted within a few minutes because a better movie did it already. At least in the original, we the audience could decipher the thin line between fantasy and reality, but here even the scenes that take place in the real world feel so convoluted to duplicate authenticity, and soon the entire film turns bored because too much is being repeated along the way.

– Cheap production values. Oh boy, where to start here? First of all, the handheld camera gimmick should only be used in action films to accentuate thunderous impact. Here, it depicts a sloppy mess that brings forth the idea of motion sickness with every movement in and out of frame. Secondly, the special effects in 2019 don’t even come close to matching the subtlety of the ones from 1990. Why is this? Well, this movie relies on them far too often, allowing them to lose their charm by the end of the first act, and they use the same facial filters that made “The Dark Tower” one of the biggest unintentional laughs of its respective year. Finally, the lighting in the film is intusively ugly to the point of scenes feeling like they took place on a green-screen. There is so much puke green tint throughout this film that I thought it was the Green Lantern sequel that Ryan Reynolds never wanted, and what’s even worse is that its consistency never allows it to shake itself free of the television style of production that ruins this film before it even gets its feet off of the ground.

– Changed setting. In the original film, the doom and gloom of the New York city landscape perfectly articulated the darkness from within Jacob’s double life, but the geographic change here to Atlanta does so little to establish its identity or importance within the story. The backdrops in the film reek of stage production, and offer nothing to distinguish itself as a one of a kind setting, instead of a film that easily could’ve been set anywhere if the film didn’t tell me in the opening that this is Atlanta. In addition to this, the war change from Vietnam to Iraq took away arguably the biggest benefactor to Jacob’s subconscious in Agent Orange, and now has to settle for a drug that this movie made up, that doesn’t even happen until soldiers return home. What Vietnam did was make everything believable. You could’ve told me that a character grew a third ear there, and I would’ve believed you because of so much uncertainty in the jungles of their countryside. With Iraq in this instance, far too much has to be explained, leaving an abundance of filling in the gaps that raises more questions than answered.

– Lack of scares. It’s not that there aren’t any attempts, but the ones that are reflect this “Goosebumps” flavor of chills that shouldn’t be even remotely scary to anyone who is able to pee anywhere but their pants. Thankfully, there are no jump scares, but this might be the case where some would’ve been appreciated, because this film in tone and lack of frights often forgets that it is a psychological HORROR movie. For my money, this is as close to an action movie as you can get, even resulting in a third act climax that results in two characters duking it out for survival. The original movie was filled with terrifying imagery in a subtly devilish way that inspired gaming franchises like “Silent Hill”, and rather than even attempt to master this creativity with the effects skills of today, this remake settles instead for the cliches that doom so many horror films in modern day.

– The mystery. Being that this is a “Jacob’s Ladder” movie, there is of course a twist in the third act that supposedly brings everything together, and while this twist is one that capably fills all of the holes in logic, it doesn’t escape the element of predictability, which was given to us long ago. I mentioned earlier that I figured everything out in this movie within the opening ten minutes, and what doesn’t help that fact is a series of clues and coincidences that all but write out on paper what will happen with every character and subplot. My biggest problem is the lack of punch that comes from the revelation as opposed to a first movie that was beautifully synchronized. There’s nothing even remotely compelling or cathartic about what this Jacob endures, and soon we come to understand that his only resolution is one that doesn’t benefit us the audience who have hung on this long in the hopes of closure. It’s an easy way out, and it feels like no one truly wins, a betrayal of the first film’s ending that made me tear up on first watch.

– Fumbling characterization. If we got to know our protagonists for a few minutes, then maybe we would invest in the heaviness of their respective conflicts, but nothing compels me to ever care slightly for one of them, and that has to do with them feeling like strangers even throughout 84 minutes of film. Jacob is our central protagonist, and one we spend the entirety of the movie with, but outside of the things that take place in the movie, I found out nothing about him for the things that happen off-screen. The one aspect we do learn deals with a romantic triangle that honestly doesn’t cast him in the greatest light when it comes to a man with strong family ideals. What did I find out about his girlfriend? Nothing. What did I find out about his brother besides he’s a war veteran? Nothing. These are the people you’re supposed to support and feel worried for when something bad happens to them.

– Disjointed storytelling. It’s important to distinguish what is intentional, and what is a result of sloppy editing. The entirety of this film is told on two respective timelines, so the disjointed nature of scenes feeling scrambled is one that will remain jumbled until the twist comes that fits them all into place. This is done to make us the audience feel the disorientation that Jacob Singer is feeling in the film, and I’m totally fine with that. What I’m not fine with are transitioning scenes the stunt the growth of the dialogue that is deposited, offering no time for audiences to ingest it as anything important by the necessary emphasis required to sell its purpose. Likewise, there were a couple of transitions in the movie where the next scene begins its dialogue while the previous one is still talking. It’s more of the amateur level of production that I mentioned earlier, but this one deserves its own column for how it limits the growth and potential of every scene, offering no bit of momentum to tease us for what is to follow.

– Faulty title. I have to be careful not to spoil this section. The title of this movie should only be there because this is a remake of a film that it is modernizing. My problem with the meaning within the title is that once you know the twist of this particular film, it doesn’t add up to the religious inspiration that Jacob’s Ladder refers to in the bible. Imagine if “The Breakfast Club” was remade, and in the new version the detention is actually done in the afternoon or evening, yet the title remains the same. Occasionally I complain about a title, but I try to save it for occasions when it really creates a problem when summarizing the film, and that is exactly the case here.

My Grade: 2/10 or F-

Angel Has Fallen

Directed By Ric Roman Waugh

Starring – Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Piper Perabo

The Plot – After the events in the previous film, Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Butler) finds himself framed for an assassination attempt on the President (Freeman). Pursued by his own agency and the FBI, Banning races to clear his name and uncover the real terrorist threat which has set its sights on Air Force One.

Rated R for violence and adult language throughout.

POSITIVES

– Grounded realism. Perhaps the biggest aspect that sets itself apart in this film as opposed to its predecessors is the overall lack of ridiculousness that keeps audiences remaining gripped into the developments of the story. That’s not to say that leaps of faith don’t happen in the movie, it’s just that these are minimal in execution when compared to the gaps that was “London Has Fallen”. This not only gives the film a much more needed reserved quality to its action sequences, but also keeps heartbeat of the film firmly planted on its story, which takes us through many dynamics and backstories within Mike’s past.

– Vulnerability. The strongest consistency in terms of continuity for the trilogy comes in the form of wear and tear on Mike that resonates the traumatic and physical exertion that comes at the toll of some lengthy battles. Throughout the film, Mike deals with headaches, fainting, and even psychological anxiety that shapes him in a pleasurable human shape, unlike the previous movies have. For the first time ever, he feels human and very capable of defeat, wiping away the godlike armor of invincibility that takes away much of the urgency associated with his conflicts. It reminds me a lot of Rocky Balboa’s pain catching up with him in “Rocky V”, albeit without the immersing look inside of his psyche that replicates shoot-outs from the previous films, and helps us convey a life in the secret service better than most films articulate.

– Resilient performances. Even if the script fails it due to certain devices which I will get to later, the work of this gifted cast cements professionalism behind every turn. This begins and ends with Butler, who has made a career out of being the brutish badass who we can depend on. Gerard’s Mike feels more fleshed out than ever before, thanks in part to the vulnerability that I previously mentioned, but also because of the heart that Butler deposits in mending a relationship with the father who left him behind as a child. It forces him to reach deeper for a change, and actually proves that he has the dramatic chops to finally take his career one step further. Also reputable in this third chapter is Danny Huston as a longtime friend of Mike’s, Jada Pinkett-Smith as a no-nonsense FBI agent, and especially Nick Nolte as Mike’s estranged father. All of these character’s keep the franchise fresh while revealing more about the central protagonist, revealing fresh exposition even in this late into the game of this franchise.

– Vibrating action. While nothing is dazzling visually from a spectacle standpoint from this director, the competent manner in which he shoots and juggles sound kept me constantly glued to the screen. For camera technique, there isn’t an abundance of choppy editing, nor shaking camera effects, but rather a documentation from many different angles that allows the object in focus to move simultaneously with each passing cut. In addition to this, the sound mixing here is exceptional, whizzing by us with a barrage of bullets and blasts to immerse us seamlessly into the heat of the environment. If the action isn’t done well, this film is a failure from the get-go, but three different directors on three different films have helped to make this series a notable contender in the ever-growing field of big name blockbuster series that have helped reignite the action genre. This one is the perfect closure to a summer movie season that rattled us with fierce presentational aspects to make our popcorn pop.

– My favorite scenes. For my money, the brief time that we get to experience father and son reuniting is easily the highlight of the movie for me. This is not only because the scenes are entertaining and compassionate, but also because tonally they are the only ones that know what kind of movie they are in. This is mostly because they are among the only scenes in the movie that incorporates comedic value to the dynamic of the scene, but in addition to that, the conventional plot taking place around them pauses for this moment of clarity that enhances the stakes of the situation. In my opinion, I could’ve used more time donated to this area of the screenplay, but as it stands this interaction got me through the second half of the movie, when it felt like the pacing was starting to give in to the predictability of what was inevitably to come.

