Mile 22

Directed by Peter Berg

Starring – Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, John Malkovich

The Plot – In a visceral modern thriller from the director of Lone Survivor, Wahlberg stars as James Silva, an operative of the CIA’s most highly-prized and least-understood unit. Aided by a top-secret tactical command team, Silva must retrieve and transport an asset who holds life-threatening information to Mile 22 for extraction before the enemy closes in.

Rated R for strong violence and adult language throughout

POSITIVES

– Crisp, pulse-setting sound mixing. While I’ve never been a fan of being put into an action sequence visually, I more than appreciate the decision in popping up these stunning shots of ammunition and explosions that feel like they’re happening all around us. If there’s any reason to spend a little extra and see this in X-D or IMAX, do it because of the full throttling of sound that never relents.

– Brutally violent fight choreography. I definitely have my problems with the documentation of this, which I will get to later, but the fight work from star and choreographer Iko Uwais. Fresh off of his success in ‘The Raid’ series of films, Uwais continues to captivate American audiences with his fast-paced, innovative measures of violence that place him second to none in modern day stunt work. While it is slightly silly that this group is protecting the most dangerous guy in the van, I can never get enough of Iko doing what he was born to do; take names and kick ass.

– At least from a psychological toll level, this feels like the first special forces film that articulately depicts the mentality of an employee who’s been in the business for too long. Wahlberg and Cohan’s character’s in particular are loose cannons, exploding on even the smallest instance of grief that comes their way. There’s plenty of problems in the performance department here, but the portrayal of this career feels like the most honest telling of anything that takes place during the film, and I greatly commend Berg for instilling this heroes job is anything but rewarding.

NEGATIVES

– Peter, what happened? It’s hard to believe that this is the same guy that directed ‘Deepwater Horizon’, ‘Patriots Day’, and ‘Lone Survivor’, because ‘Mile 22’ is a convoluted mess of storytelling. The movie constantly feels like it is telling three different stories at the exact same time, inter-cutting back and forth between different time periods and characters without any kind of indication we’re headed that way. In addition to this, it feels like the dialogue never takes a single second of breather, blowing through valuable lines of exposition that will leave you stranded if you’re not fully committed to paying attention 100%.

– Hyperactive editing. The fight sequences in this film could be incredible if they were given the chance to grow, and not be chopped down each time this violent cut kicks in. This gives the film an overwhelming feeling of attention deficit disorder that will put your eyes through the gauntlet of physical torture, every couple seconds. Most of the fight detection in non-existent because of the angles being so tight in their capture, but the bigger toll comes in the form of these violent cuts that add nothing of versatility to the creativity behind documenting an intense sequence.

– Detestable characters. When I say that I didn’t like a single character from this movie, I’m not embellishing in the slightest. Wahlberg’s character might be my least favorite of 2018, for annoying tone of voice and motor-mouth dialogue delivery that he constantly puts us through. This is his impression of a guy with mental instability, but I call it Wahlberg turned up to eleven. In addition to him, Ronda Rousey plays a bully (Original, I know), and Cohan is doing her best to one-up the guys in her unique methods of using the F-bomb. With protagonists like these, who needs enema’s?

– Minimal character development. The only kind of character exposition throughout this whole 90 minute film is for Wahlberg’s character, and it’s during the opening credits. This is every bit as lazy as it is ineffective at intriguing audiences into his rare condition. Beyond this, you’re out of luck if you seek any kind of depth to these people without personalities. The film outlines them as unimportant, thus so should we, and that lack of care spoke volumes in my lack of concern, once the bodies started dropping.

– This film takes something as harmless as rubber bands, and makes them offensive by depiction. Wahlberg’s character has autism, so to keep him focused he keeps a yellow rubber band on his wrist that he snaps each time he feels stressed or overcome with anger. This is very much a real life technique with autism patients, but I don’t need to be reminded of it each and every single scene. Because they couldn’t just have him snap it in frame, his wrist gets its own frame of film each time he goes to reach for this relief, cutting in between important scenes that test our attention and patience at even the ten minute mark of the movie.

– Erratic without those moments of downtime to pace it all out. There is a three act structure within this mess of a screenplay, as small and ineffective as the second act is, but this presentation of disjointed scenes and derivative male pissing contests, makes it all run together as one continuous act that is in a race to reach the finish line. Bored isn’t the proper word, but rather dejected for how this film takes what feels like 22 miles of ideas and fleshes them out into a film that barely hits the hour-and-a-half mark.

– The only scene of value for me happened at the very end of the movie, when a twist is thrown in too late to even matter. This does set-up what Berg and Wahlberg are hoping will be a trilogy of films for this franchise, but will inevitably fade away because in their building of another film they forget to properly end this one. Character outcomes are left to speculation, and this inescapable feeling of regret from a bombshell that could’ve saved the movie, happens far too late to be anything but forgettable.

3/10

Alpha

Directed by Albert Hughes

Starring – Kodi Smit-McPhee, Natassia Malthe, Leonor, Varela

The Plot – An epic adventure set in the last Ice Age, the film tells a fascinating, visually stunning story that shines a light on the origins of man’s best friend. While on his first hunt with his tribe’s most elite group, a young man is injured and must learn to survive alone in the wilderness. Reluctantly taming a lone wolf abandoned by its pack, the pair learn to rely on each other and become unlikely allies, enduring countless dangers and overwhelming odds in order to find their way home before winter arrives.

Rated PG-13 for some intense peril

POSITIVES

– Exceptional cinematography continuously on display by Martin Gschlacht. While known mostly to foreign audiences, Martin’s paintbrush-like canvas here is gorgeous in immensity, and beautiful in his rubbing of colors in the sky that illuminate around the colorless drab of character wardrobes. This is a film that was made for the big screen, as much of the framing work takes advantage of the wide angle lens that articulately illustrates the immensity of a land to be alone in.

– Much of the material focuses on the comparison between man and animal, and does so without ever feeling corny or forceful. Instead, Hughes allows the audience to pick up on matters of family, growth, and survival that highlight the similarities in the next evolutional shift. These two grow together because they embrace the same challenges in their respective journey’s, and that chemistry and bond between them grows into an almost telepathic link that unites them.

– Considering he is front-and-center for 90% of this movie, Smit-Mcphee transformation is well balanced and patient with the many adversities that he faces along the way. In the beginning, his movements are very timid, causing great difficulty in his tactics to survive, but as the film goes on, you start to see his character’s intestinal hunger to survive reach limits that can only be tested under the guidance of isolation. This etches out a coming-of-age story unlike those that we’re used to, in that Keda only has his own instinct to survive.

– Hughes greatest measure as a director here is definitely the established environments that constantly shift with the seasons, while filming on location in East Coulee, Alberta. The animals, while plenty in numbers, feel very scattered out and meticulous, making the hunt for food feel very urgent. Without question though, it’s the winter scenes that really stuck out to me, channeling the worst in cold and snow that one can imagine, and immersing us with snow-cluttered camera angles that feel like we can almost reach out and touch it.

– Educational AND entertaining. This definitely felt like a throwback to the days of being in school and watching a history film about tribes and their strategy for survival, but what’s more accredited is that despite its knowledgeable depictions, it never loses focus in its appeal to capture the intrigue of the audience. The film juggles a balance of intensity and tension during scenes of peril that make for some serious moments of uncertainty for the well-being of our protagonist, testing him in ways that break everything except the human spirit.

