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

Life of the Party

Directed by Ben Falcone

Starring – Melissa McCarthy, Molly Gordon, Gillian Jacobs

The Plot – When her husband suddenly dumps her, longtime dedicated housewife Deanna (McCarthy) turns regret into re-set by going back to college, landing in the same class and school as her daughter Maddie (Gordon), who’s not entirely sold on the idea. Plunging headlong into the campus experience, the increasingly outspoken Deanna, now Dee Rock, embraces freedom, fun, and frat boys on her own terms, finding her true self in a senior year no one ever expected.

Rated PG-13 for sexual material, drug content and partying

POSITIVES

– Gillian Jacobs is a delightful mystery wrapped inside of an enigma. I couldn’t understand if her character was supposed to be suffering from some kind of mental deficiency, or if she was a psychopathic killer. I found myself transfixed by her strange facial takes, as well as her character’s expressive personality that is unlike anything that I have seen from a female in a comedy in a long time.

– Like the trailer, Maya Rudolph steals the show with her loud and obnoxious presence. That may sound like a negative, but Maya is the only actor here who feels confident in her line reads, never letting the lack of effective humor limit her ability to turn it into comic gold.

– There’s a surprisingly good twist midway through the movie that rivals that of ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ from last year.

NEGATIVES

– Far too much improv humor. For at least the entirety of the first act, not one scene can play out without McCarthy or an accompanying actress drowning on and on about a line of dialogue that didn’t hit on the first try, so why not beat it into the ground fifty more times?

– Because of what I just mentioned, there’s a limited progression throughout the narrative of this film that exposes just how minimal the abundance of ideas inside truly are. In my opinion, there’s probably twenty minutes of actual credible story here. Everything else is Falcone and McCarthy’s usual underwritten comedy, the same cold material that they’ve given us for over a decade now. It’s not as bad as ‘Tammy’, but it’s right there next to ‘The Boss’ in terms of comic prowess.

– When the humor misfires this frequently, it turns 100 minutes of screen time into what feels like an eternity. Imagine being at a stand-up comedy club and the comedian lands two jokes in two hours of his/her show. That is what ‘Life of the Party’ feels like. If this is a party, it’s the kind that is loud, childish, and asks you to bring your own beverages.

– Unnecessary antagonists that add absolutely zero to the film. Much of the motivation seems to target the ‘Mean Girls’ demographic here, but the lack of influence from two female college snobs leave such a lack of impact that writing them out would be the easiest and most beneficial thing to this screenplay.

– Contradicting character exposition. It’s baffling how truly lazy this script by Falcone actually is. Two such examples involve McCarthy’s character, proof of how little Ben pays attention to even his central protagonist. The first involves a Harry Potter joke that Melissa makes early on in the film, yet is stumped about twenty minutes later when someone else brings up a Potter joke to her. The second (and more perplexing) is how a woman has a fear of speaking in front of people, yet ten minutes prior had no qualms about a dance off in front of strangers where she was the prime focus.

– There’s absolutely no mental conflict to a woman going through a mid-life crisis with such ease. There’s a big missed opportunity not only in the story, but also in Melissa’s performance in drawing out a strong empathetic and inspiring character, instead choosing to sleep with a man less than half her age, vandalize property, and ruin a wedding that she wasn’t invited to. I felt bad for this woman for about ten minutes into this film, and then it went away when I thought about how careless she really is.

– Oh yeah, she does have a daughter. I say that because I honestly forgot about midway through this film. Other than the occasional conversation, there’s never an attempt at bonding this Mother and Daughter together. I mentioned earlier how Jacobs is easily the most interesting character of the youthful cast, and I think the movie realized that as well, pitting her with McCarthy for a majority of the scenes. If you pretend she is Melissa’s daughter, it tends to make more sense.

3/10

Kings

Directed by Deniz Gamze Erguven

Starring – Halle Berry, Daniel Craig, Lamar Johnson

The Plot – The movie stars Oscar winner Halle Berry and Daniel Craig as citizens of the same South Central Los Angeles neighborhood set against a backdrop of rising racial tensions during the verdict of the Rodney King trial in 1992. In her first English-language film following the critically acclaimed Mustang, writer-director Deniz Gamze Erg├╝ven’s film tells a dramatic story of family bonds and the lengths one mother will go to bring her children home. Halle Berry stars as MILLIE, a tough and protective single foster mother of eight who must ally herself with OBIE (Daniel Craig), her neighbor and a local loose cannon, when racial tensions start to run dangerously high. As the civil unrest in Los Angeles grows following the acquittal of four of the officers accused of beating Rodney King, Millie and Obie must navigate the chaos that surrounds them in order to ensure her children’s safety. KINGS focuses on the fragility of family relationships and touches on turmoil and tensions of the past, which sadly prove to be more relevant than ever in today’s social and political climate.

Rated R for violence, sexual content/nudity, and adult language throughout)

POSITIVES

– While my faith with Erguven as a storyteller took a severe beating, my feeling on her as a visionary only prospered as the film went on. Filling the atmosphere with unlimited smoke to convey the uncertainty of the unveiling situation, Deniz captures the L.A riots ruthlessly, and does so with such rattling intensity that depicts the danger.

– Enticing camera angles. Much of the movements in running sequences or car chases are noteworthy enough, breathing much needed energy into the film where the narrative often spins out of control, but it’s more so in the character profiling angles where I was most impressed. In shooting this mostly kid-majority cast, cinematographer David Chizallet chooses to get up close and document their reactions to seeing the world burn around them. It’s in this influence where you understand the gears of debauchery spinning in their brains.