NEGATIVES

– Uninspired computer generation. Yikes!! Where to begin? The combination of unrealized green-screen backdrops and special effects stand out like a sore thumb in a movie with such dismal cinematography. For most of the scenes outside during the daytime, nothing but the actor in focus feels real, giving the production an amateur feel of mastering that stands as a repeated distraction to what’s taking place. The driving sequences are even worse, settling for 50’s style film effects replicating passing landscapes behind the actors, which rival only that of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” for believability. Oddly enough, the C.G in the film reminds me a lot of another Butler film, in 2017’s horrendously awful “Geostorm”, probably the last movie that you want to be compared to in…..well…..any category.

– Tonal evolution. Another aspect of the script that makes this one stand out is its tuning of seriousness which didn’t exist in the previous two movies. There was always a sense of ridiculousness that make it delightfully self-aware, but “Angel Has Fallen” is aiming for an entirely different kind of beast, and it’s one whose grown-up demeanor keep it from experiencing the fun that is most commonly experienced with action thrillers. One could argue that this is because of the delicate nature of what Mike is dealing with, or how the immensity of the conspiracy, but the stakes themselves felt bigger in each of the two films, and I for one could’ve enjoyed Mike feeling more in control here, while showing off a bit of cockiness that could’ve translated well to the personality in the atmosphere.

– Plot device. This is a big one because it completely wipes away any level of urgency that the movie develops for itself. This isn’t a spoiler because it’s featured vibrantly in the trailers, but Mike is framed for an attack on the president by a cryptic group. The group needs him to be the patsy for the attack, but the problem with this is that it keeps them from ever killing him, outlining every conflict scene with an element of predictability that keeps it hanging in the air. It’s made even sadder when the leader of said group tells the men coming after Mike to lay off of him because they need him to take the blame for everything, and it will look more suspicious if he comes up dead to the rest of the world. So we know our hero is safe, cool, so why are we watching this again?

– Forced social commentary. This one almost took it down two points, but I’ll be nice. This is another movie that tries to tie its world to ours by giving us reminders of the world we live in. There are many problems with this, but two that come to mind is people going to the movies to escape their lives, and two, the use of it in this story doesn’t exactly make sense. Let me explain. The first instance of this use comes when a character mentions that the Russians hacked into our election. Who did they help? Morgan Freeman? Does this make him a less honorable president? The second instance is a familiar slogan with a twist, in “Make America tough again”. This line is every bit as macho as a Barbie playhouse, and even worse molds two worlds together that couldn’t be any further apart in comparison if five-eyed aliens made up the population on screen.

– Antagonist twist. There’s a late second act reveal, if you can call it that, for who is controlling this whole mission, and it’s as predictable as you would expect for a script with only two possibilities. When one of those possibilities already joins the group early in the second act, we know who it is, and have to wait another forty minutes before our thoughts materialize. The worst part is the movie tries so hard to be clever with this character reveal, but if you’re paying attention to their demeanor and reactions to everything transpiring, you will already sense that something isn’t stirring the Kool-Aid properly. This turn reeks of 80’s political action thriller, but instead of making the group stronger, it makes them look less intimidating once you see behind the curtain who pulls all of the strings.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

47 Meters Down: Uncaged

Directed By Johannes Roberts

Starring – Sophie Nelisse, Corinne Foxx, Brianne Tju

The Plot – The film follows the diving adventure of four teenage girls (NĂ©lisse, Foxx, Tju and Sistine Stallone) exploring a submerged Mayan City. Once inside, their rush of excitement turns into a jolt of terror as they discover the sunken ruins are a hunting ground for deadly Great White Sharks. With their air supply steadily dwindling, the friends must navigate the underwater labyrinth of claustrophobic caves and eerie tunnels in search of a way out of their watery hell.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense peril, bloody images, and brief strong language

POSITIVES

– Storytelling attempt. In comparing the two films from this franchise, I give this one the slight edge because of the attempt at world building from below, which gives the setting a bit more depth than the spontaneity of the first film. Throughout the first half of the movie, we are given tidbits of information about this Mayan city that came undone once the surrounding waters submerged their once peaceful homes, leaving thousands to drown in suffering. Not only is this a creepily documented setting, but it’s also one that sets an already established level of suffering within the history that plagues the area, setting the stage accordingly for the perfect showdown with our predators. As to where the first movie was entirely in a cage, this film’s volume in space to constantly elevate scenario’s is one that pays off immensely for where the visual storytelling needs to pace itself through in 84 minutes of screen time.

– Proper lighting. Another cured aspect from the clumsy production of the first movie was the addition to arm these girls with flashlights to better explain why there’s so much lighting in an area so dark and deep beneath the sea, and while this still doesn’t explain the green glow that follows the girls everywhere, it is at least attempting to explain its own careless flaws. Likewise, the blood effect on the flashlights, while nothing new to underwater cinema, crafts a reddish tint that gives candid reminder of our protagonists being in the environment of the blood-hungry. Aside from this, it also maximizes the tension during chase sequences, that make it slightly more difficult for the ladies to see, which in turn leads to some pretty intense jump scares in the form of some well-chosen P.O.V angle lenses.

– Continuity in direction. Roberts returns once again to helm the sequel, and in addition to all of the gifts that I previously mentioned, it’s his amplification for traumatic events that proves he’s grown in such a short time. “Uncaged” isn’t just paced better than the original film, but it’s also one that knows exactly what kind of a movie it should be, instilling a sense of light cheese to the character’s and dialogue, that emit the fun from summertime cinema. Beyond this, it’s his collaboration again with musical composers TomandAndy that brings forth this air of anxiety-riddled panic that echoes so vibrantly in their ominous tones. Beyond just a vibrating musical score however, the film also uses some of its budget to sample popular songs like Roxette’s “She’s Got the Look”, as well as “We’ve Only Just Begun” by The Carpenters, to give the scenes a cool factor of humanity that better grounds it in reality.

– Fresh-faced cast. The performances aren’t anything special in the scream queen capacity, but it’s still interesting that two of these women are the daughters of Jamie Foxx and Sylvester Stallone, respectively. What these four ladies lack in audible blessings, they more than make up for in dramatic depth, properly channeling the intensity and vulnerability associated with such a traumatic experience. I certainly liked them more than Mandy Moore’s incessant rambling in repetition during the first film, and I only wish the exposition would do them a favor in rendering them a little smoother backstories, particularly that of Nelisse and Foxx, who play step-sisters. Even still, for mostly first time starring roles, these ladies have a presence in personalities that make them easier to accept the longer the movie progresses.

NEGATIVES

– Rating limitations. Aside from the already jumbled camera work in such a crowded space, the PG-13 material clearly limits death sequences and depicting thrills in such that makes them virtually bloodless. With the exception of the final five minutes of the movie, which is easily the climax for the whole movie, the blood is used as more of a lighting trick that I previously mentioned, instead of wounds on an open spicet of human flesh. You don’t really see anything of detail except for a quick swim-by grab that happens far too often. For my money, the death scenes are what makes a shark movie great, and “Uncaged” has nothing of originality or artistic value to sell its violence to hardcore audiences.

– Things that don’t add up. As is the case with the first movie, this one as well has no shortage of head scratching moments that made it difficult to swallow. The first is the oxygen tank, which loses 70% of its stock in a ten minute swim down to the Mayan city, yet only loses 25% for the last 65 minutes of the movie. There’s also a scene near the beginning where the girls drop their purces on the edge of a cliff to jump down, yet their phones and things are with them in the next scene. If they jumped down into the water, where did they hide it that allowed the objects not to get wet? There’s also the convenience of them finding scuba gear from a company that is just sitting on a raft where anyone could steal it, and thank God the four chests just so happened to feature wetsuits that were precicely the sizes of the ladies in tow. There’s also a scene where a huge stone pillar underwater gets knocked over by a human character being shoved into it, and the law of gravity underwater starts to weigh heavily when already heavy objects are placed underwater to give them more weight, are so easy to move. There are many more, but I think I’ve made my point.

– Horrendous A.D.R. The post production in audio is arguably the single worst aspect of this movie, offering a slew of unintentionally comic situations of which there are no shortage of. Character’s being heard audibly without their mouths moving, mouth movements not matching what is being heard aloud, and such clumsy stitching in audio deposits that you can practically hear the edit button being clicked before the pasting fixed a horrible line read. This is where Hollywood Studios really shows its inferior product the most obviously, as the noticeable flaws start to add up in ways that took me out of nearly every scene, and constantly reminded me of post production, which always overstepped its boundaries on the integrity of the picture.