– Thunderous musical score. What composers Joseph DeBeasi and Michael Stearns do for this film shouldn’t be understated. Through a use of 808 drums that repeat with increasing intensity, the musical score is anything but the Imagine Dragons putrid that we were promised in one of the most eye-rolling trailers of the season, giving us echoing vibes of isolation that haunt Keda throughout, and add life to scenes that would otherwise depreciate without energetic emphasis of the danger that is impending.

– Stays committed to its gimmick. A lesser production would have these human characters speaking in perfect English, but thankfully ‘Alpha’ keeps its characters mostly muted, occasionally reaching for the tribal language that we read in translation for one hundred percent of the movie. This element kept me firmly in the grasp of this A.D setting, and instead relied on body language to progress the relationship between human and dog. Beyond this, four bison were slaughtered for use on a skinning/hide-removal scene, and while I don’t overly support the slaughter of animals, bison are in fact overpopulated in the Alberta territory.

NEGATIVES

– Redundant to a fault. The hardest sell to audiences will definitely be the element of one man and his dog for most of 93 minutes, mainly because there’s only so much variety you can instill on routines that feel this repetitive. In my opinion, the biggest mistake is to get rid of Keda’s father and tribe subplot for easily an hour during the film, relying too much on Keda’s journey without capturing the vulnerability for the tribal leader and the kind of impact this has on his now decaying life. If you include the other side of the story, the former won’t feel as repetitive as it inevitably does.

– Again, we have another movie that doesn’t know when to end on its most impactful visual. This film has three different ending scenes when it fades to black, and each time chooses to prolong the lasting impression, which ultimately forces it to lose a noticeable amount of steam before the credits finally hit. This is becoming a growing trend in Hollywood, and makes me wish they would combine everything they want out of three scenes into one, so as to not feel as tacked-on as this cliche makes good movies feel.

– Teeth for show? The film fails to capture the sheer difficulties and spontaneity of dangerous wild animals thanks to its domestication of wolves that feels slightly laughable even by movie standards. I get that this is the first story of ‘Man’s best friend’, but there is such little struggle in the film with earning the trust of the wolf, that it might as well be a snorting pug with their lovable cross-eyes.

Bonus Points

Props to Sony for not figuring out a way to market their products in a movie that takes place in the Ice Age. I half expected a big SONY to be carved out in the ice, but I commend them for showing great restraint. We might be able to take you seriously sure enough, Sony.

7/10

The Meg

Directed by Jon Turteltaub

Starring – Jason Statham, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose

The Plot – Five years ago, expert sea diver and Naval Captain Jonas Taylor (Statham) encountered an unknown danger in the unexplored recesses of the Mariana Trench that forced him to abort his mission and abandon half his crew. Though the tragic incident earned him a dishonorable discharge, what ultimately cost him his career, his marriage and any semblance of honor was his unsupported and incredulous claims of what caused it; an attack on his vessel by a mammoth, 70-foot sea creature, believed to be extinct for more than a million years. But when a submersible lies sunk and disabled at the bottom of the ocean; carrying his ex-wife among the team onboard, he is the one who gets the call. Whether a shot at redemption or a suicide mission, Jonas must confront his fears and risk his own life and the lives of everyone trapped below on a single question: Could the Carcharodon Megalodon; the largest marine predator that ever existed still be alive … and on the hunt?

Rated PG-13 for action/peril, bloody images and some adult language

POSITIVES

– I’ve heard plenty of complaints about the 150 million that was spent on this film, and how it makes little effect on the grand scheme, and that couldn’t be more wrong. Aside from the shading and graphing C.G work of the shark feeling more authentic in design, the set pieces breathe an air of futuristic style and technology that makes the most bang for its buck. This makes the very career paths of these brave souls that much more believable, and with the dependency on innovation comes the heated nature versus technology confrontation that we are treated to throughout.

– While much of the cast is easily forgettable to me because of their lack of personality and depth, Statham skates by as the hero of the day. Besides an overabundance of charming bravado, Statham knows how to deliver the most in each line of dialogue, carving out a shape of the blue collar heroes we all grew up on. My favorite parts of the film were Statham’s interaction with a little girl (Played by Shuya Sophia Cai) that channel his inner sensitivity, a rare occurrence for the roles he’s become saddled with.

– Much of the first act felt slow to me, but it quickly picked up once the human characters took a backseat to their rival mammal. Once The Meg comes into focus, the film’s pacing glides by, and the run time of 100 minutes feels just right in this tug-of-war for power that barely ever relents in cooling down periods. Bottom line, if you want you want two hours of pure escapism, ‘The Meg’ is your catch of the day.

– Even though this is a movie about a gargantuan shark, much of the decisions in tow by the characters feel grounded in intelligence. If you can factor in that these characters are constantly on edge while being chased by this deadly creature, then you can take mercy that sometimes they are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. What is commendable here, is that they know what they are dealing with, and rarely ever seem to underestimate their gigantic opponent, despite one selfie scene that qualifies for dumbest decision of the movie-going year.

– I do have problems with some of the camera angles, particularly underwater, that I will get to later, but the capture of the imagery above water sparkled an air of artistic violence that occasionally made me want to pause the movie to adore closer. My favorite single frame of the movie involves a big swallow by Meggie, and it’s in that particular frame when the audience truly understands how subtly off-the-wall this one-of-a-kind creature truly is, and how vulnerable the crew is, whether in the water or on a boat.

– Turtletaub’s directing breathes life into the very concept of Summer Blockbuster’s that have sadly faded away in recent years. Everything from the jaunty dialogue, to the paperweight characters, screams big budget cheese in the most delicious form, and what Jon does to push it one step further is develop a movie that doesn’t necessarily have to be constantly ridiculous to please his audience.

NEGATIVES

– Ultimately, the biggest stab against this film will be how forgettable it is because it chose to take itself too seriously. For shark movies, there’s a healthy blend somewhere in the middle, that allows you to indulge in enough menace with violence, as well as silliness in its title character’s movements, to create something for everyone. Sadly, if you’re watching ‘The Meg’ to laugh, you will be bored out of the theater, as it is far too mature to sizzle the cheese of its story. This one has a serious case of identity crisis.

– Rating captivity. Once again we have a film’s potential limited by a ratings classification that renders the gore and violence virtually non-existent. When you make a movie about something as dangerous as this huge shark, you have to shake our seats and rattle us hysterically by throwing enough limbs and blood at the screen for us to soak up. On the whole, this is a relatively dry film in that perspective, and it’s in that obvious element that will serve as the first noticeable disappointment for a movie like this.

– I mentioned earlier of my disdain for some of the camera work underwater, and I blame this on two things. The first is the angles of the shark being far too close to ever properly digest just what we’re seeing on-screen. I found great difficulty making out the fates of a couple of characters, because the zoom lens is taken advantage of far too often. My second problem is in the lack of depictional scale for this mammoth creature that the film rarely capitalizes on. This is where a wide-angle shot can allow us the audience to perfectly compare and contrast the immense size difference between predator and prey, also allowing us the psychological tease of what lies in the shadows of the deep blue sea.

