Billionaire Boys Club

Directed by James Cox

Starring – Ansel Elgort, Taron Egerton, Kevin Spacey

The Plot – A modern day remake of the 1987 film by the same name, the film is about A group of wealthy boys in Los Angeles during the early 1980s, who establish a ‘get-rich-quick’ scam that turns deadly.

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

POSITIVES

– If there’s any reason to see this film, it’s for Spacey’s energetic delivery as the film’s most experienced con-man. While it definitely makes me shudder to say anything complimentary of Kevin, it goes without saying that this film is enhanced whenever he enters the room, and flounders whenever he disappears. As for the rest, Elgort is terribly miscast, Egerton is failing at his best Leonardo Dicaprio impression, and Emma Roberts is completely phoning in what little material the script has for her.

– Hip 80’s soundtrack. ‘Only You’ by Yazoo is one of my personal favorite new wave favorites, but when it is presented on the same collection with Talking Heads ‘This Must Be the Place’, as well as ‘Let’s Dance’ by David Bowie, you have one of the very best assorted soundtracks in 2018. I couldn’t wait to hear what popped up next, and it’s clear that music has a very pivotal place in Cox re-imagining of this world.

– No expense spared on production aspects. The fashion trends, cars, and neon landscapes do an excellent job of elevating the important details, both big and small, giving life to the pulse of Los Angeles terrifically. This at least allowed the time period of the story to thrive visually, while almost every other aspect of the movie never lived up.

– Informative, tightly-edited 80’s montage sequences that translate the very vibe of the times. If the feature film world falters for Cox eventually, he has a place in visual storytelling in the eye of documentaries, because these instances are magnetic.

NEGATIVES

– As an adaptation of the real life events, this barely scratches the surface. The film greatly lacks the attention that is needed in depicting the transformation of Joe’s character over time with the influence of corporate greed, and truly makes him a roarschach test when it comes to gauging his reactions to the inevitable downturn that his company takes. Beyond this, subplots and character habits feel like they come out of nowhere, making this feel like a film that is cut in half, with the deleted half catering to those important bits of information.

– Doesn’t bother with backstory or character development, breezing through the first act like an afterthought. Most importantly, the friendship between Joe and Dean never feels fleshed out enough, leaving a vital bond to the story on the cutting room floor. Because of such, the third act greatly lacks the kind of impact that it so desperately yearned for.

– Tries to capitalize on the exuberance and seediness with greed that a film like ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ tapped into effortlessly. There are plenty of instances when this feels like the Redbox version of such mentioned feats, even so much as mirroring much of Wolf’s first act scenes and situations beat-for-beat, but continuously lacking the appeal in intimate details necessary to engage the audience in its schemes. Because of this, nothing in the film ever felt believable or gripping to me, and constantly gave me the overwhelming feeling that I was one-up on the intelligence factor over investors of the 80’s.

– Undercooked love interest in the film. Because every film in 2018 requires a love story, we get one here as well, and it lacks the chemistry and conviction between Elgort and Roberts for audiences to believe it. As opposed to the lack of time devoted to the friendship of Elgort and Egerton, the love subplot is given plenty of time to prosper, but simmers because of the lack of bond that never develops with time.

– Pointless voice-over narration. It is (Once again) pointless in its usage, and more importantly adds nothing to the storytelling that we as an audience can’t already interpret. You could literally close your eyes and just listen to the obvious narration, and you will have a clear vision for what is transpiring on-screen. As if you needed another reason to not watch this film.

– Abrupt, un-satisfying ending. It feels like the film is just getting going when it’s ready to say goodbye, and it makes the mistake where it tells but doesn’t show what happens to those guilty of everything that takes place in the film. The most fascinating angles of this story are those that take place off-screen, and it’s the final nail in the coffin for a story that was told so much better on a 45 minute Youtube documentary that I watched before it.

4/10

BlacKKKlansman

Directed by Spike Lee

Starring – John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

8/10

The Equalizer 2

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Starring – Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Bill Pullman

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

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

POSITIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEGATIVES

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

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

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

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

6/10

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Directed by Stefano Sollima

Starring – Benecio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner

The Plot – In this sequel to the 2014 surprise hit, the series begins a new chapter. In the drug war, there are no rules–and as the cartels have begun trafficking terrorists across the US border, federal agent Matt Graver (Brolin) calls on the mysterious Alejandro (Del Toro), whose family was murdered by a cartel kingpin, to escalate the war in nefarious ways. Alejandro kidnaps the kingpin’s daughter (Moner) to inflame the conflict, but when the girl is seen as collateral damage, her fate will come between the two men as they question everything they are fighting for.

Rated R for strong violence, bloody imagery, and adult language

POSITIVES

– Even though the departures of Denis Vilenueve and Roger Deakins leave a lasting impact throughout the film, it is screenwriter Taylor Sheridan’s finest hour to prove just how important he is to this franchise. Sheridan still preserves that world where these grey shaded characters interact, bringing with them the kind of complexity necessary for audiences to question the social politics going on within our own world, but it’s in his reserved stance to make this installment more of strategic one, as opposed to the physicality that adorned the first film, one that carves out its own identity without relying too heavily on past success.

