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

The Lego Batman Movie

The streets of Gotham and its famed superhero get an updated and pixelated look courtesy of Warner Brothers Animation. In The Lego Batman Movie, In the irreverent spirit of fun that made “The LEGO Movie” a worldwide phenomenon, the self-described leading man of that ensemble, LEGO Batman, stars in his own big-screen adventure. After feeling the effects of loneliness in his jaded daily routine, Bruce Wayne (Will Arnett) adopts Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) to fill the void of a cold and fierce existence. But there are big changes brewing in Gotham, and if he wants to save the city from The Joker’s (Zach Galifanakis) hostile takeover, Batman may have to drop the lone vigilante thing, try to work with others and maybe, just maybe, learn to lighten up. The Lego Batman Movie is directed by Chris McKay, and is rated PG for rude humor and some action.

Warner Animation Group hits another ambitiously imaginative home run, this time with The Dark Knight himself at the forefront of the big screen treatment. The Lego Batman Movie, for all of its far-stretching material and vast array of characters both in and out of the Gotham Universe, is first and foremost the definitive Batman movie for every generation of this 70-plus year character. When you consider all of the many flavors and styles of Batman, there’s so much to get immersed into, and never once does this movie letdown fans of any decade by providing fan service that Bob Kane would gladly give a standing ovation too. And why shouldn’t he? He is after all the prime executive producer on this set. By its own comedic merits, this movie would be fine flying on its own two wings, but the impressive and detailed approaches not only to set pieces and overall color scheme, but also to diving deeper into the soul and personality of Bruce Wayne as a character is what gives this movie that seal of must-watch approval for fans longtime and new to share in one collective embrace. Batman hasn’t been fairing so well on the silver screen lately, but Chris McKay appeases the desire to please once again by giving us not only the story that we want, but the one that we deserve.

Through the many Easter eggs and surprises behind every corner of this movie, is a surprisingly light-hearted centerpiece that attempts to dissect the psyche of this army of one, and how pivotal the lack of relationships has played dearly to his life when the lights and cameras die down. What I commend is this movie’s desire to give kids something more than just the ability to laugh, it gives them something memorably somber on teaching the importance of family and how nobody can do anything alone. It feels like for the first time we are being given very valuably precious minutes dedicated to Bruce himself, and through the exterior of a community soldier who became the ultimate dream in orphan fantasies, we find a conflicted egomaniac who gets caught up in himself clearly far too often. It felt very surreal to finally watch a character embrace what so many people and media outlets are saying about him, and see the negative effects that resonate because of such praise. As the film goes on, it becomes less about the villains and more about the fight inside from that orphaned boy, screaming out to be heard and loved again. This heart weighs heavily on the presentation, and proves that teaching our youths is every bit as valuable even in a comedy.

On the subject of that humor, the Lego franchise once again goes above and beyond in ejecting several gut-busting laughs to my experience with it. From the very unorthodox intro that bares Wayne commentating over the studio screenshots, I knew I was in for a feel-good time that rarely ever let me down. The first act is paced so incredibly well, and it’s clear that this is the peak for comedic material for the entirety of the film because the introduction of Wayne and his nemesis alike set the tone for the kind of attitude that this movie is non-chalantly winking to its audience. There’s so much to mention in terms of praise, but some of my favorite moments were the rundown of this massive army of villains, the well-crafted usage of fourth wall breaking in poking fun at the very cliches of superhero films alike, and most importantly a rap by Batman that will require many rewinds to fully embrace every joke planted within its lyrics. The only time when the film lagged for me was during the second act when the transition from comedy to family film felt slightly jarring in the telegraphing. During this time, what few jokes there are felt repetitive and even long-winded in their setups, so a lot of them fall flat before the big climax finale, which produced so many surprises in character reveals that no one could ever see coming. The likeness price alone has me perplexed at how much this movie may or may not have had to spend in producing a big-budget feature for a children’s presentation.