– Who is the protagonist? One of the reasons why audiences take pleasure in watching Jaws get defeated in those series of films, is because Jaws invades human land to start the conflict. This is also the case in a majority of shark related movies, but in ‘The Meg’, it’s the human characters who invade the underbelly of the ocean, provoking the giant creature to take the fight to them when they press their luck a time too many. Why I think this is a problem is because I never felt that air of triumph each time the humans tortured this shark, and without that intrigue that comes from seeing a bully defeated, ‘The Meg’ just kind of comes and goes without much emotional investment, throughout the film.

6/10

BlacKKKlansman

Directed by Spike Lee

Starring – John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace

The Plot – It’s the early 1970s, and Ron Stallworth (Washington) is the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. The young detective soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Driver), into the undercover investigation of a lifetime. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organization aims to sanitize its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream.

Rated R for adult language throughout, including racial epithets, and for disturbing/violent material and some sexual references

POSITIVES

– One of my favorite aspects of film is how it has this overwhelming power to push this string of emotions out of you, and ‘BlacKKKlansman’ is certainly no stranger to this. I can’t recall the last time when a film has made me this angry and disappointed in our nation from refusing to learn from our torturous past. Lee conducts this on-screen story that takes place in the 70’s, all the while offering the modern day comparisons of the incidents that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, and the resemblance between the K.K.K and the so-called “White freedom chasers” is uncanny. The final moments of the film are a stern warning to the kind of impacts inequality and racism continue to cast great urgency on our own society.

– As a director, Spike is still one of the master experimentalists, carving out a combination of crooked,, unorthodox personal still frames and slow character pans that both pay homage to the 70’s Blacksploitation films that have left an obvious impact on his style. Because of this, the immersion into this particular time frame feels rich in authentication, and layered to the tee in complex filmmaking.

– Much of the humor in the film works because of the absurdity of the situation that would otherwise make you want to scream. As a screenwriter, Lee knows when to pace these valued moments of positive release out, conserving them between scenes that blur the line of reality vividly with vicious surrealism. One such example is the big two hour payoff that this film continuously builds towards, and it makes for one stunning moment of reality that forces the world of one character to come crumbling down.

– Plenty to provide from a dominantly fresh-faced cast. The work of the two male leads in Washington and Driver definitely made the movie for me, both offering an equally poignant approach to infiltrating two different gangs that ironically are similar for an array of ways, as well as preserving this chemistry of brotherhood that we’re treated to, the deeper it goes. For Washington, his borderline arrogance due to his constant naive demeanor is one that builds and burns bridges within the police force, but it was Driver’s constantly raising stakes in this purely evil assembly of middle aged white men that brought this film the real conflict. Driver’s character, a Jewish descendent, deals with standing against his family traditions, transforming him into this Klansman that challenges him ideally and morally. Topher Grace is also surprisingly smooth as David Duke, bringing a different take on such a monstrous personality that otherwise gets you to comprehend how easy it is to fall for his sinister pitch.

– There’s always that one scene that stands out in a Spike Lee movie more than the others, and the trophy here definitely goes to the history lesson that visually depicts the birth of the Klan. Without spoiling much, there’s this side-by-side comparison shot that very much shows the impact of the Klan’s pride in consequence to that of the African-American’s well being. It’s riveting to say the least, and serves as a reminder that our history has treaded through some very shallow waters.

– Perhaps Lee’s greatest triumph is the film is that he marries the relationship between anger and intensity with the restraint that he’s usually known to hold in visual poetry of editing. Why it works so wonderfully here is that those gentle brushes continuously build until the bigger picture of displeasure is seen in its completion, and it’s never preachy like Lee has been known to be, because the very proof is in the pudding that he dishes out.

– Despite the many themes that the film covers, the tonal balance is well maintained throughout. As is the case with other racially uneasy movies this year like ‘Sorry To Bother You’ and ‘Blindspotting’, this one feels capable of transitioning through each of those valued tiers of material seamlessly. Perhaps you can blame that on the two hour run time that the film harbors, but I believe it is Lee’s constriction to this being a true story that doesn’t allow him to get too fantastical with it. This keeps the film and its respectable material very grounded, leaving our teeth firmly gripped into the message at hand.

– While ‘BlacKKKlansman’ isn’t my favorite Lee film, I can value it as arguably his most important to date. This feels like Lee at his most focused, and a lot of that can be contributed to a career that has spanned 21 feature length films all leading to the kind of media attention that this film and respected director has gathered. It proves that in the clutch Lee can deliver in the most provocative of ways, and that the line between satire and reality is blurring with each passing day of social injustice.

NEGATIVES

– While I more than admire the film’s stance against racism and objectifying how wrong it truly is, Lee’s morals still feel a bit outdated due to the way his antagonists AND protagonists bash the gay community with their version of the N-word repeatedly. This can be contributed to the 70’s setting, but when you’re speaking to a 2018 audience, it blurs the line of right and wrong viciously, conjuring an air of hypocritical stance that the characters become saddled with.

– The romantic subplot in the film felt so forced and underdeveloped in what the film required from it. Particularly late in the third act, the film relies on this angle to play a pivotal role in Stallworth’s urgency and vulnerability, and yet it simply isn’t anything close to that level, besides the increasing racial tension that the whole film is about. With the exception of one brief scene where Stallworth and Patrice (Played by the beautiful Laura Harrier) discuss 70’s Blacksploitation heroes, it goes relatively unheard of for the better part of 45 minutes, and it’s the one glaring flaw from this otherwise well-maintained film.

8/10

The Darkest Minds

Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson

Starring – Amandla Stenberg, Bradley Whitford, Mandy Moore

The Plot – When teens mysteriously develop powerful new abilities, they are declared a threat by the government and detained. Sixteen-year-old Ruby (Stenberg), one of the most powerful young people anyone has encountered, escapes her camp and joins a group of runaway teens seeking safe haven. Soon this newfound family realizes that, in a world in which the adults in power have betrayed them, running is not enough and they must wage a resistance, using their collective power to take back control of their future.

Rated PG-13 for violence including disturbing images, and thematic elements

POSITIVES

– Stenberg is leaps-and-bounds above the material she is given to work with. As a star in ‘The Hunger Games’, Amandla is no stranger to Young Adult adaptations, so in being a veteran she knows how to bring a combination of likeable personality and feminine strength in her role as Ruby. She isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, and I appreciate an actress who takes command and keeps the attention on her throughout. I can’t wait till the day Stenberg is old enough or successful enough to pass on scripts like this, but for now we can adore a rising star who adds a presence of range to the forefront.

– There is a real hearty third act scene, part in thanks to the two leads, that really reached hard for the heartstrings of the audience. This scene involving memory erasing was among my very favorite for the movie, and proved that it did earn the depth needed to send this film out on a positive note. Part of this relies on sacrifice for Ruby, in that she must give up everything she has come to know to fight the greater good. It finishes the first (And likely only) installment of this franchise on a somber epilogue that really makes you feel for her jaded disposition.

– As a first time director, Nelson is someone who definitely proves that she deserves another chance, next time with a property that doesn’t have so many restrictions. In her competent command, Jennifer not only utilizes Stenberg to a meaty performance, but also establishes the power of adolescents, who together have the capabilities to do anything they want. In this regards, art imitating life is something that our own real world so desperately needs right now, even if our own youths lack the ability to breathe fire from their mouths. Nelson makes this distant future feel somewhat relative by today’s standards, and that alone establishes her guided presence behind the lens.