– There isn’t much to brag about when it comes to performances, but Lamar Johnson as Jesse was easily the shining example for me. While the two big name leads are asleep at the wheel, Johnson’s impeccable guidance and guardianship present the film with its lone HUMAN character. I use that word because Jesse feels like the careful link between normalcy and rioting that becomes blurred with each passing scene, and the film takes great value in depending on Johnson to document the wheels coming off.

NEGATIVES

– How can a film about the L.A Riots feel so inconsequential? I use that word because it’s unclear about midway through where this film is headed, as well as how it plans on reaching its message despite the fact that such little time has been invested in it. The screenplay is every bit as disjointed as it is floundering, and there’s no better example of this than the ending that slowly drifts away.

– I don’t get to talk about the negatives of quick pacing often, but ‘Kings’ is the highlighted example of such rarity. The editing intrudes far too quicky for far too often, there is little momentum built from scene-to-scene, and sequences happen that don’t add any kind of urgency to the film. This is why I mentioned disjointed earlier, because some of these scenes feel so out of place to the continuity of the film, as there were many points when I couldn’t understand the vast character changes taking place.

– My opinion is that they broke Halle Berry and Daniel Craig out of a mental institution for this film. For the first half of the movie, they’re not even a concern, going long spans of screen time without an appearance, then in the second half they take the reigns in emoting two off-the-rocker personalities. Besides the fact that this romantic link simply doesn’t gel, it is all cemented in one of the strangest shot and acted sex dream scenes that I have ever seen. Almost laughable for its lack of passion and adolescent dialogue.

– Pay Per View please. How this movie got into theaters still amazes me. Whether it’s the lack of impact in all 87 minutes of screen time, or the 63 seconds of production team emblems that opens up the movie, it’s clear that this one has its big screen tribulations.

– When you look at a riveting film that deals with racial tensions competently like ‘Detroit’, you understand why something like ‘Kings’ is dead on arrival. The child characters are completely out of control due to an overall lack of adult supervision, and while that may evoke some sadness with the parent inside all of us, you can’t help but feel that they are only adding fuel to the fire of these racist white cops with their own character flaws. Where the former does it better is presenting characters that we can embrace the empathetic side with. No one likes to see bad things happen to bad people, so why is this so hard for Deniz to grasp?

– It’s not tone-deaf, but tone-neurotic. Further proof of this film not knowing what it wants to be is in the mind-numbingly awful tonal decisions that limit an audience’s ability to immerse themselves in this era of a burning world. In doing so, the film mixes an actual intriguing coming-of-age story with these kids on the streets for an Abbott and Costello routine that sharply contrasts and contradicts. If the film can’t keep its focus for longer than a scene, then how can we as an interested third party audience?

– In combining this devastating period in American history with a one-household narrative, the film strongly undercuts any and every kind of tension that should be easy to capitalize on. For most of the film, I told myself that I would rather see a film on Rodney King’s night from hell, instead of this foster home that doesn’t grow with the events elevating around it. Telling it from this single perspective limits the importance of something so immense, giving the uninformed an irresponsible look at the who, what, and why of the situation.

3/10

The Leisure Seeker

Directed by Paolo Virzi

Starring – Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland, Christian McKay

The Plot – A runaway couple go on an unforgettable journey in the faithful old RV they call The Leisure Seeker, traveling from Boston to The Ernest Hemingway Home in Key West. They recapture their passion for life and their love for each other on a road trip that provides revelation and surprise right up to the very end.

Rated R for some sexual material

THE POSITIVES

– Like any enduring road trip, you at least get to see some beautiful scenery, and ‘The Leisure Seeker’ certainly continues this feat. Through a vast change in agriculture, we see plenty of on-screen representation from the east coast, all the way down to the southside of the Orange State, providing plenty of detail to showcase with Virzi’s competent hands behind the camera.

– The magic of Mirren and Sutherland radiate tenfold throughout their journey across the open road. Through each’s unapologetically honest depiction of the married life, we embrace two people who have spent too much time together, but would certainly be lost without the command of the other.

– I myself am someone who has dealt with the crippling side of dementia with my own family, and the depiction in Virzi’s film certainly provides the emphasis needed in understanding the dire of the situation. This disease not only shapes the person plagued by it, but also the entirety of everyone around them, and that is perhaps the one side to this film that I greatly respected.

THE NEGATIVES

– There’s often not enough of a stance on humor versus drama that clearly navigates us through this tone deaf screenplay.

– The film feels like it is around twenty minutes too long, leading to many tedious and often repetitive scenario’s that could’ve easily been left on the cutting room floor.

– Throughout the film, there’s a hinting of an almost bigger picture that will inevitably be waiting for us at the end of the road, but it never materializes into anything that feels satisfying for taking the journey. More on that ending in just a second.

– I certainly get the point of the political subplot instilled from the Summer of 2016, at the heart of Trump versus Clinton, but far too often it feels irrelevant with finding an identity of its own in this kind of picture. Is it telling us that this couple isn’t made for this newfound world?? Is it there to poke fun at the uninformed people who foolishly voted for one side or another?? I feel like we never find out, and it ends up being nothing more than a scene or two for the audience to roll their eyes at.

– Far too predictable in its entirety, except for the unnecessary twist midway through that leaves a lasting impression for all of the wrong reasons. The heartfelt sentiment is soured in favor of a late act development that feels like a betrayal on everything we’ve learned up to that point.