– Alejandro was definitely my favorite character from the first movie, and I was glad to see him get more exposition in this film that never felt forced or tacked on. Through many conversations and interactions with other characters, we start to put together more of an outline from Alejandro’s former life that makes you understand his motive for vengeance that much more, leaving what little compassion he has left fighting for air.

– The action sequences, while few and far between, once again brought with them a rush of adrenaline and realism that satisfied wonderfully in payoffs. Because you sometimes wait 30-40 minutes for one sequence to reach its boiling point, the bullet-riddled offense of these battle scenes surprise with just how quickly they change the atmosphere and overall urgency of what transpires.

– While none of the new additions to the cast did anything to leave a lasting impression with me, the work of Del Toro and Brolin once again command a presence over the screen that forces you to hang on to their every word. Brolin feels twice as menacing as he did in the first movie, racing against the clock and Washington to seek results, and Del Toro’s subdued yet confident capability over changing situations, makes him the perfect anti-hero to get behind, in a film that strongly lacks a typical protagonist lead.

– Besides Sheridan, the production is fortunate enough to maintain articulate music composer Hildur Guonadottir to the series. Hildur’s immense presence outlines every scene, orchestrating these dark, ominous, and often unnerving tones that repeat with volume the longer they go. It frequently feels like a poison that engulfs itself over the atmosphere within the film, carving out this seedy underground that is responsible for much of the world’s chess piece movements.

– One of the best first acts that I have seen from a movie all year. In bringing us back into the dangerous world of the Mexican cartel, we learn right away how dangerous and unforgiving such a lifestyle costs in paying the ultimate price. Aside from this, the initial reunion with Brolin and Del Toro’s characters are satisfying for completely different reasons, chalking up some rich dialogue between them that makes this reunion the blueprint for everything that follows that much more apparent.

NEGATIVES

– This film is the very definition of sequel building. The problem with that angle is that it neglects what can be made memorable about Day of the Soldado, instead catering to set-ups for a future installment that few will embrace without a strong second effort. The final twenty minutes in particular feel reduced to minimal movements because of where the film’s inevitable direction takes us to the finish line, leaving us with even less satisfaction than an original film that still managed to please despite how bleak its results were.

– One extremely glaring negative to Deakins handing over his duties as master of photography, is in the film’s obvious differences to how it establishes locations and atmospheric tension accordingly. As to where Deakins took his time with the angles and movements of the camera in the first film, so as to take everything in without ever letting a single second omit itself, Dariusz Wolski’s timing feels rushed and uncharasteristic for a film that visually carved out such a level of originality in the first movie. What this does is offer the audience little to chew on in terms of what we see in the backgrounds before the characters ever do.

– To me, much of the first Sicario never really feels like a movie, instead feeling like D.E.A footage that we’ve managed to stumble across. This is never the case for Day of the Soldado, as there are too many sequences of shootouts or kidnappings that take place in the heart of a big city during the daytime, where not a single patron in the streets stops to think twice about what is going down. One could say this speaks volumes to the kind of daily atmospheres in Mexico, but give me a break. This level of ignorance to not shoot a single reaction, constantly overwhelmed me with this inescapable feeling that this is a production, limiting my opportunities to immerse myself in the world depicted.

– There’s a subplot in the film involving a teenager who is being groomed to be a Sicario of his own. I understood completely Sheridan’s point with this angle, carving out the effects that war and the drug trade can have on a youth, but that doesn’t mean it was ever interesting when it took up precious screen time. You know these two plots will eventually converge at some point, but during the first hour of the film, this subplot involving this youth feels completely tacked-on from a completely different film all together, and it did a disservice to otherwise impeccable pacing that kept things moving fluently for two hours.

6/10

American Animals

Directed by Bart Layton

Starring – Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Ann Dowd

The Plot – The unbelievable but true story of four young men who brazenly attempt to execute one of the most audacious art heists in US history. Determined to live lives that are out of the ordinary, they formulate a daring plan for the perfect robbery, only to discover that the plan has taken on a life of its own.

Rated R for adult language throughout, some drug use and brief crude/sexual material

POSITIVES

– Because the words “Based on a True Story” have become an overdone cliche in Hollywood cinema, Layton instead capitalizes on the direction of this real life heist by valuing the reality about its jaw-dropping details. As to where most films will let the A-list cast tell the story, Layton instead as a writer brings forth the real life figures involved in the story to narrate us in a dramatization-meets-feature-film kind of marriage that holds our interest for nearly two hours.

– Even more respectable is the impeccable use of artistic direction that adorns the picture and depictions from the people telling the story. There’s great use in the ability of change and almost erasing something out of frame all together when a character doesn’t remember it going down a certain way, and if this wasn’t enough, the backdrop in canvas stylization breathes that immersive touch. Each location feel like it radiates its own color palate, controlling the very aura of a room with its mesmerizing allure.