– Predictable. Once you understand the outlines of the characters in the opening ten minutes of the movie, it’s easy to understand who will survive this chapter of the franchise. For me, I made a prediction five minutes into the film, stuck with it for the entirety, and was a hundred percent accurate by the end of the film. I commend the production for giving us more character’s in this movie to obviously throw at the shark, but 90% of them are nothing more than body count padding, making what little screen time they have a temporary borrowing before the air of inevitability catches up to them. I was also bothered by how late the movie waits to start getting rid of them, making the last half hour feel like a catching up period for how common it repeats as opposed to the previous hour that came before it.

– Uninspired C.G. If you thought the sharks looked lifeless in the first movie, the second ones noticeable drop-off comes in the form of computer generation that made the sharks look like something out of an Asylum or Syfy channel movie of the week. The movements of them aren’t so bad, really just the design and texture that doesn’t replicate vibration movements or gills believably enough so that their incorporation adds weight to the dimensions of the scene. These sharks look so weakly manufactured that I started calling them zombie sharks, for the way they look like someone already harpooned them, stuffed them, hung them on their wall, and brought them back to life Jason Voorhees style. Truly unappealing in every definition of the word.

– One dimensional characters. I mentioned this earlier, so I should elaborate on it. Beyond the two sisters who are polar opposites in the high school popularity factory, there is absolutely no complexion given to any character in this film, which in turn makes it more difficult to buy into their conflicts and conversations. Because this is a movie that features a high school for a scene, we have to have a group of mean girl bullies, whose soul intention towards the film is to be completely rude for no reason what so ever. The protagonists are nothing different, as the two additional girls who join our sisters on the expedition are nothing more than stereotypes. I seriously couldn’t make a list of three things between them that I learned about them, despite spending so much time on-screen with them, and it’s a testament that this is a movie that doesn’t value character importance in the slightest.

My Grade: 4/10 or D+

The Kitchen

Directed By Andrea Berloff

Starring – Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss

The Plot – The wives of New York gangsters in Hell’s Kitchen in the 1970s continue to operate their husbands’ rackets after they’re locked up in prison.

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

POSITIVES

– Star-studded cast. Give credit to this trio of ladies, because they are making casserole out of dogshit. McCarthy, Haddish, and especially Moss are a continuous presence in front of the camera, and offer a combination of delightful exchanges between them, as well as the opportunity in portraying a role that is against type for them, was something that gave dimensions to these usually iconic comic faces. The best for me is easily Moss, who endures loneliness, everyday abuse, and a complete character transformation that stood as the only protagonist who I found myself getting behind for support. On the opposite of that, it’s not that McCarthy and Haddish’s characters are detestable, but rather the film gives them no ounce of empathy to make you truly invest in the predicament’s of their characters, and soon it becomes two seasoned veterans of acting who are emoting through these average human beings, who don’t offer a shred of relatability to bring out the indulgence in their character’s. Aside from this, surprising cameo appearances from Common, Bryan D’Arcy James, Margo Martindale, and the loose cannon rumblings of Domhnall Gleeson round out a production of big names, who colorfully express themselves within arguably the single most dangerous place in America during the 1970’s.

– Hard R rating. What I commend this film for is it doesn’t beat around the bush in its violence or graphic material, cutting straight to the pulse of the streets for better or worse to the integrity of the environment. Some of the deaths in the movie were so blunt and unapologetic that it felt conventional for the time period, etching out a level of brutal honesty that most films try to glamorize for the sake of pleasing a rating that accomodates more audiences. In addition to this, the language authentically replicates the mob mentality, complete with four letter words and stern threats throughout that serve as the only framing device where it feels like the script immersed itself as so much more than an entertaining film.

– Female empowerment. Even with a script that does little favors in getting to know and justify the actions of our female dominated cast, the angle of being a metaphor for female inspiration is one that takes some unusual turns. It turns out that anything men can do, women can do more gruesome, especially in the instant of Moss’ character working closely with Gleeson to dispose of a body. In addition to this, each of the three women strive to overcome someone who works to keep them reserved in their role as an obeying housewife, transforming themselves in the face of adversity as this trio of terror who keep moving through the punches of adaptability. This is certainly the easiest aspect that the film could’ve attained, but it’s nice to know that it doesn’t lose its charms anywhere in the sea of male faces that could’ve easily overstepped their boundaries where the film didn’t sell it that way.

NEGATIVES

– Fumbling direction. It’s clearly evident that this is a first time effort behind the directing chair for Berloff, because nearly everything is disappointing in her visual flare for the drama that practically removes itself from this story. From her disjointed level of storytelling, to her rushed character development and sloppily rushed pacing for the story, to the complete lack of conscience associated with the editing, that leaves it feeling episodic by its brunt dissection, this is a presentation that almost immediately takes you out of it from the first scene, and leaves you feeling so dejected from the lack of adversity that makes it easier for these ladies to takeover with very little speed bumps. On top of all of this, the inspiration given to these performances make it feel like a paycheck film, and one that shouldn’t be associated with something so vital to a female director directing a female empowerment film.

– Lack of believability. This film has no time to slow itself down and set the stage for the events that lands responsibility at these ladies feet practically overnight. Especially considering that this is 1978 in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, the lack of male dispute towards a female takeover is something that I grew more concerned with the longer the movie progressed, and in terms of a story of adversity, this one has practically none of it. These dangerous male mobsters sit back because business is good, and we’re supposed to believe that there isn’t a single bone of machismo beneath their gruff exteriors, leading to dangerous home lives where a fine level of suspense could easily be developed. No mob movie should ever showcase a takeover being this easy, but “The Kitchen” proves that the only heat coming from it is the momentum that slowly omits itself with each passing scene.

– Tonally inbalanced. Being that this is actually a comic book movie, it’s no surprise that there is an element of comic timing to off-set the seriousness of graphic material that paints itself throughout the film. The problem is the level of organic that these compromising tones don’t competently balance, leading to an environmental capacity which is every bit as forced humorously as it is compromising to the true urgency of the situation. A couple of laughs here and there are fine to cool off these very surreal deaths being shown to us, but too much can leave it searching for an identity, and in this case one it never finds. The cheesy dialogue also does it no favors in capturing an essence of vulnerability within the characters, and outside of McCarthy, the ladies never feel the weight of the circumstances that they’ve drawn to them within the heat of the neighborhood, thanks to their newfound inheritance of power.

– As a period piece. While mostly cohesive with that of the essence of 1978, there’s no sense of alluring style or compelling cinematography to truly sell the dated visuals as something entrancing. There’s never any effort made to transform the neighborhood into the proper day and age, where the barrage of signs and product placement find weight in a particular age of era. Beyond this, the only time when the script tries to establish itself in its designated year is during a bar scene involving some super sloppy sound mixing, which elaborates on the most basic of conversations involving Reggie Jackson and the New York Yankees. This is definitely a conversation that could and did exist in 1978, but the most obvious in terms of story location. It underwhelms at the one thing nearly every period piece today radiates with, and never duplicates the comic book appeal that comes with splashes of vibrant colors.

– Montage game. This is two reviews in a row where valued exposition is cashed in for musical montages, which visually rush us through a story that would better be served living through the events themselves. If done once or twice, fine, but this film has no fewer than five musical montages, complete with 70’s rock tracks which manipulate the audience into feeling like they are fine with such an abrupt shredding. In my opinion, this film never had a chance to succeed if it wasn’t interested in telling a complex story for at least two hours, and through a series of montages with a show rather than tell mentality, we get a taste for the juicy parts of the film which could’ve better progressed the pace of the events naturally, giving us characters and situations that feel grown rather than topical.

– Strange storytelling methods. There’s a lot to unload here, but I will keep it brief to limit spoilers. Two major things that bothered me about the script were the introduction of Gleeson’s character, as well as a second act twist, which limits the appeal that the story was going for in two such instances. For the former, the manner in which his character is introduced not only undermined his introduction, but also the scenario that was taking place in the heat of the moment. It felt like they were going for something with dramatic pull, but neither ever attributed to such an obvious direction competently. In terms of the second act twist, there was no set-up to it at all. It’s a surprise that nobody was wondering about, which comes out of nowhere and sells itself as a twist just because. Most of this goes back to the first time director being a reputable screenplay writer all of her life, not understanding how to telegraph the impacts of these scenarios in a visual capacity, taking something that looked good on paper, yet translated terribly in uninspired execution.

– Unnatural story pacing. This is within the story itself, and not the run time of the film overall. The husbands are given a three year sentence early on in the movie, and literally three scenes later (I’m not kidding), a whole year has passed in storyboard movements. If this wasn’t mentioned from Moss’ character, I would’ve never known this at all, and the lack of digestion for time that the film so ruthlessly ignores would make it feel like everything inside takes place within a matter of days. This is as disorienting of a watch as I have seen in 2019, and if the husband’s time was anything like the passing of time that takes place in this movie, then consider it was the easiest time that any criminal has ever endured.

