Battle of the Sexes

A man and woman at the top of their respective games, let their balls do the talking in ‘Battle of the Sexes’. In the wake of the sexual revolution and the rise of the women’s movement, the 1973 tennis match between women’s world champion Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and ex-men’s-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) was billed as the BATTLE OF THE SEXES and became one of the most watched televised sports events of all time, reaching 90 million viewers around the world. As the rivalry between King and Riggs kicked into high gear, off-court each was fighting more personal and complex battles. The fiercely private King was not only championing for equality, but also struggling to come to terms with her own sexuality, as her friendship with Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) developed. And Riggs, one of the first self-made media-age celebrities, wrestled with his gambling demons, at the expense of his family and wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue). Together, Billie and Bobby served up a cultural spectacle that resonated far beyond the tennis court, sparking discussions in bedrooms. ‘Battle of the Sexes’ is directed by the husband and wife duo of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and is rated PG-13 for some sexual content and partial nudity.

Sports can serve as a chess piece of sorts in the bigger battles that shape and advance our society. While these are just games of friendly competition, there’s no debate to the undercurrent of political conversation that is taking place beneath the stage of smiles and respectable handshakes. Most notably from history are games like the 1980 Hockey Winter Olympic games, which staged the ultimate underdog Americans defeating the Russians at the heart of the cold war, Jackie Robinson stepping onto the field for his first major league game, and of course Billie Jean King fighting for women’s equality in a sport that up until then had been dominated monetarily by males. We point to these chapters in history as the building blocks for the much greater picture in all of its hurdles, and that is what gives a film like ‘Battle of the Sexes’ its stroke of importance against the litter of sports biopics. Despite the mostly light-hearted atmosphere being displayed here, there’s very much a struggle for power, and King herself feels like the brunt of frustration for a generation of males not quite ready to give over their dominance just yet.

From a narrative perspective, the film is so much more than just its title event, which is so miniscule in the grand scale of what is really going on in this movie. The script that is written by Simon Beaufoy takes us through these two prominent figures of their sport and chooses to focus and peel away at the human side to each of their respective lives, building up the backstory prominently to feed into the main course later on. In Billie Jean, we meet a woman on the verge of her sexual awakening, feeling love for the first time in the clutches of a woman and a union between them that by all means was looked upon in shame not only by the sport but also by its fans. On top of this, King’s real battle takes place off the court with the head of the tennis organization, Jack Kramer (Played by Bill Pullman), and his sexist stance on refusing to grant woman the kind of equality that they have fought so hard for with increasing ratings. On the parralel, Riggs is surprisingly not half of the antagonist that the film tries so desperately to shadow him as. Just as King’s life is taking a turn of revolution, Riggs is down and out with an addiction to gambling that has cost him nearly everything that he loves. The people in his life view him as a joke, and because of such, I felt great empathy towards this character and how this big name battle is every bit important to restoring his name as it is to building the legacy of King’s. Because the film builds these two characters equally, it means that much more when their tug-of-war comes to fruition later on, and the heartbreak of how only one of them can walk away as the winner, and that is riveting storytelling at its finest.

Another prominent perspective in this film is the impeccable artistic pageantry during the disco ages that doesn’t feel like it’s being used as an artificial gimmick. So much of the set designs and cinema scope with color palates in the film feel like they are patiently distributed and wait for the film to come to them instead of vice versa. Soundtrack is a big example of this, limiting the uses of top 40 favorites into the film, and instead opting for B-side bullets that never try hard to timestamp and hammer home the idea of this particular decade. The fashion trends rarely feel like anything that you can point to and laugh at, and it gives the entire production a kind of earnest respect that doesn’t feel necessary in exploiting it for its own cheap giggles or observations. The camera work stays fairly close for some conversation pieces, particularly with that of King when her usually tough exterior comes crumbling down at the hands of a woman who she falls smitten for instantaneously. The inclusion of neon colors splashing particularly in that of bar setting scenes feel like they play into Billie’s inside desire just burning to come out, feeding into the passion between them that the film unabashedly buys into. Even the television presentational value caters as well to this consistent grip for authenticity that the film carries on with, steadying the broadcasts with intentionally slow editing and pacing that was very much a staple of 70’s broadcasts. It all feeds into two hours of seamless visual merit that keeps the film firmly grounded in its roots, bringing to life the sunshine backdrops of the California coast that reflect the flower generation in all of its colorful displays for our own personal eye candy.

As for performances, there is no limits of familiar faces who pop up on screen to steal a scene or two in this film with no shortage of meaningful roles. Emma Stone refuses to rest on her Oscar win last March, breathing in King with precision in feminine heroism and dedication to appearance that immerses her fully into this role. Stone again has several moments of possible Oscar clips here as well, and her fiery finesse propels her to the front of the line to retain her trophy. Carell might give my single favorite performance from him to date as Riggs. Steve juggles two different Bobby’s to their respective importance with the script; one in front of the camera and one off of the camera, and they are anything but one and the same. Bobby is wise enough as a business man to know that every good match needs a villain that the people (in this case the women) can grit their teeth at, and his charismatic stroke of shovanism knows no bounds. It’s a difficult thing to balance these two opposite sides under the same helm, but Carell’s integral exuberance keeps them two equally compelling characters for the price of one. In addition to these two, there’s notable turns from veterans like Pullman, Elisabeth Shue, and the lady who constantly keeps the film’s tonal comedy in the palm of her hands; Sarah Silverman. This trio round out a collective ensemble that rival any other film this year, not just in big name quality, but in how much energetic material there is to go around for everyone to take a turn.

My problems are quite limited with this film and only come down to one or two sparingly random instances that did little damage. For one, the affair storyline with King and Marilyn really only focus on them and ignore almost entirely the perspective from King’s husband until it is absolutely necessary to include him. Doing this makes where it is going predictable for the viewers who don’t know everything about King, and I wish the film did a little more to leave him with a lasting impression upon us. My other problem is with the actual Battle of the Sexes, which takes place in the final twenty minutes of the film. It’s hard enough to build the dramatic effect in this game if you know what happened, but I feel like Dayton and Faris could’ve done a slightly better job at the unfolding atmosphere of male uneasiness that was present in the stadium. For the most part, the game breezes by, focusing too often on wide television angles, and less from a player perspective inside the physicality of it all. It just kind of makes the final scenes fizzle out like a boxing match that we were built up for from all of the pregame talking, but then disappointed once it actually happened.

THE VERDICT – Dayton and Faris serve up yet another crowd pleasing time capsule of 70’s euphoria that moves us with two endearing performances by Stone and Carell at the top of the bill. Like our own world that still requires lots of growing for our own narrow-minded, ‘Battle of the Sexes’ does give us some semblance of hope for how far we’ve come, and the kind of stage that only sports can provide in diving into that valuable social commentary. The ball stays inbounds for two hours of breezy emotional substance that invites us to laugh and love with these characters.

8/10

Mother!

“This film is fucking nuts” – Bob Meffert

Critically acclaimed director Darren Arronofsky returns to helm and pen this ‘Mother’ of A mystery starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. The film revolves arouns A couple’s (Lawrence and Bardem) once blossoming relationship being tested when A series of uninvited guests arrive at their newly purchased home, disrupting their tranquil existence. After their motives become clear, the woman of the couple soon learns the heavy price that comes with tranquility, and that her once loving husband might not exactly be the same man who she took vows to. ‘Mother’ also stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris, and is rated R for strong disturbing violent content, some sexuality, nudity and adult language.

You have to give Darren Arronofsky some credit. With A career spanning over twenty years at the helm of some visual and material masterpieces, the man still finds ways to entice and shock his audience in the most lurid of taboo fashions. In comes ‘Mother’, A film that while I did enjoy, certainly isn’t one that I am able to recommend for what it takes to fully comprehend. Like all Arronofsky films, there’s something greater at play here than just A man and A woman living in this peaceful setting, while strangers overtake and crumble that reality. It’s A thinkers film, and once that lightbulb of knowledge kicks on in the heads of the audience, you can start to appreciate this film for the points that it is trying to convey on this particularly humbling subject matter. What I find so daring about his method of visual storytelling is that he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in expressing the true lunacy of A particular topic or event, presenting the audience with the capability to see it through newly discovered eyes. He’s still one of those master storytellers who is articulately capable of presenting meaning without words, A form of expression that sadly is losing credibility with each passing year of experimental film. Because such, whether you like or dislike ‘Mother!’, one thing is for certain; you will be talking about it for days to come.