– Sharp editing. More so in the first half of this film, the story feels like it’s breezing to its robbery destination, and while this is true in terms of the overall pacing for the film, the answer in reality lies with the sequencing of each scene by master editors Nick Fenton and Julian Hart that makes the previous one feel overlapping. Because of this, the film’s events offer very little breathing time along the way, replicating the impending clock that feels hot on the tails of these animals whether they embrace it or not.

– What I loved about this screenplay is that the robbery is only half of the story. The real drama and traumatic experiences come AFTER the robbery, paying homage to a film like Alpha Dog that this film constantly reminded me of, although done so much better. Because much of Layton’s script is so cerebral in the mind of our deviants, we start to see the consequences of such a plan once step two comes into focus. It all feels like an exceptionally balanced beam of paranoia and inexperience that constantly play off of one another.

– Most surprisingly was the level of humor that the film harvests, despite this being a mostly serious narrative. The humor works because it feels authentic with the personalities and speech patterns amongst this tight little group, and less like it was written by some screenwriter in a chair. Its awkwardness amongst the unfolding madness demands you laugh at the sheer stupidity of it all, giving us that much needed moment of release amongst the ensuing pressure that keeps building.

– For my money, the work of Keoghan and Peters easily maintains control throughout for completely different reasons. For as much as Keoghan’s subdued curiosity spins the necessities of empathetic protagonist that the film so desperately needs, Evans Warren is the devilishly delightful antagonist of sorts on our left shoulder who forces us (As well as everyone on screen) to indulge in riches so close that we can reach out and touch them. Evans brings with him the same endless charisma and untimely rage from American Horror Story that has made him a household name in just over seven years.

– What this film does that benefits its heist scenes so much more than a film like Ocean’s 8 is that it maximizes the intensity of these environments and shifts that prove no matter how much you plan something, shit happens. In fact, it’s in the boys ability to adapt that makes this thinking-on-their-toes ideal spring those feelings of anxiety that we get while watching them get through the movements. The less you know definitely works for the better, but even if you know everything there is to know about this true American heist, Layton’s soaking up of environmental sights and sounds, when combined with Anne Nikitin’s musical drum-building triumph, makes for the perfect time to rid yourself of the facts and just get lost in matters so surreal that they could never be manufactured.

– Much appreciation for the tiny Easter eggs that were sprouted as a result of classic heist films. I won’t spoil them all, but a couple of examples come in the form of Blockbuster Video titles that the guys watch to prepare them for their big day, the use of ‘A Little more Conversation’ by Elvis Presley during a montage sequence (Ocean’s Eleven), and of course my personal favorite, the use of codenames that bares a striking resemblance to one of my favorite Tarantino flicks. This film not only homages, but it echoes these films effect on white suburban Americana.

– There’s an overall sense of feel in the film that relates this to a dream-turned-nightmare scenario that these kids can’t wake up from. Because so much of what we’re seeing is true and actually happened, the audacity of such twists and turns give off this narcoleptic state that we as an audience wait to be pulled back into a dream, only the horror gets worse the longer we stay under. This is something that most horror films can’t even attain, but Ann Dowd films have already managed this feat twice this year.

NEGATIVES

– If I had one problem with the film, it’s in the inability to relate to the thinly-layered oppression that this privileged group suffers from to make them feel motivated. No one between them ever feels truly desperate by their college lives to really need this heist, and because of such, the mission itself can’t escape this unshakeable feeling that this is all character boredom, omitting some of the momentum needed later when the sanctions come down.

9/10

Gotti

Directed by Kevin Connolly

Starring – John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Stacy Keach

The Plot – The film follows infamous crime boss John Gotti’s (Travolta) rise to become the “Teflon Don” of the Gambino Crime Family in New York City. Spanning three decades and recounted by his son John Jr. (Spencer Rocco Lofranco), GOTTI examines Gotti’s tumultuous life as he and his wife (Preston) attempt to hold the family together amongst tragedy and multiple prison sentences.

Rated R for strong violence and pervasive adult language

POSITIVES

– While the performances certainly aren’t anything of award worthy, Travolta and Preston are giving it their all in their respective roles. My only complaint from Travolta is that his performance feels like more of an impression of John Gotti, and less of an immersion. What pushes it through to positivity for me are some of the committed deliveries that he gives to some truly outlandish dialogue that did him zero favors.

– The inclusion of real life footage does a much better job in relaying information than the film does. I would normally complain for how much this film goes to the well for the added effect, but it was the only reason why I was able to follow what was transpiring from scene-to-scene.

NEGATIVES

– This film has attention deficit disorder of the worst kind. If you can get by the first five minutes of the movie, in which there are three different timeline switches, then you will have difficulty deciphering why this film can’t tell one cohesive direction from oldest to most recent in storytelling. This never settles down, and the whole film feels like a disjointed Frankenstein project that should’ve never seen the light of day.

– It’s not often that I complain about the dialogue feeling like it got its respective film genre wrong, but that’s what we have here. Most of the lines and conversation pieces feel like they’re ripped completely out of a satirical comedy that pokes fun at the gangster lifestyle, instead of hard-hitting, moving reads that make you feel their impact. Never for a moment was I shook or even remotely moved in the way that films like Goodfellas or The Godfather films achieve.

