The Favourite

Directed By Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring – Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz

The Plot – Early 18th century. England is at war with the French. Nevertheless, duck racing and pineapple eating are thriving. A frail Queen Anne (Colman) occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah (Weisz) governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne’s ill health and mercurial temper. When a new servant Abigail (Stone) arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing and Abigail sees a chance at a return to her aristocratic roots. As the politics of war become quite time consuming for Sarah, Abigail steps into the breach to fill in as the Queen’s companion. Their burgeoning friendship gives her a chance to fulfill her ambitions and she will not let woman, man, politics or rabbit stand in her way.

Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity and adult language

POSITIVES

– A trio of award worthy performances. Most films are fortunate enough to contain one breakthrough performance that earns its film recognition, in the form of word of mouth, but “The Favourite” is fortunate enough to have three, a testament to Lanthimos’ tight grip on his characters. Colman adds enough dimension and complexity to this Queen that reaches much further than her being just another spoiled recluse of royalty. There’s an air of sadness and loneliness to her that makes her engaging, despite her endless riches that no audience can relate to. Weisz also marvels as this sternly plotting right hand woman to the Queen’s operations. She does so with very little physical interaction and no yelling during her long-winded threats, and it’s all capped off by Rachel’s cold measuring stare that lets you know an idea is always brewing behind this exterior. The show stealer for me however, is definitely Emma Stone, channeling a transformative performance that adds yet another layer to the young starlet. Abigail knows how to get what she wants, and her sponge-like perception to soak up the boundaries in every situation is what makes her every bit as cunning and deceptive as her counterparts in power.

– The fine use of natural lighting throughout the picture. Aside from Yorgos’ expected cold, greying cinematography that feels more appropriate than ever during 18th century England, the presentational aspect of dimmed lighting and lustrous shadows provides much artistic integrity to the creativity in every shot. This unflinching darkness enveloping these auburn reds and sunlight orange tapestries tend to follow these character for the entirety of the film, visually conveying the ulterior motives behind every act of kindness that only serve as table dressing. This decision articulately channels the cold and insensitive surroundings of the immense mansion, and gives way to filters of colorful expression that never compromise the focus of any shot.

– Lanthimos, the master magician of the lens. In his previous films “The Lobster” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”, Yorgos used unorthodox camera angles and gimmicks to emit this layer of unsettling atmosphere that really allows the audience to immerse themselves in the interpretation, and we thankfully have more of the same here. Particularly in the use of fish-eye lens, the occasional inclusion feels foreign to the rest of its visual counterparts, allowing us these moments of valued focus to soak up the ever-changing scenery. Aside from this, Yorgos’ movements of the camera are always smooth and patient, never settling for handheld camera work that would otherwise distract from the artistic integrity of the portrait being painted before us. This tells me that this is a man who knows the best bang in every aspect of shooting a film, and “The Favourite” is easily his most technically ambitious film to date.

– A sensational game of cat-and-mouse. The rivalry between Abigail and Sarah in the film is easily the sell of it all for anyone who has seen the trailers, and it more than delivers on its pitch thanks to a combination of unpredictability and consequence that constantly raises the stakes. This provides plenty of examples of psychological and physical displays of power between them, and the film is wise enough to constantly keep them leveled evenly, so as not to sway the audience’s decision for who the Queen is better off with, one way or the other. There are many times during the film when the balance of power switches and unforgivable actions takeover, and it forced me to switch my opinion several times for these two dueling dames, providing emphasis for a circumstance so complex.

– Chapter title screens. The entirety of the 115 minute film is divided into these eight devilishly delicious sections, each numbered by Roman numerals, and supplanted with a pulled cryptic quote from somewhere in the film’s dialogue. Many films have been doing the storybook approach lately, but why it works so well for this story in particular is the ambiguity and double meaning of the quotes themselves, to constantly keep you guessing in terms of where this story will take us. There is nothing mentioned in text that ever remotely serves as a revealing spoiler, preserving the quality to constantly keep us guessing while giving importance to the value of episodic storytelling.

– Accuracy in wardrobe and costume design. Mark my words, “The Favourite” will earn an Oscar nomination in the wardrobe department, and the reason for this is the collection of rich Bohemian gowns and expressive makeup design that durably channel the era of England that it’s depicting. With a series of elegant dinner parties and Parlament courts under the roof of this royal mansion of frequent guests, we learn that no cent is spared in the fashion sense of production design, and more importantly it all stays consistent with the respective time period (Take notes “Robin Hood”).

– One thing that I love about Lanthimos’ tones in his films is his ability to channel this comfortable blend between comedy and drama that breeds a subgenre of its own. Considering the shocking and dramatic pull of the material inside of these twists and turns, I wasn’t expecting to laugh half as much as I did. This dry, caustic kind of wit is made for someone like me, who has always seen the charm in English humor that is otherwise considered strange to my territory. The expressionless deliveries of some of these lines occasionally require double takes to let the punchline reach the heights of the quiet surrounding it, and the lunacy of royalty while eating and dancing is more than approached on to give ridiculous emphasis to something that should otherwise be considered prestigious.

– Johnnie Burn and William Lyons riveting use of classical music. There’s a strong compromise here of soft time-honored pieces combined with modern day production quality that gives new life to the music that adorns the film, and makes for a racketing of tension to flow freely into each scene. There is one such number that got a bit derivative for how long its same three tones are repeated throughout the scene, but everything else is delivered with such thunderous volume and echo to make it feel like the music plays throughout the house, instead of just accompanied in post production incorporation.

– Thought-provoking in the way it incorporates provocative subject matter with historical figures of yesterday. I don’t want to give too much away, but a revelation about the Queen happens thirty minutes into the film, and changes the complexion of this cousin rivalry moving forward. What I liked about this aspect was how it’s approached in terms of its shock factor towards its delicate time period, acting as a sort of weakness for her character during a time period when such personal ideals were anything but progressive. Where it crosses over to psychological for me is thinking about the possibility that many royal figures were just like Anne in this movie, in that they died with their own kind of secrets in their minds.

NEGATIVES

– For my money, the film feels slightly uneven after the incredible pacing and blow-for-blow battle for leverage during the first half of the movie. Once this angle runs out of gas, the second half, and more particularly the third act, is left to close things up in ways that don’t feel satisfying, conclusive to the progression of the narrative itself, nor believable for the Queen considering what we’ve been taught about her. I understand the point of the film’s closing shot intention accurately enough, but it loses so much steam by the redundancy of the final act that you wish it would just cut to the chase already. It stretches out for what feels like miles, and serves as the only point during the film when I wasn’t having a blast.

My Grade: 9/10 or A-

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Directed By Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman

Starring – Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld

The Plot – Miles Morales (Moore) comes across the long-dead Peter Parker (Johnson). This Peter Parker is not from his world though; he’s from somewhere else in the multiverse. With Parker’s guidance, Miles will become Spider-Man: and through that he will become part of the ever-expanding ‘Spider-Verse’.

Rated PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild adult language

POSITIVES

– Comic book magazine come to life. There have been films classified as a comic book movie endlessly before, but “Into the Spider-Verse” is the rare exception that actually lives and breathes by this definition. Aside from the breathtaking cinematography that literally transfers the backdrops and landscapes of the comic book accordingly, the movie also brings with it some unique traits in personality that sets it above its kin of the genre. As an animator turned director, Persichetti instills on-screen text that reacts to sounds, on-screen text boxes that serve as the narrator inside of Morales’s mind, three-cut perspectives that radiate that side-by-side feel of a comic book dynamic, and of course the wind range of animation from each respective Spider-Man in the film, that cohesively bonds to feel smoothly in the same film or in this case universe.

– Entrancing visuals in animation. Everything from the variety of ever-changing set designs, including but not limited to a cyberpunk inspired 2018 New York, to the texture of the animation itself, feels every bit as authentic as it does transcendent of the screen, carving out that layer of comic book euphoria that takes precise expertise to competently master it. Sometimes the animation feels straining, like watching a 3D movie without the glasses, but it’s all intentional, as it echoes the vibes perfectly of comic book pages that sometimes lose a little bit of that focus in being the victim of a copy of a copy. But when it’s smooth in depiction, “Into the Spider-Verse” is not only the most beautiful comic book movie of all time, but easily the most beautifully textured film of the year for the knockout presentation that constantly raises the bar with each passing minute.