The decision to craft this story with little narration or exposition is definitely A big risk, but the shoulders of cryptic ambiguity in clear cut solutions is one that actually kept me more invested the longer the film went on. It’s clear that Arronofsky is dabbing in expression here that appoints the kind of artistic integrity to ‘Mother!’ that you would for an abstract painting. For however you see his film, there simply is no wrong answer. To hammer this fact home, Arronofsky never gives any of his characters names, an aspect that doesn’t configure them in one way or the other when deciphering Darren’s true intentions. I can confidently say that I do think I understand what he was going for here, but for fear of spoilers I will not fully get into it until I’m asked. Because of A heavy handed third act with the intentional material, It’s difficult not to pick up on those key aspects that slowly unfolds the arms of mystery and really makes your eyes pop with expression from the mayhem that engulfs it all. I do wish the mystery stayed thick with this one throughout because sometimes the obvious does feel slightly catering to those crowds who are afraid to think. This film is best when it doesn’t feel forced, but the final thirty minutes of this film are simply too bat-shit to not see for yourself.

The attitude too is relied upon heavily in capturing the essence of awkwardness that has swallowed these dual protagonists whole. Without any kind of musical accompaniment to distract or take away from soaking in every audacity-filled event that this woman experiences, the film forces you to be there without missing A beat. The performances are one thing, but the dialogue is rich on the prodding and poking of ones hospitality without feeling artificial or catering to A particular idea in script. You feel everything that Lawrence’s character is going through because she is front-and-center the logic in homemaking that goes with this movie, and feels like our side of things in the spectrum of manners while guests in someone else’s home. The rich consistency in tone for this screenplay really does A lot in puppeteering the precedent for what’s to come with that riveting third act reveal that I mentioned earlier, and that tension of embarrassment will sometimes creep up on you like insects that (Like Lawrence) have overstayed their welcome.

Most of the aesthetic touches in production for the film are used effectively too in pushing that tension even further in each scene. The house set piece is very detailed and weathered in its appearance, and it is truly remarkable the kind of beating that it takes in this film at the hands of Arronofsky, whom shapes the very pulse of such with its own beating heart. The camera angles omit that casual Arronofsky vibe that we have come to know, complete with stimulating camera vibrations when A character is upset, as well as tight-knit close shots of each character’s face that put you in the heart of the moment. The camera follows where our characters wander, weaving in front of and behind whenever they leave the room. This as well is A familiar touch to Arronofsky classics like ‘Requiem For A Dream’ and ‘The Wrestler’, providing A kind of identity stamp of reminder to the man who moves the strings. My only complaint with this method in camera angles is that it can sometimes present itself as erratic when combined with stair movements or physical sequences whose close quarters can feel too close for comfort in depiction. To say there were A few scenes in the film where I had to squint to understand, is A slight understatement, and I hope Darren can instill some wide angles appropriately for future projects.

There is also some noteworthy praise in these weighty performances that each vary from one another in terms of direction. Lawrence’s fragile vulnerability casts her as A true protagonist in the early stages, but then evolves into A true force of nature kind of release. Jennifer is truly one of the best performers going today, and her slow transformation as A dreamer whose life has been overtaken by A series of strangers, really springs logic into her already meaty psychological spin. Bardem appeals in naïve self-promotion that really hammers home the idea how isolated his female counterpart has become. The two of them bounce off of one another on more than one occasion, and it absolutely radiated faithfully as A couple being torn apart by powerful forces. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer also have something substantial to offer as A married duo who bring out the worst in each other. Pfeiffer is an oversexed control freak, and Harris is A never-do-good type who pushes his luck on far too many occasions. For the most part, this is Lawrence’s show, but the contributions of this complete list of durable performances adds the kind of big name appeal to the bill that we have come to expect from Arronofsky.

THE VERDICT – If you see this film, go into it as blind as you can. ‘Mother!’ has A thrilling underbelly of riveting material that is only surpassed in depth by its thought-provoking depictions that are always pushing the envelope of artistic expression. Led by the most versatile performance of her career in Lawrence, Arronofsky propels himself once again ahead of the horror game without needing too much of the blood and gore that we’ve become accustomed to, and trading them in for A series of squirms that overstuffs the already packed claustrophobia. Pretentious yet powerful.

8/10

IT

The pages of one of Stephen King’s most heralded terror page-turners comes to life on the silver screen, more than 27 years after its small screen miniseries terrified us of clowns. ‘IT’ is A generational affair of frightening events and disappearances that happen at the heart of the small town of Derry in the state of Maine. In the summer of 1989, children again start to disappear around the town, some found dead, and some not found at all. At the heart of it all is A group of seven children who seem to be the focal point of this mysterious entity. The group is dubbed “The Losers Club”, but together they are the unstoppable force and Derry’s only hope against the terror that is come to be known as “Pennywise the Clown”, a shape-shifting demonic entity known to return every 27 years to Derry to feast on the fears of its children. Will this club be the brick wall that silences Pennywise forever? Or will the paranormal force prove to be too much? ‘IT’ is directed by Andy Muschetti, and is rated R for  violence/horror, bloody images, and for adult language.

This film couldn’t have come at A better time. Not only has it been 27 years since the original mini series debuted on TV, an obvious play on Pennywise’s feeding schedule, but it’s also A horror remake that nearly does everything right, proving that innovation can still be accomplished even when it’s borrowing something that has already been done. The right kind of remake in film is one that spins A new kind of story to A familiar tale, taking what little things in outline that worked for its material and shuffling them in A way that caters to A completely new property. That is what gives ‘IT’ A kind of resurgence to the youth audiences today that weren’t born when the original took flight; it understands that A film that is fresh in the minds of its audience has to offer something different, yet at least equally as compelling as its predecessor, A feat that this film nails in spades. It’s faithful to its literary source material without ever feeling like it truly needs to lean or cater too much to that aspect, breathing life into A completely new monster that will chill bloodthirsty audiences of every generation.

The decision to craft this film as an R-rated one is something that certainly comes with great reward not only to the tone of the movie, but also in the capabilities in imagination that it can have with toeing the line of tasteful horror scares. This is certainly A film that isn’t afraid of getting its hands dirty, as right away I noticed an entirely different feeling of honesty and vulnerability from within that I never felt for A second in the 1990 original. The brutality and gore of some pretty wretched scenes not only towards adults but also towards the mostly kid-dominated cast is visceral in depiction, pushing forth the revealing aspects of some scenes from that previous movie that required more of the imagination to get yourself through it. This one certainly doesn’t pull any punches or look away, and from the infamous opening sequence of Georgie’s disappearance, you are immediately impacted for the rollercoaster that follows throughout. The jump scares are still there, but they are used accordingly in the way that they make sense, limiting the obvious cliche of predictable choreography for when it is going to happen. Sometimes the film can overcrowd or even formulate A few too many of these scenes to where the audience desperately needs A breath of pacing in between, but I give the screenwriters so much credit in staying focused on the horror aspect where other films feel pressured to include too much genre-effecting comedy.

What is so refreshing about the script is that this is A film that takes place surrounding A group of kids, yet never hinders or limits the angles that this direction can form. This time, the setting is 1989, and that timeframe generates not only some reflective aspects in the fashion trends and music selections for the time, but also engages in those coming-of-age teenage developments that were ever so present during the hairspray decade. There’s the obvious awkwardness of Beverly, the one girl of the group who is looked at like an valuable trophy to the ensemble of boys who are going through puberty, as well as the embarrassing choices in musical groups that donned our cassette mixtapes, and it all feels authentic for what it meant to grow up in this age. Pushing this even further is some delightful dialogue exchanges between The Losers Club that doesn’t feel forced or even subdued to play to their respective character outlines. I do feel like the film could’ve embraced more character exposition early on in the first act, as Mike, Stan, and Richie are virtually unknown outside of the times when they surround the other fortunate enough characters whose focus includes terrible home lives. At 130 minutes, the film could afford more opportunities at this, but thankfully the performances of this talented group of youngsters elevated their limitations by an endless array of charisma that keeps it gelling without severe consequences to the audience investment of these characters. More on them later.