NEGATIVES

– Law of diminishing returns. Ever since ‘The Hunger Games’ became a rousing success at the box office, Young Adult adaptations have been all the rage. Unfortunately, each of them have decreased in quality ever since, and ‘The Darkest Minds’ is a victim of this problem. Despite the fact that this film could easily qualify as a sequel for ‘The 5th Wave’, or television knock-off of ‘Divergent’ or an ‘X-Men’ side story of sorts, there’s nothing about this movie that stands out as remotely poignant in substance, nor terribly original in story outline. Love triangle? CHECK, Evil Grown-ups? CHECK, Slave camps? CHECK. Interchangeably fault.

– For those who didn’t comprehend or forgot about the many meanings of ranks of the teens in ‘Divergent’, this movie dumbs it down using colors to determine who is the most powerful. The orange and reds are the worst (Because ya know, danger), and the Green’s (Intelligence) represent the lowest on the totem pole. If this wasn’t enough, the film never allows you to forget each person’s rank for a single second, beating us over the head with colors in character’s eyes throughout the film to remind us of what is otherwise easily forgettable. They know it and now so do we.

– Once you understand the rules of Ruby’s powers and what she can do, there is absolutely no tension or suspense left in the many conflicts she comes across. This character is essentially God, so what is there that regular human beings can do to stop her? Even worse, it brings to light some of the inconsistencies that the film portrays. Ruby can read the minds of character’s pasts when she touches them, but why not during the scenes when she holds hands with a character or when she’s dancing with them? Ruby can move trains and bend titanium, so why can’t she unlock a van door? Ruby erases her parents memory of her, but how can she do this when she never touched her father? Does this include pictures, videos, and keepsakes?

– This is a post-apocalyptic movie of sorts, but the small scale always kept this from immersing me in this kind of environment. There’s one big budget set piece throughout the film, but otherwise most of the set designs and backdrops feel infantile when compared to their counterparts. In other YA adaptations, we see visual examples of deteriorating landscapes or something that commutes how far the cancer has spread, but with ‘The Darkest Minds’ there’s nothing to challenge the thought that this isn’t a society in any sort of immediate danger, instead carving out an ‘Us versus Them’ focus towards the evil government. Yawn.

– Choppy action sequences. When you are fortunate enough to get an action scene, the editing feels far too intrusive with far too many cuts to ever properly digest what is taking place. Two character suicides aren’t shown all together, but a chase sequence involving a falling tree is completely wiped away with an overzealous editor who instead prides angles over impact.

– Lack of overall resolution. It’s obvious that any movie these days fishes itself for a sequel, but I couldn’t escape this lack of satisfaction for a third act that is basically inconsequential, despite having no shortage of minutes donated to it. There are essentially two different endings in the movie, and the one that was more satisfying to me revolved around the love story that I referred to in my positives. For the conflict itself, it comes and goes like the wind, leaving about as much of an impact as a breezy cloudless day. If honesty serves ambition, a sequel will never see the light of day, leaving many unanswered questions for die-hard fans of the book, who deserve better.

– Too clean to a fault. Considering the novel is filled with lots of language and teenage personality to humor its audience, it feels like the movie isn’t being faithful in how it adapts the finer points of why people found these characters fascinating in the first place. There is a need for studios to market a film a certain way, but without the edginess in experimentation, that could’ve saved this film for better or worse, the movie doesn’t feel bold enough to live up to its own marketed age group, therefore it doesn’t feel rooted in the finer points that brought these characters to life in the books.

3/10

The Spy Who Dumped Me

Directed by Susanna Fogel

Starring – Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Sam Heughan

The Plot – Audrey (Kunis) and Morgan (McKinnon), two thirty-year-old best friends in Los Angeles, are thrust unexpectedly into an international conspiracy when Audrey’s ex-boyfriend shows up at their apartment with a team of deadly assassins on his trail. Surprising even themselves, the duo jump into action, on the run throughout Europe from assassins and a suspicious-but-charming British agent, as they hatch a plan to save the world.

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

POSITIVES

– Where this film would work and actually receive a passing grade from me, is the action. This is a solid action film that was spoon-forced to be a comedy, and it’s in those action elements where this movie greatly surprised me. Aside from exciting and well telegraphed sequences, the film is unforgivable in its never-ending violence, making the most of its coveted R-rating to satisfy the gore hound in all of us. It at least kept me awake through a movie that otherwise bored the hell out of me.

– In addition to the action, the sound design and overall mixing is riveting. When this film comes out, it greatly deserves the IMAX or XD options, because it rattles the auditorium with every pulse-setting crunch that the mayhem can muster. Most notably through a car chase sequence through downtown Prague, the volume of carnage flew high over the uninspired musical score, giving me many moments of wincing when the building blow finally landed.

– Female empowerment. The film does at least succeed in its message of manufacturing a product for the ladies that is full proof with those ladies nights out. With a cast that is female majority, as well as a valuable female antagonist character who kicks ass for all of the right reasons, ‘The Spy Who Dumped Me’ at least remains faithful to its strong gender values, even through a finale that almost soiled it all together.

– One of the things that this film does right halfway through the movie, is dump Kunis as the leading lady, and focus a majority of its time more on McKinnon, who while not working with her best material, does at least conjure up the most energy in delivery to this picture. Kate is given such ample time to aim and impress, and whether or not the comedy in the film works for you, you will at least be thankful that a script finally gave her a leading chance to run unopposed.

NEGATIVES

– What a mess of muddled storytelling. The film follows two on-going narratives, one for the modern day unraveling story, and one for the night Kunis and her male spy suitor met in a dive bar. The reason for this decision not only adds nothing of shock value or discovery for us the audience, but disjoints the hell out of the transition edits between them, requiring you to take a minute to remember that the latter story is unfortunately still continuing.

– If you can’t get the comedy right in an action comedy, you will have one boring film, and that’s what we’re left with here. The humor in this film isn’t just bad, it’s downright humiliating, throwing out a combination of god awful puns and animated delivery of dialogue that never feels authentic or earned. I managed to remember my two most offensive puns because they burned in my memory like a childhood trauma. The first involves Kunis character holding up a severed thumb with Mckinnon chiming in “Thumbs up”. The second, and one that gave me hard edge proof that God doesn’t exist, is a scene with Mckinnon dressed in an awful ensemble, and Kunis says to her “You look like a French curtain”, to which Mckinnon replies “Because I can hanggggg”.

– Too many twists. While you can easily predict where this story is headed, you find yourself weighed down heavily by the ridiculousness in ever-changing scenarios that don’t make sense the more you think about them. This is a 107 minute movie that shouldn’t be a minute over 90, especially when you consider that so much of the second and third acts revolve around the tables turning multiple times, diminishing the returns and shock value greatly, because the film goes to this well too many times.

– The ladies begin their foreign adventure after taking a flight from Los Angeles. The problem is that they do it spontaneously, so on the very hour that they are flying out, they not only manage to easily navigate their way through the busiest airport in the country, but also manage to find two tickets next to each other for a flight that is minutes away. Imagine the coincidence. I certainly can’t.