– Much of the child subplot is forgotten during the second half of the film. Where I feel this was important in inclusion is because it offered a satisfying contrast to the repetition of Mirren and Sutherland’s story that I mentioned earlier for getting repetitive. It felt great to learn more about these lead characters from the people who knew them best, but their time is sparse, and that’s a major shame.

– Some endings work well on paper but don’t translate as strongly to screen, and that is the case here. While the film is faithful to the novel of the same name, that doesn’t mean that it’s the right move in terms of leaving people with the impression that they witnessed a satisfying conclusion. Not only did this ending alienate me in terms of any small positives that I had left for the film, but it also soiled the integrity of the characters who clearly didn’t think of anyone but themselves in these concluding moments.

3/10

God’s Not Dead: A Light In Darkness

Directed by Michael Mason

Starring – David A.R. White, John Corbett, Shane Harper

The Plot – A church destroyed. A congregation silenced. A relationship shattered. Yet even in life’s darkest valleys, a small flame can light the way toward healing and hope. After a deadly fire rips through St. James Church, Hadleigh University leaders use the tragedy to push the congregation off campus, forcing the church to defend its rights and bringing together estranged brothers for a reunion that opens old wounds and forces them to address the issues that pulled them apart.

Rated PG for thematic elements including some violence and suggestive material

THE POSITIVES

– Corbett is the character that someone like me, who has sat through three of these films, deserves. Besides the fact that this guy should obviously be our main protagonist for his own battle with how he sees Christ, much praise can be given to John’s performance for the way he not only makes everyone else’s roles around him stronger by comparison, but also the entirety of the film’s personality that he eats up in spades.

– By comparison, this is easily the least off-the-rocker ‘God’s Not Dead’ of the entire series. While overall not a success none the less, the film finally feels able to define itself without being overly insensitive to those who don’t kneel before it.

– There’s a surprisingly responsible touch taken here that reveals the blame of miscommunication might be on both sides. This not only proves how much this film series has grown as a whole, but also allows someone like me an open arms approach to give this one a clean slate.

THE NEGATIVES

– This film’s idea of symbolism is held entirely in its cringing lighting scheme. The protagonists are blessed with sunlight beaming around them in the holy halls, and the antagonists (If you can call them that) are often surrounded by darkness or red luminous lighting to signify the negative influences in their lives.

– As usual with the series, there is no shortage of characters and subplots that creates a convoluted sense of pacing within the film. One subplot involving a young woman’s spiritual outcry is ignored almost entirely until the final act, when it felt like from the beginning that this would play a prominent role in the story. Because the focus is never where it should be, much of the movie lacks a gaining of momentum.

– It’s amazing how the atheists in these films are always presented in the light of ruthless vandals whose soul motivation is to wipe religion from their counterparts. News Flash – Most atheists don’t care if you believe in Dr. Mario. Live your life and stop worrying about the other side.

– There’s no secrets about it, this film isn’t exactly what you would call subtle. Much of its focus in diatribe is aimed at the media, social platforms, and the long-going battle between church and state. As a measure of on-going clumsy exposition, we are treated to obnoxious CNN types who broadcast on channel WARC. Because I guess W-ARK would be too obvious??

– The film seems to have a strange idea of how murder is tried. Whether accidental or meditated, a trial will still be brought forward regardless if the key witness drops his charges. There’s this thing called Involuntary Manslaughter that the state has no reservations about bringing forth, so be careful who you frame because accusations don’t just magically go away because you forgive the person responsible.

– This is White’s 3rd appearance in this franchise, but first as the soul starring role, and it’s clear from the start that he should’ve been left as a supporting cast. Much of White’s line reads leave more to be desired in the believability department, but it’s in his stone cold and undercooked chemistry with his on-screen romantic interest (Played by Jennifer Taylor) that feels like time is standing still in all the worst ways. White’s squeaky clean persona voids the film of the edginess required in seeing a man of faith standing on his last leg against a community that shuns him.

– Much of the beginning of this movie deals with the state’s forceful attitude to see Pastor Dave’s sermons on paper, yet this subplot is never brought up again. Even the ending feels like it completely forgets this stance, choosing instead to indulge in bringing the masses together and put off this inevitable trouble that will always be with him. Sloppy.

3/10

Midnight Sun

Directed By Scott Speer

Starring – Bella Thorne, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Rob Riggle

The Plot – Based on the Japanese film, ‘Midnight Sun’ centers on Katie (Thorne), a 17-year-old sheltered since childhood and confined to her house during the day by a rare disease that makes even the smallest amount of sunlight deadly. Fate intervenes when she meets Charlie (Schwarzenegger) and they embark on a summer romance.

Rated PG-13 for some teen partying and sensuality

THE POSITIVES

– Rob Riggle is surprisingly the emotional pulse of this film, putting aside the jokester gig for one night to play a compassionate father whose only gift left in life is someone so fragile. I would love to see Rob do more dramatic work, as I feel his comedic schtick has worn itself thin. ‘Midnight Sun’ gives hope to my request.

– The film does take the time necessary to see life through Katie’s eyes living it for the firs time. It is the lone time that I felt invested in her character, and does wonders for tugging at the heartstrings of the true tragedy of the situation for a life wasted behind closed doors.

– Much of the film’s ending did anger me because of the mindless character choices being made to manipulate audience into feeling something, but I have to give credit to a movie that decides to go all the way in committing itself even if it alienates some of its audience.