– Transformative voice acting from a well rounded cast. Shameik Moore is brilliant as the film’s central protagonist, vocalizing the combination of immaturity, fear, and daring nature that we’ve come to expect in the character, from Miles big screen debut. Moore himself is 23 years old, but excels because of a softer and gentler side to vocalizing that easily allows him to immerse himself in this teenage nerd of sorts. Likewise, Nicolas Cage is delightfully meditated as my favorite Spider-Man offering: Spider-Man Noir. His voice is unmistakable, but the smooth deliveries in the manner that only Cage can deliver makes him perfect for the role, and carves out a second animated role of the year (Teen Titans Go To The Movies) that should provide a rebirth for one of America’s most celebrated actors. Jake Johsnon steals the show as Peter Parker, and does so by giving us an older, depressed side to Peter that movie fans aren’t used to seeing. Johnson’s dry delivery and constant undercutting of Miles made for some of my favorite exchanges of the movie, and carved out a dynamic in chemistry between them that had me begging for more films between just these two characters.

– Like most Spider-Man movies, there is a twist midway through the film, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Between weak underwriting of the antagonists, as well as a story that was starting to lose steam, this reveal comes and sort of adds fuel to Miles’s fire, serving as the catalyst to motivate him to become who he’s destined to be. This twist actually did throw me off, and reminded me repeatedly of the one thing that comic books do better than telvision shows or movies, and that is the capability to make something so small feel so devastating to everyone enveloped in the unraveling narrative.

– Thunderous sound design. Although the narration deliveries are a bit mumbled and hard to hear throughout the film, the rumbling intensity of character perspectives allowed the audience several takes to investing themselves into the shoes of the character. One such example is early on in the film during a ride to school between Miles and his father, and we are treated to the faint sounds of cars whizzing by. Sounds small in effect, but I can’t tell you how many movies bumble this sound design repeatedly, taking something so honest as influence of environment and wiping it away to constantly remind us of studio interference. This of course isn’t the only aspect of this impactful sound scheme throughout, but just an example of how much time and effort went in to establishing an environment and seeing it all the way through to the finish line of the scene’s progression.

– Patience in storytelling. What I appreciate about the story inside is that it never feels rushed or forced to approach the same kind of familiar tropes that so many of these films are about. As much as this is a coming of age story for Miles, it’s also a family drama, and the elements of both of these slow cook, giving time to each to boil to the top once they’ve reached their respective intensities. Likewise, I also appreciated Miles growing into his capabilities as Spider-Man, instead of being great at them right away. This drives me nuts constantly in Spider-Man films because no one should be able to master these gifts without practice, and Morales’s story finally gives us insight, as well as concentration into the one who accepts these responsibilities.

– Doesn’t try to be something that it’s not with time allowance. So many superhero films are encroaching on that two-and-a-half hour mark with very little reason, but “Into the Spider-Verse” stays confidently firm at 108 minutes because that is how much story it has to tell. Because of this, the pacing feels smooth, never giving us an obvious moment of downtime or lag to the progression of the movie, nor the bottling of momentum that never manages to lose even a single drop. I was very much consistently invested in this story and characters, and this feeling gave off the impression that I was being re-introduced to the superhero genre all over again.

– The more you know. The film will appeal to fans young and old of Spider-Man all the same, but if you have followed this legendary character with more dedication, you will be rewarded for your years and dollars invested. Throughout the film, we are treated to an endless offering of inside character jokes, surprising cameo appearances, and a post credits scene that pokes fun at a certain meme that is all the talk of the comic book community. Aside from this, the humor is above average, and more importantly does so by providing observation at the honest, awkward moments of life, instead of catering to a set-up and delivery that can otherwise grow tiresome.

– Thrilling action sequences and set pieces that add to the intensity of the scene. Much of the fresh consistency comes from the variety of villains that adorn the film, but two sequences in particular stood out as fantasy in possibility that remind us why animated is the way to go for comic book lore. One such scene takes place with Peter and Miles swinging throughout the woods of what feels like an endless forest, giving us several intelligent uses of the web that a city setting just can’t accommodate, and the other is the film’s climax fight high above the city limits, at crossroads of the many universes we’ve been told about. Both of these scenes are great for their super quick arsenals of choreography that exchange like dance partners, but the true beauty and consequences of the latter gave us a finale with a familiar antagonist that fully realizes the Miles transformation.

NEGATIVES

– For my money, I could’ve used more development in the relationship between Uncle Aaron (Voiced by Mahershala Ali) and Miles. We’re constantly told what Aaron means to Miles, but rarely shown it, and I could’ve used a few more scenes to flesh out and truly feel the drama of something that goes down between them. Even if this is nit-picking at this point, this stands out like a sore thumb as the film’s most noticeable weakness, and I could’ve used a couple more scenes to magnify Aaron’s importance to the script and give the movie enough reason to reach for that two hour runtime.

My Grade: 9/10 or A

Green Book

Directed By Peter Farrelly

Starring – Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini

The Plot – When Tony Lip (Mortensen), a bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx, is hired to drive Dr. Don Shirley (Ali), a world-class Black pianist, on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South, they must rely on “The Green Book” to guide them to the few establishments that were then safe for African-Americans. Confronted with racism, danger-as well as unexpected humanity and humor-they are forced to set aside differences to survive and thrive on the journey of a lifetime.

Rated PG-13 for thematic content, adult language including racial epithets, smoking, some violence and suggestive material

POSITIVES

– The powerful dynamic between the two leads that keeps your attention throughout the film. There are very few scenes when Mortensen and Ali aren’t sharing the screen together, and that dependency speaks volumes to the confidence that the script writers had on their unshakeable chemistry, which is appealing in any and every way you can imagine. Besides their impeccably witty banter that I couldn’t get enough of, and firm grasp that each actor had on their character, the duo each do a positive service to the other, like how Tony breaks down decades old levels of racism in how he was brought up, and Don adapts to the cultures and experiences that have eluded him in his classical music upbringing. Each character opens up the eyes to the other, and it’s refreshing to see two older male leads who work better as a team than they do solely.

– Speaking of those two men, the performances from them are more than deserving of Oscar consideration, and consistently keep pace with each character’s evolution. For Mortensen’s Tony, he’s every bit naive as he is disgusting, and it’s in the unabashed nature of the latter that keeps the former in the range of childhood innocence. He says some pretty offensive things, but you get the feeling that he doesn’t know any better, and Viggo’s charisma is constantly on display. For Don, it’s a classier side of Ali that we unfortunately haven’t seen until now. Mahershala keeps Don bottled up for most of the movie, restrained by the confines of countrywide racism and isolation, as a result of his astonishing talents. Ali continues to build lengthy presence on screen, and his designation as the straight man to Tony’s mayhem never limits him to playing second fiddle.

– In seeing the trailers, I designated this as just another road trip film, with sprinkles of racist tribulations thrown in, and I couldn’t have been more wrong in that assumption. Sure, the elements of that subgenre are certainly there, but they’re only an outline to cater to a much bigger picture. The film’s meaty material guides us through elements of racial stereotypes, police brutality, and obviously the cultural divide between the north and south. This film takes on so many subplots, and yet it succeeds at stirring the pot of conversation in every single one of them. Eventually, it even evolves into one hell of a Christmas movie, during the emotionally stirring third act that warmed my heart in ways that only the Christmas classics have done. I haven’t felt this emotionally satisfied from a film in quite some time, and its important subject matter makes it very time appropriate for our particular age.

– Unorthodox introduction. There are no opening credits or title card in the film. This is done as a way to immerse audiences into the action of the opening scene, and ultimately makes them forget that they’re watching a film. I would like to see more movies taking creative stances like this one, as I feel too much is hung on the conventional introductions that have otherwise become stale in films. With more emphasis on the transcendence of real life, the film can blend into the real story taking place at hand. Beyond this, some of the real life Vallelonga family members are extras during family dinner scenes.