– Where the film begins is a bit of a mystery to me, because it makes Gotti feel like a sequel to a film we’ve previously seen. There is not a single mention of John’s earlier life, or anything before this twelve year period that the film rushes through, making the presentation feel like a two-and-a-half-hour movie that was horrifically trimmed to 100 minutes. Maybe we should be so lucky.

– My job as a critic is to point out aspects in time period pieces that don’t line up to the respective decade that a particular film is trying to depict, and Gotti has two of my absolute favorites of all time. Consider first of all that this film takes place between 1977-1989, then ask yourself why acclaimed rapper Pitbull has two songs that play overwhelmingly loud during an outdoor barbeque thrown by Gotti’s mob family. If this isn’t enough, ask yourself why during a New York skyline shot, the 9/11 tribute can easily be seen. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?? Were they even remotely trying?

– There’s are these huge leaps in time that only further contribute to the idea that this film was gashed in half. Events and things just tend to happen without much planning or warning, and we as an audience are left to pick up the pieces and figure out what happened along the way. I don’t care much for audible narration, but this is a film that needed it terribly, because surviving without it is like trying to learn a foreign language on one hour of experience.

– Much of the film’s production falters, feeling like a cheap made-for-TV experiment that they couldn’t sell to F/X. One such example is in a scene in which a rival mob boss walks up the street with his henchmen and turns down the corner. The problem comes in the fact that this exact same take is played three different times throughout the film. How do I know this? The boss’s limping pattern and clothes are the same in every take. After the second time, I didn’t even laugh anymore. I became concerned for how anyone could ever give Connolly a job in the director’s chair.

– Offensive character framing. If I was a citizen of New York or an Italian, I would be more offended watching this than watching an episode of Jersey Shore. I’m not sure if Connolly’s point was to depict Italians as braindead human beings, but bravo to a job well done. The movie has this strange angle of portraying Gotti as this hero of the community, and that he didn’t deserve what he got in the end. This gives me hope for that Dahmer film in which they depict him as a vegetarian.

– Much of the push-the-envelope material feels like watered down scenes from other, better gangster movies. In fact, as I sit here not even an hour after the movie ended, I remembered very few details to Gotti’s life that even made him such a valued angle for American cinema. There is definitely a compelling story somewhere underneath Connolly’s disheveled pieces, but they never combine with one another to craft anything of dramatic pull or tension for the movie. Even the death scenes feel like temporary hiccups instead of deconstruction to the title character.

2/10

Superfly

Directed by Director X

Starring – Trevor Jackson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jason Mitchell

The Plot – Based on the 70’s remake of the same name, the film revolves around career criminal Youngblood Priest (Jackson), who wants out of the Atlanta drug scene. But as he ramps up sales, one little slip up threatens to bring the whole operation down before he can make his exit, in turn setting him up as the desired target for those who he cost.

Rated R for violence and adult language throughout, strong sexuality, nudity, and drug content

POSITIVES

– The very essence of Atlanta becomes a prominent character throughout the film. For all of its trials and tribulations, lies an after dark kind of city that beats with prominence throughout, and in X’s eyes lies a metropolis of drugs, laundering, and dirty cops that values location more than the original film did tenfold.

– Because this comes from the mind of a music video director, the ideal of all style no substance is hard to run away from. However, within that neon nightclub atmosphere, we get a lot of transfixing visuals that not only seduce us into this world, but pull us in completely to the live fast directive that our characters embrace. Usually the music video style of directing does more harm than good for films, but within Director X we find the perfect candidate to bring these lavish lifestyles to the forefront of the frame.

– When they decide to pop up, the action sequences are shot with such confidence and flare to appreciate in many forms. The chase scene sequence in particular offers a wide variety of in-your-face camera angles that never settle for repeats between cuts. Aside from this, the tight-knit editing keeps each transition in frame fast with the adrenaline that compliment the burning of screeching tires.

NEGATIVES

– This remake of Superfly takes itself a bit too seriously, refusing to acknowledge the cult side of its 70’s Blaxdploitation roots. Throughout the film, I couldn’t escape this overwhelming feeling of boredom from a story that should be enveloped in the near bad-mother character that Priest is supposed to embrace, and for my money I could’ve used more definition in the term Superfly in expanding his personality.

– Pointless narration from Priest that only exists for the first half of the film. I’ve always believed that narration should serve a purpose in either further developing a plot, but the audio here only repeats what we already learned in a previous scene.