My favorite aspect of the film was without A doubt the production, in which some aspects should even be pushed as far as Oscar-worthy. To that degree, I am referring to the set pieces. Bringing to life A Stephen King legendary story is no small feat, especially when novels as opposed to film deal so much with imagination, but this movie transformed these memorable backdrops into something unnerving and synthetic to what is described. 21 Neibolt Street was only barely seen in the 1990 original, so thankfully it is given ample screen time here to soak in its very condemned and dangerous atmospheres. In addition to this, the very town of Derry itself is mapped out in A way that makes us accurately conjure up the locations of each business and landmark. The producers of this film feel like they knew how important the setting was to the story. Derry is Pennywise’s playground, and we get to understand the history behind this dangerously sedated landscape that has given this clown such A home-field advantage against helpless adversaries. It often feels like an undeniable poison is omitted from this place, and thankfully the budgets never feel limited in doing the right thing and breathing in that Derry air (Scratches head).

As for the casting, I can say that every role here is tuned superbly for the wide range of characters that make up our leads. To anyone who thought Bill Skarsgard couldn’t channel Pennywise because of Tim Curry’s epic delivery in the original, shame on you. Skarsgard is easily the most commanding presence of the film, but he does so in A way that doesn’t require him to soak up A majority of the run time in these sequences, instead choosing to leave his mark sporadically with echoing laughter. It shows that Skarsgard is having the time of his life in this role. This doesn’t just feel like A man in makeup. As Pennywise, Skarsgard’s movements feel heavy and even paranormal in the way he stretches and bends like A carnival attraction. I am glad the film kept him menacing instead of comedic because Pennywise feels like the pacing of the film in tone, and without that fear, all else would easily be lost. As for The Losers Club, these kids were magnetic together on screen. Jaeden Lieberher has always been A young man who I have followed for years, and I couldn’t think of A more heartfelt youth to emote the sadness of this kid who lost his Brother to something he couldn’t control. As Bill, Lieberher commands him with confidence and bravery that the rest of the group look to when they’re uncertain of the next move. He’s A leader in every sense of the definition. Sophia Lillis was also enticing as Beverly Marsh. As the lone female of the group, A lot falls on her shoulders to speak for her respective gender, and thankfully the film doesn’t limit her to just another damsel in distress. This Beverly is tough, angry, and even assertive when she needs to be, and her presence feels like more help to the other boys rather than vice versa. My favorite character has always been Richie Tozier, and that trend continues with Finn Wolfhard’s perfect comedic timing. When you look back on how many scenes this kid stole in this film, you start to see the makings of greatness in the air. Tozier’s sarcasm constantly reminds you that these are kids no matter how many adult things they are taking on. That kind of youthful exuberance should never be understated, and Wolfhard’s quick-wit seems to never fall flat, producing an iron man of comedy that makes him irresistibly charming.

THE VERDICT – Attention and care bring forth the kind of gripping results rarely seen in A 21st century horror remake, but Andy Muschetti proves that he has the “IT FACTOR” in breathing fun back into the library of cherished Stephen King hits. This isn’t just about A menacing clown feasting on these vulnerable children, but instead A twisted coming-of-age plot that tickles as much as it terrifies for the unity between them. If were playing the comparison game, wrong is to right what ‘The Dark Tower’ is to ‘IT’ on the Summer Stephen King selections.

8/10

Girls Trip

One wild and rambunctious getaway between four longtime best friends, culminates in a ‘Girls Trip’ that none of them will ever soon forget. Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish, travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival, sisterhoods are rekindled, wild sides are rediscovered, and there’s enough dancing, drinking, brawling and romancing to make the Big Easy blush. As the night progresses and the additives kick in, truths between the girls are revealed, testing their bond to heights never before reached among them. ‘Girls Trip’ is directed by Malcolm D. Lee, and is rated R for crude and sexual content throughout, pervasive adult language, brief graphic nudity, and drug material.

I shunned the trailer to ‘Girls Trip’. I found it to be every bit as generic as it was unfunny. But after seeing the actual film, I now know that what I perceived was the film’s biggest weakness was actually its biggest strength in terms of value to this film. Because of such, ‘Girls Trip’ might just be the biggest surprise of the year for me. I am flabbergasted at just how much I enjoyed this film because I didn’t give it even the slightest of chance in that two minute out-of-context trailer that doesn’t even begin to hint on what this film is truly about. Underneath the devilish R-rating, this film is a story about sisterhood and womanhood alike, and what it means to be a part of those important tribes. It’s a story that values the importance of friendship, and in that perspective it is a solid watch for both men and women of every age. This film is very much the kind of movie that you must watch at a theater because I found the irresistible blend of raunchy humor and heartfelt center to be something of infectious value that I couldn’t look away from. Inevitably, this movie will be compared to last month’s ‘Rough Night’, in that the two films have eerily similar setups, but once you have seen both films, you start to understand what the former is missing greatly, and soon their similarities take two completely different roads on the way to re-energizing the genre for women to prove that they can do it just as good as the men.

To label a comedy with an R-rating in 2017 usually means that you will throw in the occasional curse word to sentences that don’t exactly need it. This is thought of in gimmick terms, but what ‘Girls Trip’ does so terrifically is that it never settles for just bad language in getting its points across. This is very much a grown-up perspective that involves nudity, drugs, and all of the bottled fluids that you can handle. I would normally view this kind of thing as tacky or classless, but it’s funny how each event is properly built up and never given the kind of easy way out for its greatest laughs. There’s some real shock humor that constantly pops up to remind you of its rating, but nothing ever overstays its welcome in terms of material. My gut-busters never stopped coming, and equally played into the strong suits of each and every character on cast. The backdrop of New Orleans during the Essence Fest is one that couldn’t be more perfect for the kind of mayhem and debauchery that happens around our group, and it feels like the picture is constantly changing, evolving our quad of girls known as the Flossy Posse back into their younger selves the closer that their insecurities come into play.

On the subject of performances, all four girls each are given their equal time to share, but there is one who stands out above the rest; the hilariously energetic Tiffany Haddish. Considering she is the actress who we as the audience know the least about, it is quite a chance to leave the pacing of the movie’s humor in her hands, but Tiffany is up to the challenge. Her role as Dina feels like the kind of breakout power equal to that of Chris Tucker in ‘Friday’ or Kevin Hart in ‘Soul Plane’, she is simply that spellbinding. On top of it, she has an irresistible smile that will always bring a flavor of light-hearted atmosphere to the screen anywhere she lurks. Besides Haddish, it was nice to see Regina Hall again, this time taking front-and-center as kind of the leader of sorts of this group. Hall has transformed spectacularly from her days in the ‘Scary Movie’ franchise, but here we are reminded once again of the kind of powerful delivery that she can exert to change a film’s mood while adding a layer of heart to the script. It did look like early on the Pinkett and Latifah were going to be background supporting crew, but thankfully their stories do become more important to the forefront the longer that the movie goes, and the two longtime co-stars add a fresh slice of chemistry to round out this fabulous foursome.

The only real problem that I had with the film was its two hour runtime, but after taking in the entire production, I treat it as a positive AND a negative. On the plus side, the runtime feels slightly bloated for a comedy, but that is because every crazy incident that happens, we start to understand the bond between these ladies that other movies only tell us about. Where I feel that they could’ve done this better was in the variety of sequences that can sometimes feel formulaic amongst the setup that hit a time too many on repetition. Where this happens mostly is late in the second act with one bar exchange too many with very little payoff in the long run. That’s not to say that ‘Girls Trip’ doesn’t keep flowing, quite the opposite really. This is a two hour film that breezes by because you find yourself so indulged by the vibrant personalities that wither in this group. The third act was my personal favorite because it establishes just how much these “girls” turned women have grown. Most movies that center around womanhood always somehow end up with a man playing a pivotal role, but Lee is a filmmaker who sees value in his leading ladies, so he never takes the focus off of where it needs to be at all times. I did mention my disdain for the trailer earlier, and I find upon watching it now that much of the flat material is removed from the final product, a move that does wonders in keeping the laugh ratios to yearly highs for this critic.

THE VERDICT – Where ‘Girls Trip’ pushes the provocative envelope one step further in terms of material from other imitators, is the much-needed balancing of consistent jaw-dropping raunch humor with hearty sentimentality, two traits that make Lee’s latest a sensational good time. Haddish is a star in the making, but every woman here plays her part in taking a used idea and creating something fresh and innovative for the ladies in the audience who just want to have fun. To my female readers, don’t just see this one alone, see it with your entire entourage. This is one trip that never wears thin, despite its lengthy investment.