My Grade: 3/10 or F

The Peanut Butter Falcon

Directed By Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz

Starring – Shia Lebeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zach Gottsagen

The Plot – An adventure story set in the world of a modern Mark Twain that begins when Zak (Gottsagen), a young man with Down syndrome runs away from a nursing home where he lives to chase his dream of becoming a professional wrestler and attending the wrestling school of The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). Through circumstances beyond their control Tyler (Lebeouf), a small time outlaw on the run becomes Zak’s unlikely coach and ally. Together they wind through deltas, elude capture, drink whisky, find God, catch fish, and convince Eleanor (Johnson), a kind nursing home employee with a story of her own to join them on their journey.

Rated PG-13 for thematic content, adult language throughout, some violence and smoking

POSITIVES

– Southern sizzle soundtrack. The musical incorporation has a huge part in this movie, echoing its twangs and bluegrass vibes for a majority of the film’s 92 minute run time superbly. There’s a seamless quality to the way it plays hand-in-hand with the documentation of the ever-changing visual environments, remaining consistently in-grip to the backroads channeling that the film holds so strongly in inescapable reminder. No track was ever familiar to me, and the benefit that holds is to maintain the attention of the audience firmly in tow to the dynamic of the story, leaving no escape routes of audible familiarity to drift away from what is transpiring on-screen. Very few films this year use music as a way to properly channel their unique setting, but “The Peanut Butter Falcon’s” immersive quality is nearly good enough to make you sweat with the humidity of the southern landscape.

– True tale of friendship. This is a feel good film that really tugs at the heartstrings of your cinematic vulnerability for how the movie values the common importances of life. It’s easy to see how these three characters alone have been jaded by life’s defining of each of them, but when they come together everything just clicks, and soon the trio find themselves blazing their own path of destiny as this lovable, disfunctional family that forgets the rules of conventionalism. What’s most important is the bond between them feels believable because of the time they spend interacting with one another, all for the interest of this magical man whose journey has united them. It teaches us not only to follow our dreams regardless of how big and boisterous they are, but also that the term family doesn’t always refer to blood. It’s a heartfelt reminder of life at its sweetest immagining, and gives the film a thought-provoking quality that radiates within its simplistic views towards life.

– Triple threat. It was great to see Shia back to dedicating himself to a character that requires a bit of a transformation to truly sell. Not so much in the visual capacity, but rather the audible one, Lebeouf maintains a southern accent wonderfully throughout, in addition to articulating enough quirks and ticks to his speech patterns that gives the character a very lived-in feeling of existence. Dakota Johnson also hands in another reputable turn in her post Fifty-Shades days. She emotes a character who balances a lot of love for Zak, as well as responsibility for the desperation of her job, and it makes the character easily the most complex of the film’s island of misfit toys. Gottsagen however, will repeatedly capture your attention in every scene he tears down the walls of personality which were built for him. In spite of his condition, the film has a lot of respect for Zak, comparing his dreams to that of us the audience, and offers one of those rare instances where he is defined for that quality instead of a condition that he was born into, and even when clashing with some of Hollywood’s biggest names, Gottsagen’s turn is the one you will definitely be talking about once the credits roll.

– Wacky personalities. Aside from the incredible work from the main cast, the combination of celebrity cameos and zany side characters added an endearing quality to the progression of the road trip, which surprised me at every turn. For the former, there’s a couple of professional wrestling cameos that made a wrestling fan like me do a double take, and added a layer of realism to Zak’s squared circle dreams, and for the latter, there’s apparently something in the water that intensifies the eccentric southern drawl that redefines the term southern hospitality. I couldn’t get enough of the many guests that this group came across, proving that compelling characters don’t necessarily require hours of exposition, but a flattering angle to capture the madness on display.

– Mesmerizing visuals. What I love is the complexity dedicated to the craft of shooting anything but a conventional shot composition to the immensity of the everglades, choosing instead to harvest it in some truly alluring wide angle lens combinations that speak wonders to a metaphorical double meaning. The first, is the distance of the journey itself, acting as a visual reminder to persevere through the miles that stand in the way as an adversity to ones dream, and the second is the preserving of this warm blanket of Heaven that the trio of newfound family find themselves in, under this vibrant blue sky that never seems to fade or diminish. This is a gorgeously shot film, and one that will easily transform your stereotypical opinion of the southern states in exchange for an endless amount of sunshine glow radiating off of the water so perfectly.

– As a wrestling interest piece. The list of credible professional wrestling movies is every bit as long as amazing video game movie adaptations, but “The Peanut Butter Falcon” gives way to a surprising third act that takes its time portraying the craft of Zak’s favorite sport. I mentioned earlier that there are two professional wrestlers in the film, but far beyond that, there’s a very candid depiction of the depths that ones career falls when the glitz and glamor wear off, and the few passionate fans are all that remains. There’s also a fantastical aspect to the wrestling’s choreography that would otherwise feel out of place in a film so grounded in reality, but works here because of the sentimental value it holds within the weight lifted from Zak’s psyche. The wrestling is so much more than an emerging subplot, it’s really central focus for the final twenty minutes of the film, and quenches the thirst of a wrestling fantatic like me, who rarely gets a chance to see it depicted with the air of class it deserves.

– Derivative to a plus. There’s no escaping this feeling like a Mark Twain deciple, and instead of the film trying to allude us from the obvious comparisons that this film draws from something like “Huckleberry Finn”, the central character himself even mentions the author in a moment that feels like the crossroads for two respective properties on the path to moral highground. There’s certainly nothing wrong with paying homage to a piece of literature that inspired you, and the team of Nilson and Schwartz incorporate the outline and themes to said novel, all the while distancing itself the longer that the film persists. Nothing feels remotely disrespectful or plagiaristic, and if it inspires someone who has never picked up a Mark Twain novel to give it a shot, then shouldn’t we be all the more grateful because of such?

– The ending. Even in a film that isn’t the strongest for its unpredictability factor, the closing moments throw a couple of twists and turns that rival 2006’s “Running Scared” for changing complexion. At first I thought that this, along with the wrestling match that I previously mentioned, were all elements inside of a dream sequence, but soon the walls of reality seem clearly evident, leaving us with a feeling of uncertainty that shakes everyone and everything for what transpires. You may read this paragraph and think it is all a major spoiler, but I promise that what you think happens doesn’t. It’s an entirely different direction of dramatic heft that closed the film out brilliantly, and stood as the biggest metaphor for the roller-coaster of emotional free-fall that I just rode.

NEGATIVES

– Too many musical montages. As to where I commended the film’s use of music throughout, the abundance of montage sequences constantly hindered the minimal amount of exposition for an already brief run time. It compartments these dynamics that aren’t given the proper two hours to fully flesh out, and gives the film’s second act an overwhelming rushed feeling that it never escapes from. The personalities and interactions of this trio are so compelling that I could never truly get tired of them, and this abrupt aspect of the film hints that the studio or the movie’s writers didn’t think that audiences like me would indulge in them as easily as it ultimately was, but their faith should’ve afforded them another half hour of exposition, particularly in the love angle between Lebeouf and Johnson, which feels like overdrive from their initial meeting.

– Brother subplot. Jon Bernthal is in this movie? I seriously had no idea. What’s even more troubling is that his inclusion offers very few moments of tender reflection or much needed explanation for the audience given constant reminder of this aspect. Almost immediately, you realize the meaning of this inclusion, but it holds so little weight on Shia or anything else within the film, earning it a badge of disjointed storytelling that would’ve been fine being omitted from the finished product. It felt like it was setting itself up for a confrontation that never came, and never truly established who this character was, what happened to him, and how did it happen to him?

My Grade: 8/10 or B+

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

Directed By James Bobin

Starring – Isabella Moner, Q’Orianka Kilcher, Benicio Del Toro

The Plot – Having spent most of her life exploring the jungle with her parents, nothing could prepare Dora (Moner) for her most dangerous adventure ever: high school. Always the explorer, Dora quickly finds herself leading Boots (Danny Trejo), Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), a mysterious jungle inhabitant, and a ragtag group of teens on a live-action adventure to save her parents and solve the impossible mystery behind a lost Inca civilization.

Rated PG for action and some impolite humor

POSITIVES

– Responsibility realized. When Dora debuted on Nickelodeon, she not only became a pop culture icon, but more importantly a Latino one, and especially during a time when our neighbors to the south are feeling the sting of freedom falling apart, the film is perhaps more important than ever in giving them a hero they can feel proud of. As an action protagonist, Dora is tough, charming, intelligent, and even dangerous when she needs to be, and the never-ending flow of her spirit is something that represents the Mexican demographic candidly, etching out a persistence for always getting the job done. Likewise, the film is shot on location in the Amazon, so many of the sets and wardrobe associated speak vibrantly to an Aztec culture that is very rarely rendered in cinema. Everything from family traditions, to free-flowing gowns is on display for the group better known as the people of the gods, and with it holds valuable weight to the film that makes them anything but just a beautiful shooting location.