– Peter Farrelly’s strongest work to date. Yes, it’s the same guy who wrote the ear jizz scene in “There’s Something About Mary”, but this is Peter’s welcoming parade into the world of compelling drama and hearty lessons, that audiences can take home with them. What’s most impressive is Farrelly’s ability to incorporate the same kind of comedic material that exists in his previous movies, and balances it with the dramatic pulse in material that adorns the film, and none of it ever misses a step. This keeps the optimism firmly in the air of a consistent tone for the film, and it’s an example that no director in Hollywood should ever be written off before the project is finished.

– The look and feel of 1962 is represented fruitfully with an earnestness to captures that radiates. There wasn’t a single aspect of the vintage automobiles, three piece suits, or throwback hotel interiors that didn’t sync up, and it’s great to see a film that captures the beats of its respective era by properly channeling the vibes of everything prominently familiar about it. Visually, this is an America we’re no longer accustomed to, and it gives food for thought for the picket fences format, in that the most disturbing things are happening in the most ideal looking backdrops.

– We’ve seen this kind of story before, but what transcends the material of the cliches within this screenplay, is the poignancy of it being based on a true story. These were two men who remained best friends until their dying days, only months apart from each other, and the film does a strong enough job of juggling the expectations of a real life story with the entertainment value of a screenplay, only changing about the story what wouldn’t have otherwise translated well on-screen. It’s also got great adaptability as a crossover favorite for mainstream audiences, highlighting a similar track to some recent best picture winners that previously started off as just independent buzzworthy cinema.

– Contrary to what you’re seeing on-screen, Mahershala Ali does not play the piano, but the film does a great enough job in camera manipulation and sound editing to properly attain this believability. Kris Bowers, the film’s musical composer, doubles as Ali in his piano sequences, and in particularly hand close-ups that attain the movements of a reputable pianist superbly. When Ali is obviously in frame, the audio from the piano is muted and replaced with Bowers masterful work, carving out times when I really did question whether Ali took classes as a pianist, leading up to the film.

– One aspect that a lot of road trip movies forget about is properly channeling the distance in miles to properly articulate the distance from home, and thankfully “Green Book” doesn’t fall under this same spell. In addition to its over two hour run time, the majority of which is spent on the road, the film takes us through a variety of landscapes and cultures to echo that of the melting pot known as America. This is a film that takes its time in illustrating the perils of isolation on the road, making the months feel like years, and the appreciation of things absent from sight that much more meaningful once the reunion takes center stage.

NEGATIVES

– There’s a subplot twist that happens with Shirley’s character midway through the film, that I wish the movie would’ve further elaborated on. In addition to people’s prejudice against him as an African American man, this would’ve only further enhanced the fight against that hatred, and for a scene that changes much about the way we view Shirley, it’s quickly disposed of, to never be mentioned again. This is the one example when a character needed further fleshed out. I could’ve also used more time devoted to Shirley’s estranged brother, who is occasionally brought up to represent Don’s loneliness.

My Grade: 9/10 or A

Boy Erased

Directed By Joel Edgerton

Starring – Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe

The Plot – Tells the story of Jared (Hedges), the son of a Baptist pastor in a small American town, who is outed to his parents (Kidman and Crowe) at age 19. Jared is faced with an ultimatum: attend a conversion therapy program – or be permanently exiled and shunned by his family, friends, and faith. “Boy Erased” is the true story of one young man’s struggle to find himself while being forced to question every aspect of his identity.

Rated R for sexual content including an assault, some adult language and brief drug use

POSITIVES

– As effective of a film as you’re going to get. Part of the reason that I have enjoyed Edgerton as a screenwriter thus far, is the real life issues in our own world that are often misunderstood and presented with clarity when given the proper time and commentary to enhance the wisdom of his audience, and “Boy Erased” measures up to this in spades. There were many parts in the film that angered me for what so many endure because of who they want to love. There were many parts that made me laugh because of the silliness of Christian ideals when brought into contact with anything that soils the sanctity of what they deem ideal. There were also many parts when I indulged in Jared’s struggle, and wanted to hug him for everything he went through. If you’re looking for a film to invest yourself in, this one will hook you from the moment the first shot goes up.

– Edward Grau’s personality behind the lens. Not only is the film shot beautifully, in all of the soft colors of atmosphere that soak in the very serene and status quo of the American household, but also the examples of gay interaction are shot with such respect and intimacy for those engaged in it, giving the sequence the same kind of structure and merit that we expect every time we see a man and a woman exude levels of passion towards each other. Grau’s scope understands that these are people above everything else, and his tight, informative angles highlight LBGT relations in a way that very few films have succeeded at, sadly.

– Edgerton as a director. “Boy Erased” for me was a much bigger improvement for Joel than his previous movie “Loving”. Not that I hated that film, but one thing missing for me was the proper atmosphere and weight involved in the battles that his protagonists were going through, and that couldn’t be further from the truth for this movie. Just something as simple as a dinner table scene centered around this family grips us with such a feeling of confining anxiety, and the way Edgerton makes sure to focus on the little things, like lack of eye contact, or parental facial registry, goes a long way in accurately articulating Jared’s feeling of isolation for who he really is. Joel masters this, and does it by writing, directing, and starring once again in his picture, and it’s clearly evident that this man is not easily jaded or rattled by overwhelming responsibility.

– Moving performances all around the table. What I love about the work of the three main stars is they’re each given ample timing and patience for the proper moment to take over a scene, and prove their level of depth as long-accomplished actors. Kidman’s love is often her dilemma, often toeing the line between father and son in the same way she now finds herself between love and hate. Crowe’s commitment to this preacher character feels very synthetic, and while he never requires a long line of dialogue to feel award worthy, his intimidating stature as a man of god first and a loving provider second is something that constantly feels unnerving the more you unravel about his character. Hedges is a revolution, plain and simple. This young star continues to take on characters who are every bit as expansive as they are honest to the moviegoers watching at home, and his on-cue delivery for watery eyes and bottled up emotional registry are something that he unleashes like a superpower, giving us frequent goosebumps for the occasion.

– There’s a kind of post-90’s familiarity to the setting, even though the film never mentions when it takes place in. From the soundtrack giving us songs by rock band Seether or soul singer Troye Sivian, or the inclusion of the Sega Genesis classic video game “Mortal Kombat”, the film has an enriched center of culture that surprisingly keep it undated for all of the same reasons it rightfully should be. What’s even more impressive is that none of these things feel out of place or forced upon us, instead generating an outline for teenage sights and sounds that put the fun in nostalgic ambiance.

– As for the musical score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, there’s a surprisingly overwhelming feeling of horror tones used for the occasion that appropriately set the mood for what’s transpiring at this disgusting place of gay conversion. Considering the material is every bit as horrifying and shocking in the revelatory sense, the dual composers take advantage of such a feat, echoing these ominous and rattling instrumentals with the kind of ferocity to really make them stand out. There were many times during the film where I felt like I was indeed watching a horror movie, and the composition, that was slightly leading towards this, all but confirmed the suspicions of the devious activity that was taking place. Sometimes the biggest evils are the ones right within the characters of our society that we deem acceptable, and this realization plays hand-in-hand with such a damp delivery from Bensi and Jurriaans.

– Which brings me to my next point: this film carries with it a great sense of urgency and importance. Edgerton never allows anything to feel counterfeit, instead placing all of the pieces together and letting them play out, so the audience gauges their own response from it. At the end of the film, we are reminded by some pre-credit stats how this disgusting practice still takes place today, and for something that feels so prehistoric is actually prevalent now more than ever. This is alarming, but provides a great message supplanted between nearly two hours of film, and that is to love and embrace our children for who they are, not what they are.

– Visually rendering for the real life people the story is based on. A credit picture reveals to us the likeness of these trio of characters, and considering you have some familiarly good looking actors like Crowe and Kidman, the props and wardrobe department busted their asses in bringing the similarities between these two sides closer to light. Part of the thing that bothers me in movies is when an actor doesn’t feel right for a role because of the immense differences in their physical appearances, but the casting agent here deserves great credit for drafting so respectfully close to the story.

– The film does feature a scene that many moviegoers won’t appreciate, but it should be commended for its brutal honesty and tastefulness in shot composition that leaves much to the imagination. This is again a nod to Edgerton for knowing what little and big he requires out of each individual scene, and for my money the scene felt necessary, but also positively restrained for how bad it really could’ve gotten.