8/10

It Comes at Night

Imagine the end of the world. Now imagine something much terrifying, as “It Comes at Night”. Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, the tenuous domestic order that Paul (Joel Edgerton) has established with his wife and son is put to the ultimate test with the arrival of a desperate young family seeking refuge in their secluded fortress. Despite the best intentions of both families, paranoia and mistrust boil over as the horrors outside creep ever-closer, awakening something hidden and monstrous within him as he learns that the protection of his family comes at the cost of his soul. Suddenly what is inside that Paul finds himself running from. “It Comes At Night” is written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, and is rated R for brutal violence, disturbing imagery and adult language.

“It Comes at Night” is certainly a different breed all together when compared to the kind of shriek-fest that today’s youths are exposed to in horror cinema. A24 Productions is always a company that demands a wiser, albeit articulated kind of moviegoer to embrace their style of offerings, and there’s no film from them that will be more dissected than this one. I enjoyed this movie a lot, but I’m also someone who picks up on little clues and hints at exposition that is anything but blatant. This is a movie that demands its audience fill in the gaps from plots and sequences that can sometimes toe the line of cryptic storytelling, and because of such, this feels like the kind of film that will divide audiences right down the middle from what they were expecting and what they actually got. In my estimation, that isn’t a bad thing, because “It Comes at Night” begins as one kind of movie, then morphs into a totally different beast that depicts the very frailty of human interaction. On top of it, Shults visual palate is something that impressed me all around, building the tension between these two families that reaches a satisfying boiling point by the third act.

As a screenwriter, perhaps Trey’s most astonishing feat is that he takes a central plot and regresses it back midway through the movie to reduce it to a subplot of source for the real monster that has overtaken the screen. Considering that this is a story that takes place during an airborne epidemic, wiping out those who ingest it, Shults doesn’t tell us much about the origins or the rules that come with such a burden. Could this be considered a mistake? Possibly, but as the film progressed I found myself feeling less-and-less interested with this plague that has secluded those who remain unharmed by it, and more drawn to the cause-and-effects of choices big and small that haunt us with each passing day. As far as this concept is concerned, I compare this film a lot to “The Thing”, in that it shows us a variety of different characters, but tells us so little about them. Because of this, you, like the people in question, realize that this works to our disadvantage of seeing what lurks beneath the actions of kindness, and hinting at what possibly could be our worst nightmares coming true. Any parent’s first instinct is to protect their kind, so the actions in “It Comes at Night” feel like a car crash that we as an audience can see coming for a mile, but quietly embrace the inevitability of disaster just ahead. My one weakness in the script is during the final few minutes of the movie, after the heart-pounding conclusion, when the film’s air and momentum slowly sink away, instead of ending on the satisfying element of surprise. Those final establishing shots are alright, but it leaves the door wide open for audiences to give one of their famous “That’s it?” lines that can hinder the positives that previously shone. Visually too, these final few scenes feel sloppy, in that they are a series of cut scenes, instead of one cohesive unit. It ends the movie on a jumbled note that deviates from enticing visuals that constantly kept raising the bar for 90 minutes.

From a technical standpoint, Shults stakes his claim as a master visionary behind a camera of establishing shots that really paints the picture masterfully in each scene. Trey’s focus isn’t just conventional with cutting from character to character, but instead weaves in-and-out of each conversation with some pretty impressive long takes. Besides this, the house itself plays a pivotal role in displaying the distance between these two families. While it’s certainly nothing new or original, the panning out shots slowly reveal the kind of environments that slowly build the tensions not only of our characters, but our own ball of nerves that feel like they are on pines and needles because of the startling echoes of Brian McOmber’s impactful musical score. Brian is certainly no stranger to independent horror films, but here he provides such emphasis and terror in each volume-increasing note, playing against the sounds of silence that never fails to reach eleven on the dial. Your eyes and ears can easily play tricks on you with a presentation like this one, and that thought alone constantly kept my mind guessing for what’s going on slightly off-shot of what we’re focused on.

The performances are solid, particularly in Joel Edgerton who adds another layer to an already impressive resume of meaty diversity in the roles he selects. As Paul, we see an honorable man who will stop at nothing to protect his family despite the crumbling of the world around them that constantly provides a new test for them everyday. Paul is a leader by choice, and that decision means his character has to continuously do some things that we don’t like, but Edgerton’s every-man approach never shakes his moral response as anything other than understandable. Aside from Joel, the work of Kelvin Harrison Jr and Riley Keough also impressed me as characters spread out on both sides of these roommate families. Harrison confidently dominates a lot of screen time here, riding a wave of paranoia and teenage emotions that remind us he’s not as old as his father wants him to be. A subplot with Keough is just enough to move the mouse’s wheel in all of our minds, and hints at a butterfly effect that could unravel everything that has been built up. One scene in particular towards the end shows the kind of powerful release that Riley can give, and it felt easy to feel that pain with the horrible situation that leaves her stumbling for words. As far as crying on command goes, Keough in her prime is a hard-hitting heavyweight that tugs for the tears.

THE VERDICT – Regardless of what side of the proverbial fence that “It Comes at Night” casts you upon, one thing is for certain; Shults sculpting hands craft an unnerving environment of unrelenting consequence that always keeps you guessing. Led by excellent performances from a paper thin cast, as well as a lurid and entrancing musical composition, this grim atmospheric brought the scares well beyond that of a post-apocalyptic plot that doesn’t even begin to touch the surface of what really floats beneath. It proves that horror doesn’t have to be formulaic, and that the experimental side can still keep this genre fresh. True, the ending could trim a few minutes, but overall there’s too much to gush at to fault it too much for not concluding at the right time.

8/10

Wonder Woman

DC Comics first and most powerful female superhero gets her own big screen treatment, in the origin story, “Wonder Woman”. Fresh off of her debut in 2016’s “Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice”, Gal Gadot returns as the title character in the epic action adventure from director Patty Jenkins. Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior while living on the island of Themyscira, a sheltered island paradise. One day, American military pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes on their shores and tells of a massive conflict raging in the outside world, Diana leaves her home, convinced she can stop the threat. Fighting alongside man in a war to end all wars, Diana will discover her full powers and her true destiny. “Wonder Woman” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content.

It’s interesting that perhaps D.C Films last chance at standing against the monster empire of Marvel at this point, comes in the form of a woman. Neither of the comic book giants have taken many chances at female led stories after the failures of films like “Elektra” and “Catwoman”, but “Wonder Woman” stakes its claim as the perfect superhero story at the perfect time, for all of its practically identical similarities of art imitating life. For the first time in the three films in the D.C Universe, one of its movies doesn’t feel like an advertisement for the upcoming movie that follows this one, choosing instead to focus its merit and time on the origin story of perhaps the most powerful female superhero of all time. Because of it, it’s clearly evident that the Justice League has now found a suitable leader, guiding their team of unstoppably gifted protagonists into the 21st century. With Jenkins precision in guiding along female stories, the force is strong with this one, and certainly gives back the kind of hope to its fans that they may have found something that Marvel just can’t touch; a desire to reach out to its female moviegoers in the audience, in hopes that they finally have a character who speaks not only to their superhero side, but also to what it means to be a woman in modern times.

On the count of that subject, the material in “Wonder Woman” offers a stark self-reflection in our own society for the ridiculous nature in which the male population more times than not views their female counterparts. It does so in an educational manner instead of a contradicting one, still reminiscing on the importance of men, but showing that females can offer an equally distinctive vision for a future of promiscuity. I laughed quite a few times during this picture, mostly at the material that compares and contrasts the two worlds of Themiscyra to our very own, and signals some odd peculiarities for what it means to be a woman in a male dominated day-and-age. As a screenwriter, Allan Heinberg gives us quite the abundance of thought-provoking conundrums to make us as an audience question the status-quo of things being the way they are, and the dominant backdrop of World War I playing a prominent role in teaching us that no matter how far we’ve come with equality, we still have miles to travel before reaching our destination.