Even though the comedy is intelligent and cerebral, the very designs and imaginative concepts for the movie reign supreme. I saw this movie in 2D, but I never felt like my showing lacked any of the definitive artistic qualities that you have to pay extra for. Gotham is beautifully crafted, embracing that kind of comic book animation with stop-motion practicality that creates a marriage of colorful candy. The hardest part of staying immersed within this story was that my mind constantly wandered to the many backdrops and details that constantly kept raising the bar on creativity. The Joker carnival alone blows anything out of the water that Zach Snyder has conjured up for this caped crusader, and the amazement that I was watching live action played out with tweaks and touches of CG appeal really has me thirsty for more offerings from this prosperous studio. The very movements and shadow work feels so in-sync with one another, and it’s those kind of little things that make something so simple so appealing when you see these decorative figurines coming to life before our very eyes. The best kind of animation is the ones that you can lose yourself in and forget that it isn’t live action, and The Lego Batman Movie took this feat to new heights in some truly breathtaking cinematography.

The casting for the movie works, even if I wasn’t fully pleased with all of the acting work in their vocal range. Will Arnett was born to voice Batman. The beautiful thing with animation is that you can forget the visual appearances for 100 minutes, and believe that he is this character because of this raspy delivery that throws back to Christopher Nolan’s days at the helm of this character. Arnett is a comedic actor, so his timing never flakes or misfires, despite the rollercoaster of dialogue pacing that they take his character on. Michael Cera was also very memorable, despite the movie being anything but a favor to Robin fans everywhere. The chemistry between Cera and Arnett is a callback to their days on Arrested Development, and this reunion packed many awkward tension-breaking scenarios for the duo that I just couldn’t get enough of. My lone disappointment for vocal work was that of Galifanakis as the Joker. It’s not that Joker isn’t written or designed well, but I feel like Zack never made the character his own, lacking a stamp like the work of Mark Hamill, who is arguably the best Joker of all time. Galifanakis isn’t disguised in the least, and feels like he phones home a lot of his performance. My laughs for the Joker character was mostly in his visual reactions, and less about his material, and it’s easy to see why he kind of gets lost in the fray of evolving backdrops and pop culture villains checklists that pick up the slack around him.

Warner Animation Group dips itself once again in imaginative waters for The Lego Batman Movie that serves as the perfect trivia to Batman fans thirsty for the fun to be put back into their favorite superhero. With a visual palate that bends and breaks the surrealism of animation, as well an irresistable arrogance from Arnett protecting Gotham, this one is that rare occasion where a family member from every age group will gladly embrace this awe-inspiring feature that refuses to ever slow, building a foundation for a saga of films to come one block at a time.

8/10

Paterson

The long and twisting roads of a quiet poet take him everyday through a town of inspiration, in Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson. Jarmusch himself writes this unorthodox story about Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver in the city of Paterson, New Jersey, a town known for some famous people whom time seems to have forgotten. Every day, Paterson adheres to a simple routine: he drives his daily route, he writes poetry into a notebook; he stops in a bar and drinks exactly one beer; and he goes home to his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). By contrast, Laura’s world is ever changing. New dreams and aspirations come to her almost daily, humbling Paterson to keep his own secret ambition close to the chest, away from wandering eyes. The film quietly observes the triumphs and defeats of daily life, along with the poetry inspiration evident in its smallest details. Paterson is rated R for some adult language.

Paterson is a strange bird all together. It’s a movie that thrives on being different, from a man whose creativity in the methods and concepts of storytelling always offer something fresh and invigorating for an audience that frequent his kind of movies. Born in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, it’s quite interesting to see a man like Jim acheive such success and greatness from his origins of no more than ten minutes up the road from where I currently watch and review movies nightly. To that degree, this is a movie that feels like it radiates that feeling of art imitating life, and relaying the struggles of trying to make it in a place where many others have already thrived. Whether you’re into poetry or not, this ideal in struggle is something familiar in all of us, and Jarmusch’s humble stroke brings to life a feeling that we could all be doing something better with our lives, even when the balance of routine feels comfortable on our daily happenings. Jarmusch succeeds once again at offering honest characters who clash with the backdrop of a town that seems too small for their wondrous ambitions. There certainly is a Paterson in and around all of us.