– There’s such a thirst for slow motion action sequence effects that died after The Matrix perfected the craft in 1998. In Superfly, this effect only adds unnecessary length to scenes and fight choreography that only captures five actual seconds of film. Once or twice for your most impressive blows is cool, but to do this tired cliche each and every time only soils its charms

– Bad performances for an array of reasons. First of all, Jackson never embodies the cool or the intimidating nature of Priest in a way that we comprehend the trouble coming to anyone who crosses him. He has the look, but never the it factor, and I was underwhelmed every time he tries to be cool because a scene asked for it. Worse even more than Jackson though, is Kaalan Walker’s laughably bad portrayal of Juju, an intense rival of Priest’s in the drug business. To say that this kid overacts in every scene is the understatement of the decade. I compare it to Tevin Campbell on steroids, for his results of unintentional laughter to every line of dialogue that he screams through. It’s a shame this cast lets down in the majority, because Jennifer Morrison’s surprise appearance as a corrupt police officer dazzled the screen every time she pops up. This was not only a new side to her that I have previously never seen, but Morrison knows what the film demands of her character, something the entirety of the ensemble just never come to grips with.

– Misogynistic and morally vapid to a tee. Besides the fact that the film wants us so terribly to root for Priest, despite the fact that he poisons the streets with the very same things that his antagonists do, the film ultimately has no strong, powerful female leads to fight back against thoughts that this franchise hasn’t aged very well since the 70’s. The very few actresses that are involved are left nothing to do but be in these forcefully cold threesome sex scenes that add nothing of sizzle or steak to audiences hungry for substance.

– The screenplay takes far too long to get to the heart of the conflict, and when it does it doesn’t even feel like the same direction we’ve been building towards. Priest’s opposition comes in the form of three different groups of antagonists. None of which are given the time they deserve, and all of which feel tightly shoved into a script that obviously doesn’t have confidence that it will be getting a sequel.

– As for the ending, it’s as neat and tidy as you can ask for. This film wraps up every conflict for better or worse in the span of five minutes of one another, and even worse our protagonist doesn’t seem like he has learned anything because of it. This would normally be a spoiler that I am revealing, but this remake took roughly 90% of the original ending, and just added some light tweaks that I won’t spoil here. It’s every bit as unsatisfying as it is uninspiring.

3/10

Ocean’s 8

Directed by Gary Ross

Starring – Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway

The Plot – Upon her release from prison, Debbie (Bullock), the estranged sister of legendary conman Danny Ocean, puts together a team of unstoppable crooks to pull of the heist of the century. Their goal is New York City’s annual Met Gala, and a necklace worth in excess of 150 million dollars.

Rated PG-13 for adult language, drug use, and some suggestive content

POSITIVES

– This film screams female empowerment. From the lavishly free-flowing gowns in fashion, to the ‘Girls do it better mentality’ that comes from such great lines like “A Man gets noticed, a woman doesn’t”, Ross puts together what feels like a female superhero film amongst newfound friends, and that good time is too infectious to simply ignore.

– Until the final fifteen minutes of the movie, the rules of the heist feel very grounded and telegraphed for audiences to understand. One of my main problems with the original three Ocean’s films is that it takes a great suspension of disbelief for them to be carried out, but Ross and Olivia Milch as screenwriters always keep us shoulder-to-shoulder with those composing the plans.

– Perfect casting. Considering this vastly accomplished cast has attained four Oscars, two Emmys, eight Grammy’s, and six Golden Globes, you couldn’t ask for better. It’s easy to see that these women had a great time on-set, and that endless energy is depicted firmly in the impeccable chemistry of some of Hollywood’s biggest A-listers bouncing off of one another. Bullock and Blanchett’s sisterhood unity is certainly the spark that lights the fuse, but it’s Hathaway’s bubbly satire of a Hollywood actress that keeps the wick burning. Anne easily steals any scene she is in, asking us to whimper for someone so spoiled, along the way.

– Very detailed look inside of posh Gala events. One thing is certainly clear midway through this film, and it’s that Ross spares no expense in the fashions, the decadent art pieces, and the big name cameos that surround the table. Katie Holmes, Kardashians, and even an interesting rival to Hathaway’s Daphne all come into frame, mastering the ideal of how big this event truly is.

– There aren’t many things that this film outright steals from the original movies, but one touch I’m glad about is the split transition scenes that add a style of flare and finesse to the production. Besides the usual three-cut pictures in focus that can move up or down out of frame, the ending also visually narrates with cyclone-like zoom angles what happened with each character after the heist concluded.

– Thankfully, this doesn’t feel the need to focus on an inevitable sequel, aiming instead to make this film the best it can be. The ending doesn’t exactly leave the door open for future installments, and if this is a one-off experiment, there’s enough focus and style under its roof for that to be enough.

NEGATIVES

– This is a breezy 102 minutes of film, even to the point of damaging some of the pacing of the story’s finer points. Particularly, the establishment of the team, as well as the heist itself constantly feels like it is on fast-forward. This in turn leaves the film without the kind of edginess needed to accentuate the tension.

– Going into the film, I had an idea of a twist that would happen with the ending, thanks to the less-than-stellar work of a pitiful trailer that gave away a certain spoiler-filled image. Sure enough, this idea came to fruition during the final fifteen minutes of the movie, and I hated every bit of it. Once you start to think about it, this heist should be a lot easier because of this late act development, but if it were it would compromise the film even more than its final minutes that don’t know when to end.