NEGATIVES

– Violent time jumps that can sometimes rattle the transition between scenes. This happens a lot during the first act of the film, when Jared’s past and present day narratives feel like they’re on a converging course. My problem is that it’s done in such a way that feels like a nagging distraction, often taking a few minutes to figure out where in the story we are placed before that connection continues forward. Likewise, the four year time jump towards the end of the film felt unnecessary, and takes us out of the unraveling drama during the time when it feels at its most intense.

My Grade: 9/10 or A

Beautiful Boy

Directed By Felix Van Groeningen

Starring – Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, Maura Tierney

The Plot – Based on the best-selling pair of memoirs from father and son David (Carell) and Nic Sheff (Chalamet), “Beautiful Boy” chronicles the heartbreaking and inspiring experience of survival, relapse, and recovery in a family coping with addiction over many years.

Rated R for drug content throughout, adult language, and brief sexual material

POSITIVES

– An intimate and paralyzing depiction of drug use. It’s no secret that drug addiction doesn’t just hurt the person engaged in the activity, it also hurts those loved ones surrounding the taker, and “Beautiful Boy” targets this effect with a lot of focus on those supporting characters who otherwise wouldn’t have a lot of weight to the unfolding narrative. In particular, it’s the flushed faces of the two child siblings in the film that emotionally drained me, giving way to a thought process from within of two innocent people born into a world where they will be subjected to pain that they have zero control over. It’s a conscious reminder that addictions are like a black hole, in that they take down many people uninvolved, and shape those we love into shadows of their former selves.

– Responsible in its informative stance. When I watch a film about dysfunction of any kind, I like to see a script that takes the time to educate audiences on the feelings and consequences from within. I myself have never done drugs, but the film gave me a layered outline in terms of the effects, as well as the abysmal success rate in curing the disease. What’s even more credible is that it doesn’t ever feel forced or compromising to the scene, treating us instead like Carell’s character, who at the same time is learning about the enemy by getting as close to it as he can.

– A story like this only works if you are invested into the characters, and far beyond some calculated performances that I will get to later, the film tugs at the heart by guiding us through multiple timelines of this family, that include Nic’s character as a younger boy. In comparing and contrasting these respective eras, Groenigen forces us to look deep to the child inside, touching us with this unshakeable feeling of innocence being erased. Beyond this, the similarities in appearance between Chalamet, Kue Lawrence, and Jack Dylan Grazer might be the single most believability in aging process that I’ve ever seen.

– A couple of Oscar worthy performances. Carell and Chalamet are names you’re going to be hearing at the Academy for decades to come, and what’s so captivating about their work here is that they aren’t transforming into a historical figure, or donning loads of makeup to become someone they’re not, instead they are two HUMAN characters whose realness is their most striking quality. For Carell, it’s in his hauntingly stirring facial registries, as well as the gentleness and love he invests into the single most important person in his life. For Chalamet, it’s the ability to play someone so vulnerable, yet conniving when it comes to seeking what he needs to satisfy the craving. It’s evident to see the differences between his Nic as a typical teenager and as what this needle has done in drawing out someone who beyond facial likeness we don’t even recognize. Together, these two are every bit as convincing as they are dedicated to their respective roles, and “Beautiful Boy” gives us these moments of goosebumps because of the mountain of chemistry that they share through the many ups and downs of life.

– Cinematographer Reuben Impens single best work to date. I thought 2016’s “Raw” reveled in the subtlety of color scheme to the graphic material, but it’s his work here that proves he is growing as a master of the lens. In addition to the gorgeously dreary Northern California countryside to catch our attention with all of its firns and mountainside curves, Impens is able to visually seduce us with some soft, serene coloring in atmosphere that metaphorically emits the somber tapestry in such a depressing narrative. Atmosphere is an aspect to filmmaking that doesn’t get enough credit outside of the world of horror, and the benefits of someone as talented as Reuben force you to pay attention during scenes of downtime between the thunder.

– Divisive ending. Coming out of my theater, a few people were moaning at the lack of answers and clarity from a mostly ambiguous ending, but for me it worked in relating the never-ending battle that one endures in shaking addiction. Without spoiling anything, there’s only two honest ways that addiction can end, and I commend a movie’s bravery for leaving us with a final image that, although not satisfying in terms of Hollywood endings, does relate the struggle and uncertainty with sobriety.

– Patient camera work that articulately captured the moment. I commend the editing in the film for sticking with some unnerving long takes during one-on-one conversation scenes, giving us the opportunity to soak in more of the facial souring and building gut-punch within our stomachs that the film so chalantly tampers with. It’s easy to overlook these kind of important sequences if an editor is over-zealous in their work, cutting the heat of the moment in half with far too many cuts, but the work here is commendable, and never looks away from what transpires, no matter how awkward or unpleasant it feels.

– Non-linear storytelling that captures the psychology of the two male leads. What I love about this element of flashing back so frequently, is that it offers us context whether it be in the form of an object or a location, where the two men have shared time. This also gives food for thought, in that we are given a series of possible leads into Nick’s rising habit, offering a conversation starter for what moviegoers could think are the elements of enabling that make it more possible. This angle of storytelling can feel a bit abrupt, especially during the first act of the movie, when the desire to overuse this aspect does feel slightly repetitive, but it slows down and eventually settles in to the pacing of the story, working together with the mounting weight of the film’s progression.

– It’s interesting that even through a screenplay that stays committed to the perils of drug addiction, the film rarely felt repetitive or derivative to me. I think a lot of this is in the constant raising of the stakes through each trial of tribulation that David combats throughout, feeling like he’s pulled in deeper by Nic’s betrayals as the film progresses, but the other thought is in storytelling that constantly keeps the pacing at bay. To say I was firmly locked into this film is the understatement of the year, and it’s a major example of all of the ingredients working together to make something exceptionally nourishing in its poignancy.

NEGATIVES

– Not a fan of the film’s musical score. I have tried to search far and wide for the composer for this film, and have gotten nothing in return. I can only assume that he/she is remaining incognito because of the jarring and instrumentally inconsistent tones in the film, that don’t match the mood or the tempo of the story. Some of these numbers feel like they belong in a horror movie, while others could be background music for the soft piano of “Murder She Wrote”. It simply didn’t work for me, and serves as the only glaring negative because of how distracting it felt every time it popped up.

My grade: 9/10 or A

The Hate U Give

Directed By George Tillman Jr

Starring – Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby

The Plot – Starr Carter (Stenberg) is constantly switching between two worlds: the poor, mostly black, neighborhood where she lives and the rich, mostly white, prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil (Algee Smith) at the hands of a police officer. Now, facing pressures from all sides of the community, Starr must find her voice and stand up for what’s right.

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, some violent content, drug material and adult language

POSITIVES

– A one woman wrecking crew of a performance. Stenberg has impressed me in films like “Everything, Everything” and even being one of the few bright spots in “The Darkest Minds”, but this is really the first time with her that I have felt shaken by a performance. Starr’s strength and perseverence are her greatest feats, but it’s in Stenberg’s wide range of heart and fragility for the things going on around her that make her irresistible as a protagonist, and it provides the first step in an inevitably bright future ahead for this leading lady.

– Two films for the price of one. Often in these modern day depiction films, you will be subjected to either a poignant conversation piece that ignores the qualities of a budget Hollywood production, or you will get an eclipsing piece of cinematic drama that sidetracks on its intelligent material, but “The Hate U Give” never restricts its boundaries, giving us a free-flowing narrative with expanding characters on top of commentary on racial and law abiding divides that never shies away. In whole, this is a film that satisfies both ends of the spectrum with audience motivation, and certainly brings with it a sense of staying power that is anything but easily forgettable.

– Above all else, a responsible film. What is so intriguing about Tillman’s directing when combined with Audrey Wells all-inclusive screenplay, is that this is a movie that gauges output on every side of the layered debate between law and citizen, as well as black and white that so much of the movie centers on. It’s refreshing because in this story there are characters of both color who are both good and bad, racist and not, who conjure up a unique perspective that doesn’t have to be cut-and-dry to sell its narrative. Particularly in offering the audience valued minutes to understand a cop’s perspective could forcefully sink the film for the majority of audience going to see the film, but Tillman feels obliged in understanding that these men and women in uniform aren’t just another evil villain, they are every bit as frightened and non-communicative as the people they instill justice upon.