From a directing standpoint, few do it as well or better than Jarmusch’s soft and subtle lighting against framing work that is well-represented of the kind of environments and set pieces that come in and out of focus during the near two hour effort. For moments at a time, Paterson feels like a stage play that takes place in this bus that is frequented by some off-the-wall characters unaware of their lack of privacy amongst listening ears. It feels humorous without ever really trying, displaying that familiar message of life being funnier than anything that make believe can ever conjure up. To his passengers, Paterson feels like a void of a man. A shadow who is there to fulfill an obligation and nothing more, but to us his audience, we get a visual sampling of some of his purest words and thoughts in some visual on-screen text that carefully constructs an artistic merit to the film’s production. The words themselves are metaphors for the very thoughts and expressions burning a hole of passion through our central protagonist, and it’s clear that one viewing of this movie simply will not be enough when distinguishing everything that this lyrical lion-heart is trying to spill out on paper.

The narration hits and misses for anyone who is looking for something more enticing in conflict from this story that virtually has a minimalist plot. My problem with this aspect wasn’t so much that rarely anything happened, but in the misdirection of many possibilities in character direction along the way that just went unfulfilled. There’s certainly a setup to everything there, most notably in a communication problem in the relationship of Driver and Farahani, as well as a dog subplot that never goes anywhere past initial threats. Jarmusch does however thrive with a pen by depicting some surreal aspects to the concepts of repetition in routine, as well as the importance of getting your words out before it’s too late. Certainly everyone who sees Paterson is going to relate on a level of working a job that is anything but what we see ourselves doing, and a dreamer’s tale that is usually presented with such optimism in other films, is presented with a kind of humbling honesty once we become a product of our environments. Pictures of Paterson celebrities hang on the wall of Paterson’s favorite bar, and suddenly the desperation of obscurity becomes evident in the urgency of Driver’s character to be another face on that wall. Jarmusch tucks everything very closely to his lyrical prowess, and it’s clear that Jim has been to Paterson, even if he hasn’t BEEN to Paterson.

The cast? Stellar. This is leaps and bounds Adam Driver’s single best performance to date. As Paterson, Driver’s passion for words comes out fruitfully without this ever feeling like a cliche underdog story. What I found so enthralling about his character is that Driver plays it with a sprinkle of adolescence just screaming to get out, despite the fact that Paterson himself is a thirty-something career man who is miles from a dreamer’s paradise. When his girlfriend shuffles off dream after dream, you get a sense of real anger just below the surface of Adam’s quiet exterior, a feeling of desperation for his own passion always being put on the back burner of importance for a woman who is still searching for emotional growth within her. For this reason alone the duo of Driver and Farahani really thrived together on-screen, and their chemistry will ring true for any couple who sees this movie and feels the gentle breeze of clarity ring true in their surreal situational humor. This is the first time that I have ever seen Farahani in action, and while this is clearly Driver’s one man show, there’s plenty of room for someone who gauges the most intimate of reactions from her significant other. She can’t see what we do as an audience, and Farahani is the tight-fitting key that is molded perfectly to unlock the mystery of this fire burning deep.

Jarmusch triumphs once again, this time with a charming, patient, and observant depiction into the life of the mundane. Paterson is poetic in its simplistic approach to the procedural of the creative art of writing, and how our greatest inspirations come from the people and places around us who figuratively and lifterally drive us down the road of clarity. Like poetry, it isn’t confined to one style of structure, instead opting to drive home its meaning with intellectual words that are straight from the heart. Paterson is uneventful, but at the same time mesmerizing for its thick slice of life and provocative performance by Driver who leaves all of his best work on paper.

8/10

20th Century Women

Does a youthful male need a father figure to deal with life in 1970’s Americana? With “20th Century Women,” acclaimed filmmaker Mike Mills brings us a multilayered, funny, heart-stirring celebration of the complexities of women, family, time, and the connections we search for our whole lives. Set in Santa Barbara, the film follows Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening), a determined single mother in her mid-50s who is raising her adolescent son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) at a moment brimming with cultural change and rebellion. Dorothea enlists the help of two younger women in Jamie’s upbringing, via Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a free-spirited punk artist living as a boarder in the Fields’ home, and Julie (Elle Fanning), a savvy and provocative teenage neighbor. 20th Century Women is written and directed by Mike Mills, and is rated R for sexual material, language, some nudity and brief drug use.