– Set designs. Speaking of which, the imagination donated to fun and audience immersive puzzles is something that added a lot of intrigue to the film, crafting this as a kids version of Indiana Jones without fully ripping it off for inspiration. Not only is their detailed variety in the gorgeous backdrops that surround our leads, but every trap that they find themselves having to get out of requires each particular character to indulge in something that they are good at, building them stronger as a group the longer the film persists. In contrast to this, the scenes in Los Angeles offer a stark variation on everything that Dora is used to, bringing forth the boisterous sounds and toxic personalities that come with upper class privilege. It gives the film a big budget feel with so many varied locations, allowing it to transcend some of the bigger budget problems that the film faces in other areas that I will get to later.

– Perfect tone. Most importantly, this film knows what it is; a wacky slew of hijinks that vibes togetherness and inclusion in an adventurous manner. It finds a comfortable balance somewhere in the middle between being taken too seriously and feeling so off the wall that it feels disjointed in its sequencing. This one stays focused with all of its madness, and brings forth a level of comic firepower that left my gut in knots more than a couple of times. It’s mostly kid humor, but there are a few clever zingers scattered throughout that only adults will pick up on, and while I appreciate a kids movie that treats youths with respect, the accessibility for all ages of audience is something I appreciate so much more. My favorites are definitely the scenes where everything stops so Dora can speak to the audience beyond the screen, paying homage to the television show in a way that makes her look like a nut here. Loved it.

– Spanish flavored soundtrack. There’s a couple of things to compliment here. The first, Dora’s incredible freestyling skills, which takes the group through many embarrassing and tense situations in which she talks them through peacefully. One such song involves a character taking a dump, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the most catchy and detailed lyrics that I’ve heard from an original piece of music in a long time. Beyond this, the soundtrack itself includes many pop culture favorites, but done in Spanish, complete with mariachi style musical accompaniment. There are many, but the two I caught were Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made For Walking”, and of course my second favorite song from The Cure “Just Like Heaven”. It keeps the flavor of the movie finely tuned with the rest of the film’s cultural setting, all the while preserving a level of familiarity in choices that will have the parents toes tapping.

– My favorite scene. I was never a fan of Dora the Explorer during its television run, but the scene that left the biggest imprint on my memory even an hour after the film is this sequence where the characters go through a bit of a drug trip, and their embodiment changes to animated form. I won’t spoil anything else, because there is a lot of creativity donated to the dialogue of the scene, but this three minute fantasy pays homage wonderfully to the spirit of the original television show without soiling the integrity of everything that it’s accomplishing originally within this film. What’s important is the animation is the exact same, not exactly transferring well to the silver screen, but doing its job on the subject of homage integrity that many remakes can’t master accordingly.

– Committed performance. I’ve been a fan of Isabela Moner for a long time, but her work here is her single most convincing role to date. Moner was born to play Dora, and even more than that, she embodies every single aspect about the character that no other acting adaptation has mastered this year for a pre-established character. Isabela’s infectious demeanor requires you to be heartless to not be touched by her magnetic charms, and the girl kicks ass in a way that very few kid properties allow their characters to instill. Capped off with an openness that naively sees the best in people, Dora is the character we don’t deserve, but the one we need right now, and thanks to Moner in the driver seat, there’s no way that a young actress as dedicated to the craft as her would ever let this opportunity pass her by.

– Room on the bone for a sequel. The first half of this film is Dora experiencing real life in America, complete with the awkwardness of high school, and while I enjoyed the adventure that this film took me on, it was the America part that I could’ve used more of. The positive out of this is that it leaves plenty of meat of creativity for a second movie involving Dora’s vulnerability living now permanently in America, as well as dating, bullying, and everything else that comes with a fish out of water story. As for this film, it gives enough satisfaction in its material easily being worth the ticket price for a matinee screening, but it’s wise enough to build a second movie in which the expectations will be much higher since this film became a success.

NEGATIVES

– Awful computer generation. I figured the animal properties and certain effects work of the film would be computer generated, but what I didn’t expect was how lifeless their renderings left my mind having to fill in the gaps of believability. The animals themselves are the worst I’ve seen in a few years, not only for failing to attain the level of natural lighting in any scene that they are involved in, but also for the lack of weight they deposit on a live actor’s interaction. Even for Nickelodeon animation, this is bad on a whole new level, and is easily the biggest flaw for a movie that has a surprising amount of integrity to its reputation.

– No consequences. I understand that this is a cartoon world, but the lack of scrapes, blood, or any kind of injuries through death-defying leaps of faith is something that erases any level of vulnerability, which in turn takes away any shred of suspense for the audience. The excuse will be that people don’t watch Dora for suspense, but this is an action first movie, so therefore it requires even an ounce of real world consequence to its many stunts. The worst of all for me is a jump that Dora makes across two sides of the cave, which can be seen in the trailers for the movie. After her jump, it cuts, and we see Dora laying on the ground at least a hundred feet beneath where she jumped, with no scratches or bone breaks to make her regret doing it in the first place. If Dora doesn’t subdue to pain, then why not have her lunge herself at her opposition at all times? Part of what makes the character so relatable is the fact that she is a teenager, and one who lives, breathes, and hurts just like all of us.

– Weak antagonist. For my money, there never should’ve been an antagonist character in this movie. The antagonist itself should’ve been the cave, with Dora and her crew trying to find their way out of it. With that said, we receive an antagonist halfway through the film, and it holds very little bearing or impact to the remainder of the film. What’s worse is this antagonist makes even less sense the more you think about it. SPOILERS DO NOT READ ON. So you’re telling me that this guy went through everything that Dora and friends did just so he could turn on her? Every death defying instance? One of which he almost drowned on, and all of which he leaves his life in the hands of kids for. Not exactly the criminal mastermind kind of thinking you would expect.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

The Angry Birds 2 Movie

Directed By Thurop Van Orman

Starring – Jason Sudeikis, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader

The Plot – The flightless angry birds and the scheming green piggies take their beef to the next level when a new threat emerges that puts both Bird and Pig Island in danger.Red (Sudeikis), Chuck (Josh Gad), Bomb (Danny McBride), and Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage) recruit Chuck’s sister Silver (Rachel Bloom) and team up with pigs Leonard (Hader), his assistant Courtney (Awkwafina), and techpig Garry (Sterling K. Brown) to forge an unsteady truce and form an unlikely team to save their homes.

Rated PG for rude humor and sequences of action

POSITIVES

– Animation improvements. As to where the vibrancy in color designs were equally as captivating in the original film, it’s really the dimensions given to character outlines, as well as the animator’s firm grip on landscape influence that makes this film stand out as visually superior. In particular, the action sequences feel far more impactful thanks to the detail in devastation that equals that of the rhythmic sound design. Likewise, the eye-popping arrival of the snowy mountainside offers a stark contrast to the sunny tropical climates we’ve grown used to from the franchise. This is certainly a beautiful triumph for Sony Animation, and it’s one that will hold the attention of its youthful audience, if only for the dazzle that comes with production experience.

– Consistently persistent. A film clocking in at 87 minutes is expected to be swift in its storytelling movements, but what works for “Angry Birds Movie 2” is that it constantly keeps the pressure on the movements of the conflicts and environments without it weighing heavily on the pacing of the scenes. There are problems I had with the disjointed nature of the continuity in scenes edited together, particularly during the second act, but never once can I say that I was bored by the film, and that’s almost entirely because, like its feathered flock, this one is always flying by, leaving little in the way of heavy exposition. The material encased isn’t exactly thought-provoking or poignant in deeper meaning, so the decision to keep it short, sweet, and directly to the point is one that I greatly appreciate.

– Charismatic cast. Much thanks goes to Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels for having a much bigger hand than people think in the casting of this film. Jason Sudeikis, Bill Hader, Leslie Jones, Maya Rudolph, Pete Davidson, and Beck Bennett lead a cast of prime time players who each give their signature flare and raw tapped-in energy to a barrage of eclectic personalities who make up our group. Beyond the SNL crew, we get noteworthy turns as well from Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown, Tiffany Haddish, Danny Mcbride, Peter Dinklage, and a birds debut from Awkwafina, who steals the show and screen time for the lessons instilled by her character that better materialize Red as the protagonist we’ve always needed. This talented cast goes well above the material, and really invest their all into the heartbeats of their respective characters, and in a collaboration world that recently just saw Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham come together to save the world, the credibility associated with this film comically is second to none in 2019.

– Positive lessons. As is the case with any kids movie, this one summarizes its lessons in the material it conveys, and it’s clear that the intentions are easy to emit from the many scenarios that play out on-screen. “Angry Birds 2” harvests a message of teamwork, as well as a comfortable blanket of being yourself, and not worrying about the way other people see you. As is the case with Red, his newfound heroism is something that he is still learning to grow with, and because of such he allows this thought process to cloud his judgment when it comes to the friendships he has gained for the first time in his life. This gives the film a great continuance on the guidelines it set for opening up during the first movie, and teaches us that being a good person relies on so much more than being there for other people, it’s also being there for yourself.