– In addition to that twist, I also didn’t like how this story of female empowerment and rogue rebellion eventually falls by the wayside of becoming a game of revenge because of some heart-breaking guy. Films with a female led cast tend to do this a lot, either because they don’t feel confident in their material, or because this is sadly the way Hollywood views women’s measures of importance. Either way, I would’ve left this subplot on the cutting room floor, keeping the focus where it belongs; on Bullock and company establishing women do it better.

– The relationship between Ocean family feels fresh out of a television sequel series that rarely talks or mentions it. When it does, it’s limited on exposition and never fleshes out the relationship between Danny and Debbie. This could’ve been a valuable cerebral angle that the film could’ve taken in exposing Debbie’s lost time with her brother, but instead it’s glossed over like cheap mascara.

6/10

Hotel Artemis

Directed by Drew Pearce

Starring – Jodie Foster, Sterling K Brown, Sofia Boutella

The Plot – Set in riot-torn, near-future Los Angeles, ‘Hotel Artemis’ follows the Nurse (Foster), who runs a secret, members-only emergency room for criminals. All hell breaks loose when one of the hotel patrons (Brown) gets his hands on a valuable asset that will turn their tranquil hotel into a turf battlefield.

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

POSITIVES

– The set pieces of the hotel are very elaborate and detailed for bringing together the relationship between hospitals and hotels. There are subtle hints at movies that display hospitals, in that there are blinking lights, isolated staff, and even that feeling of a world so far away from that of the outside. Yet the digs at the hotel side clearly make up the blueprint for the housing designs, as well as the interior decorating that speaks levels to some hotels ideas of tropical getaways in themed room designs.

– While the character exposition is as minimal as you’re going to find, this star-studded cast more than make up for the temporary dilemma. I could talk wonders about Sterling K Brown’s everyman approach to his taking of this thief, or Dave Batista’s continued comedic humbling for tearing down stereotypes for what big men can do in Hollywood, but it’s Foster and Boutella who easily stole the show for me. Foster gets lost in this character, juggling a conscience of sorrow and intelligence that makes it clearly evident why everyone turns to her in dire straights, and Boutella finally is granted a screenplay that allows her to find her own unique voice in the role, cutting and stacking bodies like they are bags of fertilizer.

– Hotel Artemis is marketed as an action flick, yet shows great restrain until the final twenty-five minutes of the film to stash its flash. We know that these are very dangerous people, but the film doesn’t deem it necessary to overly drive this point home, and because of such, we are treated to a rumbling third act that tests the walls both in Artemis and in theaters for rich sound design.

– Of course the legendary Cliff Martinez again serenades our ears with a gut-punching score that amplifies the tension behind every corner. Hotel Artemis constantly raises the stakes with each passing minute, and because of such, the gifted Martinez pushes the pace, constructing these dreamy, yet urgent levels of tone that never require repeating to flourish their message.

– This is the second film in two weeks (Upgrade) that injects itself with a futuristic sense of technology without feeling weighed down by the gimmick of presenting something visually surreal from our own world. Because Hotel Artemis is set only ten years in the future, there’s enough responsibility by Pearce as a screenwriter to keep us grounded in terms of the politics taking place outside of the wall, while also offering us an air of optimism for the mind-blowing advancements within the medical field that hint this world may have plenty of room to grow.

– Much of the camera work here is stylishly sleek, following characters with enough of a presence of lens without it ever coming across as compromising to the sequence. When the action finally does pick up, it is detected easily to the audience eye and leaves plenty of allowance for ambiance within the atmosphere to treat the overall presentation as poetry in motion. Boutella’s ass-kicking finale was something that carried with it an array of arsenal, yet I never felt behind or blinded by amateur filmmaking.

– It’s not often that I say this, but I would be all for a sequel or even sequels within this setting, due to the way the script hints at the challenges that such a desolate place would face if it came across the wrong customer. 92 minutes of screen time certainly limits the movements that this place can garner, and because of such, I would be interested in diving more into this futuristic pre-apocalypse with this back-handed building of health residing right in the middle of it all.

NEGATIVES

– This film does the famous cliche where the antagonists have guns, yet never choose to use them when the shit hits the fan. I can suspend disbelief for a few times, but when the film makes it a point in highlighting that people are denied access because of their firearms, I can only ask myself why those advantages don’t take shape once the rules are thrown out of the window.

– If you’re looking for a film of resolve, Hotel Artemis will only satisfy you for half of the cup. So much is introduced then never further elaborated on throughout the film, leading me to believe that this finished product is either a victim of slash-and-gash re-writes or Pearce as a screenwriter doesn’t think these subplots value much importance. Either way, what is the point?

– Because the film is a quick sit, character backstory and exposition are harshly limited to the minimalist of variety amongst thieves. What this does is present a film in which the characters don’t ever feel as remotely important as the setting they are all destined to, relying far too heavily on the talents of this cast to fill in the blanks where character motivations have left them feeling floundered. My feeling is that I would appreciate another twenty minutes not only in setting up the history of this hotel, but also in pacing out those confrontations amongst dangerous patrons that could help carve out more intrigue for a group so morally bankrupt who could all use more time.