Mike Mills latest picture is certainly an intimate and revealing look into the adolescence of one parent kids everywhere that rings very close to home for Mills himself. Growing up in a home where his Mother was also the father, 20th Century Women feels like a love letter to the women of Mills generation who stepped up and filled the noticeable gap in the post-flower power generation. One could construe this idea as feminist propaganda, and while there’s certainly nothing wrong with that stance professionally, that isn’t exactly what I would classify this movie as. Being a gifted screenwriter for projects like 2005’s Thumbsucker and 2010’s Beginners, means that Mills can articulately envelope both sides of the gender coin when it comes to parenting a challenging youth. Ultimately, there’s plenty of misdirection and education for both sides to learn, as neither side ever feels truly right or definitive. Parenting is a lot like envisioning your life’s future, you can think it will go one way, but the backlash in opposites that the road takes is one that constantly keeps a man and a woman guessing.

There’s not a lot of long-term plot to the movie. Mostly it’s in dealing with the ever-changing situations of these five characters who sort of become a family of socially inept misfits, but come together in the common goal of raising this fatherless boy. Despite this flaw in long-term building creatively, Mills does something very unique with his storytelling, in that his characters narrate not only through the generations that are being discussed orally, but also in the past, present and futures of each of his charming cast. This might not sound like anything revolutionary, but the way he reveals key details about the future midway through the movie would normally puzzle or cloud a film’s current progression, but not here. Instead, Mills pulling back of the curtain at various points throughout the movie adds more of a sense of urgency and empathy for the characters whose decisions before us are constantly shaping the adults that they grow up to be. In narrating through world events, it helps us as an audience understand the decisions (like our cast) that our political figures have made to produce the 70’s environment that we see so fruitfully in this movie. This gave me a strong respect for Mills as a writer because to understand what’s going on inside of this household, you must also understand what is going on around it. A rare commodity among exposition in 2017 cinema.

Not to be outdone by his typewriter however, Mills artistically dazzles in more ways than one that add a true beauty to experimental tapestries in expression. Some of the transitional scenes have a fast-forwarded motion detection to them to signify how fast the world outside is moving. It’s never distracting nor void of documentation for what is transpiring during the effect, but rather feels like pushing FF 1 on your DVD remote. Just fast enough to notice it, but not quick enough to do damage to the very idea of its existence. Car scenes also omit a beautiful radiance of technicolor splash that shadows the very movements of the car. While I can’t exactly say why Mills decided to add this effect, I can say that it screams the 70’s in all of its trippy and tye-dye delight. The wide angle scenic displays are also very fresh and full of a California suburbia that extend as far as the eye can see. Props to Mills for also editing in archive footage that brings out the best in every decade that is brought up for discussion. This movie has a very editorial feel to its visual presentation, so it’s a positive to reap something more in showing us rather than just telling us. 20th Century Women may be an early 2017 favorite in glossy cinematography that constantly keeps raising the bar throughout a music video sheek that highlighted the production of this film.

The performances have garnered some national attention, with Benning and Gerwig receiving Golden Globe nominations for their respective performances, and after seeing this movie, it’s easy to see that these nominations could be inter-changeable with the refreshing trio of Zumann, Fanning and even Billy Crudup as an aging hipster who rents a room in the house. Benning is fantastic. Shouldn’t be anything new to anyone who knows her, but I felt a sincere empathy for her character and the inevitability of eventually handing her son over to society one day. It’s clear that this is a woman who is clutching for anything solid to hold onto in her life, even so far as neglecting her own romantic offerings. Benning warms her way into our hearts with an unorthodox style of parenting sure to relate to the modernist in the audience. Gerwig’s transformation into this gritty, raging young adult is one that made her unrecognizable to this critic. Greta has been stealing the show in one indie comedy after another, but it’s in 20th Century Women where her performance offers a refreshing side of angst that Gerwig has bottled up thus far in her career. Crudup too delivers wonderfully as the soft spoken William. In the role, Billy’s character feels like the last stand of solid men from a past era that time is slowly forgetting. He’s adaptable to this new world, even if it doesn’t always need his opinion. The chemistry between Crudup and Benning explodes off of the screen, and for a brief moment we question if they are the missing piece to the other’s life.

20th Century Women is an immersive and stylishly sleek presentation that cements Mills among the great artistic expressionist directors of the early 21st century. It’s another side to the revolution that helped many Mothers make the next step forward in holding down the reigns of a household through several profoundly humorous obstacles. Time moves fast, but it’s the people in our lives who helped shape us to be the people we become who are the most memorable, and Mills personal touch never stumbles over its immense responsibilities.

8/10