I mentioned earlier how “Wonder Woman” carries such an empowering voice to the female audience well beyond being a superhero idol, but so much of what the script is really about channels the themes of growing up and becoming who you were born to be. It’s evident in Diana’s leaving of her home, as well as seeing the world and living with her eyes open for the first time that this is very much a woman on the cusp of her own spiritual awakening, and that’s a concept that I think will intrigue many ladies in the audience into an experience that they have yet to illicit in these kind of films. It’s funny that going into the film I figured that so much of the movie’s two-plus hours would be geared towards us learning about Diana and her vast culture compared to the 1940’s era that dates this movie. The surprise was that instead it was her learning more about us, and from a creative standpoint I think that is the right decision on an entertainment and a narrative angle, speaking to the idea of there being so much more for Diana outside of the only place she has ever really known. Strolling us along is a riveting musical score from composer Rupert Gregson-Williams that always sparks such powerful compositions of thrilling nature to the depictions of war that envelope the movie. The action scenes themselves leave nothing more to be desired, and are shot beautifully without an overabundance of cuts to over-complicate each angle.

As for problems with the movie, I did have two that reminded me no matter how far we’ve come with D.C, this is still the same company that took a movie like “Batman Vs Superman” and convoluted it to the point of a third act that jarringly complicated the rest of the movie. Here, we have the same problem, as the final twenty minutes of this movie tries so hard to break down what made the rest of the movie so revolutionary in terms of its material. There’s a subplot that I won’t spoil, but deals with a certain figure in Diana’s life whom she’s been told stories about, and the movie approaches this from a literal standpoint instead of a figurative one, and it’s the signal for all things flying off of the handle in the most negative of ways. The final battle contradicts everything that I mentioned about the crisp and vivid detail of how these war scenes were previously shot, instead opting for more of the explosions, crashes, and burns that took something pure and made it a grandstand of C.G portions. This movie also pulls the 1960’s alien movie trick where if you kill the master, the rest will turn back to good. I could go for this if ya know….it wasn’t the Nazi’s that we were talking about. As a whole, I would’ve been fine with this particular angle not being in the movie, and there’s definitely a part before the final twenty minutes that while it would’ve underwhelmed for its equality in fight, would’ve at least ended things calmly instead of going batshit insane. That leads to my other problem in the movie. We once again have a great lack of compelling antagonists to go against our prominent lead. This is becoming more and more of a problem with both comic book empires, and the fix is something as easy as possible for this movie. There is the basic minimum of exposition when it comes to the two antagonists that make up our story, and that’s a shame because the movie feels like it moves on without them, only bringing them back when it’s absolutely necessary.

The performances themselves merit a solid combo of Gadot and Pine that radiate our screen through every kind of human emotion that they pull from us. The chemistry between them is terrific, and takes very few scenes to understand the charisma that oozes between them every time they look at one another. This is of course a love story between them, but the film takes its time naturally in getting from Point A to Point B, offering a hilarious, albeit informative contrast between the problem solving and moral foundry that both of them were raised upon. This is definitely Gadot’s single best performance to date, and I hope that “Justice League” will take this as a hint to feature her more prominently, instead of shielding her behind two mammoths like Superman and Batman. As Diana, Gal emotes a childlike innocence in a smile that makes it easy to fall in love with her, but equally as devastating with a powerful presence that packs a gripping punch. Above Affleck or Cavill, I can understand clearly what humanity means to her, and her importance with being the face that the people can believe in. I can start to see this actress as Wonder Woman, now I just have to see how the character grows with her time in the real world. Pine has always been a dependable force on the big screen, but here he’s playing accordingly where the movie needs him. He never overtakes or diminishes Gadot’s time to shine, instead offering the perfect circumference of 20th century ignorance and boyish charm to melt the hearts of the ladies in attendance. Steve feels like the kind of character who knew a revolution was coming, and instead of standing in the way of fate, he rides alongside his newfound accomplice, and the two create a kind of box office magic that elevates comic book love stories to a whole other level.

THE VERDICT – “Wonder Woman” lassos a whip of engaging sincerity combined with honest commentary on the very adversities that females face, proving that Jenkins once again can weave a web precision in storytelling with her own sex that very few can follow. D.C’s latest might not be the home run that it needs to fully get back into the game, because of a lackluster third act, as well as underwritten villains, but it does swing for the fences in terms of a pro-feminist direction and overall fun that has rarely ever succeeded quite this WONDERfully. Gadot and Pine are a match for the ages, and their humanity brings depth to a world full of the extraordinary. Move over boys, Diana’s taking over.

8/10

My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea

The awkwardness of high-school is given an animated dimension, in My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea. Dash (voiced by Schwartzman) and his best friend Assaf (Watts) are sophomores at fictional Tides High School and write as a team for the school newspaper, edited by mutual friend Verti (Rudolph). Verti assigns a solo story to Assaf, who become closer friends, and Dash gets mad at Assaf breaking up their friendship. Upon being sent to detention, he finds that the school is built on an earthquake fault, and will collapse once the auditorium on the top floor is opened. Dash tries to warn everyone in the cafeteria but is ignored due to his low social standing. The high school collapses into the sea and slowly sinks, as the students have to work their way up the floors to the auditorium to get rescued, but encounter various obstacles in between. My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea is written and directed by acclaimed graphic novelist Dash Shaw, and is rated PG-13 for some images of peril, sexual references and drug material.

Dash Shaw definitely remembers his time in high school vividly. So much so that the material surrounding his big screen companion piece to the critically acclaimed novel feels like a humorous, reflective stroll down memory lane, in all of its awkward circumstances and hierarchy of the hallway elite. By recruiting one of the more prominent graphic artists to depict a modern day vision of the scholastic system, we have opened our arms wide to a presentation that is every bit as imaginative as it is exaggerated. That second verb might sound slightly negative to my overall perspective on this film, but it’s actually labeled accordingly because of the animation that can fill in the character blanks where words and actions can not. Shaw’s film is very dark at times, relying on haunting visuals and catastrophes to hook the audience in to his unique point-of-view. Dash blends the worlds of unorthodox animation and dry wit sarcasm to offer a union that kept moving full steam ahead through the bar of obstacle that continuously raises with each act.

The material here goes much further than face value. On that end, it can easily be judged as Titanic in a high school, but from a metaphorical approach is where Shaw finds him most compelling vibe in storytelling, and it gives his movie a much needed dose of social commentary within the scholastic system. There are many hidden meanings that I choose not to spoil entirely for you the reader, but I will say that a couple of my favorites were that of the structure of the high school, as well as the symbolism behind this cold, liquid antagonist of sorts. On the latter, it’s clear that Dash is screaming at us how schools are our most important investment to the future of our children, commanding a lesson that is easily reflective within the troubles that we face in tax levies and overall funding. This school cracking at the seams is certainly no accident, but a lot more goes into the classification of these students long before any of them enter the work force. In this regards, the four-floor school, with seniors at the top and freshmen at the bottom, shouldn’t come across as difficult to grasp. I loved this concept because as our protagonist group of five race to higher levels, they go through that of the Sophomore and Junior floors, experiencing a helping of fights, labeling, and awkward romance similar to that of what we all go through during the supposed four best years of our lives. The seniors are the royalty of the school, and the visuals that accompany them are simply too delightful to spoil. Instead I will just say that Dash’s script echoes the voices of students lost in the fray over hundreds of years of social classification.

The visuals are entrancing, depicting a visual spectrum reminiscent of mid 90’s MTV in animation offerings. There’s very little that you can compare Shaw’s photo-shop motion work with in the mainstream world of film, but I did find the movements very synthetic to that of Daria or Beavis and Butthead, in that these characters move with their whole bodies and not just their legs. Because of these visuals, you can’t help but laugh and have a good time, a good sign in any movie. The backdrops were simply gorgeous and radiated a colorful personality in the movie’s ever-changing attitude with character conflicts and thought processes. A movie like this uses color for symbolism, and that direction led to what I can only describe as an LSD trip of every crayon in the Crayola box, displaying a decadent spin through this world that is literally crumbling down around all of our characters. My favorite aspect here, as I mentioned earlier, is that this glowing world feels like it constantly keeps moving, so there’s nothing out of the ordinary when we see snakes or rats to represent a truly detestable character. This gets across the point that so much of the exposition is limited to because of its brief run time (72 minutes)

Being that this was definitely one of the shortest review experiences that I have ever been through, I can say that among the movie’s weaknesses was this run time that hindered particularly that of the opening act, when everything feels rushed along to get to the point of the conflict. It’s not a poorly paced movie, but I feel like not getting to know these characters a little tighter is a big mistake, as very little stands out about them in this sea of faces. The only other weakness that the movie had was an ear-shattering musical score that consistently overtook the visuals that it accompanied. I was in a theater with arguably the poorest sound in town, so I can only imagine what this erratic, ear-piercing blend could do with credible surround sound. In that sense, I guess my experience could also be labeled as a positive, so not to put me through what could’ve evidently been much worse. Small blessings I guess.