THE NEGATIVES

– Continuity errors like Bella Thorne’s hair going from dark red to strawberry blonde in one scene to the next, as well as her best friend in the film (Played by Quinn Shephard) who uses two different cell phones during the course of the film. Considering the movie takes place over what feels like a month, I’m going to say the latter isn’t because she’s clumsy with her possessions.

– In regards to one consequential scene, never at any place or time in the world does the sun come up at 4:50 AM.

– There is absolutely zero chemistry between the two leads. Much of this can be blamed on clunky dialogue that is so obviously written by adults who don’t interact with teenagers. However, the stone cold monotonous deliveries by Thorne and Schwarzenegger also feed into this glaring aspect. When the daughter of the film has more chemistry with her father than she does the object of her affection, problems tend to arise.

– The film doesn’t exactly present the most accurate portrayal of XP. Victims can in fact go outside for limited amounts of time with covering clothing. In the educating department, ‘Midnight Sun’ never takes the time to elaborate on the condition beyond its manipulation of the one thing about the disease that everybody knows, and even that is stretched thin.

– Obvious foreshadowing. The first act of this film might as well be labeled in the script SPOILERS SPOILERS because there’s so much transparency in what the writers want you to know about details that will eventually pop up later. This wouldn’t be a problem if it were slid in carefully, but so much of the rules of these characters and their respective positions come out of nowhere, sticking out like a sore thumb in a mind-field of tacked on exposition.

– If there’s one thing that Speer as a director doesn’t have a handle on, it’s bringing out the required reactions in each scene. For instance, there are several scenes during the film that present these quick cuts of Riggle’s character reacting to the changes in Katie’s life, and it omits a kind of gloomy and almost jealous lover vibe that made me wince from the unnecessary pressure.

– As for the pacing, the film feels like it stretches the material even at a measly 85 minutes. Much of this is attributed to scenes that never last longer than two minutes, and often never feel like one cohesive unit that continues to build momentum. The most basic of outlines feels persistent here, limiting the chances it takes in keeping us entertained.

3/10

The Hurricane Heist

Directed by Rob Cohen

Starring – Maggie Grace, Toby Kebbell, Ryan Kwanten

The Plot – Under the threat of a hurricane, opportunistic criminals infiltrate a US Mint facility to steal $600 million for the ultimate heist. When the hurricane blows up into a lethal CATEGORY 5 storm and their well-made plans go awry, they find themselves needing a vault code known only by one Treasury Agent (Grace), a need that turns murderous. But the Treasury agent has picked up an unlikely ally, a meteorologist (Kebbell) terrified of hurricanes but determined to save his estranged brother kidnapped by the thieves. He uses his knowledge of the storm as a weapon to win in this non-stop action thriller ride charged with adrenaline throughout.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence, action, destruction, adult language and some suggestive material

THE POSITIVES

– The lead antagonist is a double cross, and the actor who portrays this lead does a solid job in carving out a powerful and dangerous enemy for our central cast to square off against. He carefully plans things out, takes measures NOT to kill anyone, and on top of it all is Irish (wink wink)

– While they are few and far between, the action sequences and fly-by set pieces pack enough of a punch in popcorn thrills to constantly keep the audience firmly in its grip for carnage candy pay-offs.

– Toby Kebbell and Maggie Grace definitely work best when they are together as opposed to when they are separated. They have the appropriate kind of chemistry needed in male and female colleagues without settling for the obvious script conveniences of being love interests.

THE NEGATIVES

– Poor computer generated effects work that truly makes you appreciate the bigger budgeted disaster films that I constantly make fun of.

– Taking this one step further, deserving of its own point; there are faces in the clouds of the hurricane. I know that there’s a feeling in these films that storms can sometimes come across as sinister villains, but this takes it a bit too far in the corny and impractical direction.

– The screenplay’s biggest disappointment is that it doesn’t fully commit or embrace its B-movie campiness. Far too often, scenes are depicted with serious intent, and these overshoot the idea of producing something just silly enough to lure you in to its mayhem. As for the dialogue itself, it too lacks any kind of humor in personality needed to get out of these repetitive dry spells. For crying out loud, there’s a two minute scene where Grace and Kebbell discuss peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

– Messy sound mixing that rarely distorts nor lowers the vocal capacity of our characters.

– Throughout the film, I couldn’t shake the overwhelming feeling of this being played off like a Twister/Hard Rain hybrid of a film. I say that because all of the familiar steps are there; an old character who is days from retiring, a main character who combats storms because of a tortured past, doubters of the storm’s power before it ever hits, and of course a rainbow at the end of the storm that produces several double-crosses along the way. It’s a best-of cornucopia of 90’s disaster goodness.

– As for the storm itself, it holds such minimal consequential value in the overall bigger picture. During outside sequences, the storm’s impact feels more like a nagging nuisance instead of an elevating death threat. Out main characters even dodge cluttered objects flying at them like the storm outlined it that way. If you’re not going to give examples of how terrifying this environment can be, why even require it?

– One continuity error that I couldn’t stop laughing at took place during a semi truck chase sequence where the storm is behind our characters. During this, we keep getting cuts of the dark storm clouds quickly approaching them, yet when we see something as obvious as the huge driver side mirror on the side of the truck, it is reflecting a dry, cloudy day. I don’t need believability in a film like this, just care for those important details.