– My favorite arc. I love that much of the film focuses on the psychology of Red’s moves while in control, and the way that his peers see him since the triumph of the closing moments of the first film. It gives the film an unusually heavy layer of subconscious that breathes alongside the storytelling in ways that allows the central protagonist to grow naturally from one film to the next. Because of the weak antagonist plot, which I will get to later, this more than anything felt like the sail that was steering the fragile masculinity of the character, and gave him a surprising amount of depth in the way that no other character even comes close to. I may not have a lot to say positively about this film, but Red is one of my favorite animated protagonists of 2019.

NEGATIVES

– One sided humor. Like the first film, many of the gags both audibly and visually in the film are geared towards youthful audiences, with very few moments of reprieve for the parents forced to tag along. Especially as is the case with kids movies today, there’s often a desire to please both sides of the coin, but “Angry Birds 2” isn’t clever enough to find the same kind of double meaning in its material to invite multiple age groups to pull something different from the joke, and it demeans it from having strong crossover appeal with those forced to take it in. For my money, I laughed twice in the film, and these certainly weren’t gut-busting blow-offs, but rather bombastic instances where the animation practically leaped off of the screen, and sold the lunacy of the situation better than the set-up ever could. In this regard, the moody crumudgeon Red of the first film gave me at least a few more giggles where I could relate for the similar personality that I possess.

– Weak antagonist. For about the first forty minutes of this film, it felt like there was no villain for the birds and pigs to go against, but out of nowhere, without properly navigating through this character’s backstory, she is turned and sold as the central conflict of the story, and given the tired destructive role that antagonists in kids movies are practically born with. Leslie Jones does a decent enough job emoting this character, but the screenplay couldn’t take a scene to build her on her own when the protagonists aren’t standing right next to her, and it signifies an already cluttered character list didn’t have enough time to properly build one more, and overall it gives much of the conflict dynamic within the film this underwhelming lack of urgency that ironically feels even more cliche’d despite not wasting half of the normal screen time on her.

– Outdated soundtrack. Another tired trope for kids movie is to market these top 40 dance tracks that are a few years too late by the time the film eventually drops, and make a sight gag out of them in lazy, uninspired manners of comedy for the purpose of selling downloads. The easy answer is that the typical animated movie takes 2-3 years to make, but the most familiar offender here, “Turn Down For What” by Lil Jon, is from 2013, giving its inclusion a salmonella level of shelf life that made me sick just from hearing its familiar initial notes. It embodies everything that is wrong with the Angry Birds name to begin with; a corporate manufactured product with the only intention being to sell downloads.

– Too much borrowing. There’s nothing original about “Angry Birds 2”, and what’s even worse? it shares writers with the very films it lifts its material from. Peter Ackerman, who penned many of the Ice Age movies, brings along hijinks scenarios where everything around the characters goes wrong far beyond their control…..similar to Scrat in “Ice Age”. Beyond this, the whole mission itself, from tonal capacity to event outlines, serves as a discount version of “Despicable Me 3”, a film that was easily the weakest of that respective franchise. Finally, how many animated movies have a peaceful group led by a hero, who then comes across a new-and-improved character, which then makes the former feel alienated from the power he has attained? It’s like preserving chewed-up meat, and then throwing it on the grill to hope it will sizzle. It doesn’t, and it leaves this film every bit as uninspiring as it does predictable.

– Pointless padding. Towards the end of the second act, there’s a subplot introduced involving the finding of three eggs that some of the supporting characters try to hunt down. Not only does this not hold any weight within the confines of the central conflict, but its conclusion essentially holds no weight or bearing on the closing moments of the picture. This makes it feel like an obvious device for getting the run time to the desired minimum, and what’s even more confusing is that it should’ve been used to better accommodate the fumbled antagonist focus, which as I mentioned earlier is virtually non-existent throughout the first half of the film.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

Hobbs & Shaw

Directed By David Leitch

Starring – Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba

The Plot – Lawman Luke Hobbs (Johnson) and outcast Deckard Shaw (Statham) form an unlikely alliance when a cyber-genetically enhanced villain (Elba) threatens the future of humanity.

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

POSITIVES

– Signature Style. As opposed to the cinematography of the previous franchise installments, “Hobbs & Shaw” is privy to a combination of geographic variety and intense shot compositions that vividly pay homage to the 90’s action thrillers that practically defied gravity. The chase sequences are easy to register, and more importantly don’t rely on shaking camera effects to sell the appeal of its adrenaline, and the music video style of neon lighting and absorbing cultural qualities constantly gives the movie a big stage presence that our colorful protagonists must adapt to frequently.

– Speaking of which, the action set pieces in the film are every bit as challenging in dynamic as they are diverse in props and creativity. This not only keeps the set designs fresh for innovation when it comes to methods of torture for our leading duo, but also allows them plenty of moments to chew the scenery when it comes to reacting to what they are being put through. It’s also important that no conflict or solution repeats itself, and this benefit helps us to see the intelligence factor between Hobbs and Shaw, as well as continue to build the chemistry between them, which grows before our very eyes. Some of these sequences are a little long for my taste, but the movie’s never-slow-down mentality continuously keeps our blood pumping throughout scenes of destruction and total chaos, leaving us very few moments of breath along the way.

– Bonding buddies. To say the work of Johnson and Statham is electric would be an understatement. Without question, the film’s biggest strength is the on-going rivalry between the two, which gives us plenty of laugh-out-loud moments of digs at one another, as well as plenty of moments of vulnerability that broke down the walls of masculinity that we the audience have become conditioned to. Both articulately balance this level of brute and humor exceptionally, and carve out two characters who are not only equal in storytelling importance, but also in the capabilities that each one has when the proper situation calls for it. Aside from these two, I also loved the work of Vanessa Kirby as this kick-ass M-I-6 agent gone rogue. It’s not often in this series that we get a hard-nosed female protagonist to counterbalance the testosterone that sometimes smothers these films, but Kirby’s snappy speed in execution and unintentional sexuality makes her a devilishly dangerous force to be reckoned with.

– Surprising cameos. In addition to the main cast that provide endlessly, the incorporation of some pretty big names in cameo roles were a pleasant gift that forced me to keep my eyes open at all times. I won’t spoil who they are, but one has been in a previous Fast and Furious film, and the two new ones are two of the biggest celebrities working in Hollywood today. What’s essential about their inclusions is that they aren’t their for facial fan service, but instead provide pivotal links to Hobbs and Shaw, both in and out of the field of danger. Even the case with one surprise star, it gives me a taste at this guy being in a movie with Johnson that I’ve always wanted, and proves that their chemistry is every bit as strong as the duo we’re left to spend over two hours with.

– Self-aware. This is a film that knows what it’s trying to be, and even more respectful, has no shame in the batshit evolution that its franchise has taken to this point. My measure for this is in some awfully cheesy dialogue, which allude to the point that this installment is the measuring stick for crossing over to the other side of sanity, giving us a series of crazy scenarios and big dumb fun that practically oozes out of every pore of the movie. Whether you like or hate this movie, you won’t be able to shake yourself of the intentionally fun time that this story and characters have with one another, and from the opening split-screen introduction to our two leads, we are shown the diversity between their backgrounds, which allow them to clash heads through no shortage of one-upmanship.

– Perfect director. David Leitch is someone who perfected his uniqueness in the 2016 film “Deadpool”, and that sense of personality in the heat of the moment, as well as his capabilities with shooting action sequences is definitely carried over to his latest work here. As I mentioned earlier, the camera angle versatility showcasing some crisp, believable fight choreography dazzles, and his ability to instill moments of awkwardness to the dynamic of this friendly rivalry that exists within these moments of saving the world allows it to break the fourth wall of conflict in the same manner that “Deadpool” did so unapologetically. While not as big of a slam dunk as that movie was, “Hobbs & Shaw” demanded and received a director who values action and humor hand-in-hand, and it’s in that desire to know what it wants that allows the most off-the-rails movie of the franchise to also feel like the most precise in terms of where it should be in tone.

NEGATIVES

– Plodding pacing. This starts to catch up around the halfway mark in the movie, as the abundance of action sequences start to catch up to the fluidity of the story’s minimal exposition script. It’s not that there’s even too many action scenes, but just that too much time is devoted to each of them, erasing the lines of the three act structure in a way that minimalizes the momentum that the movie continuously must start over building for itself. Likewise, the film’s 133 minute run time ends prematurely so four different post credit scenes can play out to shop another Hobbs and Shaw movie. If it were up to me, I would cut the break-in scene in the middle of the second act, and just spend more time on further fleshing out Hobbs return to Samoa, and the effect that his vanishing had on the members of his family.