– My biggest problem with the casting of Kunis and Mckinnon isn’t so much that they lack any kind of chemistry between them, but rather how unconvincing they both feel in these particular roles. As characters, these are any typical woman disappointed by life and the curves that it continuously throws. Because the film is in a hurry during the first act, we are never offered a shade of depth or development between them that makes you empathize with their danger or at the very least Kunis’s on-screen break-up (That amazingly enough we never see). Kunis and Mckinnon never make the roles their own, and it leads you to believe that any two leading ladies in Hollywood could easily come in and do as good, if not a better, job than these two.

– Noticeably negative production aspects. The Green-screen backdrops during the driving sequences make the outline of the characters stick out like a third-dimension, and the A.D.R is some of the most glaring lack of fluidity that I have seen in 2018. On the latter, there’s a lot of over-the-shoulder shots, and when these happen the volume of the dialogue increases dramatically where it doesn’t feel synthetic with that of the actor they are conversing with. This is just sloppy post production all around, and proves just how much passion was put into a project that serves as nothing but a cheap manipulation for female audience members to spend their money to support girl power.

4/10

Mission Impossible: Fallout

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

Starring – Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames

The Plot – The best intentions often come back to haunt you. The newest film in the Mission Impossible franchise finds Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his IMF team (Alec Baldwin, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames) along with some familiar allies (Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Monaghan) in a race against time after a mission gone wrong.

Rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of action, and for brief strong adult language

POSITIVES

– Enthralling musical score by Lorne Balfe. What is so subtle, yet effective with her tones is that she uses the familiar Mission Impossible theme chords, but does so in a way that slowly drifts away from that familiarity to create an entirely new piece of music. Throughout the many fast-paced scenes that fill the film, Lorne casts extra emphasis in the moment, and I don’t think these scenes would accomplish the urgency that they attain without her masterful touch.

– This feels like the first Mission Impossible film that feels like a synthetic sequel to that of the previous film, and a lot of that rests on McQuarrie’s influence in story and character development that gives the series more depth than ever before. Beyond the return of a few cherished characters from previous movies, the whole plot of ‘Fallout’ rests on the aftermath of ‘Rogue Nation’, serving as the perfect companion piece that feels like the effect from such a world-defining cause. Christopher was the ideal choice to continue this series, and I hope he has a hand in future installments.

– Meticulously crafted action sequences. Relying on the very realism aspect that so many other action films don’t capture anymore, ‘Fallout’ prides itself on letting the set pieces and resulting actions tell the story of its danger. Because of such, we have a finer appreciation for the craft that doesn’t require big budget computer generated effects, or an overall lack of emphasis of danger in the air. Now if they can just do away with the face-pulling gag.

– Strong work by an ensemble cast of all star A-listers that have become a family of sorts. Much valued here is how everyone brings with them their best work, regardless if the role is big or small. There wasn’t a single character who feels miscast or underwhelming at the very least, instead presenting us with above expectation work for Cavill, Angela Basset, and especially Alec Baldwin as the brains behind the operation. Like franchises like ‘The Fast and Furious’, we’ve come to expect these characters in every film, and it’s carried with it an indisputable chemistry between the trio of Cruise, Ving Rhames, and Simon Pegg that adds a much necessary layer of fun to the smothering danger that surrounds them

– The stunt work by Cruise deserves a mention in itself. Known for decades for doing his own stunt work, Tom proves why he is the last real action star of a past era that prided itself on gritty risks attaining great rewards. Throughout the film, there is no shortage of Cruise whipping himself off of motorcycle chases, jumping between buildings, and hanging off of a helicopter that is flying thousands of feet above the ground. Whether you like or dislike Cruise as a person, you have to respect how this guy has continued to never let a number define what he can do, and even at the age of 56, is still unmatched in action resume.

– Relentless camera work that stays persistent without settling for compromise. I can’t be thankful enough that cinematographer Rob Hardy never requires the cheap gimmick of shaking camera effects to never pull the feeling of adrenaline that runs throughout the film. Beyond this, the camera moves in a way that stalks the characters and automobiles in a way that doesn’t limit the twists and turns in their choreographed patterns. These are very well planned out sequences that make it that much easier to immerse ourselves in the unraveling moments of tension required to care about the characters.

– Variety in exotic European shooting locations that speak volumes to the concepts of global terrorism that so much of the movie centers on. Beautiful wonder in establishing shots, combined with the obvious differences in their landscapes, pushes the Mission Impossible series to the very levels that only James Bond has treaded on. It proves that no cent was spared in production, and no opportunity wasted in capturing that big budget perks that come with six successful films.

– Earned consequences are established with the rising of the stakes. Ethan’s vulnerability plays a large part in this direction. We feel weak in the knees because we see the reaction that Cruise dons every time he attempts a death-defying feat, proving that mortality trumps immortality any day when it comes to mastering uncertainty in your audience. The eloquent sound design shouldn’t be overlooked for its raging intensity that amplifies the higher the story moves in elevation.

NEGATIVES

– Despite smooth pacing and minimal lag time, there is still simply too much material inserted into this bloated script. This film clocks in at nearly two-and-a-half-hours, and while that might not seem like a big deal because of the things I mentioned above, much of the exposition can be divided and put into earlier scenes. My biggest problem is that the film tries to make itself out to be smarter than it actually is, never requiring a full 142 minutes to tell THIS story. Two hours even would maintain more of that energy, while adding great replay value to its mastery.

– My hate for the intro credit sequence in this film magnifies the greater the film becomes. In this musical montage of visual text, we are treated to THIS film’s best moments of action to treat viewers to what’s coming up. Besides the fact that these scene reveals don’t make sense chronologically because we haven’t experienced them yet, my main problem is that it spoils the best moments of each scene without reluctance, and does so in a way that is asinine when there were other directions to go with it. For one, why not just show scenes from the previous Mission Impossible installments? Make it an Ethan’s greatest hits collection before facing his most arduous challenge.

8/10

The Equalizer 2

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Starring – Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Bill Pullman

The Plot – Robert McCall (Washington) serves an unflinching justice for the exploited and oppressed, but how far will he go when that is someone he loves?

Rated R for brutal violence throughout, adult language, and some drug content

POSITIVES

– If there is one aspect that this film does far superior than that of the original installment, it’s in the presence of its valuable R-rating that it uses so viciously. The fight sequences are quick with movements, but more importantly they never look away from the slice-and-dice damage that McCall delivers with such ferocity, giving us the kind of entertainment in violence that has felt watered down in the genre as of late.

– Improved character development. Not only does this film shed more light on Robert and his distant past, it also brings along the supporting cast in a way that their importance shines on the on-going narration. Melissa Leo’s character from the original movie, particularly is focused upon more, even if she suffers from the same minimal amount of time that the last movie gave her. The friendship between her and Washington on-screen certainly is evident, and gives the audience the perfect reason to get invested once that bond becomes tested. This gives the sequel a more personal approach than the original movie, that on a surface level was just McCall rescuing these tortured strangers.

– There are two interesting subplots fighting for time in the film, and while one initially feels less important because of its jumbled time investment when compared to the other, they both collide during the pivotal third act to reveal a dual value to the direction that is much needed. One of these involves the more homely side to Robert that we haven’t gotten to see up to this point, carving out a side as a guardian that he never got the chance to feel because of his wife’s untimely death. Could the pacing of the storytelling been done more fluidly between scene transitions? ABSOLUTELY. But once you see the disheveled pieces formed together, you start to appreciate the depth that this script entails.