My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea never floods under the waters of adolescent responsibility, echoing a voice of awkward humor so strong that it often casts a warning to our own educational blunders. For a brief period, Shaw’s film succumbs to teenage angst under the magnifying glass, giving us a first-hand account of adolescent vulnerability, with a beautifully rendering hand-made aesthetic visual to boot. A real Twilight Zone offering in which anything can (And often will) happen.

8/10

Colossal

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

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

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

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

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

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

8/10

Raw

The urges of a teenager’s crippling psyche requires the feeding of something more gruesome, in Julia Ducournau’s debut film Raw. Everyone in Justine’s (Garance Marillier) family is a vet. And a vegetarian. At sixteen she’s a brilliant student starting out at veterinary school where she experiences a decadent, merciless and dangerously seductive world, including the consumption of rabbit kidneys at the request of her upperclassmen sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf). Desperate to fit in, she strays from her family principles and eats RAW meat for the first time. Justine will soon face the terrible and unexpected consequences as her true self begins to emerge, casting her as a different animal all together. Raw is written and directed by Ducournau, and is rated R for aberrant behavior, bloody and grisly images, strong sexuality, nudity, language and drug use/partying.

Juggling a vast array of themes in script content is a difficult task for film veterans like Martin Scorsese or James Cameron to accomplish, and made especially more foreign (Pardon the expression) when a first time writer/director like Ducournau masters it on a single stage. Some of the aspects that I pulled upon my first watch of this film was that of feminism, sexual exploration, animal rights, human needs, and cannibalism to name a few. In a melting pot of entertaining proportions, it may seem impossible to group these ingredients together for one terrifyingly sizzling bite, but Raw masters it on a familiar level. The idea that this story and respectively the awakening of Justine takes place under the roof of her first year at college is one that is brilliant for the many changes and identity shifts that take place during such a period. There’s so much about this story that extreme, but the real terror will come in how translucent the experiences really feel to audiences who have embraced that fear to become someone or something that they never would’ve dreamed. It’s a positive that lifts Julia’s first dive into creative waters a truly thick and immersive one, and I for one can’t wait to see what this expressive visionary can do next.

On accounting for some of her spellbinding positives, is a production that embraces the dangerous world that it takes on. My opinions on the landscape envisioned in this movie is that it feels satirical, but still full of consequences for the actions we choose. In that light, there’s plenty of artistic merit that the movie embraces to capture the attention and imagination of the audience. The lighting plays an important aspect in Justine’s slow transformation, signaling a dark red that follows her everywhere she goes like a calling card of the blood that she has splashed. It feels like this color radiates more with each new taste, and while it is blatant, it feels like a smart choice for how far we have come with this character. The musical score by Jim Williams mesmerized me in a way that very few horror themes articulate with earworm tones that will stick with you. The main theme for the movie is decadent in capturing the danger, but this compliment is made even stronger with nerve-shattering numbers during the gory imagery that adds another layer of shocking reality that Jim never lets slip through his fingers.

At 93 minutes, the pacing for the film is sound, and constantly keeps the story moving despite a narrative that can sometimes feel practically non-existent. What I adore is the lack of verdict in creative decision for Justine’s new addiction to be a positive or a negative for her lifestyle. It’s clear that the meat has given her a new lease on life, but the negatives that she embraces simply can’t be ignored. On the other hand, she doesn’t fully come out of her shell until she gives in. This and so much more is why I commend the movie for letting the audience be the judge, jury, and executioner on the choices she has made that aren’t always as easy as black, white, and red. The idea of comparing the movements and hunger for animals and humans is one that I felt that movie orchestrated accordingly, and soon the choices that we make for our own survival become blurred in what we deem right for ourselves not being ideal for our furry best friends. One line in particular that keeps echoing in my head is when Justine’s father tells her that her dog will have to be put down because after the taste of blood, dogs can never be the same again. This too can obviously ring true for our human characters in this film, as their bloodlust will be their undoing or their awakening…depending how you look at it.

This is a very visceral film, so if you quake easily at the site of gruesome imagery, I suggest you sit this one out. For a bloodhound like me however, Raw gave me everything that I adore about practical makeup and cringe-worthy violence that won’t be understated by anyone who sees the movie. I can’t commend the attention to detail in feasted limbs, as well as scarring complexions that felt like the most bang for the buck in terms of what little the movie actually budgeted for (rumored less than 10 million). Unfortunately, this does bring me to my lone critique about the film, as sometimes the imagery does get a little too carried away too often to continue taking it a gasping levels. The movie does have a fine layer of comedic awkwardness to it, and this level sometimes overstayed its welcome for me in terms of scenes playing out that I couldn’t help but laugh at. My opinion for this is that the film pokes and prods at a particular opinion long after it has hammered the point home, leaving its thought-provoking impact a bit overcooked. I think to pace these moments out and build it stronger and stronger with each crushing blow was the right way to go. The biggest visual obstacle for me happens within the first act, and from there I was already desensitized for what was to come for the remainder of the film.

I want to talk about the work of Justine herself, Garance Marillier because she is transfixing in this role. It’s obvious that her character goes through a transformation of sorts over the span of the film, but what shouldn’t be understated is how synthetic she plays the traumatic unraveling behind each and every event. Marillier is one of those actresses who can say so much in a look, and as her movements and embraces become more animalistic, we get the captivating chance to see her best acting come out. In Justine, we see a young woman who has been clearly sheltered for her whole life, and when the ability to breathe for the first time comes to fruition, so too does the stone cold beast that lives deep inside Garance’s careful precision to echo so much with silence. It truly is one of my early favorites for best female performance, and I hope that she gets the credit that she deserves. I also dug the work of Laurent Lucas as the father (He has no known name). Lucas is only in a few scenes in the film, but his presence radiates long after he has left the screen because his character offers the most simplistic of narratives to follow for this overly-ambitious material. It was in Lucas’s dialogue where the movie kept pushing my brain the most, and a last scene discovery for his character left me speechless at the very complexity of this dark situation that has enveloped his daughter.

Far past well-done, Raw is a rare taste that feels startling the first time you try it, but will grow with each additional chew. Ducournau proves that anything men can do, women can do better, and her view in a carnivore dominated world is one that is honest in its revealing contrasts to the ways we view our own methods of survival. Marillier chills to the bone with a meaty performance that proves she was made for the big time. Artistic, bracing, and metaphorical, Raw satisfies the hunger within.

8/10

The Girl With all the Gifts

One girl is the cure for the zombie epidemic, in ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’. The near future humanity has been all but destroyed by a mutated fungal disease that eradicates free will and turns its victims into flesh-eating “hungries”. Only a small group of children seem immune to its effects. At an army base in rural England, this group of unique children are being studied, subjected to cruel experiments by biologist Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close). Despite having been infected with the zombie pathogen that has decimated the world, these children retain normal thoughts and emotions. The children attend school lessons daily, guarded by the ever watchful Sergeant Parks (Paddy Considine). But one little girl, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), stands out from the rest. Melanie is special. She excels in the classroom, is inquisitive, imaginative and loves her favorite teacher Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton). When the base falls, Melanie escapes along with Miss Justineau, Sergeant Parks and Dr. Caldwell. Against the backdrop of a blighted Britain, Melanie must discover what she is and ultimately decide both her own future and that of the human race. ‘The Girl With All the Gifts’ is directed by Colm McCarthy, and is rated R for disturbing violence/bloody imagery, as well as adult language.

In 2017, it’s obvious that the zombie genre has run amock. At this point, fresh ideas to stimulate and energize this subgenre are few and far between, but occasionally an injection of pure adrenaline is injected, and we remember what was once great about these kind of movies. Out of the smoke comes ‘The Girl With all the Gifts’, a European horror offering lifted from the pages of the book by the same name. Perhaps literature still inhabits all of the fresh and unused in ways that film is truly lacking on these days, because this movie was dreary, yet inspiring. It’s a reminder that the best and truly most frightening angles in horror are the ones that we find great fear in within our own psyches, and this post-apocalyptic wasteland where youth reigns supreme is a call-back to the days of ‘Children of the Corn’, as well as ‘Pet Cemetery’. While paying homage in essence to some of those classic pictures, ‘Gifts’ is a movie that carves its own reputation by changing the perception in and around European horror.