– Enticing photography and overall cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr. Beyond just his ability to shoot a beautiful canvas, complete with these alluring roaming movements of the camera capturing the very essence of the town, it’s Mihai’s subtle erasing of color in his scenes of the past that really channel the absence of love and light from the sequence, as well as these soft, tender moments between black families that you unfortunately don’t see too often in films. This allows us the audience to adapt to this family smoothly, whether you relate to their trials and tribulations or not.

– The film also does an articulate job of outlining the two worlds around Starr, as well as the two sides she displays (Black and White), that she unfortunately must endure every day. Considering she is a black student who is going beyond typical territory lines at an all-white Catholic high school, It’s interesting to see the dynamic comparisons that she shares with friends of and opposite of her color that force her to abide by being someone she isn’t. These are perhaps the most interesting scenes of the movie to me, because it hints at even the slightest things like speech patterns and social media postings having an effect on subliminal racism.

– Free range of emotional resonance. It’s rare anymore that a film will take you on a roller-coaster of release that endures so many different emotions, but I tell the truth when I say “The Hate U Give” left me reeling from the surreal imagery and events that this movie threw at me. I laughed during scenes of release, I cried for Starr’s growing disposition against an enraged society, I feared for the victims who in this case are the only survivors, and I roared during scenes of intoxicating inspiration. It would be difficult to think of another film that has had this kind of influence over me in 2018, and it serves as a testament to Starr’s story, in that it struck so hard with a middle aged white male who couldn’t be further from this girl.

– At just over the two hour mark, this is a film that takes its time with many of the storytelling arcs, and this is no more prominent than during the film’s opening act. These incredibly touching and precedent-setting thirty minutes take their time in getting to the meat of the story, because it wants you to not only get to know these people, but also take stock in the surrounding neighborhood they’re selling. This feels very much like a neighborhood family that bleed as one, and that sense of unity is something that develops cohesively throughout the film, bringing to light a feeling of values that hit close to home. It was refreshing to see “My” neighborhoods depicted, and not for the bad reasons that stereotypically supplant themselves in big screen focus.

– A fictional story that transcends this label by touching on all too familiar material. Once in a while, a film will come along that is deemed to have “Perfect timing”, and that couldn’t be more accurate than this film. Far beyond just being entertained by a movie, the best ones should make you think and even resonate closely for replicating a world not far from our own, and “The Hate U Give” has this benefit in spades. Films like these need to be supported for their abrasive covering, if only for the way they challenge the status quo, and no current film deserves success more because of it.

– Media manipulation. You’ve heard this term a lot recently. Usually it’s in the right or left’s slandering of political stratosphere, but Tillman uses it to subtly whisper how outlets depict the black community, often reaching for the craziest looking citizen in the bunch to sell their narrative. Not only is this greatly important to what is transpiring in this film, but it also offers an illuminating light to news junkies who overlook these sort of vivid intentions as nothing more than coincidence. The news coverage here is immensely important, and the way that he channels it feels every bit as sharp as it does revealing.

NEGATIVES

– For my money, the ending is a bit too neat and tidy to be taken at truth value. I don’t feel like Tillman’s picture is reaching for a solution measure with the on-going conflict, but the one given in this film is far fetched at best, conjuring up the one single instance in the film where this whole thing actually felt like a movie. Because of this, the film’s suffocating tension just kind of slowly omits away in the closing moments, feeling like it never ends on the single moment that strikes the loudest.

9/10

First Man

Directed By Damien Chazelle

Starring – Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke

The Plot – A Biopic on the life of the legendary American Astronaut Neil Armstrong (Gosling) from 1961-1969, on his journey to becoming the first human to walk the moon. Exploring the sacrifices and costs on the Nation and Neil himself, during one of the most dangerous missions in the history of space travel.

Rated PG-13 for some thematic content involving peril, and brief strong adult language

POSITIVES

– Masterful sound mixing. One of the most difficult things to channel and articulate about a space movie are those often overlooked aspects of atmosphere that are rarely ever channeled properly in audio capturing. That is until Phil Barrie instills his influence of perfectionist touch upon the presentation. Phil’s consistency constantly overshadows what transpires throughout the many missions in space that the film depicts, and does so in a way that combines them into a chorus line of measurements that continues to magnify the tension associated with every scene.

– Needless to say, this film is much more terrifying than any science fiction horror film can muster up. What Chazelle’s intimate exploration proves is that space never needed a world-ending asteroid or an army of venom spewing aliens to relay the risks that follow, illuminating the uncertainty of timely technology that was anything but a perfect science. You’re almost waiting for something to go bad during each attempt, and this thought process only highlights the desire of the mission that is every bit as urgent as it is delicate.

– Without question, my favorite aspect of this film is the seductive camera work and grainy cinematography. On the latter, it’s incredible that IMAX cameras were used to film a majority of this movie because the film’s intentionally dulled down color pallet is something that moved miles in terms of time period consistency, giving “First Man” a transformative feeling to a time when film quality wasn’t as fortunate. On the former, the decision to shoot the ship scenes with so much intimacy and claustrophobia, in addition to the occasional first person point-of-view, is one that pays off immensely for communicating not only the high stakes of the mission, but also how alone and isolated they feel from those they love. Most space films, especially during the 90’s, got this kind of thing wrong, but Chazelle more than anything wanted to illustrate the fragility associated with space exploration, especially during a time when science was anything but exact.

– In addition to the film’s look channeling its respective time period, the production props and wardrobe also vibrate a sense of authentication in subtlety that are sure to please. We are treated to a lot of short sleeve button up business shirts, with a thin tie to bring it all home. Likewise, the many peeks of classic automobiles and outdated Busch Beer cans were something that was a treat behind every corner, leaving no stone unturned for superb production details.

– Depthful screenplay by Josh Singer. In learning that this was the first film that Chazelle didn’t pen, it did have me remotely fearful for him covering someone else’s vision, but the very man who covered such important topics like child molestation with Catholicism in “Spotlight”, as well as the battle for free press in “The Post”, more than filled my glass of optimism with the amount of versatility he provides in 133 meaningful minutes. More than just another space movie, this film values the battle of what’s going on at home with the wives of these astronauts. It also brings to light the increasing pressure of the United States and NASA to come through with a meaningful triumph, and how those demands fell on the shoulders of one man who bordered obsession in such a mission. All of these subplots continue to play into our thought process as we watch the film, and give us great investment for Neil’s character, if only even for this drained man to finally attain the peace of mind he has worked so hard for.

– While this is Chazelle’s first film that doesn’t revolve around music, it doesn’t mean that the accompanying scores by longtime partner Justin Hurwitz don’t breathe a level of importance for the particular story. What’s appreciative is that they are mostly saved for the moments when their inclusion serves the atmosphere and scenery the loudest, capturing an essence of dramatic wonderment in American achievement that constantly fishes for goosebumps. Strangely enough, there’s one number in the film that repeats twice that I swore was a number from “La La Land”, only slowed down, and that’s quite possible considering the very same man who composed the Oscar winning numbers from that film also perfected the patience and prestige that accommodated “First Man”.

– A touch of the past. I was very surprised and humbled with the film’s decision to include the actual audio transmission of NASA headquarters in Houston, during such a monumental time. Even more pleasing than this however, is the use of 1969 stock footage between American commentary on the failing space program, as well as the influence that arguably the greatest achievement in American history had on the citizens who watched it in droves.

– Surprising assortment of supporting cast. In watching the three different trailers for this movie, I did manage to spot Kyle Chandler and even Jason Clarke, but never did I expect that this film was more of an ensemble piece than I thought. Pablo Schreiber, Ethan Embry, Ciaran Hinds, Shea Whigham, and of course the gret Corey Stoll all play important pieces that interact with Neil before his missions, and prove that the big names are beginning to flock to Chazelle as one of the prime directors of our generation, and with films like “Whiplash”, “La La Land” and “Grand Piano” under his grip, it’s easy to see why.