– Washington continues to bring it as a godfather of action, instilling enough confidence and even animation to the character this time around that gives him unforeseen personality. Even at the age of 63, Denzel’s believability as a purveyor or justice works because of the poise and delivery that he commands over our attention, and ‘The Equalizer 2’ proves that the combination of he and Fuqua is as hard-hitting of a tag team as there is in Hollywood today. They both understand the character immensely, and play off the swagger of this skilled soldier without it feeling arrogant or brash for the camera.

– Very little lag time in between the two hour thrill ride. Part of my surprise with this film came when I checked my watch and discovered that I only had twenty minutes left in the movie, and I contribute that fluidity in pacing to the juggling act between those dual narratives that I mentioned earlier. Because of such, this film doesn’t stop reaching for the attention of us the audience, dazzling us with precise fight choreography storytelling unveils that are never few and far between.

– Cinematographer Oliver Wood’s impeccable movements behind the lens. Besides beautiful framing of scenes involving multiple characters in conversation, Wood’s greatest detail involves the panning motions that he instills upon swerving chase sequences, as well as moments of self-reflection for McCall’s cerebral qualities when cracking mysteries. Wood is certainly no stranger to action photography, most notably with brilliant work in ‘Jack Reacher’ and ‘The Bourne Movies’ that have carved out a presence behind the camera that speaks volumes to the atmosphere without ever settling for the gimmick of shaking camera effects.

NEGATIVES

– Most of my commentary for Fuqua as a director has been flawless to this point, so it greatly surprises me that his hand in this film feels shaky at best. Many details in the film make it feel like a different director is sitting in the chair, most notably the reversible aging process of Washington’s McCall, who not sports a full head of hair, to make him look twenty years younger. Beyond that, the lack of detail in character’s clothes and hair being dry through a hurricane sequence feels lazy for someone of his credibility.

– The subtlety and nuance of this film gets thrown out the window during the third act, when this big budget, poorly C.G infused hurricane sequence takes over. Not only does this feel terribly cliched when compared to the rest of this series, but it also marks some of the dumbest moves by antagonists that I’ve ever seen. I guess I can overlook a certain character giving away his position in a tower by shooting non-stop, but I absolutely cannot look past the stupidity of a character blowing himself up with a grenade in a room of running fans and dripping salt. My laughter during this scene stood out like a fart in a library, and completely took me out of feeling any kind of urgency or danger for McCall’s stacking odds.

– Speaking of antagonists, the film tries to play the head of this group off as a mystery figure, despite the fact that those of us who have paid attention have figured it out a half hour prior. Blame it on poor casting for a man who has a devious face, or blame it again on poor character direction by Fuqua, but either way the shifty eyes of a particular character made this reveal insanely obvious and gravely impatient when waiting for the movie to eventually catch up.

– Endless time filler that goes nowhere. There’s a ten minute introduction scene that feels tacked on to anything else that happens in the rest of the movie, an aging-quickly subplot involving an old man and an art portrait that dulls us fast, and a career of Lyft driving by McCall that doubles as his bat signal basically. My point is that even with the dual narrative that worked for me, there is still far too much dead weight on this film that could easily be trimmed to fit 100 minutes. As I mentioned earlier, the pacing never suffers, but it feels like details to a story that add up to little or nothing, then return me back to our regularly scheduled program.

6/10

Skyscraper

Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber

Starring – Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Pablo Schreiber

The Plot – FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader and U.S. war veteran Will Sawyer (Johnson) now assesses security for skyscrapers. On assignment in Hong Kong he finds the tallest, safest building in the world suddenly ablaze, and he’s been framed for it. A wanted man on the run, Will must find those responsible, clear his name and somehow rescue his family who are trapped inside the building…above the fire line.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong adult language

POSITIVES

– Johnson and Campbell are dual threats as this husband and wife duo, who each offer plenty to accommodate the film. It’s obvious that Johnson is currently the greatest action star in the world, so his physical prowess goes without saying, but the real surprise here comes from Campbell, who proves that significant other characters in these movies don’t have to settle for being the damsel in distress, and can get their hands dirty in the most important of ways to the unfolding chaos around them.

– Despite it being primarily C.G effects work, the structure of the skyscraper itself is one that provided some heart-pounding action sequences to compliment the technological intricacies inside. For this particular structure, the echoing of technology coming back to help, as well as harm us is certainly evident, but it’s in the elaborate attention to detail that spares no expense that provides Johnson with perhaps his biggest foe of the film, and one that keeps kicking back.

– Finely paced movements in camera work. Being that this is a film about overcoming heights, it was important that the cinematography for the film reflect those tense vantage points from over 96 floors up, and this crew certainly doesn’t disappoint. Thankfully, there are rarely any Point-of-view shots, because that would feel too cliche, and instead the capturing of the immensity of the surrounding landscape in comparison to that of the characters, that really provide the high stakes that each of them are playing with. Because of such, we are treated to some truly death-defying long angle shots that captures the entire circumstance in frame, and puts the audience in focus without using obvious measures to take us there.

– One could consider the consistency of the serious tone in this film compromising to the sometimes ridiculousness that unfolds in choreographed action, but I found it to be rather appropriate for the urgency and gravity of time that Johnson’s character is carefully playing with. The problem with most of his other starring role films is that they embrace that silliness so much that it sometimes breaks free of logic, but in ‘Skyscraper’ it’s in the well balanced tone of this film that pays perhaps the most honorable of homages to films like ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Towering Inferno’ that let the action play into the fun that everyone is having.

– Finally a film that is set in a foreign land indulges in foreign characters. ‘Skyscraper’ takes place in Hong Kong, so it’s with extreme glee that I commend the film for including a majority of Asian characters that surround our main cast. Even more so, they aren’t just one-off dialogue delivery boys, they are vital members to what’s unfolding on the ground, carefully moving piece by piece to render the situation. Any other American action film would whitewash the hell out of this cast, but casting agent Krista Husar should be celebrated for keeping the reality within the screenplay.

NEGATIVES

– For as dimensional as the protagonists are in the film, the antagonists fail at every possible measure. Their reveals are predictable, their plans are asinine and overblown, and their heritages are very much par for what we’ve come to expect from the terrorist subgenre. It’s sad that you can take any two action films at this point, trade off their villains, and neither film would be any worse for wear because of it. Even worse, the film doesn’t even try to make their twist reveals anything remotely shocking, because the obvious seedy musical tones that accompany them tell the story that we’re already seven moves ahead on.

– Plenty of stupidity to feast on. Even though the film’s tone does keep with the maturity, the logic that defies weight and physics throughout the film does anything but. The only thing worse than Johnson climbing a 100 story crane in ten minutes, or him being the bond that holds two sides of a building together, is the obvious first act foreshadowing in character flaws and room designs that will ever so obviously make its presence felt by the film’s conclusion. Predictability is everywhere.