3/10

A Wrinkle in Time

Directed by Ava Duvernay

Starring – Storm Reid, Chris Pine, Oprah Winfrey

The Plot – Meg Murry (Reid) is a typical middle school student struggling with issues of self-worth who is desperate to fit in. As the daughter of two world-renowned physicists, she is intelligent and uniquely gifted, as is Meg’s younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), but she has yet to realize it for herself. Making matters even worse is the baffling disappearance of Mr. Murry (Pine), which torments Meg and has left her mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) heartbroken. Charles Wallace introduces Meg and her fellow classmate Calvin (Levi Miller) to three celestial guides-Mrs. Which (Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling)-who have journeyed to Earth to help search for their father, and together they set off on their formidable quest. Traveling via a wrinkling of time and space known as tessering, they are soon transported to worlds beyond their imagination where they must confront a powerful evil. To make it back home to Earth, Meg must look deep within herself and embrace her flaws to harness the strength necessary to defeat the darkness closing in on them.

Rated PG for thematic elements and some peril

THE POSITIVES

– That sense of escapism and imagination that filled the pages of the book is one of the only things that translates well for this picture. Throughout the movie, we are treated to some truly gorgeous Greenland landscapes that never need C.G pixelation in harnessing their beauty, as well as a vibrant color scheme that triggers an out-of-this-world kind of energy for us to intake.

– It’s kind of refreshing to me that for once in a movie we are seeing the little girl take command of the situation, and the little boy is kind of left to be the side piece to do nothing but support her. This certainly gives the film a progressive sense of direction that will inspire girl audiences everywhere.

– While she doesn’t succeed at every level of camera work, Duverney can at least hang her hat on being a risk taker. Ava refuses to ever settle for just one continuous style in shooting these characters and visuals, and this speaks volumes to the levels of articulation that she possesses as a top notch director in Hollywood.

THE NEGATIVES

– This screenplay feels like it (Like Chris Pine’s character) got lost somewhere along the way. I say that because so much of the material not only feels out of context, but also short on exposition for the very lack of rules explanation that the film supplants. The on-going journey very much feels like writers who are making up the rules as they go, neglecting the vital details from the book that communicated the logic. The child reactions and logic are also ridiculously stretched here. Kids react to these weird things going on around them like these three magical women showing up on their doorsteps like it’s no big deal. There’s no shock or awe in any of them, and sadly I blame this on a director who never dives deep into her characters.

– Speaking of lagging exposition, not one character outline is given to any single person in this film. Reid’s Meg is obviously the main character of the film, but there’s very little we actually know about her by film’s end other than she’s smart and she’s Chris Pine’s daughter. When I care more about the characters, I care more about their peril, and I never found myself fully immersed in any kind of conflict in the film.

– EXTREME CLOSE-UP WHOOOAAAAAA!!!! I mentioned that Duverney doesn’t succeed at every angle she shoots in the film, and none are more harmful than the tedious exertion that she gave in shooting too close. There were several times in the film where I felt physically uncomfortable with Ava’s decision to cover each and every reaction that sometimes goes without saying.

– Considering this is Disney Studios and there is over a hundred million dollars invested into the film, the computer generation properties in the film are really an eye-sore. This goes well beyond the hollow movements and terribly cheesy green-screen outlining. This is really more about the believability in presentation that leaves very little to the imagination. A film should try its hardest to make the live action transition seamless, otherwise why not make this an animated movie to begin with?

– Nothing memorable in terms of performances. Reese Witherspoon is definitely the best of the three adult counterparts, emoting Mrs Whatsit with a sarcastic tongue that occasionally got the better of her. The problem is Witherspoon (Like Winfrey and Kaling) is playing an amplified version of herself, never allowing herself to get lost in the character. The child actors too are abysmal. Reid lacks enough personality to make her intriguing as someone we follow for a majority, and the work of Levi Miller as Meg’s crush made for as much awkwardness in line reads as a Fifty Shades movie. Seriously, this kid was a stalker, right?

– If you forget Meg’s brother’s name is Charles Wallace, fear not because the movie repeats it no fewer than sixty times throughout. If there is one positive to this, it’s in the capability in creating a fun drinking game with friends that will have you passing out before having to sit through 104 minutes of this boredom.

– Which brings me to my final problem for the movie; it is an anomaly with its pacing. I say that because despite a screenplay that is literally and figuratively running through scenes with very little explanation or impact, the film still manages to slug along with repetition in dialogue about the importance of love and family that they beat over the head time-and-time-again. After an impressive opening act, it’s a shame that this film never finds the proper formula in establishing that the sum is greater than its parts.

3/10

Death Wish

Directed by Eli Roth

Starring – Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue

The Plot – Dr. Paul Kersey (Willis) is a surgeon who only sees the aftermath of his city’s violence as it’s rushed into his ER -until his wife (Shue) and college-age daughter (Camila Morrone) are viciously attacked in their suburban home. With the police overloaded with crimes, Paul, burning for revenge, hunts for his family’s assailants to deliver justice. As the anonymous slayings of criminals grabs the media’s attention, the city wonders if this deadly avenger is a guardian angel…or a grim reaper. Fury and fate collide in this intense action-thriller.

Rated R for strong bloody violence, and adult language throughout

THE POSITIVES

– The decision to set this film in Chicago is definitely one that makes sense to the social commentary on firearms, but also infuses the use of modern technology with such a battle zone so immense.