7/10

Breaking In

Directed by James McTeigue

Starring – Gabrielle Union, Billy Burke, Richard Cabral

The Plot – Gabrielle Union stars as a woman who will stop at nothing to rescue her two children being held hostage in a house designed with impenetrable security. No trap, no trick and especially no man inside can match a mother with a mission when she is determined on Breaking In

Rated PG-13 for violence, menace, bloody images, sexual references, and brief strong adult language

POSITIVES

– Perhaps my single favorite element of this film was the red-light infused set pieces that amplify the tension in the areas where the screenplay doesn’t. There’s certainly an 80’s neon vibe being accentuated here, and even though it does feel practical as far as aesthetics go, it still sets the tone properly in the simplistic sense.

– While the film is short on exposition, the element of one-upmanship still prospers between Union and Burke’s characters. More so during the second half, the film consistently keeps upping the ante and passing off control of the situation to prove that there is no easy solution to this conflict.

– At 83 minutes, this is as easy of a theatrical sit as you’re going to get. The pacing is smooth, leaving very few down moments for audiences to check their watches.

– This is certainly a test of two wills, one determined to protect her children and one determined to attain the biggest score of his criminal career, and it’s in that contrast where we understand the similarities between each respective position. The stakes are simply too rich for either side to back down, and that mentality sets the stage for the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object.

– Major kudos to casting director Nancy Nayor for easing the lines of believability with this identical youthful cast. There are very few instances when a Mother/Daughter casting has ever been this in-sync with appearance, as Union and daughter Jasmine (Played by Ajiona Alexus) look like they could’ve been separated at birth.

– The setting of this house is not only ideal in the amount of space that the many unfolding scenarios are granted, but also in establishing the isolated atmosphere needed in the quiet playing tricks on our sound. Much of the rules from within are set early on and followed through with completely, combining a technological spin to enhance the twists and turns.

 

NEGATIVES

– Beyond this film’s edge being tainted by its PG-13 rating, it feels like this film was shaped to form that rating from something much more adult-like. Besides violent scenes being cropped out of frame, there’s also a few terrible A.D.R deposits that clearly muffle out vulgarities in catering to a more inclusive audience rating.

– None of the confrontation sequences feel honest in depiction. Quick edits and tight angles offer very few chances to dissect what is taking place on screen, and these motions commute that the chemistry and choreography may have been lacking between two dance partners of brutality.

– There wasn’t one single performance that I could really hang my hat on, despite the fact that no one truly does a terrible job in their acting. Most of the problem revolves around this screenplay that doesn’t offer this talented cast much meat to sink their teeth into with their respective characters. Even the four antagonists in the film feel very generic when compared to other late 90’s B-movie survive-the-nights.

– I appreciated that the screenplay attempted to give us something more with the backstory history between Union and her father, but it never forms into anything of depth for our central antagonist’s conquering of adversity. Disappointingly, this entire subplot isn’t even touched upon after the few initial instances that do nothing but say this woman probably didn’t have the best relationship with her Father. It’s a missed opportunity in reaching the levels of a film like 2000’s ‘Panic Room’, that has a near identical plot.

EXTRAS

– There is an odd final edit of the film, just before the credits. We get a long angle of the scenery, followed by a fade to black, and then nothing for a good twenty seconds before credits start rolling. Someone wasn’t paying attention to the sequencing involved with keeping the momentum inside of the conclusion.

6/10

Super Troopers 2

Directed by Jay Chandresekhar

Starring – Kevin Hefferman, Jay Chandresekhar, Steve Lemme

The Plot – When a border dispute arises between the U.S. and Canada, the Super Troopers are tasked with establishing a Highway Patrol station in the disputed area.

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

POSITIVES

– The chemistry is better than ever between the five members of the Broken Lizard squad. Through mountains of personality and an endless supply of ricochet banter, these troopers easily pick up the ball where they left it over sixteen years ago.

– There’s a surprisingly solid amount of poignant social commentary on Canada, as well as the United States that allows the finger to point back at those of us who are firing the shots. When you really think about it, for everything that we say about Canada, it’s all materialistic, when America is deeply rooted in social and economical problems that (like the troopers themselves) we’ve turned a blind eye to.

– When I saw the trailer, I was scared completely that this film, like other comedy sequels before it, would rely far too heavily on the first movie. Thankfully, that wasn’t an issue at all, as I counted only four examples of jokes and puns from the first movie coming into play. This allows ‘Super Troopers 2’ to carve out its own respective chapter, proving that as a writer Chandresekhar is no one trick pony.

– High intensity chase sequences. Considering the entirety of this film was funded by fan donations, it’s mind-blowing to see how beautifully sequenced and adrenaline-fueled the camera work is for the picture. The opening involving two cameos is probably my favorite scene in the movie for this exact reason, and it nails home the thought that a comedy can overachieve if sequences out the most enticing camera angles.

– As a director, what I appreciate from Chandresekhar is the selflessness that he commands in taking a noticeable backseat to the rest of his co-stars. His character was arguably one of the more focal points of the original film, and here it’s obvious that he’s playing a supporting cast mate to those adorned with more lines of dialogue. He knows what and who to exploit the most in this sequel, and his influence behind the camera is needed much more than on-screen where no fewer than five other characters maintain the weight.