– The big payoff. It’s no secret the event that this film is building to, but after over two hours of build and exposition does it truly payoff in size? You bet your ass it does. My suggestion would be to see this film in the biggest screen possible, because the combination of breathtaking aesthetics, as well as magnitude in scope remind us not only why this story is so fascinating to us, but why American perseverence never quit. There’s one shot in particular that is almost frozen in frame, giving the audience plenty of time to soak in the immensity of it all, and single-handedly solidifying itself as my single favorite shot of 2018.

NEGATIVES

– If there was one thing that I wasn’t worried about, it was the work of Ryan Gosling, but that proved to be my undoing. This opinion might be unpopular with a lot of people, but Gosling’s reserved performance here is remarkably underwhelming for never giving us a single instance of gripping delivery. Beyond Ryan however, the film’s direction never allows us to see inside of Neil, instead choosing to continuously view him from the outside and come to our own conclusions about what’s going on inside. This proves a huge disconnect for the screenplay, and served as the only real negative that I took away from an otherwise flawless movie.

9/10

Mandy

Directed by Panos Cosmatos

Starring – Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache

The Plot – Taking place in 1983, Red (Cage) is a lumberjack who lives in a secluded cabin in the woods. His artist girlfriend Mandy (Riseborough) spends her days reading fantasy paperbacks. Then one day, she catches the eye of a crazed cult leader, who conjures a group of motorcycle-riding demons to kidnap her. Red, armed with a chainsaw and other weapons, stops at nothing to get her back, leaving a bloody, brutal pile of bodies in his wake.

Rated R for scenes of terror, violence, and nudity

POSITIVES

– An invitation into the Panosphere. For only his second film, Panos Cosmatos continues to raise the bar of expectations, bringing to ‘Mandy’ a serene sense of hallucination that is the closest I’ve ever been to feeling on drugs. Visually, this film is a rock and roll fever dream of epic visuals and an over-the-top color pallet that constantly amazes. Shot with a Panavision AL series with an anamorphic lens, Benjamin Loeb’s mesmerizing cinematography is unlike anything that I have seen in such a long time, bringing beauty and euphoria to such nightmarish imagery.

– Marc Engels manipulative presence behind such sharp sound mixing. One sign of great mixing is when a film is able to fool me into hearing something that may very well not in fact be there, and it’s a constant in this film for my eyes to continue wandering, as I heard a barrage of animals and chanting that never appeared once in the film’s vantage point. Even better, it never intrudes on Johan’s sacred territory of scoring this midnight terror.

– Speaking of Johan, the gifted composer’s work in ‘Mandy’ is unfortunately his swan song cap on a legendary career, and he brings his A-game to outlining this other-worldly dimension that feels present in this film. Besides his love for the dark and ominous, it’s Johan’s range in electronic instruments and synth strings that gives this film’s horror and humanity the effective layers needed. Johansson has always been one of my absolute favorite composers, and from this critic and fan I say thank you for the memories. I’m glad you went out with arguably your most evasive and daring work to date.

– On a level of horror, many might be offended by ‘Mandy’ because it doesn’t have jump scares or conventional tropes, but this film does for atmosphere what others can only dream of. Much of this film deals with the devotion to the occult, so in depicting the helplessness and brainwashing, it truly is terrifying how one man’s guidance can be so dangerous based on how he chooses to unleash it. I found the thought process of this group to not be necessarily scary, but more unnerving and disturbing, for how they continue to believe they are doing the right thing.

– Cage unleashed. While Nicolas has never been one of my personal favorite actors, I can say that he is the perfect man for this project, if even just for the pure insanity that he brings to every character he takes on. As Red, Cage’s indulgence for overacting is the status quo, bringing a combination of grief and vengeance to his demeanor that feels animalistic when he reaches his road of revenge. His words are minimal, instead allowing his actions to do the talking. Cage’s crimson mask is worn like a trophy for his savage retaliation, and for the first time in a while, he feels inspired to give his all to a role that deserves him.

– Pays homage to the classic horror films before it that obviously influence this student-of-the-game director. I’m sure there are more than the ones I found, but my first viewing brought obvious dedications to films like ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’, ‘Phantasm 2’, and of course ‘Evil Dead 2’. The one common factor here is that they are all sequels, but interesting enough, this is Cosmatos’s second directing effort. It takes two indeed.

– Unintentional humor that speaks volumes for the designated time period. Considering this film takes place in 1983, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the infamous disco versus rock and roll war are prominent in an environment even miles from society, and Panos heart lies with the latter. Our two protagonists don metal t-shirts that bear the obvious pentagram influence, but it’s in the cult’s musical choice of The Carpenters that nearly brought tears to my eyes. In so many words, Panos is relaying the idea that only people under the influence of some higher power can listen to such melodramatic music, and these few instances served as a welcome breath between terror shrieks that were the majority.

– Artistic expression. I know, big shocker right? But far beyond even the variety of colorful vibes associated with the film’s vibrant color scheme, the deposits of animated sequences were also a welcome breath of fresh air. These trippy free-flowing layers represented the dream sequences of those who the focus was on for that particular scene, and echoed accordingly the drug-enhanced vibe that is everywhere throughout the film. Even beyond this, I loved the neon title screens that introduced each character to us the audience. In accordance to this, the film’s title screen doesn’t pop up until halfway through the movie, signaling the start of the movie that was advertised as promised.

– Simplicity in story. What I appreciate about this film most of all is it didn’t require itself to feel cryptic or mythological with where it was headed, despite the first act that sets the stage for some abrasive folklore. At the end of the movie, the decision to hone this as a pretty conventional revenge flick is something that amazes the most, because it’s garners such a gut-punch of an impact from the imagery you partook in. This gives the film such an immense return that doesn’t require poignancy in material to spread the word of its mayhem. The film’s after midnight portal to another world more than takes care of that.

NEGATIVES

– Far too padded out in dialogue and sequencing. This film has no right to be over the 100 minute mark, and it’s unfortunately in its uneven first act where it wears too much of its weight. Dialogue is redundant, editing is testy in its delayed response, and the progression of plot feels most stunted during this period. This aspect will no doubt be the most difficult sell to audiences in terms of pacing, and I can understand it, because this film was one more edit away from being perfect.

9/10

Eighth Grade

Directed by Bo Burnham

Starring – Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson

The Plot – Thirteen-year-old Kayla (Fisher) endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school; the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year before she begins high school.

Rated R for adult language and some sexual material

POSITIVES

– ‘Eighth Grade’ feels like an authentic experience that goes far beyond being an entertaining piece of cinema. This movie immersed me right away to the very feelings of isolation and awkwardness that plague early adolescents, and lifted some of those repressed memories from my own developing childhood that were stored in the back of my psyche. Burnham never relents in his documentation for this important time, placing it ideally right in the final steps of middle school, before the change takes full course in high school, where you can re-create yourself. That idea of metamorphosis surrounds this film, and leaves our youthful protagonist drowning in this sea of change that feels laps ahead of her.

– My biggest respect to this first time Youtube star-turned-director, is what he manages to accomplish in terms of atmosphere, that constantly shapes differently throughout similar set-ups. Burnham doesn’t turn away from those down-time moments of boredom where a kid is shown playing with their face, or a random voice yells something to throw a teacher off. Instead Bo frames them to feed more sternly into that authenticity of environment that I mentioned earlier. What is so brilliant about this take is that it establishes a layer of relativity to Kayla’s own experiences with social anxiety, forcing us to see things in the same way that she does without sacrificing storytelling elements.

– The performances couldn’t be better, most notably from Fisher and Hamilton, who live and breathe these vital roles. Fisher’s timid posture speaks volumes to what she’s feeling inside, but it’s the way her facial expression reads and how they study and react to a room that truly captures this lamb being led to slaughter. Hamilton as well channels the sometimes intruding parent, who just seeks answers without trying to diminish the cool factor in how his daughter views him. When these two are together on-screen, it’s pure magic, especially that of a long-winded exchange in the closing moments that really tugs at your heart strings. Aside from these two, I also greatly credit the supporting cast around, as every child actor looks and feels synthetic to that of the role they are supposed to be playing. This is nothing like other movies who cast 18 year olds models to play 13, this is the real deal. As to where aspects like facial acne and bodily scars would be taken out of a typical sterilized Hollywood rendering, Burnham embraces the struggles of teenage growth, giving a feeling at times of a documentary instead of a picture with a script.