First of all is the appreciation of a story that doesn’t overcomplicate itself by giving a typical narration intro describing how we got to this bleak disposition. There’s a lot of mystery and cryptic bypassing that surrounds the first act of this McCarthy’s film, and I dig that because his method of storytelling never requires the audience to be spoon-fed that important story arcs. This is a director who has more than enough faith in his viewers, so he lets them paint the pieces, and this is by no means a difficult picture to paint. The film is to be applauded by slow-peeling the layer of exposition. We know by the title that the younger cast maintain this constant level of importance to the overall story, but through the eyes of this teenage girl, we learn step-by-step why she is so important. I commend any film that invests in the capability of child actors, especially ones that are good at captivating audiences, but this film does all of that without needing the tired, cliche scripts that plague the young adult point of view. The film continuously built to a crescendo of pulse-setting scintilation, concluding with a finale that constantly reminds us that hope waived goodbye to this set of characters long ago. A message that the audience has to endure over-and-over through some ever-changing landscapes and backdrops.

If there is some weakness to this story, it’s more so in that defining of the rules from these infected children, who seem to turn it on whenever the plot deems it convenient. There were many examples during the movie of these kids snapping when they can smell the scent of their adult prey nearby, but then there are other points when these adults run and sweat, further engulfing themselves in fatigue that accelerates said smell, and there’s not even a flirt with such suspense. Other than this, the only other problem that I had with the movie was some slight obvious foreshadowing in the opening twenty minutes that one can read through the lines on to see where the film is headed. If you manage to watch this film in one continuous setting, these subplots that stick out like a sore thumb will constantly ring in the back of your mind near the end of the movie, and it suddenly becomes obvious how the dots connect. Small issues in the otherwise grander picture that is this frightening takeover that uniquely relays how adults are the new minority.

Leaps and bounds above the rest though, my favorite aspect to the film is a bittersweet fragile composition by Cristol Tapia De Veer. If one thing is certain, it’s that Cristol has definitely done his studying on the genre of zombie classics like ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ and the George Romero offering of zombie introductions. On those movies, ‘Gifts’ too uses the same few notes to repetition, slowly varying them with each passing second. This allows audiences to fully soak in and embrace the dread that envelopes our cast of characters in a dense fog. In addition to this, the overall sound mixing and editing justify a couple of jump scares in the script that constantly keep the viewer guessing. I’m a difficult person to rattle when it comes to timely jump scares, but ‘Gifts’ hit me hard during a second act reveal that came opposite from the side that you weren’t expecting. It overall makes for a grade-A experience if you watch this in a theater or a stacked surround sound experience.

The acting too brings to light a combination of reputable actors with relative unknowns that blended positively in a well-balanced cast. Gemma Arterton is someone who I’ve always felt needed the right script to shine appropriately, and as Justineau we get the lone character who understands and holds onto the importance of that dying age of positivity for the concept of a child being a child. Arterton and Melanie’s friendship weighs heavily in importance for the direction of the movie, and thankfully it inherits loads of heart to keep the protagonist angles working overtime against the remainder of adults who have their own selfish agendas. Such a character is Glenn Close’s Dr. Caldwell character. There’s so much menace and plotting going on underneath the surface of Close’s outstanding work here, and that attention to detail had me often times searching for the grand scheme beneath her stone cold exterior. Close and Atterton lead the way for adult leads, but it’s in the introduction of Sennia Nanua in her first feature film. As Melanie, Nanua triumphs soundly, balancing equal parts human and monster that never feels riddled in gimmicks or underplayed in emotional response. For a 14-year-old, she is leaps and bounds above her age with how she plays the movie, and silently she commits theft on the stealing of this screenplay, a ‘girl with all of the gifts’, if you will.

By finding an original take on the zombie epidemic, as well as blazing through a circumference of well-timed scares and dreary backdrops, ‘The Girl With all the Gifts’ re-ignites an antidote of adrenaline deep within the heart of this aging subgenre. Poignant, atmospheric, and brutally hungry, this adaptation from Colm McCarthy will leave you reeling long after the ending that delivers on a solid payoff. This one takes a bite and keeps on chewing.

8/10

Logan

The last remaining X-Men faces a resistance that sees him seeking the alliance of a little girl with a secret gift. In Logan, It’s 2029. Mutants are gone, or very nearly so. An isolated, despondent Logan (Hugh Jackman) is drinking his days away in a hideout on a remote stretch of the Mexican border, picking up petty cash as a driver for hire. His companions in exile are the outcast Caliban (Stephen Merchant) and an ailing Professor X (Patrick Stewart), whose singular mind is plagued by worsening seizures. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy abruptly end when a mysterious woman appears with an urgent request; that Logan shepherd an extraordinary young girl (Dafne Keen) to safety. Soon, the claws come out as Logan must face off against dark forces and a villain from his own past on a live-or-die mission, one that will set the time-worn warrior on a path toward fulfilling his destiny. Logan is directed by James Mangold, and is rated R for strong brutal violence and language throughout, and for brief nudity.

For seventeen years, fans of the Wolverine character have waited patiently for a spin-off worthy of arguably one of the greatest comic book heroes of all time. With ‘Logan’, that time has carefully been plucked, and during the most appropriate of times for its charismatic cast. Speculation has been that this will be the final time that Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart will don the roles of their respective characters, and if that is the case, they have done us proud with an R-rated gash-fest sure to satisfy the gore hound in all of us. ‘Logan’ quite often than not feels like the adult side of X-Men movies that has always been teased, but never fully committed to for fear of the risky R-rating that rarely proves possible for comic book movies. If one thing is clear, it’s that Mangold fruitfully resonates themes like weathering and vulnerability to show-off a side of Logan that has never been seen in eight previous films. Because of Mangold’s attention to style over adaptation, we get a presentation that very much feels like a nod to 70’s westerns and road trip flicks to bond and present a wild ride that responsibly depicts the very cause and effects that come with such power.

With zero restrictions on what this character can do, it feels like this film can prosper in ways that other films haven’t, most ideally in that of adult language and fight sequences that drag the audience kicking and screaming through every unsettling jab. The concept of claws feels like it is accurately being told for the first time, as Logan and his youthful passenger leap and attack through an army of endless antagonists who feel the barbaric wrath of their ill intentions. What works is that the new rating doesn’t feel like it’s being used at desperate lengths. The fight scenes are very carefully separated from one to the next, giving the movie an anti-superhero film of sorts. In fact, ‘Logan’ likens itself more to a dramatic western genre film that has decided to pluck a character from comics just to see how he would do in this environment and picture. He prospers wonderfully, and even in his ninth film, Wolverine feels like he is seeing the world through new eyes given to him by the ambitious Mangold who paints the true torture and isolation from what comes from being different. All of this time we’ve heard about it, but never witnessed it, and it presents a somber and melancholic side to these heroes we grew up admiring, and knowing that their best days are clearly behind them.

Aside from this mysterious little girl and her purpose, ‘Logan’ surprisingly packs a wide range of well-attentive subplots that constantly keeps the movie moving well past the two hour mark. For the first act of this film, it practically breezed by, and I found myself very immersed in this world where Logan exists as someone just trying to get by. He’s kind of pathetic, revealing a nightly ritual of abusive drinking, as well as bickering back-and-forth with the one relative in mutation who he has left, Charles Xavier. The relationship between them feels like father and son, and plays even more importantly in the backdrop of the developing relationship between Logan and the little girl. This embraces a hearty side to the script that is usually steered clear of in comic book films, but it works here being the last chance that Logan has to live a somewhat normal life. The only time that the film felt like it was living up to its paper origins was in the final showdown that enthusiastically reminds audiences of who this title character is, and gives him one more day of Summer as we catch one final glimpse into the prime of the toughest S.O.B that Marvel ever illustrated. ‘Logan’ lightly touches on the graphic novel ‘Old Man Logan’, but leaves the pages of its script to original territory, relying more on gripping performances rather than action sequences in which we’ve been there and done that.