– Whether you view this film as stupid or intriguing, I think audiences will be won over by the feel good atmosphere that this second chapter indulges in. Leaving the theater, I knew this film was miles behind the first movie, but I couldn’t shake that undeniable feeling that this movie gave me 95 minutes of fun and excitement that a majority of comedy sequels blunder away. It’s a passion project at its finest, and through that inspiration we see five friends who are above all else having fun reclaiming the roles that helped them steal the show nearly two decades ago.

NEGATIVES

– While I did mention that the comedy doesn’t follow in the shadow too closely of the original film, I can’t say the same for the structure of the script. From a drug bust intro, to a rivalry with another local police force, to an ending resolution that practically screams redundancy, this script could’ve tried a lot harder in voiding itself of the predictability that weighed it down heavily.

– Because this is a sequel to a movie that hit it big, there are no shortage of celebrity cameos. None of them are too offensive, just rather pointless. When I get a cameo, I want it to leave lasting weight on the remainder of the movie, and with the exception of Rob Lowe as a hockey player-turned-mayor and Emmanuelle Chriqui as the new love interest for one of the troopers (There’s that first movie again), a majority of those one-off actors serve as nothing but a wink and nod to those of you paying attention at home.

– I get that this film is a goofball comedy, but has anyone in Broken Lizard ever heard of a Canadian or French Canadian accent?? There are examples in this film of supposed Canadian characters whose accents sound closer to Indian, Italian, Swedish, and even African more than Canadian. What’s even better is that none of them are consistent from scene to scene.

– The law of averages with laughter is noticeably lacking when compared to the first film. While I did laugh a lot during this sequel, I can say that what hinders the lasting power is how long the cast will sometimes beat a joke into the ground, or how repetitive the material can feel. One such example is a joke involving Fred Savage that eventually gets a payoff at the end of the movie, but isn’t worth the mind-numbing amount of times it’s mentioned throughout.

6/10

Beirut

Directed by Brad Anderson

Starring – Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Mark Pellegrino

The Plot – A U.S. diplomat (Hamm) flees Lebanon in 1972 after a tragic incident at his home. Ten years later, he is called back to war-torn Beirut by CIA operatives (Pike) to negotiate for the life of a friend he left behind. (Formerly titled High Wire Act)

Rated R for adult language, some violence, and a brief nude image

THE POSITIVES

– Razor Sharp Editing and technical prowess. Much of the scene transitions and man-to-man perspective conversation pieces rattle off of one another with the kind of precision that constantly keeps the audience engaged. In addition to this, I also greatly appreciated the incorporated images of historic Beirut film that cinematographer Bjorn Charpentier pulls from marvelously for visual design work.

– Excellent communication in storytelling. While I felt that the film struggled in informing us of the ugly and dangerous pasts between those at war, I did feel that at least the tone and conscious of the environment was replicated wonderfully. In particular, Hamm’s intro to the film divulges a sad-but-humorously true metaphor for why this place is plagued with the reputation it has garnered for itself.

– Most of the performances come and go, but as a lead Hamm dissects his character as two different people, before and after the incident, and does wonders in cementing the leading man status he’s always yearned for. The most evident difference between these sides is that this now feels like a man scarred by his past and his newfound hatred for what this hostile land has taken from him.

– The characters are written as so much more than good versus evil, and cater more to the shade of grey that allows you to understand every motivation for said action.

– Two supercharged twists that absorb great weight in the overall growing complexity of the story. What matters most of all is that these twists make sense, an art that many films can’t seem to connect when drawing the dots together.

– What’s interesting about this screenplay is how one vivid night that only affects a small group of friends has a butterfly effect with where screenwriter Tony Gilroy’s spy thriller goes. There’s a reason why Hamm’s character is called upon, and everything lines up in a kind of air-tight execution that Gilroy attained in films like The Bourne trilogy.

THE NEGATIVES

– There are impactful, albeit brief action sequences in the very beginning and very end of the film. This makes it difficult to attain the thriller tag in ‘Spy Thriller’, doing nothing but harm to the already tiptoe pacing that is fading away before our eyes.

– Hamm’s character suffers from alcoholism, and this plot device is very seldom used in generating something of a character flaw for him to overcome. It’s a kind of tell-not-show kind of exposition that is rarely if at all explored and never adds any kind of growing concern to the way he performs under pressure.

– I had a major problem with the overall lack of Muslim actors and characters in the film who weren’t terrorists. I get that terrorism is associated with a lot of their people in this instance, but in an era where White-washing is all the craze, maybe offer some examples of diversity for dissection in instilling the thought that not all Muslims are gun-toting terrorists.

– The screenplay was written in 1991, and that’s clearly evident for how the film misuses Rosamund Pike’s leading lady character. Pike makes the most of what limited opportunity, but it’s a shame that in a character who surprisingly has a lot of resolve with this particular plot doesn’t exactly come across as a major player in a male dominated ensemble.

6/10