– It’s a cartoon superhero film. Debating logic in a Fast and Furious movie is like counting calories at Mcdonalds; there’s no point. But the lack of logic associated with elements in the film is such a stretch that there’s simply some things I couldn’t overlook. Why is it a cartoon? gravity practically disappears from this world, giving us scenes of a helicopter pulling five pick-up trucks, no consequences in the world of law enforcement or injuries, despite some insanely devastating crashes for the latter, and voice-only antagonist leader, which inadvertantly pays homage to Inspector Gadget’s Dr. Claw. Why is it a superhero film? Genetic altering. Elba’s antagonist is made superior by a serum that makes him quicker and more dangerous. The problem is we aren’t told how this serum works or where it was even created in the first place. Beyond this, Johnson seems to be infected with it as well, as a scene involving him clotheslining a biker coming from the opposite direction apparently doesn’t snap his arm like a twig. This definitely feels like The Rock’s response to The Avengers not picking him for their team, so why get mad when you can get even?

– No urgency. The problem with making your heroes so cool is that it not only demeans the power of your antagonist, but conjures up no scenes of tension for the audience watching at home. This is the problem with Elba’s antagonist, as despite Idris doing the most he can for the role, the script simply doesn’t value him enough to make him anything other than a world-dominating baddie whose soul defining trait is his gruff vocal range that every antagonist seems to have. Johnson and Statham can’t be bothered in the least with feeling intimidated by their opposition. So much so that I feel the “Cool Guys Don’t Look at Explosions” song by The Lonely Island was written exclusively for them.

– Plot convenience. It’s pretty cool that Johnson’s character conveniently knew not only where Elba’s gang of thugs were going to strike big during the third act conflict, but also what time they were going to be there, giving him ample time to prepare for such a force. Likewise, I’m thankful that all of his elite governmental group’s computers are so easy to hack into that three different non-governmental workers manage to do so in this film. If I went into the virus itself, this review would be 2000 words easily, so instead I will say this (SPOILERS…..YOU’VE BEEN WARNED) Viruses can’t be removed from a vaccuum. Once they are introduced to a body, removing them completely is impossible.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

Once Upon a Time In Hollywood

Directed By Quentin Tarantino

Starring – Leonardo Dicaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie

The Plot – Quentin Tarantino’s ninth feature length film visits 1969 Los Angeles, where everything is changing, as TV star Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Pitt) make their way around an industry they hardly recognize anymore, but after Rick gets a new neighbor in the form of actress Sharon Tate (Robbie), the two face a new level of prominence that they didn’t see coming.

Rated R for adult language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references

POSITIVES

– Deeper cuts. On the surface level, this film is marketed as an action thriller between two film star best friends who interact with their newfound famous neighbor, but the material reflects a passion much closer to the heart of its enthusiastic director. In such, Tarantino crafts “Once Upon a Time” as this commentary on all things film, balancing the many rises and falls of fame, as well as a colorful dynamic between real life and the silver screen that clearly has more respect for the former. For Quentin, it feels like the best things often happen in real life, as echoed by Margaret Qualley’s character when she states “Actors are so phony. The real people are the ones getting their asses kicked by life”, and boy is she correct. Through many vivid observations on the set, we gain a surreal gaze not only on the craft of acting, but also in the many conversations and background studio cliches that more than support the idea that Tarantino has soaked up a few things from the nine movies he has helmed.

– Production value. Easily the best that I’ve seen in 2019, as Tarantino bends the sands of time with a visual presentation that immerses us fifty years into the past, to conjure up this consistency in believability that continues to shine the longer the film persists. Throwback businesses, complete with neon signs, wardrobe and cars reminiscent of the flower power generation, unorthodox shot compositions by Tarantino that reflect the golden age of cinema, and an audible reminder in the atmosphere full of commercial advertisements and catchy jingles to construct weight for the time period. Everything here is perfect, and it allows transcendence in this idea of us the audience watching a film that takes place in 1969, and instead brands the whole feature itself as a tape from the era, giving us synthetic authentication for how Tarantino would’ve managed as a filmmaker in his favorite generation of cinema.

– Bone-crushing brutality. Tarantino has always captivated audiences with his exploiting nature in the way he documents violence, and this film may take the cake in that regard. What’s truly compelling is how little of it there really is throughout this movie, saving its opportunities for the moments when its impact will be heard the loudest, and boy did it ever ring true in the final fifteen minutes of this film. Capped with impeccable sound design and tight-knit editing that keeps the sequence wrapped inside of this ball of never-ending torture, the scene will serve as a divisive one for moviegoers, and stand as a virtual ink-blot test for psyche stimulus. For me, even with most of the violence being towards females, the atmosphere and sheer lunacy of its arrival constantly kept this in the hilarious realm of surrealism, keeping me from ever taking it seriously as anything other that fantasy filmmaking.

– Attention-grabbing performances. Tarantino has always had great casts, but this might be his single greatest to date, garnering a big name behind every corner and scene, that really gives the film this big budgeted feeling of fame that its troubled protagonist can’t shake. Dicaprio is a whirlwind as Dalton, balancing consistently a southern accent and many noticeable ticks and quirks that gives his character this element of fleshed-out humanity that I wasn’t expecting. Brad Pitt is easily the show-stealer for me, as during late in the second act, this film kind of becomes his character’s, and takes us through the eyes of a man who takes no shit, and gives nothing but brutish personality in the way he attacks life, easily outlining one of my favorite characters of 2019. One disappointment however came in the handling of Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate. Other than this free spirit who dances and pines for the limited fame she attains, Robbie is given very few chances for the audience to understand her character’s motivations, and feeling like nothing more than an attaining feat for Dalton, instead of her being a pivotal character during a film that is telling her life story.

– Slamming soundtrack. Music is such a continued presence in the film that it practically becomes a character alongside the many familiar faces we engage with. What’s beneficial about this is not only does Tarantino match the consistency in continuity with the particular time period, but his musical selections for the majority are deep cuts that really only appeal to lovers of the generation. It’s also not close-minded in its eclectic nature, bringing us big name artists like Neil Diamond, Paul Revere and The Raiders, Vanilla Fudge, and of course Deep Purple to constantly keep our toes tapping. There’s a wide versatility in the volume level given to the many tracks, and this allows each of them to feel much closer to the characters instead of this beacon of post-production that our actors and actresses are so obviously not hearing and interacting with.

– Tarantino’s Truth. This is another case of a real life event that is bended with an air of fantasy and surrealism through the director’s eyes, and it allows us another ‘What If’ example of storytelling that changes the complexion of the things about the Sharon Tate murders that we’ve come to know. What I love about this is that it combines fiction and reality in a way that is not only respectable to the people involved, but never sacrifices entertainment value because we the audience know we’re watching something that truly didn’t happen this way. I view Tarantino films as this Twilight Zone of never-ending possibilities. Taking something that would otherwise be predictable if it followed every single measure of fact, and instead weaving us through these three stories intricately in a way where fate binds them together to craft this new tale.

– Deconstructing the narrative. As is the case with what Tarantino did in 1994’s “Pulp Fiction”, he once again strips everything we’ve come to know about a three act structure, and presents us with this hybrid of tonal shifts and dialogue-driven long takes that completely reinvents storytelling once again. Surprisingly, the film is essentially plotless, instead taking us through the lives of many people in a way to further realize the momentum of the swing that fame currently holds them within. This will definitely not be for everyone, as I compare it to his film “Death Proof”, a movie polarized by many Tarantino faithful for its abundance of talk with very little walk (Action). The same thing is present here, as the dialogue takes its time to get to know the characters and atmospheres accordingly, catering to many sides of tonal shifts along the way, with everything from comedy, to action, to downright horror for the sake of conflict evolutions. If you’re expecting one of his films that cuts straight to the point, you will probably be disappointed with this one. Quentin is certainly a painter who wants us to embrace every broad stroke for the integrity of the painting, and it has no problem taking its time in this regard.

– Character placement. I wanted to mention this in a separate section from the production, as the editing of familiar films from cinema are given the inclusion of Dalton in them, and the look and feel of the manufacturing feels seamless for the attention given to the details here. Leonardo Dicaprio obviously wasn’t in “Marlowe”, but thanks to grainy cinematography for the screen within the screen, as well as the directed performances of Dicaprio instilling a sense of weight to the interaction with those characters, these sequence bits astound in a way that really makes me wonder just what Hollywood can do if they wanted to take a modern day actor and throw them into “Back to the Future” or “The Breakfast Club”. Production like this is so good it’s scary, and gives Dalton a visual reputation to go with the audible one we hear so much about throughout.

NEGATIVES

– Constant nagging. While not a major problem, the fact that some elements inside of the storytelling weren’t fully rendered did serve as a problem for me. Aside from focused characters disappearing anti-climatically throughout the film, there’s a major backstory with Pitt’s character that I wish would’ve been given more time to further elaborate on. Without spoiling anything major, his character was previously married, and while it’s hinted at in rumors how it ended, I could’ve used more attention to flesh out the intention behind it, if it even is true in the first place. It could’ve produced an air of regret to a character who feels, for the most part, like he lives conflict free.