– Much of the musical score by Anna Meredith in the film also strikes a similar chord in mirroring the ever-changing atmosphere that Kayla partakes in. Sometimes it is loud and abrasive to commute Kayla’s dread, and other times it can be tender and smooth when she sees a certain boy she has a crush on. Even more beneficial and cerebral is how it only pops up when Kayla is full steam into a situation that has previously been playing out, serving the film as more of an extra emphasis factor instead of something that caters to the presentational benefit of the film. Enya’s “Sail Away” is the only familiar song played in the film, and even its gentle strokes balance Kayla’s escapism into the internet perfectly, in an almost hypntozing sense.

– As for the self-help Youtube element itself, Kayla disappears in this recorded personality that differs so far from who she is in her own real life. This gives the subplot an intentionally hypocritical, yet therapeutic feeling, in that all of this advice she dishes out is really more for her than it is her sparse social media following. She knows how fake her demeanor comes across on-screen, yet can’t escape this overwhelming demand from within to conform to what society wants her to be, creating this battle for struggle with the real Kayla lying somewhere in between. I love my flawed protagonists, and this one is the very definition of that angle.

– This film is time-stamped to this particular generation, most notably in the measures that adults take in trying to relate to kids, with all of their “cool lingo” like slang and dabbing, but its intended humor succeeds despite the fact that Burnham was nowhere close to growing up in today’s scholastic landscape. His greatest ability as a screenwriter is his handle on the material, and how it constantly feels like he wrote this while shadowing an actual middle school. It’s second to none in terms of its genuineness, and highlights Burnham as a major force to be reckoned with in the Hollywood landscape.

– When you speak of important movies that should be shown to our youths, ‘Eighth Grade’ is certainly among the best and most important in this regards. Its message is easily transmitted without feeling spoon-fed or forced, and it’s one that isn’t afraid to show the decay of interaction because of dependency upon social media. Like our very kids growing up in 2018, there is advancement, yet great warning that comes with great technology, and as a screenwriter Burnham perfectly expedites this by comparing this delve with the ages-old wish of wanting to be popular, marrying the two in a frought ceremony that only further advances and enhances the inevitable confrontation that Kayla is faced with, and who better than one of Youtube’s own (Burnham) in capturing that pressure.

– While I could be wrong, ‘Eighth Grade’ feels like the first movie that takes a touchy subject such as the struggles of junior high, and orchestrates it in such a way that is entirely serious regardless of the sometimes humorous experiences. Because of this mature approach, it stands out from plots similar to this in approach, that market itself as the very same comedy that diminishes the importance of what it’s documenting. ‘Eighth Grade’ instead feels comfortable in what it is, and never backs down in putting the moment first.

– While I don’t fully understand why this film is rated-R, I support that stamping because it will require adults and kids to see it together.

NEGATIVES

– A24 always has problems ending their film, and unfortunately ‘Eighth Grade’ continues this direction. I won’t say the ending was entirely unsatisfying to me, but it feels every bit as unresolved as it does unaddressed. One could interpret this as adolescence more times than not as feeling unsatisfying, but there’s a subplot involving Kayla in a car that never gets addressed any further. It’s an important scene because it underlines the issues of truth to our youth, but its lack of weight or consequence feels irresponsible in its teaching. The rare blunder that I had for this otherwise outstanding film.

9/10

Three Identical Strangers

Directed by Tim Wardle

Starring – Silvi Alzetta-Reali, Eddy Galland, Ron Guttman

The Plot – New York, 1980: three complete strangers accidentally discover that they are identical triplets, separated at birth. The 19-year-olds’ joyous reunion catapults them to international fame, but it also unlocks an extraordinary and disturbing secret that goes beyond their own lives, and could transform our understanding of human nature forever.

Rated PG-13 for some mature thematic material

POSITIVES

– Masterful storytelling in the form of the brothers, as well as the dozens of family members, doctors, and authors who played a pivotal role in this one-of-a-kind story. Eddy in particular, has such a unique tone of voice and passion when he describes someone he loves or a particular event in how it went down, and that kind of energy being tapped into played wonders in keeping me engaged in them throughout the picture.

– Articulate dramatizations that play hand-in-hand with the storytelling being told audibly. Most biopic documentaries use this feature, but use it in a way that is corny or comical in presentation to the way that takes away the focus on the details. But in ‘Three Identical Strangers’, this aspect in visual storytelling captures the essence involved with the atmosphere that feels honest to the imagining.

– A surprisingly big budget feel in musical favorites. Even if music isn’t the prime focus in a story like this one, the inclusion of tracks like disco and southern rock that were all the rave at the time of this discovery, do wonders in immersing us into the right time and place for this setting. Beyond just the triplets, this is a story about pop culture in the 80’s, a time when people started understanding that you don’t have to be in the movies to be considered a celebrity.

– There’s a rich combination of humor and dramatic material in the film never stumbles or cuts short the power of the other. For as much as I was authentically laughing during the first act of the movie, the evolution of maturity in material during the second and third acts when the relationship of the brothers becomes tested, felt very compelling in the sense of heartbreak for my immense interest in this uncovering of the truth that the trailer promised us endlessly.

– Speaking of that mystery, the less you know about these brothers and their circumstance, the better. I myself knew absolutely nothing about these triplets, other than what I was told in the trailer, and even that might be too much. In my opinion, go into this film completely blindfolded, because only then will the impact of helplessness cast upon these three gentlemen reach its boiling summit, and you’ll be moved to the point of being an information seeker because of it. Sometimes 91 minutes of a film just isn’t enough, and you’ll find yourself searching for what has happened since the cameras got turned off.

– With spoiling as little as I possibly can, the material focuses on the age old debate of nature versus nurture, and while the final verdict doesn’t feel anymore conclusive because of this shining chapter, the many ups and downs of uncovering this dark past certainly provide plenty of ammunition for both sides. Throughout the movie, I was debating with myself, occasionally changing sides with the more I knew about what these brothers had been through, pointing to that aspect of genetics that lies somewhere in the middle. Engaged and enraged, this film played chess with my opinions, and even still I’m as confused as ever.

– BAFTA nominated filmmaker Waddle does a superb job at piecing together the facts and the vast collection of TV appearances and newspaper articles of this story, while leaving his finger firmly on the pulse of human psychology. Selflessly, Waddle never allows himself to be much of a presence on-screen, albeit in just brief question deliveries that he has for his guests, but instead spends his time preserving the thriller aspect of the real life story that sometimes feels too compelling to be a true story, proving that drama plays for stronger stakes in the world far beyond the silver screen.

– Something interesting happens with the dialogue throughout the film that required you to constantly pay great attention. The only thing I could compare it to are the Saw movies, when a line of dialogue is re-inserted during the closing moments of the film to add new meaning to the clues it gave early on. That same thing happens many times in ‘Three Identical Strangers’, and does so without ever spoiling what’s to come, because most phrases in human conversation have double meanings when played out of context. Truly provocative in how it forces you to hang on to every word.

– Doesn’t waste time in getting to the meat of the story. What you do learn from reading the synopsis above, happens in the first twenty minutes of the documentary, leaving that inevitability that something bigger and darker lies just underneath the surface of human interest pieces. What evolves, does so without taking away from the luster of the enchanted tale, all the while harvesting this level of regret in somber details that only gains our interest so much more.

NEGATIVES

– In the heated debate throughout the film of nature versus nurture, there is one disappointing aspect, most notably in the time devoted to the lives of these kids and their adopting families. Everything is summarized briefly, but I feel like this particular angle needs more attention paid to it, especially during the third act, when we start to see the laces of theories and narrative thesis being tied together. Some more family experience or elaboration could’ve done wonders in making this a perfect film, but as it stands it is the only aspect of the movie I was disappointed with.