– Shallow, forced character exposition. This is where Johnson and Campbell are needed most of all, because the film’s lack of importance cast for their character’s depth nearly crumbles the movie around them. When we do get exposition, it’s in the form of some of the most lazy and brief deliveries from FBI agents, that could otherwise be used to soak up some valuable minutes on-screen. The film’s only moment of backstory visually is to tell the tale of how the artificial limb happened, and even that holds such little weight on the overall bigger picture in conflict that never leaves Johnson’s character anything but Superman.

– This film’s biggest obstacle will be in escaping the obvious comparisons to that of ‘Die Hard’ or ‘Towering Inferno’, and unfortunately the movie does very little to rid itself of the disciple tag. In terms of originality, ‘Skyscraper’ can only build bigger to the structures in those movies, but in terms of memorable circumstance, this film is every bit as forgettable as it is redundant. You probably could’ve just called this a remake and capitalized on the crowds of those bigger franchises. It makes sense to follow something so closely without it.

6/10

Ant Man and The Wasp

Directed by Peyton Reed

Starring – Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena

The Plot – In the aftermath of ‘Captain America: Civil War,’ Scott Lang (Rudd) grapples with the consequences of his choices as both a Super Hero and a father. As he struggles to re-balance his home life with his responsibilities as Ant-Man, he’s confronted by Hope van Dyne (Lilly) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) with an urgent new mission. Scott must once again put on the suit and learn to fight alongside The Wasp as the team works together to uncover secrets from their past.

Rated PG-13 for some mild profanity, and scenes of sci-fi action and violence

POSITIVES

– Rudd and Lilly, while still leagues away from feeling authentic in a romantic staging, preserve their chemistry with a tag team dynamic that compliments the other one. With Marvel movies, we typically get solo efforts or a group of superheroes, so the elements involved with a man/woman duo can compliment the choreography in action in the same way tag team wrestling does. Along the way, there are plenty of set-ups and knock-downs that each of these characters feed each other, making it difficult for antagonists to look one way without something coming at them in a different direction.

– The visual effects work is leaps and bounds the single greatest aspect of the film, bringing to life childlike imagination and creativity in spades. Ant Man and The Wasp is certainly a film that couldn’t be made ten years ago, and much of that perfection amongst green-screen assistance is something that has come with time, with in-sync color shadowing and precision volume in movements and weight that ease the boundaries of believability. There is one certain problem that I had with a scene involving hot wheels that doesn’t make sense in any way, shape, or form, but it’s just part of the tone set for the film.

– Pacing that literally FLIES by (Get it?). While the run time for the film is nearly two hours, the final conflict wrapped itself up in a way that finished before we as an audience were ever aware that resolution was coming. Not that this happens in a way that is anti-climatic, but rather screenwriters Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari leave us wanting more by exiting at the highest peak of the intensity mountain.

– Perfect timing. The film doesn’t hold much weight with everything else currently going on in the Infinity War and Thanos, and maybe that’s for the best. Considering so many people were depressed coming out of Infinity War, the necessity for something like Ant Man and The Wasp is that much more appreciated, because of its colorful textures and substantial value in light-hearted thrills. So many people just want to laugh anymore, especially in our own real world, and if Rudd avoiding house arrest while watching Animal House doesn’t do it for you, then nothing will.

– Much of the tone for the film stays grounded, leaving very little to even push forth with a PG-13 rating that even I felt was stretching it a bit. This film’s biggest strength is in its adaptability for all members of the family, especially considering it is the first Marvel property to feature a female presence in the title of the movie. With Wonder Woman kicking so much ass for DC, it was certainly time that Marvel engaged the female fans of its inner circle, and the film does a superb job at leveling the playing field for both characters gifts that they bring to the table. Also, some of my favorite scenes harvested that family element beautifully, with Rudd losing the suit to play dad to his adorably precocious child daughter.

– The marriage of C.G and makeup sets back the clock. As we saw with how Marvel made Robert Downey Jr twenty years younger in Civil War, it too brings a more impressive palate in the designs of Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeifer for this picture. Not that either have aged terribly. Pfeifer is still a fox, but the scenes relating to their pasts remind us of the prime for some of Hollywood’s once prosperous A-list hitters, proving how scary realistic these transformations feel without ever coming across as hollow.

– It should be obvious that you stay for the credits for one amazing post credits scene, and one that was an extreme waste of time. However, my post-movie cheers goes to a credit sequence that storyboards the movie’s biggest scenes with action figures. It harvests the energy of what it meant to be a kid, dreaming up these superhero scenarios when anything was possible.

NEGATIVES

– While the humor in dialogue for the film did hit its mark around 80% of the time, there were some examples where this direction did harm for the atmosphere. Considering Reed also directed the first movie, it’s interesting to see how much more he values sitcom comedy in the sequel as compared to the original film. Quite often, there is a desire to supplant a laugh or sight gag in every single scene, making it difficult to feel dramatic tension in the form of urgency . Beyond this, the over-extending use for puns became eye-rolling about midway through the movie.

– The biggest disappointment for me was easily the setting. While the first film entirely took place in the real world, I was hoping that the sequel would establish the rules and atmosphere inside of the Quantum Realm. Sadly, we only invade this outerworld with a mere 30 minutes left in the movie, and even then it is only temporary. I didn’t care for either of the dual antagonists for the movie, and often times it feels like they are created to give each protagonist their own conflict. Instead, I wish the Quantum Realm itself, in all of its mysteries and risks, was the antagonist for the movie. It’s that rare case I feel where a superhero film didn’t require an antagonist, and now makes this series 0 for 3 in terms of compelling villains who offer no kind of depth to their missions.

– When you really think about it, this film is a big game of Hot Potato, and for it to be reduced to something that elementary with as many elements that are boiling around the pot, it’s a bit of a glaring negative that the character development in exposition feels secondary to the prize itself. This is big on the antagonists, but also on someone like Pfeifer’s Motherly character, who with the exception of the opening couple minutes of the movie, goes a long span of time before appearing again. Why even reach for a big name like Pfeifer when the best you have for her is three scenes throughout nearly two hours of film?

7/10

The First Purge

Directed by Gerard McMurray

Starring – Y’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Marisa Tomei

The Plot – Behind every tradition lies a revolution. Welcome to the movement that began as a simple experiment: The First Purge. To push the crime rate below one percent for the rest of the year, the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) test a sociological theory that vents aggression for one night in one isolated community. But when the violence of oppressors meets the rage of the marginalized, the contagion will explode from the trial-city borders and spread across the nation.

Rated R for strong disturbing violence throughout, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use

POSITIVES

– For the first hour of this film, I honestly didn’t care about a single one of these characters. But then something interesting happens for their dynamic during the third act. Instead of the drug pushers that we have come to know up to that point, we instead start to see them for being these merchants of sorts for the streets they vow to protect. Because of this, for the first time in the film, it feels like everyone is working together, bringing to life the Us versus Them mentality that the Purge series of films have thrived on.

– Speaking of third acts, the apartment complex finale in this film is arguably my favorite choreographed action sequence midway through the 2018 movie year. Shot competently with enough claustrophobia for angles, as well as sharp, precise bodily movements for the actors involved, the final fifteen minutes of the film will send people home with the kind of adrenaline that they have been itching to see. The film elevates itself at the right moments, and because of such sends audiences home during the biggest edge-of-the-seat moments of the film.