On the subject of those performances, I can confidently say that this is some of Jackman’s best stuff. I’ve always thought that the best kind of story with superheroes are in the ones when age and deterioration have caught up to them. As Logan, Jackman endures a world where X-Men no longer exist, emoting a kind of harrowing reality to just how lonely he is in this new world. Even after nine movies though, Jackman continues to be the single greatest casting decision that Marvel has ever succeeded at. To find an actor who can appropriately channel his rage, as well as dramatic depth when it comes time to harness the goosebumps, is one of great difficulty. Logan feels like his own greatest detractor, denying a hint of hope, despite the fact that a little taste of it still burns strong in his veins. I don’t know if Marvel will cast another Wolverine, but I would be happy without this character ever seeing the light of day in the film world, the effects of Jackman portraying a character so well that he will never escape it, long after he shuffles off. Patrick Stewart was also hilariously delightful, once again portraying Xavier. The deterioration of Charles and a mind once powerful, reminded me that there comes a time for all of us when the easiest task becomes the longest climb, and Stewart emotes that difficulty with much disdain, as well as a taste of that wise-ass humor that lives to tug at the sanity of Logan. These two have felt like father and son from the start, so it’s not even slightly a suspense of disbelief when Mangold illustrates this metaphor vibrantly in a world where the other is the only person who understands what they’re going through. Leaps and bounds however, I was greatly impressed with the work of Dafne Keen as (No reason to hide it) X-23 herself. Dafne kicks ass and does it with the most paralyzing of stares to weaken not only her antagonists, but that of the audience that she peers into on more than one occasion. For a majority of the film, Keen is kept quiet, and that felt like the appropriate call to channel the isolation and fragility of such a character who has never experienced a normal life, let alone a mutant one thanks to her history. Kid actors is a difficult thing to cast, but Dafne Keen’s chilling range will permanently keep her atop the list of youthful actors who you will see frequently for years to come.

As for problems, there were two small critiques that occasionally soured my otherwise amazing experience. The first is with the pacing of the second act feeling slightly off from the rest of the picture. It’s during this time when some of the setups to the final confrontation either drag on too long, or reach an overabundance in offering. For my money, some of these could’ve been condensed into one single confrontation, instead of a series of setups that feel somewhat repetitive by the third one. My second and much more important problem came with the predictability of some of the subplots that I referred to earlier. I won’t spoil anything, but a friend of mine can faithfully vouch for the fact that I successfully predicted the outcomes of more than a few of these conflicts, and I blame this on a flimsy setup that was easily transparent. If this wasn’t enough, the trailers once again spoil some visuals spoilers in the movie that would’ve been nice to be surprised on. One such scene involves a burial that is all over the trailers like it’s no big deal. My thought process soon will be to stop watching trailers, as the best in surprises for cinema are being ruined one-by-one by thoughtless teasers that do more harm than good to the creativity of a script as strong as this one.

‘Logan’ aggressively charges its way through a somber, yet sterile offering of brutal engagements. With some deliciously violent exchanges, as well as some emotionally gripping material that constantly tugs at the heart, Mangold’s goodbye to the beholder of claws is one that Wolverine fans will be gushing over for its pulled back approach to re-defining the superhero genre. Proving that even after nearly two decades, the claws are as sharp as ever to inject into the audiences looking for an articulate conclusion to Jackman and Stewart, who satisfy in spades.

8/10

Get Out

An uncomfortable meeting between two different racial classes, urges the minority in the house to Get Out. College student Rose (Allison Williams) is in love with Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), and at the point in their relationship when they should meet each other’s parents. Chris is apprehensive, as Rose, who is white, has apparently not told her parents Missy and Dean (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) that Chris is black. Once there, Chris is unable to relax and is uncomfortable around Rose’s parents, which causes him to refuse an offer of hypnosis from Missy. Over the course of an uncomfortably awkward weekend, Chris learns that the upscale suburban area has a sinister history of young black men disappearing. Get Out is written and directed by Jordan Peele, and is rated R for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references.

Considering Peele is pulling double duty for his directing debut, there’s much to be dissected and mostly praised about the kind of feat that Get Out presents us, during a month that is usually anything but gratifying. If one thing is clear, it’s that Jordan is definitely a student of the horror game, mimicking the most notorious of horror movie cliches in the most satisfying and beneficial manor. Nothing that he displays ever feels overused or exhausting, instead he grants us a visual 99 minute word find of these familiar troupes that push an original script like this even further. What a movie like Get Out does so astoundingly is that it takes a real life natural fear in the minds of minorities and brings it to life to display those very fears to the white audience who might otherwise see this as a comedy. From Peele’s standpoint, he’s offering material that is equal parts thought-provoking for the very race relations that so many interracial couples deal with, but also terrifying in reveals when slapped with a kind of Twilight Zone feel to the way the events of this weekend away play out. This is something that Peele hits a home run with, and I for one would love to see more attempts at horror by a man who clearly understands suspense in all of its articulate uses.

From a directing standpoint, there’s plenty to praise about the way he shoots the most important of exchanges here, leaving a scene running a bit longer to soak in the true awkwardness of these two groups of people who couldn’t be any different in social standing. It is important for the audience to read and define every kind of facial feature being played out in front of them, and it’s in those underlying emotions that tells us everything that we need and know about the multitude of characters throughout this picture. One scene in particular that really impressed me was the opening scene that relays that Get Out is anything but typical. Leaving the camera running on the same scene without any cuts for what feels like close to five minutes, Peele captivates the audiences, silencing any doubters who thought that this film was going to be your typical in twisted humor. I also greatly enjoyed the cinematography of the hypnotism scenes that display wonderfully a sinking mentally and physically for our main protagonist. The visuals for Peele to showcase this as a kind of twilight of stars radiating around Chris falling deeper and deeper is not only transfixing for how beautifully rendering the backdrop is, but also very traumatic for we feel the familiarity of our leading man fading further and further with each breath. Peele tackles it all beautifully, giving horror a highlight of artistic direction that has been sadly missing from the scene over the past decade.

However, it was the writing of Jordan that I felt was the strong point of his work, tackling the most important in how white people view minorities. I was very thankful that Peele doesn’t settle for desperation here, instead choosing to let the awkwardness rattle and even clench his audience into balls of anxiety as each scene revealing more and more about the true intentions of this family. There’s plenty to commend for dialogue that slowly builds that elevated tension with underlying subtext in power move vocal exchanges, most notably between Chris and Rose’s brother Jeremy (Played by Caleb Landry Jones) in a test of physical strength. Chris’s will is definitely being tested here, and it’s clear that this is foreshadowing for the next twenty-four hours of hell that they plan to put this poor guy through. Another strong suit that I commend Peele for is how little he needs or uses the typical overabundance of violence and gore to push his horror film further. It’s clear early on that the social commentary is the true chilling tool being used in this movie, but I found myself perplexed by how little we have actually seen 80 minutes into the movie, and yet how it didn’t sacrifice how truly terrifying this situational horror played out. Peele’s dry stance on gore tells us that what is most frightening is always what is true, and the seclusion among a family of racists is something that is easily understandable in a 2017 world where these problems very much exist.

I did have two problems with the film, but nothing truly dramatic to take away more than a point on my final grade. The first, deals with Chris’s attempted escape towards the end of the movie. I won’t give away much, but there’s an action in movement that happens with him that is truly impossible based on the disposition of his character only seconds prior, and it felt like a bit of a convenient bone thrown to the audience for patiently waiting. My second problem will definitely place me in the minority of this opinion, but I’m going to say it; Chris’s best friend Rod (Played by LilRel Howery) is totally unnecessary to this movie. Not only does Rod come off as a desperate shoe-horned in comedic subplot, but he also doesn’t serve as any kind of importance to the power-packed finale that does just fine. On the former, his comedy is fine, but I felt like it took away and hindered the suspense that was being slowly triggered bit-by-bit from a true student of the game. Many people will definitely disagree with me, as I have heard he was already many people’s favorite aspect to the movie, but let me ask you a question. Can you honestly disagree with me that the movie would be fine if his character was completely wiped from it? There in lies how truly frail his character really is, and just how his material overall feels like more of a speedbump to where the film needs to go creatively.

Whether you like or dislike scary movies, one thing is for certain; all races of life should GET OUT and see Peele’s initial slice of horror homage that pushes him amongst the ranks of 2017’s most versatile triple threats. Get Out is a smoothly-paced, artistically-crafted, and even thought-provoking attack on the social stigmas that many of us are afraid to dig into in our current day and age. It’s daring in its approaches to racial subtext, as well as refreshingly upscale for anything that Blumhouse Entertainment usually wraps its claws into.

8/10