– If Eli Roth has done anything right in his career, it’s his thirst for brutality and violence that is second to no one. While some of the death scenes feel a bit fetishized when compared to the way the rest of the film is shot, it does at least cast the extra emphasis in consequences for playing this kind of game. Everything else might be watered down, but this simply isn’t.

– Respect is given that Eli can finally stay behind a camera and not insert himself into his own movies. These scenes usually serve absolutely no point, and thankfully he exerts enough patience in keeping his ass in the director’s chair.

THE NEGATIVES

– Every single situation in the film relies on convenience. From Willis not being seen and identified, to pictures of addresses being in an antagonist’s cell phone that helps Willis in finding leads, there are too many of these instances that had me rolling my eyes for just how sloppy this screenplay was. There’s even one scene when Willis so obviously faces the direction of a girl filming with her cell phone, only for it to later not include this instance.

– Mixed signals?? The film never quite made clear what side of the firearms debate that it sits on. There are plenty of times during the film when Roth not-so-subtly hints that the only way to stop this epidemic is if more people arm themselves, yet by the end of the film there’s a violent shove in material to letting the police do their jobs. You can’t be both on this particular issue, and if you can’t make a choice in 102 minutes of screen time, then the film will often feel like it is being written by two different people.

– The performances are terrible. Willis himself hasn’t been a big screen presence for decades, and after seeing ‘Death Wish’ I understand why. There’s an overall lack of emotion or energy from his demeanor, and it never rises from that grounded level. A film will never suffer as much as it does with a main actor who so obviously doesn’t want to be there, and Willis’s can’t-be-bothered retort has a lasting wound on the film that it never sews shut. Not to be outdone however, Shue herself reacts to a break-in with no tears or screaming, giving you the kind of paycheck collection film that big name actors flock to once the scripts come in the mail further between.

– There is nothing remotely fresh of impactful in this film that we haven’t seen in the hundreds of other vigilante films that each borrow from each other. This script feels every bit as recycled and derivative as it does clumsy for inserting no twists or leverage on its audience.

– What I loved about the original ‘Death Wish’ is its gritty psychological unraveling of this protagonist who we ourselves interpret that overwhelming sense of loneliness. How Roth depicts this manner is to instill comedic personality to a man who doesn’t grieve his wife’s death for more than two scenes after it goes down.

– So many directions go unfulfilled. Whether the one-and-done scenes of characters like Shue’s gun-toting father or Mike Epps lone scene as a surgeon (You read that right), or the way the third act treats the antagonist like a mystery that is building to a big reveal, the film never explores these avenues. This is a jigsaw puzzle in which many of the central pieces are missing, and I never settled down from the way Joe Carnahan as a screenwriter proposes so many ideas only to drop the ball with every single one.

– If there is one thing that Willis and this film need more than anything, it’s an antagonist that they can bounce off of. Once the break-in happens, we never see these burglars again until the end, proving just how little the film cares in seeing things from their vantage points. Without this dedication in minutes, we as an audience never feel how vital the revenge of Willis truly is, nor do we ever question if this predictable ending will spin us to surprise.

3/10

The 15:17 to Paris

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Starring – Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone

The Plot – In the early evening of August 21, 2015, the world watched in stunned silence as the media reported a thwarted terrorist attack on Thalys train #9364 bound for Paris, an attempt prevented by three courageous young Americans traveling through Europe. The film follows the course of the friends’ lives, from the struggles of childhood through finding their footing in life, to the series of unlikely events leading up to the attack. Throughout the harrowing ordeal, their friendship never wavers, making it their greatest weapon and allowing them to save the lives of the more than 500 passengers on board.

Rated PG-13 for bloody images, violence, some suggestive material, drug references and adult language

THE POSITIVES

– As an experimental director, Clint Eastwood continues to wet his palate with an unorthodox approach to depicting this story. Because of the invasive nature of the angles and approaches to character shadowing, the film feels very much like a documentary that is taking place in real time.

– There was a point in this film where I feared that it would strike at the hot coals of the religious conversation, but thankfully one of the few things that screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal does with confidence is to taste enough of a poignant approach without souring the taste of an audience who came for a particular genre of film.

– It rarely settles for the conventional approach to real life biopics, and whether you like or dislike the film, you must give it respect for instilling some different takes to an overcrowded subgenre.

THE NEGATIVES

– In one word: Scatterbrained. This screenplay is a mess, undermining the terrifying day to the final twenty minutes of the film. Considering the entirety of the trailer is in the train, it’s a major disappointment to see that it means so little to the finished product. In addition to this, there is an attempt to tell the backstory of these three lifelong friends since childhood, but it does so without ever capitalizing on what grows them into a brotherhood.

– There was easily enough material here to push this to the two hour mark, but Eastwood’s newest is a vicious victim of the hack-and-slash by studios without enough confidence in the audience paying to see it.

– I can appreciate the decision to cast the actual three men in the roles here, but it fails for two big reasons. The first, their acting is bad even for amateur standards, speeding through dialogue reads with too much monotone and not enough passion. The second, this is a major spoiler to someone like me who never heard of the events on the train before this film. If the real life figures are alive, then I know they make it out of the train alright.

– Jenna Fischer and Judy Greer play two of the moms to the trio of men, and it’s interesting to note that they don’t age even remotely in the 15-20 years that has passed in this timeline focus.

– Unconventional is one thing, but to not even have a remote outline of a three act structure shows how off of the beaten path this film really was. More than anything, this feels like a collection of scenes while the crew was on vacation. I say that because so little that is introduced ever actually leads to something of substance in the bigger picture.