– In regards to the event itself, it’s interesting to rewind and see the inception of such an idea, and how something so extreme gets introduced into society. As a screenwriter, what I appreciate most from James DeMonaco is his logic in cause-and-effects, and not feeling the need to get caught up in answering every single question. Instead, the script allows the audience to fill in the blanks, comparing and contrasting the similarities and differences in our own real world society that always feels one step away from such actions.

– The nightmare imagery of this film is among the most disturbing that I have seen for the series thus far. Aside from the creepy and innovative masks that we’ve come to expect, what really gave me chills were the close-ups of facial reactions that relate that introduction to mayhem the first time they get a taste for blood. It really conjures up that feeling of ambiguity with those we come into contact with daily, bringing to light the issues involved with trust that makes each of these characters feel so isolated.

– There’s much raw and untapped direction in the film’s cinematography that makes it feel like something straight out of 70’s B-movie cinema. The film opens up with these close-up shots while interviewing citizens for the Purge, inter-cutting it with these candid looks at the Staten Island neighborhoods surrounding us, to omit off that yellow gloss of street light color that other films have to pay extra in effects work to obtain. Simply put, this film does what Superfly didn’t.

NEGATIVES

– Once again, there is no dimensions of depth to the cartoon government antagonists that adorn these movies. Perhaps my disdain for this angle wouldn’t be as strong if it wasn’t redundant in every movie, and just once attempted to present relativity to their sides of the story. When you need a villain, a government agent in a suit is always a sure thing, but it doesn’t mean that we should any and every time.

– This film has some of the worst blood splatter effects work that I have seen in quite sometime. There are times when you have to look close to spot it, but the unorthodox reds that spit from wounds like an open spigot, do so with such a lack of believability amongst their overall presentation that have you fighting back laughter. During the occasions when it’s close to the screen, it does the cliche splatter effect when it hits us in the face. I’ve always had a problem with this logic, because what exactly is it hitting if we’re supposedly watching real events played off in real time where there are no cameras?

– As I mentioned earlier, the character development doesn’t kick in until late in the third act, but the acting work itself offers this element very little assistance. Noel isn’t bad as a protagonist, but he’s often relegated to maintaining the drug lord persona when the film so desperately wants him to have these traits of heart. Beyond him, everyone else often feels like they’re amped up to eleven, guided with the kind of direction that constantly reminded me that I was watching characters and not actual people. If the film wasn’t trying to take itself so seriously, and was more of a spoof, it would be fine, but the animated deliveries from some truly cringe-worthy lines of dialogue is too much to overcome.

– I feel like the first act of the film is easily the weakness for the movie, and there’s plenty of places to point at because of why. First, the backstory of the world at that point is rushed by in a one minute montage that gives us the cliff notes to questions that double after this information. Second, there’s never enough influence of government during these scenes, leaving much of the debate of parallel worlds feeling one sided. Finally, for the supposed first purge ever, there’s very little explanation of the rules considering these people are doing it for the first time. Should we assume they know because of their appointments with government officials? Wouldn’t it have been easier to explain it all on the TV briefing when we are minutes away?

– Time period? There’s many elements to this film that made me scratch my head for when this film is supposed to be taking place. For instance, in the original Purge movie from 2013, the film so bluntly states that it takes place in 2014. How can that be possible when in this film set sometime before then, we see a Blumhouse Halloween poster from a movie that is coming out in the fall of 2018? It’s obviously an Easter egg for their future schedule, but its inclusion is an immediate soiling of any time immersion that you have in the film. If this isn’t enough, the film’s use of technological advances in computer generated contact lenses and drones that fly over and film the action, are nowhere to be found in later Purge installments. Why would they introduce this in the first Purge and never again?

5/10

The Catcher Was A Spy

Directed by Ben Lewin

Starring – Paul Rudd, Connie Nielsen, Mark Strong

The Plot – In the midst of World War II, major league catcher Moe Berg (Rudd) is drafted to join a new team: the Office of Strategic Services (the precursor to the CIA). No ordinary ballplayer, the erudite, Jewish Ivy League graduate speaks nine languages and is a regular guest on a popular TV quiz show. Despite his celebrity, Berg is an enigma – a closeted gay man with a knack for keeping secrets. The novice spy is quickly trained and sent into the field to stop German scientist Werner Heisenberg before he can build an atomic bomb for the Nazis.

Rated R for some sexuality, violence, and adult language

POSITIVES

– There’s a surprise behind every corner with the casting. Even if you’ve seen the poster for this film, that lists the names of the film’s top three or four stars, there’s enough cameo drop-ins to establish this as possibly the best ensemble cast of randomly assorted actors that I have seen in 2018.

– Most importantly, this is a chance for Rudd to diverse himself and shine in a genre that he isn’t exactly known for, and even though the direction does him little favors in terms of character development, Rudd supplants enough range to silence the doubters. In particular, Rudd’s surprising success vocalizing a wide range of accents are authentic enough to pay respects to the real life Berg, who went through endless training to attain his transformation.

– Strong camera work all around. The war scenes feel claustrophobic, following our leads with dedicated conviction, and the character exchanges off the field of battle revolve circularly around them to reflect the passing and race against the clock.

– As a biopic, it’s certainly true that The Catcher Was A Spy is a deeply flawed movie, but as a character roarschach test during the World War II era, it specializes on leaving mystery to the man to even make the audience question his directions. What this does in terms of benefit is firmly establish the uncertainty that filled the air during such a trivial time in our world’s history, feeding into the very mystery surrounding the job of being a spy.

NEGATIVES

– Television movie-of-the-week production values. This film is cut short around nearly every corner; poor interior lighting, choppy editing that feel like they cut scenes in half, and most obviously these tight shots of battlefield backdrops that relate how cost-cutting this whole thing truly is. Perhaps the budget was spent on the deep ensemble cast for the movie, because on camera it’s simply not there.

– The screenplay feels like a bunch of scattered puzzle pieces that never form a bigger picture when put together. What’s even further troubling is that there is no weight that carries over to the next scene to keep you interested. Everything feels like it continuously starts over the train of momentum, and it flies off of its tracks and derails each and every time.

– Perhaps my biggest trouble with the film is the overwhelming amount of time dedicated to the uncertainty of Moe’s love life, instead of elevating this as the spy thriller of sorts that the film’s excitement level so desperately needs. Not that this angle is reached with a level of success. This film very much drops the ball on understanding gay relationships during such a time period, but burden of repetition from a surface level only, doesn’t do enough to withstand any waning interest in the film.

– Cringing dialogue. I could mention a few different line reads during this film, but only one truly awful line is so bad to sum up everything that the script harvests. Moe is asked by a captain “Are you a Jew?”, to which Moe replies “Ehhhhh Jew-ish”. I slapped my head three times after hearing this, and you should too.

– Much of the film’s miniscule run time of 89 minutes does favors for the often-times sluggish pacing, but it works dramatically against learning anything beyond the Wikipedia summary about Moe the person. Far often, he lacks the kind of personal reflection from being saddled in a foreign land that you don’t ever get the chance to feel empathy for his disposition of having to give up the game he loves.

– From a baseball aesthetic and fact checker, the film gets everything wrong about the lone professional baseball scene in the movie. From the lack of names mentioned during commentary, to the incorrect caps and jersey’s used for the particular time period, this film stumbles on even the smallest of details, plaguing it again to its cheap production that distances itself from that big screen feel.

4/10