9/10

Sorry To Bother You

Directed by Boots Riley

Starring – Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler

The Plot – In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, black telemarketer Cassius Green (Stanfield) discovers a magical key to professional success, which propels him into a macabre universe of “powercalling” that leads to material glory. But the upswing in Cassius’ career raises serious red flags with his girlfriend Detroit (Thompson), a performance artist and minimum-wage striver who’s secretly part of a Banksy-style activist collective. As his friends and co-workers organize in protest of corporate oppression, Cassius falls under the spell of his company’s cocaine-snorting CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), who offers him a salary beyond his wildest dreams.

Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use

POSITIVES

– Boots Riley is one of those film revolutionaries when it comes to the way he views the world. Considering this is the musical maestro’s first effort behind the director’s chair, it’s astonishing the way he blends colorful chaos and air-tight editing to feed into the absurdity of channeling a world so satirically unbalanced from our own, while leaving enough truth in the material to see the similarities. This is a music video director who transitions over to the big screen, and he does so without it ever feeling minimal like a music video, nor sacrificial for his volume of art that he unleashes.

– The material itself (Also written by Riley), ages like a fine wine, initially feeling like a full-on comedy that eventually morphs into horrific circumstance. While a film like ‘Get Out’ opened the perspective on interracial relationships, ‘Sorry To Bother You’ does so much more in exposing the delirium in the workforce that minorities wake up to every day. It’s every bit as smart as it is precise with its focus, feeling like the most elaborate episode of ‘Black Mirror’ that you will ever find.

– Beyond the confines of corporate consumerism, Riley also points a finger at slavery-like business models, corporate racism, dumbed down media programming, and even the blurring of lines between what really makes a celebrity. The thing is that the material is done in such an originally metaphorical sense that it will more than likely fly over the heads of a majority of its audience, but I found it to be very much intelligent and even brave for the way it takes the tense initiative and uses humor as its own kind of puppet to enhance the lunacy.

– As far as performances are concerned Stanfield might be my absolute favorite one so far this year. In emoting Cassius, Stanfield’s transformation and his vibe change so frequently throughout the film to mirror his corporate influence, and he never misses a single note. Everything is finely timed out and crisply directed for him, and Lakeith himself has plenty to add in animated facial reactions that tell the story of how the heart is feeling inside. This leaves you plenty of empathy to donate to the character, all the while he isn’t making some of the best decisions that we as an audience agree with.

– Not since ‘Requiem For a Dream’ has an environment surrounding our story felt so reactionary and ever-changing on the same path that our protagonist takes. As the film finishes up its pivotal second act, we barely start to recognize any of our characters, and it overall feels like the world could burn down around them at any time. The most impactful storytelling takes one person’s angle and enriches the volume to feel suffocating, and there were many times in Riley’s film where I felt like the progression of this future will do more harm than good to these people striving for the American dream.

– One interesting tidbit to the transition sequences involving Cassius talking on the phone to his customers, is that it is actually a practical effect. Boots hired many strong men to lift the desks at the beginning of every sequence, giving Lakeith that frazzled and shook feeling that could only reach for the kind of authenticity that comes with practicality.

– Never anywhere on this planet will you find someone who can even remotely label this film as predictable. The trailer itself is done in such a clever way that only showcases much of the first act shenanigans, leaving plenty along the way that transforms this story in the most weird and elegant of ways, creatively. This is a very quickly paced 100 minutes that look like two completely different films from start to finish.

– My favorite scene of the film is a transition montage sequence that I really don’t want to give too much about it away. What I will say is that it represents the rags-to-riches story that Cassius embarks on, duplicating the change in material things that spring up in his own life, done in the most elaborate and beautifully eye-hatching method of visual storytelling.

– My hat is off to any film that figures out yet another way for Danny Glover to utter the line “I’m too old for this shit”. Cliche? YES, Overdone? YES, Funny? Even still. It’s every bit as expected by now as Tom Hanks urinating in a movie, and it’s definitely my favorite of obvious Easter eggs in the movie.

NEGATIVES

– I hate even mentioning a negative in this film, because it’s so close to perfection for me, but the love triangle between three central characters was definitely the sloppy weakness of the film. Because of its lack of resolve and inconsequential weight within this story, it feels almost pointless to even introduce this subplot into the script. It is mentioned once during the third act, but then never elaborated on, leaving a noticeable flaw with some of the way these characters shake out in the end of the film.

9/10

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Directed by Morgan Neville

Starring – Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, Francois Scarborough Clemmons

The Plot – From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom), Won’t You Be My Neighbor? takes an intimate look at America’s favorite neighbor: Mister Fred Rogers. A portrait of a man whom we all think we know, this emotional and moving film takes us beyond the zip-up cardigans and the land of make-believe, and into the heart of a creative genius who inspired generations of children with compassion and limitless imagination.

Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and adult language

POSITIVES

– Assertive, informative, and moving . Won’t You Be My Neighbor is the perfect documentary for all kinds of fans, passionate or occasional, who wish to immerse themselves one more time in their childhoods. It’s a heart-warming dissection of the man who refused to change in an ever-changing world, giving way to the kind of loving and supportive ideals that some in 2018 still struggle with.

– Documentaries often follow chronological time as their directing narrative for storytelling, but that predictable spin gets lost in favor of Neville’s focus on the impacts with the world at hand that only Fred could commute. In his unmatched relationship with his youthful audience, Rogers because a pioneer with a lasting legacy for positivity, something that figures from our childhoods are quickly being removed from.

– With any documentary about a particular person, I look forward to information about that person that I rarely knew about, and this film accomplishes this in spades. Aside from our own intimate portrait of Fred front-and-center, the film also has several deep psychological spins for what the many characters in-and-around the neighborhood represented.

– There is that stirring feeling watching the film, when you almost forget that Rogers has been deceased since 2003, and this is because of the masterful editing by Jeff Malmberg and Aaron Wickenden, that manipulates that feeling of real time. Aside from this consistent bending of time, there’s also an innovative way that the visual effects puts you in the seat of watching this on your own television, giving off that live vibe before our very eyes.

– With absolutely no shortage of scenes to reach for tissues, it specifically was the scenes of Fred supporting a gay cast member, as well as a child confined to a wheelchair where I lost it like I haven’t in years during a film. What’s even more credible is that these somber instances have absolute zero to do with negativity of the situation, and more to do with how truly beautiful Fred’s one-of-a-kind outlook on life truly was. If this movie doesn’t make you smile at least once, you should have your pulse checked.

– Wide assortment of friends, family, and colleagues that vividly paint the picture. It’s no surprise, nor small feat the kind of legend that Rogers became saddled with, but in hearing the perspectives of so many adults who he helped along the way, you start to understand that while children were his pedigree, the universal language of love was something he lived every single day of his life.

– Intercut during several points during the film, are some experimental animation with Daniel Tiger that added a layer of independent cinematic depth to perfectly capture the roller-coaster of moods that the film takes with its material. These illustrations by Jason Fruchter offer a kind of mature shading palate of the typical Daniel Tiger cartoon that can currently be seen on modern day PBS, where the color scheme breeds more psychadelic effect here that visually pleased.

– What was most impressive to me is that even though Rogers lacked the kind of controversy or trouble that a protagonist in these films always seems to have, the movie never lost steam to me in following along. This is proof that good storytelling doesn’t require a juicy circumference to hook its audience. Positivity still holds a place in this world, even though that aura of good does omit itself a bit after you leave the theater.

– Tons of behind-the-scenes footage that offer us that rare glimpse of him enjoying the many passions in his life. Even more beneficial in this aspect is the fading effect of this wall that divides character and person, reminding us of this rarity of them being the same person. Rogers lived and breathed his daily life lessons to those he constantly spoke to beyond the camera, giving much credibility to why his show worked despite the fact that it went against everything that was defined as great television for the time.

NEGATIVES

– Although I felt like the stuff involving Fox News certainly added a dimension of unnecessary backlash to Rogers consistently inspirational message, the focus aimed at the many shows and people who parodied Mr Rogers is something that I felt was strongly unnecessary during this particular film. Lashing out against these misguided comedians who are only doing it for a laugh makes Rogers almost come down to their level, and if it were up to me, I would be fine with Neville ignoring them all together instead of wasting minutes to even give them recognition. Even with Rogers comments on them, it never feels consistent with the rest of the film’s positive message of nothing coming between Fred and the kids.

9/10