– This film totally drops the ball on dramatic tension, speeding through brief scenes of conflict with a grave feeling of impatience that does it little favors in pulling the audience into the environment. I’ve been bored before in a film, but I didn’t even have a heartbeat for this sluggish deficit of attention.

– Eastwood’s directing stamp is noticeably missing, particularly in the final fifteen minutes that show too much and don’t tell enough to communicate with the audience. Many of these scenes feel void of an edit button, leaving the camera on for far too long to eat away at the scenery that is fading fast.

3/10

Forever My Girl

Directed by Bethany Ashton Wolf

Starring – Alex Roe, Jessica Rothe, John Benjamin Hickey

THE PLOT – The film tells the story of country music super-star Liam Page (Alex Roe) who left his bride, Josie (Jessica Rothe), at the altar choosing fame and fortune instead. However, Liam never got over Josie, his one true love, nor did he ever forget his Southern roots in the small community where he was born and raised. When he unexpectedly returns to his hometown for the funeral of his high school best friend, Liam is suddenly faced with the consequences of all that he left behind.

Rated PG for thematic elements including drinking, and for adult language

THE POSITIVES

– The musical soundtrack of original and unoriginal offerings by Brett Boyett actually isn’t half bad. It’s no secret that this critic isn’t a fan of modern day country music, but Boyett’s feeling for stirring b-side ballads make more than a few of the songs featured in the film earworms, long after you’ve left the theater.

– Whether intentional or not, the film did give me a few laughs which kept this film from ever feeling like it dragged, or that I was having a truly terrible time.

– Pure for the whole family, leaving much of the provocative pull of the book on the shelf to cater to a fraction of the audience that the film will pull in.

THE NEGATIVES

– As a screenwriter, Wolf has a very clouded vantage point of framing that had me scratching my head more than a few times. Liam is a dirtbag of a protagonist, yet we’re supposed to forgive him for leaving his bride to be at the alter because every character in the film does in a matter of seconds? Besides this, the film’s perception of fame is one that seems to come from a child’s mind, complete with music montages of fans chasing after Liam, as well as an over-burdening publicist who doesn’t feel human because she works for big bad Hollywood.

– In addition to Liam’s charming sentiment, he’s an alcoholic that never confronts his problem. For whatever reason, the film chooses not to explore this obvious direction that burdens him throughout the film, leaving much doubt in my mind that the film’s obvious happy ending will be anything but.

– The actors are terribly directed. Even Rothe’s shining star gets a noticeable downgrade here, lost in the sea of beautiful faces that live and breed by the ideal of all style and no substance. Love or hate me, the little girl played by Abby Ryder Fortson might be the single worst child performance that I’ve ever seen. Not that Fortson is terrible as a young actress, but her speech patterns and deliveries never sound remotely authentic to opposite children her age. It’s cute to hear her say something intelligent at first, but soon it becomes a nagging persistent problem with your immersion into the film.

– Roe and Rothe have about as much chemistry as a brother and sister experimenting. The two only kiss once in the entire film, and the fact that this unaffectionate, awkward plunge is the take that they went with, leaves you searching for any kind of passion to prove why they belong together.

– Every point of exposition feels rushed, leaving very little to resonate with the audience in terms of obstacles that they can get behind. If everything is settled and solved this easily, how can you ever expect any kind of dramatic tension to keeping audiences so involved in the story?

– Production mishaps. There is some terrible A.D.R with the actor’s mouthed wording that supplants a theory in my mind about the production. One scene in particular turns an obviously mouthed “Asshole” into “Jerk”, making me wonder if this was originally a PG-13 offering. If this isn’t enough for a full point, consider also the many times that extras both adult and children are caught looking at the camera in plain view. No care was taken at all in fixing these bumbling blunders.

– The air of Nicholas Sparks feels evident in Wolf’s writing. So much so that the beautiful countryside visuals and overall peaceful existence of these characters ever keep them from a taste of complication that keeps them on opposing sides. Because their reunion is more a speed bump than anything else, Wolf felt desperate to instill some third act adversity that could’ve been a very valued piece of exposition early on. As it stands, it just feels like a desperate ploy that quite literally comes out of nowhere.

3/10

Just Getting Started

Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones are ‘Just Getting Started’ on the way to a blossoming rivalry. From writer/director Ron Shelton, comes the new screwball comedy that takes budding heads to a whole new level. Morgan Freeman stars as Duke Diver, the freewheeling manager of the luxury Palm Springs resort, the Villa Capri. Diver may have a mysterious past, but he’s a pro at making sure that life for the high-spirited residents is one big, non-stop party. But the status quo and peaceful existence is challenged when ex-military charmer Leo (Tommy Lee Jones) checks in, triggering a competition between he and Duke for the top spot of Alpha male, as well as for the affections of the newly-arrived Suzie (Rene Russo). When Duke’s past suddenly catches up with him, the rivals put aside their differences and the two men reluctantly team up to stop whoever is trying to kill Duke, and also save the citizens of the Villa Capri. ‘Just Getting Started is rated PG-13 for adult language, suggestive material and brief violence.

If Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were still alive, they would be making movies like ‘Just Getting Started’. Twenty-five years ago, the two struck gold on senior citizen comedy in films like ‘Grumpy Old Men’ and ‘The Odd Couple 2’ because of their endless supply of on and off-screen chemistry that carried over into the magnetic presence within their film projects. But even after their sadly passing, Hollywood is still as eager as ever to find the next group of elderly gentlemen to turn a quick buck, opting to invest in a film like this at least once a year to put critics like myself in a bad mood so close to Christmas. Yes, it’s low hanging fruit to make fun of the elderly, but a film like ‘Just Getting Started’ is fuel for the ever-growing fire of inevitable insults hurled at these kind of movies that transpire about as quickly as this kind of age group moves gingerly. It’s been a couple of months since I have truly hated a film, but Ron Shelton has gift-wrapped a lump of coal that reeks in desperation and laziness to the that it’s instantly forgettable even as you’re sitting down to take in all of its ineffectiveness.

Like a frog jumping from pad to pad, this film too searches for anything of structured substance to carry the weight of wasted minutes that seem to add up the more the film transpires. Everything about Shelton’s screenplay reflects that of a television sitcom script that some cocky executive felt was just not good enough to make it into 100 episodes of material in his own universe. I say this because nothing within the film holds any kind of gravity or depth in terms of the overall bigger picture, settling what little obstacles that it has in a matter of minutes without breaking a sweat. In addition to this, there are so many subplots at play that never feel like they cohesively work together to make one fluent progression, and instead settle for a series of short-term ideas that roughly jumble the gap until the next one comes along. For instance, this film’s setting makes it a Christmas movie, but you would never know it from the trailers that never mention this perk even once. The film deems its importance just as irrelevant, as the very idea of the Christmas season rarely plays into anything than a remote reminder occasionally in the 85 minute presentation. To take away once more from a better film like ‘Grumpy Old Men’, the film of course has a competition for a pretty girl between its two male protagonists, proving that even nearly three decades later women are still nothing more than arm pieces for the macho male ego that never seems to advance in these films.

Perhaps the aspect in story that really blew my mind was the dramatically sharp turn that this film takes in the final act that not only isn’t built even remotely along the way, but also highlights everything wrong with this lazy production. The movie turns into a kind of buddy action hybrid complete with shoot-outs and high-speed chases that feel so foreign to the previous hour of atmosphere that the film seemed destined to follow. This wouldn’t be so bad if it presented us with even a moment of urgency, or something appealing visually in terms of camera work or sequencing. Because of the one location setting between Freeman and Jones in the car, as well as the fact that neither have to change clothes in these scenes, really gives off the feeling that many of these sequences were shot in one day of shooting, complete with C.G green-screen to do most of the work along the way. What’s even more disturbing is that much of the green-screen doesn’t match up to what is transpiring on-screen between our protagonists and antagonist visually. One scene involves Jones spinning the wheel of his truck to keep pace on the tail of his enemy, but in this turn you don’t ever see the other vehicle in the driver’s side window to reflect where a vehicle ahead would be at that certain movement in time to keep up with the consistency of the depiction. How could they be so lazy? Do they treat senior citizens in the same way that they treat kids, in that maybe they’re too stupid to understand what they’re watching?

Considering this is a comedy-first kind of movie, the laughs too offered very little positive returns in at least trying to convince me that I was having a good time. To say that I only laughed once in this entire film shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the lack of attempts overall really should. In addition to the final act of the movie that is definitely an action dominated genre during these minutes, there’s a noticeable gap of around twenty minutes in the middle of the second act where the film almost forgets that it is supposed to be a comedy, crafting scenes that come and go without any establishing of what the desired punchline was supposed to be. On top of this, the second act is littered with unfunny musical montage scenes between Freeman and Jones in a five event competition to determine who has to leave the Villa. It’s hard enough to sit through this without enjoying yourself comically, but made even worse considering the outcome has absolutely zero effect on the loser who is supposed to agree to walk away, but doesn’t.

The performances as well offer little in the way of energy to at least make this sitting tolerable. Matthau and Lemmon were in some pretty bad films in the later part of their careers (‘Out To Sea’ comes to mind), but they were always tolerable because you couldn’t ignore the chemistry between them that omitted some irresistible one-liners. Here, Freeman is working a one man show, as he feels like the only actor who brought anything of substance to his character. Everyone else is simply phoning this in, including Rene Russo’s character who might be one of my absolute least favorite of the year. Morgan continues the air of charisma that warms the heart of his fans everywhere. In Duke, we see a different side of Freeman’s reservoir that writes him as a con artist of sorts to everyone he comes across. It’s refreshing to see Morgan play this kind of coward character who has to cheat to keep up, but the screenplay does so very little with an important first act for setting what is so full proof about this middle of the desert scheme. Tommy Lee Jones continues the same role that he has played for the better part of two decades. I say that because you could tell me that this is the same character from a sharply opposite toned movie like ‘No Country For Old Men’ and I would believe you. The chemistry between he and Freeman is remotely there, but the final scenes doesn’t offer a shred of reflection to the blossoming friendship that we all knew was coming from the revealing trailers. The movie tells us about this blossoming development, but never shows us in expositional form, and it’s the final note of an otherwise easily forgettable slug of a script.

THE VERDICT – The film may be ‘Just Getting Started’, but the lack of clearly defined comedy, as well as a screenplay that is all over the place creatively, left me inching towards the exit with each passing moment. Freeman’s twinkling personality does shine occasionally, but even it can’t escape the poorly structured roots of exposition along the way, as well as the inescapable taste of mediocrity in a gift-wrapped final sequence leaves this film retiring itself long before it rightfully should.

3/10