– Too long. Not a surprise that a film being over two-and-a-half hours has some pacing issues, but for me it was really more about scenes being trimmed that could’ve shaved a much-needed twenty minutes off of this finished run time. The heaviness of the dialogue never alienated me, but the repetition of familiar scenes without a break certainly did. It kind of rivals what I said earlier about Tarantino molding a new medium of storytelling, but it happens with some casualties along the way; mostly in the idea of scenes that sync up in a way that I certainly wasn’t expecting. Tarantino indulges in these conversations sometimes a bit too much, and it will test anyone who isn’t a Tarantino enthusiast in a way that will have them checking their watches at least once.

My Grade: 8/10 or B+

Stuber

Directed By Michael Dowse

Starring – Kumail Nanjiani, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan

The Plot – A mild-mannered Uber driver named Stu (Nanjiani) picks up a grizzled detective (Bautista) who is hot on the trail of a sadistic, bloodthirsty terrorist and finds himself thrust into a harrowing ordeal where he has to keep his wits, himself unharmed, and work with his passenger while maintaining his high-class rating.

Rated R for violence and adult language throughout, some sexual references and brief graphic nudity

POSITIVES

– Strong comical pull. This is really the most important aspect of this film, as it is a comedy before anything else, thanks in part to the combination of Nanjiani and Bautista, who improvise through many awkward situations and exchanges that left my gut busted. The most used device definitely comes from Bautista, who undergoes Lasik eye surgery for the improvement of his character, and it leads to several instances of audible, physical, and slapstick comedy that constantly kept me engaged to the many character dynamics and ever-changing backdrops that the film takes us through. As for the two male leads, their comical chemistry is impeccable, occasionally taking turns on being the straight man who unleashes a sarcastic poke to chew into his counterpart within the car, and setting the stage for the boundaries accordingly that exist between two strangers who are taking in complete polar-opposite directions in lifestyle choices and character demeanor.

– Delightful leads. In addition to the comedy that is top notch, the performances from minority-heritage Nanjiani and Bautista were the perfect display of their respective talents, giving us the same kind of fan service that has gotten us to fall in love with their personalities time and time again. For Bautista, it’s the ability to balance the tough guy action bulldozer that he was born to become with this element of emotional acting that he starts to convey once we eventually break down the walls from his character. Like his turns as Drax in “Guardians of the Galaxy”, Dave once again gives proof to something deeper beneath his registry, and while his ass-kicking is what you came for, it’s the scars his character wears from past parental issues that will make you stay. Nanjiani is also a pleasure once more, with his dry sarcastic delivery and reserved emotional investment that gives him a unique voice in today’s comedy landscape. Some of the best scenes for me were definitely those where Kumail is trying to assert some level of control over a situation that he is entirely incapable of, giving us several examples of scenes where he has to adapt to a world taking place far beyond his luxury sedan. As far as polar opposites go, these two were made for each other, and it’s that bond in chemistry between them that turns the script’s many pot holes into minor speedbumps.

– Joseph Trapanese. Yes, the very same man who musically scored films like “The Greatest Showman”, “Straight Outta Compton”, and “Tron: Legacy” returns for atmospheric work on “Stuber” that is every bit present as it is evolving with the tonal shifts of the movie. Like his work in “Tron”, Joseph’s work here points to a vaporwave encompassing that vibrantly pays homage to the 80’s buddy cop thrillers of yesterday, all the while maintaining a level in volume which never feels obvious or hindering to the integrity of the scene it accompanies. Particularly in the film’s third and final act, Trapanese fleshes out the urgency and intensity in ways that Dowse’s direction often falls flat on, and conjured up an element of surprise for a production that is otherwise blandly conventional on nearly every end of the artistic spectrum.

– Topical for the day. Another surprising element of the film was the dissection of toxic masculinity that gives the narrative a strong helping of emotional weight beneath the table dressing of shoot-out action in modern day Los Angeles. The measure taken with how this film approaches such a touchy subject is one that is as equally profound as it pertains to a real world, where until recently male protagonists were appreciated for the way they degrade everyone surrounding them. I definitely didn’t expect the film to dissect the cultural definitions of what we perceive masculinity to be, but the polar-opposite pulling of two male characters whose personalities colorfully off-set one another, leading to the answer being somewhere in between, not only proves that this casually slapstick comedy is so much more than that dreaded labeling, it’s a commentary on preventable poisons that deconstruct decades of personality building that build up one to tear down many.

– Commercial advertising. This is usually a problem for me, but the film’s inclusion of the Uber product is one that is cleverly more informative than it is a blunt marketing campaign for 88 minutes. Throughout the film, we are told in dialogue the many uses and rules associated with the taxi-cab application that will help fill in the gaps of curiosity for anyone who hasn’t been fortunate enough to use its services. What’s more important here is that the film isn’t out to make Uber anything more appealing than that of a modern day convenience, even going as far as to rarely show the emblem or the app itself to gain profitable interest. Does Uber play a pivotal role in “Stuber”? Absolutely, but the maintained focus on the screenplay, as well as the character-building bond between our male leads, harvests this film as anything other than “The Emoji Movie”, a kids movie that engorged an abundance of vital screen time in order to sell toys.

NEGATIVES

– Obvious foreshadowing. One of the film’s biggest adversaries is its inserts of tropes, which makes this film easily predictable to anyone who has ever watched a buddy cop movie. One such example is in the terribly weak antagonist of the movie, who doesn’t have a single scene dedicated to the exposition of his character for a bigger purpose. Almost immediately, you know a bigger swerve is coming, and come it does. A second antagonist develops from a mystery that was every bit as unpredictable as “Men In Black: International”, and as it turns out I accurately predicted from the moment this character was introduced. Beyond this, the film’s heavy focus on a romantic subplot, as well as no shortage of scenes involving convenient plot devices, constantly had me sarcastically saying “Gee, I wonder if that will come into play later”. Subtlety is certainly not Dowse’s bag, baby, and thanks to a series of telegraphed scenes that step over boundaries repeatedly, “Stuber” becomes a film where we are waiting for every character inside to catch up to what we’ve sniffed out in fifteen minutes.

– Uninspiring title. “Stuber” is as lazy of a movie title as you will find in 2019. Considering it stems from a jerk supporting character, who uses it as a combination of Nanjiani’s character’s name (Stu) and the part time job that he endures through (Uber), the studio heads prove that they don’t have a lot of imagination to sell their product, leaving many moviegoers confused heading into a screening of it. It’s not often that I hate on a movie for the title, but considering this is really the first thing that you learn about the film, and it’s supposed to be used as a summary of everything enclosed, the one word noun that isn’t even a word at that, only touches the surface of what the plot, narrative, and characters are building towards, making ambiguity feel like a bumbling curse that dooms it from the opening page of script.

– Shaky-cam action sequences. The biggest hindering for action movies is back, this time in the form of tight-knit compositions and sloppily choreographed camera movements that ruin every single set piece that the movie contains. Not only are these sequences so close that you could recognizes an acne sprouting on the film’s cast, but the intended direction to make us the audience feel like a pawn in the unveiling visual narrative is something that makes it difficult to depict what is actually taking place. If done right, the scene’s intensity can articulate a feeling of presence for our vantage point, but this intention is often done wrong because of commanders who substitute intensity for atmosphere, and try to capitalize on every little aspect of detail that the character’s in frame are going through. If I wanted to be an actor in Hollywood, I would’ve done it the second I graduated from high school in 2003, but my desire to be a moviegoer instead, means I would rather watch and follow a scene from the comforts of my seat, and this film’s supercharged sequences give me neither option to pleasantly chew on.

– Uneven halves. For the first forty minutes of this film, I really found myself invested to one of the more consistent comedies of the 2019 movie year, but the last forty-five minutes made it so obvious why this film isn’t receiving the best reviews globally. For the compromising second half, there are no shortage of violent tonal shifts, redundancy in comic gags, and antagonists who are handled about as easily as nick to the skin when you cut yourself shaving. For my money, “Stuber” is a film that originally takes pride in being what it is; a buddy comedy, but eventually feels ambitious on its way to transforming as a dramatic action thriller that simply hasn’t earned the kind of emotional tug that it asks of its pivotal third act. If it remained more true to the advertising it conveyed in its trailers, then the film would’ve been one of the sleeper hits of the year, and a film that I would be proud to stick up for, but “Stuber’s” resonance to change up the game far too often leaves it scrambling for an identity that is completely unnecessary.

– Revenge subplot. (LIGHT SPOILERS) We open up the film with a death involving Bautista’s cop partner, at the hands of the movie’s antagonist, and what’s truly puzzling is how little of weight and focus this impact leaves on the remainder of the film that follows it. Never again is this partner ever brought up again, or further elaborated on what kind of impact psychologically that this has on Bautista, considering the two were practically married at the wheel, and it all just kind of evaporates this personal level of vengeance that Dave’s character has for this antagonist without ever capitalizing on the rivalry that makes this dynamic special. More concerning, as I mentioned previously, the film also drops the ball on following that antagonist, which creates a level of disinterest within the film so deep that we lose sight of the subplot that was driving this whole thing.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+